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History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness

Lucian Boia

Chapter four. Unity

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1Unity is an essential archetype. We encounter it all the time, everywhere and at all levels. Human beings are tireless seekers and builders of coherence. We try to give unity and meaning to a world which would otherwise disorient us by its heterogeneity and its lack of sure significations. Religion, science, and ideology have as their fundamental aim the bringing of order into the world. From the cosmic whole to the basic cells of society, everything is passed through this unifying treatment.

2While the aspiration to unity is universal, the specific manifestations of the archetype vary according to the historical context. The Empire and Christendom are the most typical political and ideological embodiments of the idea of unity in pre-modern Europe. The nineteenth century saw the outbreak of the national phenomenon. The idea of the nation-state imposed itself as a fundamental historical myth, becoming one of the great secular religions of the last two centuries. As a privileged form of unity, the nation began to be seen (especially by the Romantics of the nineteenth century) as the very key and end of the whole historical process. Intoxicated with national sentiment, historians ended up forgetting that what for the modern world is an essential value, sometimes even the supreme value, fades and disappears if we go back into the past, giving way to other concepts and forms of unity.

3We find the ethnic unity of the Romanians, or at least their relatedness and common origin, affirmed as clearly as we could wish starting with Grigore Ureche. However, this recognition did not initially presuppose a common political project, still less any political unity on national grounds, for the simple reason that such thinking was foreign to the spirit of the age. The invocation of the Dacian project of Gabriel Bethlen in recent Romanian historiography leaves to one side the elementary fact that the prince of Transylvania was Hungarian, as was the entire ruling class of his land, so that the project in question can hardly be seen as a Romanian one. (The Hungarians of Transylvania are Romanian citizens today, but they were not Romanian citizens in the seventeenth century, nor had they any way of knowing that Transylvania would be united with Romania in 1918.)

4Nowhere in Europe, until around 1800, were borders fixed on grounds of ethnicity and language, even as an ideal project. The Moldavians knew perfecdy well that they spoke much the same language as the Muntenians, and they felt close to the neighboring land in many respects, but for centuries this did not prevent them from calling themselves not Romanians but Moldavians (as the Romanians of Bessarabia still do). The generic term român (Romanian) was increasingly adopted in the first half of the nineteenth century, but until the middle of the century it did not manage to overtake the designation moldovean (Moldavian). As for the political union of these two principalities, it was called for by a number of boyars in memoranda presented between 1772 and 1829, a fact which has been noted and highlighted. But a far greater number of such documents deal with the problems of each country separately, without in any way hinting at a future unification. The project of union must be seen as a process, not as something given and invariable from the beginning. Towards the middle of the nineteenth century it came onto the agenda; this does not mean that it was equally present in 1800. The historian must take into account how representative particular sources and events are; otherwise, by isolating and amplifying a particular document or affirmation, it is possible to “prove” anything, in any period.

5The issue of Transylvania and its union with the other Romanian territories is even more delicate. From around 1800, and more and more frequently as the century advances, we find all sorts of “Dacian” projects, aimed at bringing together the whole Romanian territory. A Greater Romania from the Dniester to the Tisza belongs unquestionably to the political imaginary of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, it was hard to imagine the dismemberment of the Habsburg Monarchy, or of the Hungarian nucleus of this monarchy, as an effective solution. The Transylvanian Romanians sought the autonomy of Transylvania, or an autonomy extended to the whole Austro—Hungarian area with a Romanian population (Transylvania, the Banat, and Bukovina), rather than an apparently Utopian union with the two principalities, or, after 1859, with Romania. The federalization of the Habsburg Monarchy seemed a more realistic solution, and it would be incorrect to see it as a mere tactic of the national movements, a step towards a subsequent separation from the empire. In any case, up until the First World War the principle of autonomy within Austria or Austria-Hungary was more often and more explicitly formulated than the remaking of old Dacia. In 1848 there was a proposal for a “Danubian Confederation”, a project supported by Bălcescu among others. The idea was likewise put forward that the lands should unite in the opposite direction, by the joining of Romania to a “Greater Austria” (a proposal first formulated in 1848 but reiterated as late as 1918, when it seemed as if the Central Powers were going to win the War). In this way the Romanian nation would have found its unity under the patronage of Vienna. The unification of central Europe on a federal basis comes across as a reasonable and promising solution, and one which prefigures the current European project. The fact that it did not happen in the end does not mean that it could not have happened. The Great Union of 1918 certainly represented the perfect formula from the point of view of the national ideal, but the fact thus accomplished should not lead us to an abusive simplification of previous history, by its reduction to the permanent manifestation of the struggle for unity: people had no way of knowing what the future had in store for them. History follows a single pathway, but its virtual pathways are far more numerous.

6In historiography, an important step on the path of unity is represented by Sincai’s Chronicle, in which, for the first time, Romanian history is no longer recounted separately by states or provinces (Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania), but according to strictly chronological criteria. Half a century later, as we have seen, Bălcescu attributes a national sense to the actions of Michael the Brave and, even more, sees a traditional aspiration towards unity as the source of Michael’s deeds.

7In fact, nineteenth-century historians hesitated between projecting the sentiment of unity into the past and criticizing the past precisely for the lack of national solidarity. In each case the supreme value promoted is the Romanian national idea, which can be valorized equally in terms of its enduring historical roots or through the misfortunes that result when the idea of unity is neglected. It is possible to learn just as well from the mistakes of our ancestors as from their virtues.

8If Bălcescu’s Michael the Brave illustrates the former strategy, the latter is central to Kogălniceanu’s demonstration in his 1843 Opening Word. According to Kogălniceanu, what has characterized the Romanians, as it did the ancient Greeks, is not unity but division, with disastrous political results for both peoples. “If the Greeks fell first under the yoke of Philip and later under that of the Romans, it is because they wanted to be Plataeans, Thebans, Athenians, or Spartans, and not Hellenes; just in the same way our ancestors wanted to be Transylvanians, Muntenians, Banatians, or Moldavians, and not Romanians. Only rarely did they choose to look on themselves as one and the same nation. In their lack of unity, however, we must see the source of all their past misfortunes.”

  • 1 Kogălniceanu, Mihail. Opere. Vol. 2, 394.

9Kogălniceanu pleaded for Romanian unity and for a national history conceived in the spirit of this unity, but, characteristically, Moldavia maintains a certain degree of individuality in his writing. “Far from sharing a sentiment of hatred towards the other parts of my people, I look on the whole area where Romanian is spoken as my country, and on the history of all Moldavia, before it was partitioned, of Wallachia, and of our brothers in Transylvania, as national history. [...] In expanding more, understandably, on happenings in Moldavia, I will not pass over noteworthy acts of the other parts of Dacia, and especially of the Romanians of Wallachia, with whom we are brothers in the cross, in blood, in language, and in law.”1 It is a history of the Romanians as a whole, but a history of the Romanians seen from Iasi, with a certain insistence on Moldavia. The border has faded, but it separates entities which, however close, remain distinct.


10The problem of unity also implies a geographical mythology. If nations are predestined then there must be a geographical predestination, a well-defined space, marked out by clear borders, which has been reserved for them from the beginning. Herder, the great prophet of modern nationalism, insistently invokes geography in support of national history. For him, it has marked out from the beginning, with its immutable structures, the direction of the evolution of the various human communities.

11A unitary history thus presupposes a unitary geography. The unitary geography of the Romanian people, which has continued to the present day, was elaborated in the nineteenth century in the image of a perfect, almost circular space bounded by three great waterways—the Danube, the Dniester, and the Tisza—a space supported and solidified by the vertebral column of the Carpathians which passes right across it. In the Romanian version, mountains unite while rivers divide.

12We find a quite different opinion, expressed in categorical terms, with Xenopol. He notes that in most places the opposite rule applies: rivers unite and mountains divide. Far from having ensured the unity of the Romanians, the Carpathian chain is responsible for the division of the national space. In order to unite, the Romanians are obliged to fight against geography:

  • 2 Xenopol, A. D. Istoria românilor din Dacia Traiană. Vol. 1. Iaşi: H. Goldner, 1888, 19-20.

The Carpathians are the decisive factor in the political division of the Romanians. We shall see that the Romanians, after remaining for a long time in the fortress of the mountains, at a certain time began to move out towards the valleys and plains of the Black Sea. Thus were bom the two states of Muntenia and Moldavia, while on the other side of the mountains, internal ranges divided the Romanians into a number of different lands: Transylvania, Maramureş, Crişana, and the Banat. [...] This movement of the Romanians out from the fortress of the Carpathians by way of two openings in particular, one in the south through Făgăraş and the other in the north through Maramureş, explains why it is that in the eastern and southern plain, even on a continuous territorial unit, it was possible for two states, Muntenia and Moldavia, to coalesce, instead of there being just one. So strong was the divergent orientation imprinted on them from the beginning that they were to go on living separately, even as enemies, for more than half a millennium.2

13The Carpathians unite, the Carpathians divide: the divergent interpretations lead us back to the mythological roots of the issue. “Natural borders”, one of the key figures of the geographical imaginary, could not fail to be sought at some point by national ideology. In fact, a typology is impossible. The territorial expansion of a language or a nation does not derive from some geographical fatality; the land in itself does not conceal any predestination or laws leading to either unity or division. As for the fragmentation of the Romanian territory in the Middle Ages, subtleties of argumentation are of little use. Why should there have been a united Romania in a Europe itself profoundly fragmented?


14The emphasis on the question of Romanian unity in the Middle Ages, or rather political division (the reverse side of the same logic), saw a pronounced ebb towards the end of the nineteenth century. The orientation of historical studies towards criticism highlighted the inappropriateness of transferring modern national sentiment into a past that was preoccupied with other values. A certain political conjuncture also played its part in this process of attenuation. The effective construction of Romania considerably reduced the “urgency” of constructing a historical unity in the imaginary. On the other hand, the progressive consolidation of cultural and spiritual relations between the Romanians on either side of the Carpathians, and the increasing momentum of the Romanian nationalist movement could not, before 1914, lead to an effective political project for integrating Transylvania in the Romanian state. On the contrary, fear of Russia pushed Romania towards Germany and Austria—Hungary, which meant the implicit acceptance of a separate status for the Romanians over the mountains. All that could be insisted on for the time being was their full political and cultural emancipation.

15It is sufficient to follow interpretations concerning Michael the Brave and the union of 1600—a sensitive indicator of the nationalism-history relationship in Romanian culture—to observe a clear change of tone from Bălcescu to the historians of the following generation. Already A. D. Xenopol unambiguously states that there was no national sense to Michael’s policies:

  • 3 Ibid. Vol. 3, 1890, 399-400.
  • 4 Onciul, Dimitrie. Din istoria României. Bucharest Editura Socec, 1908, 76.

[...] so little did Michael think of the union of the Romanians that he did not even conceive, such were the conditions of the time, the administrative unification of the Romanian lands, but only their placing under lords subject and obedient to himself, according to the feudal system, which had still not been uprooted from people’s minds. [...] Finally, the most incontrovertible evidence that the idea of union never even entered Michael’s head is the fact that when he laid his hands on Transylvania he did not release the Romanian people from the slavery in which the nobles of that country kept it, but, on the contrary, took measures to keep it in that state, guaranteeing the nobles the maintenance of their inhuman constitution. What sort of union of the Romanians did Michael the Brave want if, in the chief of his lands, where he desired to rule himself, he left the Romanian population without rights, subject, in the most degrading slavery, to people of another folk and another blood?3
With the characteristic forthrightness of the “critical school”, Dimitrie Onciul expressed the sense of Michael’s action in a few words, noting the absence of any national project. The union, he shows, “was maintained only by the sword of the conqueror, whose guiding thought was the fight for the Faith. The idea of national unity was not in the political consciousness of that time, which was not yet ready to conceive it.”4

  • 5 Sîrbu, Ioan. Istoria lui Mihai Viteazul Vol 2. Bucharest: “Carol Göbl”, 1907, 5-6.

16Of great interest for the relationship between critical methodology and orientation towards Central Europe is the solution proposed by Ioan Sirbu, a historian from the Banat, trained in the German school. According to his point of view, expressed in The History of Michael the Brave (1904-1907), what the great voivode sought, in line with a whole series of Romanian voivodes, was “German sovereignty”. Unity thus flows from the need for imperial protection and opens towards the wider space of “Greater Austria”: “Michael felt the need, and wanted with all his heart, to come within the German Empire with all his Romanian people.” The parallel with the present is brought out strongly: “Today, likewise, we want to strengthen the emperor, but we eagerly expect him to strengthen us too, our whole people.”5

  • 6 Iorga, Nicolae. Istoria românilor pentru poporul românesc. Vol 1. Bucharest Editura Minerva, 1993, (...)
  • 7 Ibid., 214.

17In the interwar period no responsible historian any longer claimed that Michael had in mind a clear project of Romanian unity. Even in school textbooks the non-existence of such an intention is stated. There are, of course, nuances: P. P. Panaitescu refuses any involvement of a Romanian consciousness; Nicolae Iorga and C. C. Giurescu seem less categorical, but nor do they go as far as identifying a national idea. In any case, further than Iorga in the fusion of history with nationalism it was hard to go (at least within professional historical circles); and here is what Iorga writes about the relationship of Michael to Transylvania: “He saw that this too was a Romanian land, with villages inhabited by Romanians, and, without having the idea of national unity clearly in his mind as it is today, for those times were not yet fully prepared for it, he told himself that he would be able to rule as lord over the Romanian villages here, just as he was master of the Romanian villages in his own principality.”6 The same Iorga characterizes the sentiments of the Moldavians towards Michael thus: “The conquest of Moldavia was carried out quickly, but we should not imagine that the Moldavians were happy about it. At that time, as we know, each land was used to living according to its own customs, with its own ancient dynasty. [...] Thus many of the subjects of Ieremia Vodă looked on Michael when he arrived not as a braver, more effective, and more glorious Romanian lord, come to fulfill the unity of the people in a single political form, but as a foreign conqueror, ambitious and unruly, who was upsetting the countries around him.”7

18We may say that, having reached maturity, Romanian historiography, although penetrated by an indisputable national spirit, tried to avoid the trap of projecting national ideology onto the Romanian Middle Ages. It is worth drawing special attention to two aspects which lead to this conclusion.

  • 8 Xenopol, A. D. op. cit. Vol. 2, 1889, 292.

19First, there is the treatment, without complexes and even with unembarrassed insistence, of the numerous conflicts which punctuated relations between the principalities, especially between Wallachia and Moldavia. Generations of historians presented the parallel reigns of Matei Basarab and Vasile Lupu, in terms of the struggles between the two rulers, from a perspective which set out to be not only historical but also ethical, with Vasile’s ambition and love of pomp crumbling before the wisdom and simplicity of the Wallachian prince. In any case, the inclination towards events of the historiography of the period left not the slightest family quarrel untouched. We sometimes come upon uncompromising moral judgements, as in the case of Stephen the Great’s unsuccessful attack on Chilia, upon which Xenopol meditates at length. He holds Stephen guilty, and indeed in somewhat bitter terms, for the disaster suffered by Vlad Ţepeş: “It was not the Sultan Mohamed who determined the downfall of the ruler of Muntenia, but Stephen the Great. We can now only begin to measure the extent of the Moldavian ruler’s error. He, whom we shall later see running in all directions in search of allies against the Turks, had now crushed the most precious ally of all, the ruler of a people of the same blood and folk, whose fall before the Turks should have shown Stephen the precipice which awaited him, too.”8 (We may note in passing the particular logic of the historian, who notes, on the one hand, the non-existence of national sentiment in the Middle Ages, and on the other vehemendy accuses those who acted contrary to this same sentiment, including Stephen the Great and Michael the Brave.)

20The second observation concerns the weighting of the Romanian territories in the historical discourse. For a long time, including the interwar period, Transylvania was given less space in works of synthesis than Wallachia and Moldavia (apart from those written by Transylvanians). This is noted by Ioan Lupaş in The History of the Union of the Romanians (1937), in which he proposes precisely the full integration of the Transylvanian past in the national history. The overall impression is of reticence in the face of the ambiguous status of a Transylvania that was both Romanian (in terms of the majority of its population and its present situation) and different from the other Romanian lands in that it had participated in another history. In any case, a simple statistical calculation offers conclusive results. For example, in the second volume of C. C. Giurescu’s History of the Romanians, which deals with the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Moldavia has, according to the number of pages devoted to it, a weighting of 48 percent, Wallachia 41 percent, and Transylvania only 11 percent. The extreme solution is found in Dimitrie Onciul’s From the History of Romania, which deals only with Wallachia and Moldavia, leaving Transylvania completely aside.

  • 9 Murgescu, Mirela-Luminiţa. “Galeria naţională de personaje istorice in manualele de istorie din şc (...)

21The somewhat delicate position of Iancu of Hunedoara (Hunyadi János) is also significant, given that he is a figure “shared” by Romanian and Hungarian historiography. As a historical personality he is no less important than Stephen or Michael. For all that, an investigation into the relative weighting of national heroes in history textbooks between 1859 and 1900 found Iancu in a quite mediocre position (with a percentage of 1.04, compared with 6.83 for Michael and 5.55 for Stephen, a hierarchy which continues in recent textbooks).9 Romanian historiography adopted the Transylvanian voivode but was not able to assimilate him fully; at any rate it did not imprint him in the national consciousness to the extent that Hungarian historians did.

22We may note, all the same, in the interwar period and the years of the Second World War, an attempt to make a tighter connection between the modern unitary Romanian state and its diverse historical components. Of course, the orientations of the critical school constituted a lasting gain, and among them was the explicit renunciation of a Romanian national idea in the Middle Ages. On the other hand, however, the union of the new provinces, especially Transylvania, required also their organic integration in the national history, while actions from outside aimed at the dismemberment of Romania, based on arguments which included the lack of a fundamental basis for unity, could not be left without a historical answer. The need became even more urgent after 1940, when everything was again put under a question mark by territorial maiming and war.

  • 10 Lupas, Ioan. Istoria unirii románilor. Bucharest: Fundaţia Culturală Regală “Principele Carol”, 19 (...)

23The solution chosen by some historians, in the absence of a medieval unity of national type, was to highlight the unifying factors (geographical, ethnic, cultural, or concerning various forms of political collaboration), which, having been accumulated over time by an organic evolution, would lead progressively to the modem nation and Greater Romania. Ioan Lupaş’s argumentation regarding the “history of the Romanian union” goes along these lines. Before national consciousness, according to the Transylvanian historian, there was the fundamental unity of the Romanian space, bounded by the Danube, the Black Sea, the Dniester, and the Tisza, and structured by the Carpathians, to which he adds the unitary ethnic factor with its specific features and the no less important religious dimension of Orthodoxy. Once again, we are looking at a consolidation of the foundations and in no sense, even with the Transylvanian Lupaş, who perhaps goes further than others, a return to the idea of national consciousness. “In 1600”, the historian states, “when the three Romanian lands, Muntenia, Transylvania, and Moldavia, came together under the political scepter of Michael the Brave, it was precisely the lack of this consciousness which was the chief reason for the short duration of this Romanian rule.” (The statement is somewhat sweetened by the claim that “the seed of the national idea was not lacking from Michael’s acts of rule”, although it is left unclear what should be understood, in more elaborated historical terminology, by “seed”.)10

  • 11 Brătianu, G. I. Origines et formation de l’unité roumaine (Origins and formation of Romanian unity (...)

24A suitable approach is proposed by G. I. Brătianu in his Origines et formation de l’unite’ roumaine (1943), a work in which the author explicitly acknowledges a particular political aim. “We cannot be unaware”, he says, “that around us the adversaries of Romanian unity are ceaselessly active.” In reaction to this it was his duty to highlight “the invariable foundation of our right to unity”, the elements of which “have for so long been contested by adversaries, neglected by their own defenders, and unknown to European opinion”.11

  • 12 Ibid., 138.

25Thus, in the fifteenth century the historian detects “the unity of action which the struggle against the Ottoman invasion imposed to an increasing extent on the two principalities and the Transylvanian contingents”.12

26To return to the test case of Michael the Brave, according to Brătianu he had, “in the absence of a national consciousness”, at least “an instinct of unity”, and his intention was to rule as hereditary sovereign on both sides of the Carpathians. Even the western border claimed by the voivode corresponded more or less to the present Romanian—Hungarian border. Of course, national and linguistic considerations did not enter into the calculation, but “the coincidence is no less striking”.

  • 13 Ibid., 158-159.

27And here is Brătianu’s conclusion: “The political objective of Mchael the Brave was not national unity and his action can be sufficiently explained in terms of the logical consequences of his ideas of crusade. [...] But the actual history of his reign and his deeds demonstrates clearly that the historical mission of defending Christendom, which he, following many other Muntenian and Moldavian rulers, took upon himself, was beyond the reduced forces of a single small Romanian state. This mission obliged the prince and the statesmen to overcome particularist traditions and to take into consideration, from an as yet exclusively strategic or political point of view, a greater unity, which could not fail to become national once the times permitted.”13

28Thus there is no national consciousness, but nor is there the complete absence of a historical sense which would lead ultimately to national consciousness and unity. Brătianu liked to invoke the Hegelian triad of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. In this case the thesis was “national unity”, the antithesis was its complete negation, and the synthesis, as we have seen, a more nuanced point of view. In the spirit of the same program, Brătianu proceeded partially to rehabilitate Negru Vodă (whose existence had been denied by Onciul) in The Historical Tradition about the Founding of the Romanian States (1945). Seeing in the legendary ruler a personification of the southern Transylvanian Romanian element which had played a role in the founding of Wallachia (just like the Maramureş people of Dragoş and Bogdan in the case of Moldavia), Brătianu introduced a new argument for unity, cementing relations between the Romanians on both sides of the Carpathians. It is ironic that the “unitarist” theses of this historian, who died in horrible conditions in communist detention and whose works remained for a long time on the “index”, were later taken up by the historiography of the 1970s and 1980s, when they were pushed far beyond the limits which the author, who respected the canons of the profession, would not allow himself to exceed.

29We may conclude that the Romanian Middle Ages, in the treatment of historians prior to the communist period, were not abusively invested with characteristics of full and conscious unity which they evidendy did not have; where there are differences, they concern the degree of emphasis or discretion in identifying starting points and directions of evolution which would later lead towards unity.

30The armature of unity proved more powerful at the very foundation of national history, by the equation of Dacia with Romania. Medieval dissentions appeared as a mere transitory phase between a well-defined Dacian space and the present-day Romania that restored its outlines once again. It is interesting to observe how from related but distinct peoples, as they are presented in Grigore Tocilescu’s Dacia before the Romans (1880), the Getae and Dacians become “two branches of the same people” mentioned separately (”the Getae and the Dacians”) in Xenopol, and then, from Pârvan and Iorga to the present, a single people with a single name: Dacians or Geto-Dadans. Modern national ideology has said its word as far as this matter is concerned; but who can know how much the Dacians were conscious of belonging to a distinct people spread over the entire territory of today’s Romania and even beyond it. Did this people have a name? We can be sure they did not call themselves Geto—Dacians!


  • 14 Roller, Mihail, ed. Istoria R.P.R. Bucharest, 1952 edition, 230.

31The first phase of communism was hardly concerned at all with the problem of national unity. According to the definition of the nation formulated by Stalin, what was essential was the creation of a “unitary internal market”, which the Romanian lands had clearly lacked until recent times. In Roller’s textbooks, far from any Romanian sense being identified in the action of Michael the Brave, the accent was put on class interests and relations with the neighboring powers, especially the Habsburgs. We learn that “Michael the Brave was used by the Habsburg Empire, with the aim of conquering Transylvania for the Austrians. The voivode Michael became governor of this province, and as such was considered the representative of Emperor Rudolf II, who regarded Transylvania as an Austrian province.”14 The relations between the Romanian lands and Russia are sometimes more strongly highlighted than the connections within the Romanian space itself (for example in the cases of Stephen the Great and Constantin Brîncoveanu).

  • 15 Ibid., 367.

32Not only does the union of 1859 not now mark the crowning point of a long history permeated with the spirit of unity (as in nationalist interpretations), it is not even seen, as would have been correct, as the expression of the strong national sentiment characteristic of the period. Everything is reduced to the play of material interests: “The idea of uniting Moldavia and Wallachia in a single state first appeared with the development of capitalism, which needed a well-organized state with a large internal market. The developing Romanian bourgeoisie saw its interests threatened by the Turkish yoke. [...] The great boyars who held high positions in the state apparatus were against the union, fearing that after the union these positions would be occupied by bourgeois.”15 As for the union of Transylvania (not to mention Bessarabia and Bukovina) with Romania, this was placed, as we have already seen, in the context of the aggressive actions of the Romanian bourgeoisie at the end of the First World War.

33The nationalist phase of communist ideology, and implicitly of Romanian historiography, turned things round completely. In the spirit of absolute truths propagated by a doctrine which was simplistic in its very essence, the point of equilibrium was quickly left behind in the transition from ignoring any Romanian sentiment to the projection of the national idea over the whole of history. Unity became, alongside continuity, the guiding axis of the historical discourse. What generations of historians had sought to demolish, or at least to nuance—out of simple respect for their profession and a patriotism correctly understood—became again part of an obsessive, and unfortunately efficient, nationalist discourse. Thus nineteenth-century historical interpretations, especially those of the Romantic generation of the mid-nineteenth century, which were completely outdated in terms of contemporary historiography, were combined with the imperatives of current communist ideology and politics. All totalitarian projects, and communism more than any, put a high value on the idea of unity. The insistent underlining of uninterrupted unity, which became almost a characteristic trait of Romanian being, served, through the intermediary of the past, the political program of Ceauşescu’s brand of communism: a uniform society of people thinking and feeling the same, closely united around the providential leader. This was the aim, the only aim—certainly not patriotism or the disinterested search for historical truth.

34It is fitting to return here to the Michael the Brave moment, the interpretation of which tells us everything there is to be said about the ideological loading of national history. Here there took place a leap back of over a century, with the accent placed once again on the Romanian, consciously Romanian, sense of his action. Where generation after generation of historians had claimed that the voivode showed relatively little interest in the Romanians of Transylvania, it was discovered that, on the contrary, Michael had taken numerous measures in their favor. It was then forbidden to speak anymore of the conquest of Transylvania and Moldavia (the term previously used, without any problems of conscience, by all Romanian historians). The Romanian provinces could not have been conquered, but united: in fact, they aspired to be united.

35A Dacian idea—seeking the creation of a single Romanian state on the former territory of Dacia—was likewise discovered to have been present throughout the sixteenth century, demonstrating conscious preparation for the act of 1600, two centuries before the concept of the national state had crystallized in the rest of Europe. Yet another Romanian first! This theory was constructed with indisputable but unconvincing erudition by Ştefan Andreescu, in the two volumes of his Restitutio Daciae (1980 and 1989). According to Andreescu, Petru Rareş sought a confederation of Romanian states, while Michael the Brave wanted a centralized state. In any case, the princes seem much more conscious of the national idea than does the great scholar Miron Costin, a hundred years later. As a medievalist with a completely different training and style than the historian-activists of the Ceauşescu years, Andreescu offers the instructive case of a history, which, while apparently autonomous and correcdy elaborated, essentially does no more than serve one of the great myths of the regime.

  • 16 Istoria militară a poporului român. Vol. 2. Bucharest: Editura Militară, 1986, 308: “As lord of Mo (...)

36From Michael the Brave, historians moved back into the sixteenth century, and from the sixteenth century, as moving back in time was easy and profitable, they went back to the fifteenth and even to the fourteenth. Stephen the Great, in his turn, was proclaimed “lord of all the Romanians”.16 In this case it is not so much a matter of interpretation (what was in Michael’s mind when he “united”, not to say “conquered” the Romanian territories), as of pure fabrication, since Stephen ruled only Moldavia, and his relations with Wallachia were at times highly conflictual. Indeed, for a long time the great prince had been a symbol of Moldavian particularism, as he still is in the Republic of Moldova.

  • 17 Dogaru, Mircea. Dracula, impăratul Răsăritului (Dracula, emperor of the east). Bucharest: Editura (...)

37If “anything is possible” in the case of Stephen, then why not also for Mircea the Old? The joining of Dobrogea to Wallachia under his rule could be interpreted as the first union in the series of successive unions which founded Romania. One particularly fiery historian does not hesitate to write that in 1386 the struggle for the “final union” of the Romanian space began.17

38The strategy of unity led also to the retroactive extraction of Transylvania from the Hungarian political space. The autonomy of the voivodate—which perfectly fits the general typology of territorial fragmentation in the Middle Ages— conferred on it a Romanian sense. There was much insistence on the notion that Transylvania had closer relations with Wallachia and Moldavia than with the Hungarian crown (passing discreedy over the detail that the voivode was appointed and revoked by the king of Hungary, indicating a higher degree of dependence than that of the great feudal magnates in France or the German Empire, who were hereditary masters of their lands, in relation to their respective sovereigns).

39So here, then, was the solution to the delicate problem of a Romanian medieval period that at first sight seemed more characterized by division than by solidarity. The repeated conflicts between the three countries were cancelled by the application of a twofold strategy. First, despite appearances, these conflicts could in fact mean real attempts at unification, with the princes of Moldavia, Wallachia, and Transylvania trying in turn to impose their supremacy over their sister lands. Stephen, Michael, Vasile Lupu, and as many Hungarian rulers of Transylvania had acted according to the “Dacian plan”, with a view to the uniting of all the Romanians. Even so, as these conflicts were too numerous they required to be minimalized and partially eliminated. To give a single example, the classic dispute between Matei Basarab and Vasile Lupu disappeared for a time from school textbooks. In this case, there was a clear falsification of history by omission. The method of eliminating historical facts was preferred to the less certain tactic of transforming the conflict into an attempt at unification (Vasile Lupu did indeed want to place his son on the Wallachian throne).

  • 18 Cristea, Ovidiu. “Frontul românesc antiotoman în secolele XIV—XV: realitate istorică sau mit istor (...)

40In a few pages of impeccable logic, a young historian has demolished the theory of an early aspiration towards unity in the Middle Ages. He demonstrates that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries not only did Wallachia and Moldavia not work together, they were in fact integrated into divergent political systems, the former associated with Hungary and the latter with Poland. Not only could there be no question of unity, there could be no form of political coordination either.18

  • 19 Bodea. Cornelia. Lupta românilor pentru unitatea natională 1834—1849 (The struggle of the Romanian (...)

41If the Middle Ages could be “resolved” in such a way, the modem age, the period which witnessed the gradual forging of the national sentiment and of effective national unity, could be maneuvered all the more easily. The year 1848 can provide us with a good example. The three revolutions in Moldavia, Wallachia, and Transylvania had traditionally been presented separately, while underlining, of course, the sharing of values and the relations between the revolutionaries. There followed, however, the phase of full “unification” of Romanian history. Already in 1967, Cornelia Bodea produced a skillful and attractive demonstration of the unitary character of the politics of 1848 (and even the preceding period), centering on a well-defined project of the political unification of the entire national space. Vague suggestions in the documents, and hypotheses of all sorts, coalesced in the image of a Romanian consensus, leaving the less convenient facts to one side (for example, the insistence of Bălcescu—the great historian of national unity!—on establishing close ties between the Romanian and Hungarian revolutions, which could only result in the sacrificing not only of union, but even of the autonomy of Transylvania).19

  • 20 Istoria românilor. Epoca moderna şi contemporană (The history of the Romanians: The modem and cont (...)

42In school textbooks, the revolutionary phenomenon of 1848 ended up by being completely homogenized and presented to pupils in such a way that they could no longer understand anything. As unity had to be manifested, the only criterion was chronology, and the text shifted, without any logical connection, from Iaşi to Lugoj and from Blaj to Bucharest... Particularly abusive was the “integration” without any nuances of Transylvania, where the problems of 1848 were much more complex and largely different than in Wallachia and Moldavia. In the case of Transylvania, the principal issue from the point of view of the Romanians was autonomy within the Habsburg Empire, and certainly not, in the historical context, union with Wallachia and Moldavia, which were themselves still not united. But nor was the territory conventionally named “Transylvania” uniform: the Romanians of the historical principality of Transylvania, those of the Banat, and finally those of the “Hungarian” regions (Crişana and Maramureş) had different aims and tactics. It is certain that in 1848 not only Romanians and Hungarians, but also different groups of Romanians, found themselves in opposite camps, as shown by the dramatic Dragoş-Buteanu episode in the Apuseni mountains. Through all this went the great steamroller of unity. Even a more recent textbook claims nonchalantly that the Romanians put forward a single revolutionary program in 1848, when it is well known that there were several, which were far from identical.20

43The case of Dobrogea is likewise significant. Here the Romanians were in the minority in 1878 (a relative majority of the population being Muslim). In subsequent decades Dobrogea was Romanianized by an exceptional action of colonization and development of the territory. It was a remarkable success, one of the most indisputable Romanian successes, but it is “not the done thing” to talk about it, since all Romanian territories must have been Romanian, without interruption, since the dawn of history.

44The final phase—at least in the communist variant—of the myth of unity took the form of a ban on the publication of regional studies and syntheses, or at best their disguising under titles like The Romanians of the Southwest of the Country rather than The Romanians of the Banat. The culminating point was the elimination from weather bulletins, by a decision of the propaganda section of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, of the names of the regions. Even the wind, the rain, and the snow had to respect the unity of Romania. It was no longer permitted, for example, for it to rain in Moldavia; it could rain as much as it liked, but not in Moldavia, only in the northeast of the country!

  • * Ţara Românească. the usual Romanian name for Wallachia. Trans.
  • ** Muntenia, the dominant region of Wallachia, stands here for the whole principality. Trans.

45A no less spectacular initiative was the “re-baptizing” of the principalities. Not only did they all have to be Romanian: they had to be called Romanian. Why was only Wallachia called “the Romanian Land”?* Were the other lands any less Romanian? Thus some historians began to refer to the Romanian Land of Muntenia,**the Romanian Land of Moldavia, and the Romanian Land of Transylvania. A whole line of Hungarian princes had ruled a state which was now called the Romanian Land of Transylvania!

  • 21 A remarkable achievement from this point of view is the “portrait of France” minutely reconstructe (...)

46In fact, regional differences are prominent, even in today’s Romania, not to mention past centuries. They ought to be researched and inventoried no less systematically than the elements of unity. From this point of view the case of France—so often invoked in so many contexts in a Romania that remains Francophone and Francophile—is instructive and worth following. After long being marked by a centralizing political and national ideology, French historiography in recent decades has embarked on regional studies, bringing to light another, somewhat unexpected, France, the synthesis of a regional life of remarkable diversity. (For the period around 1800 some parameters suggest a greater distance between the various French départements than between France seen as a whole and the rest of the world.21) Real history, with the infinite diversity of its manifestations, can no longer be sacrificed on the altar of a national ideology aiming at uniformity. Historians can be patriots without falsifying the past.

  • 22 Cîmpeanu, Pavel. De patru ori în fata umelor (Four times at the ballot box). Bucharest, 1993.

47The myth of unity, or rather uniformity, is so strongly imprinted in Romanian culture that even specialists, whether historians or sociologists, often hesitate to take into account the regional structures of the phenomena they are studying. It is, for example, more than evident that the Romanians vote differently from one county to another and even more differently from one historical region to another, and yet, in a study published by Pavel Câmpeanu,22 in which the national elections of 1990 to 1992 are minutely analyzed, there is not even the most summary distribution by counties and historical provinces. What is actually striking, especially following the presidential elections of 1992, is the very pronounced definition of two distinct zones, still divided by the former border between Romania and Austria-Hungary (with further divisions within these zones which also merit comment). Political options reflect a multitude of values, models, and cultural, ideological, and mental reference points. Electoral geography is only one example; any historical or sociological phenomenon can and should be represented and analyzed at the local level. The national dimension is one significant outcome, but not the only one. The Romanian nation of today is certainly unitary, but it is not uniform. The differences which persist, after a number of factors inevitably furthering uniformity have been at work for several generations (political power, administration, education, military service, economic mechanisms), highlight the precariousness of interpretations which see nothing but unity 500 or 2,500 years ago.

48However, bibliographical references do not tell us everything; direct contact with people, and especially with middle-level professionals (in our case teachers in pre-university education), illustrates even more clearly the relative success of a political strategy for which history was no more than an instrument. The history textbooks are as they are, but in not a few cases they are outdone by the school. Pupils hear from some of their teachers that the “golden dream” of the Romanians, their ideal over the centuries, was unity. Of course, not all history teachers indulge in this sort of discourse, but I wonder how many would dare today to say openly what was common knowledge in schools in pre-communist Romania, namely, that Michael the Brave’s action did not originate in national sentiment. Apart from the question of untruth, and apart from what is, whether conscious or not, a political manipulation through history, there is a serious vice concealed here: lack of responsibility. Teachers “know” that it is best to tell it this way. Regardless of what they really believe, they feel that this way they are covered. An exaggeration in “patriotic” terms seems more convenient than entering the uncertain ground of a critical and intelligent history. Unfortunately, their pupils do no more than memorize an endless litany, when the real vocation of history is precisely the exercise of intelligence. History seems to have remained with the objective of training patriots, not people capable of an independent judgement of the world and events. In fact, not even patriotic sentiments can truly be cultivated by a stereotypic and unconvincing discourse.


49If the Romanians have always been a united nation, this means that there exists—beyond the flow of the centuries and the vicissitudes of history—a Romanian dimension of existence, a Romanian way of being, a Romanian soul. The identification of a specific national spirit illustrates one of the most significant manifestations of the myth of unity. From Herder onwards, the “spirit of the peoples” made a profound mark on the Romantic ideology of the first half of the nineteenth century. It was the period when the world was cut up into national spaces, each animated by its own spiritual and moral characteristics and marked by its own destiny. In the second half of the nineteenth century this hypothesis was taken further, in the attempt to set it on the solid basis of science. It was a time when it seemed that nothing would remain outside the scope of a complete and perfect scientific explanation. Thus the Germans Lazarus and Steinthal around 1860 and Wundt around 1900, not forgetting the Frenchmen Fouillé and Boutmy, embarked on the delicate task of defining the psychology of peoples.

50The theme could not fail to attract the Romanians. As a nation which had come late to unity (in spite of the mythological discourse of an originary unity), the Romanians felt the need to define the elements of this unity, the characteristics which made them resemble each other and distinguished them from the others. A whole range of complexes were also at play. How was it possible to explain the actual inferiority of the Romanians in the nineteenth century (in relation to the West)? Through what historical circumstances or what flaws in the national soul? What stock of qualities, on the other hand, could be thrown into the scales of history to put things right and ensure a future better than the present, a future to match their brilliant origins? It is certain that for a century and a half, from the beginning of the process of “entering Europe”, the Romanians have been in a state of continual agitation, trying to establish their own image and their place in European spirituality.

51A publication of 1907, Dumitru Drăghicescu’s From the Psychology of the Romanian People, is of importance from several points of view. In the first place, it is a first synthesis of the matter. Secondly, it takes advantage of “scientific” literature, especially French, on the issue of the “national spirit”, and demonstrates an attempt at “objective” research and at the systematic construction of a field of enquiry. Finally, we are still, here, in the phase of a predominantly critical discourse, which, although starting from the inborn qualities of the nation, deals unsparingly with its accumulated defects and proposes a diagnosis and a therapy to get out of the impasse.

  • 23 Drăghicescu, Dumitru. Din psihologia poporului român. 1907. 2nd edition. Bucharest: Editura Albatr (...)

52Drăghicescu’s method is simple and clear, and very much in the spirit of the 1900s. The inner chemistry of the Romanians, he considers, has taken and combined spiritual elements characteristic of the ethnic groups which participated in the creation of the Romanian synthesis, or at least influenced it. It is sufficient to know (and the psychology of peoples offers quasi-certainty in this respect) what the Romans were like, what the Dacians were like, and what the Slavs were like, and by combining these sources we have before us the Romanians of the tenth century, brought back to life, in spite of the lack of sources, by the pure mechanism of psychological laws. Our ancestors, Drăghicescu assures us, were then “rough and violent. Having an iron will, stubborn, impulsive, sometimes self-controlled, sometimes out of control, changeful, they must have been daring beyond measure, courageous, careless of death and animated by a spirit of freedom and independence, which more often than not divided them and only rarely allowed them to unite. According to the circumstances they could be disciplined and organized or lacking in discipline and anarchic, both these manifestations being rooted in their soul from the cradle, as both were inherited from the different ethnic groups. The intelligence of the Romanians, at that time, must have been rich; certainly it was lively, daring, and sparkling, with a sense of generalization and of organization and an inclination to observation which resulted in humor and mocking satire.”23 A thousand years later there is no shortage of humor, generally unintended, in Drăghicescu’s work. What we learn from the proposed reconstruction is not so much what the Romanians were like as what it means really to believe in science, in a science which can give an answer without hesitation to every question you ask it.

  • 24 Ibid., 138, 400.

53Turkish and Greek influence, and especially the loss of independence, have altered the character of the Romanians. The chance of spiritual regeneration lies in the transformation of institutions and society along the lines of the Western model. Beyond any doubt the Romanians have considerable assets at their disposal—the fine qualities which they have inherited, and above all their intelligence. This combines the open and lively temperament of the Dacians, the generalizing and abstract spirit of the Romans, and the poetic gift of the Slavs. Apparently few peoples enjoy such a complex intelligence. At their birth the Romanians “must have been a people with a very open and very rich mind, with a lively and ingenious intelligence, and a rather powerful generalizing spirit. Their imagination must have been among the richest. [...] The mentality of the Romanians, like the language they speak, had as its foundation and starting point a material of superior essence: the Roman mentality. In history this appears to us as a great reservoir to which all the peoples of Europe came and deposited part of the contents of their soul.”24 As a people of synthesis, the Romanians seem to be composed of exceptional stuff, seriously altered by the vicissitudes of history it is true, but not beyond repair.

  • 25 Ibid., 345, 353, 356, 361.

54Their defects were few at the beginning, but accumulated over the centuries. Drăghicescu underlines “passivity; defensive, resigned, passive, subject, and beaten resistance; lack of offensive energy [...]. Timidity, paralysis of the will, fear, and lack of courage have dominated, and still dominate the soul of the Romanians.” At the same time (and contrary to his own project of defining a national individuality) he detects “the lack of a distinct, unitary, and homogeneous unfolding of our past”, whence the powerful effect of foreign influences and “the lack of a distinct, smooth, and clear character of Romanian mentality. [...] The content of our ethnic soul is made up, in the greater part, of fragments and patches borrowed from the neighboring peoples, unassimilated, undigested, and un-homogenized.” The influence of the Orient, harmful overall, has as its coordinates “unconcern, physical and mental laziness, that is, lack of initiative, resignation, lack of self-confidence, and above all fatalism, blind belief in luck, in fate”.25

55The formula “intelligent but lazy”, or “lazy but intelligent”, with which we might simplify Drăghicescu’s demonstration into a few words, indeed provides a cliché which many Romanians accept with a mixture of resignation and pride. Even if laziness is not praiseworthy, at least not everyone can boast of superior intelligence.

56In any case, Drăghicescu’s argumentation has as its firm reference point Western values and especially the French spirituality that he considered to be their highest expression. Thus everything which contrasts with the Western spirit and behavior is a defect. The Romanians must move in the direction of a spiritual formula of Western type. This is in fact the sense of historical evolution. In opposition to the European and Francophile Drăghicescu, however, an autochthonist interpretation of the Romanian spirit was already in existence and was carried forward on the nationalist wave of the years after 1900.

57I have already referred to the dialogue between the two Junimists so different from each other, Vasile Pogor and Mihai Eminescu, in which the former maintained the “barbarism” of the Romanians and the latter their specific destiny. It is worth noting not only their disagreement but also the point where, in a sense, they fundamentally agree: the Romanians are on the margins of history—only what Pogor took as a subject for sarcasm was accepted with pride by the great poet. The Romanians have their own specific genius: they are not Western and nor should they try to become Western.

58“Semănătorism”, and later the interwar autochthonist currents, continued along the line of this assumed Romanianism. The historical and social determinants which we find in Drăghicescu—albeit in a debatable and simplistic manner—faded before an atemporal Romanian soul. Criticisms, too, faded away. What is there to criticize, if that is the way we are? What is there to criticize if we do not want to metamorphose into Westerners anyway, but just want to remain Romanians?

  • * Mioritic. adjective from “Mioriţa”, the well-known Romanian ballad of the shepherd and the ewe lamb (...)
  • 26 Blaga, Lucian. Spaţiul mioritic. 1936. Bucharest Humanitas, 1994, 165—166.

59The most elaborated form of the discourse of Romanianism is provided by the nationalist Right of the 1930s. In the course of an indisputably seductive demonstration, Lucian Blaga, in The Mioritic Space* (1936), defines the characteristics of the Romanian soul, which correspond to a well-defined geographical framework, the central element of which is the plat (”a high, open land, on the green mane of the mountains, descending gently into the valley”). According to Blaga, there is “an inalienable stylistic matrix of our ethnic spirit”. The Romanian appears more profound and more open to cosmic essences than the Westerner: “In the West, tradition is a matter of the pedantic acquisition of a past, from the ancestral gallery, from the chronicle of deeds, from the roll call of ancestors. [...] Our tradition is by its nature more invisible; it only permits a metaphorical or metaphysical formulation. Our tradition is more atemporal; it blends with stylistic potencies which are creative, untiring, as magnificent as in the first day. [...] Sometimes smoldering but always alive, it manifests itself in time, although, measured by our ephemeral horizon, it is above time.”26

  • 27 Ornea, Z. Anii treizeci Extrema dreaptă românească (The 1930s: The Romanian extreme Right). Buchar (...)

60For Blaga, as for Nichifor Crainic, Nae Ionescu, and Mircea Vulcănescu, the national spirit is identified substantially with Orthodoxy, which marks a clear separation from the Catholic and Protestant West and thus from the Western models invoked by the preceding generation. Nae Ionescu proposed a subde dissociation between the concepts of “Romanian” and “good Romanian”. A Roman Catholic could be a “good Romanian”, in other words a loyal Romanian, but to be Romanian, purely and simply, without any other attribute, one had to be Orthodox.27 The Transylvanians who had launched the national movement were thus, as Greek Catholics, only “good Romanians”. (At least it was better than not being Romanians at all!)

  • * Dor is usually translated as “longing”; it often has connotations of melancholy, as in dor de casă (...)
  • 28 Blaga, Lucian. op. cit., 164.
  • 29 Vulcănescu, Mircea. Dimensiunea româneascâ a existenţei. Editura Fundaţiei Culturale Române, 1991, (...)

61All these thinkers identified a Romanian spirituality that was clearly oudined and above all perfecdy distinguishable from that of the “others”, especially the West. Existence is something different for the Romanians. It might be defined, suggests Blaga, by the untranslatable word dor*: “Existence for the Romanian is ‘dor’, aspiration across horizons, existence which in its entirety flows towards ‘something’.”28 Mircea Vulcănescu does not hesitate to speak about Romanian man, and in an essay entided “The Romanian Dimension of Existence” he defines no less than seven fundamental and specific attitudes: there is no non-being; there is no absolute impossibility; there is no alternative; there is no imperative; there is nothing irremediable; lightness in the face of life; lack of fear in the face of death.29

  • 30 Călinescu, George. Istoria literaturii române de la origini pinâ în prezent (The history of Romani (...)

62The intellectuals of the interwar period were quite simply obsessed with the “national specific”. The case of George Călinescu is particularly remarkable. I say “remarkable”, as the illustrious literary historian had no sympathy with the ideology of the nationalist Right. This ideological divergence did not, however, prevent him from invoking similar concepts, illustrating the remarkable expansion of the cliché of Romanian unity. In concluding his History of Romanian Literature (1941), he insists on the existence of a distinct Romanian race. Even “our physical type is quite different from that of the neighboring peoples and those of Central Europe”, claims the critic, who has suddenly become an anthropologist too, and apparently one contaminated by the racial theories of the time. (Unfortunately he does not sketch for us the physical portrait of his “typical Romanian”.) Not everyone who wants to can be Romanian, according to Càlinescu; you are born Romanian, and you are born a certain way. “As the specific is a structural element, it is not acquired by conformity to a canonic lifestyle. The only condition for having the specific is to be an ethnic Romanian. All the historian has to do is to follow the intimate fibers of the autochthonous soul.”30

63So the Romanian has become a very different being, of course more profound and more complex than his fellows, and the Romanian space a distinct and homogeneous entity.

64The first phase of communism did not want even to hear of such heretical interpretations. It might be argued that Mircea Vulcànescu (who died in prison) and Nichifor Crainic were imprisoned, and Blaga maginalized, for “philosophical” reasons, as well as out of strictly political motives. Any nationalist tendency in philosophy, any definition of the Romanians as Romanian, had to be stamped out. The key to historical and cultural phenomena was class, not nation; class spirit and not national spirit.

  • 31 Noica, Constantin. Sentimentul românesc al fiinţei. Bucharest Editura Eminescu, 1978, 62.

65Things changed with the shift of communism in the direction of nationalism. Of course not everything could be rehabilitated: the Orthodox dimension of Romanian spirituality was too divergent from official ideology. Significantly however, The Mioritic Space was reissued in 1969 and 1985, and Blaga was not only rehabilitated but set among the great names of Romanian letters. The destiny of Constantin Noica seems to me to be even more characteristic. Having been close to the extreme Right at the beginning of his career, he experienced forced domicile between 1949 and 1958, and prison from 1958 to 1964. His “recovery”, starting in 1970, corresponds to the ideological shift and the new strategy of the authorities. Noica was beyond doubt a complex figure and a complex thinker, Romanian but also European in his nature. Autochthonists and partisans of opening towards the West could both claim him as their own. What interests us here, however, is not his subdety and multisidedness, but what the official ideology was prepared to tolerate and even to use in his discourse. And this, in a period of progressive isolation of Romania, was the definition, following the tradition of the interwar Right, of a specifically Romanian spiritual perimeter. For example, his Romanian Sentiment of Being (1978) develops, in a much more elaborated manner, Vulcănescu’s already-mentioned essay “The Romanian Dimension of Existence”. Once again, Romanian understanding appears more open, more nuanced, richer: “Compared with the complex and fairy-like being of our vision, the neo-positivist perspective of the Western world, with its ‘forgetting’ of being, or else the reappraisal of being in other philosophies, has an air of poverty.”31

  • 32 Ibid., 11.

66The Romanians are neither Western nor Eastern. They lie between these two worlds and can be a unifying bond: “We are between the Near and Far East [...] and the West. Neither the one nor the other put its seal on us, but, just as we mediate geographically, could we not also mediate spiritually?” Moreover, tradition represents for us a still active factor, which has been eroded for others “by the number of past centuries”. We are well able to combine tradition with modernity, which confers on us “a greater meeting than others with the values of the spirit.”32

67Such views can be expressed in a quite different ideological register to the communist one—they in fact correspond substantially to the right-wing discourse of the 1930s. It is no less true, however, that Ceauşescu himself could have felt at home with the idea of Romanian uniqueness, of the combination of tradition and modernity, and of Romania as a privileged place and mediating factor between the civilizations of the globe.

  • 33 Ceauşescu, Nicolae. Istoria poporului român (The history of the Romanian people). Ed. Ion Popescu- (...)

68Indeed, Ceauşescu sacrificed more than once on the altar of Romanian spirituality, evidently in a manner rather rudimentary than subtly philosophical. He liked to list the characteristics, without exception positive, which had been inherited from the Romans and the Dacians alike. Thus the Romanian people had preserved “from the Dacians the unextinguished thirst for liberty, the will not to bow down before any foreigner, the determination to remain always themselves, single masters of their life and destiny”, and from their other ancestors, “the rational spirit, judgement, and creative passion of the Romans”.33

  • 34 Zamfirescu, Dan. Cultura română, o mare cultură eu destin universal (Romanian culture: A great cul (...)
  • 35 Patapievici, H.-R Politice (Political essays). Bucharest: Humanitas, 1996, 63.

69The operation of identifying “what it means to be Romanian” seems to be far from having exhausted its resources and arguments. We might say that the first characteristic of the Romanians—if we venture to define one too—is the obsession with their own identity. Since 1989 we have seen a polarization of the discourse; on the one hand, nationalist exacerbation continues to exercise its appeal unrestrained, while on the other hand, less favorable, even downright unfavorable, opinions, can also be expressed openly. For an exegete of Romanian culture like Dan Zamfirescu the Romanians are inscribed among the world’s great creators of civilization,34 while at the other extreme, the reaction against such self-eulogies, accumulated frustrations, and the inevitable comparison with the balanced and performing civilization of the West can generate no less passionate appreciations, as in the essays of H.-R. Patapievici, in which the Romanians are defined as a people without backbone and of an inferior spiritual quality.35


70As we have seen, it is possible to say anything about the Romanians, or about any other people. And whatever is said can be just as easily accepted or contested. Ethnic psychology is a tempting exercise but completely without substance. It can never be a question of “scientific investigation”, but only of impressions and judgements which are inevitably partial and subjective. In the end, all the ethno-psychological approach does is to isolate and highlight general human qualities and defects. Can the Romanians be considered more intelligent than other people, for example? Of course not, any more than they can be considered less intelligent. Anyway, how could we seriously calculate the intelligence quotient of a nation? According to current scientific norms, only the identification of a specifically Romanian gene would enable us to maintain the essential individuality of the Romanians among the other peoples of the world.

71While there is undoubtedly a Romanian phenomenon, it is not bio-psychological in nature but springs from sociocultural structures and evolutions. The Romanian language is certainly an important factor of cohesion, on condition that we do not absolutize its virtues. Not all Romanians speak alike, even if they all speak Romanian. Not all Romanians think alike, even if they think in the same language. A “Romanian specific” may be approximated to, but not as an originary and transcendent given; rather as a fluid synthesis of diverse features. In recent times massive social restructuring and the action of the national organism upon its component elements have been continually modeling and remodeling the Romanians. If there is nowadays a particular Romanian way of being (a claim which can only be accepted with considerable reservations), then this is not due to any innate disposition but to a series of acquired habits, infused through cultural contexts, through schooling, through the action of dominant ideologies, through the modeling power of public opinion, and so on. We are bom as human beings and then “learn” to be Romanian, French, or Chinese. The impact of communism is revealing from this point of view. Its domination left a profound mark on Romanian spirituality. Due to half a century of communism, the Romanians are different than they were fifty years ago.

  • 36 Lovinescu, E. Istoria civilizatiei române moderne. Vol. 1. Bucharest: Ancora, 1924, 118.

72In any case, the most summary glance at Romanian culture illustrates the fact that the much-trumpeted national spirit (if we insist on invoking it at all) can only be the product of highly diverse “sectional” characteristics. Let us consider a single generation of classic writers: Maiorescu, Eminescu, Creangă, and Caragiale. Which of them—so different as they are from each other—can be considered representative, or uniquely representative, of the Romanian spirit? Do we really encounter the same elements of civilization and the same mentality from Bukovina to Teleorman? The totalitarian ideologies—first the extreme Right, then communism—went farthest in the direction of a fictive (and even, up to a point, materialized) making uniform of the Romanian space. Other interpretations, in contrast, have not been shy of drawing dividing lines, at least between the great provinces, the classic case being that of the opposition between Moldavia and Muntenia. Garabet Ibraileanu maintained that there were two distinctive spiritualities, Moldavian and Muntenian, in his book The Critical Spirit in Romanian Culture (1909), as did E. Lovinescu in The History of Modem Romanian Civilisation. While Ibraileanu put a special accent on historical and social determinants, Lovinescu saw the issue in purely psychological, and ultimately “racial”, terms. Starting from the concept of “race”, he claimed that the Moldavians, “by their contemplative nature, are inclined to poetic creation”, while “by their mobile, comprehensive and practical character, the Muntenians have directed their activities more onto the grounds of politics and economics”.36 From the psychological point of view, the Moldavians and Muntenians can thus appear as two distinct nations. This is the “danger” of ethnic psychology: you can prove anything with it—the inconsistency of the Romanian nation just as much as its homogeneity.

73In fact, the issue is predominantly social. The nation is too large and too diverse a conglomerate to be examined in the psychological laboratory. Group psychology, if we want it to be plausible and useful, must be limited to well-defined segments with a minimal level of coherence. The typical Romanian intellectual is certainly closer to European intellectuals in general than to the Romanian shepherd in the mountains or the fisherman in the Delta (and this is just as valid for other categories). The “psychology of the Romanian people” was based on the extrapolation of certain elements of traditional civilization (themselves made uniform and highly simplified). From this point of view the persistence here of certain traditional rural structures, at least in comparison with the dynamic and highly urbanized civilization of the West, encouraged the illusion of a Romania differently composed and with a different historical destiny.

  • * Urban periphery, slums. Trans.

74It is noticeable that this rural civilization was contrasted not only with the rest of the world but also, indeed primarily, with the other dimension of Romanian civilization: the urban sector. The towns, which were, it is true, substantially populated for a long time by other ethnic elements (Hungarians and Germans in Transylvania, many Jews in Moldavia, etc.) were taken out of the equation by the theoreticians of the national spirit. Their synthesis is no less Romanian than the rural synthesis, but it is Romanian in a different way, which upsets the schema of ethnic specificity. Between the rural and urban poles we might add the category, so massively present in modem Romanian history, of the mahala*, the intermediary zone between peasant culture and truly urban culture, the members of which have long ceased to be peasants without becoming townspeople in more than a formal sense. After being x-rayed by Caragiale at the end of the last century, the mahala saw a massive expansion in the communist years (albeit under the new guise of districts of tower blocks) as a result of forced industrialization and migration into the towns. This disoriented population, cut off from tradition but not yet integrated in modernity, represented, and continues to represent, an important mass, vulnerable to political and electoral maneuvering. The village, the mahala, and the urban nucleus may be seen as “ideal types”, each with its own spiritual, cultural, and behavioral configuration. The only condition is that we do not forget that within these models diversity reigns. The Romanians are Romanians, but beyond that they cannot be reduced to a single human type.

75To conclude, ethnic psychology is not something given from the origins, but a fluid amalgam of varied attitudes and behaviors, which have their source in history and evolve according to its rhythms. As European integration proceeds and the social structures are modernized, the differences between the Romanian and Western profiles will be attenuated. But they will not disappear. Neither the West nor the Romanian space is, or will ever be, uniform, and still less Europe as a whole. We may hope, however, that the things which bring us closer to each other will prove stronger than those which separate us, or which we think separate us.


* Ţara Românească. the usual Romanian name for Wallachia. Trans.

* Mioritic. adjective from “Mioriţa”, the well-known Romanian ballad of the shepherd and the ewe lamb; suggestive of an undulating landscape suitable for pastoral life. Trans.

* Dor is usually translated as “longing”; it often has connotations of melancholy, as in dor de casă (“homesickness”). Trans.

* Urban periphery, slums. Trans.

** Muntenia, the dominant region of Wallachia, stands here for the whole principality. Trans.

1 Kogălniceanu, Mihail. Opere. Vol. 2, 394.

2 Xenopol, A. D. Istoria românilor din Dacia Traiană. Vol. 1. Iaşi: H. Goldner, 1888, 19-20.

3 Ibid. Vol. 3, 1890, 399-400.

4 Onciul, Dimitrie. Din istoria României. Bucharest Editura Socec, 1908, 76.

5 Sîrbu, Ioan. Istoria lui Mihai Viteazul Vol 2. Bucharest: “Carol Göbl”, 1907, 5-6.

6 Iorga, Nicolae. Istoria românilor pentru poporul românesc. Vol 1. Bucharest Editura Minerva, 1993, 210-211.

7 Ibid., 214.

8 Xenopol, A. D. op. cit. Vol. 2, 1889, 292.

9 Murgescu, Mirela-Luminiţa. “Galeria naţională de personaje istorice in manualele de istorie din şcoala primară (1859—1900)” (The national gallery of historical characters in primary school history textbooks, 1859—1900). Mituri istorice româneşti. Under the direction of Lucian Boia. Bucharest Editura Universităţi Bucureşti, 1995, 40.

10 Lupas, Ioan. Istoria unirii románilor. Bucharest: Fundaţia Culturală Regală “Principele Carol”, 1937, 43, 148.

11 Brătianu, G. I. Origines et formation de l’unité roumaine (Origins and formation of Romanian unity). Bucharest, 1943, 10-13.

12 Ibid., 138.

13 Ibid., 158-159.

14 Roller, Mihail, ed. Istoria R.P.R. Bucharest, 1952 edition, 230.

15 Ibid., 367.

16 Istoria militară a poporului român. Vol. 2. Bucharest: Editura Militară, 1986, 308: “As lord of Moldavia, protector of Wallachia, and supported and followed by the Transylvanians, he was seen at the time, both by Romanians and by foreigners, as the political leader of the entire Romanian space.” Adina Berciu Drăghicescu and Florea Stănculescu, in Temeiurile istorice ale primei uniri a románilor (The historical foundations of the first union of the Romanians). Bucharest, 1993, 125-126, no longer even feel the need for any explanation, stating simply and categorically: “Stephen the Great may be considered, without exaggeration, lord of all the Romanians.”

17 Dogaru, Mircea. Dracula, impăratul Răsăritului (Dracula, emperor of the east). Bucharest: Editura Globus, 1995.

18 Cristea, Ovidiu. “Frontul românesc antiotoman în secolele XIV—XV: realitate istorică sau mit istoriografic?” (The Romanian anti-Ottoman front in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries: Historical reality or historiographical myth?). Miturile comunismului românesc. Under the direction of Lucian Boia. Bucharest: Editura Universităţii Bucureşti, 1995, 166—171.

19 Bodea. Cornelia. Lupta românilor pentru unitatea natională 1834—1849 (The struggle of the Romanians for national unity, 1834—1849). Bucharest: Editura Academiei, 1967.

20 Istoria românilor. Epoca moderna şi contemporană (The history of the Romanians: The modem and contemporary period). 8th grade textbook. Bucharest: Editura Didactică şi Pedagogică, 1992, 45.

21 A remarkable achievement from this point of view is the “portrait of France” minutely reconstructed by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, in collaboration with Paul Dumont and Michel Demonet, in “Anthropologie de la jeunesse masculine en France au niveau d’une cartographie cantonale (1819—1830)” (Anthropology of masculine youth in France at the level of district cartography, 1819—1830), reproduced in he territoire de l’historien (The territory of the historian). By Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. Paris: Gallimard, 1978, 98—175. Where physical build is concerned, for example, there are départements where deficiencies of height (under 1.57 m.) affect over a quarter of the male population, while in others they affect less than 1 percent. From the cultural point of view, the literacy rate in some départements is over 80 percent, while in others it falls below 10 percent.

22 Cîmpeanu, Pavel. De patru ori în fata umelor (Four times at the ballot box). Bucharest, 1993.

23 Drăghicescu, Dumitru. Din psihologia poporului român. 1907. 2nd edition. Bucharest: Editura Albatros, 1995, 141.

24 Ibid., 138, 400.

25 Ibid., 345, 353, 356, 361.

26 Blaga, Lucian. Spaţiul mioritic. 1936. Bucharest Humanitas, 1994, 165—166.

27 Ornea, Z. Anii treizeci Extrema dreaptă românească (The 1930s: The Romanian extreme Right). Bucharest: Editura Fundaţaei Culturale Române, 1995, 91-95.

28 Blaga, Lucian. op. cit., 164.

29 Vulcănescu, Mircea. Dimensiunea româneascâ a existenţei. Editura Fundaţiei Culturale Române, 1991, 130-149.

30 Călinescu, George. Istoria literaturii române de la origini pinâ în prezent (The history of Romanian literature from its origins to the present day). Bucharest: Fundaţia Regală pentru Literatură şi Artă, 1941, 886.

31 Noica, Constantin. Sentimentul românesc al fiinţei. Bucharest Editura Eminescu, 1978, 62.

32 Ibid., 11.

33 Ceauşescu, Nicolae. Istoria poporului român (The history of the Romanian people). Ed. Ion Popescu-Puţuri. Bucharest: Editura Politică, 1983, 118, 121.

34 Zamfirescu, Dan. Cultura română, o mare cultură eu destin universal (Romanian culture: A great culture with a universal destiny). Bucharest: Editura “Roza Vînturilor”, 1996.

35 Patapievici, H.-R Politice (Political essays). Bucharest: Humanitas, 1996, 63.

36 Lovinescu, E. Istoria civilizatiei române moderne. Vol. 1. Bucharest: Ancora, 1924, 118.

© Central European University Press, 2001

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