Stories 2022


– Tell us where you were born, where you went to school, how you went to school…

– So a kind of private life history.

– Yes. Are you from here, from Vladimirovac? In Romanian it’s called Petrovasîla.

– Petrovasîla, it’s written on the board at the entrance in the village. We have the biggest church in Banat, Romanian.

– This one here? Since when is it a church? 

– Since 1863. Two years ago we renovated it, changed the spire completely, made a new spire. By size, it’s the largest Romanian Orthodox church.

– In Vojvodina?

– Even larger. Well, it doesn’t compare to the cathedral in Timisoara. But in the countryside, in the whole of Banat, it’s the biggest.

– How old is the village?

– 1808.

– That precise?

– Yes.

– And who founded it?

– By the Romanians of Jamu Mare and Clopodia. They’re just over the border, two villages.

– How do you tell his story? How did they get here?

– How do they tell it? Write in the village monography how they tell it. When the Habsburgs carried out the project of colonization of the Germans in Banat, in several stages, the Romanians were removed from many villages, being considered, let’s say, less productive, weaker farmers, and then the Habsburgs made plans to move them to other areas. So from that area, between Vîrșeț and Oravița, where the two villages are located, they were moved here, to the military border. So in order to increase the number of border guards to defend the border from the Turks. So in 1808 they moved here normally, in an organized way, with priests, they also brought the church books, they brought everything with them. From Jamu Mare came almost all of them. Only 16 Romanian families remained there. And from Clopodia came about half of the village. The rest stayed there and I stayed there when I was last there. When was that? That’s 20 years ago. They have the same family names, but they don’t have the same dialect, for example. Well, the traditional clothing is lost anyway. So there are differences between the people there and the people here.

– What are the most common surnames?

– Here in the village I met, for example, Barbeș. In Jamu Mare Miter, for example, here and there. We re-established contact after the December revolution in Romania. When we went, I was a student at the time, we went with aid to Jamu Mare and Clopodia, with a truck full of food, sugar, flour, I don’t know what else, for our friends there. I can’t call them brothers, in the broad sense of the word, you can’t call them brothers, friends. Then a twinning was established, but not an official twinning.

– So it’s administratively nothing like that?

– But we were very well received, people were very happy that we went. That’s pretty much it. After that I went myself with a group of students as part of a cross-border project. We went and did some more research there in that area and then we really looked to see surnames, but that was in 2008. It’s been a while, so I don’t remember the details.

– Do you have any 19th century documents?

– Here at the church there are documents, there are some books even brought from there, from the 18th century, everything is written in the village monograph. This is something that almost all the villagers have, some of them have even lost it, the new generations don’t take much interest anymore.

– Who wrote it?

– It was written by Nicolae Pența, the village teacher, and reprinted in Canada. There are a lot of people who left here.

– To Canada?

– In Canada, in the United States and lately in Europe.

– And this is the original?

– The painting is by George Barbu, a villager who also did the reprint of the book. He was a businessman in Canada, a painter, he had his own private printing press and he reprinted it. That there were few copies left. Well, and there’s a list of everyone who came. It’s a well-researched monograph from the early 20th century, even considered one of the best quality monographs of that era. The first village monograph that used illustrations, from Banat, the first monograph in Romanian that used illustrations. It was also published in Hungarian, so in Romanian as well as in Hungarian. After that we printed, I personally took care of these things, the continuation of this monograph in 2008, when it was the bicentenary. We did a volume, well, it’s not exactly in this style, but there were several authors.

– Where do we find the monograph, any of them?

– I have the Romanian and Serbian versions.

– I’d like to scan them so that we have them too, if possible.

– You can get that at Libertatea, in Pancevo. I’ll order you a copy. I think this one can be found in Timisoara, in libraries. But the original 1911 version. Let me get it, you can see that one too.

– Sissi, you mean?

– Yes, but her statue is lost.

– But it was here?

– Yes, yes, in the park, I haven’t seen it, because they took it away in the interwar period, when the Serbs came, and you can’t find it. I even made an action, to discover it. Even if it was preserved, the people who hid it won’t give it away. Or they don’t know about it… I know that in Caransebeș, for example, a bust was discovered buried in the ground. That’s his version.

– And when they came here, there was an empty place?

– It was empty. Basically, they built the first houses, plowed the earth.

– What did they make them out of?

– They, the first time they made houses of earth. Then they made houses out of beaten earth, covered with reeds, shingles, whatever they had. And then they started building more brick, so in the middle of the 20th century. And by the end of the century there were already many solid houses, made of solid material.

– So where is the village hearth?

– The village centre?

– Yes, yes.

– Where the church is. At first it was a smaller church, and made of beaten earth, and at some point they decided to build a new church. I wrote about it. I wrote six books about Petrovasila and generally I was involved with the church. Well, some information is not in the documents, but the oral tradition… for example, how they built the tower, how they erected the cross, they made a very big scaffolding, several hundred meters and they climbed on it. They pulled with the noose, with the snakes, with I don’t know what mechanism, to raise the tower up on the church. But now, two years ago, they came with one of those ultra-modern, enormous, digitised cranes. Basically the tower was made downstairsand then they lifted it by crane and put it up there. There’s video footage, there’s photographs.

– And this version of the church, how old is it? That it’s not the one from the 1800s.

– 1863. So only the steeple was made identical to the original, because the Institute for the Protection of Monuments didn’t allow it. It’s made exactly to the original. It was erected in 2020.

– How is the village organized? According to this system with parallel streets?

– With parallel streets, yes, so there’s the main road and four perpendicular streets. At one time there were more than four streets, but they were lost due to the decrease in the number of inhabitants. There were one more in addition to the two that still exist today, three on one side of the village and three on the other.

– So, three streets…

– Yes, but now there are only two, because they disappeared with time. The people who were in the last street moved away, who are left, or they bought houses towards the centre and they don’t exist in that part anymore. The number of inhabitants very much decreased. We basically halved. Many, many people have left, to Canada, America, Germany, Sweden, Austria…

– So in the 19th century it was a Romanian village.

– Purely Romanian, with a few Serbian and German merchant families, that’s all.

– Who were from here? The Serbs were from here in Banat or…

– It depends… the Serbian merchants move. They were individual families, there were about four or five families. There were Germans… it was the military border, there were officers, there were officials. After that, in 1867, when Austro-Hungary was made, the Hungarians came, they brought their officials, but they were individuals, not many families. And they moved depending on the job. So they were not really strictly settled families.

– Was the mayor Romanian or…?

– The mayors were Romanians, during the Austro-Hungarian and interwar period. During the interwar period, the Serbian colony was established, 1922, as part of the colonisations that the Yugoslav kingdom made. Even with the tendency to strengthen the Serbian element towards the Romanian border. This is where the largest Serbian colony in Banat was formed.

– Where? In which part?

– Near the train station. And near the station it was formed, with about 300 families, brought from different parts.

– So not compact.

– No, they really don’t have any common traditions. They were brought from many places and they didn’t have a common identity.

– Were the houses ready-made when they were brought?

– First they lived in the village, with the people of the village, they were servants, until they built their houses. They received part of the communal land from the state, there were conflicts between the Romanian natives and the state and partly with some of the settlers who came, because there was not the same mentality, there were not the same interests. They got the land, they didn’t want to give it to them, and conflicts arose.

– But what was the official argument, why did they say they brought Serbian settlers here?

– They brought them here to reward them, that is, to give a kind of honour to those who participated in the First World War as volunteers. Because these are also families of Serbian volunteers, former citizens of Austria-Hungary, who, as Austro-Hungarian soldiers, fell prisoners, were captured by the Russians. They found themselves in Russian captivity, in Siberia, in those camps. Then, in order to get them out of there, to increase the number of Serbian soldiers, the Serbian General Staff decided, in collaboration with Russia, to go among the ethnic Serbian prisoners, to persuade them to go over to the Serbian side. They were captured as Austro-Hungarian soldiers. They were aware that if they crossed, it was not yet known who was coming, they would be proclaimed traitors in Austro-Hungary and their families would be persecuted. So they took their chances. Several divisions were formed, two divisions of Serbian volunteers who fought in Dobrogea, there is also a book about it in Romanian, and after the war the families of these volunteers, as a sign of gratitude, were given land in Vojvodina. This is how Serbian colonies were established, including this one here.

– So this one here and where else?

– In Seleuș, again a Romanian village, smaller colonies were also established in other Romanian localities. More mixed with Romanians through the village at Vlaicovăț, where the Mocioni family castle was, near Vîrseț. Even Countess Mocioni, the former Mocioni, Bisinger, because she married Bisinger Gheorghina, the only Romanian noblewoman in Yugoslavia, had her land was taken away by the agrarian reform and divided to Serbian volunteers. However, conflicts arose because the volunteers were not good at farming and came from mountainous areas. They were mostly shepherds, people without fortune, who worked on occasion, they also went abroad, in America they went for a year or two, to make money, they came back, so that’s what they did. And they came here, they were not good at farming. They got land, but they didn’t work it properly, they leased it back to the Romanians, then they fought over the price. With the Countess too, they argued, there are documents about it. So there was this conflict, I wrote a paper about this phenomenon, Romanian-Serbian relations in the context of the colonization of Serbian volunteers.

Now the situation is OK, of course. A month or two ago, the centenary of colonisation was organised. I was invited as the only Romanian from the village, because they appreciate me as a historian. It was OK, I participated, it was nothing special, like this, a common meal, they erected a monument with the names of all the families that were colonized. There they built the Serbian church, but it’s new. The Serbian church is new, because at the time they came they didn’t have the financial power to build their church.

– So where did they go to church?

– They didn’t really go to church, and baptisms and funerals were done at the Romanian place. In the Romanian cemetery they were buried. 

– Are there any monuments that these Romanians from Jamu Mare and Clopodia made?

– Not the Romanians. The Romanians did not make monuments, they made crosses at the entrance to the village. And those are new, for some years now. But not monuments. 

– And in the cemetery, if we go there, will I still see old funerary monuments?

– In general, yes.

– I mean from these first generations.

– Older than 120 – 130 years, no.

– Is the cemetery still where it was?

– There are two cemeteries.

– One Romanian and one Serbian?

– Two Romanian ones in the village and one in the colony, Serbian, so basically three cemeteries. The Romanian cemeteries are not in a very good condition, because many monuments no longer have anyone to look after them. They are gone, they have no descendants, they are lost, they have fallen down, they have ruined, it’s pretty pathetic. Even the ownership of the cemeteries was the subject of a very unpleasant dispute within the parish, because all the cemeteries were taken from the bierica, not only here, and in Romania I think it was the same thing.

– Now it’s the administration of the cemeteries…

– And here it’s like that too and some have asked to go back to the church. Theoretically it’s OK, but if you think you have nothing to do, you get it and what do you do with it? That you have to have people.

– It has to be managed.

– You have to manage it, you have to care for it, you have to have competent people to maintain it, so it would have been a problem. It hasn’t been solved yet. It’s been a bit of a not very pleasant situation, with arguments, with misunderstandings.

– I want to go back a little bit… You said that of the Serbian settlers, some of them were going to America to work.

– Yes, that was during the Austro-Hungarian period.

– Of the Romanians, did they go like that?

– Yes. The first Romanians who went to America from here in the village were in 1905. I have the list of Romanians who left during Austro-Hungary. I have a list, I published it in a calendar, about 140 families. They didn’t go as a whole family, a young man from the house would go, a 20-30 year old man to work there and send or bring money home. The ones who did a little better took their families along.

– Where were they going?

– Detroit at first. I mean the first destination they went to was New York.

– How did they go?

– By boat. They’d go to Rijeka, from there they’d go by boat.

– But what was the route? I leave the village and where do I go?

– By train to Rijeka and then by boat they usually went to England, to Southampton. From there the boats went to America. Southampton – Liverpool, that’s where the boats went to America, you couldn’t go from Austro-Hungary directly. Although they were. The Carpathia, which rescued the survivors of the Titanic, was an Austro-Hungarian ship. There were, but few of them and they were probably expensive.

– From England they crossed the Atlantic, stopped…

– They’d stop in New York, they’d be quarantined for a few weeks and then everyone would go to find a job. But more in Detroit.

– But here they worked in industry, where?

– At Ford, the car industry.

– And how did they get along? Because they were peasants, they knew how to work the land.

– Cheap labor, so physical strength. They also went through the mines, to the farms, those who got work. Some did better, took their families there.

– And they stayed there?

– They stayed there. Others went back home. There are cases that they went two or three times to America. I found one guy who went three times before World War I, but alone. Already a kind of nucleus had formed there of immigrants.

– So it’s a community.

– Who came over with their families. During the World War they stopped, because America was the enemy of Austro-Hungary. And after the first war it continued. But in the 1920s Canada was more attractive. Emigration to Canada began.

– To where?

– Mostly in the Ontario area, the state of Ontario. And after World War II, in the ’60s, there was a mass emigration. A lot of people left then. Because Tito opened the borders in ’65 and gave all citizens passports, the familiar red passport, with which you could go without a visa, without anything, to all parts of the world. Then they went to the United States and especially to Canada. In the ’60s and ’70s, I was a kid in school and all you heard every day was, “Man, that one’s gone, and that one’s gone.” One after the other.

– And did they leave with the idea that they would go to work or did they leave with the idea that they would stay?

– With the idea of staying there. The village remained almost deserted.

– Romanians and Serbs or…?

– Romanians in general, Serbs in the beginning were not many, but with time their number increased more and more.

– Because they started coming or because they started having more children…

– Because they came.

– From which parts of Serbia?

– So independent of the colony… At the end of the 1950s, in 1958 I think, a hydropower plant was built on the Cetina River in Northern Dalmatia. On this occasion an artificial lake was made and several villages were flooded there. The inhabitants of these villages had free choice to leave and many came here.

– Why do you think they came here?

– There were empty houses already.

– And this was known?

– Yes. There were already houses with no descendants, houses that had been abandoned, either because they had gone to America or because they didn’t have children, that the birth problem was already there. Since the interwar period, there was the problem of the birth rate, the birth of only one child in the family.

– But why?

– Two people are born to one person and that leads to a 50% reduction in the number.

– Why?

– That was the mentality, to have a child so as not to share your wealth, and  the land to stay at home. But that led to depopulation.

– So that’s what it was until the 1950s. Or was that later?

– That was until the 1980s.

– And by then, for example, in your parents’ families, your grandparents’ families, how many children did they have?

– Generally one or two children were in the 20th century.

– And in the 19th century?

– In the 19th century there was an explosion of births, so a population explosion in the 70s, 80s, 90s.

– What does that mean? How many children?

– About 10 to 15 children, but not all of them survived. Because even before that, many were born, but medicine was not sufficiently developed and the quality of food was not high enough.  With improved nutrition, with improved medicine, infant mortality fell, but it still existed until the 20th century. The problem of communicable diseases began to be solved and this led to greater safety in the survival of children. When it was certain that the child in general survives, then they switched to fewer children. Until there was the problem with infant mortality, they were having lots of babies. That they knew that if they give birth to 10, 2-3 would stay alive. When the babies stopped dying, they decided: one or two.

– How much land did a middle-class family have, for example?

– When the village was founded, they got 17 iugar of land (1 iugar = half hectar).

– Per family, right?

– During the military frontier they were not allowed to sell it, to alienate this land, because they received it from the state, from the emperor. They were not allowed to sell it. After the abolition of the border they could do whatever they wanted and many families got rich, but it depended on who was fit for work. There were very rich families, who had servants, they had hundreds of hectares.

– How do they say here if you’re wealthy, you’re very rich? Is that a term?

– There is a term that I think is Turkish and is used here, but not Romanian. Culac. That means rich peasant. 

– And what did it mean? How much land?

– Hundreds of hectares. Depends. 

– And animals?

– And animals, herds of cattle, sheep, horses…

– What else did they grow here?

– Sheep. Near here there are the Deliblites dunes, with very rich pastures, and people used to take sheep to pasture. They had someone in their family or they paid shepherds to look after the sheep.

– When did they start working the land in a mechanised way?

– Not until after the Second World War. There were different sowing machines, horse-drawn, wheat threshing machine, fire machine, so called. There are pictures of that machine. Or the threshing machine, I don’t know why. After the second war, first the communists came, they did collectivization. Then they gave up collectivization, left the peasants even 17 acres of land. It was the so-called maximum of land, so 10 hectares.

– And what was over expropriated?

– Yes, it was taken from them.

– Was there a collective farm?

– There was, from 1947 to 1952. Then they gave up. After that they got their land back.

– But not all of it.

– The rest was collectivized. There were state-owned cooperatives, where people worked, salaried workers.

– Is that where the people were from?

– No. They were brought in, whoever. Agricultural specialists were brought in because there were none.

– Serbs or Romanians?

– Generally Serbs. Serbs, Montenegrins, whatever, it was Yugoslavia then. Smaller numbers of Croats and Slovenians were brought in. That’s the situation with collectivisation. After collectivization was stopped they had 17 jugs of land. But they had the possibility to work more like this, by agreement, if in a family they were sick or they were away somewhere, they didn’t have labour, they gave it to someone else, but it was not in written form. So those who were strong, again increased their areas. After 1965, when people left en masse for America, the land of those who left was left to relatives. You can work the land yourself, per year, because they pay you a sum per year.

– They sent dollars from there.

– Yes. In general, in the village, if there was an old family left, they still gave the land per year. So again large areas of land were made, rich people again became rich. That was even in the 70s and 80s, with the mechanization, with the prosperity in Yugoslavia. Our peasants lived very well, they were very rich. In fact, the vast majority, not only the “rich” ones. Even the middle peasants had a lot of money. They could afford expensive cars, build houses, buy houses by the sea, in Dalmatia, travel, buy the most modern mechanization. Indeed, when I was a child, those were the years of prosperity.

– So you were a child in the ’70s?

– In the 70s and 80s. It was very, very good.

– And there were people in the village then?

– There was, but people gradually started to leave.

– But the level also increased…

– It was felt, when I was a child there was hardly an empty house, but in many houses there were old people. An old man, an old man with an old lady, an old lady, two old ladies…

– And who took care of them?

– It depended on the situation. For example, many had a daughter who got married in another house and the old people were left alone at home. After the elders died, the house remained empty, they sold it to the Serbs or demolished it and the place remained empty. Some got sick, some couldn’t work, some left, who knows how. Some went to school and stopped working the land, they moved to the city, Panceva, Virshet, Belgrade, Novi Sad. There are different cases. Anyway, the number of inhabitants has started to decrease.

– Since when?

– The number of inhabitants has been decreasing since Austro-Hungarian times, but that line is gradually going. Then in the 60s it starts to feel with the move to Canada.

– Why this idea to go to Canada and America? Why didn’t they go to the West, to Europe?

– There were already smaller communities there, from the time of Austro-Hungary they went to their relatives. Their relatives called them, come, come here, we’ll find work for you, it’s good here, you’ll work, you’ll have dollars. And then, attracted by the dollars, people left. The villages around Vîrșețul didn’t go to America much. After ’65, when the borders opened, they went to Switzerland, Austria, Germany, that’s why they are not in America.

– Why do you think they went to Europe, also on this idea, that they already had, there was someone there?

– They went to so-called temporary work, so you work for a few months and you come home, you bring money home.

– And what do they do with the money?

– They invested it in the house, in their families. The villages in the Vîrșețului area are much poorer, there weren’t too many rich peasants there, most of them were poor and then they went to earn. Step by step, they got stronger and became very strong, that they brought the money home, unlike those in America.

– Were they coming back from America?

– Very few. Most of them didn’t.

– Did he call them anything? “American,” for example, or…

– Well, if one came back as a pensioner, they called him “American.” But if one came back for some reason, no. If he stayed 30-40-50 years and came back, he called him “American.”

-Did they speak English?

– They didn’t learn English very well, they spoke Romanian, but with words borrowed from English. Some of them, more to show off that they came from America, were dressed a bit kitsch, because they bought the cheapest clothes there. They were not part of American society as they should be, they were the lower classes. They bought not only the clothes, everything, at those Chinese markets. They would bring us gifts, relatives would come, a T-shirt or something, made in Taiwan or Singapor, so it wasn’t American stuff. They would buy the cheapest stuff from there and they were still dressed like that. Most of them stayed at that level of physical workers all their lives there, some did better, managed to make a career, but most of them didn’t.

– Do people here keep in touch with those who left?

– Yeah, well, they have relatives, of course.

– And people come from there?

– In general, some come in the summer. Others want to come when they retire. They come as old people, you can’t expect anything from them, they die here, with the satisfaction of dying in their home village. There they have associations, organizations of Petrovicans, the first organization in the Serbian Banat, founded in 1945 by emigrants.

– Where? Still in the Detroit area or?

– No, in Canada, in Kitchener, where they hold the Petrovic picnic every year. There is an organization of Romanians from Petrovasâla, founded in 1945, which every year organizes a picnic, that is, a meeting with certain cultural content, folklore, dressing in national costumes. The weddings are with Romanian music.

– They have a band there or…

– They have Serbian musicians from the village, who play Romanian music in general, and Serbian sometimes, but in general the music they brought from here.

– Have you ever been?

– No, not to America, unfortunately. But already in the second generation the children don’t speak Romanian well. They know it, but they speak it worse, and the grandchildren don’t speak it at all. The first generation speak it badly, the second generation nothing. They have an identity, they know that their grandfather came from Banat, that Romanians live in Banat, they keep their customs, they have them, each family has its own customs. They have old photos brought from home, of their grandparents, their great-grandparents, that’s all. The rest… young people, no. They’re not interested.

– How come you haven’t left?

– My family is a family of intellectuals, my mother was a teacher, my father was a teacher, it was good here in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, we lived well. I went to school, I didn’t plan to go there to be a physical worker.

– Are the parents from here?

– My mother is from here, my father is the son of a priest and priests depend on where they get their parish. My grandfather priest was in several villages parish priest. He is from Uzdin originally, but he didn’t live, only as a child, after that he was a priest.

– Where did he attend seminary?

– In Caransebeș he served, as a priest first in Oreșaț, near the White Church, a village where today Romanians are assimilated. Very interesting in this village, it’s a specific case. They have a Romanian identity, but they don’t know or speak Romanian. They are part of the Romanian church, so the Romanian priest comes to them, but they don’t know Romanian. They don’t speak, most of them. Old people speak. Although they personally say they are Romanian. That’s how they declare themselves.

– And what do they know afterwards? After the traditional clothes, after what?

– Not by their clothes, they’re all dressed modern. But by identity, they say they are Romanians. They say they are Romanians in their everyday life, they celebrate Romanian holidays, they go to Romanian churches…

– And they keep to the Romanian calendar?

– According to the Gregorian calendar, the Romanian calendar. Until recently they had a Romanian brass band, but they don’t speak Romanian. They give their children Serbian names. The family name is Romanian, the personal name is Serbian. It’s very specific. In other villages where they are Serbs, they don’t declare themselves Romanians. Already the second generation declare themselves Serbs. But they don’t.

– Your grandfather was a priest here?

– No. He was in Oreșaț, then in Dobrița, a village where the Romanians assimilated completely and now they are all Serbs. And in Alibunar he was a priest for over 40 years.

– And where was my father born?

– My father was born in Oreșaț. After that he got a job here as a Romanian language teacher and here he met his mother and they started a family.

– Where did my father go to university?

– First he finished the normal school in Vîrșeț, in Romanian. Then he continued his studies in Zrenjanin, it was the so-called higher school, Romanian and Serbian language.

– And he took up his job here.

– Yes. And here he stayed until his retirement. He was also the director of the school, he got acquainted here, he felt he was from here, although he came as a son-in-law.

– You went to primary school here?

– Until the eighth grade, yes.

– Then high school?

– In Vîrșeț. And the history faculty in Novi Sad. After that, first I worked here as a history teacher, then I went to the high school in Vîrșeț, 13 years, then to the higher school for educators. I also worked at the university in Novi Sad for three and a half years.

– History?

– No, in the Romanian language department. I taught the history of the Romanian people and Balkanology, but it was for a limited time, so I couldn’t stay. Here anyway I’m in higher education in Vîrșeț, I commute, get in the car, in 35 minutes I arrive.

– How did you choose History?

– From my grandfather I had quite a big library of old books, from the 19th century, the 20th century, the interwar period, Romanian bibliography, in which I read a lot. It opened up a love for history.

– Did you go to school in Romanian here?

– High school, but university in Serbian.

– Did you learn Romanian history between subjects?

– Of course, and now it’s taught, I teach it. 

– What do you teach?

– I teach classes in Serbian and Romanian.

– And Serbian history?

– I teach Serbian history to everyone, not Serbian history, because there are Serbs in other parts of the former Yugoslavia. Romanians also have classes dedicated to Romanian history.

– How many hours?

– As many as the teacher wants.

– Yes? Now how many hours of history does a child have in a week up to eighth grade?

– Two hours a week, about 72 hours a year.

– And when you were a kid, how much did you do?

– That’s the same. It hasn’t changed.

– Did you take Romanian history and Serbian history in school?

– In school I did history as a subject, including world history, Serbian history and a few hours of Romanian history.

– As a kind of optional?

– It wasn’t optional, it was for pupils who were in the Romanian sections.

– And that’s what you did with teachers…

– With the history teacher, yes. I used to do the same thing with the students, until I was in school. I wrote the appendices, because they are appendices for the history of the Romanian people. In the history textbook, which is translated, I also translated it from Serbian into Romanian, there is an appendix on the history of the Romanian people. That’s for every grade, starting from the third grade. It depends on the teacher how much he is willing to convey to the students.

I didn’t have a special course. I had optional foreign language, that is compulsory, but to choose. And I took Romanian language taught by a teacher who was a historian. So for two years, instead of foreign language, I took the history of the Romanian people. Around 1986 – 1987. I’m a bit sorry I did that, because I didn’t learn the foreign language well. Maybe it was better to take the foreign language. Because the history of the Romanians I learned it myself anyway. 

– Did you do any studies in Romania?

– I didn’t study, but I went to a lot of conferences and learned a lot there.

– When did you start coming to Romania?

– I first went to a seminar for history teachers in 1993 in Turnu Severin. Then in 94-95 I started attending the first conferences in Timisoara, at the Association of Historians of Banat, organized by Radu Păiușan. I attended the congress of Romanian spirituality in Băile Herculane in 1995. People noticed me and started calling me: in Reșița, in Arad, in Timișoara, in Cluj later. That’s where I learned the most though. Cluj is Cluj. Even in the 2000s I attended a lot of conferences, about 20-30 a year in Romania. Then Covid came and stopped. Now I’ve announced myself for the Romanian Historians’ Congress in Alba Iulia in September.

– You said that you went with aid to Romania after the revolution. When?

– In the 90s immediately. We went in January. And we were told to be careful, they were still shooting. We were told there in the village that there was still shooting in the area. Now, was that true or not, I don’t know. We didn’t come home in the evening. I think it was a nice gesture.

– Is that what you wanted? Did you know they needed it, or what did you think?

– I saw it on TV and I knew, as a historian, the situation. I had relatives. The last time I was there was in 1986, in Bucharest, I had an aunt there and I saw the situation.

– How did you feel, did you feel that Romania was poor, that it was difficult?

– Yes. It was right at the time when Yugoslavia was doing very well. And when you went to Romania it was like going to another world. It was miserable, the way people were dressed and the whole atmosphere. It was sad. After that, after the revolution, the first years, there was no immediate improvement. I felt the improvement in ’95-’96.

– After that you noticed?

– By the way the restaurants were, for example. The way people were dressed. And it seemed to me that a lot had already been done. But it was a time when things weren’t good here. War, inflation, economic sanctions, we already saw in Romania a kind of… I wouldn’t say it was better, it couldn’t get better so fast, but it was getting closer. Now they’ve long since passed us by. When we say “us” we mean Serbia, not necessarily the Serbs. I have Romanian citizenship, I applied for it, I’m from the first gasket that got it, in 2019. I applied for it in 2016.

– What did you know in 1989 that was happening?

– What I saw on Romanian television. The Serbian broadcasted too, what they took from TVR.

– And so, from hearsay…

– The students came, they were students studying in Timisoara, medicine in general. And they came when the revolution started and told us what had happened and that’s when we heard.

– What was the talk in the village? What did people know?

– That terrorists were shooting at people, that people had rebelled against Ceaușescu, that there were many dead. It wasn’t clear what was going on. I really remember, as students we used to go out in the evening in the centre, in the café-bars, and then the French came, they were journalists from the television and they asked us where Romania was. A friend who was a student in Timisoara was with us and he told them “Go, but be careful because at the border they might suspect you of something”. They wanted to go to Romania to report, to make material. They also wrote in the newspapers, but pretty much the same things, taken from the Romanian newspapers. The situation was confusing.

– I wonder how it looked from here…

– People were enthusiastic that Ceaușescu had fled, that they would catch Ceaușescu, that if he came here we would catch him.

– Yes?

– (laughs) There were all kinds of ideas. The Serbs organized, through students, certain rallies, actions condemning what Ceaușescu had done. Until Ceaușescu fell. So they warned Romania that look what they were doing to the people. They were a kind of small student demonstrations.

– Stories about people who crossed the border before 1989?

– Yes, some crossed the border here and continued to Belgrade, from Belgrade they went to Italy, Austria. Yes. They hid them from us. They helped them, had connections with them. With goods, with other things. They helped them, showed them where to go.

– Where did they pass the border?

– Different parts. Some ran across the border like that. I heard that down at the Danube, others swam across. It depends.

– But there was a network?

– I hear there was, but I don’t know, I have no information, but I hear there was. They were connected. When I was in Belgrade once, I met some Romanian refugees at the bus station in Belgrade. I heard them speaking Romanian and I asked them where they were from and they told me that they had fled and wanted to go to Italy. They said they had fled Romania, that it was impossible to live there. It was in 1987 – 88. They were like that, tired, distressed, as several days passed. Concretely I had no connection with those who fled.

– And do you know of anyone in the village who was hosting runaways?

– Well, there were some who hosted, but now I don’t know what they did with them, because they didn’t talk about it. They just came to them,left some things and went away. I know some never came back. They left their stuff… but that was after the revolution. That’s another story. They came to the market, to Panceva. They’d leave the goods and people would get some kind of reward. Others never came back.

– And what did they bring to sell?

– At first they brought knitting, linen, tools, hammers. They also brought rice, sugar, medicines they sold at the market, aspirin, paracetamol, without a prescription, without anything. Juices.

– And from here to Romania, what were they taking?

– The Serbs were bringing goods before the revolution. The Romanians, after.

– And what were the Serbs carrying?

– They were carrying jeans, Vegeta, coffee, nylon stockings, more modern clothing, T-shirts, sneakers. No food, just coffee, whisky, the more expensive kind. They specialized. They carried nuts….

– Jewellery?

– I don’t know, I don’t think so. They were from Satul Nou, who went to Romania, to Timisoara. Gypsies. I don’t know what they were taking, because they didn’t only go to Romania, they went here too. I even met them at sea in Croatia, gypsies who have a Romanian identity, they don’t know the gypsy language, they send their children to Romanian schools, they declare themselves Romanians. So they did more traffic with Romania, they got rich, they have big houses, even from that time. There are huge houses in Satul Nou.

Photo credit: Răzvan Popa