I’ve recently read about an enterprising project called Branding Romania, not, as one might imagine, an official nation-branding exercise but a summer school offering personal and professional training to youngsters to motivate them to contribute to transforming their own communities. This year’s Branding Romania summer school will be the fifth in the series. The aim is to harness values and aspirations for the future to the energy and curiosity of young people, provide a context for networking, intelligent conversation and practical exercises, and inspire these young people to step up and shape the future of their country. I confess to a personal interest. One of the inspirations behind the project is Marian Staș, a friend of some years’ standing, who is passionate about education reform in Romania and has devoted his time to leadership training programmes for young people.
To be honest, it was a relief to read something positive about Romania for a change. Romania’s international image has taken a beating in recent weeks. To sum up the avalanche of bad news stories which have hit the world’s media in the past weeks, one would imagine Romania’s nation brand is corruption and political buffoonery, cronyism and self-interest. A former Prime Minister has been jailed for corruption, after years of legal stalling, a positive sign that the judiciary is finally working as it should; even an apparent suicide attempt has not kept him out of prison. But other developments, most recently a Parliamentary vote to suspend the President for interfering with government business, pending a public referendum for impeachment, are provoking concern about the quagmire that passes for politics in Romania.
Romania is a country of extraordinary natural beauty and rich history, as a recent documentary attests. Prince Charles is a strong admirer of traditional Transylvanian countryside and heritage and now owns several properties there. At the same time, the country is blessed with imaginative and creative young people. Look at the modern generation of film-makers who have won several international awards even though, like prophets, they are less appreciated in their own land than in Cannes and Los Angeles. There have been several official attempts at nation-branding since the collapse of communism some twenty- plus years ago, most recently a tourism campaign to Explore the Carpathian Garden. Yet the predominant image of Romania in the world’s mind today is a country where demagogy rules and where, according to European leaders and Romanian intellectuals, democratic values are under threat. The Foreign Investors Council has already warned that the unpredictable political situation will damage the financial situation at a time when Romania is already suffering fall-out from the economic crisis in Europe. What’s a country to do when its leaders are oblivious or impervious to the lesson that while a positive image takes months, if not years, to build, it can be lost in a matter of days? Time to take responsibility for nation branding away from the authorities and to hand it to a new generation of adults who can restore Romania’s good name. So good luck to the Liderii Mileniului Trei!