Romania and the Balkans

Tr@nsit Online

Romanian intellectuals, academics, writers, artists, and politicians have been “imagining the Balkans”, and have been reflecting on their own ambivalent connections to that part of the world over the past two centuries or so.

From geocultural bovarism to ethnic ontology

Imagining the Balkans, and oneself in relation to the Balkans, has been a Romanian intellectual pastime for roughly two centuries. Prior to that, Transylvanian Romanians tended to ignore whatever was going on south of the Danube, with the exception of Turkish expansion, especially after 1526 and the demise of Hungary. Conversely, Moldavians and Wallachians had strong ties to their southern neighbors. Even in times of war and political instability, such connections proved resilient enough to ensure the resumption of routine interactions once a certain way out of crisis was found.

Moldavians and Wallachians were turning south for spiritual inspiration. The Bible and the liturgy remained Slavonic for centuries, after obscure Greek and Latin beginnings, and a failed fourteenth century Catholic inroad, until Hussite and Calvinist influences triggered the translation of the Gospel in the vernacular. Philosophical-political models, first and foremost the Byzance après Byzance revivalist fantasy of many local princes, were equally found south of the Danube. However, elite Moldavians and (to a lesser degree) Wallachians started to emulate Western intellectual, artistic, lifestyle impulses and patterns once their feudal states stabilized. A few boyars travel as far as Italy, France and England as early as the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, on diplomatic missions or in order to attend universities; throughout the seventeenth century, several Moldavian boyars attend Polish universities, open up to Latin culture, start speaking about their Roman ancestors and Europa nostra, have visions of aristocratic “republics”, and turn their native chronicle writing into an almost early modern historiography.

The eighteenth century furthers the discrepancies between Transylvania and the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia in every way, including such elusive domains as the social imaginary, self-identity, and symbolic geography. Uniate Transylvanian Romanians benefit from access to higher education in Vienna and Rome, where the curricula have a strong emphasis on classical studies. For these Romanians, “classical literacy” means a lot more than the professional mastery of the Greek and Roman canon, and turns into the medium of emergence of their collective self-identity, offering the strategy by which the Uniate Church, originally a Habsburg instrumentum regni, is recuperated by the elites of the Transylvanian Romanian community, and used in its emancipatory efforts. Although many Transylvanian Romanians remain Orthodox, the new Latinist doctrine of the Uniate Transylvanian School, according to which Romanians are the descendants of Romans (and consequently as noble as them), gains ground, surviving foreign and domestic critiques.

On the other side of the Carpathians, Latinism never really acquires the status of an ideology. Moldavians and Wallachians, later Kingdom (Regat) Romanians, usually take their Roman origins to be one ingredient among two (with the Dacian “substratum”) or more (with Slavic and other elements added to the melting pot), and generally reject the Transylvanian School’s (highly politicized) theories and practices. For instance, they do not share the (inadvertently self-defeating) idea, vigorously upheld by some radical Latinists as well as by their worst Austrian and Hungarian enemies, that the autochthonous Dacian populations had been completely exterminated by the Romans and that the Roman colons had preserved their racial purity for almost two millennia. Moreover, they oppose the scholarly reconstruction of the language that would virtually replace Romanian with Latin. Throughout their long eighteenth century (starting in 1711 in Moldavia, in 1716 in Wallachia; ending in 1821), Moldavians and Wallachians are gradually attracted towards a different symbolic order, epitomized by their thirty-one Phanariot ruling princes serving seventy-five times on the two thrones. This period of direct foreign rule is arguably the first “Balkanization” of the Romanian principalities, a process by which the political system, societal structure, everyday life, high and low cultures are brought closer to the Levant. Thus, Moldavia (to a lesser extent, due to its more distant north-eastern location) and Wallachia join the Balkans precisely at the time of the latter’s emergence as a symbolic geographical category, as Enlightenment’s European Orient.

It is precisely the legacy of the Phanariot century that constitutes for most Romanians the core of their self-identity dilemmas, controversies, and crises. Repressing this part of their history, or eventually sublimating the repressed whenever it surreptitiously returns, these are the two complementary attitudes educated Romanians are torn between. Meanwhile, the commoners undergo successive cycles of Balkanization, de-Balkanization and re-Balkanization. And if a certain top-down transmission of the essentially (self-)stigmatic image of the Balkan “habits of the heart” and development undoubtedly takes place in various ways, popular choice seems to favor a laid-back, mildly cynical, (self-)ironic, (self-)indulgent Weltanschauung and existential program. Fighting the ubiquitous Homo balcanicus (Svetlozar Igov) but finally relapsing into the mentalité balkanique (Jovan Cvijic) seems to be the curse of the Romanian intelligentsia.

This is the story I am trying to tell in what follows. While focusing on Romania’s imaginary escapes from the Balkans, I first address an ambiguous discourse of inclusion, affinity, and sublimation which largely presents the Regat as a part of the Balkans, or a transitional territory between the Balkans and Western (more recently Central) Europe, or finally as a sublimation of the Balkans; then I concentrate on the horizontal escape towards Western Europe, which I call “geocultural Bovarism”; I go on to the vertical escape from the Balkans, in the context of a more comprehensive autochthonist ideology culminating in what I call “ethnic ontology”.

Inclusion, Affinity, and Sublimation

Modern Romanian culture, from the first decades of the nineteenth century on, has distanced itself symbolically from the Balkans. This distanciation amounts to an articulate cultural-ideological program, and is consistent with the overall Romanian (and most radically Regat) symbolic shift to the West. Before I turn to this mainstream attitude I would like however to very briefly describe its equally interesting and revealing opposite, by addressing three complementary strategies: inclusion, affinity, and sublimation.


Romanians’ voluntary self-inclusion in the Balkans is opportunistic and/or messianic, having to do with Romania’s endemically problematic geopolitical situation. The modernization of the Romanian principalities was already under way in the 1820s. It started in the realm of ideas, as a substantial cohort of boyars, fathers and sons, go West, the former to discover and emulate its civilization, the latter to absorb its culture and bring it back home.

Modernization was advancing in other areas as well: the 1829 Adrianople peace opens up trade on the Lower Danube, and attracts Western merchants, entrepreneurs, and lesser fortune-seekers; the same year, the occupation of the two principalities by Russian troops under General Pavel Kisselef imposes the first local equivalents of a constitution, the Organic Regulations; it also brings a French-speaking, multinational officer corps with Westernized lifestyles and manners. Thus, modernization, initiated by some Phanariot Greek princes ruling in Moldavia and Wallachia (in hopes of future chances to apply their expertise in Greece), or self-consciously as a “native” project (appeals to imitate the West, boyar reform programs), was being boosted by exogenous interest groups, and was acquiring the inexorable strength of most unintended consequences: French, salon dances, Western music, playing cards, and women’s social visibility were made fashionable by the Czarist officers; Western-styled constitutions, for all their conservative limitations reminiscent of the Ancien Regime, were imposed by a Russian general who was experimenting, as in other cases, more liberal Utopias in the periphery of the empire.

Despite all these changes that pointed to the West, albeit paradoxically, the two Romanian principalities remained under the Porte’s suzerainty. Local boyars, no matter how emancipated and Westernized, still carried Ottoman passports on their trips to the “Lights of Europe”. Gradually, some of these boyars discovered and embraced the idea of a Balkan confederation, which was floating in the air at least since the Thessalian poet, Rhigas Phereos, and was taken up by Mazzini in the 1840s and 1850s, as a shield (“living dam”) against Russian expansionism (this is how Mazzini was trying to “market” his project in England — to no avail). Politician Dimitrie Bratianu was answering Mazzini’s appeal on September 11, 1851, referring to the metaphor used by the Italian revolutionary, the rebuilding of the early second-century A.D. Trajan’s bridge over Danube. The bridge had actually helped transform Dacia into a Roman province, but Romanian Latinism had turned such symbols of defeat and “proto-colonialism” into symbols of Dacia’s (and thus, Romanians’) European integration avant la lettre. Balcania was supposed to be the rallying vision in the Balkan peoples’ fight for emancipation from Ottoman domination, and was meant to be the name of a stable confederation that would oppose the various imperialisms competing in the area, sometimes shrewdly supporting ethno-national independence movements. Two decades later, Romanian national poet and conservative publicist Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889), writing against the imperialism of Austria-Hungary, advocated the same idea of a Balkan confederation.

Eminescu’s fervent nationalist convictions didn’t prevent him from supporting the second best of Balkan federalism. In this respect, he is somewhat similar to Banat-born Romanian federalist Aurel C. Popovici, who prior to WWI proposed the “United States of Greater Austria” as a framework in which Romanians (including those in Austria-Hungary, especially Transylvania, where Hungary was conducting policies of forced assimilation and discrimination) would be organized in an ethno-national kingdom with a status similar to Bavaria’s in the German Empire. Popovici, a Habsburg senior civil servant close to the ill-fated Kronprinz, turned into a chauvinist and an anti-Semite in interwar Romania, an evolution quite indicative of the ambiguities of most minority federalisms. Ironically, Austria-Hungary was also trying to recuperate Balkan federalism, but the Dualist Empire collapsed before Popovici and other self-interested proponents of multiethnic (or, in the case of Austro-Marxist federalists, transethnic or postethnic) brotherhood managed to gain decisive political ground.

Friedrich Naumann’s pre-WWI project to expand Mitteleuropa in the Balkans and beyond under “natural” German leadership, the all-too-ambitious French interwar plans to set up a Danubian (con)federation as a counterweight to Germany’s power, just as the Soviet plans to annex (most) Balkan states to its mutant federal structure, in the name of Valev’s concept of “economic integration” (later, COMECON was its mere avatar), were not successful either. As we have learned, most recently from Yugoslavia, federalism doesn’t seem to be a lasting solution of the Balkan puzzle. Nevertheless, the legacy of federalism is still with us. In Romania, its last expression was, in the 1950s, the idea of the “Helvetization of Romania”, advanced by Communist fellow-traveler Petre Pandrea (who had symptomatically started as a right-winger before WWII) in a manuscript that was confiscated by the Securitate and lost. Counterintuitively enough, Pandrea meant by “Helvetization” Romania’s integration into a prosperous Balkan anti-Soviet federation. Yet, if one deletes the most strident word — “prosperous” — from the project, what remains is not entirely new: the “constitutive Other” is there, as an indispensable element (cf. the 1934 Balkan Entente, with Romania, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Turkey trying to team up against revisionist Bulgaria; the other Ententes also needed a — temporary — common enemy); the implicit principle of a radical transformation of the negative into the positive. Some would prefer now “Finlandization”, as this fantasy of transubstantiation, or of dramatic transfiguration, recurrent in the Balkans, includes more recent versions of the human rights paradigm: Finland is the exemplary political and social contract available for (formerly hegemonic) ethnic minorities in a progressive (that is, non-standard) nation-state. Historically, it has happened otherwise: Sub-Saharan states dread their “Yugoslavization” and “Balkanization”.

But the best illustration of Romanians’ self-righteous, and (self-delusionally) messianic inclusion in the Balkans is provided by interwar historian Victor Papacostea (1900-1962), one of the leading scholars specializing in the area, who resurrected the federalist utopia once more. In 1936, after providing the genealogy of this idea and deploring the contemporary “contradiction between the ethnic and the economic; between ethnic unity and economic diversity“, he candidly proposed Balcania as a second best, but also as a chance for Romania’s hegemony in the region: “If it is to enter an association of states in the future, let us prefer that of the Peninsula. This one was made by God. In its framework, peoples will keep intact their national state organization. Romania will be able to resume that great office — in the service of South-East European humanity — she held before, but not in such favorable conditions. Let us then organize — by reducing as much as possible the rigorism of intermediary frontiers — that great Balkan solidarity meant to prevent the rebirth of rapacious empires. Let us organize the Confederation — as it was seen by Dimitrie Bratianu and Eminescu — against the tyranny that moves in circles around our houses.” According to Papacostea, and in the spirit of geographical determinism, the region had an organic coherence: it was the “natural fortress of a great geographic unity” (all quotations are from Papacostea’s 1936 article, “Balcania”).


Papacostea’s Balkan anthropogeographical-geopolitical ruminations point to the rhetoric of affinity which was used by many Romanians as both the rationale for their hegemonic self-inclusion in the Balkans (Romania being prima inter pares), and the most effective way of keeping the Balkans at a safe distance when Romania’s inclusion in the Balkans was initiated externally, with Orientalist, or downright political intentions. Thus, a case for Romania’s extraterritoriality was being made by clever Romanian intellectuals. Numerous medieval theological-political thinkers were insisting that the (Catholic) Church had the right to oversee human affairs in the name of its messianic mandate, universal salvation, whereas the state (prince, king, emperor) and the society were not allowed to interfere with the affairs of the Church. Later on, various intellectuals and intelligentsias were using a secular version of this self-serving line of argument, replacing salvation by some Utopia, and God by Reason, the Proletariat, etc. As long as extraterritoriality is at least implicitly agreed upon by all the interested parties, Romania can mingle with the (regular) Balkan countries.The same implicit, but non-negotiable, assumption of extraterritoriality can equally be found in most Romanian discourses on the Black Sea Region.

The safety mechanism of extraterritoriality has allowed many Romanian authors to express cavalier attitudes towards the Balkans. Papacostea, while speaking candidly of the “great ethnic affinities” of the Balkan nations, was still trying to support Romanian interests in the Balkans, somewhat downplaying the recent catastrophes of the Balkan Wars, and the fact that Romania was still occupying Southern Dobruja and was silently “cleansing” it of its natives (purging it of its Balkanness), with Romantic support from Queen Marie. The most proverbial queen of Romania had chosen the southern Dobrujan (i.e. Bulgarian and Turkish) seaside resort of Balcic as one of her favorite residences, consequently turning it into the fashionable summertime spot of the Tout-Bucarest; besides, she was aptly dubbed the “Mother-in-Law of the Balkans”, for masterminding, with mixed results, the marriages of the following generation of Romanian royalty to Balkan counterparts. Iorga would frequently claim, in publications and lectures for Romanian and foreign audiences, that Romania was not a Balkan country, despite the many affinities, and he would provide ample historical, geographical, and cultural evidence. He would nevertheless admit rhetorically that, even if Romania were a Balkan country, it wouldn’t be a shame, as being Balkan was not (that) bad.

When extraterritoriality didn’t seem convincing or practical, bolder discursive strategies seemed more appropriate. Iorga’s Byzance apres Byzance (1935), a sequel to his earlier Histoire de la vie byzantine, rapidly acquired cult status. The book was essentially substantiating and simultaneously rewriting a Romantic Romanian myth, namely the special status of the Romanian principalities during the middle ages. Romantic historians had gone at great length (as far as it gets: patriotic forgeries) to show that the military strength of medieval Moldavia and Wallachia forced the Porte to let them pretty much on their own.

Moreover, Iorga wrote, the heroic “Athletes of Christ” — as well as some less militarily gifted, but ambitious servants of the Greek Orthodox faith and generous patrons of the arts — among Romanian princes were no less than the true heirs to Byzantium. Not sharing in the Balkan stigma of “Turkocracy”, and being able to trace one’s family history back to medieval native aristocracy, would have been enough to look down on the (true) Balkan nations. But more was better than enough: the two Romanian principalities, Iorga wrote in the preface of his seminal book, ensured the persistence of the Byzantine power, and of its cultural, religious, artistic legacy until the beginning of Balkan national emancipation movements in the early nineteenth century, when (ironically enough) Byzantium was finally destroyed by the Panariots, due to the double pernicious influence of the (one the one hand) French philosophes, enemies of religion and of historical authority, and (on the other hand) of the “revolutionary internationalism” of “organic nations, having the right and the duty to live on their own”. Three comments on Iorga’s demonstration are necessary. First, one didn’t have to be Romanian in order to be seduced by it. Paul Morand’s example of a foreigner who “goes native” is more famous: Bucarest, Morand’s novel which basically propagated, not without some occasional irony, Romanians’ self-image and folie des grandeurs, ended with praise for the royal dictatorship of Carol II. Less remembered today is the more spiritual endorsement of Romania’s self-ascribed civilizing role in the Balkans contributed by Hermann Keyserling in his Das Spektrum Europas (1928); Keyserling almost internalized the vision of his Romanian guide (something not uncommon when Westerners visit other parts of the world), and wrote chapters such as “Romania and the Byzantine Tradition”, or “The Renaissance of the Byzantine Spirit”. Second, the limits of the doctrine of Romania’s Balkan affinities, and especially of the “ethnic affinities” were set by the intricate controversy over the space of emergence of the Romanian ethnie; too much insistence on “ethnic affinities”, and especially on the Balkan Vlachs (considered by the Romanians a mere branch of their ethnic group) ran the risk of inadvertently providing Romania’s Austrian and Hungarian enemies with another piece of evidence for the theories according to which all the Romanian populations had emerged in the Balkans, and only subsequently migrated in the “Carpathian Basin”, where the jus primi occupanti could thus be claimed by the Hungarians. Thirdly, the idea of a post-1453 translatio imperii, the theological-political mythology of the Third Rome — best studied in the case of Russia –, so passionately upheld by Iorga, was to be abused by the interwar extreme right in Romania, the Iron Guard. The “Legionnaires” radicalized this regressive, self-aggrandizing, but ultimately benignly emancipatory myth, and turned it into an apocalyptic (or nihilistic) scenario of ethno-national regeneration through mass destruction, into a call for the construction of a spiritual Fourth Rome, for a mystical “transfiguration of Romania” (to use E.M.Cioran’s infamous title), the absolute end of all past defeats, humiliations, and stigmata, the advent of a New Man and of a posthistoire with Romanians as the elect people (the impostors, such as the Jews, would be taken care of by God’s instrument, the Iron Guard).


The ambiguities of self-inclusion and affinity are taken to yet another level by what I call the sublimation of the Balkan (self-)reference. There are several forms of this sublimation, which will be sketched below. By way of introduction to this section: I won’t tackle sublimation from a psychoanalytical viewpoint, along the lines of Freud’s concept of Sublimierung, however tempting the dilettante “synthesis” of Freudian sublimation and repression (Verdraengung) may be. My inspiration comes largely from the Burkean and Kantian esthetics of the sublime; from the late nineteenth-century esthetics of the ugly and its twentieth-century aftermath; and from the meaning of sublimation for chemists: the transformation of a solid, with no transitional state, into gas.

Taken at face value, the negative, “Orientalist” (or, according to Maria Todorova, “Balkanist” — as distinct from a mere application to the Balkans of Edward Said’s post-Foucauldian concept) stereotypes of the Balkans seem to be the strongest possible cognitive (and symbolic) organization that area. Moreover, as we know from many other cultural-historical environments, “natives” are frequently ready to internalize the visitors’ (imagined) normative gaze, assuming that perceptive (mainly Western) travelers can see through their thin veils of self-pride their darkest secret: ethnic stigma. In two of my books, I have examined the birth and the natural history of ethnic stigma, mainly in the Romanian example, using (rather loosely) Erving Goffman’s classic theories, and the growing literature on collective stigma, self-hate, self-victimization. Beyond vocal claims to the contrary, most people(s) look down upon themselves, and sometimes reach the absolute bottom, the “symbolic wound” of stigma: “we are the last, the worst, the most hopeless; and we are the ones to blame for it”.

But even internalized ethnic stigma can be ambiguous: E.M.Cioran, for instance, when asking the most cruel identity question, Comment peut-on etre Roumain? (echoing the famous episode in Montesquieu’s Lettres Persanes), and thus turning self-identity (second) thoughts into an ontological scandal, was also apophatically suggesting the negative excellence of his nation. One would find here evidence of a nationalism a rebours, not merely delectatio morosa. For being exceptional in suffering, in (self-)destruction, and in evil is as great, if not greater, than excelling in the more banal domains of joy, (self-)construction, and perfection. A softer form of this negative pride is of an epistemological nature: many people(s), in the Balkans and elsewhere, take pride in telling foreigners (if Westerners, so much the better!) that nobody can really understand (let’s say) Romania unless one is a Romanian.

Indeed, there is always something mesmerizing about (one’s own) negativity, including the chance of overcoming the burden of passivity, the most characteristic marker of otherness. Escaping from the cursed (Orientalist) realm of passivity seems worth the voluntary self-ascription of negativity. Negativity is active — or, like contagion/contamination — comes close to it, asserting itself as activity’s second best, the middle voice, the ambivalent status in between the agent and the patient, between agency and its opposite. It may be the casual reference (by none other than Albanian writer Ismail Kadare) to the Albanians’ contribution to the Ottoman elites, a way of saying that conquered people(s) in the Ottoman Empire were not only subaltern, but they could become vizirs, and thus active; never mind the Balkan self-serving mythologies of victimization, if one could claim his ancestors were agents rather than patients, the statement acquires a cathartic function. It may be the recurring theme of the Balkanization of the West: the West is not safe from contamination by the Balkan evils; the mysterious “Balkan syndrome”, even when blamed on NATO’s secret weapons gone astray, is only the latest episode in a series of scenarios according to which the West could be subverted, and eventually destroyed, by the negativity of the Balkans, no matter how ambivalent. What really matters is breaking the circle of defeat.

The glamorization of otherness, especially by the normative Other, is another form of what I mean by sublimation. The Morlacchi and their career in Western “sentimental imagination”, so brilliantly and charmingly discussed by Larry Wolff, are the perfect illustration of the esthetic transfiguration of Balkan barbarity; but similar stories are known from other cultures of Eastern Europe: the Balkan Haiduk, the Gypsy musician, the paysan du Danube, the Polish or Hungarian (fake) aristocrat, the fin-de-siecle (Romanian) prototype of the Latin Lover, and so on. This is not simply Orientalism, nor another similar process by which the Other is endowed with traits that deepen him or her into otherness, from non-sexual reproduction (like Voltaire’s Cossacks) to cannibalism. The Other, including the Balkan Other, has also been imagined as the West’s anthropological Utopia, as the Westerner’s alternative, or possible self. This “exercice mental sur les possibles lateraux”, to use in a slightly different context Raymond Ruyer’s definition of the Utopian method, was ambiguous, and the resulting gallery of “lateral possibles” frequently included human beings that were considerably more gifted, more admirable, and even more appealing than the average, banal Westerner. In other words, when speaking of Orientalism and Balkanism, one shouldn’t overlook the bright and fascinating side of stereotypes.

In Romanian literature, writer and adventurer Panait Istrati (1884-1935), whom Romain Rolland defined as “the Gorki of the Balkans”, epitomizes the passage from (self-)glamorization to (self-)sublimation. Politically and ideologically, Istrati’s best-selling works range from admiration for the Soviet Union to one of the earliest critiques of state Communism (published, typically, after a trip to the proletarian dictatorship) and right-wing nationalism; esthetically, Istrati’s fiction includes minor, sentimental short stories inspired by his life on the Lower Danube, Romania’s former Levantine “frontier”, as well as powerful, larger-than-life tableaux of the same region and of its connections to the Balkans and to the Mediterranean. Istrati, whose literary-existential charisma was peaking in the 1930s, is still read (more in France than in Romania), possibly for what I consider to be a fascinating discursive innovation: before, but not unlike, Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek, Istrati’s Balkan picaros and humble rebels embody an alternative emplotment of the narratives on that part of the world: neither merely sentimental, nor pretentiously tragic – Orientalism, even Balkanism, could actually accommodate both –, but rather nostalgically sublime. Nostalgia for a lost world of Arcadian harmony and frugal hedonism, cast against the backdrop of a regressively sublime representation of a natural landscape and of a vernacular culture which are the epiphanies of higher anthropological, and indeed spiritual and ontological, domains, this is what brings Istrati’s fiction closer to the level of the (Homeric) epos. Thus, the local acquires universal significance and meaning in redeeming ways: it is not the Western philosophe (nor his lesser avatars, down to the present-day media personalities) that locates, and (self-)ironically encodes his fantasies in Enlightenment or Orientalist plots which are closer to the fable (through the Other’s a-, pre-, or post-historical “animality”) than to any other literary convention; rather, it is the Other that asserts his or her identity, “talks back”, has an active (not passive, not middle) voice, brings something valuable and relevant to the common quest for the humanity of human beings. The fact that, in order to be able to communicate effectively, the Other uses, frequently with metadiscursive cunning, Western languages, Western literary and cultural traditions, does not diminish the Other’s contribution and freedom of expression; not is this adoption (and adaptation) of Western means merely a subversive trick of the eternally subaltern. As the Balkans have also inherited, albeit in minor forms after the fall of Byzantium, a part of the Greco-Roman legacy, writers such as Istrati manifest and document traditions and potentialities which were missed or lost by the West. Thus, the Balkan “exercice sur les possibles lateraux” contributes to the enrichment and fulfillment of the human condition.

Romanians, like most “natives”, are not always appreciative of such successful “exports”. For the less sophisticated, more stories about their world, taken at face value by those who can only understand the conventions of realistic literature, do not add up. For the autochthonist, works such as Istrati’s, while undeniably true to the “roots”, expose that part of a nation’s “cultural intimacy” (Michael Herzfeld) which affects the nation’s “image” when communicated internationally, and consequently reinforce collective stigma; the autochthonist canon is utterly and self-defeatingly unable to co-opt such unconventional representations of the ethno-national, beyond the blatantly heroic-tragic; rigorous autochthonists reject even potentially advantageous emplotment pacts, including the activation of the negative. Lastly, those who experience ethnic stigma most traumatically, rigorous Westernizers engaged in the politically correct “East-West dialogue”, equally resent even the inadvertent international revelations of the “true” ethno-national “essence”: too many illiterate peasants, haiduks, and the like are damaging their project of voluntary assimilation, of “self-colonization” (to use Alexander Kiossev’s provocative definition of Balkan national cultures, which are unable to generate an endogenous model, and voluntarily “colonize” themselves with a exogenous model of their own choice). Interestingly, Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), an enormously successful cultural export heavily based on the sublimation of the local, is not unanimously appreciated in his native country despite his quasi-official cult; some still consider him to be just another shrewd peasant who was fooling Westerners with objects that any other peasant craftsman could produce. Westernizers need to develop a taste for the internally exotic, not far from Orientalism and “self-colonization”, they need to develop what French anthropologist Claude Karnoouh perceptively analyzed in the Romanian case, the esthetics and the ideology of “folklorism”, a belief that popular genius is genius after all, despite its being – they think — natural, not cultural. In order to be seen as absolutely pure, the local sublime has to be tainted with a form of epistemological negative pride: it has to be untranslatable, it has to be incomprehensible to foreigners. On the one hand, advocates and proponents of the local sublime claim that Romanian folk culture is a precious version of the Weltgeist, on a par (at least) with any other folk culture, and indeed with any other high culture; this is a tactical acceptance of cultural relativism, since the point is to establish a symbolic equality with the West. Westernizers, however, unlike autochthonists – who are engaged in a type of “self-colonization” which I call imitatio nationis, or self-imitation –, are never really persuaded by such remedies of collective insecurity. Westernizers dread the discovery by the West of the rather trivial accomplishments or “true essence” of their vernacular culture, and of all its derivatives, including the sublime; some Westernizers are also proud, again in a negative way: not everything valuable should be necessarily sanctioned by the unilaterally normative West; after all, why would all local cultures be worthy of appreciation only to the extent they are acknowledged in, say, Paris? This is partly the reason why what Romanian literary historians and cultural critics call “(literary) Balkanism” is roughly a positive category, bordering on the sublime and occasionally entering the realm of the sublime. To be sure, aleady in 1913, dictionaries of the Romanian language start including Balkanist definitions of the word “Balkan” and of its family: “balcanic, by extension (referring to the more backward state of the culture of the Balkan peoples): backward, primitive, uncivilized”. Nevertheless, as I indicated, “Balkanism” has come to characterize in Romanian culture something rather positive, culminating in the sublimation of the local. Romanian high-brow intellectuals, such as the brilliant essayist Alexandru Paleologu (b. 1919), an undisputed arbiter of taste with real and imaginary family ties to the Byzantine emperors of the same name, would claim that being Balkan (although, again, Romanians are not!) is not a shame: Plato, Socrates were Balkan; Byzantium — a notion which has always preserved its uniquely positive connotations in Romanian, in opposition to its pejorative re-semantizations in Western languages — was Balkan, and definitely more “European” than Western Europe between the fall of the Roman Empire and Italian Renaissance.

“Balkanism” in Romanian culture has been successively deplored as “a national geographical complex” (Ov.S.Crohmalniceanu), or hailed, in the tradition of the esthetic of the ugly, as “that superiorly enobled abjection” (I. Negoitescu). Let us, very briefly, look at several literary examples, and introduce only the strictly necessary background. Further theorizations would have to be supported by more textual evidence, and by close readings. The general framework, I hope, can be made intelligible on a more abstract level.

Modern Romanian poetry, like other dimensions of Romania’s modernization(s) has several conflicting genealogies, and a critique of the latter is beyond the scope of this paper, although it is highly relevant. Most experts agree on the eighteenth century as the period in which what can be fairly described as modern Romanian poetry emerged. The first modernization paradigm in the Romanian principalities was, as we remember from the beginning of this article, brought by the Phanariot ruling princes. The latter were in many cases generous patrons of the arts, and were sometimes highly educated themselves. Also, they were bringing to the Romanian princely capitals, Bucharest and Iasi, alongside their proverbially corrupt regimes, the latest in terms of lifestyles, fashions, ideas, arts, and entertainment from Constantinople. The last pre-Phanariot ruling prince in Moldavia, Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723), had been raised and educated in the Ottoman capital, where elements of the early modern Western culture were present, although not hegemonic, and definitely not a part of a larger Western model. Cantemir can be seen as a symbolic attempt at modernizing elements of the Oriental canon, and of organizing them according to the emerging Western one: he invented a revolutionary musical notation system, wrote down precious Ottoman traditional music; he wrote a famous and influential history of the Ottoman empire, in Latin, speaking of incrementa atque decrementa aulae Othomanicae; he was rhetorically in the old tradition of classical scholarship, but substantively not entirely remote from the more sophisticated and seminal corsi e ricorsi of Giambattista Vico; elected a member of the Berlin Academy, Cantemir equally wrote a learned Descriptio Moldaviae in which erudition and Landespatriotismus were coupled with humorous self-critical notations on Moldavians’ “national character”.

Dimitrie Cantemir is also symbolic for the failure of the Constantinople model of modernization: despite his genuine intellectual curiosity, despite his familiarity with an impressive number of languages, ideas, and cultures, old and new, Oriental and Occidental, Asian and European, the Moldavian philosopher-prince did not “discover” Cartesianism! In his brilliant philosophical work, Sacrosanctae scientiae indepingibilis imago (written in 1700, lost until 1877, only printed in Romanian in 1928), Cantemir was using the theosophic system of Johannes van Helmont, rooted in medieval philosophy, theology, and magic; one year or so later, Cantemir was looking more closely at this pre-modern, and indeed anti-modern, author’s physices universalis doctrina.

Similarly, modern Romanian poetry was first tried in the eighteenth century, following the popular “neo-Anachreontic” poetry, a mediocre sentimental genre in which the “invented tradition” was copiously mixed with cheap Oriental verse most typically used as lyrics for interminable, florid party music. Romania’s first modern poets were writing in precisely that vein, from Dimitrie Cantemir himself to the first authors who start emulating Western poetic models in the 1820s. The genre represents a prototype of a long series of “counter-natural” metissages of the lower end of high-culture (the largely Oriental local equivalent of Hofkultur) and popular culture, spanning several centuries, obscured but not eliminated by the Communist mass cultural canon, and victoriously back on centerstage after 1989, when they culminate in the music that dominates Romania’s entertainment industry under the generic name manele (the plural of manea, borrowed from Turkish more than three centuries ago: sentimental, blues-like Oriental party music, replete with erotic references, frequently obscene). The phenomenon is common to all Balkan cultures, while its most articulate critique from the perspective of both the autochthonist and Westernizing canons (competing as they are for the definition of the national canon) is best known in its Serbian form, turbo-folk, and is masterfully interpreted by anthropologist Marko Zivkovic. The generic label could be now changed to reflect the most recent developments in Balkan youth (musical) subcultures: the Western models of pop, rock, folk, and disco are complemented with or supplanted by rap, hip-hop, and house.

The protean writer, folklorist, musician, church singer, and adventurer Anton Pann (ca. 1797-1854) is the missing link in the evolution of Romania’s “literary Balkanism”.

In the introduction of this article, I mentioned Bulgarian scholar Svetlozar Igov’s notion of a homo balcanicus (he actually writes balkanicus, with a “k”, updating the Latin script to suit his coinage). Igov actually meant something more specific: the Bulgarian parvenu of the late nineteenth century, a reactionary, corrupt bon sauvage of the Balkans who turns into a rapacious, newly rich, manipulative, demagogical politician after his trip to the West, which should have actually “Europeanized” him; Izov’s fictional epitomization of his homo balkanicus is Bay Ganyo Balkanski, the Bulgarian Tartarin-Schwejk-type hero created by popular writer Aleko Konstantinov (1863-1897). Maria Todorova is right to see Bay Ganyo as a generically Balkan figure, with counterparts in other cultures of the area. I would like to propose an alternative, and wider meaning of the notion, which I (maybe too subtly) signal by my slightly different spelling of the word balcanicus : this homo balcanicus is, to put it in a nutshell, the historical actor who corresponds to the idea of a mentalite balkanique.

And if there ever was an “average picture” of the homo balcanicus, that was Pann’s biobibliography: an incarnation of the Balkan “ethnic affinities”, he was – according to one’s preferred sources – Bulgarian, Romanian, Vlach, or half-Greek (apparently, his mother was Greek); he was always on the move, as the homo balcanicus is often a homo viator as well; born in Sliven, Bulgaria, he has lived in the Balkans proper before roaming the Romanian lands, from Bessarabia to Transylvania and Wallachia. Anton Pann is best known for a superbly (re)written, colorfully colloquial, brilliantly funny collection of proverbs – organized by themes, partly in order to subversively show how folk wisdom “relativistically” includes mutually exclusive categorical imperatives — and for the re-writing in Romanian verse of the ubiquitous Balkan popular classic, the story of the Turkish-Balkan picaro wit, known in Romania as Nastratin Hogea.

Romania’s Westernizers have tried to distance themselves, in the second half of the nineteenth century and until after WWI, from such embarassing authors and works that would remind them, and Westerners, of their Balkan connections. But the intellectual generation coming of age in the 1920s, as well as a few marginals of the previous generation, started to have second thoughts, and later to articulate radical alternatives to mimetic Westernization. From the last third of the nineteenth century on, the occasional anti-Western attitudes of the Westernized Romanians, as well as the rejection of superficial, inherently ridiculous and counterproductive transplantation of Western ideas and institutions on an unprepared domestic soil, grow into full-fledged cultural programs and political ideologies. In the 1860s, literary critic and politician Titu Maiorescu (1840-1917), doctrinaire and leader of the cultural movement Junimea (The Youth), goes beyond the already popular castigation of the local Bay Ganyos — uninentedly burlesque, and inadevertently reactionary, superficial imitators of the West (or rather of a half-indigenized stereotype of the West’s own parvenus –, and suggests that a whole world of forms without substance is emerging in the United Principalities, due to superficial imitation of the West. This pernicious “pseudomorphosis” (to use Oswald Spengler’s metaphor) was, Maiorescu claimed, hindering the real Europeanization of the country, as the forms without substance were blocking the deeper process of organic indigenization of Western imports ranging from the modern novel to parliamentary democracy. Overall, Maiorescu’s apparently conservative stance was in fact a program of thorough, true Westernization.

At the same time, national poet Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889), Maiorescu’s protege, was pleading in his influential conservative political journalism for a rejection of the corrupt, devastating, alienating forced modernization spearheaded by Jews on behalf of aggressive empires.

Western ideas and institutions, Eminescu believed, had to be adapted to the local traditions, most of which were poetically encoded by him in haunting regressive Utopias of the Romanian antiquity and middle ages. Eminescu was equally adamant when it came to the Balkan legacies: he was cursing the Turks and the Phanariots, “Bulgarians with thick necks and Greeks with thin noses”, blaming them (alongside Russians, Austrians, and so on) for the miserable situation of his nation. The alternative imaginary Eminescu was coming up with in his poetry and journalism was, despite its Romantic rhetoric and fin-de-siecle intellectual background – including Sanskrit mythology, modern physics, etc. — autochthonous. Prose writer Ion Creanga (1837-1889), a son of Moldavian peasants, and Eminescu’s close friend, became the popular story-teller of the nation, the Romanian Homer, thus adding to Maiorescu’s theoretical speculations and to Eminescu’s political radicalism-cum- poetic genius a precious Volkish dimension. The foundations of the twentieth-century Romanian national vulgate were thus laid, its classics were established. From among the late nineteenth-century authors that were already hailed as classics in their lifetime, two help us better understand the national vulgate. The first, Ioan Slavici (1848-1925), a gifted writer of short stories, was a Transylvanian Romanian who had to dramatically improve his command of the literary language (he had been educated in Hungarian), under Eminescu’s tutelage. He was bringing to the national vulgate the necessary Transylvanian element. The second, playright and short-fiction writer Ion Luca Caragiale (1852-1912), equally a close friend of Eminescu’s, had hardly any place in the national vulgate: Caragiale’s literary work could be superficially read as critique of “bad Westernization”, but his output was a lot more than just that. Caragiale is not a Romanian Aleko Konstantinov, as Maria Todorova believes. Poet and playright Vasile Alecsandri (1818 or 1821-1890), one of the first classics of modern Romanian literature, had already taken care of that sanitary function: Alecsandri’s fictional Dame Chirita, can be partly read as a Moldavian, female Bay Ganyo, the epitome of a series of literary portraits of mid-nineteenth century Romanian parvenus. With Caragiale, satire takes a turn towards a sophisticated cultural critique of Romanian modernity, ranging from an almost absurdist theatrical representation of society, politics, and state institutions — closer to Austrian playright Nestroy than to farcical or satirical or even tragicomical boulevard theatre –, to an in-depth analysis of public discourse, literary language, and incipient Romanian ethnic ontology. Symptomatically, Caragiale (incidentally, of Balkan descent!) was at some point called “the last Phanariot occupier” by those who, exasperated by the writer’s immense popularity, hated this cosmopolitan, anti-nationalistic, and admitted “Balkanism”. Caragiale was pushing back Romanians in the Balkans, some believed, while others continue to find in Caragiale’s work inspiration for an open, rich, dynamic Romanian identity, secure enough to acknowledge its heterogeneous, non-teleological, anti-essentialist natural history. Caragiale, unlike Cioran several decades later, was not paralyzed by metaphysical identity torments, was not asking Commment peut-on etre Roumain? Critical as he was of matters Romanian (an attitude culminating in his settling in Berlin towards the end of his life), Caragiale did not go as far as ethnic stigma; his solution to his nation’s crises of growth was, in literary scholar Victor Ivanovici’s felicitous formula, an answer: “To be Romanian means to be Romanian and something else”.

Starting from the interwar period, Caragiale has been constantly opposed to Eminescu. Significantly, Eminescu’s cult was served by both the Iron Guard and the Communist party-state (in the latter’s national-Communist stage), while Caragiale was almost entirely obliterated by the extreme right-wingers, and turned into a document of bourgeois decadence and class struggle by the Communist propaganda.

Nevertheless, a taste for exoticism (both internal and external) was inevitably becoming a feature of late nineteenth-century modern Romanian culture, as another side-effect of Westernization. The internal Other – the Gypsy, the Turk, the Greek, the Jew, the Peasant, etc. – was occasionally represented by the educated elites as picturesque or glamorous, rather than hostile, threatenting, conspiratorial, dirty, and the like. Also, when “being Romanian and something else” was not an attractive genealogical choice for this new world in search of its roots, one possibility was to appropriate someone else’s ancestry, or to engage in a process of genealogical creativity. We have seen how Byzantine imperial ancestry is occasionally mentioned both in the name of the nation and of just one family. Other inventions were equally far-fetched. Among others, poet and novelist Mateiu I. Caragiale (1885-1936), Ion Luca’s son, developed a passion for genealogy and heraldry.

The father was ridiculing his son’s self-delusional genealogical quest, as the family’s Balkan origins left little room for a choice of aristocratic ancestors. To no avail: Mateiu married an older woman, the daughter of a boyar; he made his literary debut in 1912 with a collection of sonnets saturated with heraldic imagery; and he tried his hand at prose, publishing a rather minor collection of short stories, starting a novel he never finished, and publishing in 1929 another novel, Craii de Curtea-Veche. The title is hard to translate, as craii means “kings” and “playboys”; cei trei crai de la Rasarit, in the Romanian translation of the Bible, are the Magi (literally, “the three kings from the East”); curtea-veche, “the old court”, refers to an actual Bucharest historic site, where the former princely court used to stand, but also implies the notion of past splendor.

In 2001, Craii de Curtea-Veche was pronounced by the country’s most prestigious writers and critics the best Romanian novel ever written; a real cult of the novel and of its author developed shortly after the book’s publication, although some authoritative critics have expressed opposite views. G. Calinescu (1899-1965), in his immensely erudite, memorably synthetic, and frequently idiosyncratic history of Romanian literature, wrote that Mateiu Caragiale was a “superior failure, more valid than the accomplished”, ridiculed the writer’s aristocratic obsession – “He could be a butler on Sunday leave” –, but praised, despite several cruel remarks, the novel; and concluded: “Mateiu Caragiale is himself a promoter (maybe the first) of literary Balkanism, that greasy mix of obscene phrases, lascivious impulses, awareness of an adventurous and fuzzy genealogy, everything purified and seen from above by a superior intelligence”. Coming from an unsparing critic who was also closer to the spirit of Caragiale the father – made of elevated cynicism, devastating (self-)irony, and an almost metaphysical common sense – this judgment is truly exceptional.

The novel’s motto is the single most important discursive locus of Romania’s symbolic geography. The passage is in many ways a standard result of the encounter between the “native” and the Western traveler (in this case, French statesman Raymond Poincare, 1860-1934, President of France between 1913 and 1920): the “native”, a refined Westernizer who anxiously expects the Westerner to discover his “true self”, tries to escape individually from ethnic stigma by being the first to be overcritical of his country; the Westerner takes over the “native” self-stereotype, either at face value or as a means of understanding the “native”; finally, the (elite) “native” reports the formula as a dictum of the constitutive Other, and uses it in his domestic culture wars, pushing it down the social ladder through education and the media, eventually socializing the whole nation into the discourse of ethnic stigma. In Poincare’s French version, this succint self-characterization runs as follows: “Que voulez-vous, nous sommes ici aux portes de l’Orient, ou tout est pris a la legere…” (“What do you want, we are here at the gates of the Orient, where everything is taken lightly…”). Reading this line more closely and in the same vein – i.e., emphasizing my interpretation of Poincare’s statement as a result of his interaction with the “natives”, rather than as a spontaneous value judgment of his own –, we see how Romanians place themselves at the gates of the Orient, and not in the Orient, possibly seeing themselves as mediators between West and East, like most other nations in Eastern Europe; also, we see that this self-location in a civilizational limbo can acquire the function of a mitigating circumstance (for any cultural, historical, and ontological shortcomings, evils, crimes), thus effectively deflecting any future normative judgment, and depriving the Westerner of his superiority (complex); finally, we detect in this passage a trace of the (self-healing) attitude recommended by Slavoj Zizek to all those who suffer from real and imaginary ailments: “Enjoy your symptom!”. With (black) humor, (self-)relativism, (self-)irony, and common sense, even the ethnic stigma of a(n almost) Balkan nation can be alleviated or diffused.

Mateiu Caragiale’s heroes, as well as their fictional Bucharest, are shaped by a logic of ambivalence. On the one hand, they epitomize a Balkan universe of decay, misery, promiscuity, failed Europeanization, Oriental dishonesty, lack of (work) ethic, vice. This is what other authors, both native and foreign, keep telling us. But, on the other hand, Mateiu Caragiale transfers all this on the level of the sublime, by means of a fin-de-siecle discourse which is the Romanian avatar of the most influential Western glorification of decadence: dandyism.

Perceptive Romanian critics have signalled Mateiu’s – using only the author’s first name, in which “u” is not pronounced and is a marker of the (golden) past, is another attempt to free the son of any association with his illustrious father’s towering, antipodal legacy – dandyism, both literary and existential. This is not such a great discovery, really. Remember, Mateiu’s lesser collection of short stories (1924), can be seen as an indigenization of the dandy canon: Sir Aubrey de Vere, the main character, is himself a dandy, a pederast, a transvestite, and a drug-user, very similar to Des Esseintes, Huysmans’ hero in the cult novel A Rebours (1884). Craii’s esthetic-mystical and philosophical-ideological program is the sublimation of the Balkan reference by means of the categorical translation of (vulgar) decay into (noble) decadence, of (first-degree, “animalic”) vice into (meta-, self-reflected, constructed, “divine”) virtue.

This very program, consistent but not identical with the dandy paradigm, integrates Mateiu and his fiction in a larger European post-Enlightenment, reactionary (i.e., both counter-revolutionary and regressive) discourse, which I intepret as a (Romantic, later spiritualist) largely bourgeois re-writing of Marquis de Sade’s own subversive program, in which perversion, excess, crime (murder included), blasphemy try to dissolve the “iron cage” of the modern Western mind. Baudelaire’s esthetics of the ugly and his explicitly dandy works (such as La Fanfarlo, 1847) are only two of Mateiu’s inspirations, as he was equally fascinated by Huysmans, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam and Barbey d’Aurevilly. A rather old-fashioned list of models in 1929, when Craii was published (the idea dates back to 1910), although Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu, read by some as a dandy work, was appearing at the same time, between 1913 and 1927. Drieu la Rochelle’s Gilles was printed as late as 1939, more than one century after Lady Morgan’s France in 1816 (1817), the book which had arguably inaugurated the dandy canon.

The first person narrator of Craii portrays three of his acquaintances and their (but also, ambiguously, his) world without hiding his partiality. Actually, the narrator is himself one of the three crai, in the true dandy tradition of indistinction between life and art (both were to melt in a kind of holistic estheticization, the dandy Gesamtkunstwerk ); the nickname, crai, is shouted to them by Pena, a half-crazy, alcoholic, ugly (former) whore who lives off the bathing of the dead. The second crai, Pasadia (the name has a Levantine flavor) is an old erudite aristocrat, a historian and genealogist, immersed in the sources from the middle ages and (self-referentially) the Phanariot century; he lives secretively after his return from abroad, where he had studied from his early childhood; he reads and writes during the day, while at night he joins his friends and parties, moving from elegant restaurants to the sordid pubs of the Bucharest’s outskirts, a stereotypical Balkan realm of brutal debauchery; Pasadia hates Romania, quotes Poincare’s dictum in earnest, and burns his many manuscripts before dying while having sex; his last will also demands that his decadently luxurious house be burned; upon his return from the West, he had been regarded as a foreigner (another self-delusional cliche of the self-hating “natives”, who daydream about their assimilation into their reference group, signalled by the fact that his kin cannot recognize him as one of them anymore). Pasadia’s multiple genealogy includes Sicilian, maybe also Norman, noble ancestors, as well as Greek buccaneers and money forgers. The third crai is Pantazi, whose family had come to Wallachia one century before, “from the Turkish lands”, i.e., from the Balkans; Pantazi had lived abroad before, and goes back there at the end of the novel, after his soteriological plans to marry the pure, beautiful daughter of a real grand boyar fail with the girl’s death. Only the buffoon of the crai, Gore Pirgu, thrives when everybody and everything else decays, dies or otherwise leaves the stage. Pirgu, who joins the three real gentlemen when it comes to depraved outings, is the Romanian bourgeois arriviste, who becomes patriotic only when drunk, is the “living embodiment of the very dirty and nauseating spirit of Bucharest”: he makes a fortune, enters politics, and presides a “subcommission of intellectual cooperation at the League of Nations”.

Craii’s ultimately apocalyptic sublimation of “Balkanness” was emulated in Romanian literature by a number of writers. Literary Balkanism, inaugurated by Anton Pann, lives on.

Novelist Eugen Barbu (1924-1995), a former gendarme before the Communist takeover, one of the infamous architects of Ceausescu’s personality cult and of national Communism, contributed several books, ranging from an almost naturalistic depiction of contemporary quasi-Balkan Bucharest slums to an allegorical novel about decadent life under the Phanariots, entitled Princepele (there are many other intertextual connections to Machiavelli’s Il Principe), otherwise plagiarized in part, apparently with a little help from several ghost writers.

Literary historian and theorist Silviu Angelescu (born 1945) surprised Romania’s intellectual circles in 1988, when he published his first novel, Calpuzanii (The Money Forgers) a Phanariot thriller (in the sense Umberto Eco’s Il nome della rosa is a medieval thriller) constructed on the basis of the author’s scholarly familiarity with Romania’s eighteenth century. Starting unassumingly from the banal convention of the found manuscript translated by the narrator-“editor” from a mysterious language, the novel unfolds on several, intricately connected, parallel textual levels: an allegory of really existing Communism, from the megalomaniac tyrant to the ubiquitous censorship and secret policemen (not surprisingly, the novel was withdrawn from bookshops shortly after publication); the description of the imaginary language, Paleo-Sarmatian, according to the standards of historical linguistics (a performance in itself ); the “reconstruction” of the Paleo-Sarmatian mentalite, manners, public spirit, religious life, cosmogony, Weltanschauung ; all this is simultaneously a pastiche of national Communist ideology (called in Romania protochronism, a term which will be discussed later), a satire of Romanian national character; lastly, but not finally, since the text has other levels and meanings that cannot be discussed here, a complex parody of the literary-cultural-historical corpus written on the Phanariot period both by the epoch’s authors and by many subsequent ones. Calpuzanii’s second edition (1999) was revised, and the passages which had been deleted or maimed by the Communist censors were restored to their original form. The author has promised a sequel.

Poet, prose writer, and theorist of literature Mircea Cartarescu (born in 1956), the central figure of Romanian postmodernism whose work has been translated, critically acclaimed around the world, and nominated for important French literary prizes, published a 260-page epic poem, Levantul (1990, reissued in 1998), a masterpiece of poetic craftsmanship, intertextual irony, and consummate knowledge of Romania’s historical, cultural, ideological, and literary traditions. The poem is a postmodernist recreation of the Romanian-Levantine connection by means of a sophisticated parody of the Romanian poetry of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, cast in the form of a (mock-heroic) poem about the tribulations of Manoil, a Wallachian Candide who fights for the political emancipation of his country, travels all over the Levant, and engages (not always self-consciously) in anything from idealistic love to revolutionary conspiracies to fights with the pirates. Throughout the poem, the connoisseur is rewarded for his quite difficult hermeneutic efforts with intense plaisirs du texte, ranging from the sheer metatextual enjoyment of perfectly written poetry (in the successive styles of the last three centuries) to a universe of wildly imaginative (self-)references: Borges, Rene Thom, censorship, postmodernist poetics, Wagner, jazz, etc.

Halfway through, Cartarescu (who inevitably features himself in the text, makes comments, addresses the reader) pays a parodic tribute to his most illustrious predecessors in the lineage of “literary Balkanism”, Mateiu Caragiale and Ion Barbu. The mise en abyme could not be more appropriate: Cartarescu’s poem represents the last stage in this peculiar Romanian tradition of literary sublimation of Balkan negativity. Mateiu’s work stands for the first metadiscursive stage, dandyism; Cartarescu epitomizes the postmodernist stage; between them, the post-Parnassian modernist stage bears the signature of Ion Barbu (1895-1964), a celebrated poet and an equally celebrated mathematician (the latter used his real name, Dan Barbilian).

Ion Barbu’s “Balkan cycle” – the label was coined by literary critic and Westernizer ideologue E. Lovinescu (1881-1943) – bears the title Isarlak, a reference to the Turkish village under which Schliemann has discovered Troy, mainly on the basis of his literal reading of Homer; it was written in 1924, and published the following year. Romania’s best literary scholars have abundantly (over)interpreted Ion Barbu’s work, and – as it always happens when a “native” writes for a foreign audience – I can only approach this cycle from my angle (the sublimation of Balkanness), the central though by no means the only facet of this uncanny combination of Anton Pann, Mateiu Caragiale, and Mallarme.

Ion Barbu has always declared his admiration for Mateiu Caragiale: before writing his cycle, and after, when Mateiu’s main work, Craii de Curtea-Veche, was published a few years after Isarlak; Ion Barbu’s Bohemian period was equally close to Mateiu’s dandyism. Moreover, intertextuality – which by now we have repeatedly noticed as a main feature of literary Balkanism – extends to the earliest representative of the canon, Anton Pann: Isarlak was explicitly written in order “to do justice to the world of Anton Pann”; as the title implies, there was something precious under the surface of Balkanness, and Ion Barbu has definitely managed to reveal it. As G. Calinescu did not fail to notice, “the object of the poems is not the concrete face of the Balkan world, but rather its ideal schema”; thus, Isarlak is “a simple moral hypothesis”, and the reader should not look for historicity, geography, “reality”.

When he discovers that the argonaut who sets sail towards the “white Isarlak” — a fantastic, almost mystical, present-absent, virtual-actual city: a civitas terrena which is in fact a civitas coellestis, to use St. Augustine’s dualistic topology from De Civitate Dei – is Nastratin Hogea, the puzzled reader has to proceed further. Even more surprisingly, Ion Barbu’s poems – according to an insightful interpretation by literary scholar Serban Cioculescu — move all the way from a quasi-Nietzschean vision of the ancient Hellenic world, through Nastratin’s humorous, colorful, vivid, “Balkanized” Greece, then through a simultaneously Hermetic and decadent Alexandrine stage, to an entirely abstract level, where the sublimation reaches its zenith.

Thus, Ion Barbu inscribed in the core of the Romanian high-cultural canon a transfigured, sublime Balkan dimension. This shows that “good Orientalism” ought not be searched for in the “good Orient” – India and the Extreme Orient –, as a number of Romanian intellectual figures have argued, most notoriously Mircea Eliade, the quintessential representative of a significant interwar trend which literary scholar Dan Petrescu has termed tentatio Orientis interbellica. Moreover, there was an alternative, Ion Barbu suggested, to the main interwar reinvention of the Orient in the country, the right-wing, mystical-revolutionary, and ultimately murderous doctrine of Orthodoxism, the autochthonist quasi-Reformation of Orthodox Christianity. Indeed, as we know from more explicit sources, Ion Barbu was reacting in his Isarlak to “ethnic traditionalism”, the other name of Orthodoxism.

The Horizontal Escape: Geocultural Bovarism

My discussion of inclusion, affinity, and sublimation as tropes of Romania’s self-reflexive relationship to the Balkans has introduced a minimal cultural-historical background that I would now like to use on a more abstract and general level.

Romania’s Symbolic Geography

No country of the former Soviet bloc parallels Romania when it comes to mental mapping, or symbolic geography. After the splendid works of Larry Wolff and Maria Todorova, one does not need to elaborate on these notions, especially when dealing with Eastern European case studies. Assuming that all the theoretical-historical references are already, at the reader’s disposal, I can concentrate on Romania, with a particular emphasis on that country’s “Balkan connection”.

As I have shown in some of my previous works, Romania’s symbolic geography remained problematic at the end of the twentieth century; it does not seem to become any less so in the next. This country took its shape rather recently, largely thanks to the Treaty of Trianon, when it acquired from crumbling neighboring empires and successor states territories inhabited by ethnic Romanian majorities alongside sizable groups of other ethnic origins, most notably by Transylvanian Hungarians, Transylvanian and Banat Germans, Transylvanian, Bessarabian, and Bukovinan Jews.

Geopolitically, demographically, and socially-culturally (i.e., linguistically, religiously, and so on), Greater Romania was undergoing a fundamental change, as it was struggling to integrate the newly annexed provinces in all the structures and processes of the nation-state. The task ahead was monumental. The new country’s diversity was not only due to a passage from 8% ethnic minorities to 28%, but equally to the disparities and differences – from infrastructure to political culture to lifestyles and so on – between the ethnic Romanian populations from the various regions. All this was happening in a state that was constitutionally and institutionally a nation-state, while it had become a metonymy of the multinational empires which, being based on pre-modern political loyalties and legitimating narratives (such as Kaisertreu), could handle the diversity of their subjects (later citizens) a lot more easily. Could, not necessarily would. Moreover, the interwar period was not exactly conducive of leniency towards minorities: organicisms of all sorts, eventually developing into full-blown isolationistic corporatisms and violent fascisms, seemed to be the only alternative to the already brutal political philosophy of the nation-state. The latter, as we have come to realize during the twentieth century, can only function as a producer and manager of homogeneous populations, and sooner or later turns against any form of local identity, be it a regional variant of the normative majority identity or a minority identity; it took long decades for checks and balances to be devised for the taming of the modern nation-state, and their implementation is still contested today.

This situation translates in terms of symbolic geography as follows: fragments of Romania belong to different European symbolic and historic regions, while Romania as a whole has trouble finding a stable and clear-cut symbolic location, as well as the associated political, economic, and institutional arrangements. Even from the viewpoint of a radical relativist (who believes that everything is constructed and contingent), or from that of a passionate Euro-optimist (who claims that such isssues will whither away even if states do not, thanks to European integration), Romania’s self-location on the continent’s mental map, as well as its perception by others, are worth discussing.

The symbolic path dependencies of Wallachia are the least problematic. The Black Sea (Romania’s, as well as Bulgaria’s, ‘only trustworthy neighbor’) has never played a major role in the history of Romanian self-identity, since Dobruja, a despotate under Byzantine suzerainty until the end of the fourteenth century, was under direct Turkish occupation between 1415 and 1878. It took a while, and Eminescu’s poetic genius, for the Black Sea to be first inscribed in the Romanian imaginary; in the interwar period, the Romanian seaside, expanded at the expense of Bulgaria with three Southern Dobrujan counties (the Cadrilater), was endowed with ports and resorts, and was adopted as a holiday destination by the political elites and by intellectuals, writers, and artists; as I wrote before, Queen Marie’s own sentimentalism turned her Southern Dobrujan summer residence, Balcic, into a chic Bohemian colony, and – after her death — into a national memory site. Mass proletarian tourism in the late 1950s and after have definitively put Dobruja (especially its seafront) on the Romanians’ mental map.

More intuitively, Dobruja could become a privileged site for Romania’s re-Balkanization. Unmistakably, Dobruja belongs geographically to the Balkans: it is separated from Wallachia by a North-East turn of the Danube – the much-mentioned natural limes that “protects” Romania from Balkanism –, just like Bulgaria, although it does not fit in the North-South symbolic diagram privileging the civilized, messianic, Romanian North. Romanians couldn’t do much about Dobruja’s geography – with the exception of the infamous Danube-Black Sea canal, started in the early 1950s as a concentration and extermination camp by the Party-state (not everybody was entitled to paid leave at the seaside!), rather useless economically, but big enough to be seen from outer space. But Romanians did do something else instead: they de-Balkanized Dobruja quite quickly and effectively, by forcing most of its Turkish and Bulgarian inhabitants to leave, and by colonizing ethnic Romanians from other provinces; gradually, other ethnic groups have virtually faded away: Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Albanians; Turks and Tatars are still around, but their presence is not significant enough beyond the sphere of ethnography.

Moldavia’s symbolic geography is more complex. The medieval province was partitioned several times: the Habsburgs took Bukovina in 1775, and turned it into a thriving periphery, enough to ensure the blossoming of German-language higher-education and (largely) Jewish culture in Czernowitz, peaking in the poetry of Paul Celan. Due to Habsburg development, Bukovina was also a cradle of Romanian nationalism, and an efficient bridge to Western culture and civilization. To this day, when Northern Bukovina belongs to Ukraine (and is becoming Ukrainian in every meaning of the word) after having been a part of the Soviet Union, Bukovina has remained a special pole of Greater Romanian patriotism, enhanced by Eminescu’s special ties to Czernowitz. Bessarabia, the part of Moldavia located between the rivers Prut and Dniester, was annexed by Russia in 1812, stayed in the Czarist Empire until the latter’s demise, then was united with Romania between 1918 and 1940, and again between June 1941 and August 1944, when it was occupied by the Soviet Union. Currently, with the exception of three southern counties, strategically included by Stalin in the former Ukraine, and now a part of this new nation-state, Bessarabia is the Republic of Moldova. Symbolically, Bessarabia used to be Romania’s “steppe frontier” (to paraphrase William H. McNeill’s definition of Russia as “Europe’s steppe frontier”), and later its cordon sanitaire, just as the whole country was being designated after WWI as a Bolshevism-proof cordon sanitaire by the Western Allies who had made Greater Romania happen. The fact that Bessarabia missed the crucial century of nation-, and state-building (1812-1918) could not be counterbalanced by the province’s interwar (rather corrupt and incompetent) Romanian administration. Post-1989 demagogues on both sides of the “Romanian-Romanian” border, and the simple fact that Romania was not the Federal Republic of Germany more than Moldova was the GDR, have left Moldova in limbo before this standard post-Soviet state, after the democratic restoration of state Communism (with a Russian-backed military-mafia bonus), started to drift towards the Russia-Belarus emerging “Commonwealth”. Although realistic assessments of Moldova’s future in some form of privileged relationship with Romania are still causing public outcries among nationalists, the former Soviet “republic” is slowly vanishing from the Romanian social imaginary.

Transylvania’s mental representation in Romania is dominated by the Hungarian-Romanian tensions, both in terms of the international relations between sovereign states, and in terms of the everyday and long-term interactions between ethnic Hungarians from Transylvania and the ethnic Romanian majority. A millennium of coexistence has not produced solutions to all the social, ethnic, religious, and linguistic problems it has created, especially due to the clash between Hungarian and Romanian nationalisms — from the eighteenth century on- over the area. Transylvania is the cradle of both nations: it is a classic case of palimpsestic (overlapping both now and in the past) and competing symbolic geographies. To aggravate things, specific parts of Transylvania have been singled out by the two respective nationalisms as ethno-national shrines: the Szeklerland (Szekelyfoeld) for the Hungarians, as well as the Maramuresh and the Transylvanian Alps for the Romanians, to name the most important such prestigious subregions. Transylvanian Germans (Saxons) have virtually disappeared: Siebenbuergen (the ancient German name of Transylvania) and everything related to it are – as Americans say – ‘history’.

An interesting variation on these themes is the regionalist ideology of Transylvanism, a specific form of Landespatriotismus. It was invented by Transylvanian Saxons, too far from the German lands and too different from the surrounding populations to be able to associate with them in a common symbolic geography, let alone in a common self-identity project. After WWI, Transylvanism was taken up by some Transylvanian Hungarians in their moments of despair (when irredentism seemed hopeless), in response to a perceived disinterest in their fate on the part of post-Trianon Hungary. This Hungarian exaltation of Transylvanian identity was also building on the aurea aetas of the seventeenth century, when the province had been a Hungarian Garden of Eden (while most of what is Hungary today was a pashalik). Economy, society, education, and the arts were blooming, whereas Protestantisms of all sorts were protected, including some radical splinter groups coming all the way from England and the Netherlands. The latter historical fact was anachronistically interpreted as tolerance for all denominations, and was explained by a tolerant genius loci that had to be restored despite the dire circumstances of the Romanian takeover. This regressive Utopia, by its very nature, did not pay much attention to history beyond the relevant “usable past”: when the Buda pashalik fell, its unintended consequence – the protection of Transylvanian Protestants from the Habsburg Catholics – came to an end as well. The Romanians’ Orthodox Church was still unofficial, while its priests were serfs, just like their parishioners. Finally, Transylvanism was adopted by some Romanians after their region’s integration in Romania. The attitude squared with the traditional Kaisertreu of most Transylvanian Romanian elites, who were willing to improve the status of the Romanian minority in the framework of the Dual Monarchy – dreaming to play the Habsburgs against the more threatening Hungarians –, rather than work for the union with Romania. After the union, many prominent Transylvanian Romanians expressed dissatisfaction with the “Romanianization” of Transylvania (which they understood very much like “Balkanization”), while some hoped to “Transylvanianize” Romania. Today, the dilemma still applies. A tirade published a while ago by a minor Transylvanian Romanian journalist, “M-am saturat de Romania” (I’m Fed Up With Romania), sparked a bitter controversy; it expressed in the form of a Jeremiad ideas and feelings that are quite common among Romanians. Not to mention Hungarians… The author of the tirade, Sabin Gherman, as well as other Romanians who formulate critiques of the Romanians’ performance as rulers of Transylvania are exposed as enemies of the nation; similarly, any attempts to promote forms of regional self-government – from a stronger local power to devolution and federalism — are promptly sanctioned. More than eighty years after Trianon, the Romanian nation-state seems still insecure.

Finally, the Banat. The province prides itself on having been a Habsburg province for a long time. However, there is little discussion about Timisoara’s having been the capital of a Turkish pashalik as well from 1658; just as Oradea/Nagyvarad from 1660; the two short-lived pashaliks, whose demise, like that of their Budapest counterpart, was triggered by the failure of the Ottoman siege of Vienna and by the Habsburg Reconquista led by Eugene of Savoy, actually covered much of the Banat and Western Transylvania, a difficult fact to accommodate by those who think Balkanization only happened in the Regat, while the Banat and Transylvania had stayed on a rigourous Western course. In absolute fairness, one should also remember that Oltenia, the Western part of Wallachia, was under Habsburg rule for a similarly short period (1718-1738), and nobody claims that the Oltenia got any more mitteleuropaeisch as a result.

As we know from similar case studies, symbolic geographies are resilient: a twenty-first century reader of Larry Wolff’s Inventing Eastern Europe and Maria Todorova’s Imagining the Balkans could very well follow their eighteenth-century examples, as the latter do not differ substantially from what a contemporary Westerner learns from the media about Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. On the other hand, the Orientalist-like logic shaping the mental map of “the Other Europe” – called “semi-Orientalism” by Larry Wolff; “Balkanism” by Maria Todorova (for the relevant subregion); “nested Orientalisms” by Milica Bakic-Hayden in reference to the former Yugoslavia – is, I have suggested earlier, metonymic and palimpsestic. Metonymic, since it replicates itself from the macro level (Europe) down to the micro (a district in a city), in order to “Orientalize”, or “other” its target territory or group; accordingly, Romanian provinces within Romania are organized along the lines of an “Orientalist” diagram in which, as in the Enlightenment’s “Orientalist” diagram of Europe, whatever is located in the (North-)West is inherently superior to whatever is located in the (Souht-)East. Reality does not always follow, but exceptions from this logic do not change its main features: the Banat, in the South-West, has a better symbolic status than the Maramures, in the North-West; also, Oltenia, although Wallachia’s Western part, has a lower symbolic status than the province as a whole. Moldavia and Bessarabia conform to the diagram perfectly, although Southern Bukovina, which continues to be within Romania’s borders, enjoys a considerably better symbolic status than Moldavia, its neighbor to the South. Palimpsestic, since “Orientalism” superimposes several symbolic geographies, irrespective of their timeline, and of their mutually exclusive claims.

More recent changes in the symbolic status of some Romanian regions are still waiting for their firm inclusion in the most popular forms of the national vulgate. Thus, hopeless Oltenia is the site of a series of sensational archeological findings that generated much patriotic speculation, claiming essentially that writing was invented on the banks of the Danube, millennia before what were considered to be mankind’s first scripts and written monuments; ironically, this speculation also brings Oltenia, and Romania, closer to the Balkans, and especially to Serbia, where such archeological patriotic forgeries amount to an official doctrine. Dobruja, on the other hand, is the cradle of another, less bold but equally patriotic, past glory, more usable as Ovid’s exile laments: the first Christians in this part of the world, including a few early Church personalities such as Scythia Minor monks John Cassian (ca. 360-436, who founded two monasteries near Marseille, and was instrumental in the spreading of monasticism in the West) and Dionysius Exiguus (who died in ca. A.D. 556, after inventing the most popular system of reckoning the Christian era). Were they Romanian already? Not really, even patriotic Romanian historians had to admit, as the Romanian ethnogenesis is usually dated after the seventh century A.D.. But they were proto-Romanians, it is claimed; and proof that Romanians were born Christian, which explains why they have no documents attesting official Christianization from above, and they did not have to erect monumental cathedrals to mark (forced) Christianization.

As a whole, we have seen, Romania is hard to put on Europe’s mental map. During the Cold War, things seemed clear-cut: being placed on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, the country fully belonged to Eastern Europe. When, in 1989, the latter category was found by the West to be embarassingly loaded, Romania was included in Central Europe, to everybody’s surprise: the Cold War Central Europeans – Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and, somewhat reluctantly, Poland –, very vocal in the late 1970s and in the 1980s thanks to prominent figures such as Milan Kundera and Gyorgy Konrad, were unhappy to associate themselves with Romania. When they had recuperated the cultural-ideological notion of Central Europe in order to distance themselves from the Soviet Union and elicit the West’s guilt feelings, Kundera and similar authors (as well as their Western supporters) had used an idealized version of the traditional Central Europe, including literature, music, Gemuetlichkeit and other past splendors. The main potential competitors in this exercice in self-serving symbolic geography didn’t object to the label’s new copyright owners: Austrians might have liked the idea, as it was glorifying their usable past, while silencing the less convenient memories; Germans didn’t seem to care, as their version of Mitteleuropa was compromised by the Third Reich, and the Federal Republic of Germany was drifting symbolically to the Atlantic, becoming Western for the first time in its long history; the GDR was the only barrack in the Soviet camp that seemed happy with its geopolitical status.

Under the circumstances, the Western initiative to expand the notion of Central Europe as to include Romania couldn’t convince anybody. Only the first Romanian post-Communist minister of Foreign Affairs (Adrian Nastase, now Prime-Minister) was gratefully spreading the word about his country’s promotion to the exclusive elite of Central Europe; carried away as he was, he suggested that actually Central Europe’s natural Eastern frontier was the Dniester, thus patriotically claiming the same status for Moldova. Be it as it may, the operation – by which geocultural bovarism became almost an official state doctrine — has failed to persuade anyone, and Romania, whose protracted transition doesn’t follow Central European patterns, seems to be drifting back towards the Balkans, or – to use the politically correct phrase — South-Eastern Europe. Back to square one, as it were.

Geocultural Bovarism

In Ce este Sud-Estul European? (What Is the European South-East?), a booklet published in 1940, the year of his tragic death at the hands of the Iron Guard, Iorga was explaining why Romania was not a Balkan country, going beyond the controversies over his country’s geographical location: “A country does not belong to the space where it stands, but to the target it looks at”. This is probably the most candid and succint expression of what I call “geocultural bovarism”.

The 1996 edition of Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language defines bovarism as follows: “an exaggerated, esp. glamorized, estimate of one self; conceit”; and the dictionary refers to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary as the origin of the term. The 1966 edition of Webster’s Third International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged includes a more elaborate definition: “a conception of oneself as other than one is to the extent that one’s general behavior is conditioned or dominated by the conception; esp.: domination by such an idealized, glamorized, glorified, or otherwise unreal conception of oneself that it results in dramatic personal conflict (as in tragedy), in markedly unusual behavior (as in paranoia), or in great achievement”.

Needless to say, I read such definitions quite loosely, and I distance myself from their epistemological-ideological biases such as behaviorism. I use the notion of bovarism as a figure, not as a concept, in the framework of a tropology of Romanian self-identity discourses. My main inspiration is Hayden White’s work, especially his seminal Metahistory. The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1973). The various (meta)tropes of traditional rhetoric (metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony), as well as the various emplotments (romance, comedy, tragedy, satire) shape the discourses of collective identity and symbolic geography, like any other discourses. Thus, the form and the content, once more, are inextricably linked to one another.

Romania’s geocultural bovarism is the deeply entrenched idea that this country is intimately connected to the West, especially to France, and more precisely to Paris. This form of national wishful thinking dates back to the 1840s, when a large group of Moldavians and Wallachians were attending Paris schools and universities, and were developing, under the charismatic influence and protection of Jules Michelet and with the steadfast political-diplomatic support of Edgar Quinet, the project of modern Romania. In this project, the West was to play a paramount role: irrespective of their various ideological creeds, political allegiances, and vested interests, the Romanian generation of 1848, as well as the ones that followed up to WWI, agreed on a program of systematic imitation of the West. Maiorescu’s opposition to “forms without substance” was not against imitation, but rather against superficial imitation. In the interwar period, when the imitatio nationis proposed by the autochthonists was dominant, E. Lovinescu was still an adamant advocate of imitation, since he had established, following in the footsteps of Gabriel (de) Tarde (1843-1904), and of the French sociologist’s Les lois de l’imitation: etude sociologique (1890), that imitation could be creative, not mechanistic. The nineteenth-century Romanian call for the imitation of the West had preserved its relevance and urgency.

Geocultural bovarism goes one step further into wishful thinking: Romanians have a tendency to imagine themselves as neighbors to France, rather than to the semi-barbarious and hostile Bulgarians, Ukrainians, and Hungarians; even the Black Sea and the benevolent Serbians are not worthy of their neighbor, Romania. Needless to say, Romania’s geocultural bovarism is not shared by this country’s neighbors, nor by its imagined Western neighbors (beyond token, and rather patronizing, statements about elective affinities and commonalities). Bucharest is actually not “Little Paris”. It was rather called the “Little Paris of the Balkans“, just as Romania was the “Belgium of the Orient“. Larry Wolff has shown how the Enlightenment used to operate with pairs of notions built on the same geographical term: Asian Bulgaria and European Bulgaria, Asian Muscovy and European Muscovy; also, geographical explorers (not merely colonialists) frequently baptized newly “discovered” places with toponyms from back home, out of nostalgia and civilizing zeal. Phrases like “Paris of the Balkans” or “Belgium of the Orient” should be interpreted much along these lines.

Finally, to go back shortly to the regional level, Transylvanians have always regarded themselves as an outpost of Western civilization in the “Carpathian Basin”; not only the German settlers, who built Transylvania’s cities; not only the Hungarian elites, who ran the province for a millennium; the Romanians as well, starting with the Latinist Transylvanian School in the eighteenth century, the group of Greek Catholic clergymen who have initiated the systematic “invention of tradition” centered on Rome’s legacy. More recently, a research group in Timisoara, called “A Treia Europa” (The Third Europe), has launched an ambitious project to resurrect and document their city’s and their region’s Central European identity. They translate and disseminate the canon of Central European studies, they do local and regional history. But isn’t this geocultural bovarism as well, despite the fact that Vienna and Budapest are close to Timisoara in many ways, whereas Paris and Bucharest keep growing apart?

The Vertical Escape: Ethnic Ontology

When escaping the stigmatizing realm of geography and symbolic geography by way of geocultural bovarism is not enough, the horizontal organization of the world is replaced with a vertical organization, one that frees the ethnic nation from the misery of history and geography, and elevates it next to a transcendental entity. From what we have seen so far, the cultural-political ideology of Transylvanism comes closer to ethnic ontology than to geocultural bovarism, at it is attempting to produce and institutionalize an imaginary autochthonous Geist. As I will show in what follows, Romanians went further, and articulated a full-fledged ethnic ontology.

Scholars of nationalism have routinely disregarded or discarded (for being reactionary, delirious, potentially or directly murderous) authors and discourses that aim at the indigenization of universals such as space, time, and Being. Typically entangled in speculations about history, language, culture, destiny, and the like, such complex efforts to construct what I call ethnic ontologies have shaped and constituted the innermost core of both nationalisms and high-cultural canons. Endowing the ethnie/nation with an ontology of its own means emancipating it from the tyranny of symbolic geography, even rescuing it from the “terror of history”, and placing it in an exclusive, protective vertical relationship to a divine or (in the secular versions of this way of thinking) to a transcendental principle.

By indigenizing universal categories (or universalizing indigenous phenomena), an ethnic ontology is ultimately constructed. Thus, Being (not just national character), space (not just territory and landscape), time (not just history), discourse (not just language) become the interactive building blocks of an idiosyncratic, resilient Weltanschauung. Resilient, as it is, to insist on my earlier point, close to the core, if not the core of many ethno-national cultures. Whoever takes issue with a given national ideology has to be able to take issue, at the required level of sophistication, with its associated ethnic ontology, and, frequently, with the whole surrounding high-cultural canon.

Romanian ethnic ontology originates in the nineteenth century, under the influence of Romanticism; it reaches its most elaborate and radical forms in the context of right-wing interwar autochthonism; and is ultimately codified by philosopher Constantin Noica (1909-1987), especially in his treatise of ontology, Devenirea intru fiinta (Becoming Towards Being), published in 1981. I will try to put this long, complex story in the shortest possible form, refraining from most details and interpretations.

The Romanian generation of 1848 learned in Paris enough Romantic patriotism and rhetoric to be able to write poems in which their country was transfigured by means of biblical imagery combined with the extatic awe elicited by the sublime magnificence of the national landscape. A very excited Dimitrie Bratianu, who was coming back from Paris to a prominent political career, was writing to his mentor Jules Michelet: “now I know: where France ends, nothingness begins”. This refusal of granting ontological substance to the territories between France and Romania (but was Romania excepted from this geocultural nihilism?), a climactic formulation of geocultural bovarism, may have been prompted by Bratianu’s desire to please Michelet, but is still indicative of a certain state of mind. Later, towards the end of the nineteenth century and in the beginning of the next, many elite Romanians educated in the West eventually sobered up, and later turned entirely against all things Romanian, with the possible exception of the natural landscape.

Fighting the growing self-derogatory attitude of the Regat’s blase elites, the Young Generation, or the Generation ’27, the most radical and charismatic intellectual (loose) group of the interwar period, embarked on a totally different project. Initially, the brilliant young scholars, public intellectuals, and writers coming of age after WWI were decided to concentrate on cultural creation. Now that the national ideal had been fulfilled – to an unexpected degree! –, Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), the leader of this new generation claimed, the country’s energies and talents had to generate a world-level culture. At first, such calls for urgent national creativity were a-, even anti-political: Romania had a messianic mandate, but the latter was entirely cultural and spiritual! Moreover, Eliade’s particular call was intended as an exit from history into eternity, in keeping with something he was later to praise as the “boycott of history”, the Romanian peasant’s theological-political response to the vicissitudes of ethno-national destiny, and the corollary of the particular local form of religion, “cosmic Christianity”, in which pagan religiosity, from times immemorial to the present, was organically integrated, rather than superseded.

But the new generation was not asserting itself in a cultural and political vacuum. Besides, its charismatic appeal was in the beginning vastly underestimated by its very proponents: the bulk of Greater Romania’s young generation, trained by a rapidly expanding national system of education, had to struggle for jobs upon graduation, in a labor market which was not progressing nearly at the same pace; also, most ethnic Romanian high-school and university graduates had to be absorbed by the already oversized state administration, as the liberal professions were still statistically dominated by ethnic minority competitors, especially in the newly-acquired territories, and in cities; unfortunately, the state bureaucracy could only grow for a while after the creation of Greater Romania, thanks to the need to run the newly acquired territories; when that period of quick Romanianization reached its natural limits, even (good) jobs in the state system, including education, became scarce. A relatively low-paid, increasingly unemployed “free-floating intelligentsia” of largely peasant origins was booming, against the backdrop of economic hardships and societal crisis.

The international situation was not promising, either. Romania’s cordon sanitaire status was hindering its democratic institutions, in the name of the mobilization against the (absolutely real) Bolshevik threat. Western democracies were themselves taking an anti-democratic turn, culminating in Italian Fascism, and German Nazism. No European nation-state was offering its citizens anything resembling a truly inclusive modern social contract, or a political system capable of accommodating all needs and differences, of guaranteeing equal rights and opportunities for all. Ethnic minorities, first and foremost Jews, were being ever more systematically perceived as internal enemies.

In Romania, against the advice of Transylvanian Romanians, who had conditioned their province’s union to the Mother Country on the guaranteeing of minority rights, Hungarians – the largest ethnic minority — were considered rebellious and untrustworthy; on the other hand, most Hungarians were expecting the post-Trianon arrangement to crumble at any moment, and Transylvanian Hungarians, whose institutional life in the province had been almost entirely state-sponsored before 1918, were slow in articulating a non-governmental institutional system; such is the fate of hegemonic minorities when they lose their state; the other ethnic minorities of the former Dualist Monarchy had turned their lower status into an incentive to build a pre-nation-state, civil society-run system of associations and institutions, which proved to be useful in their respective successor states, although not decisive. Transylvanian Romanian pre-1918 institutions remained largely outside the sphere of the state after the union, as the Romanian Kingdom was expanding its structures in the new territories, but many ethnic Romanian cadres trained in the Dual Monarchy were a precious addition to the bureaucracy of Greater Romania.

Germans, the second largest ethnic minority, remained marginal in the new state, but their public image was extremely positive (as they did not have any irredentist plans), and the rise of the Third Reich turned them into a privileged mediator between the two states, especially that the two economies were becoming increasingly integrated. Overdoing this mediation, and turning into a Nazi fifth column eventually turned the German minority into a scapegoat after WWII.

Jews, the third largest ethnic minority, have been a target of anti-Semitism since the last decades of the nineteenth century, and modern Romanian nationalism in the Regat, as it was trying to turn from a Risorgimento-type, more or less literary discourse into a mobilizing and legitimating ideology, coalesced basically around anti-Semitism (in Transylvania, Hungarians were fulfilling the same function). To the international anti-Semitic discourses, Romanians were adding their exasperation at the massive inflow of Jewish populations from the neighboring Czarist Empire, and after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, throughout the interwar period, the whole rhetoric of the Communist danger. Bessarabian Jews, not always without reason, but in an unfair way (as individual responsibilities were combined in a collective crime), were to remain for a very long time the epitome of a Soviet fifth column in Romania.

Ruthenians and Ukrainians, Russians, Bulgarians, Gypsies, Turks and Tatars, Gagauz, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Greeks, Albanians, Armenians, Serbs, and others were also among the ethnic minorities of Greater Romania. All in all, as mentioned earlier, over 28% of the total population were declaring a non-Romanian ethnic background. This percentage was significantly higher in the new territories, and in Moldavia, where cities had non-Romanian majorities. And it was precisely in the cities, where ethnic minorities were more numerous and more salient, that the young educated Romanian elites were more numerous themselves. The clash was inevitable.

What makes my analysis of ethnic ontology particularly relevant (and, unfortunately, still topical in the twenty-first century) is the fact that this metaphysical doctrine of the ethno-national was to function simultaneously as the core of high-culture and as a surrogate political, ideological, and cultural system of ideas and values on which the Romanian state was based. Everything else – from artistic avant-garde to parliamentary democracy – came to be seen as alien to the essence of the ethnic nation, as inauthentic, and thus superfluous when it was not dangerous.

We have seen how Iorga’s reconstruction of a Byzance apres Byzance was ironically and tragically taken over by the young generation of right-wingers, rising in Greater Romania’s education system, particularly in universities. But Iorga’s vision of a Romanian Byzantine legacy was based on painstakingly researched and brilliantly interpreted historical documents and monuments; consequently, the fantasy of a Romanian Third Rome was tamed by scholarly skepticism and measure: while Wallachia and Moldavia had played a significant role in the preservation of the Byzantine legacy, they were not really a stage in this Eastern version of translatio imperii; Istanbul, “the Muslim Rome”, had closed the series, the Ottoman capital had been the last Rome.

The young right-wingers, and especially the Iron Guard, were not taken aback by such scholarly scruples. Also, as I have indicated, they were looking for a break in historical continuity, and ultimately for the inauguration of a post-historical order, “ethnocracy”. Thus, historical references, even the most self-serving (such as the heroic battles of the middle ages), were not entirely useful for their projects. Their charismatic leader was undoubtedly Nae Ionescu (1890-1940) a philosopher and logician trained in Germany, with an excellent theological background and a histrionic-prophetic-manipulative mindset. He was a galvanizing professor at the University of Bucharest, where his lectures were avidly absorbed by students from all departments, and by a huge, steady audience of non-students from all paths of life. He published little, being persuaded that his Socratic endeavor was more important; his best disciples formed an editorial board to take care of the publication of his articles and (transcribed) lectures. All this was the foundation of his activity as a public intellectual and politician; as a publicist, and director of a very successful journal; mentor, supporter, and finally archenemy of King Carol II; pro-Nazi advocate, and spiritual leader of the Iron Guard, religiously respected by the other charismatic figure of the extreme right, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, head of the Legion of Archangel Michael (another name of the Iron Guard). Nae Ionescu’s teachings were by no means original if one looked at their sources and details. In the 1990s, philosopher and poet Marta Petreu exposed his “liberal” use of other authors’ ideas and even texts, down to occasional plagiarism; it may have been that, like in Ferdinand de Saussure’s case or in similar cases when accusations of plagiarism have been mounted, Nae Ionescu was actually crediting his sources and inspirations, but as his publications were mainly transcribed lectures, the technicalities that protect intellectual property were simply missed. Be it as it may, credible recollections of Nae Ionescu’s charisma – written down by one of the professor’s most paradoxical admirers, Jewish novelist and playright Mihail Sebastian (1907-1945) – help us reconstruct, keeping the Zeitgeist in mind, the sweeping appeal of that dark personality.

Nae Ionescu’s best students were arguably among the most brilliant in their generation: philosopher of religions and writer Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), philosopher, economist and undersecretary of state Mircea Vulcanescu (1904-1952), philosopher E.M. Cioran (1911-1995), philosopher Constantin Noica, philosopher and economist Petre Tutea (1901-1991); the rather short-lived cultural circle of Nae Ionescu’s disciples, “Criterion” (which published a journal with the same title, even more short-lived), was bringing together for public lectures, debates, and other well-attended social-intellectual gatherings even more gifted youngsters, such as absurdist dramatist Eugene Ionesco (1909-1994).

While the “Criterionists” were ready to debate about everything, from existentialism and phenomenology to Charlie Chaplin and jazz, from Marx to Hitler, the core project of the young generation was the building of a great Kulturnation, and of a Kulturstaat. The task at hand was monumental, and urgent, since national character was itself a matter of heated controversy. By the early twentieth century, a number of authors were counterbalancing the growing ethnic nationalism in books about the many shortcomings and defects of the Romanians, and of their Volksgeist: D. Draghicescu (1875-1945), the first Romanian with a Ph.D. in sociology (under Durkheim), published a bitter, erudite, theoretically sophisticated analysis, Din psihologia poporului roman (From the Psychology of the Romanian People); sociologist Stefan Zeletin (1882-1934), a disciple of Sombart, the author of the best book on the rise of Romanian bourgeoisie ever written, published a slim volume in 1911: Din Tara magarilor. Insemnari (From the Country of Jackasses. Notes), a meditation on Romania’s situation and on Romanian national character, a bitter diatribe triggered by the tragic situation of Romanian peasantry (epitomized by the violent peasant revolt of 1907, and by its brutal repression), and confirmed by the tragic experience of the Balkan wars and the general European context of the early years of WWI. While Draghicescu’s massive book was a typical sample of academic discourse, Zeletin was emplotting Romania’s history as a Swiftian fable: the Jackass stood for the generic Romanian, it was the local form of the zoon politikon. Both authors had left-wing propensities: Draghicescu was a member of the Liberal Party’s radical left faction, and had socialist sympathies; Zeletin was almost a socialist. Their left-wing ideological and political allegiances made them a very easy prey for their critics: speaking critically of the ethnic nation, and being a socialist, amounted to high treason. Accordingly, both books were received with hostility: Draghicescu’s academic synthesis was hardly ever mentioned by the authors who were writing on exactly the same issues, with very few exceptions, most notably Mircea Vulcanescu and Mihail Ralea (the latter, in his Fenomenul romanesc, The Romanian Phenomenon); obviously, the almost general silence had to do with Draghicescu’s sharp critique of the Romanian ethno-national psyche, whose earliest counterpart was Dimitrie Cantemir’s eighteenth-century remarks on the bad habits of the Moldavians; only E.M.Cioran’s Schimbarea la fata a Romaniei (The Transfiguration of Romania), published in 1936, was to go further than Draghicescu, but not in a scholarly book, as Cioran’s work was a Jeremiad in essay form; Zeletin’s 88-page political fable was met with a short, patronizing note by Iorga himself (whose despise was so great that he didn’t even sign the two short paragraphs), and was declared by the reviewer writing for Iorga’s daily, Neamul romanesc, “the most bizarre and offensive book written lately in the Romanian language”; the second edition of Zeletin’s work was only published in 1998.

After WWI and the founding of Greater Romania, an apology of the Romanian ethnic nation seemed to be appropriate and timely. Next to Iorga’s nationalism, but closer to the international debates, psychologist and philosopher C. Radulescu-Motru (1868-1957), another influential professor of the Young Generation at the University of Bucharest, and a prolific, celebrated author, had started to publish a series of works on the ethno-national psyche, under the spell of Voelkerpsychologie. The first such work, Sufletul neamului nostru. Calitati si defecte (The Soul of Our Ethnic Nation. Qualities and Defects), an opuscule of 1910, was still ambivalent, as its title indicates. Gradually, the negative side of ethnic psychology virtually vanished in subsequent works; their synthesis, Psihologia poporului roman (The Psychology of the Romanian Nation), which appeared in 1937, as well as other — related, but politically more radical – writings, could be and were used as a source of the (even more radical) rising ethnic ontology.

This program was a lot more comprehensive and ambitious.

In order to create the post-historical Romanian “ethnocracy”, ethno-national character had to be simultaneously studied and vastly improved from above, and eventually endowed with new metaphysical foundations. To study the ethnic nation without falling into the traps of modern sociology — too close to Gesellschaft categories (class, status, etc.) for the young enthusiasts of the Gemeinschaft –, a vast ethnographic-sociological enterprise was launched in the 1920s, under the guidance of brilliant sociologist Dimitrie Gusti (1880-1955), director of Institutul Social Roman (Romanian Social Institute), and initiator of the so-called Bucharest Sociological (or Monographic) School, and creator of the Bucharest Village Museum; teams of university students (of all disciplines, from sociology to theology, from music to literature and linguistics, from geography to philosophy), professors, researchers, with help from village schoolmasters and priests, started to comb the Romanian vast countryside (78.9% of the total population was living there in 1930) in search for the “national specificity” (specificul national). Participant observation, interviews, surveys based on elaborate questionnaires, everything seems to indicate that these teams were rationally contributing to the “science of the nation”, an endeavor that would put an end to armchair anthropology, collective psychology, and ultimately to the increasingly mystical and reactionary attempts to launch an internal crusade and establish a quasi-theocratic regime based on a wildly speculative ideology combined with mysticism, Orthodoxism, as formulated by authors such as theologian, publicist, and poet Nichifor Crainic (1889-1972), an ardent supporter of “ethnocracy”, geographer Simion Mehedinti (1869-1962), and theologian Dumitru Staniloae.

But the young researchers were also men and women of their time. Thus, even engaged in scholarly work, they were trying to “scientifically” document the elusive ethno-national specificity they had heard about from their charismatic professors, and they were planning to enshrine and “routinize” under the leadership of the Iron Guard. Gradually, all their fieldwork came to be framed in the abstract paradigm of an ethnic ontology: philosopher and anthropologist Ernest Bernea (1905-1990) was documenting the Romanian peasant’s ideas about space, time, agency, and causation; literary scholar and folklorist Ovidiu Papadima was finding in traditional popular culture O viziune romaneasca a lumii (A Romanian Vision of the World).

In the same spirit, but closer to the speculative tradition, poet and philosopher Lucian Blaga (1895-1961), inspired by the German tradition of Kulturmorphologie (Oswald Spengler, Leo Frobenius, Alois Riegl), was offering a philosophy of culture and an aesthetic-metaphysical definition of national character, amounting to a philosophical system organized around ethno-national (cultural) style, time, and space. Blaga’s brilliant books of the 1930s and 1940s enjoyed cult status, enhanced by his acclaimed poetry, itself inextricably linked to his philosophy. Sociologist Henri Stahl tried to show that Blaga’s superb poetry and his equally captivating philosophy were based on little more than thin air when it came to their correspondence to the “really existing” peasant. Stahl was opposing to Blaga’s poetic ethnic metaphysics the work of his close colleague and friend, Gusti. To no avail.

Other authors, such as Vasile Bancila (much appreciated by Blaga himself), and – more systematically — Mircea Vulcanescu, were equally planning and contributing philosophical models of the ethno-national. Vulcanescu, in his fascinating “Dimensiunea romaneasca a existentei” (The Romanian Dimension of Existence), published in 1943, offered, by means of a Heideggerian archeology of the Romanian language, the most complete sketch of a Romanian ethnic ontology. Constantin Noica, as I mentioned earlier, took it from there after Vulcanescu’s tragic death in a Communist political prison, and developed the sketch into a monumental two-volume treatise. Thus, the project of a Romanian ethnic ontology was coming successfully to its end. Ironically, the project was completed during the national-Communist period, and was immediately recuperated by the regime; by the late 1970s, a new version of the cultural canon of ethnic nationalism was being institutionalized by the Party-state: protochronism. This culturalist ideology, rather inadvertently launched by eminent literary scholar Edgar Papu – who claimed that a number of Western cultural innovations might have Romanian antecedents –, remained the official autochthonism of late Romanian Communism, provided the discursive space for a revival of the originist mythologies, and in fact of all the nationalist canon of the interwar Right, and sparked the rebirth of a national interest in, and infatuation with, ethnic ontology.

In the context of the quest for an ethnic ontology, Iorga’s Byzance apres Byzance , Victor Papacostea’s Balcania, not to mention Mateiu Caragiale’s Craii de Curtea-Veche, Ion Barbu’s Isarlak, as well as other traditional and modern Balkan references, did not make any sense. Worse, they were unacceptable, even when they were speaking of Romania’s civilizing role in the Balkans, and were building a claim for regional power on that culturalist argument. The new ethnic ontology was promising the final deliverance from any association of Romania with the Balkans. The ethnic nation’s only references were cosmic, metaphysical, and occasionally mystical. And they were to stay that way, irrespective of the massive historical changes, to this very day.

Concluding Remarks

As I have tried to show at some length, and yet too succintly, Romanian intellectuals, academics, writers, artists, and politicians have been “imagining the Balkans”, and have been reflecting on their own ambivalent connections to that part of the world over the past two centuries or so.

Now, in the beginning of a new century, the same logic seems to be shaping Romania’s relationship to the Balkans: a combination of Europeanization (or Westernization) from above and Balkanization from below. This ideal-typical logic does not lack its ambivalences, contradictions, and surprises: current political elites are pushing Europeanization from above only reluctantly, despite their epideictic declarations to the contrary; Westernizing public intellectuals have failed to mobilize significant popular support for their (largely bovaric) agenda, as it is apparent from the demise or poor showing of the civic-political movements and political parties having Europeanization in their programs; as it had happened before, Westernization occasionally comes from an unexpected direction, a fact suggested by the current Turkish and Greek entrepreneurs investing in Romania and bringing along – in the rare, but still significant cases when they had assimilated it themselves – their version of “Protestant ethic” with its equally Weberian corollary, the spirit of capitalism.

All these processes are taking place against the wider background of what we have come to call, struggling with the heavy, embarrassing, heterogeneous load of the word, globalization. Coming to terms with its Balkan connection, overcoming and integrating rather than suppressing it, is Romania’s only chance to benefit from this unprecedented planetary transformation.

Bibliographical Note

This text is the preliminary draft of a book I hope to finish in 2002, Romania: A Symbolic Geography. I reassembled in view of this early publication several sections of the planned book, focusing on the Romanian-Balkan connection, but also introducing a minimal cultural-historical and theoretical framework. The finished product will have a different architecture, will include close readings of sources, a critique of the secondary literature, abundant examples and background information, as well as the other standard features of a scholarly work, down to footnotes and full references. Also, the book will make use of the feedback I hope to generate with a series of related articles which are scheduled for publication in several languages.

To assist the reader at this point, I list several bibliographical references.

Symbolic Geography:

While this field has been growing steadily over the last twenty years or so, especially due to British and American cultural geographers, the field (which may also be called philosophical geography, mental mapping, historical geography, human geography, cultural geography, etc.) has ancient intellectual origins, and boils down to the nexus of geography, history, philosophy, culture, theology, cultural anthropology, literary studies, geopolitics. Since the publication of Edward Said’s seminal Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (Penguin Books, 1978; second edition, with a new afterword, 1995), symbolic geography has become a thriving discipline. Larry Wolff’s brilliant Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1994) is now the classic treatment of the ‘Other Europe’ along these lines; most recently, Larry Wolff added another path-breaking chapter to this project: Venice and the Slavs: The Discovery of Dalmatia in the Age of Enlightenment (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2001); more specifically on the Balkans, but explicitely taking issue with Said and Said-inspired interpretations of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Maria Todorova’s outstanding Imagining the Balkans (New York, London: Oxford University Press, 1997), as well as her shorter pieces on the topic, have added to a fascinating corpus. Prior to this wave of publications in the 1990s, the 1980s had seen the vogue of works on the symbolic geography of Central Europe, a region construed by authors such as Milan Kundera and Gyorgy Konrad according to the cultural-political regressive mythology of a pre-WWI golden Mitteleuropa, and turned into an icon of civilizational sophistication: “the kidnapped West”, more Western than the West itself, and definitely alien to the somber, ‘Oriental’ Soviet realm. For my take on these issues, see the last chapter of my book, Imaginaire culturel at realite politique dans la Roumanie moderne. Le stigmate et l’utopie (Paris-Montreal: L’Harmattan, 1999), as well as my chapter, “Habits of the Mind: Europe’s Post-1989 Symbolic Geographies”, in Sorin Antohi, Vladimir Tismaneanu, editors, Between Past and Future: The Revolutions of 1989 and Their Aftermath (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2000, 2001).

History of Romania:

The best narrative synthesis of Romania’s modern history, in any language, is offered by Keith Hitchins: The Romanians, 1774-1866 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), and Rumania, 1866-1947 (same publisher, 1994). Vlad Georgescu’s earlier critical synthesis covers the entire history of Romania; published originally in Romanian in 1984, it has an English version, The Romanians: A History, edited by Matei Calinescu, with an epilogue by the editor and Vladimir Tismaneanu (1991). Also covering the whole of Romania’s history, Catherine Durandin, Histoire des Roumains (Paris: Fayard, 1995; Romanian translation, Iasi: Institutul European, 1998; Hungarian translation, Budapest: Maecenas, 1998). The critical stance of these works has been pushed even further by Lucian Boia’s lucid deconstruction of Romania’s historical mythology, History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2001; the original Romanian edition is from 1997; translated into Hungarian in 1999, and published by Kriterion). Sorin Mitu’s National Identity of Romanians from Transylvania (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2001; the original Romanian edition is from 1997), is an essential reading in terms of the interaction between symbolic geographies and collective identities in that multiethnic region. Constantin Iordachi has contributed several path-breaking pieces on Dobruja (Dobrogea), most recently “‘The California of the Romanians’: The Integration of Northern Dobrogea into Romania, 1878-1913”, in Balazs Trencsenyi, Dragos Petrescu, Cristina Petrescu, Constantin Iordachi, and Zoltan Kantor, editors, Nation-Building and Contested Identities. Romanian and Hungarian Case Studies (Iasi: Polirom-Budapest: Regio Books, 2001; in the same volume, and in the same spirit, Cristina Petrescu writes about “Contrasting/Conflicting Identities: Bessarabians, Romanians, Moldovans”, while Marius Turda contributes his most recent of several innovative interpretations of Transylvanian history and symbolic geography, “Transylvania Revisited: Public Discourse and Historical Representation in Contemporary Romania”. Finally, my work profits from the comprehensive vision of matters Romanian articulated by a number of other scholars: Alexandru Zub (intellectual history, historical theory, history of Romanian historiography); G. Calinescu, Mihai Sora, Adrian Marino, Matei Calinescu, Virgil Nemoianu (history and philosophy of culture, literary studies, intellectual history); Andrei Pippidi (intellectual and political history, especially on the Romanian-Byzantine and Southeast European connections). Obviously, particular details of my approach benefit greatly from the many works and authors, Romanian and foreign, I will only be able to properly credit in the book.

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