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A Bloody Good Time in Transylvania

Posted on October 28 2014


Original Image: fusion-of-horizons

Even if you’re not sure where Transylvania is, you probably have a picture in your mind’s eye, inspired by Hollywood, that is a dark and brooding landscape, cold and rainy and sinister.  Transylvanian nights are as dark as any others, and they do get a fair amount of rain and cool temperatures, but the reputation for scary evil is nothing more than the result of a novel written by an Irishman in the late 19th century.  Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula went about drinking the blood of innocent victims in the country of Transylvania.  Today, Transylvania is a part of Romania in eastern Europe, but it has been a part of Hungary, a part of the Ottoman Empire, a part of the Habsburg Empire,  and an independent entity at different times during its long history.  Hungary would still like to have the region back, but for the time being, the border is set.  As is clear on a map, the Carpathian Mountains curve around to separate Transylvania from the rest of Romania, and the area is something of a world unto itself. The diverse history of Transylvania has led to a wide mix of ethnicities including Romanians, Hungarians, Saxons and Roma, who coexist relatively amicably, though the Roma still face the discrimination they find throughout Europe.

The name “Transylvania” literally means, “across the forest” or “through the forest” and indeed, that’s what’s there – plenty of forest and farmland, as well as historic and fully-developed cities.  The first inhabitants of Transylvania were Saxons from Northern Europe living on small plots in stream side villages, each with a handful of farm animals and a bit of land to raise food on.  Churches built at the town centers were reinforced to act as defensible forts in the event of invasion.  Many of those churches survive today, as does the livelihood – Transylvania is the most developed region of Romania but it is still mostly a land of small farms, one of the last European areas to support widespread subsistence farming.

The recent entry of Romania into the European Union, however, has brought a raft of new rules and regulations to these family-owned plots, many less than 10 acres.  Efforts to modernize the farming economy has meant requiring new equipment for food processing, transport and refrigeration that these small farmers cannot afford.  It will mean the end for a lot of them, but beyond the upset of a centuries-long tradition, the natural world of Transylvania will be altered as well.  Small farms, broken up by frequent tree lines and forests, primitive unmechanized farm equipment, and a minimum of pesticides has helped the native flora and fauna to flourish unhindered.  It can’t last in a modern economy that consolidates farms, builds more roads, and employs standard farming techniques.  Transylvanians can’t maintain their traditional ways simply to entertain tourists in search of an Old World experience, so in coming years, progress, or somebody’s definition of it, will change the landscape irrevocably.

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