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Nationalist Discourse in Contemporary Romania: Dan Puric’s „Cine Suntem”

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Dar exista o alta Romanie. Orice popor are o virtualitate, orice popor are o dimensiune si o identitate care ies din contingent. Termenul de natiune este unul contingent. Natiunea este un construct istoric si unul politic. Neamul, nu! Neamul are origine transcendenta, zice parintele Staniloaie. Trece prin istorie, prin meteorologia istoriei, si dainuieste. In sensul acesta, de dainuire, ce poate sa ofere poporul roman Comunitatii Europene? Ce da el Comunitatii Europene?

El are ceva de oferit, de care Comunitatea Europeana nu are nevoie deocamdata. (115)

(…) Ziaristul spunea altceva: ca (migratia) ne mai schimba noua mentalitatea asta tafnoasa, regionala, nationalista. Eu vin si spun specialistului astuia in multiidentitate: un model care se poate da Europei este modelul dobrogean. Sunt 16 etnii acolo, care traiesc fara placute identitare. Ce-ar fi sa trimitem noi Europei un articol si sa intrebam: puteti trai fara placute identitare? Cum? Uite-asa: dupa modelul nostru. Printr-un metabolism de asimilare istoric, in Dobrogea sunt tatari, evrei, armeni, greci, nu mai stiu cati altii, bulgari, albanezi. Stau acolo si traiesc impreuna. Centralismul comunist a incercat sa-i egalizeze (monoculturalismul facut de societatile comuniste nu l-am inventat noi, romanii). Dar, pe dedesubt, era o fibra comunicationala extraordinara. Care nu avea nevoie de nici o ideologie. Noi n-aveam nevoie de multiculturalism. Acum se discuta de un fel de identitate multipla. Adica, ma faci navetist, plec dintr-o cultura in alta. Ma intreb de ce nu intra in Europa modelul dobrogean; unde unul manca pasca lui cu celalalt, oul de la Pasti il imparteau…, fara probleme ideologice. (119-120)

Dupa atata patimire, poporul acesta are o tristete hristica. Caci tristetea hristica nu e deznadejde, este doar suspinul lui Dumnezeu privind catre omul cazut. Statutul fiintal al romanului ca tristete ontologica nu-l paralizeaza pe acesta in credinta sa, ci din contra, paradoxal, il intareste. Caci adevarata nadejde crestina nu inseamna suspendarea necazului prin asteptarea optimista, ci folosirea acesteia, a suferintei, ca poarta ce-l duce spre pragul mantuirii. Felul acesta de a fi al romanului adevarat a spart zidurile inchisorilor comuniste, a spulberat piatra uitarii ce se asezase pe memoria cinstita a acestui neam.

Crestinismul omului romanesc s-a nascut dintr-o lumina aparte. Omenia, ca dat stramosesc al acestui neam, a fost aeroportul pe care a aterizat lin credinta crestina si din aceasta imbinare de rai si de inger a lui Dumnezeu s-a nascut Gradina Maicii Domnului, numita Romania. Peste ea a cazut necrutator, nedrept si barbar, istoria, iar dincolo de istorie, cu mult in afara ei, comunismul. (150-1)

The necessary preliminaries for the analysis of Dan Puric’s identitarian discourse need to take into account his theatrical persona, both on and off the theatrical stage, turned into the public figure who constructs the rhetoric of national identity. His media appearances weigh significantly in entertainment, through the role-playing, anecdotes, and jokes that he interprets; his speech is destined to reach a heterogeneous, television-watching audience, being delivered either in talk-shows or in non-academic conferences; his loquacity and spontaneity have won him the sympathy of his public, therefore his definitions of Romanian national identity pass to the listener smoothly, almost subliminally, as if they were products being advertised for. Confusion between theological preaching, mere opinions on the present political agenda, cultural activism and his theory on Romanians’ national identity is increased by this type of discourse. Not even in his explicitly entitled book, Cine suntem (Who we are), which supposedly offers the updated situation of our identitarian process – as he rightfully adjusts the question into “Cine mai suntem? (Who are we anymore?)”(Puric 144) – does he manage to convey a unitary text with a critical argumentation. Therefore, we will use in the present undertaking relevant fragments of the text which encompass Puric’s nationalist discourse and we will identify its ideological preferences and tendencies,  along with their tropological correspondences, drawing from  Bogdan Stefanescu’s typology of rhetorical strategies,  which builds upon Hayden White’s famous categorization of tropes within historiographic discourse.

The difficulty encountered in analyzing Dan Puric’s text was to separate the patriotic, over-emotional fragments from a coherent, systematic, self-reflexive discourse on Romanian national identity. His tendency is to exacerbate preeminent cultural and historical figures, to use sentimentalism and to make exaggerated use of metaphor, poetic language and quotes from various Romanian priests, poets, philosophers or Western postmodern thinkers and linguists. Being a collection of interviews, conferences and speeches, the book offers the possibility of identifying and selecting the fragments which depict “nationalism as a form of self-consciousness, which conceives one’s identity in relation to collectivities”, focusing on the nation’s “internal cohesion” and reacting against the “external coercion” (Stefanescu); in Puric’s view, his mission is to recapture the foundational myth of Divine emanation which has been torn apart by ages of foreign occupation and Communist torture. He considers his endeavor a vital exercise of anamnesis which should be done in order to regain the national conscience forgotten along the way. For him, ‘nation’ is a contingent concept, an empty historical and political construct meant for administrative purposes; therefore, it is not this notion he is trying to recuperate and refill with meaning, but the Romanian neam, which has transcendental origins (Puric 115). We will come back and discuss the rhetorical implications of him insisting upon the notion of neam in the analysis of his use of “archetropes”  in shaping an ideologically charged nationalist discourse.

Puric’s nationalist theories are heavily influenced by and anchored in the Romanian neonationalist movement at the beginning of the 20th century, popularized through Nichita Crainic’s magazine Gandirea, starting with 1926. The movement appeared as a reaction to the democratic tolerance of urban influences upon the traditionally rural Romanian community, brought in by the Hungarian and Jewish minorities. Nicolae Iorga’s propaganda of anti-Semitic nationalism and, three decades later, Nichifor Crainic’s manifesto regarding the ethnocratic state, in which minorities inhabiting the Romanian space were called “invaders”, “colonizers” or surreptitious infiltrators (Sugar 227), have deepened the roots of xenophobia in the nationalist discourse. As stated in Stefanescu’s study, there is still a certain “xenophobic infamy” associated with Romanian nationalist policies, although significant progress has been made in harmonizing ethnic conflicts; however, the historical tradition of intolerance in nationalist discourses – identifiable also in the Communist regime and in the 1990’s – still haunts the mentality of both the Romanian society and the foreign public opinion on the Romanian nation. If we look at the present political discourses in Romania, national identity is defined, on the one hand, as opposed either to the Eastern Europe or Balkan identity, or to the Hungarian, Roma, Ukrainian or other ethnic minorities; it is assimilated, on the other hand, to the Western European Union and to the United States.

Puric excludes, in his concept of nationalism, the intolerance based on ethnic, religious or racial grounds, and he stands against adapting and applying external, foreign policies and social norms, practiced by other nations or communities, to Romania, situating himself against the official nationalist discourse and tendencies. Moreover, he reevaluates Titu Maiorescu’s theory of “forme fara fond” (forms with no content) and supplements it with the neonationalist view on the actual substance of Romanian culture, residing in Orthodox Christianity – manifested through the belief in divine predestination, altruism and togetherness. (Sugar 237) The motivation of such a long-going pursuit of defining the inherent specificity of the Romanian people (see his upcoming volume, „The Romanian Soul”), as Dan Puric is neither a historian, nor a politician or a cultural analyst, could be explained by taking into consideration John Hutchinson’s “paradigmatic figure of the national community” (Hutchinson and Smith 123), the artist, for whom the perpetually evolving community represents a source of creativity. In Hutchinson’s terms, the artist who engages into a reconstruction of the sense of belonging to a historic, unique, organic community by reassessing its traditional values in cultural societies is a cultural nationalist. Rather mystical than rational, the cultural nationalist’s endeavour is “to inspire a spontaneous love of community in its different members by educating them to their common heritage of splendour and suffering” (124). Perhaps intuitively, realizing the absence of a contemporary Romanian cultural nationalist, Puric adopted this posture.

Analyzing the rhetoric of Puric’s nationalist discourse becomes imperative when his ideas gain wide popularity amongst the Romanian people. He is invited to prime time talk shows on national holidays, he keeps his conferences in the Hall of the Romanian Athenaeum, he reaches his audiences through various media; therefore, the counter-discourse offered by Puric which challenges the legitimacy of the official nationalist discourse becomes mainstream. It is significant, in this context, to identify the ideological tendency of his rhetoric by tracing the “modes of historiographic consciousness” (White) leading to the ideological choices.

In Cine suntem, we can not speak about a single “archetypal mental pattern” (Stefanescu); the purpose of the discourse is felt throughout the text: it tries to transmit a set of ideas and a value system for the members of society, regarding both their spiritual collective identity and the more pragmatic, socio-political choices. His ideology is a – sometimes paradoxical – mixture of conservative, radicalist and anarchist attitudes, out of which the predominant one seems to be the latter.

Considering Stefanescu’s system of four archetropes defining mechanisms and correspondences between the tropology of discourse and the ideological preferences hidden in the subtext, Puric’s favorite tropes  map his nationalist discourse. By his extensive use of metaphor, symbol and personification in describing the Romanian neam, he is inscribed in the tradition of Anarchic Nationalism, promoting an irrational self-identification and empathy and pleading for the rupture between the socio-political impositions (constructed under the “nation”) and the authentic, essential, traditional spirit of the “neam”. The neam is seen as a natural and harmonious organism which has survived the “aberrant history” because of its unitary and solid backbone, the Christian faith. For him, the foundational myth which has helped the Romanian people in surviving the deviant political systems is Christian, the Romanians being God-given under the holy sacrament and their land being named the Garden of Virgin Mary (Puric 151). Faith, courage, wisdom, Christian dignity, and the strength to transform tragedies into reflection and atonement are, in Puric’s view, the hallmarks of Romanian identity. Given its transcendental and encompassing value, the neam is able not only to survive the superficial socio-political contracts, legislation, unions, but also to escape them and generate a natural model of self-governance: “Eu vin si spun specialistului astuia in multiidentitate: un model care se poate da Europei este modelul dobrogean. Sunt 16 etnii acolo, care traiesc fara placute identitare. Ce-ar fi sa trimitem noi Europei un articol si sa intrebam: puteti trai fara placute identitare?”/”Let me tell that multiidentity specialist this: a model for Europe is our own Dobrogea model. There are 16 ethnicities living there with no identitarian labels. What if we’d send an article to Europe and ask them: can you live with no identitarian labels?” (Puric 120) Western policies such as political correctness, multiculturalism and assimilation are mocked because of their contractual character, while Romania is seen as superior for hosting various cultures or ethnic groups who have been historically and organically assimilated. Taking Dobrogea as a representative model for Romania is a faulty synecdoche, as it is sufficient to go up or left on the map in order to clash with the conflicts between Romanians and Rromas, Hungarians, and other ethnic groups. It is common in nationalist discourses to offer a coherent version of history in order to achieve continuity and Puric tries to bridge the past and the projected future, as well; however, the downside of this technique is the omission or distortion of simple facts – not only are there mystifications and exaggerations of Romanian figures and events for the benefit of its image, but the selection of representative parts for the whole nation is, obviously, biased.

It is interesting, in this case, his understanding of Romanians’ relevant history, the one which is faithful to the national identity. The communist past is completely separated from the natural evolution of events: it represents the invader, the criminal outsider who has imposed himself over the inside rules of the Romanian people, and tainted the “honest memory” (150) of the neam. He never mentions the Romanian people during the Communist regime as being active, but only passive; cruel things have happened to them, they were forced to endure, they were killed, tortured, they were the victims of external weapons. Along with this unfortunate period came the following one, continued in the present. This time, the Romanian people are again the passive figures: they are anesthetized, put to sleep, bought, so that they are in the posture of victims without them realizing it. The present system, sarcastically called “ghiveciul national”, encourages ignorance, indulgence, and confusion. Intellectuals are perhaps his strongest competition, as they are accused of trying to deconstruct and demystify Romania’s identity, politicians are corrupt and blasphemous, and the people are lost in “an ocean of ignorance”. Therefore, he opposes both the present and the recent past. Unlike an anarchist, who would not praise any kind of alternative state or legal authority, Dan Puric turns to the Conservative Nationalist tradition of the 19th century in an attempt to reassess the true values of the Romanians who only then have managed to surface, to be acknowledged and to shape the nation from within. He quotes from Mihai Eminescu, Titu Maiorescu and “Junimea”, Scoala Ardeleana, Mihail Kogalniceanu, admiring and almost conjuring representative figures of Romanian conservative nationalists in order for him to demonstrate the weight of their theories of Romanian-ness. He also shares with the conservatives the idea that a value should not be democratically prioritized, but it should be left to follow its own path and consider it as the basis for solid constructions. He encourages the development of the neam, not the reinventing of its identity. He does not, however, specifically propose a conservative ideology for Romania, and, at least in the present collection of texts, he lacks the self-reflexive irony of a conservative nationalist’s rhetoric, mentioned in Stefanescu’s system of ideological mental patterns.

The antithesis which marks Puric’s disapproval of the official political discourse, namely the relationship between Romania and the Western states, could mark a Radicalist tendency. As defined in Stefanescu’s text, “The Arch-Radical shares with the Anarchist a commitment to discontinuity both in his call for abrupt or revolutionary change and in his concern with the singularity of his nation.” (Stefanescu) He advocates for a drastic change of perspective in what regards international affairs, and highlights the distinctiveness of Romania in comparison to a formal union of Western states. His more materialistic, rational and analytical discourse on foreign affairs, diplomacy and global economy lacks, however, concrete alternatives of social and political practices which would permit Romania to cut off from foreign alliances.

Although his theories are the product of different, sometimes diverging ideological influences, the centrality of the Romanian neam, the focus on a God-given, transcendental community and the irrational manner of reassessing the archetypal connection between the Romanian people and their distinctness from the political authorities or unions suggest an anarchist choice of rhetoric. His speech is both theological, as he preaches for the redemption of the Romanian people and their embracing Christian values, and nationalistic, as he encourages people to become aware of their own collective national identity – of their language, faith, myths, literature, history – for their own survival as a neam.

Works Cited:

Hutchinson, J. & A.D.Smith. Nationalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Print

Niessen, James P. “Nationalismul Romanesc: o ideologie a integrarii si a mobilizarii.” Nationalismul est-european in secolul al XX-lea. Ed. Sugar, F. Peter, Bucuresti: Curtea Veche, 2002. 226-250. Print

Puric, Dan. Cine Suntem. Bucuresti: Platytera, 2008. Print

Stefanescu, Bogdan. “On The Discrimination of Nationalisms: The Rhetoric of Identity in Romanian Culture”, in Krytyka no. 11/nov. 1999, Kiew. <

Written by Adriana

Ianuarie 15, 2013 at 2:13 am