Intellectuals are in fashion. A quick glance on the Internet shows that in the 1990s the first large published compendia on intelligentsia appeared in France, while a few years ago the encyclopaedic Thinkers, Philosophers, Intellectuals(1) was published. After the turn of the millennium, a plethora of British and American works were written on the subject. In Hungary, Paul Johnson became fashionable. His book(2) ruthlessly dissected left-wing intellectuals from Tolstoy to Chomsky, while right-wing thinkers were largely spared his opprobrium. Chomsky meanwhile argued with a touch of classical reasoning that intellectuals are “a kind of secular priesthood” whose task is to “uphold the doctrinal truths of the society”, and therefore “the population should be anti-intellectual in that respect, I think that’s a most healthy reaction”.(3)
Lucian Boia’s latest book(4) was apparently the result of such a reaction. It is a masterpiece of its genre and the subject. It is to the author’s credit that he saves his readers (and himself) from terminological gymnastics. For starters, he does not bother with defining who is an intellectual. And why would he, when he has one hundred and twenty academicians, journalists, university professors and writers to do it for him, intellectuals in Romania between 1930 and 1950, the topic of his book. During these two decades, these people witnessed and in many cases played a part in seven changes of regime. To quote the title, they often walked, fell, or were pushed into the traps of history. For most of them, it was impossible to come out the other side undamaged in body or mind.
Although I often fell asleep over Hayden White’s Metahistory, I never felt the truth of the work’s thesis as much as I did when reading Boia: namely, that the exact same story can be written in different genres and styles, with metaphors, metonymies and so on… The irony of the Romanian historian is quite extraordinary as he mixes comedy and tragedy in the same narrative, sometimes even in the same sentence. For example, anyone in Boia’s place would have dwelled on the juicy instances of the private life of King Carol II of Romania, but our author does not even mention them. He gives us instead the generous protector of culture, the champion of youth over the conservatism of old academicians. Carol aligned himself with the same young intellectuals whom Iorga – the king’s trusty old history teacher and historian of the nation – condemned as immoral and pornographic (moreover, he did so at the inaugural address of academician Lucian Blaga). But of course, Carol does not get off easily either. Although he was held to be a fervent reader by his contemporaries, he says nothing about his reading in his verbose memoirs, whereas he gushes enthusiasm about the movies he saw. Some of the writers – the best ones, who later became fervent champions of communism – sang his praise, often in comically sycophantic fashion.
But there are certain things that only those of us blessed with an excellent memory understand. For instance, the fact that while academicians duly lined up in support of the royal dictatorship, Radu R. Rosetti bravely said “no” to it at the public referendum held to gauge its support. (There were very few among the millions who did so; even abstention from the referendum counted as an audacious act.) This courageous gesture was in sharp contrast with Rosetti’s nickname: Closetti. The great general and military historian, who was the director of the Library of the Academy, was famous for regularly checking the state of the institution’s toilets. Anyone with first-hand experience in the Library before its renovation will understand why this was necessary. (In contrast to the toilets of the old Lenin Library in Moscow where the unpleasant smells were completely masked by the even more powerful and dense smoke within which shadows of Raskolnikov-like figures would appear as symbols of cultural opposition, the faces in the Bucharest library betrayed only a painful resignation in the face of the malodorous fumes.)
By touching on Carol, however, I break the chronological order of the book. But 1930 is a good dividing line. For a short period at least, the king’s ascension to the throne hinted at a promising new era. Later the political parties would burn themselves out and the radical far right, the Legionary Movement(5), emerged as a serious political force by the time the king proclaimed his own dictatorship. He was in turn forced to abdicate in early September 1940, after Romania was divested of territory in Transylvania, Dobrogea, Bukovina and Bessarabia, and Antonescu and the Legion took power between January 1940 and 23 August 1944. This was the day when King Michael I – who succeeded his father back in September 1940 – arrested the “leader”, and Romania turned against Hitler, not a turn of events hailed by the Soviets who had planned to march into Bucharest as glorious liberators. Three years of transient democracy followed, which was doomed to failure. In December 1947 King Michael was forced to abdicate, and a People’s Republic was proclaimed. Communism, and its ”dictatorship of the proletariat” period, had arrived. By 1950, the communist dictatorship was firmly established; and only a few internal political struggles remained to be fought.
Lucian Boia first sketches a collective portrait of the different intellectual groups. He begins with the “offensive of the young”, those whom the thirty-year-old literary critic, George Călinescu called “puppies” in 1929, and who in turn thought that 30-year-olds were senile old farts. One of their representatives, Cioran, who spoke from their heart and in their name, opined from a distance of sixty years that the conflict between generations had nowhere been as fierce as in Romania in those days. The young communists and fascists got on quite well for some time, however. They appeared to believe that exchange of ideas was possible, until gradually, front-lines hardened by 1934.
Interestingly, it was thanks to the more nationalist and cosmopolitan members of this group, for example Mircea Eliade and Cioran, that “Romania at last joined the international choir”. However, it was a university professor in his forties, Nae Ionescu, a philosopher and journalist, who really mesmerised the revolutionary youth. The impact and relevance of his oeuvre is still hotly debated even today. According to Boia, he is “a philosopher without an oeuvre”, and his courses were “foggy”. But his university classes had a mind-liberating effect. To illustrate what a lecture by Ionescu meant to his young audience, Boia quotes from one of his admirers’ diaries: “He mocks systems and philosophies. It is a philosophy of facts. Everyone begins philosophising with him. Communion is possible, cooperation is not. […] we come even with being, with ourselves. […] There are no solutions. Philosophy has no use and does not help. Only we, ourselves alone, the creative process. The scholarly philosopher – he is a grocer selling someone else’s cheese. […] One must start from oneself, not from the other.” Why would the “Professor” need a life-work? – asks Boia. His role was to open “forbidden doors”. What Boia could have written about, however, is the Professor’s political activity. After he became disillusioned with the king and emerged as the ideologue of the Legionary Movement – for which he was interned several times –, he finally offered to mediate between the monarch and the movement, but the king did not take him seriously. Unlike the Germans, who apparently did take him very seriously, judging from the fact that he lived in a luxury far above the average standard of living of a university professor – until he suddenly died of poisoning, conforming with legionary tradition. Nae Ionescu was a classic example of the intellectual gone astray, but was also a genius. The author understandably does not go into deep detail here for the sake of the book’s conciseness and focus, the “gossipology” of Romanian history after all is inexhaustible.
The chapter entitled “Nationalists and Democrats, Jews and Anti-Semites” is an exquisite mixture of cultural history and public history, in which casual remarks alternate with harsh critiques. “Political disputes in Romania during the 1930s revolved around democracy and nationalism. The two could not be reconciled. For some, Romania was not democratic enough, for others, it was not Romanian enough. Everyone was right: either from the point of view of democratic philosophy or from that of the nation state.”
Boia appeared to have been presenting the national landscape from a distance, but in the next sentence he takes a clear position: “In contrast, the communist regime made interwar Romania look more democratic than it actually was.” The urban population represented only 20% of the total population, and the left was weak, due to the relatively small working class. Quoting the estimate of Liviu Rotman’s monograph, the author states that in 1930, the membership of the communist party was 27% Hungarian, 23% Romanian, and 18% Jewish (unfortunately the author says nothing about the remaining 32%). But this is a “delicate” question, leading to a dangerous maze of assumptions. Boia simply cuts the Gordian knot (or what many think to be it): “It would have been difficult for a Romanian democrat to find his or her place in such a ‘mongrel’ democratic wing.”
But the author had no intention of solving the problem of nationalism. He articulates a “politically correct” standpoint: “Today, democracy is good and nationalism is bad.” Historically, Romanian nationalism is very deeply rooted. Romania declared itself to be a national state, but it was not, just like it was not multinational either; it was midway between the two, Boia says. In a kind of psychosis, the young nationalists thought that the dynamics of Romanian demography were less favourable than they were in reality. Eliade, for instance, lamented the fact that minorities were gaining ground. “It is irrelevant whether he was right or not; what is important is that he believed it”, the author says. While others were living their own lives, Jews were at fault in wanting to become Romanianised or to acquire a double identity, and thus were active “in the heart of the community”. (In 1936, the 24 year-old Cioran said: “Hungarians hate us from afar, Jews hate us from the centre, in our very midst. How could we, a poor people, assimilate the most irreducible phenomenon of history? How could a people who saw the light during the darkness of Hungarians, Turks and Greeks, assimilate another people, which boasts of having conquered the greatest peoples in history? The Jewish vitality is so aggressive and the Jewish acquisitiveness is so tenacious that our tolerance towards this arduous and exploiting people would certainly bring downfall on us.”)
The 50-year-old liberal, the literary critic Eugen Lovinescu, also had “racist ideas”, although “in a strictly intellectual sense”. The Jews are the ferment of modernity – in the positive sense of the word. There can be no question of a “Semitic mentality”, but there is undoubtedly a mental resilience. Their leftism is natural, they are over-represented in the left not only in Romania but worldwide. With extremist movements gaining popularity, this became even more emphasised. Jewish writers – or those who were thought to be ones – were driven out of the moderate right-wing press. Even Iorga, who broke with his pre-World War I anti-Semitism, sometimes reverted to his harsh old views although he mostly bothered himself with protecting the nation’s morality from the pornographic poetry of Tudor Arghezi, who was hailed as the greatest poet of his time.
The leftist democratic press defended itself as best as it could, and leaned toward the communists. The major forum of democratic values engaged the legendary M. Sadoveanu, who, besides writing, was mostly interested in hunting, fishing and attending to his farm, according to Boia. “His ideological standpoint is somewhat unclear”, and he defended himself rather awkwardly, Boia says. “It was quite difficult for Sadoveanu to be friends with both sides at the same time!” Ironically, it was M. Roller, considered by the secret police a communist, who stood up for freedom of conscience and opinion. “It seems they were not much mistaken”, since Roller later became the theoretician of communist historiography. It is understandable that Boia did not miss that point, as historiography’s “little dictator” was – according to eye and ear witnesses – a horrible person.
Interestingly, the author seems to be slightly more broad-minded with personalities who erred at some stage of their lives – and it is certainly true that a Mircea Eliade fares better here than Roller. Moreover, Eliade is out of favour these days. He deserves some leeway, Boia says, because for him, “legionarism meant love and freedom, elevation and intellectual purification”. Apart from how we see things today – and they are always more complicated than they seem at first glance –, we should take into account not only the history we know, but also the one which Eliade “naïvely believed in”, even when he was writing articles against the Jewish “conquerors”. He was an anti-Semite, right, but less than others; and besides, he wrote articles in their favour too. (He wrote about Moses Gaster, and praised Jewish philologists, but – it should be noted – he did this during the royal dictatorship, when he had to atone for his past links with the Iron Guard.) No doubt, the nature of Eliade’s anti-Semitism was not fundamentalist but “circumstantial”, and at the end of his life, he felt the world could not understand him – not after Auschwitz. It was the manifestation of Eliade’s “terrible naivety” – says Boia – when, as professor of the Chicago University, he let the following idea slip in a series of interviews entitled Ordeal by Labyrinth with unthinking awareness: “For the Aztecs, the meaning of human sacrifice lay in their belief that the victims fed and gave strength to the sun god and to the gods generally. For the SS, the annihilation of millions of people in the concentration camps also had a meaning, and even an eschatological one. They believed that they represented Good versus Evil. The same is true of the Japanese suicide pilot.”(6) I wonder whether those who gave the command to carry out ”Nacht und Nebel” and ordered the liquidation of concentration camps and their staff, also believed that?
The chapter “Professors and Academicians” is a bit more cheerful, and more serious at the same time. It is quite masculine in character (since there were hardly any female professors) and very Romanian (in the ethnical sense). Universities became mediums of Romanianisation. The author shows this with concrete figures, and also that the number of Jewish students was quite high whereas there were hardly any Jewish professors. He also specifies party affiliation or preference among the professors. The most interesting case is probably that of P. P. Panaitescu, who was at first a liberal then later a legionnaire. His 1935 monograph on the voivode Michael the Brave (1558–1601) does not mention national unity, and depicts the voivode as a mere representative of boyar interests. The nationalistic public, in particular Iorga, was duly outraged. The work’s duality, scientific objectivity and political statement “could be” explained – in Boia’s view – by ambition. But what could fuel this ambition Boia declines to tell us. Because while he notes that Panaitescu did not resort to legionary mysticism in explaining historical developments, he neglects to tell us that he did so amply in many of his articles. It would seem he revolted against international capitalism. He used a set of metaphors characteristic of fascism, and when he offered his services to the communists, he could say in earnest that the bourgeoisie was the common enemy. What neither he, nor his addressees admitted however, was that they all longed for the joys of this bourgeois existence, but in order to achieve them, they would have needed a revolution: a national one for some, or an anti-national one for others.
There were very few left-wingers at that time, but they would grow in number considerably. The person who dared to go farthest to the left was Iorgu Iordan, an excellent (although very boring) linguist and philologist who joined the International Association of Friends of the Soviet Union. He later admitted he had no clue of what communism really was about at the time. Boia bases his caricature of Iordan after Molière’s The Bourgeois Gentleman, who had to learn from his language teacher that he had been speaking prose all his life: “Just like Monsieur Jourdain, who has been speaking prose without knowing it, Iorgu Iordan met communism without knowing it was communism he met.” But to be charitable, the linguist professor, when looking back on those days in the middle of the 1970s, was most likely a little ashamed. Communism turned out to be quite different from what he bargained for…
In this chapter, A. C. Cuza, the grand master of anti-Semitism is without question the least favourably treated. At the age of 81, he became a member of the government preceding the royal dictatorship, a government that counted six academicians among its members. “He was very old and achieved very little” as an academician. When the anti-Semitic party leader was elected to the Academy instead of Lovinescu, a famous journalist even pointed out that Cuza passed “the exam in obscurantism”.
The Romanian Academy was most sharply criticised by the great linguist, A. Rosetti, in 1936. He called its publications “a collection of folkloristic bogus papers”, and although it counted the best philologists among its members, Romania remarkably still did not have a universally accepted orthography. (According to the academician S. Puşcariu, the orthography of certain colleagues reflected the state of affairs in politics.) Rosetti wanted a new Academy. “His dream came true. But apart from his own ‘promotion’, I wonder whether he was satisfied with the new institution”, asks Boia rhetorically.
The next chapter centres on the king himself, and leads to the chapter on the legionnaires – just as the royal dictatorship was a prelude to the legionary rule. And a bloody prelude at that! “The two parties played a bloody game”, says Boia. “Idealism and violence are the two inseparable faces of legionarism, which may seem deceptive: even today, some see only the project’s ‘purity’, while others see only its criminal manifestations. Evidently, legionarism belonged to the great family of millenarianism, akin to ideologies that want to make a tabula rasa and create a new world (just like communism in its own way). It is superfluous to ask how it was possible that so many great minds were able to join the movement. ‘Great minds’ were attracted to it by its idealism, which, in its extremes, led to uncontrolled barbarism.”
But King Carol II is more easily forgiven for committing the same atrocities as the Iron Guard, although his are equally “unpardonable slippings”, explains Boia; “the state as such became criminal”. In late November 1938, Carol had the leader of the movement, Corneliu Codreanu, assassinated with 13 of his associates (three of whom murdered the Prime Minister Ion G. Duca back in the last days of 1933, and ten others riddled the ”traitor” Mihai Stelescu, with bullets, then cut him to pieces, for having smeared Codreanu). Then, after the legionnaires shot his favourite prime minister, Armand Călinescu, in September 1939, 252 imprisoned Iron Guard members were executed under the king’s orders without a trial. Many of the intellectuals were relieved, in the left and in the moderate right as well. They largely fell into line, some even got uniforms. They later applauded Germany when it invaded France and when it forced to yield the king. The Iron Guardists took revenge: they butchered 60 imprisoned ministers, secretaries of state, prefects, etc. They even killed Nicolae Iorga, scandalising the public.
Intellectuals carried on getting even with one another. The purging at the universities proved an excellent opportunity: those newly fallen out of favour were expelled, whereas those without a doctorate could stay if they were looked on favourably by the movement, and they could wear their green shirts proudly. George Emil Palade, the only Romanian to be awarded the Nobel Prize, was almost fired from the School of Medicine in Bucharest under the pretext of lacking scientific achievements. Students denounced their teachers, among them Eugen Coşeriu, later to become one of the most important linguists of our time. That was – in the words of Constantin Noica, a young philosopher – “the most beautiful madness”, the reign of the Movement. Although it was put to an end in the next Romanian coup, conducted by Marshal Antonescu, many just turned their coats. “Pundits are easy to win over”, Boia writes. But they were at least wise enough to remain silent then. Liviu Rebreanu, the greatest Romanian novelist, even welcomed the Marshal with enthusiasm in his diary as “a man of providence”. “It is baffling and at the same time dispiriting how stupidly certain people can think!” according to Boia. But as the prospects for victory shifted, everyone changed. In April 1944 many university teachers turned to the Conducător as Antonescu was called, urging him to exit the war. No-one was hurt, says Boia, whereas before, people were relocated for expressing their opinion on far less important matters. There was freedom of opinion to some degree. In 1941, G. Călinescu published his monumental history of literature. Its re-edition in 1985 was a cultural event, applauded even today. It was not so after the first edition: for some it was too racist, for others, it was not racist enough. It was even banned for some time. No one recognised that the work was “a typical example of how not to write a history of literature”, says Boia. It is unsystematic and ill-proportioned, and each chapter follows a different structure. Its tone is extremely personal, which is “either a great virtue, or a structural flaw”. (Boia could have added that this magnum opus is an entertaining read, much like a family story written with malicious irony, in which the author criticises each family member except for Eminescu. Of course, while making a fool of others, he makes a fool of himself, too.)
The next chapter – “From one Dictatorship to Another… with a Pinch of Democracy” – depicts much jockeying for position. The wise guys stayed abroad, where many made careers and reached lofty summits, like Cioran, Eliade and Ionesco. Some even remained true to themselves and somehow got away with it, like the excellent doctor, Grigore T. Popa, the dean of the School of Medicine in Bucharest. He died indirectly from the character assassination he was subjected to in 1948 due to his consistent commitment to democracy. At the other end, we find Constantin Daicoviciu, an archaeologist, who was in turn a liberal, a Carlist, a legionnaire, an Antonescu fan, and in 1944, also a dean appointed by the communists. (One might add that at the end of his life, in the early 1970s, he turned against the theory of Daco-Romanian continuity, of which he himself had been a proponent. The quasi-religious official doctrine of Thracomania it seemed was too much even for him.)
Boia is right when, commenting on his own book, he says that the cases that impress us most are the ones that reveal the utmost steadiness or the utmost flexibility. In a way, they also amuse us. Ion Barbu, a hermetic poet and an excellent mathematician still respected today, was complaining during the exculpations that his career was hindered, which was true, due to his legionary anti-Semitism. But later he would often refer to his many friendships with certain Jewish mathematicians.
There is a famous anecdote here in connection with Călinescu: When Dej, the tyrannical party leader called upon the intellectuals to join the Party at a meeting, the literary critic replied: “The place of the intelligentsia is not with the Party – everybody froze at this moment, only to be relieved the next –, but in the Party!” Of course, this sounds funnier over a glass of wine, and it matters who says it and when…
Our high spirits are only spoiled by Mihail Sebastian’s case. He was looking forward to the Soviet army and the revolution, but when they arrived, he found himself disgusted. “Should he have adapted to communism? – asks Boia. – It was not very plausible. For Sebastian, there was only one solution, prepared for him by fate: to exit the scene.” The great playwright was hit by a car. In Boia’s view, it was an accident, but the question lingers to this very day: who organised it?
Then we arrive at a snapshot of 1950. Exceptionally base figures invade the scene. Someone called Toma drags Arghezi’s name through the mud, who refuses for a long time to collaborate, even when they offer him good money. Toma’s father – a third-rate poetaster – gets a seat by Eminescu in the new pantheon. Călinescu has no choice: he praises him so fervently that the comrades begin to suspect him. He is observed and it turns out he tells nasty jokes. But since it was also common knowledge that Pavlov also slated Lenin, one of the shady characters within the upper echelons concedes: “we have to be flexible”. Members of the humanities faculty are sacked; mathematicians, physicists and chemists are treated leniently, because these subjects “cannot be improvised”, jests Boia. To avoid the risk of being embarrassed by them, outstanding humanities professors are subjected to gross injustices. In 1950, the sociologist Dimitrie Gusti, leader of the rural sociology movement, had his pension taken away; he was also forced to abandon his house leaving behind his library of 22,000 volumes. He was only allowed to take his bed, a table, three chairs and some clothes with him though, and in return he was given a room with no electricity and water closet in a slum. It was of course better than prison, and finally one of his communist disciples who got to the top, managed to get him a two-room flat. They also confiscated the estate and pension of academician and philosopher Rădulescu-Motru. He was given a modest position in the Institute of Psychology, where the almost 90-year-old researcher was encouraged to take his first steps towards Marxism. According to Boia, the only alternative was the Academy or prison; but we see that for some, a third option existed: destitution. Others were given high honours, like Cezar Petrescu, whom the Hungarian reader may remember – more fortunately – for his children’s book, Fram, the Polar Bear.
It was the Carlists who found their way to the new world the most easily. The comicality of their flip-flop is alluded to by the author so subtly that those unfamiliar with the context might not get it. He describes Sadoveanu’s book entitled Mitrea Cocor’s Journey to the Soviet Union, as an “initiation journey of ideological purification” of a poor peasant, the initiation alluding to a freemason ceremony; Sadoveanu was a grand master and always professed that “the light arises in the East” (ex oriente lux). One of his novels, The Golden Bow describes a Dacian man’s journey to Byzantium also using the analogy of freemason initiation rites.
Lastly Boia notes that in the 1960s, even those who were sentenced to prison after 1956 gradually found some kind of birth. The state and its citizens “did not meet midway. The big compromises were made not by the regime, but by the intellectuals”. Liberalisation meant that intellectuals could also become nationalists, and it is true that the chains were loosened. The often quoted “resistance through culture” was much more an “escape into culture”. Communism recycled many people. “After 1989, no one was fired, neither university people nor academicians. They all went peacefully from communism to post-communism.” There ends the “joyful” story, which teaches us that “some paid a lot for being consistent”, while the choices of the luckier ones who were able to adapt usually met with success.
Hungarian historiography could learn a lot from the book, unlikely as it is to happen. Such a work would be almost unthinkable here. We conceal the affairs of our prophets with great embarrassment. And of course there is another thing we should not forget: the Holocaust. Even after 1990, a passage from Károly Kerényi’s letter to Bence Szabolcsi, written in 1946 has not lost its power: “Unfortunately, in Hungary there are not only martyrs, but also many anti-martyrs, the new anti- Semites and those who take advantage of others’ martyrdom, no matter which race they belong to. Because of these anti-martyrs, we have to think of the people at home as heroic souls of inconceivable patience, who no doubt ‘left’ again, if only internally. The deer(7) symbol did not lose its importance and significance for those who are people of the pure Spirit, in and outside of Hungary. That is why Béla Bartók is a symbolic figure for the whole humanist world, and I would regret it very much if you did not undertake writing that Swiss Bartók monograph.”
But it is “embarrassing” not only what happened to the Jewish people, but what happened to those who were not or are not anti-Semitic citizens as well. Ferenc Herczeg wrote the following in his diary: “The whole work of revisionism, which went ahead with the consistence of a chemical process, was meant to reawaken the ancient sympathy civilised Western peoples felt towards Hungarians. And they sympathised with the Hungarian people because it was famous for being a freedom-loving, chivalrous people, already in the age of its forefathers. Well, I am not hesitant to say that our good reputation was destroyed by those wretched men who carried out the Novi Sad massacre and later the massacre of the Jews. A people that can tolerate its government to rob, strip and massacre thousands of defenceless people who were after all Hungarian citizens in the face of the law, cannot claim to be chivalrous and freedom-loving anymore. This is the disappointing truth that we must face, just like the fact that the Gellért Hill stands on the Buda side of the Danube.” Engineers of the communist regime were also very cautious with the fate of Antal Szerb, Miklós Radnóti, Jenő Rejtő… and more than half a million other martyrs. Klaus Schickert, a Nazi and a Hungary expert, got confused when he thought the Hungarianness of Hungarian Jews was illusory: “When we cast our eyes across the borders of the Empire, Hungary immediately catches our sight as a country where the emancipation of the Jewry is without parallel, in its volume, power and depth. Hungary cast a shadow on all European states. How more difficult and painful the solution of the Jewish question will be here than in Germany!” Just like coping with the past… According to those who are equally familiar with Romania and Hungary – like Miklós Nagy-Talavera or Randolph L. Braham –, there are no Romanian Jews, only Jews in Romania, whereas there are Hungarian Jews. Therefore, the weight of the sin is also bigger.
Boia also writes about the two-faced politics of Antonescu, who liquidated the Bessarabian Jewry with exemplary cruelty and sly crookedness, but “only” had Old-Romanian and Southern Transylvanian Jews humiliated and robbed; he did not deliver them to Hitler. He makes fun of the Tomas and their ilk, writes with a healthy disgust about the Rollers, illustrates the anti-Semitism in the Party, and examines the so-called “over-representation” of Jews with figures. At the time he also mentions that many Jews did indeed hold high positions in the apparatus. I don’t believe it was for anti-Semitic reasons that a few Jewish leaders were shelved at the beginning: when Dej came, however, with him came the hicks and cunning sneaks who did away with the intellectuals: the Hungarian polyglot, mathematician and physicist István Fóris, the intellectual boyar L. Pătrăşcanu, the educated and more liberal Ana Pauker. Deceitful vulgarity won out over intellectual superiority.
Boia’s presentation is very similar to that of the Final Report, which draws up the balance of communism. This is a unique collective enterprise; no such work was done in any other former communist state of Central and Eastern Europe. Its general editor is Vladimir Tismăneanu, who is only able to repeat I. Deutscher’s “non-Jewish Jewish” paradigm, and to tell his own family stories. In the Final Report, communist “allogenic peoples (Bulgarians, Hungarians, Romanian Jews and Ukrainians)… understood the aspirations of the country and the people only to a limited extent”, moreover, they were for the breaking-up of the “nation state”. Boia speaks more openly, but when he writes about Jews, he does not have a definite opinion. But the way he writes about cultural functionaries is all the more pertinent: “they somehow ceased to be Jewish. They became abstract.
There is nothing particularly Jewish in their position. They are soldiers of the Party ideology and messengers of a new society and culture”. They are clowns among clowns, or villains among villains – depending on how we see it and read it. Of course, there are many possible readings. The same is true of the Jewish writers whose tribulations are heartbreaking, whose writings on Jewish topics are interesting, but whose scribblings written in the service of the new world are nauseating and null, and there is only one way they can be interpreted.
It is no accident that the books of Lucian Boia read like novels. His authorial “ambidexterity” reminds one of Dostoevsky, who puts in place his – deeply unlikeable – characters by highlighting embarrassing moments of their lives. The author does not step above the historiographical landscape, because he was already put there by history. Someone who writes about the traps of history is usually prone to fall into them himself. Lucian Boia is an exception. His attitude protects him. His credo is the following: “I do not believe in the intellectual who makes politics, but I believe in the intellectual who judges politics, and not only that. The intellectual has to ensure the interplay of ideas and their free movement in society.” Boia is somewhat like his youthful idol, the polymath Hasdeu, the great fabricator of myths who, to oppose the sterile science and historiographical boredom of his age, defined himself as a “non-doctor”. Lucian Boia is a non- academic. But he occupies a distinguished place and not only in Romanian historiography.
Translation by Orsolya Németh
1 Bennice, Warren G, Dominant’s Encyclopaedia of Movers and Shakers. Thinkers, Philosophers, Intellectuals, 2004.
2 Intellectuals, 1988.
3 Mitchell, Peter R. – Schoeffel, John, Understanding Power. The Indispensable Chomsky, 2002, p. 96.
4 Boia, Lucian, Capcanele istoriei. Elita intelectuală românească între 1930 şi 1950. Bucureşti, Humanitas, 2011. French translation: Les Pièges de l’histoire. Les élites intellectuelles roumaines (1930–1950), Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 2013.
5 The “Legion of the Archangel Michael”, a nationalist, anti-Semite and anti-Hungarian movement, was founded in 1927 by Corneliu Codreanu. The “Iron Guard” was a paramilitary branch of the Legion, formed in 1930. (Eds.)
6 Eliade, Mircea, Ordeal by Labyrinth. Conversations with Claude-Henri Rocquet, 1982, p. 126.
7 The deer is a mythological psychopomp for the Hungarians.