A Few Glimpses of History

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, Ambassador of Romania to the UK, in Huffington Post:

I have always been fascinated by history because I believe that if we know the past then we better understand the present, prevent painful history to be repeated and eventually anticipate the future. For a diplomat, understanding and respecting the history and culture of the host country is a prerequisite for any correct professional judgement.

I remember when I first came to Britain in May 1993. From the Heathrow Airport I went directly to see Windsor Castle and being there made me feel like I had stepped off the plane and straight onto one of the most fascinating pages of European history. I met again the British history 15 years later, as a newly appointed Ambassador of Romania to the Court of St James’s. While still in Brussels and preparing to cross the Channel, an English friend of mine advised me to see the film “The Battle of Britain”: “Watch this film – he said – and then you will understand why we are the way we are”. He offered me another piece of advice: “If you deliver a speech in front of a British audience and you don’t tell a joke in the first three minutes, you will be considered boring”.

Since then, I have seen the red thread of history in many occasions. Sometimes, I found fabulous glimpses of history connecting Romania and the UK. For instance, during one of my journeys to Scotland, I learned that 1800 years ago Dacians (the ancestors of nowadays Romanians) enrolled in the Roman legions have built the Antonine and Hadrian Walls. At that time, the provinces Dacia and Britannia were both part of the same political entity, the Roman Empire. There are tombs of Dacian soldiers and other archaeological findings – such as 31 written stones from the Hadrian Wall in Newcastle – proving the Romanians’ ancestors presence in Britain for more than 300 years, before they blended into the local communities. One of the inscriptions says: “Under Modius Julius, legate of the emperor with pro-praetorian power, the First Aelian Cohort of Dacians built this, under the command of the tribune Marcus Claudius Menander”. The text was discovered in 1914 and is dated AD 219.

At the beginning of their diplomatic relations, Romania and the UK were closely linked through their Royal families, Queen Maria of Romania being British by birth and grand daughter of Queen Victoria. A Romanian Navy battleship is today named “Queen Maria”. Here again the history is present: in 1929 the Guild of the Freemen of the City of London decided to establish a symbolic relationship with successive ships of the Royal Navy bearing the City’s name. In this respect, the 8th HMS London, a heavy cruiser launched in 1927, received a piece of silver plate as a gift from the Guild (the 1st HMS London is dated back in 1657). It is worth to note that in 1941 HMS London took part in the famous chase of the German battleship Bismarck, followed by two years escorting Russian convoys to the Artic Ocean. The happy relationship between the Guild and the Royal Navy continued over the years and the 10th HMS London, a Type 22 Batch 2 anti-submarine frigate, was launched in 1984 and took part to operations in the Persian Gulf during the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. This frigate is now proudly the Romanian battleship “Regina Maria”. However, HMS London returned in its new livery to the UK for the Trafalgar Fleet Review in 2005…

Trying to understand “why the British are the way they are”, I came across Blandon in Oxfordshire, where in the graveyard of the Church of St Martin rests Sir Winston Churchill, according to his last wish. Seeing the simplicity of the tomb of such a great man, it came to my mind Lord Nelson’s words at the Battle of Trafalgar, in 1805: “England expects that every man will do his duty”. I keep in my office a photograph taken at our Embassy in 1939, when Sir Winston, then First Lord of the Admiralty, met the Romanian Foreign Minister Grigore Gafencu to discuss about the danger of a new war in Europe. 70 years later, this photograph offered me the privilege to have as a guest, in the same room in 1 Belgrave Square, Lady Mary Soames, Sir Winston’s daughter.

The history is often twined with the present and the best example is London, a metropolis which has its own soul (and whims, because if you treat it with indifference, London could crush you with its immensity and complexity). The City of London is the heart of the international commercial diplomacy and the most important financial centre in the world, but also a fusion of ultra-modernism and century-old traditions. For instance, one of these traditions is related to the Guilds. It was at the Guild of St George where I first listened to “Rule Britannia” (“…Britons never will be slaves”) and it was at the Guild of Freemen of the City of London where I discovered the meaningful Ceremony of the Loving Cup. At the Easter Banquet at Mansion House, a few days ago, you might feel teleported back into history (after all, the current Lord Mayor has 685 predecessors), but the speech delivered by the Foreign Secretary was one of a great actuality.

Before the WW2, Nicolae Titulescu, the greatest Romanian diplomat and one of the brightest European minds of his time, twice elected President of the League of Nations, was for ten years the ambassador of Romania to the Court of St. James’s. He was a strong supporter of close relationships between Romania and the UK (“The one who does not understand the importance of Britain’s moral support must not get involved in foreign policy”) and a tireless advocate for the respect of the international law. Romania and the UK share today a Strategic Partnership, are close friends and allies. We celebrated recently Romania’s 10th anniversary in NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance. It is widely recognized that Romania has strengthened the alliance immeasurably since it joined in 2004. In the current international context, once again, the history is part of our present.