By Dana Tudose Tianu

One of the most important Romanian philosophers, journalists and literary critics, Andrei Plesu, said about Romanian historian, Neagu Djuvara, in a 2018 article published in Adevarul, that Djuvara didn’t just live through a lot during his lifetime…but that he lived through it all. 

Historian, diplomat and scholar, Neagu Djuvara passed away on January 25, 2018, aged 101. He had been living in Romania for 30 years, having returned from exile in 1989. At the time of his return, he was already 70 years old. As he confessed himself, in an interview for Romania Journal, he was grateful that destiny allowed him to do at 70 what he wanted to do when he was 30: teach at the university and publish books in Romanian. 

Neagu Djuvara’s captivating narrations of the real history of Romanians is priceless. He wrote several books about the history of Romania, and had an extraordinary understanding of geopolitics. 

His only granddaughter, New York-born Sandra Djuvara Melone, is the founder of the Neagu Djuvara Cultural Association. Her life story has been unfolding, as did her grandfather’s, at the crossroads of different cultures and societies. She currently lives in Belgium, with her husband and daughter, and is Chair of the European Board of Search for Common Ground, an international peace-building NGO, whose purpose is to end violent conflict. 

Dana Tudose-Tianu spoke with Sandra for our OZB readers and hopes that her story will inspire Romanians at home and abroad to take pride in their roots and history. 

DTT: Your choice to work in peacemaking and conflict resolution – how much was it influenced by your international upbringing and your parents’ own professions? 

SDM:  For the past 25 years, I have been working in the field of conflict resolution, also known as conflict transformation, peace-building, mediation. It is something that has been a passion of mine since the very beginning, and I see that, surely, some of my roots are why conflict resolution and peace building have interested me. I come from a family which, on my mother’s side, is half Romanian and half French, and on my father’s side, American. My parents come from international backgrounds. My father was in the U.S. Diplomatic Service. My maternal grandfather is Neagu Djuvara. My grandmother herself was a member of the staff which served France in Algeria during the Algerian war of independence. My grandfather, Neagu,  lived in exile the whole time of the communist regime and 23 of those years were spent in Niger. He had also received asylum in Sweden, Germany and France. My father’s big love was French-speaking Africa and we ended up living in places like Guinea and Rwanda. 

Search for Common Ground, the world’s largest peace building non-governmental organization, is present in 35 countries across the globe. Here, I started by opening our first Africa program, in Burundi, during the civil war, it was during the Rwandan genocide, in 1995. I then opened Search for Common Ground Brussels and I spent 8 years there. I then ran the organization as Executive Vice-president, from Washington DC, for 10 years, and now I am chair of the European Board of Directors. My husband, our 17-year old daughter, Zoe, and I are back to Belgium. 

My mediation mindset did start from early childhood. I was a part of a family sharing my grandfather’s pain of not being allowed to go back in the county which he loved so dearly. It’s not easy to be in forced exile and I understood that what was happening in Romania under the communist regime, was different from the violent conflicts happening in the countries where my father and grandfather were posted. I studied history, by interest but also, I think, by admiration for my grandfather, and I was so deeply inspired by my grandfather’s journey, his journey out of Romania, and his journey back into Romania that it has always stuck with and gave me a worldview of building, rather than burning bridges. 

DTT: Your grandfather loved Romania and Romanians, and he was especially hopeful that change is possible through an engaged and educated Romanian youth. How are you carrying on his work and legacy? 

SDM: My grandfather was absolutely elated at the shifts that had happened in Romania, at the same time as being disappointed in how slow the political machine was moving. That was a disappointment for him, but I feel that there are many opportunities which people can grasp to make a true national dialogue happen on real political and societal issues. Despite the number of media outlets out there, there is still very limited access to multiple facets of issues for most of the population and particularly those living outside of Bucharest. I see opportunity instead of a “ce sa facem” mentality, which some of our middle-aged friends have. Neagu was in love with the Romanian youth and he really felt that there was a vibrancy and an intellectual appetite in many of the universities and even in some of the youth groups in which he had participated in.  I want to continue to honor that optimism and factual observations that Neagu made during the 30 years after he came back to Romania. 

We are doing that through the Neagu Djuvara Cultural Association which we started in 2018. The core principle is to honor Neagu’s intellectual and cultural legacy and to support students and researchers in Romanian and Balkanic history and to promote truth, tolerance and social harmony. My dream is to have Neagu’s short history of Romanians told to children throughout the country. He and I deeply believe in the value of education at a young age. 

Note: If you’re interested in the work of Search for Common Ground then please go to www.sfcg.org or to our Facebook page. If you’re interested in the work that the Neagu Djuvara Cultural Association is doing then please join us on Facebook, Instagram or at www.neagudjuvara.ro

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