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History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness

Lucian Boia

Chapter seven. After 1989

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  • 1 Drulă, Leonard. “Ion Antonescu şi Mihai I. Între istorie şipolitica” (Ion Antonescu and Michael I: (...)

1The years that have passed since 1989 have seen a remarkable adaptation of historical and political mythology, and especially of the contemporary section of the national pantheon, to the political pluralism that was so vigorously affirmed after the collapse of communism. Political conflicts are extended into historical conflicts. Thus the spectacular confrontation between the two contradictory myths—King Michael and Marshal Antonescu—transposes into historical and mythological terms a fundamental fissure which divides the Romanian society of today.1

  • 2 The confrontation, which was made evident on the occasion of this visit, between the royal myth an (...)

2King Michael, who was driven out by the communists on 30 December 1947, has become a symbol for many upholders of anti-communism and democracy. He seems to be invested with the sacred mission of the savior (“Monarchy saves Romania!”), the one destined to bring the country back to the normal course of its history. The visit to Romania which he undertook on the occasion of Easter in April 1992 highlighted, both by the scale and fervor of the public manifestations and by the high symbolic and religious charge of the event, a quite remarkable degree of mythologizing of his person, function, and historical mission.2

  • 3 EvenimentuI zilei (9 May 1995).
  • * “Greater Romania”, a weekly newspaper of extreme nationalist orientation, associated with a politic (...)
  • 4 Almanahul România Mare, 1996; the cover features the faces of the twelve apostles of the Romanian (...)

3The case of Marshal Antonescu is much more complicated. Having been considered in the early days of communism as a traitor to national interests and a war criminal, he underwent, as we have seen, a process of relative rehabilitation in proportion to the nationalist commitment of the communist regime and its separation from Moscow. After 1989 opinions could be expressed fully and freely. According to an opinion poll published in May 1995, some 62 percent of Romanians seem to have had a good opinion of the marshal (placing him above any other leader in the Second World War: Hitler enjoyed the favorable opinion of 2 percent, Stalin and Mussolini 5 percent, Churchill 26 percent, and Roosevelt 31 percent: the last two are paying, of course, for the “betrayal” of Yalta).3 Those who appreciate Antonescu certainly include anti-communists (in line with the ideology expressed by the marshal), as well as people who simply want to restore a history which has long been obscured. The hard core of supporters, however, those who manifest their admiration vehemently and even aggressively, is made up—and this is the extraordinary paradox!—of the successors of those who sent the marshal before the firing squad in 1946. The former national-communists, those who launched the rehabilitation process before 1989, are now ostentatious admirers of the nationalist and authoritarian virtues of Antonescu. For Romania Mare*, for example, Antonescu and Ceauşescu belong to the same sacred corps of “aposdes of the Romanian people, who perished by violent deaths, sacrificed on the altar of the fatherland”.4

  • 5 Drâgan, Iosif Constantin, Istoria românilor. Bucharest: Editura Europa Nova, 1993. Among the chapt (...)

4The king/marshal antithesis is exacerbated by the latter’s unconditional supporters. For them, King Michael was a traitor, as demonstrated by the fact that he was decorated by Stalin.5 A high point of this denigration was the “documentary” montage shown on the official television channel, in the name of the government, on 30 December 1993, in which an idealized image of Antonescu as a fighter and martyr was contrasted with King Michael, pro-Soviet traitor and murderer! The posthumous role of Antonescu is multiple; he upholds authoritarian, autochthonist, and xenophobic tendencies (without anyone having sought his consent), and serves also as a powerful instrument against the king, who replaces the communists as the figure principally responsible for the marshal’s execution.

5The great political orientations cultivate their own heroes: the kings, the Brătianus or Iuliu Maniu. The last of these is joined by Comeliu Coposu, much wronged in his lifetime, whose death in 1995 produced, as if by magic, a moment of national solidarity, an exceptional mythical sequence to be explained, in as far as myth can be explained, by the “unreal” disinterestedness of the deceased in a world of petty interests.

6Among the traditional heroes, Avram Iancu has seen a significant ascent in the context of the Romanian—Hungarian confrontations which have been carefully reanimated and sustained after 1989. (Internal difficulties and debatable government solutions call for an “other” to justify them.) In Cluj there has been an unprecedented war of the statues: Avram Iancu vs. Matthias Corvinus (the latter is threatened by the excavation of the presumed Roman forum, another symbol of Romanian-ness). The festivities in Ţebea in September 1996, organized against the background of the signing—at last!—of the Romanian-Hungarian treaty, gave rise to bitter polemics around Avram Iancu’s grave; all sectors of the opposition denounced the official confiscation of the hero, while the diehards of the Party of National Unity accused their former government colleagues (who had decided in the meantime to play the European card) of betraying the national ideals symbolized by the great fighter of 1848.

  • 6 See also, in this connection, Scurtu, Ioan. Monarhia în România, 1866—1947 (Monarchy in Romania, 1 (...)

7However wide the current range of heroes and symbols, it is clear that official discourse (especially detectable in the frequent historical evocations on official television as well as in school textbooks) continues, and sometimes even amplifies, the fundamental elements of pre-revolutionary discourse. Titulescu has never been invoked so frequently and so admiringly; his contemporaries, Brătainu and Maniu, not to mention King Ferdinand, have come out into the daylight again, but they remain in the background compared with the media attention given to the great personality of Romanian foreign policy. The case of Carol I is likewise significant: he seems to be the victim of an insoluble contradiction between the recognition of his historical dimension, which is hard to avoid (and which even the communism of the last decades partially accepted), and the fact that he symbolizes a monarchy that officialdom has no reason to present in too favorable a light. Rehabilitation in his case, as in that of Ferdinand, has stopped far short of the old dynastic myth, and Cuza remains unrivalled as the official emblematic figure of the making of modern Romania.6

8A walk through the rooms of the Museum of National History in Bucharest illustrates the extent of resistance to change. Despite the years that have passed, everything looks just as it did before 1989; only the contemporary section (post-1918) has been closed, resolving any controversy for the time being, and a few cases have been added dealing with Kings Carol I and Ferdinand, Queen Marie, and Marshal Averescu. Otherwise there is not the slightest modification to a discourse structured in terms of class struggle (an incredibly long series of peasant uprisings) and of full unity from the earliest times.

9A careful analysis of the official discourse reveals the persistence of deeply rooted isolationist attitudes beneath the apparent adherence to European values. The reconstruction of the past which continues to be practiced is one which amplifies autochthonous factors at the expense of European dynamics and influences. To give one example, in 1993 Romania joined the community of Francophone states, but no young Romanian could find out from their history textbook about the origins of this Francophony (which is relative, anyway). The “single” school textbooks published after 1989 (just like those published under communism, but in contrast to those in use before) avoid speaking about French influence, although in the nineteenth century this radically transformed Romanian culture, and even the Romanian language. Modernization is explained exclusively in terms of internal factors, which does not correspond to real history but corresponds very well to certain obsessions prior to 1989. A similar approach can be seen in the definition of medieval Romanian culture, where the Slav—Byzantine model fades in favor of a particular indigenous synthesis, seen as a bridge between East and West.

10It is in the light of this continuation of the thread of pre-revolutionary mythology that we must understand the polemic surrounding P. P. Panaitescu’s textbook The History of the Romanians, which was published before the installation of the communist regime and reintroduced in 1990 to replace the textbooks of the Ceauşescu period. It was withdrawn in the end in response to a wave of protests. Its incompatibility with recent research was the reason invoked, but the real motive was the type of discourse, which was quite different to that practiced by national-communist mythology. Although it was published in a period profoundly marked by patriotic spirit (the sixth edition, reproduced in 1990, dates from 1943, from the time of the war and of Antonescu), and although Panaitescu had let himself be seduced by the Legionary ideology (which could not be accused of a lack of nationalism!), the textbook is striking for its demythologizing attitude. The author situates the formation of the Romanian people on both sides of the Danube, draws attention to the Slav influence in the Middle Ages, treats Vlad Ţepeş as a degenerate, does not accept that Michael the Brave had a national consciousness, insists on the nineteenth-century French influence, and so on—all the points which we do not find in the new textbooks introduced in 1992 to 1993, which show an inclination to sacrifice critical spirit with ease in favor of autochthonism and the old mythical clichés.


  • 7 Poll published in Evenimentul zilei (12 April 1996). In October 1996, however, the army fell to 76 (...)

11Unity and authority are principles no less in circulation at present than before 1989. From Vlad Ţepeş to Antonescu, the gallery of authoritarian heroes is strongly highlighted. Due to tradition and custom, but also to insistent propaganda, the Romanians seem to be more attracted by symbols specific to national cohesion and authority than to those characteristic of democratic life. It is significant that, at least according to opinion polls (the accuracy of which I shall not discuss), by far the most respected institutions of the country are the army and the Church, with scores of 92 percent and 89 percent respectively in April 1996, compared with Parliament at the other extreme with only 28 percent.7 This is not the place to discuss the merits, shortcomings, or share of blame of these institutions. The only thing that interests us here is the political imaginary, and from this point of view the orientation of the majority towards institutions which are not necessarily specific to democracy (even if they undoubtedly have their place in it) cannot fail to be striking, as is the massive rejection of the democratic institution par excellence, Parliament. Between pluralism and democracy on the one hand, and cohesion and order on the other, the majority seem inclined towards the latter values (or if they do not incline that way of their own accord, they are urged to do so).

12The return in force of the Church calls for comment. How many Romanians dared to declare themselves believers before 1989? How many dare to declare themselves atheists or skeptics today? The Orthodox Church is always involved in the ritual of historical commemorations; the system of parastases for the dead has become generalized, even extending to the commemoration of heroes who lived centuries ago. The canonization of Stephen the Great and Constantin Brîncoveanu in 1992 marked an important date in the process of joining national history with Orthodoxy. The canonization of Michael the Brave is under discussion too; indeed there is said to have been a miraculous apparition of his face (the commandant of the National Military Museum himself was among those who commented on the incident on television). Thus the pantheon and the Church calendar are tending to fuse. Religious discourse about history is occupying the ground left free by the defunct totalitarian ideology. The involvement of Orthodoxy consolidates national historical values whose credibility was at risk of being affected by the depreciation of communist propaganda and the ideological confusion which followed. The somewhat summary identification of Romanianism with Orthodoxy (which is liable, in the end, to offend or marginalize Romanians of other confessions) seems today to be a privileged means of affirming national cohesion.

  • 8 Among the politicians, those who opted for the “other” solution included P. P. Carp, Titu Maioresc (...)

13From the side of those in power, there can be heard a historical-political discourse which insistently sublimates the idea of national unity and even unanimity around certain values, political attitudes, and personalities. It is often stated that “in the great national problems the Romanians have always shown solidarity”, a clever formula, seemingly hard for a true patriot to contest, but completely untrue! In the Middle Ages, as I have already shown, the Romanian principalities were often in confrontation. In the present century Romanian society has proved to be more often divided than united. A crucial decision, leading to the creation of Greater Romania, was the entry of Romania into the First World War in 1916, against the Central Powers. Contrary to the myth of a Romanian quasi-unanimity in the action aimed at liberating Transylvania, it can be observed that a far from negligible section of the political and intellectual elite were not in favor of this political orientation, while some voices were even raised decisively against it (even if all shared, though each in their own way, the “national ideal”).8 And what about the Second World War? Is it possible to claim that all Romanians were enthusiastically in favor of entering the war alongside Germany in 1941, and that again all Romanians, equally enthusiastically, were in favor of turning the guns against Germany in 1944? Then there is the installation of communism. Was it supported by all Romanians? Or did all Romanians fight against it? In fact, during the years of communism an older fracture line was deepened; the old elite was crushed, and a new elite rose from the lower layers of society. It was a process which divided Romania in two, so that we can talk today (in a political and cultural sense) of “two Romanias”, just as there has been talk of “the two Frances” since the revolution of 1789.

14Indeed, there is nothing particularly remarkable in all this. National unanimity is only a political myth, which has not existed and does not exist anywhere. Divergences appear, as it is only natural they should, in the great problems, not in the small ones. The world policy of the United States is the variable resultant of the permanent confrontation of isolationists and interventionists, two completely opposed ideologies. The Maastricht agreement, which sets out the future of the European nations, was ratified in some countries, by referendum, with a minimal majority (in France the “two Frances” again manifested themselves on this occasion, with percentages only slightly above and below 50 percent). We are duty-bound to recognize that Romania has no vocation to be any more unitary than other countries. I limit myself to two recent examples concerning foreign policy and European integration. In 1990, while the opposition staked everything on relations with the West, those in power, already rallying behind the slogan “We won’t sell our country!”, placed Romania in a singular position even among the former communist countries by hastening to sign a treaty with the Soviet Union, which they evidently expected to have a long life ahead of it! There followed a gradual Europeanizafion of the forces in power, which provoked dissension right at their heart. The Romanian-Hungarian treaty concluded in September 1996 proved once again that there is no such thing as unanimity; the nationalist parties, who had participated in government until a short time before, were strongly opposed to it.

15The ideology of unanimity, illustrated with false historical examples, is no more than a strategy of government; in this way an authoritarian inclination, skillfully insinuated by the appeal to the past (a tactic more efficient than the explicit enunciation of the message), makes itself manifest in a society which affirms, or at least mimics, the values of democracy and pluralism.


16Another characteristic tendency, likewise noticeable in the official zone, is the concealment of communism. It might have been expected that historians would “dive” into this completely unexplored territory, which is more essential for the understanding of today’s Romania than any other period or historical process. But this is not what happened. The majority of specialists in contemporary history—who represented the largest contingent of Romanian historians in 1989—preferred to “squeeze themselves” into the interwar period, a space of only two decades, or the Second World War, an even more restricted field but highly valorized mythologically speaking, through the contrasting images of Marshal Antonescu and King Michael. More recently, some progress has been made in research, but it remains slow and insufficient in relation to the scale and importance of the problem.

  • 9 It is worth drawing attention here to the rich memorialistic literature—from which I limit myself (...)

17Thus it is that the most interesting contributions, particularly concerning communist repression, have come from non-specialists more than from historians in the universities and research institutes. We are indebted to those outside the nucleus of the profession for the collection and processing of oral information,9 while for the typical Romanian historian the oral enquiry remains an exotic procedure. The historical professionals continue to give a higher level of credibility to written documents than to the living people who have experienced the history in question. This methodological backwardness intersects with an ideological reasoning. It is not a good idea to write about communism—according to a widespread opinion—first of all because we lack information, and second because we do not have the necessary perspective and risk being subjective. Our descendants and our descendants’ descendants will write about it. The systematic evasion of the subject is evident. (It is interesting that for the same category of historians this timidity in research does not apply where Bessarabia is concerned; in this case there is no problem in going right up to 1989. The difference is that there it is a matter of denouncing Soviet communism, while back here it is the Romanian variety that would have to be denounced.)

  • 10 Manea, Mihai and Bogdan Teodorescu. Istoria românilor. Epoca modernă şi contemporană (The history (...)
  • 11 Limba şi litratură romana (Romanian language and literature). Coordinated by Nicolae I. Nicolae. 1 (...)
  • 12 Mureşan, Camil, et al Istoria universalş modernş şi contemporand (Modern and contemporary world hi (...)

18As usual the school textbook, especially when it is official and unique, says all there is to say. We are offered—in 1992—ten pages on the half century of communism, a pallid and ambiguous resume, compared with over a hundred pages devoted to the quarter century of interwar Romania and the Second World War.10 The literature textbook proceeds in the same spirit, and indeed goes even further; it generally makes abstraction of communism in the name of the “autonomy of the aesthetic”.11 Who would dare to interpret Dante, Shakespeare, or Balzac outside their ages? It seems that only Romanian writers transcend their terrestrial condition and rise into the absolute sphere of art. The authors of the world history textbook take an even more radical initiative: they quite simply evacuate Marx and Engels from history, along with the whole socialist and communist ideology and movement,12 at the risk that pupils will understand nothing of the evolution of the last two centuries and, above all, of the period through which we have all lived.

19If the textbooks say little about communism in general, about the anti-communist struggle they tell the pupils next to nothing. At least here something could have been learnt from the communists themselves: out of much less they managed to put together a whole series of heroic episodes and “illegalist” heroes. Opposition to communism could have found its exemplary deeds and its heroes too. Peasants killed because they defended their land (certainly more than in 1907, a year which continues to be invoked along with its false death toll of 11,000 victims—at least ten times the true figure); resistance fighters in the mountains (still not rehabilitated by post-revolutionary justice); intellectuals, priests, and politicians who died in prison: the material for a new mythology abounds, but it is almost completely ignored in the official discourse and the history proposed to the young generation.

20The present political (and to some extent intellectual) elite was formed in the years of communism. It would not have existed without communism. That is a fact, not a value judgement. It is a fact which explains the reticence which I have mentioned. On top of this there is the need for legitimization, characteristic of any regime, but even more of a regime installed as a result of an overthrow. And legitimization, as we have seen, always presupposes insertion in history. The Romania of today, its people, its institutions and its realities, inevitably have their origins to a greater extent in those fifty years of communism than in the previous history of the country. However, ideologically and mythologically speaking, reference could not be made to a communism that has been overthrown and discredited. It is made to earlier traditions, and especially to the Greater Romania of the interwar period (with less emphasis on what is not convenient, that is to say, monarchy).

  • * Serviciul Român de informaţii (Romanian Information Service). Trans.

21It is thus curious, but also understandable (and perhaps even laudable, in as much as the procedure illustrates a real will to normalize things), that the army is retying the threads, brutally cut in the post-war years, which bind it to the old Romanian army, while the S.R.I.* invokes the previously much abused Siguranţă, even if it is no secret that a good part of its staff come not from the Siguranţă but from the Securitate. It is the same with the press—a whole series of publications that have appeared since 1989 have borrowed old tides, letting it be understood that with the tide they have also obtained a certificate of experience. What more can I say? Romania is the only ex-communist country where the Communist Party has vanished into thin air, where former communist activists remain in power (again a unique case) without having anything to do with a party which no longer exists, and, if it does not exist, almost seems never to have existed.

22This is the direction in which we are being urged to go in the end: towards forgetting. Communism did not exist! Or at least we have to behave as if it never existed.

23There is also another strategy, complementary to forgetting. It can be summed up in the words: “Still, something was achieved.” Communism was as it was, but people still worked and created. Such a line of argument—which is indeed true—has the virtue of diverting those who are less skillful in the tricks of dialectic. Any measuring of “achievements” ought to be based on an overall and comparative view. The Danaids, too, worked in their day, perhaps even more than the Romanians. According to this sort of judgement we should appreciate the achievements of Hitler: the greatest motorway network in Europe, the eradication of unemployment... In fact, Romania nowadays is on the margins of Europe from all points of view. While in the West even an isolated house in the mountains will have electricity and running water, in Romania, at the end of intense communist industrialization, hundreds of villages remain without electricity and the network of sewage disposal does not even cover the whole of the capital city. Let no one say this is all just the result of a centuries-old delay. Until a few decades ago there were backward areas—at a similar level to the Romanian villages—in the West too; today they no longer exist. On the eve of the Second World War the ratio of the gross national product per head of population of the most developed countries to that of Romania was no more than three to one. Today, even an estimate of ten to one would be too small. Greece was then at about the same level as Romania; now its performance is several times better. And I have only underlined the strictly material dimension of the problem, which is perhaps less serious than the complete disruption of social structures and mechanisms.

24No field escaped the ill-boding impact of an oppressive and deforming system. We like to make much of the literary effervescence of the period—and with some justice. However, literary production swung between adherence (more or less nuanced, more or less transfigured) to the communist project, and escape from reality. With the exception of some subde games, à clef, it did not speak to people about the real preoccupations of the time. The lack of a European audience (which the Romanians felt as an injustice) has its fundamental explanation in this sort of opting out. As for historiography, the contributions were numerous and sometimes interesting, but they did not change the overall fact that, while the little historical school of around 1900 was perfectly synchronous with the European phenomenon, today, regardless of individual merits, the conceptual and methodological discrepancies could not be more evident. (A factual-descriptive and romantic-nationalist line of thought is prolonged here, which no longer carries weight in the West, at least in the university environment.)

25People did create sometimes, in spite of communism, as much as they could. But let us not imagine that they could create outside communism, as if the system were just a simple façade, an innocent unleashing of Romanian folklore.


26In some respects we can observe today the exacerbation of certain themes dear to the national-communist ideology. The explanation is simple: Liberty. Communism did not allow complete freedom even to its own inventions. Initiative, originality, and humor were not its characteristics. Sobriety and boredom seemed indispensable. Moreover, even if Marx had been left far behind, his judgements could not be explicitly contradicted. The forms, at least, had to be saved. Now there is nothing to save.

27As we have seen, the Dacians had come right into the heart of the national-communist system. Burebista’s Dacia was essentially Ceauşescu’s Romania. The present discourse continues—in its dominant autochthonist note—to maintain a certain priority for the Dacian factor in relation with the Roman. But such an interpretation seems almost balanced in comparison with what is going on in the area of extremist Dacianism. In the best tradition of Densuşianu and the Institute of History of the Party, the Dacians are now invading the market with the most varied and ingenious solutions, all of which promote the idea of Romanian anteriority and excellence. At a time when Europe looks at us with suspicion and keeps us outside the door, it can be truly tonic to note that the Romanians, through their ancient ancestors, are at the origins of European civilization. We are not at the margin, but right at the center of the world, and if the others do not see things that way, then the loss is theirs, not ours.

  • 13 For a succinct but pertinent analysis of Coruţ’s writing, against the general background of Dacian (...)

28Even more remarkable is the literary phenomenon which goes by the name of Pavel Coruţ: a high-ranking counter-information officer before 1989, today the prolific author of little novels which a large public can never get enough of, based around an actualized Dacian mythology in which Zalmoxis rubs shoulders with the Securitate agent. Trans-historical autochthonism, political-religious fundamentalism, demonization of the foreigner who is ever plotting against the Romanian nation, whence the need for vigilance and for a powerful state—this is the ideological substratum of a literature which prolongs in a new, and ultimately more subtle, manner the manipulation formerly practiced by the Securitate.13 It was a curious political police, this Securitate, haunted by Dacian phantasms and consequently capable of judging as suspect any less orthodox opinion about the ancestors; indeed the paradox can be explained by the historical—political amalgam specific to the Ceauşescu period, which the Romanians have not completely cast off.

29The same bursting of the floodgates can be observed too in the obsessive—for the Romanians—definition of the national fact. The “nation” is one of those elastic historical concepts (which ultimately make a rigorous and universal historical terminology impossible), applicable to a number of very different realities; as I have already said, the only clear concept with which it is possible to operate remains that of the “nation-state”. Otherwise there is nothing to prevent historians from applying the term to whatever context they like. The problem is not the word in itself, but what is sought by using it. And what is sought is evidently the highlighting of a national type of unity, characteristic of Romanian history from the remotest beginnings.

  • 14 Iscru, G. D. Formarea naţiunii romane (The forming of the Romanian nation). Bucharest: Casa de edi (...)

30A historian much involved in this sort of trans-historical meditation maintains that, as a result of his defense of such a point of view, he had to face all sorts of unpleasantness in his professional life before 1989.14 Here it is necessary to make the distinction, essential in the communist ideological game, between substance and form. In pure Marxist—Stalinist orthodoxy, the nation had to be defined as a historical phenomenon of relatively recent date. But if we consider the substance of the issue, even if the use of the term was avoided, in Ceauşescu’s time “national unity” extended over the whole of Romanian space and historical time. It would have been an ideological heresy to say that Burebista had headed a national state. But it would have been an even more serious political heresy to present Burebista as a conqueror who brought together territories lacking in cohesion and populations little animated by the awareness of a common destiny. It is not the terms that interest us here, but the substance. And the substance of the ethnically homogeneous, “unitary” and “centralized” state of the Dacian king is the same as that of today’s national state.

31What has intervened in interpretations of this sort since 1989 is the evacuation of the previous Marxist or Stalinist jargon, and, of course, the freedom of historians (not to mention the ever larger category of amateurs) to argue in whatever terms suit them. Thus we have a “Dacian nation”, but, once again, this changes nothing essential in the configuration of the myth of unity, which was fully crystallized before 1989.


  • 15 Girardet, Raoul. Mythes et Mythologies politiques (Political myths and mythologies). Paris: Éditio (...)

32The Romanian society of today is animated by powerful mythical pulsations. Out of a complex mythological constellation Raoul Girardet has isolated four fundamental political myths characteristic of the contemporary world: Conspiracy, the Savior, the Golden Age, and Unity.15 Romania appears at present to be an ideal laboratory where these meet, interweave, and split into countless variants.

33Examples are readily at hand. About unity, so often invoked, I shall say no more. Conspiracy brings onto the stage a multitude of actors, who can be used by all political orientations: the invisible (and surely non-existent) terrorists of December 1989, the “hooligans” of the demonstrations in University Square and those manipulating them from the shadows, the ever-present former Securitate, the Hungarians, of course, the king and the landlords, the great powers, Yalta and Malta, the CIA and the KGB... In such a confused context the Savior becomes a necessity. The archetype is a single one, but its faces are very diverse. Ultimately each Romanian has his or her own Savior: President Iliescu, potential presidents Emil Constantinescu or Petre Roman, King Michael... It is interesting to observe how the presidential function, the attributes of which are relatively wide ranging but limited by the constitution, is reserved in the public imaginary for a Savior capable of resolving by his own will and power the serious problems facing today’s Romania.

  • 16 See, in this connection, Betea, Lavinia. Maurer şi lumea de ieri Mărturii despre stalinizarea Româ (...)

34Just as everyone has their own Savior, and their own conspirators, and their own meaning for unity, so everyone stubbornly directs their gaze towards the Golden Age which suits them. For many this is interwar Romania, Greater Romania, prosperous and democratic; although it only lasted two decades it seems to be the model in relation to which previous and subsequent history is judged—including the issue of territorial extension. The same Romania understandably offers a powerful argument for the partisans of the idea of monarchy. Others prefer to go back further into the past, in which case the Golden Age merges with the primordial time of the Geto-Dacians, the time when the center of the world was here. Others, certainly more numerous than those who dare to admit, are content in their hearts with the Golden Age of communism; those who did not like Ceauşescu can invoke Gheorghiu-Dej, and vice versa. Through the game of alternating these two leaders they hope to save at least part of the communist memory. Thus against the background of an imaginary age without cares, when the cost of living was low and life was without surprises (except for the surprises reserved by the apparatus of repression), we see the outline of an attempt to remake the myth of Gheorghiu-Dej, seen as a great politician and a great patriot, who freed the country of Soviet troops and whom only death prevented from setting Romania on the road to democracy and prosperity.16 Of course good things can be heard about Ceauşescu too. In fact the Romanian society of today is divided into those who profited from communism, or who imagine that they profited (which is the same thing), and those who lost or consider that their lives would have been better without communism.

35History has always been an instrument of power too. Whoever controls the past has good chance of also controlling the present. Since 1989 the conditioning of public opinion through history has proved to be a constant part of the strategy of those in power, a method which is all the more clever as most people do not even notice it. Civil society has to learn to defend itself from “intoxication” by history. Civic education presupposes not only the traditional heroic type of valorization of the events of national history, the virtues of which for a sense of identity I do not contest; it also presupposes the critical and responsible acceptance of the past, as well as skill in “decoding” the historical message, which, like any message, is aimed at “something”.

36It is clear that the Romanians easily allow themselves to be subjugated by history, or rather by the mythologies constructed upon history. A divided society is reflected in divergent reference points, which, by the characteristic power of the imaginary, only serve in their turn to deepen the divisions. The solution is not to forget history, which would not be possible, let alone desirable, but to attenuate it and modify the criteria of selection. The great decisions which Romanian society has to take today represent a break with the past, with any past. The challenge of modernity and European integration cannot be referred to a mythology with traditionalist emphases. The dominant note of the Romanian historical imaginary still remains autochthonist and authoritarian, while the world towards which we are heading is structured around democratic and European values. It remains to be seen how far the mythological blockage will continue to affect the process of integration and modernization (which it has already delayed), and, conversely, how this process will ultimately lead to a more or less radical re-elaboration of the national mythology.

37Note: It should be clear that the political references in this chapter relate to the situation prior to the elections of November 1996. L.B.


* “Greater Romania”, a weekly newspaper of extreme nationalist orientation, associated with a political party of the same name. Trans.

* Serviciul Român de informaţii (Romanian Information Service). Trans.

1 Drulă, Leonard. “Ion Antonescu şi Mihai I. Între istorie şipolitica” (Ion Antonescu and Michael I: Between history and politics). Mituri istorice româneşti (Romanian historical myths). Under the direction of Lucian Boia. Bucharest Editura Universităţii Bucureşti, 1995, 220-254.

2 The confrontation, which was made evident on the occasion of this visit, between the royal myth and the anti-monarchist countermyth is analyzed by Mihai Coman in “La Ritualisation de la visite du Roi Mihai Ier à l’occasion des Pâques” (The ritualization of the visit of King Michael I on the occasion of Easter). Analele Universităţii Bucureşti. Istorie (1993-1994): 79-89.

3 EvenimentuI zilei (9 May 1995).

4 Almanahul România Mare, 1996; the cover features the faces of the twelve apostles of the Romanian people: Decebalus, Vlad Ţepeş, Ioan Vodă the Terrible, Michael the Brave, Constantin Brîncoveanu, Grigore Ghica, Horea, Tudor Vladimirescu, Ecaterina Teodoroiu, Nicolae Iorga, Ion Antonescu, and Nicolae Ceauşescu.

5 Drâgan, Iosif Constantin, Istoria românilor. Bucharest: Editura Europa Nova, 1993. Among the chapter tides are: “Marshal Antonescu and the holy war, 1941—1944”, and “The treachery of King Michael and his decoration by Stalin”. (The decoration received by the king is even reproduced on a whole page!)

6 See also, in this connection, Scurtu, Ioan. Monarhia în România, 1866—1947 (Monarchy in Romania, 1866—1947). Bucharest Editura Danubius, 1991, which is no more favorable to the institution of monarchy than the same author’s volume of 1988, which it summarizes (see above, chapter six, note 61). Curiously, but significantly, the first pages of the book deal with... the republican tradition. At the end the reader is offered a statistical table showing the evolution of European political regimes from 1866 to the present day (21 monarchies and 2 republics in 1866, and 11 monarchies and 22 republics in 1991; and in the whole world, still in 1991, 118 republics and 44 monarchies). The implicit conclusion is that monarchical regimes are falling out of fashion. However, another statistical approach also seems legitimate, since, whatever anyone may say, we cannot compare Albania with Sweden or Somalia with Japan. The only model of development today is represented by the Western world. And the western half of Europe is equally divided between republics and monarchies. In fact the balance rather inclines towards the monarchical principle, if we add the non-European states that are highly industrialized and have indisputably democratic regimes: the United States (republic), Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand (monarchies). All this does not give the dynastic system any additional historical chance. It is just that that is how the statistics are!

7 Poll published in Evenimentul zilei (12 April 1996). In October 1996, however, the army fell to 76 percent and the Church to 83 percent.

8 Among the politicians, those who opted for the “other” solution included P. P. Carp, Titu Maiorescu, Alexandra Marghiloman, and Constantin Stere. The gallery of great historians of the day consisted of six names: A. D. Xenopol, Dimitrie Onciul, Ioan Bogdan, Nicolae Iorga, Constantin Giurescu, and Vasile Pârvan. Of these, only Iorga actively campaigned for entry into the war (Xenopol would have done the same but was prevented by illness); the behavior of the others may be considered “reserved”. Among writers, the two great Transylvanian classics, Uoan Slavici and George Coşbuc, paradoxically did not join the straggle for political union. Even more, Slavici published “pro-German” articles in the press during the occupation, as did Tudor Arghezi, Gala Galaction, D. D. Pătrăşcanu, and others. Among scientists, Grigore Antipa collaborated with the German authorities, Simion Mehedinţi was a minister in the Marghiloman government, and Victor Babeş incurred rebuke for a certain type of “accommodation”. As we can see it is not a matter of a limited and marginal group, and certainly not of “traitors” or even “indifferents”. Quite simply, part of the Romanian elite had a different idea of the national interests.

9 It is worth drawing attention here to the rich memorialistic literature—from which I limit myself to citing the exceptional epic of prison life published by Ion Ioanid under the tide Închisoarea noastră cea de toate zjlele (Our daily prison). 5 volumes. Bucharest Editura Albatros, 1991—1996—and numerous radio and television programs, among which the outstanding document remains Memorialul durerii (The memorial of pain), an oral enquiry carried out with perseverance by Lucia Hossu-Longin, and running to over fifty episodes.

10 Manea, Mihai and Bogdan Teodorescu. Istoria românilor. Epoca modernă şi contemporană (The history of the Romanians: The modern and contemporary period). 12th grade textbook. Bucharest: Editura Didactică şi Pedagogică, 1992, 206-325 (for 1918-1947) and 326-335 (for 1947—1989); there are no important modifications in later editions.

11 Limba şi litratură romana (Romanian language and literature). Coordinated by Nicolae I. Nicolae. 12th grade textbook. Bucharest Editura Didactică şi Pedagogică, 1993.

12 Mureşan, Camil, et al Istoria universalş modernş şi contemporand (Modern and contemporary world history). 10th grade textbook. Bucharest: Editura Didactică şi Pedagogică, 1991, and later editions.

13 For a succinct but pertinent analysis of Coruţ’s writing, against the general background of Dacian mythology, see Petre, Zoe. “Le mythe de Zalmoxis.” Analele Universităţii Bucureşti Istorie (1993-1994): 23-36.

14 Iscru, G. D. Formarea naţiunii romane (The forming of the Romanian nation). Bucharest: Casa de editură şi librărie “Nicolae Bălcescu”, 1995.

15 Girardet, Raoul. Mythes et Mythologies politiques (Political myths and mythologies). Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1986.

16 See, in this connection, Betea, Lavinia. Maurer şi lumea de ieri Mărturii despre stalinizarea României (Maurer and the wodd of yesterday: Testimonies about the Stalinization of Romania). Arad: Fundaţia “Ioan Slavici”, 1995 (inteviews with Ion Gheorghe Maurer, Gheorghe Apostol, Alexandra Bârlădeanu, and Paul Sfetcu). Favorable opinions of Gheorgiu-Dej can also be found in Brucan, Silviu. Generatia irosită (The squandered generation). Bucharest: Editura Univers-Calistrat Hogaş, 1992. There is eulogistic characterization in Popescu, Dumitru. Am fost şi cioplitor de himere (I was also a carver of chimeras). Bucharest Editura Expres, n.d. For a demythologizing analysis, on the other hand, see Tismăneanu, Vladimir. Fantoma lui Gheorgiu-Dej (The ghost of Gheorghiu-Dej). Bucharest: Editura Univers, 1995. For more detail, see Boia, Lucian. “Un mit Gheorghiu-Dej?” (A Gheorghiu-Dej myth?). Miturile comunismului românesc. Under the direction of Lucian Boia. Bucharest: Editura Universităţii Bucureşti, 1997, 173—182.

© Central European University Press, 2001

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