November 28, 2012
Why is Danube important? There are a number of correct answers ranging from it’s value as a water way, the delta, the transport system, etc, etc. But Danube is important, or was important, in spite of all these – Danube is important because it cuts through Europe from Germany to Romania and as such it represents a bonding agent. A bonding agent for the European construct.
Sulina was an important Danube port close to where the Black Sea meets the Danube. A small village at the beginning of the 19th century, it transformed into a prosperous city once the Commissions of the Danube River established it’s seat here (1868). Traffic on the Danube increased and so did the welfare of ports on the river. It is important to note that the development of Danube Traffic was made possible by a grain crisis in the UK. In 1854 a Englishman wrote that the fertility of Moldavia and Wallachia was “not a mere geographical fact, but a subject fraught with the utmost importance; for the size of our [British] labourer’s loaves varies with the depth of the water on the bar of the Danube.” [via Wikipedia, quote from “Etchings from the Euxine, II, The Danube and the Crimea,” Fraser’s Magazine, L (September 1854, p. 296)] Grain was available in the East, but getting it to the West involved The Black Sea and Bosphorus thus involving the Russian and Turkish Empires – and that meant taxes. The only other way to move large amounts of grain through Europe was by using the Danube. Austrian-Hungarian Empire and Germany also had interests in the area so soon enough an agreement was reached that involved everybody and that created this International Body to govern on the Lower Danube.
While the history of the Commission is impressive and should be looked into, I was just trying to bring a little context to the issue.
Economical reasons are clear – the same rationale which was good back in the 1800’s is still valid today. Adding that large amounts of freight are cheapest to transport by ship and you get a pretty decent idea of why it is important. The connection between the Rhine and Danube, through the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal insures that today we have a shipping lane that runs from Rotterdam to Constanta, effectively connecting the North Sea with the Black Sea. Just ponder on what it might mean to bring a ship load of whatever from India trough the Red Sea, the Suez, The Bosphorus, the Black Sea and then up river on the Danube, instead of having it circle all the way around Africa or the Gibraltar (if you take the Suez approach). Time and money make the difference. In a similar manner, and we must not be afraid to say it, Romania for example has a great agricultural potential, the Danube is important for moving products within Europe, cheaper than any other way.
But my final point is different. And I have to return to Sulina – because in Sulina there is a cemetery – actually a collection of cemetery’s close together. In many ways, and for those that did not yet get the chance to visit it and are in Romania I strongly recommend it, this cemetery is very different than anything you might have ever imagined. For instance the Jewish cemetery is next door to the Muslim cemetery, something they claim never happens anywhere else in the world. But even more important than that this is that this ensemble of cemeteries happens to host every European Nationality, Ethnicity and Religion there is. As it is not a consequence of war, but of years and years of trade over the Danube, I think that its quite unique within the European spectrum. All other major multi-national, multi-ethnic cemeteries I know around Europe are a direct result of war. This is a result of peace, of people living and working together.
Some of you will claim that is not befitting to use a cemetery to make a point. I think I must do it – because it shows a different reality – the reality of people with different cultures, that spoke different languages and had different religions living and thriving in the same city, without conflict or impunity. It is the EUropean project, is it not?
Believe me or not, I’m still going to say it – Sulina was the first truly European City. And its legacy must be upheld.Horatiu Ferchiu