27 March, 2023
Two people - a Bulgarian from Rousse and a Romanian from Giurgiu, spoke about their twin cities’ insufficient engagement with one another and launched some ideas for greater interaction
Screenshot from the video presentation of Cosmin Crețu and Vladimir Mitev in Slubfurt (source: YouTube)

Between 27 and 30 October 2022 in the twin cities of Frankfurt an der Oder (Germany) and Slubice (Poland) took place an event, dedicated to the twin cities in the EU, divided by a border. It gathered people from Slovenia, Italy, Cyprus, Estonia, Russia, Portugal, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. The event was meant to create a network of such twin cities and to promote the establishment and affirmation of cross-border communities across the EU. 

The Bridge of Friendship’s Vladimir Mitev (Rousse) and Romanian actor Cosmin Crețu (Giurgiu) took part in this networking event, making an oral presentation about the twin city. Their presentation is available as a video, courtesy of the organizers of the event from the Transbordering Laboratory.

The EU twin cities project was funded by the European Cultural Foundation for 2022 and will seek to continue its activity in 2023 too. Among the planned activities are exchanges and mutual acquaintance between the twin cities, a major annual networking festival, various travelling cultural initiatives or establishment of expertise on cross-border and cross-cultural engagement.

Below you can watch the video presentation or you can read its transcription. A deeper look into ”the bridge of friendship” approach in Bulgarian-Romanian and regional relations can be consulted here.

Cosmin Crețu, Giurgiu: As you probably know, Romania and Bulgaria are in the Balkans. We are very generous. So we try to solve the technical problem. We have just one picture. But let me explain to you. Here is Rousse. Here is the bridge. So for you, please, from now on, Giurgiu will be ”they” or the other. Rousse is ”we”. Ok? Another problem solved.

So let me develop the history of Giurgiu. Giurgiu appears for the first time in documents in the 14th century. And the name Giurgiu precisely and very interesting, the etymological name Giurgiu – nobody knows where it came from. There is a hypothesis that it came from the Venetians, from San Giorgio. It’s just an idea.

My name is Cosmin Crețu. In Romanian it means curly. All of my life I had to face the joke “Curly? But you’re not curly.” Oh, yeah. Breaking news. I was not curly, but when I said I’m from Giurgiu, everyone told me. ”Oh, Giurgiu, where the dog is.” Because in Romania, our biggest drama writer Caragiale had a playwright named… whatever. And there was a quote from it: ”I will beat you till you hear the dogs in Giurgiu,” because in Giurgiu was the the most important point where the guys from Bucharest were taking the dogs which they wanted to kill. That’s the most important point of view, historically, about Giurgiu.

But now the most interesting part of Giurgiu history is my part. I put on my glasses to read in English. So I think that in order to best explain my opinion regarding the closeness between the residents of the neighbouring city of Rousse and those of my city, Giurgiu, divided by as you see the Danube, it would be best to refer to my own experiences. For example, when I was young, I liked to walk with my girlfriend through places hiding from the eyes of others. The reason was one international. I’m sure you understand it. Sometimes during our walks we went right outside the city. 

One of those days we walked to the Giurgiu Nord railway station. An enemy word. It is a railway station located about five kilometers away from the city. There I saw a huge fresco on the wall with soldiers dressed as traditionally as possible. And underneath it was written “Romanian-Bulgarian empire”. I was extremely surprised because I had not learned anything about such a thing at school in history class. On that day, I learned the first really important thing about our neighbors across the Danube, whom we had never visited. Until then all I knew was related to the Bulgarian TV programmes regarding cartoons or football, both non-existent on the Romanian national TV station.

I made this introduction so that you can understand that our closeness was before the revolution of 1989 one strictly geographical. We were not interested in each other in a real way, and that’s a reality that we cannot change quickly. And 30 years in a historical context means quick. Unfortunately, our administration has not proposed anything coherent apart from intention in speeches. I will give you just one example. In the last 30 years, all the presidents of our county councils have promised to take steps to abolish the bridge toll between Giurgiu and Rousse for the residents of the two cities. But they did not keep their promise. Today, we finally have a president who did not promise this and who kept his word. The tax is still here.

Of course, I have always considered that if something displeases me, the best thing to do is to do something myself. So as manager of the theater in Giurgiu, a position I held for seven years, in two periods, I decided to do something concrete. First, we had an exchange of performances with the Theatre of Rousse because we considered that it was not enough to play in the neighbourhood. My desire was linked to approaching the residents of the cities. We played for free without financial claims from the Bulgarian Theatre in Rousse, our only desire being that the Romanian public have free access in the hall, and two reserved rows. A year later we proposed to the spectators a non-verbal show outdoors in the park in front of the Theatre of Rousse, the soundtrack being made of traditional songs from Romania. Next year we made a proposal to the Bulgarian public to visit us during the International Theater Festival with my friend Vladimir, helping me then in the dissemination of the information in the press. We bought performances of the Theatre of Rousse and the Opera of Rousse to visit us in Giurgiu. The two institutions performed during these years. I let Vladimir talk to you about the results of those efforts and the extent to which they were a success.

I’m not a businessman, but I will talk to you about business. Or more precisely, my business is culture, and I think culture and spirituality should be among the most effective tools for bringing the inhabitants of our cities closer together. For this, however, we must realize the importance of this approach to which people still do not respond as expected. It will be a hard job which must be done, taking an example from the drug dealers who know how to make their goods first desired then indispensable. Because in the world we want neighbours to form strong communities. And you know, I have a dream, I have the dream that one day one of the girls from Rousse and one of the boys of Giurgiu will find the same path as I found on that day for the same purposes. Thank you.

Vladimir Mitev: I have too many things to say about both what Cosmin explained and other stuff. But let me first start with this one. Cosmin said that he was not aware or that he didn’t study in high school about the Bulgarian-Romanian historical bonds. And to provide a Bulgarian perspective to the common twin city, I would say in my view many people in Rousse are convinced that Giurgiu and Rousse used to be one city in the medieval times. And I remember my history teacher at high school in Rousse claiming that they even had the same name. One was the Big Yorgovo, which is a version of the name of Saint George. And the Big Yorgovo was Rousse, while Small Yorgovo was Giurgiu. 

So in my eyes, my perspective towards these relations is one of somebody who has lived in Rousse and even in his high school years, developed great curiosity towards what is going on on the other side of the river. You see here on the map the bridge of friendship between Rousse and Giurgiu. And over there to the top is Giurgiu. And I don’t know if you imagine what is a little bit to the left and beyond the photo – the park of Rousse, where my high school was present. And from the top floors of the blocks next to the high school, you could really see what’s going on in the port of Giurgiu. It is very close, even if they look like a great distance in the photo. But really, you have a very peculiar feeling. You know that you are in a certain space, let’s say, and just beyond the river is something else. And I had this curiosity, what is going on there?

Eventually things happened in this way in my life that I became a journalist and I also learned Romanian after I became a journalist. So at the moment, I started traveling, I started doing reports, getting to know Romanian intellectuals, and a lot of things happen after that, including me getting to know Mr. Cosmin Crețu, and including me visiting the Theatre of Giurgiu as some kind of theater tourism.

So now returning to the Rousse and Giurgiu issue, this is the twin couple of cities on the border between Bulgaria and Romania who have the most developed ties. There is a Euro region called the Danubius, which is headed by a person apparently trusted by both Bulgarian and Romanian states. And practically everything that happens between the municipalities of the two cities is somehow being done through this euro region. 

But having my Bulgarian identity, I can’t help being unsatisfied and complaining about stuff. So I think what Cosmin Crețu also observed in his attempts to engage the public of Rousse and especially the cultural institutions – there seems to be certain closedness or lack of sufficient interest. For example, Mr. Crețu offered for free Bulgarians to visit the theater, to be viewers in the theater of Giurigu. And as far as I know, there were very few Bulgarians who came to the watch theater in Giurgiu.

There is this bridge of friendship, which is great, but the transport connections between the two cities are poor. In fact, Rousse is better connected to Bucharest through various lines, but these lines somehow only pass by Giurgiu and there isn’t quite media or some initiatives with multiplier effect which bring people of Rousse and Giurgiu together.

The local administrations institutions know where one another. It can be seen and they collaborate as far as they have interests. But for me it’s interesting, can there be people’s movement, people’s empowerment through borders such as the one we observe here in Sluburt? And I think this is something like a challenge for people of Rousse and Giurgiu to see in the near future and to act on that. And maybe this project, which we participate in now, is also one that can give inspiration for that.

And to finish this presentation. I have reached the moment when I start thinking that ”bridge of friendship” could be, as I said, also in in the first part of the day, some kind of a method for approaching specific areas in the periphery of the world, in areas where people don’t know one another and don’t trust sufficiently one another. They might not be quite interested in engaging one another, but they also maybe slowly realize that they need some dynamics between them. They just need to generate some exchange, some life over the border. Because without that, the area just becomes depopulated. The Giurgiu people go to Bucharest, the Rousse people go to Sofia or abroad. So the dynamism and the vitality of this place falls and cross border engagement could be one way to keep creating some sense of living in this area.

And for me, ”bridge of friendship” is exactly such an approach in which there are maybe some people hopefully like the two which we are here, some people who can be trusted maybe by both sides or who see sense in engaging the other side, who are curious about speaking or doing something with the other people. And these people can really create some dynamism in conditions in which everyone remains on his shore, which I think is the fact. Bulgaria and Romania have strongly national centric media and people have learned and internalized the ideas ”we are Bulgarians”, ”we are Romanians”. But if I speak about myself,I think I have a little bit of a dynamic identity. I think I have mixed a little bit the two aspects of Bulgarian and Romanian, and I’m curious to practice this. And I call this ”bridge of friendship”.

Photo: The Bridge of Friendship at Rousse-Giurgiu with Giurgiu being seen in the disance (source: Yavor Michev)

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