On the Streets of Constanța: Is Forgetting Stronger than Memory? (Op-ed Florin Anghel)

Florin Anghel, professor PhD, historian

For several decades I’ve been trying to understand why the erasure of tracks and manipulated forgetfulness are so successful in Constanța.

I’ve been watching helplessly year after year when “something nice” (meaning an apartment block, with termopan, AC units on the facade and cheap universal paint) replaced old houses, proud once upon a time, never repaired by the public administrations. Why were history and memory so difficult to handle for the common man, for the local elected officials, for the community at large? Where did we go wrong? And why in Constanța and not somewhere else?

The regaining of memory means more than repairing some “old” immobiles.

If over so many decades we would have only used the weapon of passion, we would have still defeated forgetfulness. This city, however, lost respect for it’s own past a while ago, it forgot that it was the place where Publius Ovidius Naso wrote universally valuable literature when writing was still something rarely done in the world, it forgot today that it doesn’t have a theater hall because it had an amphitheater two thousands years ago. Constanța forgot that a century ago it had some of the best hotels of Europe, as it forgot the many legends who inhabited it, so many moments that ennobled it, so much charm with which it conquered. Constanța was defeated by the mediocrity of most of the decision makers, by the wolfish habits, by the lack of education, by the inability to communicate the significance of the values of historic memories. The answers haven’t arrived, nor will they ever arrive. The returns, however, are already being paid: without memory, Constanța became commonplace.

Heritage Constanța is medicine for the head and the heart in order to remind us. The doctors who wrote the simple prescription, the project’s members, are people who didn’t abandon and who believe that, alone, memory is paramount. The Greek streets, the Ashkenazi synagogue, the stone mosques, the memory of the fabulous Armenian community, the pieces of Bulgarian memories, the fragile German remains, the spectacular monuments of urban architecture designed by intelligent Romanians, all of these were recovered purposefully and placed into a time of refinding the city. Heritage Constanța isn’t about history, it is an invitation to respect the stone we walk on, to simply love the street we pass through, to believe in the value of the city we live in.

Memory is a beginning for hope.

When we began, in 2014, the recovery of the Royal Palace of Mamaia, forgetfulness had soundly sat on the ruins mocked by all of those elected. Every day we dropped an ounce of hope. We chose, together with wonderful and dedicated people, to bring back memories. Memory gave birth to projects. Today, Constanța is ready to reclaim the legacy of Queen Maria and place it back in it’s treasury. Some more time will have to pass until then, there will be need of another story or two but forgetfulness has been defeated. It is the best example that Heritage Constanța is a story about memory and hope.