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In Search of a Usable Past: The Question of National Identity in Romanian Studies, 1990-2000
Constantin Iordachi and Balzs Trencsnyi East European Politics and Societies 2003 17: 415 DOI: 10.1177/0888325403255308 The online version of this article can be found at:

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10.1177/0888325403255308 In East Search European of a Usable PoliticsPast and Societies


In Search of a Usable Past: The Question of National Identity in Romanian Studies, 1990-2000
Constantin Iordachi and Balzs Trencsnyi*

This article offers an overview of the scholarly debates on Romanian nation building and national ideology during the first post-communist decade. It argues that the globalization of history writing and the increasing access of local intellectual discourses to the international market of ideas had a powerful impact on both Eastern European history writing and on the Western scholarly literature dealing with the region. In regard to Romanian historiography, the article identifies a conflict between an emerging reformist school that has gained significant terrain in the last decade and a traditionalist canon, based on the national-communist heritage of the Ceaus7escu regime, preserving a considerable influence at the institutional level. In analyzing their clash, the article proposes an analytical framework that relativizes the traditional dichotomy between Westernizers and autochthonists, accounting for a multitude of ideological combinations in the post-1989 Romanian cultural space. In view of the Western history writing on Romania, the article identifies a methodological shift from socialpolitical narratives to historical anthropology and intellectual history. On this basis, it evaluates the complex interplay of local and external historiographic discourses in setting new research agendas, experimenting with new methodologies, and reconsidering key analytical concepts of the historical research on Eastern Europe. Keywords: Eastern Europe; Romania; historiography; nationalism; nation building; post-communist political culture; authochtonism; modernization

I. The annus mirabilis of 1989 occasioned an unprecedented opportunity for convergence and cooperation between Western academic research and local scholarship in Eastern Europe. Looking back to the period between 1945 and 1989, it was a gen* The authors would like to thank Sorin Antohi, Gail Kligman, Irina Livezeanu and Alfred Rieber for their valuable comments and suggestions on earlier versions of the article.
East European Politics and Societies, Vol. 17, No. 3, pages 415453. ISSN 0888-3254 2003 by the American Council of Learned Societies. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1177/0888325403255308


eral specificity of Eastern European studies that Western and Eastern European historiographies were evolving separately, with limited scholarly interaction. As there was a local production of historiography, heavily dependent on the troubled political conditions, there was also a separate Western corpus of works on Eastern Europe, informed by the analytical categories generally employed by social sciences in the West and often influenced by the priorities of an inherent political agenda. After 1989, national historiographies in Eastern Europe have been challenged to overcome their underlying parochialism and to internalize the theoretical and methodological achievements that marked the development of Western social sciences. Nevertheless, the interaction between the two branches has not been one-directional. The fusion of the two parallel developments was not simply necessitated by the alleged backwardness of local scholarly production in Eastern Europe. In fact, from the 1980s on, topics that have been in the focus of national historiographies in the region, most importantly the emergence and development of national ideology, became of paramount interest for the Western historiographic discourse as well. In the 1990s, the problem of nation-statehood came to the foreground of interests in East and West alike because of the disintegration of the multiethnic state projects in the former Soviet bloc and also because of the upsurge of regionalism that went along with the European supranational project. This article explores the post-1989 cross-cultural dialogue and methodological interaction between Western and local scholars working on Romania. The analysis concentrates on the interrelated issues of state building and national identity, themes that have traditionally dominated Romanian historiography, and looks at representative Western and Romanian authors and historiographic discourses. It offers an overview of the post-1989 scholarly literature on Romanian national ideology, assessing its main intellectual trends and evaluating its place in the context of Eastern European studies. The central dilemma of Eastern European intellectual history, usually described as the conflict between imitation of the West and its repudiation, is characteristic of the Romanian national 416 In Search of a Usable Past

tradition as well. The reading of Romanian culture in terms of a duality of polarized intellectual traditions has been an established blueprint in Romanian cultural discourses throughout the modern period. This dichotomy was first utilized as a sophisticated ideological framework by the Westernizer leadership of the 1848 revolution in the Romanian principalities, especially in Wallachia, and emerged, with different accents, as an authoritative intellectual formula in the discourses of the conservative Junimea circle in the 1870s and 1880s. In the interwar period, it ran central to all major political and cultural productions: mutatis mutandis, we find similar formulations in the works of modernists, such as the literary critic and cultural historian Eugen Lovinescu; in radically antimodernist authors, such as Nichifor Crainic; as well as in the texts of the young generation (tnara generatie) emerging in the late 1920s. Notwithstanding the reciprocal influences and mutual contamination of the two sides, the vision of a dichotomy between autochthonists and Europeanists became a modus operandi of Romanian cultural elites, internalized and reproduced by major sociopolitical actors, and assumed by authoritative scholarly works on Romanian culture as well. This model came to play a central role in Western historical works on Romanian cultural and intellectual history, too, due especially to Katherine Verderys extremely insightful and influential book, National Ideology under Socialism. Verdery used the autochthonist/Westernizer dichotomy to interpret the conflicts within the Romanian intelligentsia in the 1970s over the status and structure of the historical tradition, most importantly the socalled protochronism debate.1 This framework proved highly illuminating for understanding Romanian cultural debates during the communist period. In trying to test the relevance of this interpretative framework for the post-communist cultural developments, the present article argues that it is the dynamic of the polemic that has linked otherwise dissimilar positions and has
1. Protochronism, probably the most paradigmatic cultural phenomenon of the Ceaus7escu regime, asserted that all major achievements of European culture and society were invented by Romanians. See Katherine Verdery, National Ideology under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceausescus Romania (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 167214.

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arranged divergent standpoints into a monolithic counterposition, operating according to the logic of asymmetrical counter2 concepts memorably described by Reinhart Koselleck. In fact, the various anti-Western positions might well be converging only from a modernist perspective that seeks to define the enemy. This can be read the other way round as well: the various modernisms might be overlapping only if regarded from a radical antimodernist position. This feature is also revealed by the terminological framework applied by various participants in the debates over national identity in Romania. Although the majority of participants agree in identifying the essence of Romanias cultural history in view of a counterposition, they profoundly disagree over the definition of the two poles. Certain interpretations are describing the conflict of traditionalists and modernists, others talk about autochthonists versus Westernizers or nationalists versus pro-Europeans. In the historiographic context, we find a common interpretative model confronting protochronists and antiprotochronists, while others define the conflict in terms of a fight between the nationalist vulgate and the elites opting for the adoption of European ideas. If we try to project all these counterpositions on two clear-cut poles, we find interesting results. For example, the addressee of the dedication of Verderys above-mentioned work was the veteran historian from Cluj, David Prodan, who courageously turned against the protochronist megalomania and who was consequently portrayed as one of the most positive figures of the 3 book. In the nineties, however, Prodan emerged not as a proponent of Europeanism but as an author of nationalist pamphlets. His case shows that in the post-1989 cultural space, the dichotomy between the two contrasting positions was not so sharp but was represented rather by a continuum of combinations ranging from one end of the political spectrum to the other. This article, therefore, reasserts the problematic relationship between modernity and national tradition as a crucial dimension of cultural selfreflection in post-1989 Romania. Nevertheless, in view of these
2. Cf. Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985). 3. To David Prodan and to all those who, like him, said No! some even with their lives.


In Search of a Usable Past

hybrid combinations, it argues that the various cultural discourses should not be described only in terms of this polarity. The article is made up of four major parts, focusing on some principal themes of the current academic literature concerning the historical formation of Romanian national identity. The first theme is the emergence of national consciousness in the early modern period and its gradual politicization resulting, by the middle of the nineteenth century, in modern nationalism. The second theme, particularly debated in the historical writing throughout the 1990s, concerns the origins of radical nationalist movements and ideologies in Romania and, especially, the history of the Iron Guard. The third issue is the role and responsibility of the intelligentsia in the creation of radical identity politics, particularly in view of the interwar period. The fourth topic is the intricate relationship between communism and nationalism in Romania, especially crucial for devising an interpretation of the emergence of the syncretic national-communist ideology under 4 the regime led by Nicolae Ceaus7escu. II. Romanian historiography has been traditionally dominated by the themes of nation and state building. This might be explained by the fact that in the case of Romania, this process was particularly complex. Greater Romania (1918-40) was an aggregate of different historical provinces: the former principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia (unified in 1859); the former Ottoman province of Dobrudja (annexed in 1878); the former Russian
4. Marked by space constraints, this article cannot address many important branches of Romanian historiography, such as the acute debates over the Holocaust, the nature of the regime led by Ion Antonescu (1940-44), or the history of ethnic minorities in Romania, which, given their complexity, would deserve separate treatment. For general overviews of the post-1989 state of Romanian historiography, see Dennis Deletant, Rewriting the Past: Trends in Contemporary Romanian Historiography, Ethnic and Racial Studies 14 (1991): 64-86; Keith Hitchins, Historiography of the Countries of Eastern Europe: Romania, American Historical Review 97 (1992): 1064-83; Paul E. Michelson, Reshaping Romanian Historiography: Some Actonian Perspectives, Romanian Civilization 1 (1994): 3-23; Andrei Pippidi, Une histoire en reconstruction, in Antoine Mars, ed., Histoire et pouvoir en Europe mdiane (Paris: LHarmattan, 1996), 239-62; Alexandru Zub, Discurs istoric s7i tranzitie (Ias7i, Romania: Institutul European, 1998); and, most recently, Bogdan Murgescu, A fi Istoric in anul 2000 (Bucharest, Romania: All Educational, 2000).

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province (1812-1918) of Bessarabia; the former Austrian province (1775-1918) of Bukovina; and territories that were part of the Hungarian half of the Habsburg Monarchy, such as Transylvania, Banat, Maramures7, and the Partium. The union of these provinces catalyzed an arduous process of elite bargaining, administrative unification, and a thrust for cultural homogenization. Since this process of homogenization has been contested, and the various components of identity, such as territorial statehood, ethnicity, language, and religion, have never been completely overlapping, Romanian nation building implied various, rather contradictory aims, discourses, and policies. The early modern context of nationalism has not been a main area of scholarly interest in the 1990s. Classical works on the early modern forms of national identity have been written, however, throughout the post-1945 period, with the partial exception of the late 1940s and early 1950s, when the historical production in Romania was overly ideological and did not tolerate meaningful research on the national question. One can list significant figures mainly from the 1970 and 1980s: besides the works of two prominent cultural historians, Pompiliu Teodor and Alexandru 7 important contributions were made by Adolf Armbruster Dutu, (on the intricate question of the medieval and early modern ethnic self-identification of Romanians), S7tefan Lemny (on the intellectual history of patriotism), and Andrei Pippidi (on the impact of the Byzantine legacy on the identity constructions of the Wallachian and Moldavian political elites).5 In the historiography concerning the period, one can clearly identify a dividing line between the adepts of the nationalist vulgate, committed to the vision of a linear evolution of the nation from premodern times to the glorious present, and the cautious professional historians, who were trying to describe this process in terms of the ambivalence of identity formation. However, since the mythopoetics of national identity was concentrating either on ThracoDaco-Roman archaism, or on the national contentions activated
5. Adolf Armbruster, Romanitatea romnilor. Istoria unei idei (Bucharest, Romania: Editura Enciclopedica*, 1972); S7tefan Lemny, Originea si cristalizarea ideii de patrie n cultura romna (Bucharest, Romania: Minerva, 1986); Andrei Pippidi, Traditia politica bizantina n tarile romne n secolele XVI-XVIII (Bucharest, Romania: Editura Academiei, 1983).


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by the modern process of state building, the real battles were not fought over the early modern period. Therefore, the different historiographical approaches on this period were not so dramatically clashing as in the historiography on romantic nationalism or on the twentieth century. We can find a typical example of this relatively peaceful coexistence of autochthonist and Westernizer discourses in the post7 , who 1989 works of the erudite cultural historian Alexandru Dut u made steady efforts to update his referential system by incorporating recent Western discussions on nation building and nation formation (such as the works of Ernest Gellner, Benedict Anderson, or Hagen Schulze) and to present these references to the Romanian audience. By tracing the dilemmas of Romanian national identity from the premodern contexts to recent times, 7 sought to devise a model of nation formation in view of Dut u 6 Southeast Europe. He intended to account for developments in the more advanced European societies and also for the peripheral cultures without falling into the trap of making one-sided value judgements, either on behalf of the developed West or on behalf of the abandoned, suffering, or unique Balkan civilization. Without negating the external impact in catalyzing 7 emphasized the local national development in the region, Dut u modification of Western doctrines. In doing so, he sought to prove that the ideological answers of these societies to the powerful but ambivalent pressure of modernity cannot be discarded as boorish or reactionary, but weresometimes very sophisticatedattempts to harmonize the program of social and cultural transformation with the local structures of social organization, which he described in terms of communitarian (Gemeinschaft) patterns. The main focus of the theories of nationalism, and also the most crucial period of the formation of modern Romanian national identity, has been, however, the nineteenth century. Most of the general syntheses of Romanian history are, therefore, concentrating on the emergence of national ideology and nationstatehood. By and large, the local historiographic canon is still
7 , Ideea de Europa si evolutia constiintei europene (Bucharest, Romania: All 6. Alexandru Dut u Educational, 1999) (edited posthumously).

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dominated by the national-romantic vulgate, so it is not by chance that we have to turn to foreign authors for the most important synthetic works on this topic. Keith Hitchins, professor at the University of Illinois, authored the most solid and comprehensive syntheses on the history of Romanians. In two major volumes, published in the mid-nineties, Hitchins focused on the process of nation and state building in Romania in the modern 7 period. In his view, in the first half of the nineteenth century, the main components of this process were the rationalization of the government; legal codification; the separation of powers; the regulation of public finances; and the formation of a well-trained, professional bureaucracy. At the social level, Hitchins identified the engine of change in the conflict between the upper aristocracy (great boyars) and an emerging native middle class composed of small groups of wealthy merchants; entrepreneurs; and members of the liberal professions, notably lawyers. According to Hitchins, since the institutions of political modernity were the creation of a handful of Romanian intellectuals, the political system was characterized by low-level participation, the preeminence of the executive, the excessive centralization of the administration, and the factionalism of the parties. In addition, the process of modernization exhibited the underlying cleavages between the slow economic development, lagging behind that of political institutions, and the rapidly modernizing elite mentalities. This process resulted in the alienation between the urban, commercial outlook of the new Westernized intellectual and political elite and the religious and folk traditions of earlier centuries.8 In his works written during the 1990s, Hitchins thus placed his discussion of Romanian development within the framework of the symbolic conflict between autochthonists and Westernizers. His narrative brings together social, political, and intellectual aspects, relating economic debates about sheltered industrialization to cultural controversies, and connecting the analysis of social and demographic change to the structural modifications of
7. Keith Hitchins, The Romanians, 1774-1866 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996); and Hitchins, Rumania, 1866-1947 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994). 8. Hitchins, The Romanians, 2.


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the political-institutional framework. His study of Romanian state formation remains compatible with the perspective of the local Romanian historical writing, as he offers a historical narrative from the perspective of the nation-building center. Unlike mainstream Romanian historians, however, Hitchins puts special emphasis on a deep structural link between the specific social determinants of the emergence of the nation-state and the sharp political-intellectual conflicts dividing the elite that implemented the state-building project. Another integrative figure who in many ways abridges the pre1989 and post-1989 periods of Romanian historiography is the multifarious historian from Ias7i, Alexandru Zub. In his prolific work, dedicated mostly to the study of Romanian historiography, Zub has been mainly interested in tracing the convergence and interference of Romanian intellectual history with Western developments. In his recent essays, he argues that Romanian intelligentsia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries produced cultural and historiographic discourses closely related, and thus comparable, to Western developments. This successstory was brutally interrupted by the mid-twentieth-century breakthrough of totalitarianism (Right and Left, both alien to the Romanian cultural space), destroying the textures of this intellectual synchronicity and leaving the Romanian intelligentsia in the precarious post-communist limbo of trying to modernize its own framework of references in line with the challenges of globalization, while returning, simultaneously, to the discursive patterns of the cultural flourishing of the interwar period. If we look at the younger generations of historians dealing with Romania, it is not surprising that we encounter critical and more deconstructivist perspectives on the ideological heritage of Romanian nationalism. One of the most acute observers and critiques of the Romanian national historiographic canon is the French historian Catherine Durandin, who wrote an insightful account of the itinerary of Romantic ideas from France to Russia, Poland and the Romanian Principalities, titled Rvolution la franaise ou la russe.9 In her chapters on Romania, she asserted
9. Catherine Durandin, Rvolution la franaise ou la russe: Polonais, Roumains et Russes au XIXe sicle (Paris: P.U.F., 1989).

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that the Romanian political elite adopted the ideology of nationhood from French sources, especially from Jules Michelet. Drawing on ample documents of the romance between the French prophet of the Revolution and the tiny Europeanized elite of a nation to be made through a revolutionary transformation la franaise, Durandin offered an extraordinary insight into the psychological and cultural mechanisms catalyzing the nationstate-centered modernization projects at the peripheries of Europe. Describing the process of national identity formation, she identified the roots of radical identity politics that became prevalent in Romania throughout the twentieth century. In many ways complementing Durandins attempts to subvert the romantic canon, the book by a young historian from Cluj, Sorin Mitu, mapped the identity mechanisms of the emerging 10 Romanian elite of Transylvania. Mitus book is a historical analysis of the formation of national stereotypes and of the thematization of national consciousness in the nineteenth century. It starts with enumerating the identity mechanisms connected with the image of the collective self and of the others and then turns to the various representations of Romanianness, as compared to other ethnic communities (Gypsies, Jews, Germans, and Hungarians), analyzing both the pejorative registers and the topoi of positive self-stereotypes concerning the historical, moral, demographic, linguistic, and religious qualities of Romanians. The process of Romanian national identity formation in Transylvania, as depicted by Mitu, is different from what happened in Moldavia or in Wallachia. In all three historical regions, the formative experience behind the emergence of nationalism was similarly rooted in an attempt of emulating the significant others, resulting in a profound identity crisis and, ultimately, a program of cultural and political autarchy. There are nevertheless significant differences in their respective social and cultural ingredients. Although the principalities were under nominal Turkish sovereignty and experienced an increasing Russian influence, the young Moldo-Wallachian boyars were part of the local
10. Sorin Mitu, Geneza identitatii nationale la romnii ardeleni (Bucharest, Romania: Humanitas, 1997). Translated into English as National Identity of Romanians in Transylvania (Budapest, Hungary: CEU Press, 2001).


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power elite, acquiring their formative cultural experience of cultural otherness in Western educational centers. In contrast, the Transylvanian Romanian elite was in a subordinate position in its own political-cultural setting, and it encountered the dominant others at home, thus producing a nationalist discourse based on a constant confrontation with the privileged ethnic groups, such as Hungarians and Germans. The divergence between various branches of the national movements in the three historical regions is a natural focus for any historiographic attempt aiming at the relativization of the doctrine of unitary nationhood. One can find an emphatic attempt to extol these differences in the works of the Transylvanianborn Hungarian historian Bla Borsi-Klmn, who analyzed the striking difference between the stances taken by the Moldavian and Wallachian political elites toward the Hungarian revolutionaries trying to use the principalities as a hinterland of their operations after the collapse of the 1848 to 1849 revolutionary govern11 ment. Pointing out the different degrees of urbanization, patterns of land ownership, and mechanisms of assimilation and elite formation in the two principalities, he concluded that the more emphatically nobility-based composition of the Moldavian reformist elite was comparable to the Central European type of reform movementssuch as the Polish, Hungarian, or Croatian onesalso emerging from the middle nobility. Conversely, the more urban, middle-class basis of the Wallachians made them more receptive to the French romantic ideology of citoyennet, encompassed by the framework of a homogenizing nation-state. Consequently, the Moldavian and Wallachian elites engaged in intense political rivalries after the establishment of a unified state in 1859. In the long run, however, the more radical democraticnationalist Wallachian component, incorporating certain elements from the irredenta nationalism propagated by Transylvanians, proved to be more in line with the logic of political modernity, based on the ideological mobilization of the
11. Bla Borsi-Klmn, Nemzetfogalom s nemzetstratgik. A Kossuth-emigrci s a romn nemzeti trekvsek kapcsolatnak trtnethez (Budapest, Hungary: Akadmiai, 1993). See also his Liaisons risques. Hongrois et Roumains aux XVIIIe et XXe sicles (Pcs, Hungary: Jelenkor, 1999).

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masses. As a whole, however, the politics of the unification between Moldova and Wallachia has received limited attention, since the process was considered, in a way, natural by the traditional nationalist historiography.12 The most encompassing challenge to the nationalist historiographic narrative was posed by the University of Bucharest professor of history Lucian Boia, whose interpretations are rooted in a comprehensive theory of historical narrativity. The historical text, according to Boia, is a quite arbitrary discursive construction, but it also yields an important fabric of social cohesion, being the preferred medium of the expression of collective 13 consciousness. One can prove everything and the contrary of everything with historical arguments, but this does not mean that our narrative structures of formatting historical experience are not molded into very strict systematic forms. Everything goes through our brain and imagination, from the simplest representation to the most scientific constructions, but there is indeed a specific historical logic, a peculiar mechanism of digesting and 14 actualizing the past. The normative politics of historicity imposes itself on us exactly through these logical structures, as it creates its specific reconstructions of the past in the colorful scenarios of the presentiment of the future, the escape from history, or the fight of the contraries. Significantly, Boias interpretation thus created an intricate link between the romantic nationalist discourses and the ideological developments of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, according to Boia, the period after 1918 witnessed a new type of nationalism in line with the emergence of modern mass politics in Romania. This new historical mythology, however, was not aiming at the legitimization of a democratic system but rather at the construction of an ethno12. An important book, appearing in the late eighties to challenge these stereotypes, was published by the American historian Paul E. Michelson: Conflict and Crisis: Romanian Political Development, 1861-1871 (New York: Garland, 1987), republished as a revised edition: Romanian Politics, 1859-1871: From Prince Cuza to Prince Carol (Ias7i, Romania: Center for Romanian Studies, 1998). Concentrating on the first decade following the establishment of the modern Romanian nation-state (1860-71), Michelson argues that the union between the two principalities generated a complex structural crisis of the new state. 13. Lucian Boia, Jocul cu trecutul: istoria ntre adevar si fictiune (Bucharest, Romania: Humanitas, 1998), 6. 14. Ibid., 6.


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political discourse and praxis. In this interpretation, the historiographic myths proliferating after 1945 are basically the logical results of this mutant discursive modernization. The cult of Romanian ethnic continuity, referred back to prehistoric timelessness, is also a perverted mythological manifestation of political modernity, where the repetition of founding acts, periodically confirming this continuity, ultimately means a regression into the bottomless well of the past. Boias most thorough attempt to deconstruct the Romanian historical mythology was put forward in his book, Istorie si mit 15 n constiinta romneasca. In his opinion, the way to the total revision of the Romanian cultural canon leads through the demolition of the illusion of historical objectivity: that is, making the public conscious of the mythical nature of these historiographic constructions. Boia thus proposed the most captivating paradigm of the new Romanian historiography, reaching a pivotal position in contemporary Romanian cultural discourse. Nevertheless, while his models were utilized by numerous historians of the post-1989 new generation, some authors distanced themselves 16 from his epistemological relativism and textualism. III. One of the most important topics in post-1989 Romanian historiography has been the creation of Greater Romania after the First World War. The sides of the ongoing historiographical debate concerning this issue have been generally characterized as revisionists and traditionalists. Within the traditionalist camp, however, we can identify at least two considerably divergent trends. The first approach, numerically still the dominant one, is highly influenced by the romantic-nationalist canon of historiography and relies on the triumphalist historiography of the 1920s and 1930s centered on the accomplishment of Greater Romania. Its main tenet is that Romanians, although subjects to different
15. Boia, Istorie si mit n constiinta romneasca* (Bucharest, Romania: Humanitas, 1997). Translated into English as History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness (Budapest, Hungary: CEU Press, 2001). 16. See, for example, Sorin Alexandrescu, Paradoxul Romn (Bucharest, Romania: Univers, 1998), 27.

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multiethnic empires, have always been fighting for a political union. The Romanian nation-state has been a natural and objective historical outcome of this struggle. This approach is also pervaded by historical resentments against the policies of denationalization in Austria-Hungary and the post-1918 irrendentist policies of Hungary, themes that have been central to communist historiography and to contemporary Romanian his17 tory writing as well. The second group tries to enlarge the national-communist canon, enriching it by publishing collections of documents and by tackling previously neglected or avoided topics, such as the competing nationalist and federalist projects, the religious or sociodemographic aspects, or the debates taking place in 1918 18 over the future organization of the country. An important example of this trend is Florin Constantinius book O istorie sincera a Poporului Romn (A Sincere History of 19 the Romanian People). The author claims to break with the national-communist canon and to provide a sincere and comprehensive history of Romania, mainly by denouncing the primordialist claims about the existence of a pervasive Romanian ethnic consciousness in the premodern period. He also puts forward harsh criticisms of the Romanian political system, both in the nineteenth century and in the interwar period. However, he devotes less attention to the questions of ethnic intolerance, particularly with regard to the periods of dictatorship, such as the Antonescu regime (1940-44) and the communist era. Although criticizing the romantic narrative, Constantiniu did not explicitly question the hard core of traditional Romanian historiography, namely, the apotheosis of Romanian nation-statehood. The most successful attempt to reconstruct the Romanian historiographic canon, situated between the overtly revisionist and the traditionalist sides, is the ample synthesis entitled Istoria
17. A representative work of this trend is the massive collective volume sponsored by Gheorghe Funar, the nationalist mayor of Cluj: Anton Dragoescu, ed., Istoria Romniei. 7 1997-99). Transilvania, 2 vols. (Cluj, Romania: George Baritiu, 18. For such an approach, see Liviu Maior, Memorandul. Filosofia politico-istorica a petitionalismului romnesc (Cluj, Romania: Editura Fundat i7 ei Culturale Romne, 1992). 19. Florin Constantiniu, O istorie sincera a Poporului Romn (Bucharest, Romania: Univers Enciclopedic, 1997).


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romnilora result of a particularly fruitful collaboration between prominent foreign and Romanian authors. In the parts on ancient, medieval, and early-modern history, Mihai Ba*rbulescu, S7tefan Papacostea, and Pompiliu Teodor offered balanced interpretations, renouncing the primordialist and ethnocentric claims of the traditional Romanian historiographic discourse. Furthermore, the modern period was entrusted to two prominent foreign historians, Keith Hitchins and Dennis Deletant, considered as being detached from the local conflicts 20 of interests. The revisionist side emerged quite recently and is represented 21 mainly by a new generation of Romanian historians. Although their methodological commitments and research agendas are rather heterogeneous, these historians are ultimately united in the effort of de-mystifying the nation-state. Consequently, they concentrate on the study of regionalism and local history, on the history of the imaginary, and on the multicultural past of historical regions such as Transylvania, or the Banat. As the revisionist camp is far from being institutionalized at home, it is not by chance that the most encompassing formulation of the implications of this perspective was put forward by the Romanian-born American historian Irina Livezeanu in her Cultural Politics in 22 Greater Romania. The book consists of two parts. The first part analyzes the process of cultural unification of the historical provinces that were to constitute Greater Romania. Based on Ernest Gellners theory of nationalism, Livezeanu gives a detailed analysis of the policies of centralization and sociocultural homogenization implemented by Bucharest after World War I. She challenges the traditional Romanian historical narrative on several
20. Mihai Ba*rbulescu et al., Istoria romnilor (Bucharest, Romania: Editura Enciclopedica*, 1998), 7. 21. Some of their most important works: Florin Gogltan and Sorin Mitu, eds., Viat7a privata, mentalitati colective si imaginar social n Transilvania (Oradea, Cluj-Napoca, Romania: Asociat i7 a Istoricilor din Transilvania s7i Banat, 1995-96); Toader Nicoara*, Transilvania la nceputurile timpurilor moderne 1680-1800. Societate rurala s7i mentalitati colective (Cluj, Romania: Presa Universitara* Clujeana*, 1997); Maria Cra*ciun and Ovidiu Ghitta, eds., Ethnicity and Religion in Central and Eastern Europe (Cluj, Romania: Cluj University Press, 1995); Ovidiu Pecican, Troia, Venetia, Roma. Studii de istoria civilizatiei europene (Cluj, Romania: Fundat i7 a pentru studii europene, 1998). 22. Irina Livezeanu, Cultural Politics in Greater Romania: Regionalism, Nation Building, and Ethnic Struggle, 1918-1930 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995).

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accounts. First, Livezeanu considers Romanian national identity not as a perennial given but as a socially determined and historically developed feature. The considerable regional and cultural differences thus made the process of cultural homogenization troubled and protracted, resulting in a veritable Kulturkampf. Second, she presents the 1918 union as a Trojan horse for Romanian democracy, bringing along not just a moment of glory but also a number of inherent social and political dilemmas. Third, Livezeanu points out that while the centralization was promoted principally by the political elites of the Old Kingdom, in the peripheries it often catalyzed a powerful regionalist resistance. Consequently, she explores the social and cultural roots of regionalism in Greater Romania and highlights the contradictory social-political stance taken by the Romanian elite in AustriaHungary that included not only unionists but also loyalist, federalist, and autonomist options. The second part of the book concentrates on the genesis of fascism in Romania, a subject that has been dominating the historical research on the interwar period over the past decade. However, while a majority of the new studies concentrated unilaterally on the 1930s, Livezeanus book was a significant exception, since it focused on the previous decade and placed the emergence of the Iron Guard in the context of the nation-building agenda of Greater Romania. Livezeanu identifies a natural alliance, in the framework of the homogenization process, between the political and bureaucratic center, cultivating an official nationalism, and the radical-nationalist student movement. She puts forward a sociological explanation of this alliance: in the absence of a Romanian urban middle-class, the political power had to rely upon the young nationalist intelligentsia since they represented the only nationalpan-Romanian and antiregionalistelite that was meant to mediate between the overwhelming rural masses and the state apparatus. At the same time, as products of the modern educational system, the young nationalists were entirely dependent on obtaining positions in the expanding bureaucratic apparatus. The fusion between the prevailing nationalist discourses based on generational solidarityaggravated by the collapse of the bureaucratic job market 430 In Search of a Usable Past

and the rise of intellectual unemployment in the late twenties generated an explosive political combination. Livezeanus book was part of a larger wave of academic interest in the Iron Guard. Initially, research on Romanian fascism in the West was stimulated by the shift in the scholarly agenda from the study of generic fascism in the 1960s and early 1970s to the 23 history of fascism in particular countries. In this context, two prominent students of fascism, Ernst Nolte and Eugen Weber, appealed for an intensified scholarly research of the Iron Guard, 24 regarded as an unusual variety of fascism. This evaluation was due to a variety of reasons. First, the Iron Guard was a vigorous political force, among the few in East-Central Europe, along with the Arrow Cross in Hungary and the Croatian Ustasha Movement, to become a mass movement. Furthermore, it originated independently from Italian Fascism and German National-Socialism and exhibited many peculiaritiescombining, in a complex syncretism, the more general fascist characteristics with specific local ideological features such as Orthodox mysticism.25 By and large, pre-1989 research on Romanian fascism was carried out by Western scholars, and Romanian historiography devoted only a limited attention to it, due mainly to political 26 restrictions. After 1989, there was an outburst of interest in the study of fascism in Romania, and much of this effort was directed toward revealing its intimate connection with debates about
23. Robert O. Paxton, Five Stages of Fascism, Journal of Modern History 70 (March 1998): 123. 24. See Ernst Nolte, Three Faces of Fascism: Action Franaise, Italian Fascism, National Socialism (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966); Eugen Weber, Romania, in Hans Rogger and Eugen Weber, eds., The European Right. A Historical Profile (London: London University Press, 1965), 501-74. See also Eugen Weber, Romania, in Eugen Weber, ed., Varieties of Fascism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964), 96-105. Stanley G. Payne also judged that the Legion was the most unusual mass movement of interwar Europe in Fascism. Comparison and Definition (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980), 115. 25. On the peculiar features of the Iron Guard ideology, see Dan Pavel, Legionarismul, in Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, ed., Doctrine politice. Concepte universale si realitati romnesti (Ias7i, Romania: Polirom, 1998), 212-28; and Constantin Iordachi, Charisma as a Mobilizing Ideology: The Case of the Legion of the Archangel Michael in Interwar Romania, in John Lampe and Mark Mazower, eds., Ideology and National Identity in Southeastern Europe in the 20th Century (Budapest, Hungary: CEU Press, forthcoming). 26. For the most comprehensive work on the Iron Guard to date, see Armin Heinen, Die Legion Erzengel Michael in Rumnien: soziale Bewegung und politische Organisation. Ein Beitrag zum Problem des internationalen Faschismus (Mnchen, Germany: Oldenbourg, 1986).

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national ideology. Some authors insisted on the continuity between the main ideas developed in the Romanian national ideology in the nineteenth century and the interwar Legionary ideology. Others emphasized the mutations introduced by the 27 Legionary movement in the Romanian national discourse. A key issue in the scholarly debates about Romanian nationalism has been the problem of anti-Semitism. Trying to account for the centrality of the Jewish question in the Romanian national ideology, William Oldson argued that anti-Semitism in Romania was driven preponderantly by economical and diplomatic motivations. On this basis, Oldson portrayed Romanian providential anti-Semitism as a tertium quid, a particular mixture of ethnic bravado and defensiveness, differentiating it from the more doc28 trinaire Western models. Leon Volovici, the author of the most important work on the intellectual history of anti-Semitism in 29 Romania, offered a markedly different interpretation. Volovici studied the discursive framework of the Romanian national ideology, seeking to identify the place of anti-Semitism in Romanian cultural and political thought. In his view, anti-Semitism was ultimately generated neither by economic competition, nor by the alleged massive Jewish immigration in Northern Moldavia, but was an intellectual pattern, a way of thinking, most rampant among the middle and upper classes and among the intellectu30 als. According to Volovici, by the 1880s, anti-Semitism became an integral part of Romanian political culture and administrative practice, being linked to central sociopolitical issues such as the peasant question. But it functioned as a full-fledged and independent political ideology in Romania only after 1918 and
27. For post-1989 works on the Iron Guard, see Radu Ioanid, The Sword of the Archangel: Fascist Ideology in Romania (Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1990); and Alexandru Florian and Constantin Petculescu, Ideea care ucide: dimensiunile ideologiei legionare (Bucharest, Romania: Editura Noua Alternativa*, 1994). For the relation between the intellectuals of the young generation and the Iron Guard, see Zigu Ornea, Anii treizeci: extrema dreapta* romneasca* (Bucharest, Romania: Editura Fundat i7 ei Culturale Romne, 1995), translated in English as The Romanian Extreme Right: The Nineteen Thirties (Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1999). 28. William Oldson, A Providential Anti-Semitism: Nationalism and Polity in NineteenthCentury Romania (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1991), 9. 29. Leon Volovici, Nationalist Ideology and Anti-Semitism: The Case of Romanian Intellectuals in the 1930s (Oxford: Pergamon, 1991). 30. Ibid., 6.


In Search of a Usable Past

reached its peak in the 1930s, when it emerged as the center of political and intellectual life. Therefore, Volovici mainly focused on the striking centrality of the Jewish question in the interwar intellectual debates, pointing out the responsibility of the most brilliant young intellectuals in elaborating essentialist discourses of ethnic specificity that contributed to the symbolic exclusion of the Jews from Romanian culture and society. IV. One of the most important debates of the 1990s in the Romanian context concerned the intricate relationship between the intelligentsia and the radical nationalist ideology in the interwar period. In the post-1989 Romanian cultural canon, the works of the interwar young generation are considered as normative, being read as an alternative to the historical materialism of the communist vulgate but, in many ways, also supplementing and overwriting it. From a broader, cross-cultural perspective, the debate around the political past of these figures fits into the general thrust for assessing the implication of prominent intellectuals in various totalitarian systems and ideologies (in the European context, Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man were the two main figures of contention). In the Romanian context, the iconoclastic attacks against these cult figures date back to the 1970s, when the first publicationsmostly in Italy and in Israelstarted to unveil Mircea Eliades spiritual and political relationship to the Iron Guard. The whole situation was further complicated by the gnomic silence of the main protagonists concerning their pre-1945 activities and also by the chronic lack of reliable critical editions of the incriminated texts. In its initial phase, the controversy was not so much of a scholarly nature but evolved mainly in the form of denunciating letters published in magazines. Nevertheless, in the 1990s, the debate was deepened and intensified, mostly because, with the passing away of the main protagonists, it lost its immediate personal relevance but gained a broader cultural resonance and became a primary context of historiographic concern.

East European Politics and Societies


Probably the most articulate example of the frontal attacks though, to a certain extent, couched in the technicalities of the anthropological theories of mythologyis Daniel Dubuissons attempt to prove that the essence of Eliades phenomenology of religion is a radical antimodernism, rooted in an anti-Semitic 31 ontology. In Dubuissons description, Eliade is a syncretist pseudo-philosopher, whose anthropological work is based on a metaphysical construction with extremely sinister implications. His conception of the sacred is taken to be a camouflage to hide his real agenda of exalting a vitalist-organicist conception of life, similar to the Nazi metaphysics of blood, repudiating Christianity as a historicist deviation while hailing the ahistorical sacrality of the premodern peasant societies and ritual practices. With this argument, Dubuisson seeks to buttress his conception concerning the hidden agenda (message secret) of Eliades philosophy of religion, namely, its suppressed connection with the Romanian fascist discourse. In his seemingly abstract conception of Being and of the Sacred, Eliade is creating a metaphysical construction around his original local agenda: in his works, the peasant of the Danube finds himself, doubtlessly unwittingly, elevated to a position of a privileged interlocutor of the 32 Being while the Jews are found guilty of committing the ontological crime of representing historicity, that is, time, which, for Eliade, would equal corruption and destruction. On the whole, Dubuissons most immediate shortcoming is his vague referential basis to the actual Romanian context of the 1930s. Not having consulted any of the texts written by Eliade in Romanian before 1945, his hypothesis of the link between the 1950s and 1960s speculations on the history of religions and the radical antimodernism of the 1930s, even if it might prove true, remains unsubstantiated. The most resounding attempt to document this connection is the memorable article Felix Culpa by the Romanian-Jewish migr writer Norman Manea. He uses the metaphor of the skeleton in the closet to express the Proteic presence of the Roma31. Daniel Dubuisson, Mythologies du XXe sicle: Dumzil, Lvi-Strauss, Eliade (Lille, France: Presses universitaires de Lille, 1993). 32. Ibid., 253.


In Search of a Usable Past

nian past (ghost of another time, another personality) in the intellectual and psychological life of the American Eliade and stresses that, to judge Eliades moral and intellectual responsibilities, we have to put him into the context of the age of extremes, characterized by the summary and deviant logic of extremist movements in times of crises. Manea did not negate that Eliade was in fact sharing many of the radical convictions of his generation, arising from dilemmas of a long, troubled national identity in which identity crises and mechanisms of easy identification 33 with utopian ideals were fertile soil for the new extremism. But he also felt it grossly unjust to culpabilize some intellectuals for the collapse of democracy in Southeast Europe: he rather talked of Romanian paradoxes and ambiguitiesindividual dramas and collective tragedies at the most vulnerable margins of European modernity. Recent attempts to interpret Eliades pre-1945 writings devised 34 broader generational horizons. Regarded from this perspective, the phenomenon of the young generation becomes much more complex than in the previous highly ideological readings, which either posited these intellectuals as cultural models or culpabilized them indiscriminately as fascists. The texts of Eliade, Emil Cioran, Constantin Noica, or Mircea Vulca*nescu thus came to be read not so much as instances of the eternal fight between Westernizers and autochthonists than as documents of the selfdestruction of cultural modernism in Eastern Europe: how the intellectually Westernizedcultural avant-garde of the 1930s turned against the liberal-democratic intellectual tradition, which hitherto had been identified exactly with Western political modernity. The most significant texts from this perspective concerning the Romanian interwar generation were written by another migr writer and literary scholar, Matei Ca*linescu. His exemplary essay on Eugen Ionesco and the Rhinocerus was an attempt to place the famous play into its original settingthat of Romania of the
33. Norman Manea, Felix Culpa, in On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist (New York: Grove Press, 1992), 110. 34. See, most importantly, MacLinscott Ricketts, Mircea Eliade: The Romanian roots, 19071945 (Boulder. CO: East European Monographs/Distributed by Columbia University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1988).

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late thirties, gradually slipping into fascisma context generally neglected by the Western audience that took the play more in its 35 metaphysical register. Ca*linescu used the contemporary correspondence and the later memoirs of Ionesco and gave a colorful tableau of this legendary group, the members of which were subsequently swept tragically far from each other by the whirlwind of history. He also wrote an important interpretation of Ciorans post-1945 (French) oeuvre, accentuating the hidden subtext of the philosophers suppressed political past. He proved that in virtually all of his later writings, Cioran continued an internal dialogue with his own previous self, frequently subverting his own value judgements. If, before 1945, Jews and Hungarians were demonized as the two significant others from the perspective of forging a Romanian vitalist national characterology, in the French works these two cultures became the grandiose symbols of Ciorans heroic-tragic phenomenology of history. In Ca*linescus view, Cioran thus extended the scope of his analysis from the destiny of a nation imprisoned by the geopolitical limitations of being a peripheral small culture, to the destiny of mankind, imprisoned by its metaphysical limitations of being created by a Mauvais Dmiurge. The French philosopher Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine made a similar attempt to place another key member of the young generation, Constantin Noica, on the map of Eastern European cul36 tural and political history. Her case study is supported by a broad set of Eastern European references and comparisons rangka to Istvn Bib. Taking the principal claim of ing from Jan Patoc the protagonists of the young generationconcerning the tragedy of living in a culture that might simply disappearat its face value, Laignel-Lavastine considered this fear as rooted not so much in the spasms of the belated territorialization of nation37 hood, as described by Bib, but rather in the frustration of being
35. Matei Ca*linescu, Ionesco and Rhinoceros: Personal and Political Backgrounds, East European Politics and Societies 9:3(1995): 393-434; and How can one be what one is? Cioran 7 Al. and Romania, in Alexandru Zub, Identitate si alteritate (Ias7i, Romania: Ed. Universita*tii I. Cuza, 1996), 21-44. 36. Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine, Filozofie si nationalism: paradoxul Noica (Bucharest, Romania: Humanitas, 1998). 37. Istvn Bib, The Distress of the East European Small States, in Democracy, Revolution, Self-Determination: Selected Writings (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 13-88.


In Search of a Usable Past

part of a small culture, permanently harassed by the psychological urge of self-documentation. In her interpretation, exactly this obsession connects the unfortunate distortion of the radical project of constructing a new national identity launched in the interwar period and the intellectual movement that supported national communism from the late-1960s onwards. The most far-reaching attempt at rendering this generational thrust for national metaphysics intelligible from a philosophical point of view has been the work of the French philosopher and anthropologist Claude Karnoouh. Besides his thorough anthropological studies, he also published a fascinating book, 38 Linvention du peuple, combining his personal reflections on anthropological fieldwork with the intellectual history of the calamities of national identity formation in Romania. Karnoouhs main thesis is that the premodern life-world of peasantry in the Southeast European cultural space has been destroyed by the emerging structures of political and socioeconomic modernity, represented both by the nineteenth-century upsurge of nation-states as well as by the post-1945 communist dictatorships, resulting in mutant modernization. He concluded that the nation-statebuilding elites attempted an Aufhebung of popular culture in Eastern Europe. The chief engine of this process was the ruse de la raison of national essentialism: formatting, and thus eventually eliminating, the alterity of the essentially nonnational, premodern, peasant cultures. The process of the elimination of this authentic popular culture went hand in hand with the growth of the artificial quasi-populism of official culture, seeking to carve out normative national pasts from the symbolic reservoir of premodern rural cultural patterns. National philosophers, such as Lucian Blaga and Constantin Noica, who were trying to devise a national ontology to link rural with urban, popular with high culture, or premodern forms of life with the conditions of social and political modernity, were therefore not so much the heralds of the quasi-Hegelian Absolute Spirit, performing an act of cultural self-reflection to raise their nation to self-consciousness. They were, rather, ultimately self-deceiving
38. Claude Karnoouh, Linvention du peuple. Chroniques de Roumanie (Paris: Arcantre, 1990).

East European Politics and Societies


and tragically unconscious pawns of the dynamism of the homogenizing nation-state formation that crushed everything that was unique, human-sized, and metaphysically fascinating in the premodern forms of life. The common thread of these paradigmatic interpretations in the past decade is the assertion that the process of state building and the problems of elaborating a national cultural canon have been deeply interrelated. This problem brings us to another fundamental question concerning the heritage of the interwar generationthat of the afterlife of their discourses about collective identity. Most of the cultural figures in post-1989 Romania felt it necessary to engage in a dialogue with the intellectual tradition of the interwar young generation, attempting to modify the post-Romantic canon of national self-thematization from within. Authors such as Sorin Alexandrescu or Sorin Antohi focused precisely on the basic dilemma of Eastern European intelligentsia, namely, that the most poignant attempts to define the national cultural character were dominantly linked to an ethnicist way of thinking or even rooted in them. After 1989, the autochthonist canon got a new impetus and evolved into a syncretism that edged on the ideological borderline between a neotraditionalist political ideology and a quasiphilosophical new age doctrine, asserting itself vigorously in the cultural-political space as well as in aesthetics. The main ideological branch of this trend is neo-orthodoxism, rooted not so much in the philosophical tradition of national metaphysics (i.e., the school of the philosopher and publicist Nae Ionescu, the controversial mentor of the interwar young generation) but rather in the Orthodox political theology of the extreme rightwing theologian and poet, Nichifor Crainic. In contrast, the Westernizer camp has been proposing a reinterpretation of the cultural canon as well as an integration of the various layers of this tradition into a modernist discourse of Europeanization. An ambiguous, but highly sophisticated, attempt of integration was proposed by the Amsterdam-based Romanian scholar, Sorin Alexandrescu. The author, specializing in comparative literature and cultural history, reentered the Romanian cultural and political space with his book Paradoxul Romn. As is made obvious in 438 In Search of a Usable Past

the preface, the problem of the national canon had a personal stake for the author, since he himself descended from a family with strong ties to the cultural tradition of the interwar elite. It is therefore not surprising that the basic question of Alexandrescus work is how to create a modus vivendi between the Westernizing agenda of political-social modernization and the national cultural canon, with its strong meta-political implications. Alexandrescus historical reconstruction is in many ways polemicizing with Irina Livezeanus approach put forward in Cultural Politics. Alexandrescu seeks to answer the question, Was the post-1918 project of Romanian nation building ultimately successful? Although his analysis of Greater Romania drew implicitly on Livezeanus conceptual apparatus and perspective, Alexandrescu did not attempt to explain the self-destruction of Romanian democracy by invoking the counterproductive mechanisms of the nation-building process but rather by analyzing the distortion of the Romanian political-cultural character. Consequently, Alexandrescu identified some metaphysical character39 traits, such as the Manolic passion, the cult of flexible balancing between external great powers, and the mechanism of selfoccupation, that organized the Romanian historical experience in the twentieth century. The strongest feature of the book is Alexandrescus hermeneutic approach, especially when the author turns to concrete texts. He brought to the surface the subtexts and the hidden meanings of historical documents, exposing the duplicity of the militarist and discipline-oriented discourse of Antonescu, providing a subtle account of the roots of the Legionary political language, and reinterpreting Eliades interwar political writings along the same lines. On the whole, Alexandrescus book fits into the intellectual syncretism of the 1990s in Romania, marked by a public spirit that tries to venerate simultaneously two interrelated, but ultimately incompatible, myths: that of the cultural Golden Age of the thirties, which allegedly reached its peak in the young generation,
39. Manole was a mason who, according to a historical legend, built the church of Curtea de Arges7, the residence of the medieval Wallachian voevods. Since the walls of the church repeatedly collapsed, to erect the building, Manole had to fatally sacrifice his own wife (by building her into the wall of the church). His figure appeared in numerous works attempting to define the Romanian national character.

East European Politics and Societies


and the democratic political traditions of the interwar period, revolving mainly around the centrist-agrarian National Peasant Party. On a more general level, the book is a significant attempt to combine the two hegemonic paradigms of the Romanian culture, the autochthonist and the Westernizer ones, generally described as diametrically opposed: the mode of speech used in Paradoxul romn is a very intricate fusion of certain constitutive elements of both parts, inserting the Westernizer political rhetoric into an autochthonist cultural discourse and historical selfthematization. The agenda of Sorin Antohi in many ways resembles that of 40 Alexandrescu. According to Antohi, national characterology is not a meta-level discursive tool to express the ontological specificity of Romanianness, but rather a historically conditioned mode of speech that proposes the collective past, that is, the typical reactions of the political community, as a normative model of conduct. National characterology is thus not meaningless, as many of the Westernizers would claim, but in fact mirrors a certain historical experience, though, of course, it cannot be taken directly as a normative canon of a national culture, and one should be especially wary of defining it deductively. Antohis hermeneutic program thus invites us not to distill a canon (as is the case with the extremely popular Romanian intellectual pasttime of actualizing the political/metaphysical message of Eminescu) but not to repudiate it either. These two equally distorted and one-sided attitudes are based on a more general cultural fixation in the Romanian intellectual tradition, which can be described as the psychological duality of self-aggrandizing and self-despising, mutually conditioning each other, and rooted in the same crisis of identity and self-evaluation. Antohis strategic aim is to break through the aura of these canonized normative images of the national community and to show that various models of society, camouflaged as objective descriptions of reality, are in fact utopian constructs and mutants of imported ideological traditions. Regarded from this perspective, the political-social
40. Sorin Antohi, Civitas Imaginalis. Istorie s7i utopie n cultura romna (Bucharest, Romania: Litera, 1994), French version: Imaginaire culturel et realit politique dans la Roumanie moderne: le stigmate et lutopie (Paris: LHarmattan, 1999).


In Search of a Usable Past

program of the generation of 1848 becomes a pas7optist utopia, while the political oeuvre of Mihai Eminescu, hailed by the protochronists as the peak of objective sociological analysis, is described as a regressive utopia. This leads us to one of Antohis most important discoveries, namely, that the autochthonist canon constructs the discourse of Romanian specificity from imported ideological elements. This question also stands in the focus of his analysis of Ciorans writings. Antohi pushes the argument of Matei Ca*linescu even further: He seeks to give not only a generational and personalpsychological rendering of Ciorans philosophical dilemmas but refers him back to the entire tradition of Romanian cultural selfthematization and also seeks to locate him in a more general model of the Eastern European crises of cultural and national identity. He analyses Ciorans dilemmas from the perspective of the formation of Romanian political attitudes and institutions and claims that accumulated traditions and experiences did in fact create a certain stigmatic collective-psychological character. Antohis offerformally similar to the character-discoursesis that this stigmatic identity complex can only be overcome by selfknowledge, that is, confronting the recurrent patterns of collective attitudes. Nevertheless, this therapy of self-understanding cannot unfold in the heights of national metaphysics; it should happen, rather, on the ground of historical reconstruction and in view of the comparative history of political ideas and discourses. The only way to get rid of this burden of stigmatic identity is therefore to place Romanian culture in broader comparative frameworks and, while relativizing this ahistoric self-mystification, to abandon the thesis of incomparable uniqueness. Setting a potential program for the new generation of Romanian historians, Antohi called the political implications of his analyses the third discourse, signaling his distance from both of the prevalent modes of speech that are organizing Romanian cultural self41 interpretation. While cultural Bovarysm measures everyday Romanian realities to an idealized image of Western civilization
41. See Sorin Antohi, Romnii n anii 90: geografie simbolica* s7i identitate colectiva*, in Exercitiul distantei. Discursuri, societati, metode (Bucharest, Romania: Nemira, 1997), 292316.

East European Politics and Societies


(thus reproducing the communication gap between the Westernized elite and the uncultivated masses), the utopia of autochthonism, which is ultimately a critique of the West taken from Western sources, self-complacently sinks into the false security of a glorious, but fictitious, Golden Age of national autarchy. In contrast, the third discourse would ideally mediate between these two positions: deconstructing them and putting forward a creative synthesis. V. The study of the communist period has been one of the most dynamic areas of research on Romania, carried out in an interdisciplinary endeavor, by prominent Western historians, political scientists, sociologists, and anthropologists. The study of the relationship between communism and nationalism underwent several stages of development that followed largely the evolution of Western academic paradigms related to Eastern Europe: from social and diplomatic history to anthropology and interdisciplinary studies on national identity. The first phase of the communist regime in Romania (1944-58) was usually described, in Kenneth Jowitts words, as an antitraditionalist breaking through, namely, the decisive alternation or destruction of values, structures, and behaviors which are perceived by a new elite as compromising or contributing to the actual or potential existence of alternative centers of 42 power. According to most of the observers, the turning point in the evolution of the communist regime was the abandonment of the pro-Soviet foreign policy that took place in the period between 1958 and 1964, going along with the emergence of the national-communist ideology. The outbreak of Romanias diplomatic conflict with the Soviet Union shifted the research agenda to the study of Romanias strategy of partial alignment. In a comprehensive analysis of the connection between Romanias domestic and foreign policy, a prominent expert of Romanian communism, the political scientist Michael Shafir, pointed out
42. Kenneth Jowitt, Revolutionary Breakthroughs and National Development: The Case of Romania, 1944-1965 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 7.


In Search of a Usable Past

that the Ceaus7escu regime employed a policy of simulating change-simulating permanence. Internally, the regime created a facade of mobilization and change to facilitate its control over society while, externally, Ceaus7escu simulated permanent allegiance to the Soviet Bloc to avoid a military intervention while constantly reassuring the West of Romanias autonomous course 43 of foreign policy. The advent of Western anthropological research in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 1970s and 1980s revolutionized the study of Romanian communism. The country was a preferred destination of Western anthropologists and benefited from an exceptional concentration of American and French scholars such as Katherine Verdery, Gail Kligman, and Claude Karnoouh. On the whole, anthropology brought a new research agenda to Eastern Europe that encompassed the study of culture and cultural politics, temporal and spatial representations, social relations, and forms of collective identity. In regard to the study of national movements, anthropologists stressed the necessity of direct access to texts produced by proponents of the national ideology in a given country as well as to the social and cultural contexts in which they emerged.44 Fieldwork became a mandatory and essential prerequisite for any contextual analysis of nationalism. In the long run, the interaction between these professional 45 strangers and local academic communities generated a rich collaboration that has shaped the research agenda of the discipline as a whole. In a path-breaking book, Transylvanian Villagers, Katherine Verdery challenged the classical paradigm of modernization that 46 dominated Western social sciences in the 1960s and 1970s. Although initially Verdery focused on post-1945 interethnic and economic relations in Romania, the dynamics of the topic led her to a deeper historical analysis. To explore the antecedents of con43. Michael Shafir, Romania: Politics, Economy and Society. Political Stagnation and Simulated Change (Boulder, CO: L. Rienner Pinter Publishers, 1985), 163. 44. See Verdery, Methods, in National Ideology under Socialism, 19-20. 45. See Klaus Roth, European Ethnology and Intercultural Communications, Ethnologia Europea 26 (1994): 3-16. 46. Katherine Verdery, Transylvanian Villagers: Three Centuries of Political, Economic and Ethnic Change (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983).

East European Politics and Societies


temporary events, Verdery turned to the process of state building in Austria-Hungary and focused on the transition from the imperial legacy to the Romanian nation-state. In regard to the Habsburg Empire, Verdery stressed the absence of an overwhelmingly dominant class or ethnic community. Instead, she emphasized the competition between rival social-political groups, a process particularly apt for agrarian societies embarking on bureaucratic 47 modernization. On the basis of this case study, Verdery redefined ethnicity as a configuration of extremely complex socialpolitical relations. Although she did not overtly criticize the tenets of Romanian official historiography, she was, by implication, going against the essentialist understanding of ethnicity in the nationalist canon. As the author herself described in a self-reflective recollection about the reception of the book, she was repeatedly accused of being insensitive to Romanian history, and was even labeled a Hungarian spy.48 Her subsequent book, National Ideology under Socialism, was, in many ways, the result of her puzzlement in the face of these highly emotional reactions, aiming at the interpretation of the strong nationalist upsurge that occurred in Romania in the 1980s. To explain this phenomenon, Verdery offers a sociologicalanthropological interpretation, concentrating mostly on the intense cultural conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s. She developed a complex model of cultural market to interpret the intricate interplay of ideological frameworks and market mechanisms in Romanian cultural policies under communism. From this perspective, Verdery sought to contextualize the instrumentalization of nationalism by a regime marked by radical scarcity. The core of Verderys analysis concerned the emergence of national communism. To grasp its most important elements, Verdery revisited the paramount conflicts over the Romanian cultural canon, ranging from the issue of historiographic protochronism to the ambiguous cultural impact of the philosopher Constantin Noica. Verdery argued that communist political elites neither re-created
47. Ibid., 5. 48. See her How I Became Nationed, in Ronald Grigor Suny and Michael D. Kennedy, eds., Intellectuals and the Articulation of the Nation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), 341-44.


In Search of a Usable Past

Romanian national ideology nor aimed at a conscious syncretism with Marxist ideology. Rather, national ideology has been a constitutive feature of modern Romanian cultural and political thinking. Consequently, once in power, the communists were forced to integrate these cultural productions into Romanias socialist political economy. The main research question, from this perspective, was the ability of the Party to engage the intelligentsia and to use nationalism as an instrument of its own legitimization. In Verderys interpretation, communist regimes used a combination of three forms of control over society, namely, remunerative, coercive, and symbolic-ideological. This model explains the considerable shifts in the cultural policy of the Romanian communist regime under Ceaus7escu. The first years witnessed a relative liberalization of the regime coupled with a rapid economic development, and a remarkable cultural boom. The growing institutional and discursive autonomy of certain intellectual centers alerted the communist leadership, who started to feel threatened in their position of discursive control. As a result, the earlier attempts of remunerative control were reversed, and with the July Theses (6 and 9 July 1971), the regime shifted to coercive and symbolicideological forms of control over society by institutionalizing the discourse of national identity, suppressing the alternative discursive centers, and creating a privileged role for a conformist cultural elite composed mainly of historians, writers, and philosophers. As Verdery pointed out, the discursive continuity notwithstanding, this new nationalism did not replicate the pre World War II forms but meant rather their creative exegesis. The American social scientist Gail Kligman has also had a strong impact on the study of communism in Romania. Although a trained sociologist, in her first book on Romania, Kligman showed a remarkable opening to anthropology.49 In a second major book on the country, she offered a fascinating itinerary into the social conditions and rites of passage of the region of
49. Gail Kligman, Calus: Symbolic Transformation in Romanian Ritual, foreword by Mircea Eliade (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981). Republished as Calus: Symbolic Transformation in Romanian Ritual (Bucharest, Romania: Romanian Cultural Foundation, 1999).

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Maramures7. After 1989, Kligman published an authoritative book on the relationship between gender and nation-statehood 51 in Romania during communism. While acknowledging that control over reproduction is a matter of universal concern, Kligman concentrated on an extreme case of forced reproduction: the pronatalist policies implemented by the Ceaus7escu regime. Based on substantive fieldwork, including interviews with various social actors who were involved in the implementation of these policies, Kligman brought to life distressing events in a highly emotional account. Kligmans book is, however, animated by a dense scholarly agenda, focusing on the ethnography of the politics of reproduction. This theme of study led her to the exploration of the broader problem of the ethnography of the state, defined as an analysis of the rhetorical and institutionalized practices of the state within the public sphere and their inte52 gration into daily life. She exposed the intrinsic relationship between nation-state and gender and portrayed reproduction policies as a fundamental part of programs of social and cultural homogenization. The bulk of the book focuses on everyday life in a totalitarian society and on mechanisms of implementing social conformity and extracting political legitimacy. Kligman also offers a comprehensive analysis of the main features of the paternalist socialist state, whose social policies blurred the border between public and private and assumed the main social tasks that were traditionally fulfilled by individual males in the private sphere. By exposing the patriarchal nature of political order in the nation-state, Kligman challenged the traditionalist nationalist discourses. This approach opened up a vast research agenda that had been largely neglected by Romanian historiography: no classical synthesis on Romanian history mentioned women as social actors in the public sphere. More recently, however, the sociopolitical status of women has been covered by

50. Gail Kligman, The Wedding of the Dead: Ritual, Poetics, and Popular Culture in Transylvania (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988). 51. Gail Kligman, The Politics of Duplicity: Controlling Reproduction in Ceausescus Romania (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); see also Susan Gal and Gail Kligman, eds., Reproducing Gender: Politics, Publics, and Everyday Life after Socialism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000). 52. Kligman, Politics of Duplicity, 3.


In Search of a Usable Past

numerous studies that explored the relationship between gender and the nation-state and the movements for the emancipation of 53 women in Romania. These sophisticated Western interpretations of the communist regime in Romania went much above the head of Romanian historiography. To be sure, after 1989, the need to forge a coherent rendering of the communist past featured prominently in Romanian historiographic and public debates, being intimately linked with competing visions of development. One camp asserted that the communist regime in Romania was imposed on the society and never managed to gain domestic legitimacy. In contrast, an opposing claim was that even if communism was introduced by the Soviet army, it nevertheless succeeded in generating social and political support and achieving a certain political legitimacy. Unfortunately, academic research on the communist period was placed in the narrow zone that was left in between these unilateral and highly politicized perspectives. Historians addressing the communist period tended to focus solely on political and institutional history and concentrated on such topics as the history of the communist repression, military resistance and political dissidence against the regime, or the political history of the Romanian Communist Party. At the same time, other subjects, such as the social history of the communist regime and the status of minorities under communist rule, have received limited attention. While historiography was far from meeting the public demand for comprehensive interpretations, political science played a leading role in formatting the public debate about communism in 54 Romania. One of the most prominent scholars specializing in
53. See Ma*da*lina Nicolaescu, ed., Who Are We? On Womens Identity in Modern Romania (Bucharest, Romania: Anima, 1996); Maria Bucur, In Praise of Well-Born Mothers: On the Development of Eugenicist Gender Roles in Interwar Romania, East European Politics and Societies 9 (1995): 123-42. 7 (Bucharest, Roma54. See Pavel Cmpeanu, Romnia: coada pentru hrana, un mod de viata nia: Litera, 1994). This analytical effort was joined by Romanian cultural anthropologists, sociologists and social psychologists. See Smaranda Vultur, Istorie Traita, Istorie Povestita: Deportarea n Baragan (1951-1956) (Timis7oara, Romania: Amarcord, 1997); Eniko_ Magyari-Vincze, Antropologia politicii identitare nationaliste (Cluj, Romania: EFES, 1997); and Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Transilvania subiectiva* (Bucharest, Romania: Humanitas, 1999).

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the history of communism in Eastern Europe, Vladimir Tisma*neanu, placed the study of the Romanian communist regime in a highly instructive comparative regional perspective. To explain the evolution of Romanian politics, he developed the concept of national Stalinism. This term refers to regimes that instrumentalized a nationalist ideological framework while 55 opposing any significant political change. He also redirected the research agenda of communism in Romania toward the study of the political culture, providing a subtle and sophisticated account 56 of the interplay of Marxism and the national ideology. In Reinventing Politics, Tisma*neanu highlighted the importance of precommunist political experience and the communist path of political development in the evolution of the Eastern European countries after 1989.57 He also emphasized the contribution of dissident intellectuals and of civil society to the fall of communism and the pursuit of democracy in Eastern Europe. In Fantasies of Salvation, Tisma*neanu focused on the role of political myths after the communist period.58 He identified three main types of dominant political myths: anti-utopian, the embrace of values of individual autonomy; neo-utopian, the rejection of modernity in the name of collective dreams of salvation; and liberalism, which is taking shape in the region. In addition, he provided a comprehensive account of the contemporary debates between Westernizers and autochthonists in Romania. On the whole, the most important development in the past decade concerning the emergence of national communism has been the identification of its roots in the 1950s during the rule of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej (1948-65). The ambiguous project of modernization, launched by the communist leadership in the fifties, provides a fertile ground for rethinking the analytical relevance of the dichotomy between Westernizers and auto55. Vladimir Tisma*neanu, Fantoma lui Gheorghiu-Dej (Bucharest, Romania: Univers, 1995), 77. 56. Tisma*neanu, The Crisis of Marxist Ideology in Eastern Europe: The Poverty of Utopia (London: Routledge, 1988). 57. Tisma*neanu, Reinventing Politics: Eastern Europe from Stalin to Havel (New York: Free Press, 1992). 58. Tisma*neanu, Fantasies of Salvation: Democracy, Nationalism and Myth in Post-Communist Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998).


In Search of a Usable Past

chthonists, since the regime renounced the political component of Westernization and appealed to autarchic economic and discursive strategies to catch up economically with the West. An interesting interpretation of this ambivalence was proposed by 59 the Romanian political scientist Stelian Ta*nase. He argued that, striving to maintain control over society, the Romanian communist political elite alternated periods of repression (1948-53 and 1957-61) with periods of economic growth and political relaxation (1953-57 and 1961-65). Increasingly deviating from Moscows orders, Romanian leaders gradually abandoned MarxismLeninism and adopted an autarchist policy of modernization. Their program was supported by the new professional elites emerging as a result of the forced industrialization after 1958. This support led to the formation of a new alliance between professional and political elite groups, and the national ideology was in a way the most advantageous framework of this modernizatory project. On this basis, Ta*nase identified three main sources of national-communism: the redefinition of the relationship between local elite and Moscow, the identification of this program of autarchic modernization with national interests, and the interwar discursive framework of Romanian national identity. The status of ethnic minorities under the communist regime, and its relationship with the communist policies of modernization and social homogenization, has also been left unexplored by mainstream Romanian historiography. It is not by chance, then, that the most important works on these topics are written by foreign authors. Dennis Deletanta prominent English scholar who wrote an authoritative study on the Romanian Communist Party during the leadership of Gheorghiu-Dej, and also the first schol60 arly history of the Securitate offered a comprehensive treatment of the status of ethnic minorities under the communist regime in Romania, once again identifying the roots of Ceaus7escus
59. Stelian Ta*nase, Elite si societate. Guvernarea Gheorghiu-Dej, 1948-1965 (Bucharest, Romania: Humanitas, 1998); Anatomia mistificarii: 1944-1989 (Bucharest, Romania: Humanitas, 1997). 60. Dennis Deletant, Communist Terror in Romania: Gheorghiu-Dej and the Police State, 19481965 (New York: Hurst, 1999); Ceausescu and the Securitate: Coercion and Dissent in Romania, 1965-1989 (London: Hurst, 1995).

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national-communist synthesis in the 1950s. Deletant pointed out that Romania was one of the most active allies of the Soviet Union against Hungarys 1956 attempt of defection from the Communist Bloc and that this event had a decisive impact on the evolution of the Romanian communist regime. In Deletants view, to reward their collaboration, Moscow granted the Romanian leaders a larger autonomy in the national question. This had a negative impact on the status of Hungarian minority in Romania, as the Romanian leadership implemented a set of restrictive measures, such as abolishing the Hungarian autonomous territory, curtailing the minority educational system, and increasing political repression. This process culminated in the 1980s. Assessing the acute diplomatic conflict between Romania and Hungary, Deletant did not negate the impact of the conflicting historical legacies. He asserted, however, that the RomanianHungarian confrontation was generated, first and foremost, by the ideological conflict between the reformist stance, assumed by Kdrs regime, and the neo-Stalinism of Ceaus7escu. VI. This article seeks to offer an overview of the recent debates on the history of Romanian national identity. On this basis, the concluding part draws some general conclusions concerning the complex texture of contacts and convergence between local and Western scholars working on Romania. In a way, both branches underwent a process of reconstruction, marked by sharp institutional and methodological challenges. It is quite obvious that the historical profession in Romania faces a profound crisis of orientation. After decades of theoretical isolation and brutal political interference, and without authoritative models at hand, the bulk of Romanian historiography turned toward its own pre-Marxist traditions, such as the critical school of the turn of the century or the new historical school of the interwar period. This uncritical reliance on traditions reproduced numerous traditional problems of history writing in Romania, such as the absence of theo61. Barbulescu et al., Istoria romnilor.



In Search of a Usable Past

retical debates and of interdisciplinary dialogue, the primordialist perception of ethnicity, and the close relationship between historiography and political power. The historiographic debates after 1989 have not automatically reproduced, however, the sharp conflict between the ideal-typical autochthonist and Westernizer positions. A more detailed look at developments in Romanian historiography is in fact able to nuance the above-mentioned picture and to break it into different analytical segments. Although the duality between Europeanists and nationalists continues to form identities in the cultural and the political sphere, it does not necessarily correspond to the conflicts of historiographic paradigms. The concept of Europe itself was invested with different meanings in various contexts. In the second half of the thirties, it was precisely a certain culturally modernist pro-European stance that advocated the dynamically expanding totalitarian ideologies. Thus, the polarity between Westernizers and autochthonists has never been fixed: its specific content and participants are permanently changing, depending on the social-political and ideological mutations in society. Although in a different manner, the Western historiographic production on Romania has also faced profound challenges. First and foremost, one can identify a paradigm shift in Eastern European studiesfrom social-political history to anthropology and intellectual history. While the methodology of comparative research in social-economic history has been relatively developed, the recent cultural turn made it far more complicated to devise comprehensive comparisons of divergent intellectual traditions that are mediated by highly dissimilar processes of reception and characterized by different forms of internal dynamism. Political events have also aggravated the crisis of interpretative paradigms. After the temporary outburst of interests in Eastern Europe that followed the events of 1989, the region has gradually lost its pivotal place on the international agenda. One of the general reactions to this situation was to develop a broader geographical scope of studies. Nevertheless, some of the successful cases notwithstanding, Eastern European studies, as generalized area studies, proved to be rather unproductive and has East European Politics and Societies 451

remained mostly on a journalistic level. This is due principally to the fact that countries and historiographic cultures in Eastern Europe are very diverse and their relationship is extremely complex. It was problematic to extrapolate a regional narrative based on a couple of case studies. The dynamism of the historiographic production on Romania makes us conclude that the potential solution to all these dilemmas lies in the gradual blurring of hitherto disparate positions and canons. Western methodological references gradually become a common basis of professional selection and socialization. As more and more Eastern Europeans are studying in Western institutions, and more and more Western students are able to conduct field research in Eastern Europe, there is an irreversible convergence of external and internal production, and there is a chance for a previously unthinkable double academic socialization, creating empathic, but also critical, discursive positions, and reflecting upon the intricate questions of identity from outside and inside the national canon. We can also observe the blurring of the borderline between social and intellectual history writing. This is partly due to the reemergence of the problem of collective identity as the focus of the research agenda, a situation that generated a greater emphasis on methodologies hitherto neglected by mainstream historians, such as oral history or historical anthropology. These approaches naturally mediate between the social and intellectual perspectives, and also contribute to the formation of alternative institutional frameworks and research projects that seek to analyze social conditions and cultural discourses simultaneously. From this perspective, these two directions of interpretation are not only compatible but even inconceivable without each other: to understand social conditions, we textualize them and study them in their discursive setting, while the discourses are contextualized in view of their social frameworks. This convergence, and the deeper comparative insight into the mechanisms of social and cultural reception, effectively problematize some of the conventional narratives about external impacts and internal dynamism. Cultural phenomena, which are considered by the self-centered local historiographic 452 In Search of a Usable Past

canons as local products, are identified as imported. At the same time, general megatrends, such as modernization, state building, and fascism are contextualized in view of the particular local framework that actually accommodated them. As a consequence of this blurring of external and internal perspectives, the traditional narrative of the conflict between Westernizers and autochthonists collapses, being replaced by a complex social and intellectual landscape of various cultural configurations, permanently rearranged according to the lines of the actual conflict. Moreover, the convergence between local and Western research might lead to the complete re-thematization of Romanian history. This is relevant for the case of other Eastern European countries as well, and it proves that, while writing on the local problems of Eastern Europe, we are not engaging with peripheral mutants but seeking to answer basic European cultural dilemmas. Studying the syncretic, overlapping, and conflicting forms of collective identity abundantly present in this region, we are ultimately testing the validity of our common European historiographic framework of understanding social and political modernity.

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