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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balazs Trencsenyi
Michal Kopecek

Chapter III. The Nationalization of Space

The song of Romania

Alecu Russo
Traduction de Mária Kovács

Texte intégral

1Title: Cântarea României (The song of Romania)

2Originally published: The first version of the poem was published in România viitoare (Paris, 1850). The present form of the poem is as it was published in România literară (Iaşi, 1855), no. 38, 39, 40, 42, 45 and 47.

3Language: Romanian

4The excerpts used are from Alecu Russo, Cântarea României (Bucureşti: Minerva, 1980), pp. 5–8 and 31.

About the author

5Alecu Russo [1819, Străşeni (present-day Republic of Moldova) – 1859, Iaşi]: writer. His father was a merchant. Between 1829 and 1835, he studied in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. In 1836 he was expelled from school for having contacts with radical circles and for writing revolutionary poetry. For a short period he worked as a merchant in Vienna. Returning home in 1836, he travelled widely in Moldova, collecting folklore and popular poetry. Disowned by his family, he was forced to accept a low-paid job in Târgu-Neamţ (Moldavia). During this period he met Vasile Alecsandri (1818–1890), Nicolae Bălcescu (1819–1852) and Costache Negri (1812–1876), and began his collaboration with the journal Piatra Teiului (The Linden Tree’s Stone). In 1846 he had his first plays staged, but because they were critical of the regime of Prince Mihail Sturdza (r. 1834–1849), Russo was exiled to Soveja monastery in Moldavia. He was an active participant in the revolutionary events of 1848. After carrying out a diplomatic mission to Vienna for the revolutionaries in Moldavia, he participated in the national assembly at Blaj (Hun. Balázsfalva) on 3–5 May 1848, and the assembly at Lugoj (Hun. Lugos) on 15 June 1848. He took an active role among Moldavian refugees in Braşov (Hun. Brassó, Ger. Kronstadt). He was a member of the committee that produced the ‘Declaration of principles for the reform of the country’ and the ‘Proclamation of the National Party in Moldavia’. After the defeat of the revolution in Transylvania, Russo escaped to Paris. There he participated in the revolutionary activities of the Romanian emigration. In 1850 the first variant of ‘The song of Romania’ was published anonymously, with an introduction by Bălcescu. Upon his return to Moldavia he became a lawyer in Iaşi. In 1856, he was appointed director of the Department of Public Administration and in 1857 he became the attorney of the Bank of Moldavia. He also published a number of short but influential essays in the newspapers edited by the Romanian émigrés in Western Europe, including a rhapsodic account of the Assembly at Blaj. During the Crimean War (1853–1855), the Romanian national cause became an international issue. The Peace Treaty of Paris (1856), which concluded the war, stipulated the creation of national assemblies in Moldavia and Wallachia (‘Divanuri Ad-Hoc’). Russo became active in the ‘Divanul Ad-Hoc’ in Moldavia and held various government posts. He died of ill health less than two weeks after the union of Moldavia and Wallachia in 1859.

6Main works: Critica criticii (The critique of critique) (1846); Studie moldovană (Moldavian study) (1851); Cântarea României (The song of Romania) (1855).


7The Revolution of 1848 in the Danubian Principalities was mainly the work of liberal intellectuals, or the ‘48-ers’ (‘paşoptişti’), as they are known in Romanian historiography. They had studied abroad and came to maturity in the 1840s. Their contact with Western Europe proved decisive in shaping their mentality and political visions. They identified civilization and progress with the European societies they visited during their studies.

8France played a special role in the process of representing European culture and civilization as the model to emulate within the Danubian Principalities. It was not only French culture that Romanians felt most close to, they also found the French revolutionary model particularly attractive. Moreover, it was in France that the majority of these intellectuals were introduced to modern political ideas. Many Romanians studying in Paris were ardent attenders of the courses offered by Jules Michelet (1798–1874) and Edgar Quinet (1803–1875) at Collège de France, and became friends with prominent French intellectuals such as Alphonse de Lamartine (1790–1869).

9As these Romanian intellectuals were not part of the ruling elite in their own countries, the only way they could channel their revolutionary ethos was through cultural associations. They organized various societies to promote ‘national culture’ and to discuss revolutionary programs. The Societatea Filarmonică (The Philharmonic Society), for instance, was established in 1833. It advocated the unification of the two provinces, a true constitution, free education and freedom of the press. Other societies such as Frăţia (‘Brotherhood’), which was founded in 1843 in Bucharest by the historian Nicolae Bălcescu (1819–1852), Ion Ghica (1817–1897), a professor of geography at the Academia Mihăileană in Iaşi, and Christian Tell (1808–1884), an officer in the Wallachian army, were even more radical and aimed at preparing the Romanians for a ‘universal revolution.’

10In addition to organizing secret meetings and discussing the importance of revolutionary change for their societies, these intellectuals were innovative in another field as well. Imbued with a Romantic nationalist rhetoric and political imagery, they devised new descriptions of the nation. These descriptions combined the political tradition of the pre-eminence of individual liberties associated with the French Revolution of 1789 with the cultural revival of the people—the ‘Volk’—advocated by Romanticism. The new Romanian nation envisioned by the ‘48-ers’ was part of a universal chain of brotherly nations. At the same time, the cultural definition of the nation, which emphasized the importance of language and ethnic origin, could provide a common framework for Romanian revolutionaries in Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania.

11The revolution of 1848 in Paris signaled the beginning of a new phase in the evolution of nationalism in Europe. It was also a testing ground for many Romantic and revolutionary ideals of the period. Animated by the revolutionary enthusiasm they experienced in Paris, Vienna or Pest, Romanian students returned to their countries convinced that the freedom of their nation was conditioned upon their activities. Local revolutionary outbreaks erupted in Iaşi, Blaj, and Bucharest (in April, May and June 1848 respectively). Regional differences and different political contexts played an important role in shaping the revolutionary programs of the Romanians in the Danubian Principalities and Transylvania. They were disconnected, but Romanian revolutionaries from Moldavia, experiencing a revolutionary moment in April 1848, and from Wallachia, especially after the defeat of the revolution in September 1848, also participated in various Romanian revolutionary activities in Transylvania.

12The revolution in Moldavia was short-lived. In April 1848 a revolutionary committee petitioned Prince Mihail Sturdza (r. 1834–1849) for civil liberties, a wider franchise and administrative reforms. These demands might have been accepted, but the document also demanded a new national assembly to replace the divan of boyars and the creation of a “citizen guard,” two measures that implied a real shift of power. Prince Sturdza reacted immediately and efficiently. Numerous arrests ensued after the tendering of the petition and the leaders who escaped arrest had to flee the country. Such an inauspicious beginning did not diminish the revolutionary passion of Moldavian intellectuals nor were they deterred from propagating their ideas about the ‘new’ Romanian nation yet to be resurrected from despotic regimes. There are many revolutionary texts which reflect these ideas. Some were produced during the revolution of 1848, such as the ‘Declaration of principles for the reform of the country’ and the ‘Proclamation of the National Party in Moldavia’; others were written in exile, for example, Cântarea României.

13Cântarea României fuses the revolutionary and nationalist convictions of the 1848 generation and represents an eclectic synthesis of the main ideas of the time. First, obviously inspired by the Messianic nationalism of the Polish émigré circles, it illustrates the Romantic ideals of purification and suffering. The Romanians had suffered centuries of oppression and exploitation; they thus deserved to be redeemed from their unjust condition as much as any other nation in Europe. Secondly, the text elaborates a form of ethno-cultural nationalism which was prefigured in the writings of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803). Each nation was unique and had the right to its own territory on the basis of its cultural uniqueness. This territory reflected the physical boundaries of the cultural space shared by the nation.

14The powerful imagery Russo used to describe Romania in this poem has further similarities with the Romantic conception of the nation. Russo depicted Romania as an ancient goddess. Since the Revolution of 1789, female revolutionary symbols stood for numerous qualities and virtues. For example, Jules Michelet, in his highly influential Les Légendes Démocratiques du Nord (1854), an account of Russia, the Polish lands and the Danubian Principalities, was persuaded by his Moldo-Wallachian disciples to draw a portrait of ‘Romania’. Michelet portrayed ‘Romania’ as a strong, yet frail, woman escaping the despotic oppression of the Turks. At the same time, ‘Romania’ was described as a country peopled by a sturdy peasantry which embodied the democratic virtues of the land.

15In Russo’s poem ‘Romania’ is summoned by the poet to revolt against injustice and exploitation. The situation in the Romanian lands, lamented Russo, is terrible. ‘Romania’ is deep in misery and misfortune, for while she possesses a great history and splendid virtues, she cannot cultivate them because of foreign and domestic mistreatment. By appealing to all Romani-ans Russo sought to transgress the narrow definitions of ‘Moldavians’ and ‘Wallachians.’ The national space was transfigured by means of biblical imagery, but the salvation of the nation was expected to come not from God but from ‘the Sons of the Nation.’ The time had come for ‘Romania’ to wake up from her historical slumber, Russo believed. Russo’s poetic expressions created a new nationalist vocabulary rooted in an eschatological form of national devotion.

16Based on their ethno-cultural tradition, the Romanians were supposed to join revolutionary Europe. A new era had commenced in Europe, Russo believed. This new era, by which he meant that dominated by France after the Revolution of 1789 and the Napoleonic wars, brought about transformations so profound as to affect even the remote Romanian lands. Tyranny and oppression were condemned by this ‘new voice’ coming from the West, which called upon Romanians to rise and fight for their liberty.

17Russo is not considered a great writer, but Cântarea României occupies a central place in the definition of Romanian national identity. The poem served as a symbol of the revolutionary ethos and the Romantic imagery associated with the Revolution of 1848. During the communist era it underwent considerable manipulation by the ‘national communist’ propaganda.


The song of Romania


19Did the Lord of our parents take pity on your tears, you uncomforted people, and did He feel the pain in your chest, my country? Are you not pious enough, tortured enough, and torn apart? Widowed of your brave sons, you weep ceaselessly over their graves, as weep and mourn the women with hair unbound over the mute coffins of their husbands.


20Nations heard the cry of your torture; the earth is moving. Could God have not heard it? Has the foretold avenger not yet been born?


21Which one is prouder of all the countries sown by God on earth? Which one puts on more beautiful adornment, and richer grains in summer days?


22Your hills are green, your forests and your trees hanging on the hillside are beautiful, your sky is clear and cloudless; your mountains rise proudly to the sky; the rivers, like spotted belts, meander in the plains; your night enchants the ears, your day charms the sight. Why is your smile so bitter, my proud country?


  • 1 Mythical land described in the popular ballad Dolca.

23Have the flowers come out on the Plains of Tenechia?1 The flowers have not come out yet, these are the herds that graze your valleys; the sun makes the field bear fruit; the hand of the Lord gave you diverse goods, fruits and flowers, wealth and beauty. Why do you moan and shriek, you rich country?


24The old Danube, conquered by your parents, kisses the seam of your dress and brings you riches from the land where the sun rises and where the sun sets; the eagle in the sky searches you as it searches its land of birth; the beautiful and foamy rivers, the rushing wild streams ceaselessly sing to your praise. Oh, glorious country, like no other, why is your face hidden?


25Are you not beautiful, are you not wealthy? Do you not have sons that love you? Do you not have books about your bravery in the past, and the future ahead of you? Why are you shedding tears?


26Why do you jump? Your body melts with weakness, and your heart is tormented – have you looked up the book of witches? The air moves turbidly, the wind scorches you – have you seen the angel of your destruction? Your nights are cold; your dreams are restless like the waves of a sea whipped by storm. What do they foretell you?


27Look south, look north, people are raising their head; the mind emerges luminously above the darkness. Mind, the godly spirit that constructs, the faith that gives life; the old world is falling, and over its ruins your freedom rises! Awaken!



29Old times were stormy but people were born strong. The land was covered in rubble and carcasses, but the plains from which the smoky clouds of slaughter rose gave off cries of victory and freedom. Wretchedness and death live on, but where are freedom and victory, and the shrieks are only of pain! What would this land have become, had our forefathers slumbered, too?


30Awaken, Romanian land! Conquer your pain; it is time you shook off your numbness, offspring of rulers of the world! Are you, perchance, waiting for your forefathers to walk out of their tombs? Indeed, they have awakened, and you have not seen them. They spoke, and you have not heard them. Stretch your legs, look and listen; the day of justice is drawing close, peoples have moved and the storm of redemption has risen!


  • 2 These are the alleged last words of Stephen the Great, Prince of Moldavia (r. 1457–1504).

31Were you not told by the mouth of your martyrs, “And the Lord of your forefathers will take pity on the tears of your servants, and will rise one of you who will restore your descendants back to the bravery and strength that you used to have before”?2


32So the time has come. There were signs in the sky; the earth shook with joy, a terrible voice has been heard from the west, and all peoples awakened.


1 Mythical land described in the popular ballad Dolca.

2 These are the alleged last words of Stephen the Great, Prince of Moldavia (r. 1457–1504).


Mária Kovács (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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