How much do you really know about your culture, its values and traditions? And, what about the history of the place where you were raised? It is astonishing to note how an increasing percentage of young and middle age people tend to disregard the answers to these seemingly uncomplicated questions. This occurs as a result of cultural heritage preservation being overlooked and neglected by most communities around the world, despite the enormous advantages it can offer both at a socio-cultural and economic level. In an attempt to overcome this issue and encourage more people to become involved in the matter, the EU declared 2018 as the European Year of Cultural Heritage. Given the timelessness and relevance of the topic, it would be stimulating to bring Săcueni locals closer to this initiative while assessing the importance of their participation, and revealing in what ways could the locality obtain benefits from it.

The broad term patrimoine culturel has its origins on the European Enlightenment of the 18th century. After having gone through secularizing and nation-building processes for over 300 years, cultural heritage is nowadays depicted as those physical artefacts and intangible attributes which are inherited from past generations, and safeguarded by present groups and societies so that they can be perpetuated. Let’s picture a five-year-old kid named Albert, whose Hungarian mother Olga has relocated to Bucharest with his current Romanian husband. In the morning, Olga decorates the new house with paintings of István Csók while Albert watches Hungarian cartoons and, before going to bed, she tells him stories about her trips to the caves of Aggtelek Karts and reads him an old Hungarian fairy tale. Even though Albert is not yet aware of it, her mother is passing on him valuable tangible, intangible, natural and digital cultural heritage. All of these are elements that should never be forgotten because they shape our collective identity and everyday lives. Thus, it is necessary for Săcueni citizens to continue sharing and preserving their cultural values and practices together with the history of the town if they want this knowledge to be passed onto future generations.

Roma family sells clothes at the weekly flea market (ethnic diversity in SŢcueni)

Treasuring cultural heritage can simultaneously contribute in the dissolution of intercultural barriers through the discovery of a community’s own diversity. The heterogeneous past of the land in which Săcueni stands has equipped the town with a picturesque but complex socio-cultural reality. In fact, nowadays the encounters between Hungarian and Roma people often involves a certain degree of cultural tension mainly triggered by prejudices and stereotypes. For instance, how many times have you thought about gypsies as being untidy and grimy people who do not respect societal rules and live out of governmental financial aid? Ignorance towards outgroups promotes prejudice through means of assumed dissimilarities, stereotyping and the anxiety generated from the expectation of negative consequences during a possible encounter. Nevertheless, once interaction between the members of both groups increases, negative perceptions and hostility towards outgroups are usually replaced with feelings of respect and tolerance. This is why you should be aware of the following:

Roma people are originally from India, but their nomadic culture led them to migrate for centuries throughout Eastern Europe. However, since their arrival, Roma’s eccentric and unique practices have proven to be extremely unpopular amongst Europeans. First, Nazi Germany decided to exterminate them alleging that the Roma community was racially undesirable and incapable to fit into a well-ordered society. Nowadays, the witch-hunt continues with Roma being the largest and most vulnerable minority group in Europe. They are underrepresented in politics, live in deep poverty, and are unable to achieve a permanent employment or have access to a good education because discrimination and social exclusion is their everyday bread and butter. If they are treated as a social burden, and the word “no” is always at the front of any discussion, it becomes inconceivable for Roma people to try and adapt to modern times. Society wants them to change their culture and behavior, but how can they do this if they are not given the chance to do so?

Group of young performers present dances from Rábaköz at the annual charity ball (intangible cultural heritage)

In order for these distinct ethnic groups to peacefully cohabit under the same roof, it is indispensable to start overcoming cultural boundaries. To achieve this, Săcueni citizens need to leave aside retrograde and obsolete thoughts and start a civilize intercultural dialogue based on the principles of respect, understanding, open-mindedness and cooperation. Through the application of this perspective, individuals will hopefully begin to comprehend that the word different should not always carry with it a negative connotation, but instead it should be used to describe someone or something that is unique and have new and exciting things to offer. On a smaller scale, preserving tangible cultural heritage has been proven to be a source of revenue which can contribute in the creation of job vacancies and the increment of property prices. Like the tiny villages of Bibury (England) and Colmar (France), Săcueni possesses several sightseeing’s worth visiting, a strategic location for travelers and a lot of potential to carry on developing. Given that the streets and pavements are taken care of and a few key businesses opened, the town would be a much nicer place for tourists to stay the night before carrying on their journey.

Andrea Sofia Sanchez Almeida