Stanciova is situated at the southern limit of the Lipova Plateau, in the middle of Timiş county, 12 kilometres north-east from the town of Recaş and 41 kilometres east of the city of Timişoara. Inside the village territory, on Grădişte Point, a 6th millenium BCE (Paleolithic) settlement was discovered. The archeological site is part the historical national patrimony. One of the founding legends of the village tells of two Montenegrin shepherds that created the villages of Stanciova and Godenova. It is also known that the village has the best air in the whole Western part of the country. It’s no wonder seeing how close the woods are to Stanciova.
The village is inhabited by a Serbian majority, but with a tendency towards equilibrium between the Serbian and Romanian populations. Between the years 1718-1722 Stanciova was settled by Slavs, Montenegrin Serbs. Between 1852-1853 Slovak colonists from the Trencsen area settled. The Slovaks didn’t last long and dispersed into other Slovak villages like Brestovăţ, Butin or Nădlac. Between 1905-1907 Magyar settlers came, some 150 families. In 1925, 200 Romanians from Transylvania settled. In the inter-war years the village grew, reaching 2000 inhabitants. Its name was changed in 1924 to Stăneşti. After this high water mark it’s been in a steady decline. Now there are 350 people left in the village.
Behind all this data are the amazing stories of feuding clans, uprooted and disenfranchised people but also the stories of young people that believe in the power of community and civic minded spirit. This article is about how all this became intertwined into a single community, its story being told by ”a stranger”, ”a hipster” who believes that good can be achieved in an apparently forgotten village.
Entering the community
Teodora Borghoff has been living here since 2001. Her entrance was spectacular because she had ideas about activism and getting involved in the community. She, together with her colleagues, explained to the village’s inhabitants that they were done with living in the city. That after they had cleaned and reconditioned the houses they had bought in Stanciova, they planned to do something for the village as well.
”At first they thought we were some kind of sect. Furthermore, someone’s grandfather from amongst our group was trying to tell the villagers that his nephew is a sane person, his friends as well, and that the youngsters just had this idea and went with it. Then my mother came and had the same speech, these kids are OK and we their parents support them. They might have some cooky ideas that will probably never pan out, but we won’t oppose them. After sect we became a resource base. So after we made our entracne things turned pragmatic” Teo confessed.
Teodora was part of the Rural Assistance Center and created an association and interest group to cater to Stanciova’s needs.
The first social intervention inside the community…
… was repairing the school roof. Half the roof had burnt down and to the locals it was evident that the school house was destined to become a ruin. The people were talking about using it as a sheep fold and then tearing it down. Teo asked them what needed to be done in order for the building to be saved.
”We, being city kids, had zero construction skills. We didn’t even know what the roof beams were called. And we said to ourselves the roof needs fixing. The Center had the money to cover materials, the town hall had to come up with the money for transporting the materials, and someone from the village had to do the repairs. We left it to the informal leaders, which was an action of trust but also of vulnerability. I didn’t know the people in the village, I didn’t know who could fix a roof. If their informal leaders could convince someone to repair the roof pro bono, fine. If not, there it goes. The materials would all be stolen. And we had to put in the work with the person responsible in order to avoid the pessimistic scenario. But it was fine because the people mobilized and we did it.”
The villagers didn’t feel the intervention as being brutal, as the social fabric had long since come undone. People felt helpless. Their self-esteem is defined by the amount of land they own and the state of their house.
”What actually happened here? In the 60ss through to the 80s, all the young people left for the city to help build factories, the older population was left in the village, burdened by the work in the collective farm. Other people came from other parts of the country and the only chance for the Serbians to boost their self-esteem was for them to get back their lands and work them. The land restoration was deliberately belated thanks to the authorities in Recaș, for 15 years. Officialy the inhabitants were given documents stating for example that indeed one person was due 3 hectares of land, but no one knew exactly where that land was. So it all came to a halt. An when we came to the village there was this really gloomy, pessimistic atmosphere, everybody was telling me, eyes in tears, about everything that had come to ruin. That was the context when we made our entrance. When we started fixing the roof it meant something, something had been achieved” Teodora added.
The fabric of clans
Stanciova is a Serbian village. The Serbian community is extremely tight-knit and extensive. Some moved to Timșoara living in blocks of flats in the Soarelui neighborhood. Their children learn traditional dances and marry amongst their community. They managed so well that even third generation people who have left he village have intermarried or at least married other Serbs. Serbian stories are mostly about departing and coming back. There are those who left young, or it was their parents who left, they’ve been places, and now the 50 year olds return to the village. They come with their own experiences and get into some quite interesting conflicts with those who never left.
”Small anecdote: a 50 year old man started a blackberry plantation. When he was a young boy he hated digging the corn crops and swore to himself that he will leave Stanciova and when he would return he would never dig again. Now his plantation, after 3-4 years, looks very good. And a village elder told him: if your grandfather could see you now he’d come back to give you a good beating for filling up his field with thistles” Teo remembers.
There are also the ”newcomer networks” in the village. Four different populations are included in this group.
The shephers from the area surrounding Sibiu have settled here and are still linked to their Mărginime origins. Thei started the transhumance 80 years ago. This sort of sheep hearding stopped and they settled in Timiș county. They’re not that many but the way in which they became part of the village, or not, speaks volumes. The sneaky way in which they took over the fallow lands haven’t gained the shepherds too many fans.
These clans are quite interesting. There are all sorts of legends about them. Even rumors of violent deaths because of feuding.
The people from Maramureș came, generally, to work in the vineyards. They are industrious people with a variety of skills. There is a gate carved in the traditional Maramureș style that is very impressive. Skilled people. They were very poor and were day laborers. The girls from those families proved to be ideal wives for the workoholic shepherds that needed assistance with cheese making and sheep tending. They keep contact with their place of birth but not as much as those from Mărginime.
The Moldavians came for work, but were from all ove the place, not forming a coherent group. Famililes, that in the 80ss roamed the country looking for the opportunity to work. It’s interesting how they settled. First they moved from one house to another one, but now that the houses have become more expensive, they have a hoousing problem.
”Then there’s the hipster wave. Where I fit in. We arrived around the year 2000. Ar first we were a group of ten people. Out of these there were two families that settled, and then we attracted others. Now, for instance, there’s a family that lived here until their child grew up and they had to move back to Timișoara. But they still commute. Their next door neighbours are a couple who left programming and design jobs to live here, and then they suddenly moved back into the city. She still comes by. Then there’s another couple. He’s Flemish. And there are more.”
After that first intervention in Stanciova, the hipster group was perceived differently by the locals. Paul, Teodora’s colleague became a teacher in the village, Christina is a pshycologist in Recaș and Teo was, oficially, a local development agent for the Recaș Town Hall, responsible for attracting EU funding. She managed to get funds from the German Red Cross, donations, she helped install running water in the village, mediated between the village’s inhabitants and town hall. She helped set up pension dossiers, disability support, helped the inhabitants on the job market by sending out their CVs to different companies. Now the villagers trust her, take her advice and respect her. Now she can say she’s part of the community. She earned the right to be part of it.
Rustic Christmas mood
The ”Prin Banat” team visited Teodora right before Christmas. In her kitchen it was warm and it smelled like cookies.The stories about Stanciova were told with meaning at the mouth of the stove. The stove Teo uses to bake bread in. The stove in which, each year, she bakes huge numbers of cookies for her neighbours. The cookies her mother-in-law, Thomas’s mother, used to bake each Christmas.
”Now Thomas happily munches on them and I have my ritual” she says, smiling.
This story was initially published in the MOVING FIREPLACES. 2017-2018 book.
Photo credit: Iulia Cotrău