Geopolitics of the European Spirit in Post‐Secular Romania

Once communism finally collapsed in 1989, ‘the time has come, as predicted by Constantin Noica, for Western Europe to recognize its own spirit rather in its keepers from the East than in its everyday present’ (Patapievici2009: 245). Taken from an essay on the values of Europe published by a successful Romanian public intellectual in praise of another leading public intellectual, this phrase provides a reliable insight into who the mainstream Romanian intellectuals of today think they are, into where they are coming from in terms of intellectual genealogy, and especially into what they believe when European integration is under debate. As in most national settings, post‐communist Romanian intellectuals make up a very diverse population of individuals who have in common – in the eyes of the media and for the benefit of a wider audience – a generic, implicit, and usually undisputed cultural authority related to some form of supposed or actual achievement in philosophy, literature, and, to a lesser extent, the social sciences.1 Among them there is probably an authoritative, albeit loose, group of intellectuals who trace the source of their theoretical positions back to the 1930s. They tend to accept as true that there is, beyond individual reason and the social production of knowledge, a ‘European spirit’ of which they should be deemed natural shareholders.

The recent history of this spirit is paradoxical: during the Cold War, it almost vanished from the ‘well‐to‐do’ Western Europe, where genuine thinkers were marginalized if not suffocated by a politically oriented society in pursuit of welfare and equality; in contrast, it thrived – in a prophetic, covert, and non‐political manner – in the dark times of communism. The dismissal of the regime has supposedly unveiled the continued existence of this spirit with a built‐in (p.242) mission: to radiate again from the East to the spiritually depleted West. Unlike Polish or Czech intellectuals, who addressed communism in the idiom of political dissent, Romanian intellectuals were simultaneously public and silent. They were public because they published books and essays, went on conference tours, paid long visits to major European universities, and were, albeit not often, invited to radio and television broadcasts. In all circumstances, they remained utterly silent on political and human rights issues. They spoke the language of culture, of high European culture. They intimated that discussing Plato or quoting from Heidegger were, in the intellectual order, more damaging acts for the regime than any political remonstration.

If such is the raccourci of the intellectual landscape of post‐communist Romania, where do intellectuals position themselves with respect to the process of accession to the European Union? Drawing on a mainstream literature rooted in the works of two iconic figures of Romanian culture, Mircea Eliade and Constantin Noica, this chapter argues that Europe was, and still is, almost canonically regarded in Romania by those who speak out in the public space as both a convenience in terms of free trade and freedom of movement, and as an ethical hazard. According to this line of thinking, echoed also – though not without some particular nuances – by spokesmen of the culturally dominant and (semi‐)established Greek Orthodox Church through the language of constitutionalism, democracy, and human rights, Europe would tend to sponsor the emergence of a ready‐made ‘recent man’, just as the ideology of state socialism used to enforce the model of a standardized collectivism.

European integration – expected to promote such social goods as welfare and political pluralism – was mainly described as a historical technique marshalled from above, as a political device of extracting consent from a national society characterized not only by a backward and unregulated economy in need of assistance, but also by a collective identity deemed to be unhistorical and European in its remote origin, as its ‘spirit’ appears to have remained unmoved by the secularist exertions of the liberal regime of the nineteenth century and of twentieth‐century communism alike. Looking back from the moment of the merger of the aspiring Romanian post‐communist democracy with the self‐aware Western ones into an enlarged European Union, this chapter will try to highlight, and hopefully deconstruct, some of the transformations undergone by the language and enactment of intellectual assent given to the progression of Europeanization by Romanian public intellectuals.

Europe at hand: A short history of the present

In the aftermath of the demise of state socialism, Romanian experts, intellectuals, social scientists, and theorists – who, during the Cold War, developed the habit of qualifying the communist system as the exact opposite of European (p.243) democracy based on constitutionalism, citizenship, and human rights – thought that their past experience of ideological competition and political confrontation was immaterial for the present transformation of democracy envisaged rather as a range of institutional and discursive expectations (Barbu2007). Europe was the immediate present, as communism was a happenstance of the recent past. As such, it deserved an instant history. Therefore, a topical literature on Europe thrived as naturally as the writings on ‘scientific socialism’ and related issues once had, and more often than not the authors remained, if not the same, then at least of the same intellectual breed. For that reason, Europe was conceived more as a mere source of literal regulations that had to be formally observed by the prose of the national legislation (acquis communautaire) than as a new type of polity that Romanians had to join, make their own, and eventually help advance.2

By way of consequence, and in an uncritical and consensual approach comparable perhaps to that practised by Spanish intellectuals,3 most of the Romanian academic literature on European politics and policy is purely descriptive, and embraces either an international relations perspective treating the Union as something close to an intergovernmental organization, or a comparative approach explaining it as a supranational body with some federalist features. Scores of handbooks and essays on European construction, enlargement, law, and policy should be counted for the record, although they typically include very little original wisdom. And when they do, as in the proposal for a federalist reform of the European institutions authored by a former social‐democrat foreign minister and a leading human rights activist (Andreescu and Severin 2001), such pieces of literature ignore that European federalism has quite significant intellectual roots in Romania, summed up by George Ciorănescu (2005),4 active member of the European Movement and the Nouvelles Equipes Internationales(Delureanu 2006: 181–240) and erstwhile marginal participant in the foundation of the European Communities alongside other prominent politicians, academics, and intellectuals in exile and harboured by the Christian Democratic circles (Delureanu 2007).

Under the overarching principle of federalism, many Romanian politicians and academics worked in the first half of the twentieth century towards a normative grand political theory on Europe. But this legacy remains exterior to the mainstream political and intellectual discourse. Indeed, in the 1990s, the interest in the European Union shown by most Romanian politicians and academics was related mainly to the hope that close association with the (p.244) Communities might bolster economic growth and improve the rule of law in a post‐socialist country that was striving for international political and financial recognition. If Europe is an entity which has a patent and undisputed character, that would be none other than affluence in the eyes of Romanians: ‘This structure [the European Union] warrants one of the highest standards of living in the world and is doing that, most importantly, in a democratic and open world. For a country that knew only distress and strived to make ends meet, the abundance of the European Union may come as a cultural and material shock,’ as observed in 2004 by Prime Minister Adrian Năstase (2004: 114), a professor of international law and (when not in high office) a noteworthy editorialist, while negotiating the roadmap of Romanian integration with the Commission.

Seduced at first by the promise of prosperity, Romanian informed opinion on Europe slowly became aware of the dangers presumed to lie underneath it. A study on the Romanian public debates on Europe (Beciu 2006), notably as reflected in the media, found that the Union was initially approached as a know‐how issue, then as an identity problem, and more recently as a question of national standing. At the beginning, in the 1990s, the word was with the experts, policy‐makers, and politicians who pictured Europe exactly as most citizens had dreamed about it: an affluent society, a ‘giant supermarket’, as one public intellectual ironically summarized the general view (Marino 2005: 134), where Romanians might one day go shopping if some highly complex procedural prerequisites could be satisfied. When, in 2000, the Parliament decided to decriminalize homosexuality in the process of Europeanization of the penal culture inherited from state socialism, the floor was open to the first coherent debate on what it might mean to be European in terms of forfeiting something that many tended to believe was an incontrovertible collective identity. The discursive contours of this identity were authoritatively pencilled in by the elderly Orthodox Archbishop Bartolomeu Anania of Cluj. The learned bishop disrupted his labours of giving the Bible a new Romanian version to warn that ‘Europe asks us to accept sex, homosexuality, vices, drugs, abortions, and genetic engineering’ and to remind his flock that ‘[spiritually] impoverished Europe [is] built exclusively on politics and economics, lacking any trace of spirituality, culture, or religion’ (cited by Stan and Turcescu 2007: 177).5 Given that the riches of Europe could be but a cover‐up for spiritual poverty, Romanian theologians have chosen to work extensively and admonitorily on what looks to them like a ‘European amnesia’ (Preda 2004) – that is, on relativism, secularism, and estrangement from tradition – as diseases ingrained in the make‐up of a Union designed to make sure that oblivion of tradition and political neutrality prevail over particular cultures and identities (Preda 2008: 296). In so doing, they reduced the issue, for the use of their public, to the (p.245) failure of the Constitutional Treaty to account for the ‘Christian roots of Europe’, and disregarded the complexity of other national debates on both collective memory and secular reason.

Ever since, the country’s integration into the European Union has been pondered not only as a matter of bureaucratic and technical expertise, but also as a choice of civilization, or, in the words of a distinguished conservative scholar, as a tension between two ideal types of society: one grounded in the ‘organic solidarities’ of the private life that hold together families and small communities, and the other structured by the ‘organized solidarities’ steered by political power (Duţu 1999: 9). Of course, the community model is not only better suited to Romanian society, but is also more apt to give a new shape to Europe at large than liberal individualism, understood as the primary driving force behind the rise of the Union (Duţu 1999: 138). Philosophers and public intellectuals, not necessarily always of Christian persuasion but doubtful about the autonomy of politics when grounded exclusively in reason, share a similar position. The thrust of such an appraisal is not so much directed against Europe itself as aimed at establishing where Romania stands in the wake of its accession to membership; and, more importantly, at determining who is intellectually entitled to report its position. These strictures serve to put in context a story that might unveil the ‘cultural authority’ from which the tale of Europe is told on behalf of Romanian society.

Backwards into Europe: The present of history

The narrative power of Romanian national history in the face of the short chronicle of European integration was manifest on 11 May 2008, when a dozen bishops of the Romanian Orthodox Church held a grand outdoors ceremony on a field in north‐eastern Transylvania. The prelates went there to convey to a crowd of tens of thousands and celebrate with a solemn liturgy the decision of the Holy Synod to canonize four Romanian peasants put to death on the same ground in 1763. They were earnestly decreed martyrs of the ancestral faith of the nation. Who were the four newly proclaimed saints, what did they do to deserve such an appreciation, and why had the Church waited so long to recognize their extraordinary merits? Except for their leader, aged 100 and travelled abroad as far as Russia in his double capacity of soldier of fortune and (perhaps) self‐styled monk, they were illiterate local serfs who vigorously opposed the transformation of their home country into a militarized border zone. The operation, part of a comprehensive process of state‐building (Einrichtungswerk), included the enfranchisement of the peasants of the villages set on the boundary with Ottoman Moldavia: in exchange for their new social status, they had to become freeholders under arms, employed by the Austrian military as full‐time border patrols. However, as the highest‐ranking bureaucrat of the (p.246) province maintained,6 to guarantee the safety of the territory entrusted to them was not the primary concern of the imperial authorities: their foremost assignment was to aggrandize ‘the effective power of the state’ by theirUmbildung, by the transformation of their social behaviour, function, and utility. The government provided civil rights, equipment, elementary schools run by German‐ and Latin‐speaking teachers, and a clear prospective of upward social mobility. Freed from most feudal bonds, the peasants had to agree to serve the emperor and apostolic king and were strongly encouraged (though not obliged) to join his Church, the Catholic, preserving nevertheless their old rite, the Byzantine.

A fair deal, one would say, at least as far as the enlightened Staatswissenschaften of the late eighteenth century were reasonably inclined to go. The four (retroactively nominated) saints would not accept this arrangement, and stirred their fellow peasants to refuse to be unbound from feudal duties, to bear arms, to behave as loyal and useful subjects, to go to school and to learn foreign tongues, to take communion in churches acknowledging the primacy of the Pope in Rome. The villagers were enthused by them to remain faithful to their traditional customs and hierarchies. Insulated in a popular religion that was remotely protected by the sovereign of all Russia and all Orthodox believers, they were enclosed in a backward, illiterate, and self‐sufficient rural micro‐universe ruled by natural oligarchies, and ignorant of any rudiments of the legal culture of their age. Found guilty of sedition and incitement to rebellion against the state, they were sentenced to capital punishment and executed on the very premises of their mutiny. Carefully documented by the bureaucrats of the administrative monarchy7 – which tended to articulate itself as a paper power (eine papierne Gewalt), to use the choice of words of a contemporary Transylvanian observer (Bernath 1972: 45) – the whole incident was eventually forgotten by all interested parties until Romania signed the papers of its accession to the European Union.

This may be a rather long‐winded tale, apparently disconnected from contemporary debates. Still, my contention is that this account is quite telling for the topic at hand. The events may have taken place in the eighteenth century, but the story should be dated politically to 2008. Indeed, why would the dominant church of a European state choose to sanctify a reaction against modernization and Westernization that went unnoticed for almost two and a half centuries even by the most devout of believers? And for a good reason: the religious dimension of the social movement of 1762–3 was rather inconspicuous. The well‐trained military officials and civil servants that dealt with the matter considered it a mere manifestation of popular yet reactionary (p.247)conservatism, fuelled by ignorance, fanaticism, and xenophobia, and opposing a measure of enlightened reformism. The resistance of the four peasants to the impersonal, paper power of the modern state in its Austrian version was barely noticed either by nineteenth‐century romantic or twentieth‐century communist historiographies, both equally disposed to value national uprisings against foreign rule. They had to wait until 2008 to be officially recognized as holy confessing martyrs. Their silhouettes emerge as the backdrop of a calculated response given less than one year later by the national Orthodox Church to the European membership of the Romanian nation‐state.

Only gold members can continue reading. Log In or Register to continue