History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness

History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness

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English
285 Pages

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Based on the idea that there is a considerable difference between reality and discourse, the author points out that history is constantly reconstructed, adapted and sometimes mythicized from the perspectives of the present day, present states of mind and ideologies. He closely examines historical culture and conscience in nineteenth and twentieth century Romania, particularly concentrating on the impact of the national ideology on history. Boia's innovative analysis identifies several key mythical configurations and shows how Romanians have reconstituted their own highly ideologized history over the last two centuries. The strength of History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness lies in the author's ability to fully deconstruct the entire Romanian historiographic system and demonstrate the increasing acuteness of national problems in general, and in particular the exploitation of history to support national ideology.


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History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness
Lucian Boia
Publisher : Central European University Press Year of publication : 2001 Published on OpenEdition Books : 23 January 2013 Serie : Hors collection Electronic ISBN : 9789633860045
http://books.openedition.org
Electronic reference: BOIA, Lucian.History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness.New edition [online]. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2001 (generated 17 December 2013). Available on the Internet: . ISBN: 9789633860045.
Printed version: ISBN : 9789639116979 Number of pages : 285
© Central European University Press, 2001 Terms of use: http://www.openedition.org/6540
Based on the idea that there is a considerable difference between reality and discourse, the author points out that history is constantly recons tructed, adapted and som etim es m ythicized from the perspectives of the present day, present states of m ind and ideolog ies. He closely exam ines historical culture and conscience in nineteenth and twentieth century Rom ania, particularly concentrating on the im pact o f the national ideolog y on history. Boia's innovative analysis identifies several key m ythical config urations and shows how Rom anians have reconstituted their own hig hly ideol og ized history over the last two centuries. The streng th of History and Myth in Rom anian Consciousness lies in the author's ability to fully deconstruct the entire Rom anian hi storiog raphic system and dem onstrate the increasing acuteness of national problem s in g eneral, and in particular the exploitation of history to support national ideolog y.
LUCIAN BOIA
University of Bucharest
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Three Years on: an Introduction to the Second Romanian Edition
Introduction to the First Edition
Chapter one. History, Ideology, Mythology
Chapter two. Origins SOME PRINCIPLES ROMAN TIMES DACIANS AND ROMANS: A DIFFICULT SYNTHESIS THE DACIANS GET THEIR OWN BACK THE DACIAN MOMENT OF COMMUNISM THE SLAVS, AN OSCILLATING PRESENCE THE NATION: BIOLOGICAL ORGANISM OR SOCIAL COMMUNITY?
Chapter three. Continuity A HISTORIOGRAPHICAL PARADOX: THE AREA WHERE THE ROMANIAN PEOPLE WAS FORMED NORTH AND SOUTH OF THE DANUBE: A POSSIBLE COMPROMISE? THE CONSOLIDATION OF ROMANITY NORTH OF THE DANUBE THE COMMUNIST YEARS: IDEOLOGICAL IMPERATIVES AND ARCHEOLOGICAL ARGUMENTS THE ROMANIAN STATE DURING THE “DARK MILLENNIUM” CONCLUSIONS: ARCHEOLOGY, LINGUISTICS, AND POLITICS
Chapter four. Unity TRANSYLVANIANS, WALLACHIANS, MOLDAVIANS... OR ROMANIANS? RIVERS AND MOUNTAINS HISTORICAL UNITY: EBB AND RE-ELABORATION COMMUNISM: THE MYTH OF UNITY AT ITS ZENITH IN SEARCH OF THE ROMANIAN SOUL A FLUID SYNTHESIS
Chapter five. The Romanians and the Others
Chapter six. The Ideal Prince
Chapter seven. After 1989 RUPTURE OR CONTINUITY? ALWAYS UNITED? THE METHODOLOGY OF FORGETTING THE FREEDOM TO SAY ANYTHING A MOMENT WHICH WE MUST GET BEHIND US: MYTHOLOGICAL BLOCKAGE
Conclusion
Selected Bibliography
Glossary Compiled for the Eng lish version by James Christian Brown
Index
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Three Years on: an Introduction to the Second Romanian Edition
THE STORY OF A BOOK
Only this new introduction disting uishes the second edition from the first. Much could have been added, m odifications and refinem ents could have been m ade, but I considered that the text oug ht to be left unchang ed, just as I saw fit to write it three years ag o. All the m ore so as the book has becom e alm ost a classic: I have the feeling that it is no long er really m y property any m ore. So I shall rely on this introduction to say all that I have to say about the book, its history, and the historical and cultural controversies to which it has g iven rise.
In writing it, I was convinced that I was laying m yself open to attack on m any fronts. I had had a foretaste only a short tim e earlier, when, to g ether with m y students, I published the collectionRomanianHistorical Mythsin a lim ited print-run at the Bucharest University Press. The arm ed forces television prog ramPro Patriae the honor of(now discontinued) did m m aking a veritable “soap opera” out of the issue, which was broadcast at peak viewing tim e on the national television channel. Military and civilian com m entators outdid one another in talking about m e (in m y absence) in less than pl easant term s. I had struck, it would appear, at the foundations of national ideolog y and Rom anian identity—by relativizing what m y accusers “knew” full well to be the one and only history of the nation. Just one m ore step—and a short one at that—and it would have been a m atter of hig h treason. The m ilitary had becom e a tribunal of historiog raphy: w hat could be m ore telling both for the confused state of Rom anian dem ocracy and for the co ntem pt in which professionalism was held? Som e newspapers g ave m e a sim ilar treatm ent. The students, too, had their share of troubles at the hands of certain professors—scarcely to the credit of the latter. I realized then what it m eans to find oneself isolated in such a situation, even in what I m ust recog nize was a self-cultivated isolation. Adversaries are usually quicker off the m ark than supporters. The fact is that at the tim e no one leapt to m y aid. And I m ust confess that I had not expected such an uproar. My aim s had been purely professional; I had never soug ht to g ain cheap publicity or to scandalize public opinio n. I was caug ht red-handed in m y own naivete: I should have known—it was, after all, the very thesis I had always propounded!— that history cannot be isolated from society, from ideolog ies and politics. So m uch the better: I now had the opportunity to test the deg re e of social sensitivity to history by m y own experience. Life is full of surprises. One of the least expecte d—for m e—was the exceptional reception which the present book enjoyed on its first publication in May 1997. It becam e the favorite topic of discussion in intellectual circles. Its pr aises were sung by personalities of the hig hest standing in Rom anian culture. It was clear that it responded to a deeply felt need. Som ething was not quite rig ht with the history which had been taug ht for g enerations. But what, exactly? It was, of course, the task of a historian to identify the ideolog ical pitfalls in our reconstruction of the past. When people speak a bout history they are really speaking about the present, about them selves. However, the b ook had reached even further than I
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intended. It was not just history that was under discussion but Rom anian culture as a whole, and the Rom anians’ sense of who they were. Am ong th e m any reviews the book received, which repeatedly hig hlig hted the novelty and the necessity of the project, I was particularly im pressed by Mircea Iorg ulescu’s article inDilemaust 1997), under the tide “At(15-21 Aug last!”. The critic insistently repeats these sam e w ords: “At last.” “At last”, he stresses, “we have the first radical and system atic critique of t he Rom anian culture of today.” Less enthusiasm was shown by historians (with a few exce ptions, m ainly am ong the young er g eneration), and it is easy enoug h to see why. A re lativistic perspective on history, according to which history is inevitably seen from the present and is im possible to separate from the social and cultural environm ent in which i t is produced, is not the sort of thing likely to delig ht professional historians. They wou ld rather believe in a scientific and objective history—som ething with which to justify their own professional status. All I ask them to do is to explain how it is that this scientific and objective history is always different. I am not the one who m akes history relative! Historyisrelative: all I am doing is noting the fact. The m ost curious thing , however, was the alm ost com plete absence of the sort of attacks which had been so frequent a short tim e before. I a m not sure if it was entirely to its advantag e, but the book was m et with m uch praise an d very little controversy. When hostile voices could be heard at all they were tim i d and isolated, perhaps because of a g eneral strateg ic withdrawal after the elections of Novem ber 1996, which had deprived the forces of ag g ressive nationalism of the levers of power that they had previously held. Will there be a belated reaction after the elections of 2000, I wonder? Such politicization is, in any case, the last thing I want; I wrote an honest book about history, not a partisan intervention. The critical success I have m entioned was m atched b y the book’s success with the g eneral public. Four successive print-runs of 9,000 copies, which sold out in two years (a considerable fig ure for the Rom anian book trade), are proof thatHistory and Mythhas itself entered into “Rom anian consciousness”. I am g lad th e book has been successful; it rem ains for m e to g et used—thoug h I doubt I ever shall—to b eing a “public fig ure”, a strang e role which I do not, and never did, desire for m yself. O ut of the sam e reticence I appear on television as seldom as possible. Would it not be w onderful if we could separate the book from the author!
DEMYTHOLOGIZING?
It is not for m e to assess the extent to whichHistory and Mythhad an unleashing role. I like to think that I did not write in vain, and that at least a few of the new historical-cultural approaches of the last two or three years can be tr aced back directly or indirectly to the book. Perhaps I have put an end to a state of innocence and raised questions which can no long er be avoided.
I have followed with interest, and often with am aze m ent, the career of the wordmyth,a word rarely encountered before 1997, which has slipped rapidly from the cover of m y book into fashionable circulation, at the risk of a veri table inflation and a pronounced unscrupulousness in the way it is used. Dem ytholog i zers are now in full swing . Ag ainst them , no less active and vehem ent, are arrayed the upholders of national m ytholog y, in
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whose vision the m yths express our Rom anian essence and are to be left untouched. This new line of defense is an interesting one. Of course, there are still intransig ent upholders of an unblem ished Rom anian historiog raphy, in which ev erything is true and nothing is m ythical. More subtle m inds, however, do not dispute the existence of a dose of m ytholog y: they just say that it is not a g ood idea to dem olish it! Such an attitude is no long er scientific: it is alm ost m ystical. “The hunting down of m yths”, writes no less a cultu ral authority than Eug en Sim ion, president of the Rom anian Academ y, “is a risky acti vity, because m yths are part of the cultural identity of the nation.”1 Are we to understand that we do not need intellig e nt historians—that patriotism is sufficient? To m ix th ing s up even m ore, there is an easy slippag e from “m yth m aking ” to “m ystification”, and vice versa. Thus Eug en Sim ion sum s up m y arg um ent in a spirit which I do not recog nize as m y own: “In short, the history of the Rom anians would appear to have been abusively m ytho log ized, and, by m ytholog izing , m ystified. What is needed is to dem ystify it and judg e it lucidly…”
We oug ht, however, to m ake a distinction between th e two words and concepts. Mystification is a crude process (thoug h it can som etim es be an efficient one), which has nothing to do with the subtle substance of m yth. My stification is a m atter of lying , deception, and deliberate m isinform ation, while m yt h is som ething quite different, defining or illustrating a g reat belief which anim a tes a people. It is, of course, possible to m ystify on the basis of certain m yths—to take advan tag e of what people like to believe, of their prejudices, hopes and illusions— but it is not perm issible to confuse the two concepts. I for one do not waste m y tim e hunting down lies: I t ry to unravel the g reat m ythical tendencies which are inherent in the hum an soul and in the consciousness of com m unities. None of those who have written in the last few year s about m yths, dem ytholog izing and dem ystification have soug ht m y opinion, and indeed there is no reason why they should. I am not, and I do not aspire to be, the leader of a school. I am responsible only for what I write and for m y own ideas. For this reason I feel the need to m ake two thing s clear. Firstly, the adaptation, deform ation, and m ytholog i zing of history is inscribed within a universal typolog y. There were those who believed t hat I had identified it as som ething peculiar to the Rom anians! Hence som e were furious—how could the Rom anians be treated with such a lack of respect!—while others rejoiced— at last som eone was showing the Rom anians the m istakes they had m ade and the rig ht way forward. Both sides should have been m ore m oderate in their sorrow or joy. It is no t just the Rom anians who treat history this way: everybody does it. So, to avoid any confusion, and to carry the idea throug h to the m axim um deg ree of g eneralization, a year afterHistory and MythI publishedPlaying with the Past: History between Truth and Fiction.2It would be a g ood idea if the two books were read tog ether, perhaps in inverse order of their publication. Secondly, I do not recall using the concept of dem ytholog izing . I would like it to be clearly understood that I have not declared war on m yths. For a long tim e I have been dealing with the im ag inary—not only, or even prim arily, with the Rom anian historical im ag inary—and I am well aware that we cannot live outside the im ag i nary and m ytholog y. It is this that m akes us hum an, rather than anim als or robots. Neve r for a m om ent did I propose the abolition of m yths: all I wanted was for them to be interpreted historically. I know we cannot live without m yths, but nor can I, as a historian, justify m y existence if I do not try to understand. Som e m ay say that a m yth once interpreted will crack and crum ble. So be it,
but what are we to do then—stop interpreting ? Once ag ain, do we want an intellig ent history or (to speak euphem istically) an unintellig ent one? And are we really incapable of looking from two points of view at the sam e tim e, b oth “poetically” and rationally? Must we sacrifice our intellig ence to save our poetry? Can we not keep both? 13In an article entitled “A Fashionable Toy: Dem ytholog izing ”3, the critic Alex Stefãnescu presents the case ag ainst rational research into m yths, while at the sam e tim e apparently putting all attem pts at dem ytholog izing under the s ig n of m y m ethod: “The historian Lucian Boia has rapidly m ade a nam e for him self by subm itting the m yths of history to an analysis lucid to the point of cynicism .” The arg um ent is that we cannot rob people of their illusions. I would urg e him to relax a little: no o ne will ever succeed in robbing people of their illusions! Love, too, is an illusion, explain s Alex Stefãnescu, so why not accept it as such? Of course we accept it—indeed we do!—but does the author of the article think that the physiolog ical and psycholog ical aspects of attr action between the sexes are not to be spoken of? Are we to tear pag es from the anatom y textbook? Do we throw Freud’s works in the bin? This is how AlexŞtefãnescu would have it with the “thousand-year unity” of the Rom anians: even if there was no such thing in fact, it exists for us, and that is sufficient. So what are historians to do: knowing ly tell a lie, le st they awaken the Rom anians from their beautiful dream ? I do not share the dem ytholog izers’ intolerance of m yths, but nor can I understand the anti-dem ytholog izers’ intolerance of an absolutely norm al scientific project.
EMINESCU
14inescu. It is true that noost to incandescence around the fig ure of Em Spirits g ot heated alm other Rom anian m yth carries a hig her em otional char g e than that of the national poet. He is perceived not only as a poet of unparalleled value—which would already be claim ing a lot —but as a sym bol of the Rom anian nation, the suprem e, concentrated expression of Rom anian-ism . It is no use—or is it?— saying that h e was not seen this way during his lifetim e and that perhaps he will no long er be seen this way at som e point in the future. The m yth was the creation of the period around 1900 , and, like any m yth, it produced a transfig uration, which m ay or m ay not correspond to the sensibilities of today or tom orrow. A rather puerile, and certainly unfair, g am e is played around Em inescu. Som e try to find all sorts of flaws in him , intellectual and even physical, while others cannot ag ree to bring him down by even a sing le step from the heig hts of the m yth, and seek to convince us that we have no rig ht to break away from Em inescu.4y point of viewI g ave m in an interview in the Chişinău periodicalSud-Es t(1-2/1999). Perhaps it is worthwhile reproducing the relevant passag e here:
Where Eminescu is concerned, there are two aspects to consider. There is Eminescu the poet, and there is Eminescu the ideolog ist. Many of those who are revolted by the “attacks” on Eminescu are admirers not of his poetry but of his ideolog y. It is an autochthonist and xenophobic ideolog y. In fact this is no fault of Eminescu’s. He was not, strictly speaking , an ideolog ist. He had the rig ht to have any ideas, but these need to be related to the cultural and political context of his period, not g lorified or condemned from our late-twentieth-century perspective. As an ideolog ist, Eminescu was “discovered” by the nationalist wave after 1900. And nowadays he is still promoted by nationalists. It is a manipulation: this is what the national poet said, so this is absolute truth before which we must all bow down. On the other hand, there is