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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter II. Spirit of the Nation: Customs, Language, Religion

Political articles

Mihai Eminescu
Traduction de Mária Kovács

Texte intégral

1Title: ‘Românul’ a contractat năravul (‘Românul’ has acquired the habit); Pseudo-‘Românul’ în ‘Semibarbaria’ lui (Pseudo-‘Romanian’ in its ‘semi-barbarity’); Dar, domnilor, Mi-e ruşine (But, Gentlemen, I am ashamed)

2Originally published: ‘Românul’ a contractat năravul in Timpul (29 July 1881); Pseudo-‘Românul’ în ‘Semibarbaria’ lui in Timpul (25 October 1881); ‘Dar, domnilor, Mi-e ruşine’ remained in manuscript

3Language: Romanian

4The excerpts used are from Mihai Eminescu, Opere (Bucharest: Ed. Academiei, 1985), vol. XII, pp. 266–268, 378–379; and Opere (Bucharest: Ed. Academiei, 1980), vol. IX, pp. 459–460.

About the author

5Mihai Eminescu (originally Eminovici) [1850, Botoşani (Bukovina) – 1889, Bucharest]: Poet and journalist. In 1860, he began his schooling in Czernowitz (Rom. Cernăuţi, Ukr. Chernovci). He failed the second grade and went to Sibiu (Hun. Nagyszeben, Ger. Hermannstadt) in Transylvania. In 1864, he returned to Czernowitz and enrolled at a private lycée. Shortly thereafter, however, he joined a theater company. His father managed to get him back to Czernowitz, where Eminescu published his first poem. However, he abandoned school again and joined the theater company of Iorgu Caragiale, the uncle of the playwright Ion Luca Caragiale. He continued writing poetry and published in Familia, a prestigious literary journal in Transylvania edited by Iosif Vulcan (1841–1907). It was Vulcan who changed Mihai’s name from Eminovici to Eminescu. In 1869 he enrolled at the University of Vienna. There he participated in the foundation of the student association România Jună (‘Young Romania’). In 1871 the association organized a famous celebration at Putna Monastery in memory of Moldavia’s glorious voivode, Stephen the Great (r. 1457–1504). In 1872 Eminescu received a scholarship from ‘Junimea,’ a literary association founded in 1861 in Iaşi, and went to Berlin to continue his studies. In 1874, having failed to obtain a doctorate, Eminescu returned to Iaşi, where he became a school inspector and later the director of the Central Library. In 1877, persuaded by Caragiale and Ioan Slavici (1848–1925), he moved to Bucharest and worked until 1883 for the journal Timpul (The time), the main conservative newspaper of the period. From 1884 he was constantly hospitalized and died in miserable conditions in 1889. While he was relatively marginal during his lifetime, Eminescu emerged as the most important figure of the modern Romanian ‘cultural canon.’ It was the literary critic, Titu Maiorescu (1840–1917), who acknowledged the literary talent of the young poet and published his first volume of poetry in 1883. Later on, Eminescu was declared not only the greatest Romanian poet, but also the father of Romanian ethnic nationalism, as opposed to the liberal nationalism of the generation of 1848. During the decades of ‘national communism,’ he was also greatly manipulated by ‘autochthonist’ authors (Ilie Bădescu and Zoe Dumitrescu-Buşulenga) and radical nationalists (Ion Lăncrănjan and Corneliu Vadim-Tudor).

6Main works: Poesii [Poems] (1883); Proză şi Versuri [Prose and poems] (1890); Nuvele [Novels] (1893); Literatura populară [Popular literature] (1902); Scrieri politice şi literare [Political and literary writings] (posthumous collection, 1905).


7Romania gained independence in 1878 and was proclaimed a kingdom in 1881. The international consolidation of the new state was matched by a series of domestic reforms. Moreover, Romanian politics experienced a period of ideological consolidation, during which two main political groups emerged: liberal and conservative. The Liberal Party was formed in 1875. It claimed to represent the revolutionary tradition of 1848 and advocated the modernization of Romanian society based on the Western European model. The establishment of the Conservative Party followed in 1876. It invoked the autochthonous Romanian tradition as its main source of legitimacy and urged that Romania’s rural character should be preserved.

8The liberals dominated Romanian politics for a long period (between 1876 and 1888). During this period a new generation of liberal politicians emerged on the political scene. The liberal leaders who had participated in the revolution of 1848 and played a major role in the unification of 1859, such as Mihail Kogălniceanu, C. A. Rosetti and Ion C. Brătianu, were replaced in the 1880s by a new group of politicians. This new generation, which included Nicolae Fleva, Mihail Pherekyde, Eugen Carada, Vasile Lascăr, P. S. Aurelian and Ion I. C. Brătianu, lacked the political credibility of the ‘founding fathers’ of the Liberal Party. Corruption and internal political struggles characterized the last decade of liberal governance. Romanian society was confronted with a series of political and economic crises which, in turn, generated a strong reaction from the Conservative Party and conservative intellectuals. Arguments and ideas were debated in Parliament as well as in the press. The main newspapers of the period were Românul (The Romanian), representing liberal interests, and Timpul, which supported the conservatives. Mihai Eminescu worked for Timpul and published constantly on the main issues of the time. Representing a paradigm-shift in the conservative discourse, three main ideas characterize Eminescu’s political articles: traditionalism, ethnic nationalism and anti-Semitism. These themes were connected by an organic vision of Romanian society, which Eminescu developed during his studies in Germany and Austria. The supreme law governing the Romanians, Eminescu argued, was the conservation of nation and country. He compared the rural environment to a biological organism, having a specific pattern of development. The individual was part of an organic whole whose general well-being was conditioned upon the perfect functioning of all its integrative parts.

9In contrast, those interested in changing the character of Romanian society were considered to be either foreign or representing the liberal oligarchy ruling the country. Eminescu was a constant critic of liberalism, with which he associated everything that, in his opinion at least, vitiated Romanian values. He did not deny the idea of progress altogether. Progress was inevitable, but only if people followed a certain pattern, a path rigidly defined by the laws of nature. A similar pattern dictated the unique tradition and environment of each nation, and it was only by following this tradition that nations could avoid intellectual anarchy and social disorder. Eminescu attempted to lay down a special pattern for the Romanians by imagining progress as a natural, not a social process. Humans, he believed, are to be seen as solely subject to natural law. It was the idea of human differences that Eminescu used to construct his theory of the ‘super-imposed layer’ (‘pătura suprapusă’), namely those categories of people he deemed non-Romanian by tradition and ethnic origin such as Greeks or Jews. Moreover, this organicist framework enabled him to employ a biological language in order to explain the interaction of the ‘native’ Romanian population with the ‘super-imposed layer’. He described this interaction in pathological terms as if it were a disease gnawing at the vitality and sanity of the Romanian national body.

10For Eminescu, Romania’s rural character had to be preserved unaltered, with the peasant as the guardian of innocence, and purity. Nature and peasantry were idealized. Both were seen as the sole preservers of national identity and were contrasted to the image of the ‘city leech,’ usually a Jewish or Greek merchant, or a Romanian who was superficially Westernized. With the advancement of economic and political modernization, Romanian society experienced radical mutations. The relations between rulers and ruled, favored and exploited, were exacerbated by a long tradition of ethnic stereotypes. In nineteenth-century Romanian popular imagery, the Jews and the Greeks came to be represented as parasitic groups, living on the ruthless exploitation of the Romanian rural masses. In his anti-Semitic arguments, Eminescu combined popular stereotypes with a modern rhetoric which he became familiar with in Austria and Germany.

11Eminescu’s stress on the functional inter-relationships of nature, his hostility to theories of development, and his search for harmony and co-ordination in the natural world, witness a crucial shift in Romanian political language: the Romantic topoi, which were until then used mainly by the liberal nationalists, became disentangled from the liberal political discourse and turned to support an anti-liberal agenda. Not surprisingly, many of Eminescu’s ideas about the organic nature of Romanian civilization and the necessity of resisting modernization were incorporated into a new nationalist discourse. The nationalists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (Nicolae Iorga, Aurel C. Popovici and A. C. Cuza) viewed Eminescu as the primary source of their critique of modernity and democracy. In the interwar period theorists of the right (Nicolae Roşu), political leaders (Corneliu Zelea-Codreanu) and philosophers of culture and religion (Lucian Blaga, Nichifor Crainic, Mircea Eliade) appropriated Eminescu’s legacy. The communist regime also managed to create a ‘new’ Eminescu. On the whole, Eminescu’s political articles were largely ignored, although they benefited from an impressive edition initiated by the literary critic, Alexandru Piru, in 1971. After 1989 there was an uncontrolled and largely uncritical revival of Eminescu’s political articles, which eventually led to their appropriation by nationalist and traditionalist groups in Romania.


‘Românul’ has acquired the habit

13Românul has acquired the habit of attributing to us articles that we did not write; [these articles were] reproduced from other newspapers, and then directed against Timpul, combating it as if they were ours; [the] ideas [presented in these articles] we only partly share, or share with some reserve. This happened in the Saturday issue again, in which we noticed that they debate on the grounds of an article reproduced from Poşta [The post] regarding the antagonism between Moldavians and Wallachians. […] In our opinion, there is no difference within the Romanian race from Wallachia, Moldavia, and most parts of Transylvania and Hungary. It is the same race, with the same interests and abilities.

  • 1 Osman Pasha of Vidin (1758–1807), Ottoman governor, who rebelled against the central authorities a (...)
  • 2 Phanariot family, serving as Moldavian and Wallachian hospodars (rulers) in the eighteenth century (...)

14But in Bucharest and the towns along the Danube there have appeared totally new and hybrid ethnic elements, who have provided our present generation of governors. These are the remains of the scams under the flags of Pazvantoğlu1 and Ypsilanti2, and the numerous remnants of the industrial knights of the Phanar. To this new generation belong people like Giani, Carada, C. A. Rosetti, Pherekydis, Serurie and so on. This élite of the new Phanariots, who have made their way in the country in the last 50–60 years, represents an element of dissolution, demagogy in Romania. Physical and intellectual monsters, with no traditions or country or definite nationality […] we see them standing in line with the Jews of Moldavia to paralyze the fight for national emancipation over there. Fired by instinctive hatred for all the historical and autochthonous elements of this country, we have seen them introducing foreign laws in all branches [of life], unadjusted to either the interests or the nature of the country.

15These elements are much more numerous in Wallachia than in Moldova, but here they are to be encountered in the centers on the plains, not in the towns on the mountains, nor in the countryside. These creatures are mistaken by Moldavians for the historical population of Wallachia, as they are to be found in villages in general, and especially in Câmpulung, Târgovişte, Târgu-Jiu and so on. These elements are mistakenly called Wallachians by Moldavians, because they are not Wallachians. Therefore: distinguendum est.

16What the Jews are for Moldavia, these newcomers are for Wallachia, who by their religious identity have always managed to mingle with the Romanians, to fool them and finally get to come to rule them; and so that their job is more successful—they bargained away our national instincts […]

17Therefore, it is enough for these people to be absent from the government, or anyone else, and there will immediately be no difference between one Romanian and another. But with people like Carada, Giani, Cariagdi, C. A. Rosetti, Pherekydis, and so on, Romanians anywhere begin to feel foreign in their own country, and as ‘The Post’ says, the government seems as foreign to them as the Hungarian one to the Transylvanians, or as the Russian to the Bessarabians. This is a mechanical axiom: the effect should be equal to the cause.

18Phanariot rule and the continuous inflow of monsters and failures into the plains of Wallachia lasted for 121 years. It was only in 1821 that we hoped that through a long reaction of the national spirit and through the power of assimilation of soil and race we could erase the traces of this odious domination. Only then the cowardly and dishonorable nature of these foreigners did adopt the generous nature of the Romanian nation, and only then could the great-grandchildren of the Caradas be Romanians. The present-day Caradas, even if they wanted to, could not be Romanians, just as from a willow tree one will never be able to make an oak.

19The fight of Moldavians against the above-named Wallachians is therefore not directed against the historical elements of Wallachia, but against the non-historical ones. This is a common fight, which every Romanian will join in instinctively, conquering back, piece by piece, the national property. Today it is the language, which these monsters have turned into a nonsense language, the next day the social organization, the day after next the church and the school, one by one. Everything has to be snatched from the hands of these people with an innate incapacity to understand the truth, and lacking in the possibility of patriotism, and everything has to be Dacianized in a way, from here on.

20Though the Romanian nation is numerous, its fight is disproportionately heavy, since these people enjoy the support of foreigners. They were brought to power by Russia, and supported by the Austrian-German alliance, so we can see the levers that raise them from the outside, while inside we have only our own people, exploited inhumanly, growing poor, dropping in numbers, and without a clear awareness of what should be done. […]

  • 3 Reference to the revolt of Tudor Vladimirescu (1821).
  • 4 Matei Basarab, voivode of Wallachia (1632–1654).

21But let us not despair. The plant grows in our land. Some strong hands would be necessary, some mountainous hands that know how to use [the plant]. Whether they appear in Moldavia, or across the Olt, as in Tudor’s time,3 the nation would welcome them with flowers and carpets laid on the road, as they did when Matei Basarab4 entered Târgovişte […].

22Therefore, distinguendum est once again. On one side, we have the Romanian race, with its past, identical in all the countries that it inhabits, an honest, generous, truthful and patriotic people. We have above this people a superimposed layer, a sort of sediment of con men and coquettes, raised from the mixture of Oriental and Occidental flow, incapable of truth and patriotism, the race of the Caradas, whom the Moldavians by mistake call Wallachians.

23I have set forth this theory repeatedly, but Românul has avoided responding to it. This is a very disagreeable issue for a government that is made up mostly of such people, and for a party in which maybe you can find one Romanian out of every ten people. Those who are public servants, especially the ones in high positions, pensioners and deputies; [those who benefit from] public and private goods, in a word those who represent […] the general life of the country, will notice easily that the reins of power have got out of the hands of the autochthonous and historical elements and into the hands of foreigners. But does this latter element, this hybrid formation claim to be Romanian? Of course it does, for otherwise they would have no reason to be the rulers. But it is not Romanian yet, and it does not yet have the organic possibility to be Romanian.

24We do not deny that many elements have been completely assimilated by the Romanian race, but they came here a long time ago, a hundred, two hundred, or maybe two hundred and fifty years ago. But these are not the dominant ones; the fresh immigrants are those who are only second generation, and whose mother tongue is still foreign, and who have been Romanized in terms of language in our schools. However, language by itself does not represent nationality. The moral and intellectual qualities of the race have much more significance. […]

25What is the sign by which we can distinguish these unassimilated persons, of Trans-Danubian origin, from the racially pure population? We claim that these [differences] can be found in all points. We say, through physical and intellectual sterility. […] [The unassimilated Romanians] are intellectually and physically barren, they are mules in all respects. They either do not breed children at all, or they breed midgets doomed to gradual degeneration and disappearance in the third or fourth generation. Then we notice in them the permanent symptoms of intellectual frailty. Their minds are replaced by slyness. Slyness is a sign of weakness, for the genuine human mind is in direct relationship with the capacity to understand the truth impartially. Falsehood is to be cited as a sign of weak character. They are friendly, sticking to anyone that can help them; in reality, however, they hate any superior power, either intellectual or of character.

‘Pseudo-Romanian’ in its ‘half-barbarity’

26[…] A barbarous nation is, for example, religious. Its true religious civilization comes when, through the slow progress of its own manner regarding things related to religious issues, its formal, often superstitious, beliefs turn into moral conviction. But when it accepts from another people the removal of its formal faith, without replacing it with moral and religious convictions, it remains without both; it only has the evil of civilization and barbarity, it is half-barbarian.

27A barbarous nation has its own domestic industry, its craft, its healthy, though perhaps primitive, economic activities. When, instead of developing its own work, it buys ready-made objects from foreigners, without learning how to become able to produce them itself, it is half-barbarous.

28The genuine civilization of a people consists not in the adoption of readymade laws, forms, institutions, labels, or foreign gowns. It consists in its natural, organic development of its own powers, of its own faculties. There is no general human civilization, accessible to all people to the same degree and in the same shape, but each people has its own civilization, though it accepts a lot of elements that are common to other peoples, too.

29Therefore, there is a French, English, German, Italian civilization. There is, however, no Romanian civilization, and if there are beginnings, then they are singular and have nothing to do with the general development of things.

  • 5 Moldavian chroniclers from the seventeenth century.

30The real passage is not from barbarity to half-barbarity, for this is a passage to evil, but from barbarity to genuine civilization. Half-barbarity is not an organic or necessary state, but an illness, a regression, a state of weakness and misery. If there is to be a genuine civilization ever on this earth, then that will spring from the old civilizing elements. The progress of our language will not be connected to the high-pitched or nasal Greek-Bulgarian of the Phanariot century, but to the healthy beginnings established by Ureche or Miron Costin;5 legal civilization does not depend on the translation of foreign laws, but on the perfection and completion of our own old laws and judicial life. From one’s own roots, in one’s own depths springs the genuine civilization of a barbarous people; not from the emulation of foreign customs, foreign languages, or foreign institutions.

31Maybe the Slavic people of northern or middle Germany are more civilized ‘as humans’ than they were in a primitive state but they are no longer Slavic. They vanished into the people whose civilization they received. The Tatar populations of Russia are more civilized today as ‘humans’ than they were under their khans. But they are Tatar no more; they vanished as such the moment they accepted the way of being of another people.

32Half-barbarity is therefore no progress, but regress from the national and political points of view. Românul claims that the actual barbarity has taken us in such a short time to independence and a kingdom, to freedom and self-awareness, to progress and prosperity.

33Exactly this is what we reject.

34Formally independent, we pay a hundred times greater tribute than we used to: the liberty of our populations is, according to statistics, synonymous with the liberty to die in misery; progress and wealth do not characterize the element that ethnically and historically is the only true Romanian one, but rather the Romanians of Românul, that super-imposed layer of foreign population incapable of understanding our people, incapable of loving them.

35Barbarity and civilization are to each other like the acorn and the roots, the trunk, and the growth of the oak. Half-barbarity is different, it is a disease produced by a foreign environment, the decrepitude that would result if an oak were planted in a marshy, swampy area, and subjected to the regime of the willow. Well, the willow is not a tree, just as the Caradas are not Romani-ans. In conclusion, any genuine civilization can only consist of a partial return to the past, to its own sound, healthy elements of development.

But, Gentlemen, I am ashamed

36But, gentlemen, I am ashamed to be a Romanian! What kind of Romanian! A Romanian who has reserved exclusively for himself the privilege of patriotism and nationality—such a parading Romanian I am ashamed to be. Nationality must be felt with the heart and not spoken with the mouth. What is felt and deeply respected is rarely pronounced! The ancient Jews were not allowed to pronounce the name of God! I love the Romanian people without loving its mediocre and superficial elements.


1 Osman Pasha of Vidin (1758–1807), Ottoman governor, who rebelled against the central authorities and established a semi-autonomous state, also making frequent raids in Wallachia.

2 Phanariot family, serving as Moldavian and Wallachian hospodars (rulers) in the eighteenth century. Alexandros Ypsilantis (1792–1828) led the Greek uprising in the Danubian Principalities in 1821.

3 Reference to the revolt of Tudor Vladimirescu (1821).

4 Matei Basarab, voivode of Wallachia (1632–1654).

5 Moldavian chroniclers from the seventeenth century.


Mária Kovács (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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