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Romanian Cultural and Political Identity

Author(s): Donald R. Kelley

Source: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 59, No. 4, (Oct., 1998), pp. 735-738
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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The Journal of the History of Ideas, in collaborationwith other institutions,including the Universities of Bucharest and Budapest and the Soros Foundation,recently sponsoredthe second in a series of internationalconferencesbeing plannedon
topics in currentintellectualhistory.(The first, "InterrogatingTradition,"was held at
Rutgers University, 13-16 November 1997.) The Romanianconference, which was
held in the ElisabetaPalace in Bucharest(27-31 May 1998), was devoted to "Culture
and the Politics of NationalIdentityin Moder Romania."Over forty scholars,mainly
from Romaniabut some also from the U.S., France,Germany,and Hungary,gathered
to discuss a varietyof questions about Romaniansociety, past, present, and speculative future; and they were joined by at least as many visitors, especially students,
from the local area and beyond.
Topics discussed included politics, language, economics, historiography,religion, education, philosophy, ideologies, intelligentsia, particularintellectuals, minorities, and women (though not Gypsies or gays). Under this riot of rubricsa wide
range of questions were posed in interdisciplinaryfashion, with frequent,sometimes
impassionedinterventions.What is-was, might have been, can be-Romania? Who
is a Romanian(and who not)? What is Romania'srelationto the West and the East?
(And what are the "West"and the "East"?)To modernity,to modernism,to modernization?What is-has been, should be-the function of intellectuals,of political and
cultural elites, in understandingthe Romanian past and in setting a course for the
future?What,more generally,is the role of history in answeringsuch questions?Or is
history perhaps(as Karl Krauseremarkedof psychoanalysis)the disease for which it
claims to be the cure?
Keith Hitchens's keynote address suggested that rehashingold essentialist debates might not be productiveat millennium'send, but the conference itself could not
avoid some excursions down the paths of memory and myth. For historians,Western
historiansanyway,Romaniaseems to have too many pasts. Locatedat the junctureof
four previous empires, Romania is a mosaic, or perhapsa pandemonium,of ethnic,
religious, economic, and ideological groups that can only imagine, or invent, a nationality. Geographically(and in many ways culturally) remote from the West, Romania for a long time (as Sorin Antohi remarked)lacked both a public sphere and a
civil society;andsuffering"aCounter-Reformation
withouta Reformation"(Alexandru
Dutu's phrase), it has not enjoyed a traditionof religious or ethnic toleration. Nor
have either the Germansor the Jews (as Glass said) found their own unity within the
changing bordersof the moder Romanianstate. Not until the nineteenthcenturydid
Romania develop, out of its Boyar background(as Siupiur argued), an intellectual
elite that could create a moder nationalhistory and help turn"peasantsinto Romanians"(Antohi's phrase);and even then this elite seemed more attractedto conserva735
Copyright 1998 by Journalof the History of Ideas, Inc.


Journal of the History of Ideas

tive (Herder,Savigny, Burke) than to liberal views of autochthonism.Many features

of Westernmodernity,such as Newtonian science, reachedRomanialate, and indeed
there was a retrogrademovementagainst liberalismunderthe aegis by orthodoxreligion. In any case this intelligentsia has been as fragmented and multiform as the
Romanianpast itself. True, some Romanianscholars like to posit a mainstreamtradition, "excesses aside,"as one speakerput it-but how, asked another,can historians
put "excesses" aside from the devastatingperspectiveof this century?
Political and cultural self-examinationwas the dominant theme of this conference. Nationality, said Pippidi, depends on three factors, viz., name, language, religion, and territory.The Romanianname dates from the tenth century, indicating a
separationof the Roman from the Greek traditionin Wallachia;and from the seventeenth century the idea of a mainly Roman provenance was given privilege. As a
language, "Romanian"was spoken in the late Middle Ages, but the first writtendocument is dated 1521. The principalreligion in Romania was and is Greek orthodox,
althoughthereare also RomanCatholic,Jewish, Islamic, and GermanProtestantcommunities, as well as the Uniate church created in the eighteenth century.As for the
territory,this has been a matter of change, conflict, and confusion throughoutthe
tragiccourseof southeasternEuropeanhistoryandcontinuesto be so for the MoldavianWallachiantwins viv-a-vis their equally agitated and proteanneighbors.
Finding, finally, a kind of modem nationalityin the wake of WorldWarI, Romania was plunged into the bloody excesses of Fascism and Communism.The intellectuals of the "unluckygeneration"of 1927 sought understandingand legitimacy in a
variety of contradictoryways, including what Calinescu called the "apocalypticfever" of the 1930s, to which Eliade, among others, surrendered.At that time, as one
participantreminded us, both fascism and communism "had a future"and cannot,
retrospectively,be discountedas irrelevant"excesses."In general nationalistand exclusionist sentimentswere counteredby the centrifugalforces of regionalism,xenophobia, and extremistideologies of that age. No wonder Romania"didn'twork"(as
one commentator remarked)either under socialism or under the megalomaniacal
dirigisme of Ceaucescu. In fact Romaniahas lived throughnot just one but a number
of "unlucky"generationssince the achievementof political independence;and this is
an indelible partof its nationalhistorywhich is the subjectof these criticalexchanges.
What of the future?Will this and the next generationsbe luckier?Can Romania
be made to work? Is there a Romanianpath to modernity (or postmodernity)?The
Romanianpast has not been "liberal"in a Westernsense, and many participantsexpressed doubt about this model (although Daniel Chirot, in a spirit largely at odds
with the spirit of dialogue in earlier sessions, held it out as the only way of coping
with political and economic challenges in the millennium to come). In any case Romania has more immediate problems, social, ethnic, and educationalas well as political and economic, to resolve before it canjoin, or rejoin,mainstream,"hegemonic"
Westernhistory-and to do so at a time when this mainstreamand this hegemony are
being challenged and when SoutheasternEuropeitself is in a condition of apparently
endless chaos. How this works out only historywill tell, while the intellectualswatch,
perhaps act, but at least (such is the minimal liberal hope) continue the sort of dialogue carriedon here.
Donald R. Kelley


Romanian Culture and Identity

Keynote Addresses:
Keith Hitchins, "The Identity of Romania"
AlexandruZub, "WesternIdeas on the RomanianSoul"

Modernityand the Constructionof National Identity:

AlexandruDutu, "The CommunitarianModel and National Ties"
Andrei Pippidi, "RomanianIdentities in the Sixteenth SeventeenthCenturies"
Adrian-PaulIliescu, "Nineteenth-CenturyRomantic and ConservativeSources
of RomanianAutochthonism"
Hugh Kearney(comment)

Religion and Identity:

H. R. Patapievici,"A Short Look into the Disseminationof Newtonian Ideas in
the Romanian Provinces, 1687-1860"
MariaCraciun,"ReligiousChangeandTolerancein Sixteenth-CenturyMoldavia"
CatherineDurandin,"Fromthe Liberalismof 1848 to the 'Orthodoxismul'of the
AlexandruDutu (comment)

Historiographyand National Myths:

Mirela-LuminitaMurgescu, "School Textbooks and Heroes of Romanian History"
Ovidiu Pecican, "Moder RomanianHistoriographyand the National Project"
AlexandruZub, "RomanianHistoriographyunderCommunism"
Sorin Antohi (comment)

Cultureand Identity in InterwarRomania:

HildrunGlass, "The Jews of GreaterRomania:The Search for a Single Identity
Rainer Ohliger, "Minority Identity in Process: CulturalPolitics among Ethnic
Germansin InterwarRomania"
Edit Szegedi, "Regionalismand National Socialism"
Andrei Corbea Hoisie (comment)

EngineeringSocial Identity:
Elena Siupiur,"The Formationof RomanianIntellectualsin the NineteenthCentury"
Mariana Hausleitner, "CernautiUniversity, 1918-1944: Concepts and Consequences of Romanization"
Charles King, "MakingMoldavians:Languageand Ethnicityon the RomanianSoviet Border"
Irina Livezeanu (comment)


Journal of the History of Ideas

InterwarIntellectualsand Politics:
Matei Calinescu, "The 1927 Generationin Romania:Mihail Sebastian, Mircea
Eliade, Nae Ionescuu, Eugene Ionesco"
MartaPetreu,"Cioran,The Transfigurationof Romania"
Claude Karooth, "LucianBlaga and the Birth of the Modem"
Sorin Alexandrescu,"The Iron GuardPhenomenon"
Leon Volovici (comment)

Ideologies and Economic Theories:

Joseph Love, "Interwarand Postwar StructuralistTheories of Development in
Romanin and Latin America"
Bogdan Murgescu, "The Heritage of the Past in ContemporaryEconomic Debates"
F. Peter Wagner(comment)
The WomanQuestion and Feminism:
MariasBucur,"CalypsoBotez: GenderDifference and the Limits of Pluralismin
Mihaela Miroiu, "Antifeminismas Conservatism:The RomanianCase"
IrinaLiczek, "WesternCulturalImportsin EasternEurope:DemocracyandFeminism"
Bonnie G. Smith (comment)

Intellectuals and Communism:

AlexandraLaignel-Lavastine,"Fromthe 'First'ConstantinNoica to the Second:
Break or Continuity?"
Mircea Flonta, "AnalyticPhilosophy in CommunistRomania:Why and How?"
Vladimir Tismaneanu(comment)

Final Address:Daniel Chirot

(Thereare plans to publish the papersof this conference in Romanian,and perhapsin

English, at a later point.)