Europe’s Forgotten Edge
Less than two decades after the end of the communist era, Romania’s mission towards democracy and liberal markets has already reached its primary goal: Since January 2007, Romania is a full member of the European Union – its business centres are booming, and the Romanian economy catches up with its role models in Western Europe every month. But not everyhere within the new member state, modernization is going equally fast.
One of Romania’s poorest edges is the district of Maramureş on the Ukrainian border. Protected by the snow-capped peaks of the Carpathians, this region is not easy to reach, left untouched even by the Romans and the Turks on their invasions of the Balkans. Consequently, parochial and agrarian customs long gone in other parts of the country have survived here. The region is economically weak, but rich of rural traditions.
With the opening of the Romanian borders in the recent past, the vast forests of the North have been able to attract foreign investors and generate a handful of new jobs. Chairs called “Ivar” or “Hendriksdal”are cut by the lumberjacks of Viseu and assembled in Sighetu Marmatiei. Most of the 500,000 Maramuresians, though, still live entirely off their own land, and many depend on support from family members working in Spain or Italy. Others serve in the declining mining industry established during the communist period. Tourism has become a small business in the last couple of years, but the area still feels widely undiscovered, well protected by its inaccessibility. In this beautiful strip of land, life has hardly changed in centuries, and still, things seems to take a little longer than elsewhere. This is the least modern part of the European Union – but who ever visited the Maramures will never forget its charming valleys and open-hearted people.