Bran Castle, Brașov, Romania / Photo by Dobre Cezar, Creative Commons
The First Entry into Europe
Manuc’s Inn was built in 1808 and by the middle of the 19th century, it was Bucharest’s most important commercial complex, with 15 wholesalers, 23 retail stores, 107 rooms for offices or living, two receiving rooms and a pub. It has been subject to numerous restorations, including one now, but its essential structure remains intact.
In the last century there took place something which we are trying to repeat in quite different, and perhaps more difficult, conditions today: the entry of Romanian society into Europe. For more than a century the process of Westernization, affirmed initially among an elite group, made gradual progress, despite being slowed down by material and mental inertia. At least a few more decades would have been necessary for Western values and institutions truly to establish strong roots in Romanian soil. But history was not willing to grant these decades to Romania. The right-wing autochthonist offensive was followed by the far more lasting and transforming solution of the extreme Left. Communism quite simply knocked Romania off the normal path of evolution, totally overturning all its structures and values. However, the construction which it attempted—that of a new type of civilization—has collapsed, requiring us, at the end of half a century of exit from history, to retrace the steps taken a century and a half ago. Once again we are knocking on the gates of Europe and attempting our second entry into the Western world.
Chronological markers are a delicate matter; however, we may consider that the process of the first entry into Europe began to acquire consistency around the year 1830, in the period of the Treaty of Adrianople and the Règlement Organique. The alphabet of transition is a perfect illustration of the direction in which Romanian society was moving. Between 1830 and 1860 the Cyrillic alphabet gave way to a mixed form of writing, a combination of Cyrillic characters and Roman letters, with a tendency for the latter to become more prevalent. In 1860 the Roman alphabet was established by law. By around 1830, young aristocrats had already adopted Western clothing. Iconography offers us some amusing images: in the salons of the time, men of more mature years, faithful to the Oriental mode of dress, appear alongside younger men, and women of all ages, dressed in “European” style. Ştefan Cazimir has sketched out an interesting scale of receptivity to Western forms: boyars seem more receptive than the middle or lower categories, the young more receptive than the old, and women more receptive than men. A young gentlewoman—an admirer of French fashions and a reader of French novels—would certainly have felt the pulse of the age better than an elderly townsman! Writing and fashion can be seen as the symptoms of a process which was to embrace, with varying intensity, all sectors of Romanian society.
One idea, which has become deeply rooted as a result of its repetition over almost five decades, must be set aside at this point. In the first half of the nineteenth century the bearers of the notion of progress were neither the lower classes nor a practically non-existent bourgeoisie. The opposition between “old” and “new” did not separate antagonistic social classes, but was, in fact, a division within the Romanian elite of the time. The wearers of new clothes, with ideas to match, were, for the most part, young boyars. The same group could also be found at the head of the revolution of 1848, which communist historiography called the “bourgeois-democratic” revolution; “democratic”, granted, but where was the bourgeoisie to make it “bourgeois”? In any case, the social category which we might describe as a somewhat insubstantial middle class, rather than a bourgeoisie in the strict sense, was far from being highly receptive to what was happening in the west of the continent. The chronicle of Dionisie the Ecclesiarch, completed around 1815, seems to be highly characteristic of the culture and attitudes of the “small townsman” at the time when the process of modernization was about to take off. Dionisie transforms the French Revolution into a fantastic novel. He neither understands nor accepts its principles and, given a choice between the French and the Russians, he sides unhesitatingly with the latter, whom he sees as the defenders of Orthodoxy. His notions of European politics prefigure the judgements of a “jupîn Dumitrache” or “conu Leonida”, the imaginary, but so real, characters created by Caragiale more than half a century later. It is quite clear that the Europeanization of Romanian society did not start in this social environment.
Communist ideology needed a bourgeois revolution (a necessary moment in the Marxist historical trajectory) and a bourgeois class to implement it. Prior to this, the dominant interpretations of Romanian cultural history had seen modem ideologies and institutions as having been borrowed from the West; this is the thesis on which E. Lovinescu based his well-known theory of modern Romanian civilization. An alternative viewpoint was suggested by Ştefan Zeletin, who argued that the effective development of a Romanian capitalist economy was the starting point for sociopolitical restructuring. But even Zeletin emphasized the importance of the stimulus provided by Western capital and the Anglo-French bourgeoisie (in other words, “external factors”), and his indigenous “bourgeois” category was in fact made up of boyars, who had suddenly become interested in the grain trade after 1829. All in all, whichever particular interpretation we prefer, it is clear that everything started from the top down, from the boyar class and not from the fragile and disorientated “middle class”. Moreover, even if we accept that Romanian society was involved—to a limited extent—in the capitalist exchange economy, there is no escaping the fact that all the elements of modern civilization, from forms of literature to the constitution, from the university to the financial system or the railways, were imported products. These products could only be “imported” by those members of the elite who had become accustomed to Western civilization. This does not mean that Romanian society as a whole had no part to play. The process of acculturation presupposes the equal participation of two players: the one who offers a model, and the one who takes it up and adapts it. It is not possible for anyone to imitate any model whatsoever. The very act of imitation presupposes a certain degree of compatibility with the chosen model. But there can be no debate about the fact that the Romanians imitated.
Nationalism and Modernization
Ghelari-Retisoara in 1900
The path taken by Romanian society in the nineteenth century can be summed up in terms of three great problems, which also had a decisive impact on the relationship of the Romanians to their own past.
The first is the national idea. In recent decades, discussions of the concept of nation have been affected, often in contradictory ways, both by Stalin’s famous definition (still repeated today, albeit “anonymously”) and by the exacerbated nationalism of the Ceauşescu period. The end result has been a thorough confusion of the concept. The Stalinist definition makes the economic unification of the territory an obligatory factor, and so confers an abusively material dimension on what is, in fact, an eminently ideal project. The nationalist tendency, genuflecting more towards national mysticism than towards economics, pushes the premise of a Romanian nation, if not actually the Romanian nation itself in all its fullness, far back into the past. If we take these two interpretations to their extreme then we must conclude either that we are a nation formed in the modem period for predominantly economic reasons, or that we are a nation as old as history itself!
In fact, what is usually meant by national consciousness, if it is to mean something more than the mere consciousness of an ethnic identity, is the idea of the national state or nation-state, the result of the will of a community, whether ethnically homogeneous or not, to form itself into a political organism. This does not emerge inevitably from a “unitary economic market” (in 1900 the Romanians of Transylvania belonged to the Hungarian market, not that of Romania), but nor does it arise from some illusory predestination, the irrevocable mark of which may be traced across a history of millennia. The idea of the nation-state is no more than two centuries old, and nowhere is it written that it must endure to eternity. Its origins can be found, on the one hand, in the philosophy of the “social contract”, as defined by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and on the other, in the perception of ethnic communities as living organisms, each with its own spirituality and destiny distinct from those of other ethnic communities (according to Johann Gottfried Herder’s interpretation in Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit, 1784-1791). Popular sovereignty and the mystique of “shared blood” are thus the contradictory, but also complementary, principles that lie behind the fact of nationhood. The French Revolution, followed by the overturning of the European system by the Napoleonic Wars and subsequent revolutions, hastened the crystallization of the concept and led to the actual or ideal division of the continent into a constellation of nation-states.
Prior to this historical phase the formation and evolution of state organisms bore no connection to ethnic and linguistic borders, or to the expression of the popular will. France, which has come to be seen by many as the model of the national state, began as a conglomerate of disparate territories and cultures; the Provençal language of the south was closer to Catalan than to French, the Bretons were Celtic, and the people of Alsace German. When, as a result of the Revolution, the French became a nation, that nation would be defined not as an ethnic organism but as the outcome of the free option of its citizens. At the opposite pole to this “contractual” understanding of the nation, the German model would insist on ethnicity and history, blood and culture. It is easy to see why the people of Alsace were long regarded, with equal reason on both sides, as both French and Germans. They were French according to the French definition of the nation, and Germans according to the German definition. This theoretical divergence was the source of endless conflicts, which affected not only the two states but the whole continent of Europe.
In the case of the Romanian nation (and the nations of Central Europe in general), the model which is invoked corresponds to the German formula. The Romanians are defined by a common origin (whether Roman, Dacian or Daco-Roman), a unitary language, a shared history, and a specific spirituality. This is why, like the Germans and Hungarians, they cannot accept the division of their people into distinct nations (Romania and the Republic of Moldova), and why they find it hard to consider as true Romanians those whose origin and language are different (like the Hungarians of Transylvania, who, for their part, hold to a similar conception of the nation and so are less than eager to integrate with the mass of Romanians).
The segmentation of present-day life according to the lines of fracture between nations is also manifested in the projection into the past of these real or ideal divisions. Myths of foundation have been elaborated and re-elaborated in such a way as to make the original configuration as close as possible, if not identical, to the present-day national organism. The phenomenon is a general European one. In the Romanian case, the all-embracing symbol of the entire national space became Dacia, at a time when the very name of Romania did not exist. Indeed, we may note the absence, until well into the nineteenth century, of a modern generic term for the whole territory occupied by Romanians. The present name of the country was first formulated by the Transylvanian Saxon historian Martin Felmer in the eighteenth century, and it was again employed in 1816 by Dimitrie Philippide, a Greek historian settled in Wallachia (in his History of Romania and Geography of Romania). In the middle years of the nineteenth century the term Dacia was frequently used to refer to what we know now as Romania, that is, the entire territory inhabited by Romanians. In their very tides, publications like Dacia literară (Literary Dacia), Magazin istoric pentru Dacia (Historical magazine for Dacia), and Dacia viitoare (Future Dacia) set forth a whole program of national politics. Even somewhat later, when the term Romania had been officially adopted to designate the little Romania resulting from the union of Wallachia and Moldavia in 1859, Dacia continued to serve as a name for the whole national space of the Romanians, the future Greater Romania. The title of A. D. Xenopol’s great work of synthesis, The History of the Romanians in Dacia Traiana (1888-1893), symbolizes the direct relationship between ancient Dacia and the modem Romanian nation.
The second great challenge of the nineteenth century was the problem of the modernization, or rather Westernization, of Romanian society. There is no doubt that the giving up of Orientalism and traditionalism in writing and clothing implied an approach towards the Western model, but the hardest step still remained to be taken. The question was how to set in motion a patriarchal and authoritarian system, a society overwhelmingly rural, dominated by landed property, in which the modern stimulating factors of capitalism and democracy were almost completely absent. Within a short space of time, and above all between 1860 and 1870, the young Romanian state adopted almost everything that it could borrow from the European institutional and legislative system: constitution, Parliament, responsible government, legal codes, the university, the academy… For Titu Maiorescu these were “forms without substance”, and he was right in the sense that a profound transformation of Romanian society and mentalities required much more than the simple naturalizing of Western institutions through the enthusiasm of an elite. For almost a century, until the course of development was disrupted by communism, the great problem of Romanian society was to be the aligning of the substance with the form. The game was half won, and half lost.
The main contradiction in the project of modernization lay in the very structure of Romanian society. Modern society is the creation of towns and of the bourgeoisie. In the Romanian case, however, the principal groups brought together and set in opposition by the dialectic of social relations were the great landowners and the peasants. Even around 1900, after a period of relative urban development, no less than 81.2 percent of the population of Romania still lived in villages. This massive predominance of the rural population had important implications for a wide range of social and political projects, as well as for the various ways in which the national past, and the spirituality and destiny of the Romanians, were interpreted. The “Romanian model”, past, present, and even future, became fixed as a predominantly rural one, and so it has remained in the minds of many Romanians. From such a perspective the town came to seem a foreign excrescence on the healthy body of rural Romania, especially as urban communities were in fact largely foreign, or at least cosmopolitan.
Thus the inherent discrepancies between the village and the town were widened, in the Romanian case, by significant ethnic, religious, and cultural differences. In 1899, Iaşi, the capital of Moldavia, had 76,277 inhabitants, of whom 26,747 were Romanians and 48,530, well over half, were Jews. Even Bucharest seemed a cosmopolitan city. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, out of a population of around 250,000 people, 32,000 were of Catholic or Protestant religion and 31,000 were Jewish. It would thus appear that about a quarter of the population of the capital were of “non-Romanian” origin. This is without taking into consideration the towns of Transylvania, where Romanians were in the minority in relation to either Hungarians or Germans. The opposition between village and town, between the ethnic and cultural purity of the peasant and of the “native” boyar on the one hand, and the cosmopolitan character of the Romanian bourgeoisie on the other, is a common theme in Romanian culture over more than a century. The refusal of modernity—in the urban and bourgeois version which was its only true manifestation—reached such an extent that in the interwar period E. Lovinescu felt obliged to fight a veritable campaign for the rehabilitation of the urban environment in literature. Ştefan Zeletin regarded Romanian culture as quite simply reactionary, “the rebellion of the medieval elements in our soul against the bourgeois order imposed by the invasion of foreign capitalism into our patriarchal way of life”. Historians, too, have shown much more interest in rural issues, especially agrarian property relations, than in the evolution of urban life and of the Romanian bourgeoisie. All this suggests a traditionalist and anti-bourgeois sensibility; a mental brake that delayed, even if it could not block, the modernization of Romanian society.
It is certain that in the first phase of the modernization process, around the middle of the nineteenth century, property relations in agriculture appeared to be the most urgent problem facing the country. The question was whether the great landed estates would win in the end, by freeing the peasants from feudal burdens without a substantial transfer of ownership, or whether Romania would move in the direction of a system of small properties. The Rural Law of 1864 was an attempt at a compromise, a partial transfer of ownership resulting in the coexistence of great estates with small properties. Peasant unrest, culminating in the great rebellion of 1907, revealed how precarious the balance was. The new agrarian reform of 1921 would abolish the system of latifundia, transferring most of the land into the hands of small peasant landowners.
Romanian historians took sides in the struggle over property with their own specific weapons. The past was summoned to bear witness for the present and the future. Two tendencies stand out. The first, starting with Nicolae Bălcescu’s essay On the Social Status of the Workers of the Land in the Romanian Principalities in Various Times (1846), highlighted the primordial character of peasant property, which had been usurped during the Middle Ages by the great estates of the boyars. The other, in contrast, affirmed the pre-existence and permanence of great landed properties.
That the debate was essential for Romanian society is beyond question, but insistence on this issue tended to leave the active forces of modernization in the background. Rural property, whether large or small, was not at the forefront of these. The problem was how to remove Romania from the condition of a predominantly rural country, and the Romanians from their patriarchal mentality. From this point of view, communism can certainly be seen as a specific attempt at modernization. Indeed, the brutality of the solutions adopted achieved a forced break from the rural past, but at the cost of upsetting all structures and knocking together a false modern society, quite outside all that modernity had come to mean by the end of the twentieth century.
The third great problem was that of models, of relations between the Romanians and “others”. The new ideas and institutions were all products of the Western laboratory. Even the national idea and the nation-state itself originated in the ideological evolution of the West. Up until the nineteenth century the Romanians were integrated in the Eastern cultural space. Much is made of the occasional Western connections made by scholars, like the high steward Cantacuzino who studied in Padua or the Moldavian chroniclers with their studies in Poland, but these were never enough to change the general condition of a society and a culture. It was a culture penetrated by the Orthodox idea, not the national idea. The first important break was made in the late eighteenth century in the work of the Transylvanian School, a group of Uniate intellectuals who had studied in Vienna and Rome and who were guided, sometimes to the point of obsession, by the idea of their Latin origins and the need to re-actualize them. The work of the Transylvanian scholars was an important source for the re-orientation of the Romanian space towards the West, but the tone which they set—as the spokesmen of a peasant society under foreign domination—only began to be manifested on a larger scale once the elites of the two Romanian states decided to adopt the Western model.
The process of modernization and the affirmation of the national idea both led in the same direction. As long as the generally shared values were those of Orthodoxy, the Romanians could feel at home in the East European space. But once the sentiment of national identity had come to the foreground everywhere, things took a radical new turn for them. They suddenly became aware of what they had, in fact, always been, though without necessarily standing out as a result—”an island of Latinity in a Slav sea”. The Russians were no longer the great liberating Orthodox brothers. Indeed, their shared religious identity seemed to pose an additional danger, threatening to facilitate the absorption and assimilation of Romania (as had just happened with Bessarabia). Romanian nationalism now stood up against the nationalism of the Slav peoples and Pan-Slavism.
Growth of the Habsburg Empire in Central Europe / Wikimedia Commons
Relations with the Catholic or Protestant Hungarians were no more encouraging. Once Hungary itself (or that part of the Habsburg Empire dominated by the Magyar aristocracy) began to emerge as a national, and thus assimilating, state, the situation of the Romanians in Transylvania became even more delicate. Whether it was a matter of Hungarians or Slavs, the Romanians were surrounded on all sides by national constructions or national projects which contradicted their own project.
The only solution was to look to the West, especially to the Latin idea, and to appeal above all to the great Latin sister: France. The French model, and in a sense the “French illusion”, developed into a fundamental reference point for nineteenth-century Romanian society. In yet another dramatic and insoluble contradiction, the Romanians tried to break away from the part of Europe to which they nonetheless clearly belonged, and to set sail, in the realm of the imaginary, towards the shores of the West.
Nor should the opposite reaction be underestimated. The Western model found a less than propitious ground in the rural base of Romanian society and in the rural-autochthonist mentality, which, despite being partially masked for a time by the pro-Western activity of an elite, would remain strong and ready to burst forth when the time was right. The tension between the Western model and indigenous cultural standards was to continue throughout the period which we are considering, and indeed is still in evidence today.
As far as historical discourse is concerned, attachment to the Western model had the effect both of diminishing nationalism and of amplifying it. Set against the brilliance of Western civilization, which had been erecting impressive cathedrals at a time when the Romanians had yet to enter history, early Romanian culture seemed no more than a variety of “Oriental barbarism” (the expression used by Titu Maiorescu). This reaction of astonishment was the dominant one, especially in the first phase of contact. Writing in 1828 to Stratford Canning, the British ambassador in Constantinople, Ioniţă Tăutu confesses, with all due humility, that the Romanians are a people “without arts, without industry, without enlightenment”. So had their ancestors been before them: “While letters were flourishing in Rome, Ovid, exiled to Dacia, thought that he was in the Empire of Pluto.” Referring to the history of Moldavia, another text of 1828, Nouveau tableau historique et politique de la Moldavie, which may be attributed to the great boyar Iordache Rosetti-Roznovanu, says essentially the same thing: the past of the country “presents, on the whole, nothing of interest, no act whose memory deserves to be preserved in the annals of the nations”.
On the other hand, it was also argued (and with more and more insistence as national projects were affirmed with increasing force) that, on the contrary, the Romanians had once enjoyed those essential attributes of civilization of which the West was so proud. They had lost them, however, because they had been obliged for centuries to keep their hands on the sword rather than the pen, in order to defend Europe from the expansion of Islam. Their sacrifice had contributed to the ascent of the West. For all they were now about to receive, the Romanians had already paid in abundance.
Of course, such complexes could not touch the autochthonist model. Once the Romanians were seen as different from other people the problem no longer needed to be formulated in terms of superiority or inferiority. A discussion that took place within the Junimist circle some time in the 1870s, between the nationalist Eminescu and the skeptic Vasile Pogor, provides a perfect illustration of the opposition between autochthonists and unconditional admirers of the Western model.
According to George Panu, the memorialist of the group, the exchange—and it matters litde whether or not it is authentic—went like this:
“What’s all this about the history of the Romanians?” exclaimed Pogor. “Can’t you see that we have no history? A people which has no literature, art, or past civilization—such a people is not worth the attention of historians… At a time when France could produce Molière and Racine the Romanians were in a state of utter barbarism.”
Then Eminescu, who was sitting in a corner, rose, and said, with a violence which was not his usual tone: “What you call barbarism, I call the setded wisdom of a people that develops in conformity with its own genius and shuns any mixing with foreigners.”
What we find summarized in these few lines is the great dilemma which has divided Romanian society for the last two centuries.
A National Myth: Michael the Brave
Portrait of Michael the Brave by Aegidius Sadeler II (Prague, 1601) / Wikimedia Commons
The way in which the myth of Michael the Brave took shape illustrates better than any other historical model the mutations which have taken place in Romanian consciousness. The prince, who managed for a short time (1599—1600) to rule the three territories that were to be united some three centuries later in modern Romania, begins to be perceived as a unifier only towards the middle of the nineteenth century. Such an interpretation is completely lacking in the historiography of the seventeenth-century chroniclers, and even in that of the Transylvanian School around 1800. What they emphasized, apart from the exceptional personality of Michael himself, were the idea of Christendom and his close relations with Emperor Rudolf. The conqueror’s ambition is likewise frequently cited as a motivation for his actions, occupying in the interpretative schema the place which was later to be occupied by the “Romanian idea”.
In the writings of the Moldavian chronicler Miron Costin, Michael the Brave appears in the role of conqueror of Transylvania and Moldavia, “the cause of much spilling of blood among Christians”, and not even highly appreciated by his own Muntenians: “The rule of Voivode Mchael was hateful to the Muntenians, what with his armies and wars.” The perspective of the Muntenians themselves is to be found in The History of the Princes of Wallachia, attributed to Radu Popescu, which bundles together all Mchael’s adversaries without distinction, Romanians and foreigners alike: “He subjected the Turks, the Moldavians, and the Hungarians to his rule, as if they were so many asses.” The picturesque flavor of the expression only serves to confirm the absence of any “Romanian idea”. Could Michael the Brave, in 1600, have been more “patriotic” than the erudite chroniclers of the later seventeenth century?
Even the Transylvanian School, to which nineteenth-century Romanian consciousness owed so much, did not make the decisive step, however much it sought to affirm the identity of the Romanians and pride in being Romanian. The idea of a single state for all Romanians had yet to be voiced, and it was still not time for the achievements of Michael the Brave to be exploited in this sense. Consider how Samuil Micu sums up Michael’s reign in his Short Explanation of the History of the Romanians (written in the 1790s): “In the year 1593, Michael, who is called the Brave, succeeded to the lordship of Wallachia. He was a great warrior, who fought the Turks and defeated the Transylvanians. And he took Transylvania and gave it to Emperor Rudolf…” Nowadays, such an interpretation would provoke widespread indignation—yet its author is considered one of the great founding fathers of Romanian nationalism!
In his Chronicle of the Romanians and of Other Peoples, Gheorghe Şincai devotes much space to Mchael’s reign, and especially to his actions in Transylvania. In opposition to Engel, he always sets the record straight in favor of the Romanians. He is determined to defend, the personality of the voivode, whom he portrays in a morally positive light in antithesis to the defects of his adversaries. The ingredients of the myth are there, but the myth itself is still absent. Şincai puts an emphasis on national pride, but he does not exploit the idea politically in the direction of national unity.
A few decades later, in 1830, Damaschin Bojincă, a follower of the Transylvanian School from the Banat, published a biography of the prince in The Romanian Library, under the tide The Famous Deeds and End of Michael the Brave, Prince of Wallachia. The national idea is still not fully developed, with the main emphasis being on Michael’s struggles against the Turks.
The turning point is marked by Aaron Florian, a Transylvanian who settled in Wallachia and became a teacher at the Saint Sava College in Bucharest. Michael the Brave occupies an essential role in his Quick Idea of the History of the Principality of Wallachia. Aaron Florian dwells at length on Mchael’s personality and his period, to which he devotes considerably more space than the economy of the tide might seem to warrant—two hundred pages, amounting to the greater part of the second volume, published in 1837—and at last gives the voivode’s actions their place in the foundation of Romanian national unity. He reproaches Michael only for the fact that he was not able to give the unified Romanian territories an appropriate constitution. Only thus might a new era have begun, in which the Romanians would have been able to evolve, united, alongside the other nations of Europe.
This is how the Transylvanian Aaron Florian saw things in Bucharest. Not so the Moldavian Mihail Kogălniceanu. The man who was later to be the great artisan of the union of the principalities gives no signs in his youthful writing that he was at all sensitive to the national potential of the Mchael the Brave episode. In his Histoire de la Valachie, published, like Florian’s volume, in 1837, we find a Michael whose source lies in Miron Costin’s evocation. There is not the slightest hint of a project of national unity: rather, Michael’s dominant characteristic seems to be the “unbounded ambition” which drives him not only to conquer Transylvania but even to dream of the crowns of Hungary and Poland. “His reign was outstanding in conquests, but fatal to Wallachia”, is Kogălniceanu’s summing up, and he draws from it a certain historical moral: “The names of great conquerors never perish in the memory of the people, while virtuous but peaceful princes are forgotten.” Michael appears as a great warrior, a hero indeed, but certainly not a unifier.
Despite his Muntenian origins, Nicolae Bălcescu gives no signs of any special attraction towards the personality of Michael the Brave in his eadiest works—Armed Power and the Military Art from the Founding of the Principality of Wallachia to the Present (1844) and On the Social Status of the Workers of the Land… (1846)—where he gives him the place and importance which the respective themes call for and no more.
However, after 1840 the irresistible ascent of Michael becomes more and more visible. It is an ascent in which he appears in two different lights, sometimes contradictory but potentially complementary, as both the glorious ruler of Wallachia and the unifier of the Romanians. The former aspect is highlighted by Gheorghe Bibescu, himself a ruler of Wallachia (1842-1848), who liked to present himself as the worthy successor of the great voivode and orchestrated insistent propaganda along these lines. His deposition from the throne in 1848 prevented him from becoming a new Mchael, but the vanity with which he assumed his great predecessor’s heritage did not pass without an echo. An atmosphere increasingly charged with the memory of the hero of Călugăreni must have made an impression on Bălcescu, despite his opposition to Bibescu’s regime.
Even in Moldavia Michael was beginning to emerge as a symbol. In the Opening Word of his 1843 course in national history at the Mihăileană Academy in Iaşi, Kogălniceanu approached the Muntenian voivode with noticeably more sympathy than he had shown six years previously. Now Michael was presented as the one who had united the separate parts of ancient Dacia.
The symbol attained its full brilliance and functionality in the last and most ambitious work of Nicolae Bălcescu, begun in 1847 and still not completed when he died in 1852: The History of the Romanians under the Voivode Michael the Brave. The evolution in relation to his earlier essays is pronounced, as far as the national idea is concerned. Now the ultimate aim of Michael’s actions is clearly proclaimed: national unity. “[He] wanted to create for himself a country as extensive as the land of the Romanians”, and so achieved “the dearest dream of the great Romanian voivodes”, a dream which went back to Mircea the Old, “the first Romanian ruler who fought for national unity”. Indeed, these rulers had only been giving expression in their actions to a widely shared sentiment, considering that, from the very beginning, “nothing had been able to wipe from the heart of all Romanians the tradition of a common life and the desire to establish it once again”. This explains “the national hatred of the Romanians against Hungarian tyrants”. This is why “every time a Romanian flag was seen flying on the summits of the Carpathians all Transylvania trembled: the Romanians with hope, the tyrants with dread.”
Bălcescu’s book marked a new departure in Romanian historiography. For the first time the medieval history of the Romanians, of the three Romanian lands, was explicidy treated as national history, as the history of a national desideratum which had never ceased to be manifested throughout the centuries, the history of an ideal Romanian state, complete and unitary. The influence of the work on Romanian national consciousness was considerable, despite the delay in its publication (a partial edition in 1861-63, followed by the first of many full editions in 1878). Thanks to Bălcescu, Michael the Brave was set up decisively and definitively as the first founder of modern Romania.
In the years leading up to the union of the principalities in 1859, there was a growing interest in the figure of the voivode, in Moldavia as well as in Wallachia, paralleled by a tendency to attribute a unifying role to certain Moldavian rulers, above all to Stephen the Great. Together, Michael and Stephen came to symbolize the separate yet shared history, which had led in any case towards unity, of the two Romanian sister lands.
Thus we can observe Mchael the Brave undergoing a process of transfiguration between 1830 and 1860, with a notable intensification at the time of the 1848 revolution and again at the time of the union. From being a warrior and Christian hero he becomes a symbol of Romanian unity. These are the years when the ideal of union in a Romanian state, an ideal Romania prefigured in consciousness, came to be projected onto the historical past. This national, political, and historical orientation belongs essentially to a single generation, the generation that carried out the 1848 revolution and later achieved the union of the principalities and the foundation of modem Romania. We have seen also how Dacia is frequently invoked in this same period as the expression of the primordial unity of the Romanian land. The two symbols point towards a great aspiration: ancient Dacia, resurrected for a moment by Michael the Brave and destined to be re-embodied in the Romania of tomorrow.
Different Projects, Different Histories
Portrait of Nicolae Bălcescu by Gheorghe Tattarescu, 1851 / Wikimedia Commons
Just as the national idea sought a justification and model in the historical past, so too did the modernization of Romanian society. If the national project was broadly similar for all Romanians—a single nation in the homeland of ancient Dacia—the transformations which were thought necessary to propel Romanian society into the modern age naturally reflected ideological divergences and the specific interests of social groups. Compared with the relative homogeneity of the national discourse, when we turn our attention to the great problem of reform, and especially to the question of property, the historical evocations become contradictory. Towards the middle of the nineteenth century the past was restructured according to three distinct political-historical sensibilities: democratic, conservative, and liberal.
The democratic solution—in fact a rural-democratic solution adapted to the profile of Romanian society—found in Nicolae Bălcescu its great historian and a politician of uncommon consistency. For Bălcescu, the principal question was not liberty as such, but property, from which everything else derived. When the Romans colonized Dacia “they shared the land among the colonists according to their custom”. Romanian society was originally, and had long remained, a society of landowning freemen. The usurpation had come later, after the foundation of the principalities. “Interest, need, and force” had led to the mining of the small properties and their incorporation into large estates, resulting in “the social monstrosity that an entire country is enslaved to a few individuals”. Michael the Brave made the peasants serfs, by his famous “bond”, and the country was divided into “two hostile camps with conflicting interests”. This unhappy evolution brought with it the decline of the Romanian lands. Only the emancipation of the peasants and their endowment with property could remedy the situation. Otherwise, the very existence of the Romanian nation was under threat. If the national revolution was to be victorious, it had to be sustained by a social revolution.
What emerges from Bălcescu’s study is the illegitimacy of the great estates. Carried to its full consequences, the transposition of his historical demonstration into social reform would have meant the restructuring of Romanian society as a society exclusively of small properties. Clearly, things could not go quite so far. However, in 1848, Bălcescu defended the most radical point of view expressed in the Property Commission, advocating policies which would have led to a partial but significant expropriation and the creation of substantial small peasant properties. It was also he who upheld the notion of universal suffrage.
At the other extreme, the conservative thesis upheld the historical land rights of the boyars and the indispensable role of this class in the present as in the past. From being a moderate revolutionary in 1848, Ion Heliade Rădulescu later shifted towards an uncompromisingly pro-boyar stance. Far from being the subjugators of the peasants, it was the boyars, argues the great scholar in his Balance between Antitheses, “who, together with Radu Negru, founded our princedom on the basis of institutions so humane and egalitarian that the laws of Numa, Lycurgus, and Solon cannot stand comparison”. Moreover, the boyar class here “was not hereditary, but was open to all the sons of the fatherland”. The Romanian boyars had even anticipated, and in a much more reasonable way, the democracy of the French Revolution: “The old boyar class had nothing to fear in the French Republic, which brought down the sons of nobles; for the old boyars created new boyars out of the sons of their servants, making them family members and giving them their daughters and nieces in marriage.” The democratic spirit of the age—imported from the West—demanded it! Romanian history proved to be profoundly democratic: democratic in Bălcescu’s peasant variant and democratic, too, in Heliade Rădulescu’s boyar variant.
Barbu Catargiu, the prime minister assassinated in 1862, was a skilled upholder of boyar property rights, who invoked historical arguments among others. He, too, set out to de-dramatize the situation by improving the image of the boyars and restoring the legality of the great estates. “Feudalism never existed in Romania”, he affirmed in June 1859. The system was only established in the West, as a result of Germanic conquest. This was why revolutions had been necessary in the western part of Europe, to remedy what had been a usurpation there. Here, however, the Roman colonists had remained masters of their own land. Catargiu’s starting point is the same as Bălcescu’s, but his conclusion is different. There was no usurpation of any kind, he tells us. The present owners hold the land by inheritance from the earliest times (the Roman period), or have bought it with all tide deeds in order. Thus the great estates are fully justified historically, not to mention their economic justification.
All the same, the historical arguments invoked by Barbu Catargiu carry a limited weight in his political discourse. While offering a necessary sacrifice to the game of history he insistendy draws attention to the fact that what counts in the end is not the past, but the present. The skepticism which he manifests as far as historical models, more or less imaginary, are concerned deserves to be noted. “Public opinion”, he points out, “is formed, and may very easily be inflamed, by the pompous words of sentimentalism and patriotism about Trajan, Mircea the Voivode, and even Decebalus. […] Let us not be led astray by speeches. […] Let us deal with each question from the point of view of law and political economy.” Barbu Catargiu’s thinking was basically reactionary, but his logic was, in essence, more modem than that of the revolutionaries!
We might perhaps have expected that it would be conservatives who would be more susceptible to the siren song of the past. However, that is not how things generally are in fact. The past is more often invoked, and invoked in the most imperative terms, by those who want to break away from it. The logic of the imaginary has its own rules. The French revolutionaries invoked Sparta and republican Rome. Any project or ideology needs models. Even when it is the future that is at stake, the models are taken from the past. Ultimately there is no other reality than the past. The more transforming an ideology aspires to be, the more radical the project, the more it appeals to the past: to a past restructured according to the necessities and ideals of the present. The boyars, too, could invoke history, and they did not hesitate to do so, but the existing state of things both in fact and in law was on their side anyway. It was those who sought to modify this state of things who were compelled to appeal to history, to a history that could set an idealized past against the corrupt present. The road to the future presupposed a re-actualization of origins.
This is just what we find in liberal ideology. What could be more modern than liberalism? However, its references to the past, to a clearly oudined historical model, are extremely frequent and significant. Alecu Russo’s Song of Romania (published in 1850 and 1855) could be appreciated as a veritable hymn of liberalism. If the supreme values for Bălcescu were property and the nation, for Russo individual liberty is the fundamental historical and political principle from which all others flow.
Photo of Ion I. C. Brătianu / Wikimedia Commons
The Song of Romania is a poem. However, the writings and speeches of I. C. Bratianu belong to the genre of political discourse and their author counts as one of the principal founders of modern Romania, which he set on the path of liberalism. In comparison with the “rural” Bălcescu, Bratianu comes across as an urban bourgeois figure, in mentality at least, if not in his boyar origins. He was a pragmatic politician, but none the less visionary for all that: the two facets are not necessarily antithetical. What is impressive is his passion for history and the way he understood how to draw from the national past the elements of a liberal doctrine, which had in fact come not from the Roman colonists but from the nineteenth-century West!
And indeed the Roman colonists are set to work once again. From an article published by Bratianu in Republica română (November 1851) we learn that the Romans who settled in Dacia preserved their republican spirit intact. They had not come from Rome, where the flame of liberty had been extinguished, but from rural areas, where the old beliefs and virtues were still strong. Thus we are told that “the colonization of Dacia was carried out in the name of, and by, the power of an idea.” Those who settled here were a kind of political refugees and refugees of conscience. Hence there is a resemblance between the founding of the Romanian nation and the creation of America, both nations being equally devoted to the religion of liberty: “[…] just as the Puritans of England did, as we know, in 1660, by their emigration to America after the fall of the English Republic, so all the evidence allows us to say that the democratic and free population of Italy, in order to escape from the fiscal yoke, from the insolence of favorites and the threat of being disinherited, took the plowshare in one hand and the sword in the other and came to plant the iron of liberty in a new land, a young and powerful land, far from the infected atmosphere of decaying despotism […].” Within the new Roman colony “democratic traditions were preserved with holy and pure reverence”. The Romanian nation “not only has a mind and soul prepared for democracy, but has preserved it unceasingly in its heart and in its customs”.
Even later on, when the revolutionary plotter had become a responsible statesman, I. C. Brătianu lost no occasion to justify the laws and acts of modernization in terms of historical models and precedents. What could be more normal, as the nineteenth century progressed, than the development of avenues of communication? However, here again we find an invocation of the Romans, the great road-builders: let the Romanians prove worthy descendants and “build highways, lay railways, channel rivers, construct harbors, and organize navigation companies”. Likewise, respect for private property was affirmed by a recourse to origins. Among the Slavs, joint ownership predominated, while “the Romanians borrowed the idea of individual property from the Greeks and Romans”. The aim of the government in 1883 was no more than “to constitute property as it was before in Romania, and as it is everywhere in the Latin and Greek nations”. As for the constitution and political system, it sould be known that “Romania has a past, and while in other states there was the most absolute despotism, here there was a regime, which, according to the conditions of the time, was very liberal and, I might say, parliamentary”. When the Law of Communities came under discussion in 1878, Brátianu pointed out that the aim was basically no more than the revival of a Roman tradition that had long been maintained here: “These Communities existed in Romania too, and it was only later, when our strength was exhausted by the struggle against barbarian invasions, that foreign rulers came and abolished the Community […].”
More generally, the great politician never ceased to affirm the necessity of studying the origins of the Romanians if their national identity was to be marked and their present interests upheld. He himself published essays and gave lectures on this theme. For any political “mutation”, history offers precedents and lessons. Sometimes these can be unconsciously humorous. When, in 1883, Romania joined the Triple Alliance, Brátianu could not miss the chance to announce that Stephen the Great had been the “oldest friend” of Austria!
Thus the liberal program, though it was the closest of all to the Western bourgeois model, was presented, almost point by point, as the re-actualization of a transfigured past which extended from ancient Dacia up to the decline of the Romanian lands in the late Mddle Ages.
History thus provides equal justification for the essentially rural democracy of Bălcescu, the bourgeois liberalism of Brátianu, and the conservatism of Barbu Catargiu. There is nothing strange in this: History always justifies everything.
The Glorification of the Past
Romanian territory in the Roman Empire, 330 CE / Wikimedia Commons
Another aim pursued by means of history was the demonstration of noble origins and of a glorious past, more capable than its less than splendid image in the present of ensuring the Romanian nation a respectable place in the concert of European nations.
Towards the middle of the nineteenth century the question of origins appeared to have been clarified, in the most favorable version from the point of view of promoting Romanian interests. The Romanians were descendants of the Roman colonists, with perhaps some minimal concession to the native Dacians. As a Latin nation by origin and vocation they could hardly do otherwise than integrate into the European community of the Romance-speaking peoples.
The extreme expression of this interpretation is to be found in the Latinist school, the exacerbated prolongation of the Transylvanian School into the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1853, the undisputed leader of this Latinist current, August Treboniu Laurian, linguist and historian and one of the most respected Romanian scholars of the time, published his History of the Romanians, a work of synthesis which began, without more ado, with the foundation of Rome in 753 BC. The history of the Romanians is presented as a continuation of Roman history. Indeed, any difference between Romanians and Romans disappears. They were the same people, and their history is one and the same. The chronological system adopted by Laurian carries the integration of the Romanians into Roman history to its logical conclusion: as all dates are recalculated from the foundation of Rome, the reader will be surprised to discover that Tudor Vladimirescu’s revolution took place in the year 2574!
Despite Laurian’s optimism there remained large unknown spaces in the early history of the Romanians, especially during the “dark millennium” between the Aurelian withdrawal and the founding of the medieval principalities. With the launch of the immigrationist thesis in the late eighteenth century, in the works of Franz Joseph Sulzer and Johann Christian Engel, a major problem confronting Romanian historians was how to demonstrate Romanian continuity north of the Danube. But this was only a minimum requirement. To sustain the significance of Romanian history at a European level, something more than an affirmation of indigenous origins in terms of mere ethnic survival was called for. Thus, even while trying to combat immigrationism, Romanian historians were tempted to emphasize and amplify the phenomenon of Romanian presence south of the Danube, which was better attested in the sources and capable of being integrated into a greater history. First Şincai, and later Laurian, developed a theory according to which the Bulgarian tsardoms were in fact mixed Romanian-Bulgarian states, with the Romanian element even dominant in certain periods. In a manner which could, however unintentionally, serve immigrationist schemes, the center of gravity of Romanian history for over a millennium was shifted south of the Danube. The Romanians thus integrated themselves with greater history again and avoided the marginalization to which a withdrawal within the strictly defined space of ancient Dacia would have condemned them.
As far as the continuity and historical affirmation of the Romanian people in the actual space of Dacia and modern Romania was concerned, the starting point towards the middle of the nineteenth century was almost zero. The archaeological study of the issue, and the invocation of linguistic arguments, were still in the future, and the external data—generally late, limited in quantity, and vague—left the ground free for all sorts of hypotheses. The “filling in” of this millennium became a favorite theme of the Romanian historical imaginary.
Photo of Gheorghe Asachi, by Constantin Daniel Stahi, c.1860 / Wikimedia Commons
For a while, in 1856, it was possible to believe that the whole question had been miraculously solved. In that year, Gheorghe Asachi’s printing house offered to the world the Chronicle of Huru, presented as a translation made by the high sword-bearer Petru Clanău in the time of Stephen the Great, of a Latin original compiled by Hum, the great chancellor of Dragoş Vodă, which was itself derived from a much older text written by the campodux Arbure. The chronicle covers the entire dark millennium from the Aurelian withdrawal in 274 down to 1274 (the supposed reign of Bogdan Dragoş). The document provoked a considerable historiographical and political stir. The ruler of Moldavia, Grigore Ghica, set up a commission of specialists in literary and historical matters to check the authenticity of the source. Opinions were divided. Many found the document suspect from the start, but its partisans included some distinguished scholars, notably Gheorghe Asachi himself, who published the text, and Ion Heliade Rădulescu, who would exploit its historical significance to the full.
When the Roman withdrawal was announced, so the campodux Arbure informs us, people began to gather in Iaşi, where a great assembly took place. They decided to stay where they were and resist the barbarians. Here, at last, was the much sought after testimony to Romanian continuity! The state was organized as a sort of republic, on Roman lines—a federative Moldavian republic (the document refers stricdy to the area between the Carpathians and the Dniester). A number of objectives were thus attained: the demonstration of state continuity, evidence of old indigenous democratic institutions, and the underlining of the identity of Moldavia and of the fact that Bessarabia had belonged to it from the earliest times. The message needs to be seen in the context of the moment in which it appeared: this was 1856, the year of the Congress of Paris and of the decision to consult the principalities about their possible unification. An accent was put on the historical rights of Moldavia over Bessarabia, which had been seized by the Russians in 1812. At the same time there was an affirmation of Moldavian distinctiveness, in line with the orientation of the minority—including Gheorghe Asachi—who were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of union with Wallachia.
There is no need to repeat here that Arbure the campodux, the great chancellor Huru, and the high sword-bearer Clanău are completely imaginary figures and the Chronicle a forgery, the product of the “document factory” of the Sion family. This was also the source of the Archondology of Moldavia, written by Constantin Sion, with its numerous fictitious or semi-fictitious genealogies, which were even supported on occasion by the Chronicle of Huru. It is worth mentioning that the author of the Archondology, who was also author or co-author of the Chronicle, campaigned in 1858 for Grigore Sturdza as candidate for the throne of Moldavia, thus setting himself against the national party and the union, which he saw as a “fools’ project”. The political meaning of the forgery thus becomes clearer: the document testified to the continuity of the Romanians in general, but even more to the rights of Moldavia as a state in its own right.
The controversy around the Chronicle of Huru did not the down easily. The famous linguist Alexandru Philippide still found it necessary, in 1882, to test his powers in a detailed study to prove it a forgery. The document provoked more of a stir than the modest ability of the forgers deserved, for the simple reason that it filled in a gap and gave material substance to the illusion that Roman history had continued, through the Romanians, at a high level of political organization and civilization.
The projection into the foreground of world history with respect to a period in national history about which nothing was in fact known was also a chief preoccupation of Heliade Rădulescu. Inspired by the Chronicle of Hum, but stimulated even more by his own convictions and fantasies—an amalgam of national messianism, Christian spirituality, conservatism, and democracy—the father of modern Romanian culture cast his own light on the continuity issue in his synthesis Elements of the History of the Romanians (1860 and 1869), and in various chapters of The Balance between Antitheses. Following the Aurelian withdrawal, Dacia remained “autonomous and Christian”, “Organized according to the institutions of the primitive ecclesia, it was constituted and continued to govern itself in ecclesiae, or Christian democracies, autonomous and confederate […]. Their civil code was the Pentateuch […].” At the other end of the controversial millennium, the constitution of Radu Negru, in 1247, organized Wallachia on the lines of biblical Palestine, in twelve Christian democracies or autonomous counties. In any case, the Romanian political tradition was republican, with rulers being elected and originally holding power for only five years (a “historical precedent” made up-to-date in the revolutionary program of 1848). All this was proof of the fact that “Europe, in its institutions concerned with liberty, equality, and fraternity, and in those concerned with the brotherhood and solidarity of peoples, has not yet caught up with the first Romanians.”
The Romanians were thus proved, in one version or another of this fictive history, to be the undisputed repositories of the values of the two great models of world history: the Roman and the Judeo-Christian.
The later phase of Romanian history, beginning with the real foundation of the principalities in the fourteenth century, was, of course, better known. But even this history, no less than the unknown history which preceded it, lent itself to an appreciable process of amplification. There is a particular manner of highlighting the excellence of the Romanian past that we find in the historians of the 1848 generation, including the greatest among them, M. Kogălniceanu and N. Bălcescu. In their respect for the concrete data of history they are far from the fantasies of Heliade or the forgeries of Sion, but they manifest, to the same extent, the desire to occupy a privileged place in European history—a desire which is perfectly understandable and in full agreement with the political project of affirming the nation in the community of Europe.
Two themes, which were to have enduring echoes in Romanian consciousness, now crystallized for the first time: on the one hand, the role of the Romanians in defending European civilization; and on the other, the antiquity, and even priority, of Romanian achievements in a wide variety of fields. The two registers combined in a contradictory relationship—sacrifice for the sake of Christian Europe resulted in the wearing down of a remarkable civilization.
In his introduction to the French edition (published in 1845) of extracts from the Romanian chronicles, Kogălniceanu captured in a striking synthesis these characteristics of a national history abruptly thrust into a greater European history. The Romanians, he writes, “are one of the peoples who distinguished themselves the most in the Middle Ages by military virtues and by the activities of the spirit. They were the first in Europe to have a regular army; for centuries they were the defenders of religion and civilization against Islam and Asiatic barbarism. […] They were among the first to establish religious tolerance and liberty of conscience, to embrace the advantages of printing, and to adopt the national language for use in the church, the chancery, and in schools.” According to Kogălniceanu, the Romanians were also among the first peoples to write their history in their national language—a surprising claim, given that the earliest chronicles written in Romanian date only from the seventeenth century. In France, Villehardouin was already writing in French at the beginning of the thirteenth century.
Bălcescu, in Armed Power…, expresses an identical point of view:
”The Romanian army was the first standing army in Europe. […] Already in the fourteenth century, when all of Europe was sunk in barbarity, the Romanians had institutions with which they would have gone on to become a powerful nation in Europe, if unity had prevailed among them.”
And some decades later, in 1889, Kogălniceanu, speaking in the Chamber of Deputies about the adoption of the principles of “great 1789”, did not hesitate to identify again “their beginning right here in our country”, as the Romanians could invoke “many examples which were later imitated by countries more advanced than ourselves”.
From the pupils of the West, the Romanians were becoming its defenders, and, in many respects, even its precursors. We are clearly witnessing a nationalist amplification of history. However, the phenomenon must be understood in a particular context, and especially in relation to two essential coordinates.
The first of these is the spirit of romantic historiography in general. The highlighting and amplification of specific national values, the valorization of origins, a pronounced taste for an idealized and “heroicized” Middle Ages, a historical discourse suffused with patriotism, and even an inclination to patriotic falsification, are all characteristic of the romantic and nationalist tendency of the times. The Romanians were doing no more than adapting the general formula to their own history. The excessive exaggeration in the Romanian case reflects the extreme disproportion between reality and ideal. When Michelet places France— as other historians and ideologists place Italy or Germany—at the head of the peoples of the world, his pretension may seem less flagrant than the invocation of the various Romanian “firsts”, but the logic of the predestination and privileging of a certain nation is exactly the same in both cases.
Secondly, and paradoxically, the nationalist amplification of the past did not in any way serve an autochthonist project, but rather the bringing of Romanian society closer to Western civilization and the acceptance of Romania as a state with full rights among the other European states. Historians and politicians (and some of them, like Kogălniceanu and Bălcescu, were both historians and politicians) set out to demonstrate that the history of previous centuries, a history of subjection, decline, and unwanted integration into the Oriental world, was only a historical accident, and that once the effects of this were cast aside, Romania would be able to return to the normal pattern of its evolution, a pattern marked by its Latin origins and by a destiny in no way inferior to that of the Western, Latin branch. Behind the nationalist discourse we can clearly read the desire for integration with Europe.
From Romanticism to the Critical School
The nationalist-romantic formula in Romanian historiography long outlasted the chronological limits of European romanticism. The strength and persistence of the current find their justification in the general conditions of Romanian political and intellectual life.
A first explanation lies in the way in which the national problem became more acute in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The national objective became a priority for the Romanians, in the conditions of discrimination to which they were subjected and in the resulting intensification of national movements in the territories under foreign rule: Transylvania, Bukovina, and Bessarabia. The historical discourse continued to be profoundly marked by the ideal project of a unified nation. National antagonisms were supported by historical arguments. Far from having exhausted its political-historiographical resources, the problem of continuity took on highly conflictual accents following the publication of Robert Roesler’s Romanian Studies (Romänische Studien, 1871). His revitalization of the immigrationist thesis came at just the right time to serve the Hungarian political project—the dream of a Greater Hungary and a fundamentally Hungarian Transylvania in which the Romanians had appeared relatively late. The Romanian response, insisting, with a few exceptions and nuances, on Romanian continuity on the former territory of Dacia, evidently served a no less clearly defined political and national goal. Through history, the Hungarians and Romanians were tracing the ideal frontiers of the present or future. The implications at an emotional level, with a strong echo in public opinion, of divergent national projects, posed a challenge to historiography. Was it possible to reconcile the demands of research with the requirement to adhere to a particular national program? Could the historian be a patriot while speaking in any way about the past of his nation? He could, of course, but in less favorable conditions than would have been offered by a society unaffected by conflicts and projects of this sort.
Secondly, we must note the slow pace at which Romanian historiography went through the process of professionalization. The professional is not beyond all mythological temptations, as indeed this book itself demonstrates. However, he is capable—at least theoretically—of avoiding simplistic and infantile forms of mythologizing. However daring his constructions may be, they are built on a real foundation of verified facts. A step had to be taken towards the “disciplining” of historical studies and their bringing into line with the methodology and institutional system of Europe. The beginning of this process had taken place in the German universities in the eighteenth century. Around 1800 there were a dozen university chairs of history in the German space; by 1900 their number had increased to 175. Germany had become the undisputed world center of historiography; here it was possible to acquire the norms of a history based on the rigorous study of sources, a history that at last sought to be free of fantasy. France lagged behind, but professionalization had also made great progress in its universities—there were 71 chairs of history by the end of the nineteenth century.
The first two Romanian universities, at Iaşi and Bucharest, were founded in 1860 and 1864 respectively. In principle, these dates could mark the beginning, albeit modest, of the professionalization of history. The reality, however, was somewhat different. The theory of “forms without substance”, formulated by Maiorescu and developed by E. Lovinescu in a more optimistic direction (with the forms gradually creating their own substance), could be applied here with ample justification. The four chairs of history (History of the Romanians and World History, in Iaşi and Bucharest) were occupied for decades by people who had little to do with the profession of historian. Petre Cernătescu, professor of World History in Bucharest until 1892(!), made his reputation with a textbook of world history to which he had added only his name, the rest being no more than a Romanian version of Victor Duruy’s synthesis. His opposite number in Iaşi, Nicolae Ionescu, was a politician and an admired orator of his time, but in no sense a historian. Meanwhile, Andrei Vizanti was teaching the history of the Romanians in Iaşi; he became well known not for the few booklets of little value that he published, but for the more spectacular fact of his fleeing the country, under accusation of embezzlement, to escape the rigors of the law. Only V. A. Urechia, professor of the History of the Romanians at Bucharest University from 1864 to 1901, proved to be a hard worker, although his industry was not matched by his competence. His extensive papers are rather compilations than original works, and his passionate, if naive, patriotism places him among the discoverers of all sorts of autochthonous “firsts”.
Photo and signature of Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu / Wikimedia Commons
Until almost the end of the century it was not the chairs of history that would promote the norms of the erudite and critical school which characterized contemporary European historiography. Unconstrained by such a discipline, historiographical romanticism had free rein. The principal historiographical personality of the 1860s and 1870s was Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu (1838-1907), an autodidact with an immense body of knowledge—especially in the field of linguistics, philology, and history—a sparkling mind, a genius even, but with fantastic inclinations and a tendency towards the most unexpected intellectual constructions. In 1874 Hasdeu became professor of Comparative Philology at the University of Bucharest. Before this date, as for some time after it, his influence on history was enormous, and not in terms of the disciplining of the field! His solid contributions, including the publication of an impressive number of Slav documents and old Romanian texts, and his fertile ideas, such as those concerning the role of the Dacians in the formation of the Romanian people, his theory of the circulation of words, or, on a larger scale, his project of interdisciplinary research, bringing together history, linguistics, anthropology, economics, etc., combined with an attraction, towards arbitrary elaborations and pure intellectual exercises, are seductive and misleading.
As a nationalist of liberal political sensibility (he was elected deputy on the Liberal Party lists in 1867 and 1884), Hasdeu did not hesitate to infuse history, sometimes in defiance of the evidence, with the values in which he believed. His monograph Ioan Vodă the Terrible (1865) presents the ruler as the most brilliant European political mind of the sixteenth century and Moldavia as in many ways a modern country, with an electoral system which anticipates universal suffrage. The reforms of Ioan Vodă, as the historian interprets them, actually anticipate the reforms of Cuza, which were being implemented as the work was published. The Moldavian prince secularizes the wealth of the monasteries and thinks of a very intelligent fiscal reform, capable of improving, almost miraculously, the situation of the peasantry. Hasdeu would even recommend that law makers give consideration to indigenous laws and institutions in the process of modernizing Romania, stressing the “character of the Romanian nationality as the basis of its legislation”.
In his later works—the most important of which is his Critical History of the Romanians (1873 and 1875)—Hasdeu strove to highlight the value of the old Romanian civilization, the strength of the Romanians in the Middle Ages, and the political continuity from Dacia, through the Roman Empire, to the Romanian principalities. While he was an opponent of pure Latinism and argued for the importance of the Dacians in the Romanian synthesis, he tried to minimize the importance of the Slav element in the Romanian language and in old Romanian culture: although he was a Slavicist he was also a Bessarabian, an opponent of Russia and a partisan of Latin solidarity. The prestige of Hasdeu, coupled with his undoubted knowledge and other merits, were to further complicate the path towards the affirmation of critical norms in Romanian historiography.
In these conditions, the process of professionalization did not begin to take shape until the 1880s and became firmly established only in the 1890s. A. D. Xenopol began his career as professor of the History of the Romanians at the University of Iaşi in 1883. There is no doubt that he was a historian in the most complete sense of the word, and even a great historian, but, inclined as he was towards the theory of history and towards great works of synthesis, he did not fully meet the requirements of the time, which were direct knowledge of the sources and immersion in stricdy specialized research. Hence the reticence of the “critical school” where Xenopol’s work and general approach are concerned. We may consider as a key moment the publication of the first fundamental study by Dimitrie Onciul in 1885. (This was a “critical appraisal” of Xenopol’s work The Theory of Roesler.) Onciul, a product of the Austrian school, an extension of that of Germany, became professor of the History of the Romanians at the University of Bucharest in 1896. Ioan Bogdan, a Slavicist with an identical methodological background, came to the chair of Slav Languages in 1891, and, on the death of P. Cernătescu, the chair of World History went, in 1894, to Nicolae Iorga. The leap from Cernătescu to Iorga is a significant, even symbolic, indication of the radical restructuring of Romanian historiography. It was a remarkable beginning, but only a beginning, limited to the contribution and example of a few historians. Only in subsequent years and decades would professionalism acquire a solid base through the arrival on the scene of new generations trained in the spirit of a demanding methodology.
The Junimist Paradigm: Detachment from History
Collective portrait of Junimea, 1883 / Wikimedia Commons
It is now time to deal with the paradigm change attempted by the Junimea group in Romanian historiography and the way in which the Romanians in general related to their past. Onciul and Bogdan were Junimists, and Iorga was, for a time, a “fellow traveler” of the movement.
Junimea was founded as a cultural society in Iaşi in 1863-64. From 1867 it published the journal Convorbiri literare (Literary conversations), which moved to Bucharest, where the most important members had by then settled, in 1885. Those who set the tone of the movement in its formative years, foremost among them being Titu Maiorescu (1840-1917) in cultural matters and Petre P. Carp (1837—1919) in political matters, were young men with a solid background of study in the West. They were the exponents of a modem-style conservative doctrine, inclined not to traditionalism but to the gradual, organic evolution of Romanian society along the lines offered by the Western model. The key to their philosophical, political, and cultural conception was evolutionism; they did not believe in reactionary immobilism, but nor could they accept liberal voluntarism. They believed in the necessary solidity of a construction that could not be improvised. They felt no need to refer to the past, either to uphold their privileges like old-style conservatives or to radically change Romanian society by invoking fictive historical models like the liberals. They could look at the past with detachment, and this in itself was a very important change of paradigm, something quite new in the nineteenth-century Romanian context! It has remained to this day the only notable attempt in Romanian culture to detach the present from the past, to bring current problems under discussion without the obsessive need to refer to real or imagined historical precedents.
This programmatic detachment from history coincided with the Junimists’ conception with respect to the methodology of historical research. Having been trained in the spirit of the times at the great European universities, and particularly in the German environment in the case of the leaders of the current, they promoted an objective history, reconstructed strictly on the basis of meticulous and rigorous documentary investigation. Starting from German methodology, “history as it really was”—in Ranke’s famous formulation—was to spread all over Europe as the historiographical ideal of the “critical school”. From this point of view, Junimism was perfectly synchronized with the movement of ideas in the West. The model, which was of course an ideal one and, like any ideal, unattainable, was that of a history reconstituted with scientific coldness, unaffected by the pressures of politics and ideology. This translated into a 180-degree rum, the result not only of conviction but also of a polemical spirit, not without its share of exaggeration, such as is inevitable in the affirmation of any new current.
Of course, criticism did not appear out of the blue in Romanian culture. Polemical attitudes towards nationalist amplifications can be found before Junimea, too. The Latinist school, for example, had come in for harsh criticism. In his 1843 Opening Word, Kogălniceanu took a stand against “Romanomania”, the temptation to add to the virtues and deeds of the Romanians those of their Roman ancestors. Alecu Russo, too, was scornful of this tendency. Even Hasdeu, nationalist as he was and ready in his turn to amplify Dacian roots, consistendy ridiculed the Latinist mania. With or without Junimea, Latinism would have left the stage anyway, as indeed it did in the 1870s after the publication of Laurian and Massim’s uninspired dictionary.
A critical tradition was, therefore, in existence. However, Junimea developed it and generalized it, giving it the strength of a veritable filtration system capable of separating the true from the false, and authentic values from pseudo-values.
Everything is there, firmly and even aggressively expressed, in the extraordinary programmatic article published by Titu Maiorescu in 1868 under the tide “Against Today’s Direction in Romanian Culture”. History up to the beginning of the nineteenth century is dismissed in two words: “Oriental barbarism.” Nor are books from the beginnings of modern Romanian culture rated more favorably. It is worth quoting in its entirety the passage referring to Petru Maior (to whom Titu Maiorescu was actually related!) and to history in general: “In 1812 Petru Maior wrote his history of the beginnings of the Romanians in Dacia (we shall pass over the compilation of quotations made uncritically by Sincai). In his inclination to demonstrate that we are the uncorrupted descendants of the Romans, Maior maintains in his fourth paragraph that the Dacians were totally exterminated by the Romans, so that there was no mixing between the two peoples. To prove such an unlikely hypothesis our historian relies on a dubious passage in Eutropius and a passage in Julian, to which he gives an interpretation which it is impossible for anyone in their right mind to accept, and thus the historical demonstration of our Romanity begins with a falsification of history.”
The next comment concerns Maiorescu’s contemporaries: “[…] what is surprising and saddening about these products is not their error in itself, for that can be explained and sometimes justified by the circumstances of the times, but the error in our judgement of them today, the praise and satisfaction with which they are regarded by intelligent Romanians as valid scholarly achievements, the blindness of failing to see that the building of Romanian nationality cannot be based on a foundation at the center of which lies untruth.”
In the same year his article “Against the School of Bárnutiu” highlighted the ridiculousness of obsessively referring the present to the past. Bárnutiu and his disciples were maintaining that Romanian laws and institutions should simply be those of Rome. “Alas for our nation”, exclaims Maiorescu, “if its leadership is ever inspired by such principles. Against them we must summon unswerving truth and say that our regeneration cannot begin unless it is in the spirit of modern culture…”
In various texts Maiorescu never tired of amusing himself and the reader with a whole collection of nationalist “gems”, intended to highlight all sorts of Romanian superiorities and priorities. Perhaps the most successful page is that in which he ridicules the parallel between Goethe and Ienăchiţă Văcărescu, with reference to the poem “In a Garden”. On the basis of this poem V. A. Urechia had proclaimed the superiority of Vacarescu, making Goethe a “practical German”, a “gardener from Erfurt”, while the Romanian was a “sublime poet”. All this, of course, delighted the critic immensely.
The following lines from the periodical Adunarea naţională (National Assembly), perfectly illustrate the sort of discourse which Maiorescu confronted with an intransigent refusal:
Two of the greatest events in the history of Europe have received their direction, or have at least been born, at the signal given on our land: the French Revolution and the national unifications of Italy and of Germany.
The French Revolution is only the continuation of the revolution of Horea, with the sole difference that Horea’s had a national direction as well as a social one. Indeed, even the failings and errors of Horea’s revolution can be seen in the French one.
At the cry of the herald, announcing the union of Moldavia and Muntenia, Garibaldi and Bismarck were aroused […].
Less noisy, but with no less profound results, was the revolution of the Romanians in the direction of liberalism and democracy. The constitutions which we have produced in these last years are also a foretaste of the new spirit in Europe. After us Austria will return to parliamentarism; after us Spain will have its revolution; after us France itself will take a few steps forward in the direction of democracy.
Here is what Maiorescu has to say: “Following on from these words, the page in question advises us: ’Let no one smile as they read this.’ Honorable Adunarea naţională, this goes beyond a joke! We should at least be forgiven a smile! For one of the happiest resources of the human race, a means of defense against many hardships in social and literary life, is precisely that movement, half of the body and half of the soul, which begins with a mere smile and ends in an explosion of delight, and which, in recognition of the liveliness of the ancient genius, we designate as Homeric laughter.”
George Panu, the author of three historical studies published in Convorbiri literare between 1872 and 1874, follows a pure Maiorescian line with strict application to history. The young author had no special training in history, but, armed with some quick reading, with the liveliness of his own mind, and with Junimist polemical verve, he manages to demolish almost the whole of Romanian historiography and even to tarnish the hitherto almost intact prestige of the great B. P. Hasdeu.
In “Studies on the Political Dependence or Independence of the Romanians in Various Centuries”, Panu appreciably diminishes the originality and greatness of the Romanian past. He insists on foreign, and especially Slav, influences, which can be identified on a massive scale in the Romanian language, in institutions, and in customs. The Slav contribution is no longer seen as something additional but as an important constitutive element of the Romanian synthesis. Panu also considerably limits the sphere of political action of the Romanians, insisting on the far from merely formal relationship of vassalage which bound Moldavia to Poland and Wallachia to Hungary. Even the great heroes of the Romanians are characterized in a visibly provocative manner, starting from the situation of a history which is certainly not “imperial”, but rather limited and dependent on the interests of the great powers. Thus Stephen the Great becomes a “Polish vassal”, and Michael the Brave a “German general”!
Pogor House in Iași, the headquarters of Junimea; nowadays, The Romanian Literature Museum / Wikimedia Commons
With the same lack of complexes, Panu reviewed Hasdeu’s Critical History of the Romanians in 1873, seeing through the astonishing play of artifice to grasp the weakness of many of the author’s demonstrations. In Hasdeu’s vision, fourteenth-century Wallachia had become almost a “great power”, prefiguring, in its extent, modern Romania, with borders extending over the mountains and into Moldavia as far as Bacău and Bîrlad: the young Junimist demolished all this with critical arguments. A year later, in 1874, Panu, in his “Study of History among the Romanians”, sketched out an ample panorama of the distortions, exaggerations, and downright inventions of all sorts which had been developed in order to ensure for the Romanians a privileged position in the history and civilization of Europe.
The tone of Junimist historical criticism was set by Maiorescu, and after him by Panu. However, it was to be a few years before a true historical school emerged based on these principles; when it did, it was due in particular to the contributions of Dimitrie Onciul and Ioan Bogdan. In them we can see a fusion of the critical spirit with historiographical professionalism. Onciul “complicated” the continuity thesis, integrating some of Roesler’s arguments in his own theory of “admigration”: it was basically a solution of compromise between two rival positions. He it was, too, who demolished the myth of Negru Vodă, painstakingly reconstituting a “real” model of the formation of Wallachia. Meanwhile, in a spirit close to Panu’s suggestions, Bogdan, the first great Romanian Slavicist, arrived at the definition of important Slav components in medieval Romanian culture and even in the process of the formation of the Romanian people and language.
All this, of course, was contrary to the historical prejudices of the nineteenth century. Onciul and Bogdan were not opponents of Romanian national identity and unity, nor were they advocates of the integration of Romania in the Slav space. Their model was the Western one, and they went so far as to apply this within the field of historical studies. Quite simply, they sought to separate the contemporary political project from the realities of the Middle Ages. The fact that the Romanian national state—real or ideal—occupied a well-defined territory did not mean that this national configuration had to be projected back a millennium or a millennium and a half into the past. The fact that the Romanians were trying to break away from the Slav mass and to turn towards the West did not mean that the very real presence of the Slav factor throughout medieval Romanian history had to be minimized.
Did the Junimist “new history” succeed in clearing mythology out of the discourse about the past? There is no doubt that such was its aim, but the result was not quite as intended. The demolition of one mythical configuration gives birth to “countermyths”. The imaginary and ideology cannot be driven out of the historiographical project. A professional historiography is generally free of “elementary excesses”, of pure falsehoods and fables. The imaginary may be cleared of fiction, but this does not mean that its logic does not continue to work upon “real facts”. The factual material in question becomes more secure, but the guiding lines of the discourse are still determined by the same mental mechanism.
When Maiorescu speaks of “Oriental barbarism”, the countermyth appears no less flagrantly than the myth that he is setting out to deny—that of a brilliant Romanian history and civilization of quasi-Western character. “Oriental barbarism” was, after all, a system of civilization too, as valid in itself as any other. The amplification of Slav influence, which could go as far—in the interpretation, favored by Junimea, of Alexandru Cihac—as the identification of the Romanian language as more Slav than Romance, clearly bears the same mark of countermyth, contrasting with the dominant myth of the pure Latinity of the Romanians.
Nor could detachment from the present, however much it was willed and programmatically defined, be taken the whole way. In a generally mediocre synthesis of the history of the Romanians, Onciul gives a clear expression of his dynastic conception and of the supremacy which he attributes to political institutions by the way in which he organizes the whole of Romanian history around rulers, starting with Trajan and ending with Carol I. Maiorescu’s remarkable Contemporary History of Romania inevitably offers a Junimist-conservative perspective on the building of modern Romania, a process which most historians are more inclined to see in terms of the ideology and political action of the liberals. Here indeed is a question any answer to which presupposes a sliding towards myth: Who made Romania? The liberals? The conservatives? Cuza? Carol I? Kogălniceanu? Brătianu? The people? The European conjuncture? Or if we say that it was all of these, then in what order of importance?
Whatever prejudices the Junimists may have transposed into their historical discourse, and however inaccessible the historical objectivity which they sought, the critical intransigence of the movement infused Romanian culture with a spirit that every culture has an absolute need of. Any system of convictions, even— indeed especially—if it is considered beyond attack, has to be subjected to questioning. To succumb to the temptation of unanimity around certain untouchable “truths” is cultural suicide. The great merit of Junimea does not lie in the “tightness” of the solutions proposed, which is always debatable, but in the fact that it dared to put a question mark over many comfortable convictions of the Romanians. It is also to its great credit that Junimea then represented the European moment, in history as in other fields, more than any other cultural direction. The problem is not, ultimately, one of an illusory absolute rightness, but of the synchronizing of Romanian culture with European evolutions.
The Autochthonist Reaction
Constitutional autochthony is the process of asserting constitutional nationalism from an external legal or political power. The source of autochthony is the Greek word αὐτόχθων translated as springing from the land.
A new direction emerges immediately after 1900. It is the reaction of the national spirit. The new nationalist orientation presents itself in a quite different way from the nationalist manifestations of the nineteenth century to which I have so far been referring. They had aspired to align the old civilization and history of the Romanians to Western values, precisely so as to justify and hasten the European integration of Romania. After the turn of the century, Romanian nationalism came to insist more and more forcefully on the individuality, specific culture, and distinct destiny of the Romanians. Nationalism with a European finality gave way to autochthonist nationalism.
These two divergent faces of the national ideology had also co-existed during the nineteenth century, but the aspiration towards modernization and Westernization had been more powerful than the resistance to this process. Only in this way could modem Romania be built. However, important figures in Romanian culture were already expressing a distrust of Western civilization and a fear of invasion by foreign values. Simion Bărnutiu did not hesitate to identify the enemies of Romanian nationality, who were, in his view “a) the foreigners in our midst, b) the egotistic and materialistic civilization of Europe, c) Romanians educated abroad.” Indeed, he considered that the coming of a foreign prince was a danger to Romanian nationality itself. (It is worth quoting here Maiorescu’s reply: “Our only fear today is not that we will ever become German, which is impossible, but that the German prince might become too Romanian.”) Hasdeu also took a stand against cosmopolitanism.
No one, however, would express this state of mind better than Mihai Eminescu, the great national poet but also the great nationalist columnist and prophet. Eminescu expressed reserve, at the very least, and often overt hostility, where Western values were concerned. He dreamed of a pure Romanian civilization, untouched by foreign influences and still less by the effective presence of foreigners. (“He to whom foreigners are dear / Let the dogs eat his heart […].”*) His theory of “superposed layers” distinguishes between an authentic, pure Romanian class, which is essentially circumscribed by a rural setting, and the layer of foreign origin, of those who live, ultimately, by exploiting the labor of the peasants. Eminescu’s ideas were not totally new; what set them in relief was the systematic spirit and the vehemence of his language. A few decades earlier, Bălcescu had sketched out the village/town opposition, seeing the urban environment as an imported structure. The cliche even appears unexpected but justified to the extent that it serves the critique of the forms without substance of the elite, in Titu Maiorescu’s writing: “The only real class in our country is that of the Romanian peasant, and his reality is suffering, under which he sighs as a result of the phantasmagorias of the higher classes.”
After 1900 all these rather disparate manifestations came together in an expanding ideological constellation centered on the affirmation of the specificity of Romanian civilization, which was seen mainly, or even exclusively, in terms of the rural store of values. The signs of the new tendency are numerous and diverse. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, public buildings in Bucharest had generally been designed in the Parisian style of the time, first by French architects and later by their Romanian pupils. After 1900, a change of style is evident, with the emergence of the neo-Romanian architecture promoted by Ion Mincu and his school. In 1903 the journal Sămănătorul (The sower) appeared. The “semănătorist” current that surrounded it, and the parallel current of poporanism, the former patriarchal and the latter more social, illustrate this shift towards rural values opposed to Western urban civilization. In his Romanian Culture and Politicianism (1904), Constantin Rădulescu-Motru denounces the phenomenon of cultural mimicry, which he sees as leading to the alienation of the Romanian soul from its past. He foresees an exit from the phase of the “negative criticism” of national values and the picking up of the thread of the old traditions once again.
A symbolic event took place on 13 March 1906. A veritable street battle broke out in the square by the National Theatre, as a sign of protest at the staging of plays in French. From this beginning the “struggle for the Romanian language”— as Nicolae Iorga termed it—acquired a more general orientation, becoming directed against the abuse of foreign influence and the cultural alienation of the elite. Iorga was indeed the hero of the moment and the “instigator” of the disturbance. In his lecture on 13 March 1906, the starting point of the events mentioned above, the great historian raised the question of national solidarity. How could the great victories of Stephen the Great be explained? By the fact that “in the sword of the voivode lay the feeling of security that started from the true unity of the whole people. Those who made up that people were not isolated in hostile classes, since an enemy class had not been formed by another cultural ideal and speaking another language.” How, on the other hand, could the failure of Michael the Brave be explained? By “the disappearance of social solidarity, the disappearance of the unity of consciousness of the Romanian people”, and by “the chasm which opens up between those who take a certain foreign culture for themselves and those who are forbidden any right to culture”. This sort of social and cultural division was continuing to deepen. In Iorga’s opinion the Romanian elite had become de-nationalized, had “thrown itself into the arms of foreign culture”, manifesting “a sentiment of contempt multiplied tenfold, a hundredfold, a thousandfold, towards us” and towards the real country. What was needed, therefore, was a radical change of direction.
It was, in fact, only natural that once the essential elements of the Western model had been adopted the autochthonist spirit would demonstrate its resistance and vigor. There was a line beyond which things could not go. The Romanians could not become French or German. National specificity had to be preserved, respected, and integrated harmoniously with the European model.
This was the direction in which social and cultural evolution was leading. The revolution of the nineteenth century had been the work of a restricted elite, strongly marked by Western values. In each generation, however, the ranks of those who were beginning to have access to culture and to a say in social life were growing. The new movement was fed by layers closer to the base of society. The middle class in particular, which had been almost nonexistent when the process of modernization first got under way, had gradually grown and become consolidated. It was inevitable that autochthonous values would acquire a heightened force. After the First World War the rhythm of these changes intensified. Universal suffrage and the agrarian reform of 1921, which meant the almost complete dismemberment of large properties, brought about a radical change in the rules of the social and political game. Meanwhile, there had been a considerable growth in literacy and in the extent of involvement in the cultural process. Western influence continued to be active, but its impact on a much expanded public opinion could not match its seductive appeal to the restricted elite of former times. In the political sphere, nationalist discourse became much more profitable than the invocation of foreign models. Politics had entered the phase of the “masses”. A century before, Tocqueville had warned against the possible turning of democracy into authoritarianism. This is exactly what happened in the interwar period. Almost everywhere in Europe the “democratic” manipulation of the masses was to ensure the triumph of totalitarian and nationalist solutions (generally in combination: totalitarianism and nationalism fed on the same ideal of unity). The Romanian excesses in this direction were in conformity with European evolutions.
The vitality of the nationalist sensibility closely reflected the dynamic of Romanian history itself in the first half of the century. It was stimulated initially by the movement for the liberation of the Romanians who were under foreign rule, and the creation of Greater Romania. However, the attainment of this ideal in 1918 did not exhaust the resources of nationalism. The construction of a national state of all Romanians fed the feeling of identity and of a specific destiny, which was also sustained by the fear of possible attack and of the dangers which threatened the national construction (fears which proved well founded in 1940, when the country was partially dismembered). In addition, there was the minority phenomenon, appreciably amplified by the inclusion, within the enlarged borders of the Romanian state, of a considerable number of people belonging to various ethnic minorities. The more or less conflictual relations of the Romanians with these “others” (Hungarians, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, etc.) helped to maintain a marked sense of Romanian specificity, which could, in its extreme manifestations, go as far as the Utopian ideal of a purified national organism, homogeneous from an ethnic, cultural, and religious point of view.
Such an ideal formula is to be found in the Orthodoxist ideology that developed between the two world wars as a major component of Romanian nationalism. Nichifor Crainic and Nae Ionescu—to mention two influential ”leaders of consciousness” of the time—superposed Orthodoxism and Romanianism; the Legionary movement took up this amalgam.
This transfer from the religious to the ideological and political deserves a more detailed commentary. We may note, firstly, that the identification of Romanian culture with Orthodox spirituality marginalizes in a quite unjustified way the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church, to which about half the Romanians of Transylvania belonged; the paradox is all the more striking as Romanian nationalism had its origins in the activity of the Transylvanian School, an ideological and cultural current which was almost entirely Uniate. Thus, against the evidence of history, a view of Greek Catholicism as “other” took shape. The forced abolition of the Uniate Church in 1948, by communist decree, only carried to a logical conclusion the identification of the national concept with a restrictive religious concept.
A second, and even more serious, paradox concerns the apparent limitation of Orthodoxy to the Romanian space. Orthodox Christianity is characteristic of the whole eastern part of Europe, from Greece to Russia. It is not national, but transnational, like any other religion. Moreover, for two centuries the Orthodox idea was the principal propaganda argument of Russia in its policy of expansion towards Constantinople and, of course, over the Romanian space.
The fact that a majority of Romanians are Orthodox is beyond any doubt, and nothing is more natural than that they should feel attached to their religion. However, the problem is not one of religion but of the distortion of the meaning of religion by its transfer into ideology. The ideological compartmentalizing of Orthodoxism means a clear delimitation from the Catholic and Protestant West, but since “splendid isolation” is not an option, the inevitable consequence is integration, or reintegration, into the Slav and Orthodox East. This is the situation that the nationalists of the nineteenth century had tried to get beyond, not by giving up their ancestral faith but by adopting the cultural and political models of the non-Orthodox West. The nationalists of the interwar period were, of course, sincere in their approach. They wanted an independent Romania, built on indigenous values. But what were these indigenous values? Could they offer a complete and viable political model? Would peasant tradition and religious morality have been enough? The project was vague and Utopian. Its only practical outcome would, I repeat, have been a breaking away from the Western model and a “return” to an Eastern space dominated by a single great power—Russia.
The interwar atmosphere cannot, of course, be reduced to the exclusive attraction of autochthonism. From the “European idea”, itself compatible with moderate versions of Romanian nationalism, to nationalist exclusivity, the ideological picture of the period is far from uniform.
A perfect antithesis to cultural isolationism was offered by E. Lovinescu’s History of Modem Romanian Civilization (1924-1925), a demonstration that the institutions and cultural forms of contemporary Romania were purely Western in origin and adopted by a simple process of imitation. Lovinescu goes further than Maiorescu, justifying the “forms without substance” that the great Junimist had condemned, by seeing in them a natural stage in the process of Westernization, a necessary pattern for the later coalescence of the modern substance of civilization. He was vehemently opposed to the “peasantism” of the time, against which he upheld the urban values that alone could promote modern civilization. Likewise, although coming from a different direction, Stefan Zeletin argued in The Romanian Bourgeoisie: Its Origin and Historical Role (1925) for the inevitability of a Western type of capitalism and the forms of civilization that this brings with it.
Thus the picture appears to be complex, with room for all shades of opinion. However, it is no less true that the national-autochthonist idea continued to affirm itself strongly and the theme of the “Romanian specific” was invoked ever more insistently, with notable extensions into the ideology and political life of the time (for example, the project of a peasant state with an economy based on small rural properties, promoted by the peasantist ideologists Virgil Madgearu and Ion Mihalache). On the eve of the Second World War, traditional rural civilization was the object of a very special interest. This was the time when Dimitrie Gusti’s sociological teams were at work, with pioneering results in rural sociology but also with implications on the cultural and national level. The Village Museum, opened in 1935, remains a symbol of this attempt to reintegrate the village and rural traditions into modern Romanian civilization. It was a perfectly futile project; not because it might not, theoretically, have borne fruit, but because, to put it simply and crudely, communism ended it all, striking without discernment at all that represented authentic peasant culture in the Romanian space.
It remains for us to trace the connections between historiography and this flourishing nationalist and autochthonous sensibility.
After 1900, Romanian historians generally followed the pathway opened up by the “critical school”. The methodological norms of a professional historiography were now well defined and historical research fitted within the European model of the time. But historiographical discourse does not depend only, or even primarily, on method. A method does not in itself produce obligatory answers and interpretations. Very different methods can lead to similar solutions (the rigorous Onciul and the extravagant Hasdeu more than once arrived at similar conclusions), while by using the same set of methodological norms it is possible to reach the most diverse interpretations. A method can help towards a more adequate definition of problems and events, but the logic of history and its meaning—which are ultimately all that really matter—depend more on the historian and less on the method.
In Romanian historiography, the introduction of critical method is, in the first place, the work of Junimea. Succeeding generations inherited the methodological norms but not necessarily the spirit of Junimist interpretation. The full momentum of the negative criticism of Maiorescu and Panu could not be maintained beyond 1900, while even the critical approach initiated by Onciul and Bogdan was to undergo more or less significant modifications. Junimea remains, in the end, an almost unique phenomenon: the most accentuated phase of demythologizing—even if some of its emphases were, of course, incorrect or debatable—that Romanian historiography has ever known. On the other hand, the romantic nationalism of the nineteenth century, free of criticism and control, was no longer current in the interwar period. Nationalism was now expressed in more reasonable and subde historiographical forms, and with varying intensity from one historian to another and from one phase to another.
In any case, the relation of history to politics remained close. The historian continued to be perceived as a spiritual guide, who, from the experience of the past, had a clearer understanding of the imperatives of the present. Iorga caught this idea in a memorable characterization. “The historian”, he said in his reception speech to the Romanian Academy in 1911, “is an old man with the experience of his nation.” It is his duty to be “a tireless recaller of national tradition, a witness to the unity of the folk over and above political and class barriers, a preacher of racial solidarity and discoverer of ideals towards which he himself should advance, giving an example to the youth who come after us.” We are, it is easy to see, far from the cold Junimist approach. We still find here the typology, which is not only Romanian but Central and Eastern European, of the historian as political figure and history understood as a decisive argument in the defense of political rights and the achievement of national aspirations.
Even in the interwar period, when history and politics became clearly separate professions, the list of historians who were political figures, or who were attracted at some time or other to enter politics, is impressive: Iorga, above all, who crowned an important career in national politics by heading the government in 1931-32; Alexandru Lapedatu, Ioan Lupaş and Silviu Dragomir, leading exponents of the Cluj historical school and ministers in various cabinets; Ioan Nistor, professor at the University of Cemăuţi, historian of Bukovina and Bessarabia, with a long ministerial career in Liberal governments; and, in the younger generation, G. I. Brătianu, party leader, C. C. Giurescu, minister and royal resident during the dictatorship of Carol II, and P. P. Panaitescu, whose career alongside the Legionaries came to an abrupt end with their removal from power in January 1941.
The problem, however, is a more subde one. How far are the national ideology, the convictions, and the political action of each of these historians reflected in their historiographical approach?
Church at Curtea de Arges / Wikimedia Commons
With Iorga, the accent falls strongly on the unity of Romanian civilization, the aim of the historian being to present “the nation itself as a living being” and to follow its “inner movement”. The idea of a distinct evolution in relation to the surrounding peoples was given a concrete form in his theory of the “popular Romanias”*, signifying the autonomous organization of the indigenous Romanian population in the face of the barbarian invaders of the first medieval centuries. Semănătorist ideology, and a general predilection for national unity over and above class differences, led Iorga—in accordance, in fact, with the older thesis, promoted by Bălcescu, of a free rural society—towards a patriarchal vision of the early and central periods of the Middle Ages; these were “times of a harmonious common life, in which the classes did not regard each other with enmity, in which the country was strong through its unity, from the lowest peasant to the highest, the crowned lord of the peasants”. Iorga’s “peasant state” suffered a merciless blow when the tomb of Radu I was discovered in the Princely Church at Curtea de Arges in 1920. The treasure that was brought to light and the refinement of the adornments did not seem characteristic of a peasant, even a crowned one. The historian was forced to modify his theory, proving yet again the dangers of projecting present Utopias into the past.
On the other hand, Iorga underlined the role of the Romanians in the southeast of Europe as the inheritors of “Eastern Romanity” and of the historical and political tradition of Byzantium (the latter idea being reflected in his Byzance après Byzance, 1935). The civilization specific to the Romanians thus combines with their European mission. Although a nationalist and autochthonist, Iorga was in no way an isolationist. He was a European in his own way, but for him Europe meant a combination of nations, each of which had its own spirit. His attitude to “others” comes across as nuanced and variable. His pointing out of interdependencies and reciprocal influences is a counterbalance to his attraction towards cultural autochthonism. It was the nationalist Iorga who rehabilitated the Phanariots in Romanian historiography. Iorga was a complex and often contradictory historian, who offered each reader what they wanted to take from him. In a simplified version, his nationalism and “peasantism” could become a source for the Legionaries, just like Eminescu’s nationalism. It is, of course, necessary to make a distinction between the intellectual approach of the great historian and the primitivism of autochthonist and xenophobic outbursts. But Iorga remained overall a right-wing nationalist, whose social and political ideas (unity and national specificity, social solidarity, monarchical regime, and European mission) can be traced in his historical discourse.
An interesting case for our demonstration is that of Vasile Parvan. Unlike Iorga, the great archaeologist and historian of antiquity was not a national prophet. He was never tempted, like other historians, by the world of politics. His attitude during the First World War could be considered equivocal, or at any rate lacking in commitment. It is certainly hard to count his name among the great fighters for the unity of the Romanians. Pârvan is considered the founder of the modern Romanian school of archaeology, a rigorous researcher, trained in the spirit of the German school. His great work, Getica (1926), brings together a multitude of archaeological and literary sources and passes them through the filter of a minute exegesis. And yet here is the conclusion that he formulates at the end of his research, in perfect keeping with the tone of the national-autochthonist and even Orthodoxist ideology of the time: “The Geto-Dacians were a people of peasants: settled, stable, subject, and fearful towards their god, harassed by their neighbors in endless wars and raids, and rendered savage themselves much of the time by the wickedness of these others, and yet happy and good-humored in peacetime, furious and cruel only in war, but usually ruled by good sense, and always turning back to their ancient optimistic faith in gods and men.”
I shall return later to this characterization. For the moment let us only note that for Pârvan, Dacia and Romania make up a whole, a trans-historical civilization whose religious, cultural, and moral features are those of the idealized autochthonous peasant synthesis.
The question of politics and nationalism in history was vigorously and even passionately debated in the context of the offensive launched by the “New School” of history, gathered from 1931 around the journal Revista istoricá romana (Romanian Historical Review), against the “Old School”, which was reduced basically to Nicolae Iorga and his Revista istoricá. The young historians, who were scarcely thirty years old, and foremost among them G. I. Brătianu (1898—1953), Petre P. Panaitescu (1900-1967) and Constantin C. Giurescu (1901-1977), called for a return to the methodology, “detached” from politics and passions, of the great Junimists Dimitrie Onciul and Ioan Bogdan. The attack was unleashed by C. C. Giurescu in an extensive review—published in 1931-32 under the tide “A New Synthesis of Our Past”—of Iorga’s book The History of the Romanians and their Civilization. Discovering numerous errors and risky affirmations, the young historian presumed to give the master a lesson in elementary methodology: “Any affirmation in a historical study must be based on conclusive evidence, on a document which is beyond discussion. And when documents are not available or are not conclusive, the results of research should be presented as hypotheses or suppositions, not as truths gained for scholarship.”
There followed harsh reviews by Iorga of the first volume of C. C. Giurescu’s History of the Romanians (in 1935) and of P. P. Panaitescu’s monograph Michael the Brave (in 1936). The quarrel over Michael the Brave is significant in defining two distinct historical sensibilities. From Iorga’s point of view, Panaitescu’s interpretation meant bringing the hero down from his pedestal. The accent was shifted from the hero to the dominant social class of the time: the boyars. “Michael the Brave”, claimed Panaitescu, “was the arm that struck, the victorious and glorious captain, but behind him and in the shadow of his glory stand the boyars, who gave political directives and made decisions with or without the will of their master. […] Michael’s lordship meant the triumph of the boyars over the other classes, and their social and economic strengthening.” Panaitescu even dared to claim that Michael was not the son of Pătraşcu the Good, which for the dynastically minded Iorga amounted to an act of lèse majesté.
From methodology there is an inevitable slide towards ideology. The programmatic article of Revista istorică română stated the young historians’ position plainly: “History should not be shifted onto the level of political and social struggles. It ought to illuminate these, not to be in their service. Only a perfectly objective attitude can guarantee incontestable scholarly results. From the national, as from the individual point of view, the truth can never harm; on the contrary, it is always of real use. Between patriotism and objectivity there is no antinomy.”
C. C. Giurescu / Wikimedia Commons
The Junimist mirage of the objectivity of history and its loosening from political-national issues was taking a new shape. In a series of articles published in 1936, Iorga called the young men a “school of negation” and a “rationalist generation”, who were setting themselves against “the national interest”. He saw in them the continuation of Junimea, passing over the fact that he himself had gone alongside this current for a time (without, it is true, becoming fully part of it). In C. C. Giurescu’s reply, For the “Old School” of History: An Answer to Mr. N. Iorga (1937), the great historian is accused of making research into the past an instrument, a weapon of war. According to Giurescu, Iorga is not preoccupied with the truth, only with the result, the political finality of the historical discourse. The comparison of the “New School” to Junimea is not only accepted, but taken up with pride. Their only preoccupation, Giurescu affirms yet again, is “with the truth”.
But Iorga, too, was seeking the truth. All historians—at least all historians worthy of the name—have been seeking the truth since history began. It is not “truth”, a very fluid concept, that is ultimately under discussion, but the differentiated reception of truth, according to the “observation point” of each historian.
The new generation was in a sense less nationalist, less “militantly nationalist”, than Iorga. The messianic nationalism of those who had fought by means of history too, indeed largely by means of history, to bring the national ideal into existence, seemed outdated now that Greater Romania had become a reality. And the evolution of historical studies called anyway for a more reserved attitude, more professional and less emotional. However, the differences seem to me to be more of tone than of message. The willed and sometimes even forced detachment of the Junimists from current national mythology did not recover all of its former vigor through the “New School”.
Paradoxically, the most virulent critic of Iorga, C. C. Giurescu, was the closest to him in the profoundly national sense of his historical discourse. His tone is intended to be precise and neutral, but an emotional wave runs through it from time to time, as in the memorable and powerfully actualized evocation of Michael the Brave: “Ever more strongly shines the face of Mchael the Brave; ever more alive and luminous is the memory of his action. The more documentary information is added, the more we know of the struggle, triumph, and fall of this great captain, this fearless fighter for the Faith and eternal founder of the country of today, the more admiration grows in our souls. Alongside Stephen the Great, Michael the Brave is the embodiment of heroism, the wellspring of power, of belief, and of pride for the Romanian people.” The call for “detachment” addressed to Iorga does not seem to be followed by Giurescu, certainly not in this passage, anyway. The History of the Romanians, his great work of synthesis, tends to highlight the idea of political solidarity and of the respect due to the state and its leader as the exponent of national interests. The political career of C. C. Giurescu during the period of royal dictatorship can be seen to be closely bound to this principle, which is strongly emphasized in his historical work.
As for the more general significance of Romanian history, here is what the same historian wrote in 1943:
[…] we are one of the oldest peoples of Europe and the oldest in the European southeast. […] “We are from here”, while all our neighbors came later into the lands which they now occupy. […] The Dacians or Getae were also an elite people of antiquity, mentioned with praise right from the beginning by the “father of history”, Herodotus. The Dacian religion was always a source of admiration for writers of the Greco-Roman wodd, as were the heroism and contempt for death shown by the Dacians. Then we are the oldest Christian people in the European southeast. All our neighbors, absolutely all, were Christianized long after us. We are, finally, the only people in this part of Europe that has managed to have a political life without interruption, from the founding of the state to the present day.
It might be pointed out that the Greeks are actually older than the Romanians; that nowadays (though not, it is true, in 1943) the concept of an “elite people” has an uncomfortable sound; that the information and evaluations provided by ancient authors who knew little about the Dacian space have themselves an inclination towards myth and should be judged in relation not to our patriotism but to their ideology; that, given the paucity of sources, the Dacian religion and the Christianization of the Daco-Romans remain matters on which no definitive answers are possible; and finally, that the continuity of the Romanian states does not change the fact that they were in a subordinate position, nor that they were the last to be founded in this part of Europe (Hungary, Poland, and even Bulgaria were “great powers” in the region at a time when the Romanian principalities did not yet exist). The infusion of patriotism is unmistakable and is further amplified by the moment of publication, in the crisis years of the Second World War. For Giurescu, the purpose of history was to confirm the “sentiment of national pride and absolute faith in the future of our people and our state”.
G. I. Bratianu, too, who is in many ways the closest to Iorga among the group of young historians, does not hesitate to place history in direct relation to the political conjuncture. As both a historian and a politician, the inheritor of the Bratianu tradition, he also saw how to look after Romanian interests through history. The national sense of his historical discourse became accentuated on the eve of, and during, the Second World War, as Romania passed through critical moments. He produced a firm rebuttal of immigrationist theories, denouncing the anti-Romanian aims of “neighboring” historians (Une énigme et un miracle historique: Le peuple roumain, 1937), and in 1943, as a response to the breaking up of Greater Romania, he published Origines et formation de l’unite roumaine, in which he presented the road of the Romanians towards unity, presupposing the existence, even before national consciousness took shape, of an instinct of unity.
Beyond doubt, P. P. Panaitescu was closer to the Junimist sense of criticism and reconstruction. He was, in fact, the only member of the “New School” who systematically placed a question mark over major elements of Romanian historical mythology. His conception and method, which gave a privileged role to material, social, and cultural structures, were essentially opposed to a heroic and personalized history. The demythologizing of Michael the Brave fitted naturally into this project. “Why did the Turks not Conquer the Romanian Lands?” is an article published in 1944, in which he challenges the heroic edifice of medieval Romanian history. It was not the struggles of the Romanians with the Turks—a dominant theme in national historiography—which saved the existence of the principalities, but their position away from the central line of Turkish advance into Europe, coupled with the greater advantages, for the Ottoman Empire, of indirect exploitation rather than effective annexation. Like Ioan Bogdan before him, Panaitescu gives the Slavs an important place in medieval Romanian history, going so far as to consider the indigenous boyar class to be of Slav origin. On the issue of continuity he adopts the thesis of Onciul, taking a reserved attitude towards the idea of a continuity over the whole Romanian territory.
And yet this historian, whose discourse, in specialist works and even in school textbooks, is anything but nationalist, attached himself for a time to the Legionary movement, the extreme expression of Romanian nationalism and autochthonism. Regardless of the personal calculations that can be suspected, and the mysteries of the human soul, Panaitescu’s Legionary episode shows us the “virtues” of double-talk in all their splendor. The newspaper Cuvintul (The Word), which was under the direction of the short-time rector of the University of Bucharest in the autumn of 1940 and early 1941, abounds in historical-mythological constructions in the most autochthonist spirit imaginable. Here is a representative passage: “We are Dacians! In our physical being, in the being of our souls, we feel ourselves to be the descendants of that great and ancient people who were settled in the Carpathian mountains centuries before Trajan. We have no beginning, we have always been here. […] We are not only the sons of the earth; we form part of a great race, a race which is perpetuated in us, the Dacian race. The Legionary movement, which has awakened the deepest echoes of our national being, has also raised ’Dacian blood’ to a place of honor […].” And here is another, which highlights the same type of historical continuity as a justification of the Legionary phenomenon: “Like Stephen of Moldavia, whose name is awakened by the great horn sounding on the hills of the Siret; like the Voivode Michael, for whom the bells of the monastery on Tirgoviste Hill weep; like Horea, for whom the great oak tree still grows in the Apuseni mountains, they [the Legionary heroes] are the great protectors of the whole folk, over whom they keep watch from another world.” The author of these emotional evocations is P. P. Panaitescu, otherwise the great demolisher of myths—when he was not writing for Cuvîntul!
I can only repeat what every page of this book illustrates: History can keep itself free of a particular ideology but it cannot keep itself free from ideologies in general, and often it cannot escape the more concrete and more direct demands of the political moment either.
Communist Discourse: The Anti-National Phase
Istoricul Gheorghe I. Brătianu
As it was constructed in the course of the nineteenth century and in the first decades after 1900, Romanian historical ideology was organized around national values and the relations between national culture and the (West) European model. The controversy which is so characteristic of Romanian society in the first half of the twentieth century was about what exactly the appropriate balance was, in the modern synthesis of civilization, between these two cultural sources: indigenous tradition and Western values. For a time, communism put a stop to these prolonged debates with a decision apparently beyond appeal: neither the West nor tradition.
The model now invoked and applied was a completely new one: that of Soviet communism, which Romania adopted in an even more servile and complete way than other countries of Central and Southeast Europe. The change was all the more brutal as the revolutionary Marxist Left had occupied a quite peripheral area of the Romanian ideological spectrum. The Communist Party, which was largely made up of non-Romanian ethnic elements and acted on the orders of Moscow, had generally been perceived by public opinion in the interwar period as hostile to national interests. Even the Social Democratic Party had played little more than a symbolic role in the political life of the country. The political sensibility of the Romanians was more inclined to the Right; even some “leftist” tendencies (Poporanism, the peasantist ideology) breathed a pre-capitalist rural air, expressing the ideal of a society of small producers, not the mythology of a post-capitalist future forged by the working class. In other words, even the majority of the Left were guided by ideas that may be considered somewhat “rightist”, or at least to correspond to a certain traditionalism with roots in “peasant democracy”.
In this context, the material, social, and mental restructuring imposed by communism appears all the more radical. The mechanisms of Romanian society were smashed to pieces and replaced by completely new structures and mechanisms. The elite was pulverized and its members perished in prison, resigned themselves to exile, or ended up blending into the new social mixture and disappearing. The peasantry, which up to 1944 had been considered the fundamental class of Romanian society and the depositary of the national spirit and traditions, was dismembered by collectivization. Massive industrialization filled the urban space with an uprooted and easily maneuvered mass. The center was shifted effectively, but above all symbolically, from the village to the town. The workers became the most representative class, the so-called leading class—in fact the ideological alibi of the Party aristocracy, which, by a process of “spontaneous generation”, formed the new elite of the country. The thread of tradition was broken. A new history began, not only different but totally opposed to the old; a new culture, too, had to be born—a Romanian version of Soviet culture.
After the short transition of the years 1944 to 1947, which still allowed some manifestations of the “old” historiography, the “new” Marxist, or basically Stalinist, history took over the whole field. Some professional historians aligned themselves with the new imperatives, but the great university professors, with a few exceptions, were reduced to silence, thrown out of their posts, and in many cases imprisoned; some, like G. I. Brătianu, were to the in prison. Their places were frequently taken by improvised “historians”, among whom should be mentioned the conductor of the new historiography and little dictator of the history of the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mihail Roller.
The earthquake in historiography was no less powerful than that which shook all the structures of society. There was no Marxist tradition in Romanian historiography. The few contributions which can be considered Marxist were occasional and insignificant. Those that are most worth mentioning are Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea’s Neo-serfdom (1910); the flagrantly mediocre works of Petre Constantinescu-Iasi, the only Marxist historian in a university post (but completely marginal in the field, as professor in the Faculty of Theology in Chişinău); and the similarly modest contributions of Lucreţiu Patraşcanu. Without intending to be paradoxical, it could be said that the interpretations of the “Legionary” P.P. Panaitescu, with the centrality that he accords to economic and social structures, were in a sense closer to a Marxist spirit than the undistinguished writings of the declared Marxists.
In the space of only a few years the reference points of Romanian history were turned upside down. The guiding thread had been the national idea. What emerged in its place was the internationalist spirit, which meant, in fact, an attempt to wipe out all that was nationally Romanian. The History of the R.P.R., published in numerous editions under the direction of M. Roller—from 1947, when it was still called The History of Romania, to 1956—illustrates in its very tide the direction of this new reconstruction of the past. Romania had become the “R.P.R.”*, an anonymous set of initials after the model of the Soviet republics. Any reference to the national significance of the history of the previous century was done away with or turned upside down. Here, for example, is the interpretation of the union of 1859: “The ruling classes managed to ensure that the union would be carried out primarily from above by an understanding between the bourgeoisie and the boyars; those who benefited from it were bourgeois elements and the commercial boyars, and not the broad masses of the people.” In other words, it was an act of class politics, not a national act. All the same, the 1859 moment enjoyed a certain weighting in the economy of the book. The reader will be unable, on the other hand, to find a chapter or subchapter referring to the creation of Greater Romania in 1918. The union of Bessarabia with Romania appears under the tide “Imperialist Intervention against the Socialist Revolution in Russia”, and deals, of course, with the occupation of the province in question; as for Transylvania and the symbolic date 1 December 1918, we find them in a subchapter called “Intervention against the Revolution in Hungary”. Far from being a natural result of history and an incontestable right of the Romanian people, national unity is inscribed within an expansion of imperialist type.
The place of national solidarity, so much invoked in pre-communist historiography, was taken by its contrary, class struggle, which was considered the motor force of historical evolution. From antiquity to the overturning of the “bourgeois-landlord” regime, history is punctuated by social conflicts of all kinds. In some cases these are quite simply invented (the rebellions and other protest movements in Roman Dacia, for example); more often, they are taken out of context and amplified, whether in the case of peasant rebellions in the Middle Ages or of more recent workers’ movements. History took its shape around the great “class battles”, and the heroes of these replaced or devalued the great traditional figures, who were guilty, in general, of belonging to the “exploiting classes”.
A major branch of pre-communist historiography was concerned with relations between the Romanians and the West. Here, too, the shift was radical: the “Latin island in a Slav sea” was obliged to go back to where it came from. Period after period in “Roller history” was marked by connections between Romanians and Slavs, from the cohabitation of the two ethnic groups and cultures in the first centuries of the Middle Ages down to the “liberation of Romania by the glorious Soviet army” on 23 August 1944. The result is a powerful anchoring in the Slav world, the political significance of which is too evident to need comment. At the same time, no occasion is missed to strike at all that is meant by the West and Western values.
The role of the church in national history was also diminished and distorted. In promoting atheism in a brutal form, again closer to the pure Soviet model than the relative compromise that was attempted in Central Europe, the communist regime in Romania proceeded to secularize official history with a flagrant disregard for the real importance of religion and the church in the history of the Romanians, especially in the Middle Ages but also in the modern period. Mlitant atheism remained to the end a characteristic mark of Romanian communism, although this did not prevent certain maneuvers to attract the clergy, particularly the Orthodox clergy. The Uniate Church, which was no less Romanian than the Orthodox, was dissolved in 1948 and its bishops and priests imprisoned. Its relations with Rome, and so with the West, could not be tolerated. The regime succeeded in striking a double blow, cutting spiritual connections with the West while offering a present, albeit not without strings attached, to the Orthodox Church. It is in this context, in the years 1950 to 1955, that the first Romanian saints were canonized. There was a certain small satisfaction in this for the Orthodox Church, which, however, adopted in its turn new criteria in assessing the merits of the persons sanctified. Stephen the Great’s time had not yet come. The new saints combined religious merits with well-defined sociopolitical orientations. Among them were Sava Brancovici, the metropolitan of Transylvania, appreciated for his relations with Russia, and the monk Sofronie of Cioara, who led an anti-Uniate movement around 1760. All this, however, went on in an undertone, never transgressing the limits of what was strictly ecclesiastical or affecting the promotion of atheism, through history as by other means.
Communist Discourse: Recovering the Past
Nicolae Iorga in 1914 / Wikimedia Commons
Towards the end of the 1950s the national factors in Romanian history gradually returned to center stage, and the process was accentuated in the first part of the following decade in parallel with a diminishing of the Slav, Russian, and Soviet element. It was a slow but steady evolution, culminating in April 1964 in the famous Declaration of the “independence” of the Romanian Workers’ Party. Romanian communism had abandoned “internationalism”, which was in fact a disguise for anti-nationalism, and had opted for nationalism. It was, at least as far as discourse was concerned, a 180-degree turn.
All sorts of interpretations have been proposed to explain this remarkable shift. It must be said at the start that the phenomenon is not essentially a typically Romanian one but characteristic of the evolution of communism in general. Communism everywhere displayed the tendency to slip from “internationalism” to nationalism, in forms that were sometimes extreme and at other times relatively discreet. The champion in all categories must be Russia under Stalin, which, under the misleading label of the U.S.S.R., promoted Russian nationalism in the most aggressive and aberrant forms. China monopolized communism in its turn, giving it a specifically national coloring. Romania, Albania, and North Korea belong in the same company. But nor did countries like Hungary and Bulgaria hesitate to re-adapt their history to fit a nationalist discourse. The case of the G.D.R., the so-called Democratic Germany, is quite characteristic. As an invented country, a relatively prosperous colony of the Soviet Union, the eastern part of German territory guarded itself for a long time against any manifestation of national spirit. However, towards the end, incapable of imagining any other valid argument for its own existence, it had to fall back on the same historical-nationalist rhetoric. Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, previously denounced as the father of Prussian militarism and the adversary of Russia, was rehabilitated, becoming one of the founding fathers of the G.D.R.
The phenomenon is thus general and can be explained, on the whole, by the isolationist character of Utopias (regardless of what they proclaim) and by the incapacity of communism to offer people anything more than an, at best, mediocre existence. There had to be something to compensate for the long series of shortages and frustrations. The “radiant future” no longer worked, but the past could still work. The nationalist discourse was the simplest, most frequent, and often most efficient diversion in the face of the accumulation of real difficulties. The slide towards this type of discourse was also necessary in order to legitimize power. In countries where it had been imposed by an occupying force, communism could not carry on the internationalist argument for ever; for the effective validation of the system indigenous values could not be ignored.
Seen against this general background, Romania, it is true, went further than others. It is probable that the traditional force of the nationalist discourse, covered over by the anti-nationalism of the 1950s but not annihilated, counted here. The feeling of Romanian individuality, that syndrome of the “Latin island in a Slav sea”, may also have counted. Nor should it be forgotten that the Communist Party, initially a handful of people, most of whom had nothing to do with Romanian culture, had become a mass party and so had gradually been “Romaniapized”, just as its leadership had been Romanianized with time. (In 1964, four out of nine members of the Political Bureau were still of “non-Romanian” origin.) Not only were the new leaders Romanians, they came largely from a rural background, like Ceauşescu himself, and so were, by virtue of their very origins, more inclined towards autochthonism and isolationism. Even the old intelligentsia, to the extent that it was recuperated, brought with it a wave of nationalism, additionally motivated and amplified in reaction to the anti-nationalist terror of the 1950s. The controversies which followed with the Soviet Union and other neighbors served only to accentuate this nationalist coloring, while the final crisis of the regime after 1980 quite simply exacerbated it; the nationalist discourse offered the only way of escape from reality.
The passage from one system of values to another and the modification of power relations within the ruling elite produced a certain relaxation of the communist regime; the phase of relative calming of tensions can be situated broadly between the years 1964 and 1971. The regime began to treat its own citizens better (the political amnesty of 1964 being symbolic in this respect), and to renew relations with the West (symbolic also being the visit by the prime minister, Ion Gheorghe Maurer, to France in the same year). National values began to be rehabilitated and reintegrated in Romanian culture, while nationalist excess was not yet the order of the day. Historians were able to benefit from the same openness, which allowed them the luxury of introducing a degree of nuance and even, up to a point, diversification into their interpretations. It is significant that towards the end of this period no less than three syntheses of national history appeared, which, while not radically different, nevertheless presented certain differences of interpretation (The History of Romania, edited by Miron Constantinescu, Constantin Daicoviciu, and Ştefan Pascu, 1969; The History of the Romanian People, edited by Andrei Oţetea, 1970; and The History of the Romanians from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, by Constantin C. Giurescu and Dinu C. Giurescu, 1971: it is worth noting that G C. Giurescu was brought back to the university in 1963 and was to remain, until his death in 1977, one of the leading representatives of a historiography free of any anti-national coloring).
Some Romanian historians began to be able to travel beyond the borders of Romania, and Romanian participation in international gatherings increased, involving more and more individuals. Foreign historians came to Romania, too, and it was easier for Western historiographical productions to penetrate. Given their traditional cultural affinities, Romanian historians were especially close to the “Annales school”, the French “new history”, which could indeed, with prudent treatment, be reconciled more easily with Marxism than any other current. (This was due to the importance that it gave to structures and mass phenomena in general. This sort of history could, however, also illustrate a resistance to the political, event-based, and nationalist re-elaboration of the past that was beginning to be seen.)
Although some have not hesitated to speak of a ’liberalization”, it was in fact far from being any such thing. There was liberalization, it is true, in comparison to the 1950s, to the extent that former political detainees had more liberty outside prison, under more or less discreet surveillance, than within its walls. The chain had been loosened by a few links, just enough for some no longer to notice it, or to want no longer to notice it, but it had not been broken. The “liberty” of Romanian society between 1964 and 1971 was limited and controlled. The Romanians, as most political scientists recognize, did not experience a true process of de-Stalinization. The Party and the Securitate kept the process under control the whole time, and when the degree of “liberty” granted began to seem disturbing, they had no difficulty in turning the process back again.
One observation is necessary with reference not only to the sub-period under discussion but also to later history, concerning the reconsideration of Romanian historical and cultural traditions. Year by year, and name by name, the communist regime integrated into its value system a substantial part, indeed the greater part, of the national inheritance. All the great historians were recuperated in the end, Iorga in the first years of the “new wave”, and G. I. Brătianu, whom the communists could not so easily forgive for his death in the prison at Sighet, closer to the end. Many of their works were republished. Between killing a man, physically or morally, and publishing his books, there is undoubtedly a difference. But the recuperation was at the price of sacrificing the spirit of Romanian culture, which was profoundly incompatible with communism and yet was now obliged to fit into its schemas. Writers, scholars, and politicians, who not only had had nothing to do with communism but had utterly detested it and in some cases been among its victims, were posthumously obliged to uphold the communist project. In taking possession of the “cultural heritage”, communism sought to legitimize itself even at a price, that price being the distortion of the authentic repository of national culture.
Let me illustrate this by two examples.
E. Lovinescu’s History of Modern Romanian Civilization was republished in 1972. It was the recuperation of one of the most original ideological constructions of the interwar period, but editing was turned into “critical takeover”. Whatever was inconvenient was taken out of the text (respecting, it is true, the convention of suspension marks). Among the passages removed were some in which the essential message of the work is made explicit: the refusal of totalitarianism, whether communist or fascist, and belief in the triumph of democracy on Western lines. In addition, the introductory study is careful to underline that Lovinescu did not set out “to elaborate a work of anti-Marxist polemic” and that he even had points in common with historical materialism. This is just too much! Even if Lovinescu’s work was not intended as an anti-Marxist polemic (and why should it have been?), it is fundamentally anti-Marxist, the text is the most profoundly different from Marxism and the most clearly anti-communist (from a democratic perspective) in our culture. That is what should have been said, but of course it could not be said. The choice facing the editor was a simple one: to publish the book in “adapted” form, or not to publish it at all. I make no comment on the solution; I merely note it.
Nicolae Iorga is another interesting example. He was, as we have seen, a right-wing nationalist, opposed in every fiber of his being to the communist model. The fact that he fell victim to the Legionaries “threw” him into the “anti-fascist” camp (even though the historian had shown sympathy towards Italian fascism and other similar political experiments). There is, of course, nothing about the stands he took against communism in the texts devoted to him in the communist period. Anyone leafing through school textbooks, for example, will immediately notice the amalgam: Iorga and other “bourgeois” but “anti-fascist” politicians are mixed in with all sorts of names out of the working-class pantheon.
Here are a few sentences which deserve to be reproduced from the school textbook on the “contemporary history of Romania”. “In order to achieve a broad front of anti-fascist forces, the Romanian Communist Party gave great attention to the use of progressive, democratic intellectuals. Alongside a series of intellectuals who were communists or sympathizers with the Communist Party […] a series of leading politicians and intellectuals of other political orientations were also engaged in this action, such as: Nicolae Titulescu, Nicolae Iorga, Grigore Iunian, Virgil Madgearu, Dem. Dobrescu, Petre Andrei, Grigore Filipescu, Mtiţă Constantinescu, Traian Bratu, etc. All that the detachment of patriotic intellectuals in Romania had that was most valuable, in these years, was strongly enrolled in the democratic, anti-fascist movement.” Pupils were to remain with the impression that Iorga, Titulescu, and the rest, “enrolled” in a “patriotic detachment”, were basically following a policy set by the Communist Party! Having become a sort of “anti-fascist fighter”, Iorga joined the ranks of those who contributed, evidendy without so wishing, to the legitimizing of the communist regime, in whose prisons the Legionaries had not given him the chance to die.
Communist Discourse: The Exacerbation of Nationalism
Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1988 / Wikimedia Commons
The year 1971 saw the unleashing of the Romanian “cultural revolution”. “Liberalization” and “openness” were put an end to once and for all. Year by year, until its fall in December 1989, the Ceauşescu regime would accentuate the totalitarian pressure, at the same time isolating Romania from the rest of the world (a relatively slow process in the first decade, then in continuous acceleration after 1980).
Nationalism became the decisive historical and political argument. United throughout their whole history, united around the single party and the Leader, the Romanians were infused with the vocation of unity, in other words, the subordination of the individual in the face of the national organism and, at the same time, a strict delimitation of their own nation in relation to others. As a political instrument of legitimization and domination, nationalism gained advantage from the amalgamation of the authentic nationalist tradition and the specific aims pursued by the communist dictatorship. It seemed like a recuperation, when in the first instance it was actually a manipulation.
Such a re-elaboration of history presupposes an attenuation of the mechanism of class struggle. However, the two divergent interpretations—the nationalist interpretation and the social conflict interpretation—continued to coexist, taking advantage of the capacity of communist dialectic cheerfully to harmonize contradictions of any sort. The Romanians needed a history of great achievements, and they had one.
The evolution in interpretations of the interwar years is characteristic. Initially, every evil imaginable was attributed to this period—logically enough, since it was in the bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie that the origins and justifications of proletarian revolution were to be found. In the new phase, the interwar years were appreciably improved. The merits (relative, it should be understood) of bourgeois democracy; the importance (for all its limits) of the agrarian reform; the increase in production, especially industrial production; the successes of Romanian foreign policy; and the remarkable level of scientific and cultural creation were all highlighted. Another motive for pride was the Romanian resistance to fascism. Romania had succeeded for a long time in preserving its democratic system, while in most European states dictatorships of fascist type were being set up. References to the extent of foreign capital, the exploitation of the workers, and the difficulties of the peasants had the role of diminishing the positive aspects, but the overall picture tended to become more and more favorable. (In some interpretations it might be noticed that the dictatorship of Carol II became an “authoritarian regime”, in contrast to the dictatorships in other European countries, and the Antonescu government was sweetened by a blurring, or even elimination, of its fascist characteristics.) How could this ever more favorable perspective on the interwar period be squared with the imperative necessity brutally to overthrow its system? How could an appreciation, albeit with reservations, of the democratic regime be squared with the installation of its perfect antithesis—communist totalitarianism? Of course they could not be, but the logic of double-talk is at the very heart of communist ideology.
Everything grew to the same rhythm: the virtues of interwar Romania on the one hand, and the virtues of overthrowing the interwar system on the other. The king’s coup d’état on 23 August 1944, which had subsequently become “the liberation of the country by the glorious Soviet army”, passed through the variant “armed anti-fascist insurrection” to be apotheosized finally as “revolution of national and social liberation, anti-fascist and anti-imperialist”, carried out, of course, under the leadership of the Communist Party. From a military point of view, the “two hundred days earlier” theory places Romania among the principal victors of the Second World War, which the intervention of the Romanian army is said to have shortened by at least six months.
It is interesting that, in parallel with these remarkable re-elaborations, there took place a “semi-rehabilitation” of the Antonescu regime, the overthrow of which was nevertheless the starting point of the mythologizing of the communist revolution. The 1950s, the “heroic” phase of the revolution, even attracted “severe” looks, with the highlighting of certain exaggerations and abuses, but without, of course, touching the foundations of the communist system itself. The “obsessive decade” permitted Ceauşescu to draw the line between himself and state terrorism and pro-Sovietism, in the name of a “communism of humanity” (an expression apparently inspired by the “socialism with a human face” of the “Prague Spring”, which unfortunately corresponded little to the Romanian case), while the gender treatment of Antonescu was in line with the nationalist discourse and detachment, at least formally, from the Soviet Union.
The Ceauşescu era was, however, characterized by a notable shift from the contemporary towards origins. That was where legitimacy and unity had to be sought above all. The ridiculous attained dizzying heights when the “Institute of History of the Party”, which specialized in monographs on labor struggles and heroes of the working class, turned its attention towards antiquity and devoted itself especially to the issue of Dacian origins. Ancient history became even more politicized than contemporary history. The great event took place in 1980, when everything available was put together to confection the 2050th (?) anniversary of the founding of the “unitary and centralized” Dacian state under Burebista. Burebista offered Ceauşescu the supreme legitimization, as the ancient king’s state prefigured in many ways (unitary, centralized, authoritarian, respected by the “others”, etc.) his own Romania, as the dictator liked to imagine it. Verses like this resounded in the great stadium:
The land had sworn him fealty, and would follow him in all things Fifteen years had passed since first at its head he stood His face, his name and destiny for ever are encrusted In the eternity of the land, and of the lion’s brood.
It was not, in fact, Burebista that was magnified, but his successor centuries later. All the more so as there appeared a feminine double, who could not be identified in ancient Dacia.
Beside him, in the country’s profoundest admiration Stands the comrade of his life, and of his vibrant ideal: ’Tis Elena Ceauşescu, noble soul of a Romanian Good mother, politician and scholar of renown.
One commemoration followed another, all organized according to the same pattern. Regardless of who or what was being commemorated, they would start with origins, underline continuity and unity, and end with the present, the Ceauşescu era. Everything announced the supreme fulfillment of Romanian history, the dictator finding himself again in his forerunners. This is why, in 1986, when the commemoration of Mircea the Old generated a veritable psychosis, the prince was required to give up being “old” and become, or become again, “the Great” (any deviation from this epithet being considered a serious political error). History was thus abolished; the same Romanian history, always the same as itself, was perpetuated throughout the millennia.
No less interesting from the point of view of the national-communist actualization of history was the question of the capitulations. These treaties, allegedly concluded by the Romanian lands with the Ottoman Empire, were cited towards the end of the eighteenth century and in the nineteenth century as legal arguments for autonomy and in support of the revival of rights that had not been respected by the suzerain power. Applying the demystifying principles of the “critical school”, Constantin Giurescu demonstrated in 1908 (in The Capitulations of Moldavia with the Ottoman Porte) that the texts in question had been no more than patriotic forgeries. Not that this deterred Nicolae Copoiu, a prominent member of the Institute of History of the Party, from republishing the documents as if they had been authentic. Suddenly the capitulations became a matter of political dogma. They “proved” that the Romanian lands had treated with the Ottoman Porte as equals, just like Ceauşescu with Moscow and Washington. Anyone with the slightest idea of medieval history knows that relations then were fundamentally hierarchical and far from our current principles of “equality”, real or formal. Our historians can look as much as they like in the Turkish archives for Romanian-Ottoman bilateral treaties. At best they will find unilateral “privileges” granted by the sultans to princes much lower than themselves in the hierarchy of the time. But Ceauşescu and his people could not allow his predecessors to make even the slightest abdication of dignity and national sovereignty.
The nationalism of the Ceauşescu era also manifested itself in a specific manner in the curious, but not entirely unprecedented, form of protochronism. What was probably the most virulent strain of the disease had broken out in Stalin’s Russia in the middle of the nationalist phase of the 1940s and 1950s. The conclusion then had been that almost every valuable achievement in human culture science, and technology had been the work of Russian minds. Anyone who proclaimed that Marconi rather than Popov was the inventor of radio risked years of imprisonment (not just in Russia, but in Romania too). The Romanian protochronist model followed the same line, not in imitation but as the product of a similar logic. (In a way it can be seen as a re-actualization, but in a highly amplified manner marked by autochthonism, of similar patriotic attempts in the nineteenth century.)
The concept was launched in 1974 by Edgar Papu, an intellectual trained in the interwar period, who had spent several years in a communist prison. It was yet another illustration of the attraction held out to certain exponents of Romanian culture, who were allured by the rehabilitation, and even exacerbation, of national values. Of course Papu, whose proposal was limited to a number of cultural “firsts”, had no way of foreseeing the huge expansion of his “discovery”. Once the affirmation of Romanian values had become confused with patriotism, there followed a veritable competition among “patriots”, each hoping his discourse about the past would improve his present position in the cultural and political hierarchy.
As there was no longer a Titu Maiorescu to mock at overheated minds, the revolution of Horea posed once again as precursor of the French Revolution. As an anteriority of five years did not mean very much, the Bobilna uprising, too, was metamorphosed into a revolution towards the end of Ceauşescu’s rule, by the authority of the dictator himself. Ceauşescu never explained his profound thinking, so it remained for historians to take the idea further and show how the Transylvanian peasants had had a revolution in 1437, three and a half centuries before the French. By a similar logic it was possible to conclude that the Romanians had also invented the modern nation and the national state, a fact demonstrated by the union under Michael, and even by the multiple manifestations of Romanian unity before 1600, at a time when no one else in Europe was thinking of cutting borders according to ethnic criteria.
Turning to cultural achievements, it was just as easy to demonstrate the superiority of the Teachings of Neagoe Basarab to Machiavelli’s Prince, in a fascinating text, Paul Anghel underlines the universal, almost cosmic, sense of the Romanian ruler’s work, in comparison with which the Florentine secretary’s effort seems much less inspired: “The Teachings are a book of initiation. Their equivalent cannot even be found in Byzantium”—perhaps only in ancient India. In his turn, the sociologist Die Bădescu took it upon himself to demonstrate how Eminescu revolutionized world sociology. Meanwhile, Ion Creangă, in the interpretation of Dan Zamfirescu, became the equal of Homer, Shakespeare, and Goethe—or even their superior—as the creator of Ivan Turbincă, a hero “more contemporary than Hamlet, Faust, Don Quixote, and Alyosha Karamazov” and quite simply “the character who dominates world history in our century”.
From 1971 to 1989, the general tendency was a gradual accentuation of isolationism and cultural megalomania. But this tendency, in which orders issued from above joined hands with personal initiatives (including some of the craziest protochronist discoveries), does not in any way account for the entire Romanian cultural and historiographical spectrum. Especially among writers and critics there was a notable opposition towards aggressive autochthonism and the protochronist phenomenon, nor did historians recite a uniform litany. On the contrary, divergent points of view never ceased to multiply, broadly separating those who were determined to maintain a certain professional standard from those ready to apply promptly (often adding something of their own) any orientation dictated by political considerations.
The limiting of freedom of expression could not do away with the real diversity of points of view and sensibilities. These were expressed within the space that remained free, however small it might be, where they found indirect or disguised ways to manifest themselves, focussing on details of little apparent relevance but which could come to symbolize real divergences. Given the limited space available these contradictions could become remarkably concentrated. Katherine Verdery has given a very suggestive definition of the different orientations in Romanian historiography, starting from the name used for the Horea episode: uprising or revolution. Party historians, military historians, and autochthonists opted for the latter formula, which was considered to give enhanced value to the national past.
The “Party line” was followed especially closely by historians in positions closer to the center of power and to the condition of activist. This was, in the first place (though not, of course, exclusively), the case of the Institute of History of the Party and the Center for Military History. The latter, which was patronized by Ilie Ceauşescu, brother of the dictator, general, and “historian”, gained appreciably in influence after 1980. A tendency to “militarize” history took shape (both in the interpretation of the past and in the organization of research, the publication of results, and participation in international gatherings). It is significant that the only major synthesis of history published in the time of Ceauşescu was the Military History of the Romanian People (six volumes, 1984—1989), which came to be a “substitute” for the ever-postponed synthesis of national history.
More reticence in the adoption of official slogans and the excesses which accompanied them was shown by university historians and researchers in the “civilian” institutes (though here, too, there were marked differences from one individual to the next and between different fields, the worst affected being contemporary history). It is certain that the result was not the often invoked “historical front” so much as a disordered and inefficient historiographical movement. For this reason the great planned historiographical synthesis of the Ceauşescu era, a ten-volume treatise on the history of Romania launched as a project in 1975, never reached the printers. The previous synthesis, also conceived in ten volumes, had come to grief after the appearance of volume IV in 1964 (it had got up to 1878). This time things got so complicated that not even one volume could appear. In the first case the stumbling block had been the last hundred years of history. Now the project got bogged down in the first millennium. The pure, hard Dacianism of the Party and military historians came up against the more balanced position of the university historians and professional archaeologists.
All these divergences, compressed into a limited problematic and dampened by the totalitarian atmosphere, gave a foretaste of the much clearer divisions that have emerged since 1989 in matters of professional competence, political orientation, and interpretative inclination alike (including the famous Romanian dilemma of the relation between autochthonism and Europeanism).
The dominant, even in a sense the sole, discourse in the time of Ceauşescu was that of nationalism. I say “sole” because it could be sidestepped but not counteracted, fought with explicit arguments or matched by another coherent discourse. And if historians sometimes managed to find safety in less exposed areas or by making use of professional subtlety, the population as a whole was subjected—through the current propaganda channels—to a virulent nationalist demagogy.
Not enough emphasis has been placed on the role played by this type of historical discourse, obsessively repeated, in the consolidation and prolonging of the Ceauşescu dictatorship, in as much as the communist-nationalist image of history corresponded to a traditional mental pattern (Daco—Roman origins, continuity, struggle for independence, the role of the Romanians in defending Europe, the victimization of the Romanians at the hands of the “others”, etc.) and seemed to offer the most appropriate reaction to the anti-nationalism of the preceding period and the imperialism of Moscow. The adoption and amplification of a nineteenth-century national mythology, even in a distorted manner, bestowed credibility and legitimacy on the regime and an aura of patriotism on the dictator—at least until the Romanians began to suffer from hunger and cold. The glorious shades of the past could not prevent economic disaster and the explosion of social tensions. But the historical mythology accumulated in the Ceauşescu era has oudived the dictator himself. Mental constellations have a longer life than material structures. Thanks to the communist regime, a historical mentality which has been long outdated in Western Europe continues to affect Romanian culture and society to the full.
1 Cazimir, Stefan. Alfabetul de tranziţie (The alphabet of transition). Bucharest Cartea Românească, 1986.
2 For the somewhat less than bourgeois ideology of the nascent Romanian middle class, see Boia, Lucian. “Réception et déformation: La Révolution française dans la chronique de Dionisie l’Ecclésiarque” (Reception and deformation: The French Revolution in the chronicle of Dionisie the Ecclesiarch). In La Revolution française et Us Roumains (The French Revolution and the Romanians). Bicentenary studies, ed. Al. Zub. Iaşi, 1989, 279—284.
3 Lovinescu, E. Istoria civilizaţiei române moderne (The history of modern Romanian civilization). 3 vols. Bucharest Ancora, 1924-25; Zeletin, Ştefan. Burghezia română Originea şi rolul ei istoric (The Romanian bourgeoisie: Its origin and historical role). Bucharest: Cultura Naţională, 1925.
4 Enciclopedia română (The Romanian encyclopedia). Ed. C. Diaconovici. Vol. 3. Sibiu, 1904, 810 (“România”); Vol. 2, 1900, 762 (“Iaşi”); Vol. 1, 1898, 606 (“Bucuresti”).
5 The phenomenon of the “refusal of capitalism” in Romanian culture is analysed by Ştefan Zeletin in the chapter “Valoarea şi sensul culturii române reacţionare” (The value and sense of reactionary Romanian culture) in op. cit, 244—255. Similar considerations can be found in Ioan Petru Culianu, who discusses the anti-capitalist mentality of Orthodoxy in contrast to the capitalist spirit of the Protestant ethic (according to Max Weber’s thesis). See his essay “Mircea Eliade necunoscutul” (Mircea Eliade the unknown). In Mircea Eliade. Bucharest: Nemira, 1995. In the chapter “Enemies of capitalism” (pp. 169—174) he concludes that “In Romania, at the beginning of the twentieth century, there were no friends of capitalism, other than the capitalists themselves.”
6 Georgescu, Vlad. Mémoires et projets de réforme dans les principautés roumaines (1769-1830) (Memoranda and projects of reform in the Romanian principalities, 1769—1830). Bucharest, 1970, 170; Mémoires et projets de réforme dans les principautés roumaines (1831-1848). Bucharest, 1972, 185.
7 Panu, G. Amintiri de la “Junimea” din Iaşi (Recollections of the “Junimea” of Iaşi). Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura Remus Cioflec, 1942, 99-100.
8 For more on the myth of Michael the Brave, see the following articles by Mirela Luminiţa Murgescu: “Figura lui Mihai Viteazul în viziunea elitelor şi în literatura didactică (1830— 1860)” (The figure of Michael the Brave in the vision of the elites and in didactic literature, 1830-1860). Revista istorică 5-6 (1993): 539-550; “Mythistory in Elementary School: Michael the Brave in Romanian Textbooks (1830-1918).” Analele Universităţii Bucureşti Istorie (1993-1994): 53-66; “Trecutul între cunoaştere şi cultul eroilor patriei. Figura lui Mihai Viteazul în manualele şcolare de istorie (1831—1994)” (The past between knowledge and the cult of the heroes of the country: The figure of Michael the Brave in school history textbooks, 1831—1994). Mituri istorice româneşti (Romanian historical myths). Under the direction of Lucian Boia. Bucharest: Editura Universităţii Bucureşti, 1995, 42—71.
9 Costin, Miron. Opere (Works). Ed. P. P. Panaitescu. Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura pentru Literatura, 1965, 15-21.
10 Cronicari munteni (Muntenian chroniclers). Vol. 1. Bucharest Editura pentru Literatura, 1961, 329.
11 Micu, Samuil. Scurtă cunoştinţă a istoriei nmânilor. Bucharest: Editura Ştiinţifică, 1963, 112; the same idea is developed by Micu in Istoria şi lucurile şi intimplările nmanilor (History and matters and events of the Romanians), recently published as Istoria nmanilor (History of the Romanians). Ed. Ioan Chrindriş. Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura Viitorul Românesc, 1995, 97.
12 Kogălniceanu, Mihail. Historie de la Valachie, de la Moldavie et des Valaques transdanubiens (History of Wallachia, Moldavia, and the Transdanubian Vlachs). Reprinted in Open. Vol 2. Scrieri istorice (Historical writings). Ed. Al. Zub. Bucharest: Editura Academiei, 1976, 177, 184.
13 Bălcescu, Nicolae. Românii supt Mihai Voevod Viteazul Reprinted in Open. Vol. 3. Ed. Daniela Poenaru. Bucharest Editura Academiei, 1986, 165, 197, 265.
14 Bălcescu, Nicolae. Despn starea socială a muncitorilor plugari în principatele române în deosebite timpuri (On the social status of the workers of the land in the Romanian principalities in various periods). Reprinted in Open. Vol. 2. Ed. G. Zane. Bucharest: Editura Academiei, 1986, 151-162.
15 Heliade Rădulescu, Ion. Echilibrul între antiteze (Equilibrium between antitheses). Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura Minerva, 1916, 85, 133.
16 Catargiu, Barbu. Discursuri parlamentare (1859—1862) (Parliamentary speeches, 1859—1862). Bucharest: Editura Minerva, 1914, 152-153, 220, 342.
17 On Russo’s “Cîntarea României” , see G. Zane’s comments in N. Bălcescu. Open. Vol. 2, 231-237.
18 Brătianu, Ion C. Acte şi cuvîntări (Documents and speeches). Vol. 1, part 1. Bucharest: Editura Cartea Românească, 1938, 21-22.
19 Ibid., 161-162.
20 Ibid. Vol. 8, 1941, 163-164.
21 Ibid. Vol. 8, 178.
22 Ibid. Vol. 4, 1932, 31.
23 Ibid. Vol. 8, 213.
24 For the content and historical exploitation of the Chronicle of Huru, see Asachi, G. Nouvelles historiques de la Moldo-Roumanie (Historical tales from Moldo-Romania). Iaşi, 1859; and Heliade Rădulescu, Ion. Elemente de istoria românilor (Elements of the history of the Romanians). Bucharest, 1860 and 1869. Supplementary information on the controversy can be found in Zub, AL Mihail Kogălniceanu istoric (Mihail Kogălniceanu historian). Iasi: Editura Junimea, 1974, 749—752; and in Ştefan Gorovei’s afterword and notes to Constandin Sion’s Arhondologia Moldovei. Bucharest: Editura Minerva, 1973.
25 Heliade Rădulescu, Ion. Echilibrul între antiteze. Vol. 2, 52.
26 Kogălniceanu, Mihail. Fragments tirés des chroniques moldaves et valaques (Fragments drawn from the Moldavian and Wallachian chronicles). Open. Vol. 2, 415-416.
27 Bălcescu, Nicolae. Puterea armată şi arta militară de la întemeierea principatului Valahiei pînă acum. Opere. Vol. 2, 50, 61.
28 Zub, Al. op. cit., 751-752.
29 Hasdeu, B. P. Scrieri literare, morale şi politice (Literary, moral and political writings). Ed. Mircea Eliade. Vol. 2. Bucharest, 1937, 164 (an article originally published in Românul, 11 January 1868).
30 Maiorescu, Titu. “În contra direcţei de astăzi în cultura română” . Critice (Critical writings). Vol. 1. Bucharest Minerva, 1908, 150-151.
31 Ibid. Vol. 2, 236.
32 Ibid. Vol. 1, 125.
33 Ibid. Vol. 1, 128-129.
34 Panu, George. “Studii asupra atîmării sau neatîmării politice a romănilor in deosebite secole”. Convorbiri literare (1872): 151-157, 193-203, 233-248, 262-272, 309-319.
35 Murăraşu, Dumitru. Naţionalismul lui Eminescu (Eminescu’s nationalism). 1934. Bucharest: Editura Pacifica, 1994, 79.
36 Maiorescu, Titu. op. cit. Vol. 2, 224.
37 * The quotation is from Eminescu’s poem “Doina”. Trans.
38 For Eminescu’s nationalist doctrine, see Murăraşu, Dumitru. op. cit.
39 Maiorescu, Titu. op. cit. Vol. 1, 152-153.
40 Iorga, N. Lupta pentru limba românească (The struggle for the Romanian language). Bucharest, 1906, 41-42, 52.
41 Iorga, N. “Două concepţii istorice” (Two historical conceptions). In Generalităţi cu privire ta studiile istoriæ (Generalities concerning historical studies). Bucharest: Imprimeria Naţională, 1944, 98.
42 Iorga, N. Istoria poporului románesc (The history of the Romanian people). Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura “Casei Şcoalelor”, 1922, 9 (originally published as Geschichte des Rumänischen Volkes. Gotha, 1905).
43 * Romanii papulare. the difference between Iorga’s term Romania (a space of continuing Romanity) and Romania (Romania in the modem national sense) is quite clear in Romanian, but impossible to convey in English. Trans.
44 Ibid. Vol. 2, 112.
45 Pârvan, Vasile. Getica O protoistorie a Daciei (Getica: A protohistory of Dacia). Bucharest Cultura Naţională, 1926, 173.
46 Giurescu, Constantin C. O nouă sinteză a trecutului nostru. Bucharest Editura Cartea Românească, extract from Revista istorică română (1931—32): 23.
47 Panaitescu, P. P. Mihai ViteazuL Bucharest: Fundaţia “Regele Carol I” , 1936, 85-86.
48 “Cuvînt înainte” (Foreword). Revista istorică română 1 (1931): 4.
49 Giurescu, C. C. Pentru “vechea şcoală” de istorie. Răspuns dlui N. Iorga. Bucharest, 1937, 47—61.
50 Giurescu, C. C. Istoria românilor. Vol. 2, part 1. 4th edition. Bucharest: Fundaţia Regală pentru Literatură şi Artă, 1943, 258.
51 Giurescu, C. C. Istoria românilor. Din cele mai vechi timpuri pînă la moartea regelui Ferdinand I (The history of the Romanians from the earliest times to the death of King Ferdinand I). Bucharest: Editura Cugetarea—Georgescu Delafras, 1943, 6.
52 P. P. Panaitescu’s historical conception is concentrated in his collection Interpretăn romăneşti (Romanian interpretations). 1947 New edition. Bucharest: Editura Enciclopedică, 1994; and in his school textbook Istoria românilor, which has gone through many editions (most recently Bucharest: Editura Didactică şi Pedagogică, 1990).
53 Panaitescu, P. P. “Noi suntem de aici” (We are from here); and “Închinare” (Worship). Cuvîntul (20 and 30 November 1940). See also Ciauşu, Milviuţa. “Panteonul mişcării legionare” (The pantheon of the Legionary movement) in Mituri istorice româneşti, 199—219.
54 For the historical discourse of the communist period in general, see Georgescu, Vlad. Politică şi istorie. Cazul comuniştilor români 1944—1977 (Politics and history: The case of the Romanian communists, 1944—1977). Edition prepared by Radu Popa. Bucharest Humanitas, 1991.
55 * Republica Popular Romînă (Romanian People’s Republic). Trans.
56 Roller, Mihail, ed. Istoria R.P.R. Bucharest, 1952 edition, 373.
57 Ibid., 525-529.
58 For details on the canonizations, see Păcurariu, Mircea. Sfinţi daco-romani şi români (Daco— Roman and Romanian saints). Iaşi: Editura Mitropoliei Moldovei şi Bucovinei, 1994.
59 Boia, Lucian. ha mythologit scientifique du communisme (The scientific mythology of communism). Caen: Paradigme, 1993, 85-87.
60 Lovinescu, E. Istoria civilizaţiei române moderne. Ed. Z. Ornea. Bucharest Editura Ştiinţifică, 1972, 37.
61 Petric, Aron and Gh. I. Ionijă, Istoria contemporană a României (The contemporary history of Romania). 10th grade textbook. Bucharest: Editura Didactică şi Pedagogică, 1989 edition, 68.
62 For the interwar period (treated favorably in general), the standard work is that of the official historians Mircea Muşat and Ion Ardeleanu. România după Marea Unire (Romania after the Great Union). 2 vols. (1918-1933 and 1933-1940). Bucharest Editură Stiinţifică şi Enciclopedica, 1983—1988. The relative rehabilitation of Antonescu begins with Marin Preda’s novel Delirul (The delirium, 1975), and continues, on the historiographical level, with Aurică Simion, Pnliminarii politico-diplomatice ale insuncţiei nmâne din august 1944 (Political-diplomatic preliminaries of the Romanian insurrection of August 1944). Cluj: Editura Dacia, 1979, becoming fully “officialized” in Istoria militară a poporului român (Military history of the Romanian people). Vol. 6, 1989. As for the contribution of Romania to the defeat of Nazism, the plea of Ilie Ceauşescu, Florin Constantiniu, and Mihail Ionescu received intense media coverage: 200 de zile mai devnme: rolul României in scurtana celui de-al doilea râzboi mondial (200 days earlier: The role of Romania in shortening the Second World War). Bucharest Editura Ştiinţifică şi Enciclopedica, 1984 and 1985. (For the assessment to have been an honest and complete one, the equation should also have taken account of the greater number of days of fighting which resulted from the war waged by Romania alongside Germany, a period four times longer than that which the authors took into consideration.)
63 The Burebista episode is discussed by Florentin Dragoş Necula. “Comunism in Dacia. Burebista—contemporanul nostra” (Communism in Dacia: Burebista our contemporary). Analele Universităţii Bucunşt. Istorie (1993—1994): 37—51. For the ritual commemoration of 2050 years, see Scînteia (6 July 1980).
64 The problem of the capitulations is given an extensive treatment by Mihai Maxim in Ţările nmane şi Înalta Poartă. Cadrul juridic al nlaţiilor româno-otomane in Evul Mediu (The Romanian lands and the Sublime Porte: The legal framework of Romanian-Ottoman relations in the Middle Ages). Bucharest Editura Enciclopedică, 1993. Although the author presents the main lines of the history of the issue, he omits the relationship between the Ceauşescu regime and the capitulations. He opts for a compromise solution, according to which the capitulations were unilateral acts from the perspective of the Porte, but fully fledged treaties from the Romanian point of view.
65 Katherine Verdery has discussed the motivation and avatars of protochronism in detail in National Ideology under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceauşescu’s Romania. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
66 Anghel, PauL “Colaj şi elaborare originală la Neagoe Basarab” (Collage and original elaboration in Neagoe Basarab). Neagoe Basarab. 1512-1521. ha 460 de ani de la urcarea sa pe tnnul Ţării Româneşti (Neagoe Basarab: 1512-1521: On the 460th anniversary of his accession to the throne of Wallachia). Bucharest: Editura Minerva, 1972, 79.
67 Zamfirescu, Dan. Războiul împotriva poporului nmdn (The war against the Romanian people). Bucharest: Editura “Roza Vînturilor” , 1993 (text dated 1987), 282.
68 Verdery, Katherine. op. cit.
History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness, by Lucian Boia (Central European University Press, 2013), 31-82