To celebrate 2019’s Day of National Culture, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization, in partnership with the “Friends of Panait Istrati” Association and the “Lingua Economica” Association proposed an incursion into the seductive Levantine universe of Romanian author Panait Istrati, a review that attempts to go beyond the established scholarly exegesis of his work.
The intrinsically Levantine vocation of this “pilgrim of the heart”, a “tumbleweed” born in the cosmopolitan Danube port of Brăila in 1884, was masterfully captured by his friend Nikos Kazantzakis, who mentions Istrati in his novel, “Zorba the Greek”. Panait Istrati - through whose veins flowed Cephalonic blood - left his mother at the age of 22 in order to begin a pilgrimage across the world in earnest. His travels took him across twelve different countries including Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Greece, France, Italy and Switzerland, where he often lived a very precarious lifestyle, just at the edge of subsistence, as he sought to experience all the joys and sorrows of the life of a truly free spirit. During his travels, he was introduced to some of the stories of Halima and to the histories of the East, which would later serve as his inspiration for literary works that were collected in such works as the “Adrian Zografu” cycle, “Kira Kiralina”, “Codin”, “Mikhail” or the two-part “In the world of the Mediterranean – Sunrise / Sunset”, works that were translated into over 30 languages and stand as a testament to the West’s fascination with Levantine civilization, immortalised in Istrati’s work in pages brimming with humanism.
In the exotic and unusual milieu of this “wider world”, the trials and tribulations of Istrati’s characters’ – often found at the edges of society: Romanians, Greeks, Turks, Egyptians, Arabs or Jews – are primarily informed by the incessant passions that dominate their lives. Despite his international acclaim and his huge success throughout the Francophone world, in his works Panait Istrati has always staked his claim to his national roots: “No matter how cosmopolitan, no matter how much of a vagabond enamoured with the endless horizon I were from birth, I will always be as you see me: at once Romanian, by my mother, my tongue and my beautiful Brăila; and Greek, by my father and his beloved homeland”.
Geo Tuică, television filmmaker:
“Panait Istrati and the sentiment of fraternity”:
“In 1996, we set out for Galați, to film a Greek community resident there. On the way, my colleague, Stanca Ciobanu, handed me some papers and told me: “Read this before we get there!” I took the papers from her and glanced over them: Panait Istrati!
“What do we have to do with Panait Istrati?”, I asked. “I thought we were going to Galați!” We did, however, pass through Brăila, where we encountered a different Greek community. We stopped in the courtyard of the local church and asked whether they could in any way help us in our attempt to create a film about Panait Istrati. “There’s little we can do, and little we can help with, but you should head over to the Maria Filotti National Theatre”, we were told.
There, at the National Theatre, Chance would have it that I ran into an old colleague of mine from my university days: an actor, that – what were the odds? – was playing the very role of Panait Istrati in a performance at the time. After rejoicing in our reunion, I told him what had brought us there in the first place; and upon hearing of it, he had the kindness to supply us with a number of objects that had belonged to the writer himself (his glasses, hat and suit).
At the same time, we were fortunate enough to meet a family who lived on ‘Panait Istrati’ Street, where we were able to find almost everything else that we needed in terms of people, old buildings, trade crafts and so on; everything we would need to recreate the atmosphere of Brăila of those times.
And now, if we could turn off the lights, and see what came of it!”
Emil Constantinescu, President of the Scientific Council of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization:
„Understanding the Other”
„I am very happy to find myself in such illustrious company. I hope the journeys that have brought each of you here today are merely the first time you shall visit our Institute for, as you well know, the principal characteristic of the Levant and of the Orient is hospitality.
On Panait Istrati, I will present a somewhat disorderly narrative, as was his life, yet at the same time an honest account, as was his literary work. I believe we are in dire need of such honesty today, especially in order to be at least partially able to explain the theme of this round table. While his literary work speaks volumes about Panait Istrati’s vocation as a Levantine writer, in order to speak of Panait Istrati as a Romanian author – a qualification that many times carries an implicit corollary of “national writer” as well – we do in fact need such sincerity. In most cases, by “national writer” Romanians understand an author that tackles the themes of nationhood and those of national identity. We sorely need this approach today, when our national identities are subjected to tremendous pressures from both within and without. However, I also believe that we must at the same time underline this aspect in a different manner, bereft of nationalistic or overly patriotic discourse.
Panait Istrati lived his life honestly, and he paid a price for this extreme honesty of his. He was a national writer who had expressed harsh words of criticism towards Romania, primarily through his manner of describing, at one point, the ongoing shortcomings of the national political class between the two World Wars. Yet the élan of Panait Istrati’s vision also touches upon images of state terrorism and authoritarian regimes such that had not yet come to pass by 1935 when he passed away, but were soon thereafter to become a gruesome reality for many. I believe that this is the great merit of literary writers. Like birds, they can feel the electromagnetic waves preceding seismic shifts. They feel the earthquakes about to hit. These are the merits that impassioned writers and sensitive poets alike have, and that is why we can learn more from them than from those writing the histories that suit whatever present they currently inhabit.
My empathy for Panait Istrati stems from a number of similarities between the two of us. Foremost is our joint passion for the written word. This is a special kind of passion, a passion that leaves one incapable of seeing a day go by in which we haven’t opened a book; a passion that causes us to feel, in the final moments before the end, a profound regret towards all the books that we did not have time to read. Panait Istrati did indeed have this “mania for books”. Our second similarity is our passion for travel, which stems from somewhere within and manifests itself tempestuously. Unlike Panait Istrati, I grew up in a happy household with a loving family, yet I too was ready to jump on a train without a ticket, travel to Constanța, try to sneak aboard a ship and head off somewhere to see the world. In my time, Communism had already taken firm hold, and many gave their lives attempting to escape this authoritarian prison by land, across the Danube or over the sea. Panait Istrati was fortunately able to travel, yet not as we might conceive of it today: with cheap flight tickets, credit cards, all-inclusive resort vacations; his travels carried a hefty price and were paid in full, as you all know. But that is what gave him first-hand experience of life, suffering and of people as they actually are. His works shed light on a world that is no longer: the world of the Levant, extended to Nice in France and then to Russia in the East. This world lives on thanks to Panait Istrati, who knew how to see it, how to understand it, and who paid a dear price for that knowledge.
In a tally of the European intellectual elite from the period between the two World Wars and until after the close of World War II, Panait Istrati occupies an almost singular position. Especially when considering the fact that, at a time when the intellectual elites of France, of Italy and the United Kingdom saw in the developing Communist utopia a glimpse of Paradise, when Bernard Shaw and other famous writers considered that this utopian nightmare was worth supporting and promoting despite (or indeed alongside) its crimes, Panait Istrati was busy penning his “Confession of the Vanquished”.
In any case, when one speaks of Panait Istrati, one cannot but speak of friendship. This Oriental-style friendship carries a special kind of meaning and, during my own travels through the Orient, I myself noticed that, even at the highest echelons of diplomatic protocol, there is the following trend: should one’s guest desire a particular thing, you offer it to them, regardless of its cost. And I very thoroughly learned what not to say, what not to admire, so that you do not stretch this boundless hospitality beyond the appropriate limits of decency. We can find corollaries of this mindset here, in Romania. At the beginning of the 1990s, Western NGOs such as Villages Roumaines or Médecins sans Frontiéres expressed their confusion: “We came to bring food aid to the poor, and yet were greeted with lavish, rich and seemingly never-ending feasts…” I said to them: “Yes, for you do not know what preceded your visit. These people gathered everything they had, made great sacrifices, as on the tables in front of you they weren’t merely laying down food; but rather, they presented an expression of their joy and their happiness that you had come to see them.” It was the manifestation of their joy that the Western world was turning its gaze towards them, of being able to communicate after decades of living in isolation. I also came across the same thing in Macedonia. Javier Solana, the NATO Secretary-General, was once sat to my left and said to me: “The poorer the country, the richer the feast!” We were being presented with endless courses of food. I replied: “Being Spanish, I think you can better understand, more than the Germans or the Americans, this way of expressing their friendship, love and hope in the future”.
Most times, however, Panait Istrati’s similar wish for friendship was not repaid in kind. This in turn led to some extreme gestures. I would not like to draw comparisons, but with Istrati, everything was sincere. We are not talking of another Emil Cioran, who created an entire philosophy of suicide which he never put into practice but merely utilized as a successful formula, leaning on his refined and capable grasp of language. Panait Istrati could never boast of such refinement, which was reason enough for Nicolae Iorga to attempt to flounder his literary career. Conversely, Romain Rolland understood the primal force and impetus behind such apparent simplicity, turned literature.
To return to friendship, which Panait Istrati was unfortunately not always rewarded with, I would like to close by reminding our audience that, perhaps, we might now offer him such friendship ourselves. To read a book is to nullify distances in both space and time. Perhaps, by reading the books of Panait Istrati, we might be able to offer him, across the ages, a kind of friendship he has never known”.
Andreea Grecu Ciupală, General Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization:
“Istratian characters between individual Choice and Destiny”
“I will take this opportunity to share a few thoughts on the characters of Panait Istrati. The best place to begin would be with those characters presented in the documentary film created by Mr. Geo Tuică, in which Istrati confesses to have always been interested in people. And indeed, he was. His literary work is primarily concerned with Life, definitely tumultuous, as even the author himself could have been mistaken for a character in one of his own novels. His works do nothing more than transpose us into his world, to outline the way in which he dramatically lived his own life, for there is nothing simple in his works just as there was nothing simple in his life. He is a truly controversial character, yet one who, until the end, took on the mantle of courage and liberty, and who demonstrated that, at times, humans lack a spirit of self-preservation. So too do his characters, as at no point do they fold upon seeing the hand they are dealt; they seem oblivious to the intricacies of the game of chess, only aware of unbridled deception, and only capable of reaction without prior judgement.
These are characters that solely live in the present, in the here and the now, that live each moment in the most dramatic of fashions because, for them, there exists no alternative. This is why I claim that his characters lack a spirit of self-preservation; their survival instinct is manifested through reactions that we might judge according to our current societal norms – but which Istrati’s contemporaries also judged by the societal norms of the day – as out of the ordinary, outside of the boundaries of what we might sensibly define as “Man and his way of approaching the world”. Moreover, his characters do not abide by norms or rules, however broad or narrow. His characters seem to not know of mores, norms or rules, bar those of their own making. And these are solely referential to the process of Life, of existence in general, which is bereft of common sense or moderation because moderation and common sense do not exist outside the artificial construction of societal mores. There is emotion, there are impulses and feelings, yet they exist without reference, without a sense of measure, great or small. We are continuously presented with “over”-reactions, that, once set in motion, surpass the characters themselves and take on a ‘life’ of their own. Indeed, one would expect, for example, that Kir Nicola, when happily sharing the fruits of his labour that he began at three o’clock in the morning, would share them in earnest despite the tragic condition of his existence. Yet he goes beyond this, beyond what we could call ‘norms of hospitality’. He goes as far as to offer himself in the act of giving, and one of the most relevant episodes is when he relates to Adrian – one of Panait Istrati’s alter egos – how his relationship with the so-called ‘civilized’ world, with the unnatural world of norms which Kir Nicola enters into in order to sell his produce – in fact, not to sell, as half his stock is stolen from him – unfolds. Here we see how the first to transgress the established mores of society are in fact those to whom it falls to oversee their abidance: the Army, seen then – as now – as a pillar of stability. Half of the fruits of Kir Nicola’s labours throughout the night, like a gift brought to mankind, are paid for by exactly those who lack the means to do so in the first place. Here is who abides by the rules: those most likely to be in a position to argue that they cannot respect them, those whom their own lives force them to break the rules. And from this point of view that other universe, the one which Panait Istrati describes with such magnanimity, begins to come into focus: the universe of the simple folk whose dual points of reference are God on the one hand, and their peers on the other. This is why, in the documentary mentioned above, Panait Istrati eloquently posits that “I only speak of people; I was only ever interested in the people themselves”. This is what it comes down to: Istrati’s fascination with people. His interest was piqued by the utopian promise of Communism, because he sincerely believed that that path would lead to better lives for the people and to the betterment of society in general. Things did not pan out that way, and he himself had this epiphany – as did many other writers who believed with all their hearts in the Soviet promise and who later discovered that, in reality, it was never really about that. And we are reminded of the famous tale of the peasant woman selling a goose egg on the frozen platform of a train station: this is the Soviet Union, this simple woman selling that which she does not even have. That was, in effect, the symbol of the Soviets.
Panait Istrati celebrates the simple folk, with all their goods and ills. He never idealizes them, but rather speaks hard, cutting truths. The reader, when coming into contact with the works of Istrati, experiences moments of shock towards what he is reading. Istrati’s work is full of violence, graphically described, full of actions that go beyond established normality. His characters aren’t circumscribed by societal mores, but rather quite the opposite. They are led by their passions, and there are countless instances in which characters die because the main characters of the Istratian universe decide that those people deserve to die. Later, it becomes apparent that their decision was wrong, and in “Cosma” we find an absolutely meritorious episode from this point of view of the oral tale, yet amoral from the point of view of the actual content of the story. This is because the rhythms of Istrati’s universe don’t follow the steady drum of morality, but operate in closer relation to the ancient divinity of the Old Testament, which violently punishes excess – and, throughout Istrati’s work, we are witness to each of these punishments being doled out in real-time. His characters are aware that, once they act, their next instant could be that of their own death; yet they continue to play their hand, with no regard for self-preservation. For them, this option is unfathomable, and the option of self-preservation non-existent. Their only options are to go all the way to the end, paying the necessary price should it come to that. An inkling of fatalism is also present, a concept that the Istratian character subsumes into his or her own existential universe. At one point, we ourselves feel the primal fear that the Istratian quill deftly manages to convey, but this fear never prevents the characters from taking on the challenges they have decided upon until either their completion or their own end. For them, liberty is more important than life itself.
Were we to have multiple Istratis in a society, what would we do? How would we curtail the chaos that ensues? Of course, we might ask ourselves this question, yet on the other hand, while exploring this authorial universe, we rejoice, we grieve, we fear, and, at the same time, we come out spellbound by the tale of a world that Panait Istrati, like many other sons of Brăila, well knew how to describe in wonderful prose. It is true that he had on his side both a natural and a social inheritance, and a rich, vibrant Balkan life to draw upon. The statement that nous prenons tout ici á la legére quand nous sommes aux portes de l’Orient is not entirely appropriate. Of course, it captures the superficial layer of the realities of life at the mouth of the Danube, but all the other, underlying realities – as Jean Bart describes in Europolis – are filled with tragedy. Yet full, also, of a particular kind of cultural inheritance that we shall attempt to perpetuate through other events, dedicated to other authors that spoke of the Levant and the Balkans, writers such as Ion Barbu or Mateiu Caragiale.
Emeritus Professor Mariana Nicolae, Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest, “Lingua Economica” Association:
“Panait Istrati for digital natives. A world without limits?”
“Today, on the 15th of January, we celebrate our Day of National Culture. At the Romanian Athenaeum, a ceremony is currently underway to mark the launch of a new mobile application, called “Mihai Eminescu. The Complete Works.”, an event as welcome and necessary as it has been long delayed. However, Google Romania did not see fit to adorn its search engine homepage with a representative cultural doodle. Here, at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization, we are celebrating our Day of National Culture by paying tribute to Panait Istrati, a controversial writer who goes almost unnoticed today, especially among the younger generation of Romanians that haven’t yet reached 30. A writer that is nevertheless well-known and appreciated in France, Turkey and (perhaps surprisingly) also in the Anglo-Saxon world, if we are to take into account the recent translations of Istrati’s works into English. I would like to publicly thank President Emil Constantinescu for the opportunity to discuss this tenuous topic, and our colleagues present here today for making this round table discussion a reality.
Our time is much too limited for any sort of ample discussion. Consequently, I will attempt to summarize what I find a fascinating problematic, one that continues to elicit multiple arguments both in favour and against this writer, claimed as he is by both the French and the Romanian cultural consciousness, yet one who thought of himself as Romanian and who often self-translated his fictional works into his native tongue.
In November of 2018, I conducted a brief survey of the Romanian Masters students (about 50 in number) enrolled in a Masters in International Business Communication (www.mibcom.ase.ro) at the Academy of Economic Studies, which unveiled a sad, but somehow expected, reality. In answer to the question “What do you know about Panait Istrati?”, the answers were as follows: “I haven’t heard of him” / “I don’t know” (41); “I’ve heard the name, but I can’t recall in which context” / “It is vaguely familiar, but I can’t give details” (4); “I think he is a writer” (2). The survey was carried out face to face, without the respondents being allowed to consult their smartphones. This provision is highly important, as we live in the age of ‘digital natives’, of those that were born into the digital age and have had access to technology, unlike us, the others, those who are merely ‘digital immigrants’.
Why do I feel the need to make these clarifications? Have they any relevance to our chosen topic? One of the arguments frequently brought both for and against the youth in today’s world is that they were born into the digital age, the age of the internet; and this factor makes them accumulate knowledge differently and manage the pressures of society in very different ways to us, those who only upon adulthood learned to navigate the internet. For the purposes of our present discussion, I am only interested in the fact that, at present, there is an extraordinary ease of access to information, of pretending to know certain things for the simple reason that they are easily able to be found and reproduced – provided you are facing a screen. Naturally, over the course of a broader discussion it would quickly become apparent whether one truly knows what they are talking about or not. But what would we do without Google? To paraphrase a very popular saying that defines common knowledge as that which we know after we have forgotten what we have learned, we can safely say that, in the digital age, we are educated if we can know things without looking them up online or, more aptly, if we know what to look for and where to look for it.
Why Panait Istrati? Because he is a fascinating writer, one who enjoyed extraordinary success at an international level, yet who is, paradoxically, relatively ignored in his home country.
Of course, there is the “Panait Istrati” Memorial House in Brăila, the author’s home city, the „Panait Istrati” Municipal Library, also in Brăila, just as there is a “Panait Istrati” Technical College, again in Brăila. What’s more, there’s even a Panait Istrati Street in Sector 1 of Bucharest, and even a boulevard named after the author, yet again, in Brăila. Such memorials to the writer do exist.
And then there are the films. Panait Istrati has had a number of films adapted after his literary work. I would hazard a guess that, for my generation, more people have seen “The Thistles of the Bărăgan” and “Codin” than there probably are people who have read Istrati’s literary works. But the generation of digital natives, visual par excellence, seems not to have been impressed by Dan Pița’s 2014 rendition of “Kyra Kyralina”. And they also seem oblivious to the existing classic movies for lovers of the seventh art.
Of course, Panait Istrati is well-known in specialist circles, and celebrated at important anniversary moments. I cannot but draw attention to the existence of a number of Associations of “Friends of Panait Istrati”, which keep the memory of the author alive and to whom we extend our most sincere thanks for their generous participation in the proceedings of the International Conference of the Department of Modern Languages and Business Communication of the Academy of Economic Studies titled “Synergies of Communication”, and to the International Colloquium titled “From the East to the West: Panait Istrati – Author, Journalist and Translator”, events organized by the Academy of Economic Studies in November of 2018.
Yet beyond these individual elements, is there a more permanent preoccupation with maintaining the author in the memory of the general public? Is there an available cultural strategy to promote these values of Romanian culture that we are celebrating here today, in order to make them more widely accessible internationally? Film could, indeed, prove an extraordinary medium for this endeavour. Yet Romanian cinematography is almost non-existent. As are the Romanian educational system, and Romanian research in general. Why can I claim this? Because education, research and innovation, supported by culture, are essential elements for the broad development of society that, in Romania, have long been the subject of ridicule on the part of our political betters and, as a direct consequence over time, of our society at large. A vivid and foreboding example is made manifest through a cursory glance at the budgets allocated to each of these departments. The educational budget of Romania is notoriously one of the smallest across the entire European Union, and has never yet reached the percentage of 6% of GDP as enshrined in Romanian law. In 2018, the budget for education was 2.9% of GDP; the budget for scientific research was 0.18% of GDP, a far cry from the 1% of GDP provided for in the same aforementioned law, thus placing us at the bottom of the list of EU countries in terms of both educational and research funding. One does not require advanced studies in economics to realise that without significant budgetary redistribution we cannot see any visible results. With regard to the consumption of culture, a recent survey showed that Romanians spend, on average, 5.8% of their household income on cultural pursuits, occupying the second-to-last place in the ranking of EU countries, which spend, on average, 8.5% of their income on cultural and recreational pursuits. The last place is held by Greece, with 4.6%. It is nevertheless true that Romania has recorded some of the most significant increases in this spending over the past decade, going from 4.8% in 2007 to 5.8% in 2017, being surpassed only by Slovakia and Lithuania in this regard.
Given these conditions, is there any wonder that there are significant difficulties in promoting Romanian culture? Or that there are a great number of short-circuits with regard to the transparency of funding allocations and of marketing and promotional strategies, both nationally and internationally? Is it really a surprise that we cannot come up with a viable and significant national cultural strategy except on paper?
I would like to give a relevant example of robust cultural and national construction, despite the fact that, today, the term “national” sends shivers down many a spine. We admire British culture and can easily point to British cultural values: to Shakespeare, but also to Mr. Bean, or to British humour in general. I quote from Stanley Wells’ “Shakespeare For All Time”: “Shakespeare’s transformation into a truly global author, aided along by the growing usage of the English language as an international language and the global appetite for universally-acceptable cultural icons, was partially the result of a deliberate campaign: (…) an important event, in 1947, was represented by a small international colloquium organized by the British Council in Stratford in order to promote British culture through Shakespeare. This event directly led to the establishment, in 1951, of the Shakespeare Institute as a centre for postdoctoral research into Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and to the creation of a biennial international conference”.
I hope I do not have to stress the point that these events could not have been organized without an adequate budget. And I return to the mobile application collating Mihai Eminescu’s works, the creation of which I again salute, in order to point out that it was put together in a timeframe of only two years by an inter-disciplinary team of researchers from the European Centre of Studies into Ethnic Problems of the Romanian Academy, members of the Romanian Geopolitics, Geoeconomy and Geoculture Association, together with a group of IT experts. The financial backing for such a project came from the “NeamUnit” Association. And the Romanian Academy argues, extremely pertinently in my opinion, that through this project it aimed to support “the urgency of the reconstruction of bridges between the great founders of modern Romanian culture and society at large”, with a view to maintaining and cultivating national identity, against the backdrop of European diversity.
Why Panait Istrati? Because, although he is a fascinating author, with tremendous international success, the youth of Romania has barely heard of him. Why? We lack the proper timeframe to analyse the causes of this fact: perhaps because he is not a canonical writer, or perhaps because he is an atypical example of a self-taught intellectual, perhaps because some considered him a Bolshevik, others a Fascist, while he himself proclaimed his attachment to the humanist values of the oppressed and the poor; or perhaps merely because he was not studied in school or at university level.
Or perhaps because of all the above reasons, and still many additional ones. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Professor Miorița Got, former Inspector-General for Romanian Literature at the Ministry of Education, who confirmed to me, in writing and with evidence, that Panait Istrati was marginalized during the Communist period, was not studied as part of school curricula but rather only at times referenced for individual private reading, depending on the professor’s preference or orientation. After December 1989, Panait Istrati was not included among those writers ostracized and ignored by the Communist regime who were later rehabilitated. As such, he is not a canonical writer, meaning he is not studied in the educational system, but appears, through his literary opus, in choice quotes across the school curriculum in order to illustrate certain themes: such as in the “Curriculum for Romanian Language and Literature for the 9th Grade”, published by the Ministry of Education in 2009, on page 9, under the heading “Adventure and travel”. With regard to the study of his works in higher education, wherein we can reasonably expect that the entire literary phenomenon be studied in its entirety, Miorița Got also confirms that she only studied Istrati at the Faculty of Letters in Cluj because, she claims, the University of Cluj had always had a more inclusive stance towards studying marginal cultural phenomena than did other Romanian universities. For our part, myself together with University Lecturer Maria Enache cannot remember even discussing, let alone studying Istrati’s works in Bucharest at the Faculty of English Language and Literature, with a double specialization in Romanian. Here are areas open to further research and elucidation.
Moreover, in the context of several notable contemporary reservations towards Istrati on moral or, as is more likely, on ideological grounds, I would like to point out political scientist Vladimir Tismăneanu’s position on Istrati. In his words, “Panait Istrati (1884-1935), yet another seeker of absolute truths, who some would call a great naïve (including Ilia Ehrenburg, the professional survivor, who viewed Istrati as a lumpen adventurer), and others a noble spirit (including us, the authors of the present paper)”. And he draws attention to an aspect he found fascinating, the fact that “it was Panait Istrati who wrote the preface to the George Orwell’s first book, published in 1935 at Gallimard in France.”
Why Panait Istrati? For the beauty of the stories he tells, his delicate approach to understanding the Other, his wisdom in accepting not just cultural and ethnic diversity, but gender and sexual diversity as well – this well before its time, yet interesting to note in today’s world, torn as it is by our incessant positioning, both here and elsewhere, towards realities that existed through the scope of the history of humanity, yet which we sometimes choose to ignore or even condemn depending on the moment we live in.
I would end by, first, giving Istrati himself the floor, to share his opinion (through his tale of “Kira Kiralina”) on a topic deeply ingrained in Romanian mentality. I shall not give it a name, but suffice to say that we speak of different values, of the understanding of the Other and even of ourselves and of the lack of knowledge of our own history and social development – aspects which Istrati throws in an interesting light:
“…Trandafir said to me: Have you ever seen as dumb a Romanian as this one? … (…) Trandafir turned on the young man, slapped him across his hands and – quick as lightning – slapped him twice across the face.
“Why are you beating me?”, yelled the victim…
“Because you’re dumb. … I can’t stand men who cry”, the Gypsy answered, rolling his lit coal eyes around as if he were the Devil. “Now take your five coins and get out, and remember to stay a stone’s throw away from the end of the village tonight, on the high road: at dawn, I’ll bring you the two horses and I’ll slap you twice more… so that you remember never to touch your wife’s bag again, except to put more coins in it.” (p. 40)
And, also with respect to “Kira Kiralina”, I would like to draw your attention to another interesting piece of information regarding kira women in the history of the Ottoman Empire. I don’t know whether Panait Istrati was familiar with these elements of history, but it is highly likely that they were in circulation in story form, and that he might have come into contact with them. In any case, the heroine of the novel is known to have descended from a kira mother, that is, from a – very wealthy – lady who knew many secrets and whose philosophy of life was very uncommon to that of other women of her time. In what follows, I will relate a few fragments concerning Sultana Kösem:
“Kira women were Jewish women who were allowed to enter into and communicate with the women in a sultan’s harem. Their name comes from the Greek “kira”, which stands for “lady”. They were employed in the harem by the sultans’ foreign wives, beginning with the 14th century. In the 15th century, they were the ones who brought the beauties and joys of life outside into the harem: precious stones, cosmetics, elaborate silks and anything else that could catch the women’s eye. As they had no competition, they could sell their wares at exorbitant prices. Yet in this closed world, they brought more than merely goods. They also brought news, or gossip. A French traveller of the period, Michele Febvre, wrote that “kira” women were also capable translators. (…) In the 16th century, they began to play an important role in the economy of the harem. (…) Kira women became very rich due to their travels to and from the Sultan’s palaces.” (pp. 46-49)
What is it that I wish for on this Day of National Culture? I wish for a transparent process of scientific competition offering real funds, announced well in advance, with normal and proper requirements, not ones conceived in accordance with the profiles of those who are supposed to win. What do I dream of on the Day of National Culture? I dream of an edition of “Kira Kiralina” as a graphic novel or – why not? – a mobile application of Istrati’s work made accessible to digital natives. If the British can do it, why couldn’t we? What else do I dream of on our Day of National Culture? I dream of a competitive Romanian culture, one that Europeans, Asians, Africans and all others interested in a cultural space that can provide valuable lessons in multi-cultural and multi-ethnic understanding and collaboration – that is, all of us today living in a world without limits – can readily and heartily consume and enjoy.”
Professor Dana Radler, Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies, Faculty of International Economic Relations, Department of Modern Languages and Business Communication:
“The Istratian narrative as a visual state in a space of Oriental provenance”
“The protagonists of the Istratian opus feed off the living substance of the real people that Istrati met over the course of his travels: his uncles, Dumitru and Anghel, his young friend and co-émigré, Mikhail Kazanski, Kir Leonida, owner of the establishment where Istrati worked as an apprentice, painter–bricklayer Samoilă Petrov, Captain Mavromati and others. Other characters benefit from similar vigorous descriptions, but only exist in the pages of his works (such as Kira Kiralina, Floarea Codrilor, Haiducii), characters inspired from the collective mentalities of the peoples Istrati came into contact with. Both categories are remarkable through their sheer vitality. Today, I would like to present you with three examples, chosen on the basis of the following criteria: different ages and experiences, two male and one female character, two main heroes and one apparently secondary character.
The first, Stavru-/Dragomir, a one-of-a-kind character (according to the letter penned by Istrati to Romain Rolland on the 21st of December, 1922), the „sole figure that followed me and terrified me more than the shadow of Branco did Lady Macbeth” (preface to the bilingual edition of Kira Kiralina, 2009 edition (XX)). The physiognomy of the character – „of above average height, with washed-out blonde hair, very thin and very wrinkled, with his wide blue eyes sometimes open and honest, other times hidden and cunning; thus was Stavru’s entire life reflected in them.” (Kira Kiralina, 1982, p. 19). The character corresponds on the face of it to the harsh category of “example of villainy” of the Brăilan shanty. (19). The real Stavru revealed to the author a psychology of turbulent waters, outlined in broad, powerful strokes. Both the fictional, tragic character and the author detach themselves from their lived experience, melting down their old sufferings in a landscape in which the people have disappeared into the fields, in the ample and implacable flow of time and space.
The physical aspects of Neranțula are revealed with similar acuity, in reliefs as strong, yet as relatively concise, as Stavru’s. Her gestures are quick, the tempers of her youth fiery, and the visual imagery bleeds into tactile, oral and olfactory elements. Neranțula becomes incapable of experiencing love towards any of the three young men that idolize her, even when she accepts Epaminonda at her side again. Her sensuality, so charming in adolescence, transforms into its own obstacle preventing her from living a normal and fulfilled life.
Captain Mavromati is part of the suite of Istratian characters that we might call ‘secondary’: with an almost “distempered” visage. Panait’s victory, succeeding Țoapa after his ploys are found out, is followed by the death of Mavromati “in his room, on a bed of rags, alone, bereft of the caress of the sea.” His disappearance, predictable following his prolonged suffering, is recounted with the dispassionate eye of a narrator that is relating his own life of departures, “often preceded by victory and ending in defeat”. (Past and Future, 1925, 98) By the end, his thoughts turning to the image of the Danube slowly carrying slews of ice downstream like “white coffins” – in true Bacovian spirit -, Panait watches the hearse carrying the corpse of his former comrade as a symbolic and inevitable passage to another stage of his own life, leaving behind childhood and plunging headfirst into the vortex of adult life.
Through movement, gestures and speech, the fates of Istratian characters are placed under the sign of the paradoxical, exuding from excessive feeling, as Panait Istrati suggestively declares – in the same manner as many of his own characters: “to grasp the fleeting ray of joy, to bare one’s teeth in the laughter that a pair of crying eyes implore of you, and then, then, to cry madly, from all your heart, too full of happiness! To cry a while… and then to laugh.” (Neranțula, 1984, 413)
Camelia Stănescu Ursuleanu, radio host for the Romanian Radiophonic Association (1972 – 2007), “Friends of Panait Istrati” Association:
“The Levant, a journey of initiation for Panait Istrati”
“On this night, the 12th of December 1906, I finally escape my country!” was the exultant affirmation of Adrian Zografi, Panait Istrati’s literary double. Emboldened by his unbridled desire to reach Egypt as soon as possible, that Egypt of mystery and wonder that he had dreamt of ever since, as a child, he admired the pictures of pharaohs, temples and swaying palms in his school’s history books, Panait Istrati would go on to see not just Egypt, but also other countries across the Levant: Turkey, Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine. He who referred to himself as “a mad oarsman on the rivers of passion”, would go on to transfer the fascinating Mediterranean dream he fulfilled to several of his most famous works: “The Mushroom Fisherman”, “In Egypt”, “The Perlmutter Family”, “In the World of the Mediterranean – Sunrise”, and “In the World of the Mediterranean – Sunset”.
At the heart of these writings lay the mad courage of a young Istrati when, at only 22, he decided to plunge into the wider world, without money, without papers, without a travel ticket. In the port of Constanța, he had the good fortune of running across a coal stoker who, in exchange of a bottle of pineapple liqueur, helped him clandestinely sneak aboard the “Dacia” steamer. Their destination: Alexandria in Egypt. The wealth at young Istrati’s disposal? Four measly pounds sterling, well-hidden in the lining of one of his boots, and the immense enthusiasm of a love for live to match his superb youth: “What good is it that the world is so vast and so alluring, what good the burning longing that troubles the heart, if we are forced to spend our entire lives running around the same square kilometre of terrestrial space?” the young Istrati rightly asked himself. After six days at sea, a white line with shimmers of gold crept unto the horizon in front of his eyes: Alexandria. Egypt. Young Istrati is overcome with elation.
Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine
Shortly after disembarking, we find young Istrati among the colourful crowds in the port. On his head, he wears a military beret. He is sat on the suitcase he had departed Romania with. He lights a cigarette, and waits. His friend Mikhail soon arrives, and their meeting is an outpouring of joy and of fraternity. From the port, the two decide to go straight to the train station. They would take a train to Cairo. In the train cars overfilled with the dregs of society, hideously comprised of “great numbers of the blind, their eye sockets emptied by the ravages of trachoma”, Istrati gathers the courage to take a close look at the depths of human suffering. And, unbeknownst to him, rather than remain a mere observer, he soon becomes inquisitive about their suffering. He compares this train of terror with “a convoy of human cattle: ragged, dirty, destined for the darkness”. More than a symbolic search for millennial lost knowledge, more than a spectacular descent into the past, through myth and dreams, for Istrati the crossing of Egypt becomes the start of a journey of initiation. He is far from home, in a strange world, rich in dramatic contrasts. He is faced with the main character of ancient Egypt, the falaj, tragically multiplied countless times, each instance painfully marked by squalor. With great insight he would define him as “so poor it would break your heart, hiding close to his chest the only guarantee of true civilization: kindness.” Istrati would meet this character not only on the busy streets of Alexandria, but also in Cairo. He would truly get to know him, in his house, his humble daub cottage. Unimaginably poor, the falaj showed Istrati all the hospitality he could muster, feasting his guest with ful, meaning, kidney beans boiled in olive oil and sprinkled with lemon. From the very beginning, Istrati perceived the world of Egypt as hot, imaginative, passionate, but especially painfully poor, and always defeated in a never-ending bitter struggle against hunger, poverty and mute suffering; a conflict to which Panait Istrati would dedicate a number of pages across his later literary works, because “Suffering is not a thing, it is a person. Maybe it is someone great and holy – someone destined to forever remain crucified, that does not sink to falsehoods, that bulldozes dead churches, that unmasks faith laden with guilt and social norms swollen with narrow-mindedness, a masked figure nailed to the cross by God himself.”
In order to earn a living, the two friends are sorely tested by fate. In Cairo, they would live the lives of servants. Throughout his initiation journey across the Levant, Istrati would come to understand that only the individual, only the ego triumphant over the vicissitudes of life, searching for its place and mission in this world, can constitute the basis of any form of knowledge: “Ah, the costly freedom of two friends, alone in the world, finding each other on the dusty streets of a cosmopolitan city, united in brotherhood under the threat of a shared, terrible fate. Who will sing of it?”, wondered Istrati, who was convinced that there exists “an enemy more powerful than all the terrors of the world: the inability of the vagabond to linger and thus to improve his lot.” Istrati’s Egyptian impressions ceaselessly mounted up, as he gathered more and more new life experiences. His books exude Oriental exoticism, distinct from the Orientalism of Western literature which amounts to little more than the ostentatious display of opulence and luxury. Western Orientalism is full of Eastern marvels: spectacular harems, belly-dancers and eunuchs, viziers and sultans, palaces gleaming in the sunlight. Istratian Orientalism abounds in musty bordellos, full of the impoverished and their wattle-and-daub huts. As Panait Istrati himself recounts, “It is not in Alexandria, but in Cairo that you truly feel as if you were in Egypt. Firstly, the streets themselves are much less Westernised. Then there is the clamour of its alleyways, filled with rushed peasants, chuckling cocottes, drunk soldiery, garrulous tourists, travelling merchants and their anguished cries. Then there are the old buildings, and the Arab statues, much more beautiful and more numerous than in Alexandria. (…) It was only before the Pyramids and the Sphynx that I was able to find the Egypt of the Pharaohs and of my childhood. Their overwhelming image, presiding over an empire of sand bereft of any modern haggling, confesses, in its maternal nudity, the boundless passion of those biblical kings that honestly meditated on the salvation of their own souls, and glorifying them forever”.
Istrati’s descriptions are expressive, filled with colour, carrying the evocative power of cinematographic scenes: “Colourful streets of the Orient, coffee shops where smokers greedily draw from their pipes, dilapidated houses with the washing hung out to dry on the porch, corner shops peddling brightly coloured trinkets, crammed into a two cubic metre space, sweetmeats laid out on marble slabs, hundreds of hand carts pushed and pulled hither and thither, donkeys with baskets on their backs carrying all manners of fruits and delicacies, flocks of Arab children, unwashed and scraggly, who brazenly perturb the paths of noble carriages, from which there always falls a toll of a couple silvers.” In Cairo, Istrati lives stories worthy of inclusion in the anthology of the Arabian Nights. When the rains, as eagerly awaited as a new-born child, finally come, Adrian – Panait’s alias – joins the young girls in the streets to enthusiastically welcome the blessed event through their song and dance. And then, the sheer joy of being alive fills the soul of our rogue traveller, irredeemably enamoured by the profound charms of the Earth: “I love my beautiful life for itself. I am happy to be in Egypt, to be free, to not care whether I have, or don’t have, something to eat today, tomorrow or thereafter!” And thus, the complicated physical and chemical laws in accordance to which the human organism functions, are verily ignored by Istrati, who subsists on heartfelt and intense feeling, on pathos, alone.
An apprentice of Oriental culture, Panait firmly believes in the eternal truths of Life. His spiritual journey across the Levant was initially determined by the paradoxical experience of thoroughly embodying his innate inclination towards vagabondage. Istrati was convinced that “An adventurer wants and is able to get rich. A vagabond neither can nor wants to. If presented with the opportunity, the former is capable of exploiting other men, of cheating them, even of committing infamous crimes. The latter is entirely incapable of such things.” Remembering his initiation journey across the Levant, Panait Istrati would concede that both himself and his friend, Russian émigré Mikhail were “the draughthorses of this motley crew, traversing the beautiful lands of Egypt with great pomp”. Yet unlike Mikhail, Panait turns out to merely be a novice in the ways of vagabondage. Of course, he has all the time in the world to perfect his ‘craft’ over the following years. Entirely aware of his condition, he states that “the primary condition of the art of vagabondage is a willingness to leave in the first place”. Unshakeable, and unstoppable, acting beyond the rigours of reason, rich in filth and in interesting events, his life was always haunted by this powerful, compelling longing to leave. Despite accompanying Mikhail many times during his voyages, in 1907, Istrati is not tempted to join his friend in travelling to Mount Athos. The two comrades would separate in the port of Piraeus. Panait then attempted to reach France. He boards a ship bound for Marseille from Piraeus without a ticket. He is caught, and forcibly disembarked in Naples, where for a month he lives in abject poverty. He then returns to Egypt, where poverty follows him. He works, in turn, as a plasterer, servant, distributes flyers and even acts as a sandwich-man. Could we imagine the person who was to become a famous French writer of Romanian origin, Panait Istrati, in the Year of our Lord 1907, standing next to a lamppost in Esbekieh Square, wearing a lit placard advertising “Cinema Mignon?” Then again, what does he care? He is young, he embodies to the fullest that hurried restlessness of getting to see as much as possible, to understand as much as possible. He doesn’t feel like being weighed down to the lamppost he shares his corner with. He tempestuously leaves for Port Said, where he fails in his attempt to book passage to India.
„The fiery-tempered Levantine of Romanian origin”
He returns to Jaffa, Beirut and Lebanon. He becomes lost in the Ghazir mountains. Finally, he reaches Damascus in Syria, where fortune appears to favour him. He becomes a sign painter, „one-eyed in the land of the blind” as he would ironically call his situation, where, „spoiled by the Arabs, he almost gets entangled in harem politics, falls in love with a pantomime actress, plays the role of a mute prince and harmless executioner, earns two beshliks per evening, meaning, one franc and five centimes”. The French literary critic Roger Dadoun deciphers in his fabulous itinerary „Istrati’s wish to escape his own shadow, in order to be able to pursue a different shadow of himself, or rather the shadow of his different self, as yet non-existent as his literary career was at the time. If the Mediterranean offered him the promise of finding himself, it most assuredly also presented the correlate risk of him losing himself in it. Because, for Panait Istrati, the Mediterranean was fundamentally a problem in and of itself, the space within which he sought and tested himself. Istrati’s Mediterranean is not a literary-tourisic voyage, it is a fiery pit of dangers, and the one place where Istrati can see himself, naked, in all his glory. Ecce homo.”
But Panait Istrati always knew the exact cost of his daring: “No other form of happiness can come close to that which you snatch from Life at the price of unimaginable risk and hardship. (…) All joys are enlightening; and all are attainable, if one is willing to risk one’s hand to sift through the burning coals of one’s own destiny. At that point, even the heat of the fire pales before your daring, as long as you do not hesitate at the thought of being bitten by the merciless guardian of earthly treasures. This is what no school, no amount of education, can teach! And this is why the Earth is laden with more cowards than heroes. This explains the insipid lifestyle of the masses, generously provided to all – from the human worm to the enlightened star-seeker.” Panait is consoled at the thought that “Everything can be seen as heroism in the life of a man who confronts the world with his bare hands and his warm heart that protects him from the temptation of a cosy and brain-addled life.” Panait Istrati would go on to admit that “I would deprive myself of so many things necessary to life, only to satisfy my burning gaze with the light that streamed in, with the sky that extended endlessly, with the Mediterranean.” Subjective, empirical knowledge finds reflection in the Oriental ideal portrayal of wisdom: “In the Levant, Man and Nature are not separate, but go on to coexist harmoniously.”
Haffif the Egyptian initiates Panait into many such secrets of his mysterious land, whose earth is riddles with vestiges of the past. And in turn, Istrati teases him, jokingly reproaching him for his enigmatic demeanour, “akin to his ancestors: the Sphynx and the Pharaohs of the Pyramids”. Unforgettable are their endless travels “along roads shaded by palms, on the banks of the Nile, domesticated by enormous dams, through museums, where we met glorified figures of history such as Ramses and Sethi.” Let us imagine Panait and Haffif in one of the many Arab coffee-houses in Cairo, where for only 6 centimes they have just received their shishas with long pipes, and where they settle down for one of their usual long chats. They have the same age: 25. They are both plasterers. They love their trade. They both have known suffering. And they share something else in common: they feel a need, an uncontrollable urge to feed off the harmonious beauty of this earth. Knowing it well, Istrati understood that one can only reach wisdom by resignedly accepting the suffering ordained upon them by fate. Because, reasons Istrati, “Our fate is our heart. We are small, average or great through our hearts whom we blindly obey. Only fate leads us towards good, or towards evil.”
In this light, the apparently paradoxical affirmation on the part of the author of the “Thistles of the Bărăgan” no longer seems surprising: he admired Haffif “for his capacity of being enamoured by nature, like all those who endure social injustice with sound judgement and a strong heart.” Istrati would later feel great nostalgia for such youthful friendships in his later years, which he would spend in France where he would sorrowfully conclude that in Paris, for example, “friendship is a trade, nearly as polite as any other trade. In the Orient, things are different… there, at least with regard to those people of good heart and sound judgement, all suffering is shared in common, and all joys are jointly celebrated. Otherwise, there can be no talk of friendship”. In order to synthetize the exceptional experiences through which the Levant and, especially, Egypt, moulded the spiritual biography of Panait Istrati, we have chosen a revealing confession on the part of the author referring to Port Said: “For me, Port Said will forever remain the greatest intersection of maritime routes, the one place where my heart vibrated with and recorded the pulse of the great arteries of universal life on our planet. It was here that I had a clear vision and a precise sentiment of the diversity of human fates, that tear men from their wives, sons from their mothers, lovers from one another, and brutally launch them into spaces that attract them through different affinities, more harmonious than the ones they had painstakingly attempted to craft for themselves through familial ties. Often times, our true parents and our motherland sit at the antipodes of the place wherein we are born and which we inhabit as strangers. From onboard the ship that was taking me to Beirut, I saluted this small city and the statue of Ferdinand de Lessers whose sharp gaze, fixated on the Canal, appears to taunt the fearful: “Hey you, move! There lies another road that might lead you to a place where you could feel at home!” Why did Istrati consider the city of Port Said as a great intersection of the maritime routes of the planet? Perhaps because the Egyptian city nestled on the banks of the Mediterranean was truly famous in its time for its population of all different nationalities and religions, creating a community entirely remarkable for its tolerance and cosmopolitanism. Little wonder, then, that the famous English writer Rudyard Kipling would confer unto Port Said the same special importance: “If you truly wish to find someone you have known and who travels, there are two points on the globe you have but to sit and wait, and sooner or later your man will come there: the docks of London and Port Said”.
Panait Istrati truly felt at home in the Levant. He was especially fascinated by the talent for storytelling of those living on the south-eastern shores of the Mediterranean: “Out of all the breeds of storyteller, the Orientals are those who gush like torrents, telling of a world like ours, haunted by turmoil, passion, disquiet, in which for every thousand agitated people you might meet one, just one, serene individual”. In Istrati’s view, such a world populated by “stone-people” requires not a Voltaire, but a Shahrazad. And Istrati explains why: “Shahrazad, as in the storyteller, is the soul oppressed by that which it needs to recount. (…) it wins us over primarily through the warmth of its confidence. The storyteller is all confession, and that is why it captivates. It is the only one that captivates by virtue of the sublime nature of its own soul”. Appreciating his gift for Oriental storytelling, the famous author Ernst Bendz would call his good friend Panait Istrati “that fiery-tempered Levantine of Greco-Romanian descent”. When he would be overcome by sadness, Istrati would fill his mind and heart with Oriental wisdom. As happened in 1935, shortly before he passed away, when he wrote to Ernst Bendz: “’Malesh!’ says the Arab. Meaning, ‘It’s nothing!’. Beyond my window, life goes on in its ugliness and in its joyfulness all the same.” An exceptional writer, Panait Istrati is today powerfully brought anew to the attention of lovers of literature. His novels, stories and autobiographical works, who went on to garner quasi-universal acclaim during the first decades of the 20th century, are now being appreciated by a new generation of readers, fascinated by the originality, exoticism, authenticity, verve, humanism, intelligence of observation, capacity to glean perennial universal truths and the overbearing talent of this eternal vagabond, a defeated man who became invincible through the test of time, and who does not cease to charm us with his unsurpassed storytelling talent. There is little left to us but to take him at his word when he declares, with uncompromised honesty: “I am Shahrazad!”.
Mugur Popovici, former diplomatic advisor, Economic Representative of the Embassy of Romania in Brussels (1993-1999; 2007-2011) and Rome (2001-2005), “Friends of Panait Istrati” Association:
“Panait Istrati and his Jewish friends”
“Throughout his tumultuous existence, Panait Istrati pendulated between Romania, the Middle East and Western Europe. There are twelve countries which he crossed under the sign of nomadism and his journeys of initiation, many times without booking passage. Of the countries in the Levant, between 1906 and 1912 he travelled across Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine (the city of Jaffa) and Syria. This was his first extra muros experience.
His meeting in Brăila with the Russian Mikhail Kazanski would plant the seed of a lifelong impetus to leave to new lands, either in his friend’s company, or on his own. A sizeable number of the people he evoked in the retelling of his travels across the world of the Mediterranean originated in Romania. Some were his comrades, with which he shared his many troubles and his ephemeral joys: Moritz Feldman (Musa), Herman Bunder, Sarkiss, Bakâr, Sara and Isaac Perlmutter…
Of course, Istrati resonated in tune with the breath-taking beauty of the Mediterranean (he, a native of a Danubian city), yet he found the murky Nile not unlike the Danube. He resonated with the majesty of the Sphynx and the Pyramids, but also with the cedar forests of the mountains of Lebanon, and thoroughly enjoyed the dolce farniente of the locals given to lengthy talks, who told him of their own familial troubles, of their own longing for home, of their hope in a more humane life. These were beings struggling with the hardships of life but, more importantly, they were also victims of their own illusions. He later spoke of them in his works – of the Turks, Arabs, Armenians, Jews and Greeks that he met wherever his road took him.
We have precious little information regarding his travels in Palestine. We only know that at some point in 1907 he was in Jaffa, where he worked as a dockhand. Years later, in 1929, he had an interesting conversation – likely in Romania – with Yitzhak Ben-Aharon (who would go one to become of the leaders of the Palestine Worker’s Party and Secretary-General of the General Confederation of Labour – Histadrut), when he asked about the situation of young Jews that settled as farmers in Palestine. Aharon published an account of this meeting in the Jewish periodical “Ketuvym” in Tel-Aviv on the 13th of February, 1930.
“My Jewish characters are not fictional. I have met them all. Some of them, in Romania. Others, during my sojourns in Egypt, Turkey and Greece”. Because he was greatly appreciated for evoking their plight with so much love and compassion – to the extent that some Westerners believed that Istrati was Jewish himself – the author would go on to respond that, in his eyes, all peoples are equal; but that he talks about Jews in this way because his attention is drawn by the persecuted and the frustrated echelons of society: “Pariahs of the Smaller Romania of yesteryear, pariahs of the Greater Romania of today, scapegoats of the Romania of tomorrow. I have lived among the Jewish people to which mankind owes at least part of its progress. I have known the kindness of the Jew, and his compassion”.
In 1935, a month before his death, Istrati would pen an article, arguing that “It is common knowledge that I was a plasterer; and, in this trade, Jews once made up three quarters of the workforce in Romania. Well, I cannot remember to have ever been privy to an argument between Jews and Romanians on issues of nationality. Both for one and for another, work, hardship, the injustices of the patrons of Romanian or Jewish tradesmen crushed us underfoot alike, and made us all into brothers that shared in the same pain” (…) “Oh, Jews! Beyond the many injustices that overwhelm you, I strived to recount the endearing quality and the humanity I encountered in your miserable ghettos, despite the fact that I was a goi, shunned by your religion”. For Istrati, there are no “priorities” in terms of suffering, and all the peoples of the world are equal in this regard: “When I see someone fall, I rush to help them, without asking which God they pay homage to first.” “You are all good or bad, but never mediocre. The Jew encapsulates the course of Life itself.”, says one of the protagonists of “The Perlmutter Family”. What Istrati does reproach them for, however, is their passivity in the face of the injustices they have to bear, urging them towards action.
Istrati’s meetings with Moritz Feldman (Musa) remain eminently memorable. He met Musa in 1907, as a fellow plasterer, whom he compares to one of Gorki’s vagabonds: “Among all the people I met and cherished throughout my life, Musa was one of those rare travel companions that know how to hold their head high in the face of Life’s vicissitudes, and how to remain a loyal friend in unfavourable conditions”. The short story titled “Musa” appeared in the “Viața românească” publication in November of 1925 and recounts the adventures of Moritz Feldman, off to find his daughter who had become a prostitute in Egypt in order to convince her to return home. Another colourful character, portrayed in “Isaac, the Wire Weaver” short story published in Strasbourg in 1927 by Joseph Hassler Publishing, is old Herman Binder, “a Jew from Galați”, whose ruin came from him opening an establishment in Alexandria that served Romanian food, and which flew the Romanian flag in celebration of the National Day. Istrati sorely wished to see him again in 1930, but British authorities forbade him to enter Egypt – ironically, just at the time when he had booked passage and was travelling entirely legitimately.
After he had traversed the breadth of the Orient, in the winter of 1912 Panait Istrati would discover the world of the West. The Socialist militant Alecu Constantinescu, who had appreciated Istrati’s particular writing style in his articles published for the Romanian Worker’s Press, would facilitate the author’s initial travels westwards. The three months spent by Istrati in the French capital in 1913 – during which time he became accustomed to the Paris of History and the Arts, were merely the prelude to his future encounters with the country which would baptise him as an author in his own right. In the spring of that same year, he returned to Brăila. In 1916, faced with Romania’s imminent intervention in the Great War, he left the country for Switzerland. While hospitalized in 1918 in the Sylvana sur Lausanne sanatorium, he met author and journalist Josué Jéhouda, the editor of the “Révue Juive” periodical in Geneva, who introduced him to the author of “Jean Christophe”. Istrati remembers how, “for me, Romain Rolland’s work represented a return to life just in my time of greatest hopelessness. I will bear his mark forever, despite the mastery of my sanatorium peers who, unfortunately, were only able to heal my body”. Seven years on from their initial meeting, at the height of his glory, Istrati would receive a letter from Jéhouda. A short series of correspondence ensued, followed by an emotional reunion in Geneva. The two decided to write a book together, titled “The Perlmutter Family”. It was a series of individual stories whose protagonists were the members of a Jewish family in Constanța who, amidst a climate of antisemitism, decided to emigrate either to America or to Egypt. Sotir’s narration reconstructed not only the lives and livelihoods in existence at the beginning of the 20th century, but also recounted the vicissitudes of an entire epoch, seen through the eyes of proud and obstinate losers.
Speaking of their collaboration, Jéhouda remarked that “By associating me with his name, Panait wanted to make my work known to the broader French public. Yet our collaboration was not a real one. He provided me with the integral manuscript of the book, along with the freedom to add or cut whatever I felt necessary. My task was to illuminate the inner lives of the characters and to breathe into them a Jewish soul”. The final product was, however, unfortunately undermined by Jéhouda’s interventions which, through his addition of a series of religious considerations, made the text eminently cumbersome. Istrati himself noticed this, later salvaging his chapter on “Isaac”, on which Jéhouda had not intervened, publishing it as a stand-alone title, “Isaac, the Wire Weaver” – a story to which we have already referred above, and which is appreciated as a literary work of tangible artistic merit in itself. Years later, Josué Jéhouda would write an evocative study titled “Panait Istrati – a friendship between a Greek and a Jew”, which well synthesised his friend’s personality: “His life is entirely beholden to the cult of friendship. My testimony, forty years on from when I first met him, aims to bring to light a personality of exceptional intransigence, a man hungry for ideals and for justice, who would whip any form of oppression no matter its origin (…) For us, Istrati will remain someone who has always defended individual dignity, in firm opposition to submission to a herd mentality and to the powerful “chokers of Life”.”
Isaac Horowitz was, undoubtedly, Istrati’s closest Jewish friend. Originally from Popricani (Iași), he left Romania when he was 16 for the United States, where he would become a journalist. He returned to the country in 1931 for a series of journalistic despatches, among which one opposite Panait Istrati. Although their coming together was only meant to be as long as the interview, Horowitz’ visit extended for some further months, and was crowned by the budding of a great friendship and, tangibly, by a book written in Yiddish, “Teg und necht mit Panait Istrati” which was published in New York. Horowitz was a direct or indirect witness to the latter years of Istrati’s life, his most dramatic years, which he recounts in this book – including addressing the claims that, during this period, the author might have become anti-Semitic. The book has the following motto, from Walt Whitman: “Who touches this book, touches a man”. In place of a preface, an exchange of letters between the two:
I have noted down the days and nights that we both spent in your house, which provided us both with many joys but also with many sorrows. From these notes, my book was born. In it, I speak of you and of your work. It is not a biography or a critical essay, but rather more like a letter destined for me, yet addressed to you. A letter from someone who sought to find you in your work, yet found your work within you. It needs not be said how well-rewarded I would feel if at least part of my readership could find you, in turn, in the pages of this book. Yet I cannot imagine a book, even the greatest of books, to be worth as much as our friendship. For this reason, I humbly ask for your blessing to publish it. I would rather tear it to shreds than damage our friendship.
The answer was forthcoming:
It goes without saying that I give you my blessing so that you might publish your book. I’m quite surprised that you would ask for it in the first place. I well know that those days and nights will remain without likeness amongst the days and nights we spent together. I remember listening to you until dawn, without ever getting enough of it. Often times I thought myself living in a fairy-tale, such was the fantastic nature of your tale of the heroic challenges of a life much too full lived there, beyond the seas and mountains, where your destiny had taken you. I need not mention that I would be greatly gladdened were you to return to these shores, in order to once again relive other days and nights gone by. But relive them, with whom? Perhaps, with the shadows of our souls.”
When Horowitz’ book finally saw print, in 1940, Panait Istrati had already died five years prior. We believe that a translation of this work into Romanian would bring to light a friendship that defied both the times, and time itself.
Aurel Vainer, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania:
“I was very impressed to listen to a recounting of Panait Istrati’s relationship, declarations and authorial work with regard the Jewish community.”
This afternoon, I have met truly special and interesting people. I was very impressed to be able to listen to a recounting of Panait Istrati’s relationship, declarations and authorial work with regard to the Jewish community. These commentaries cannot but flatter me, as a Jew, today. I am convinced that through mutual understanding, we will be able to reciprocally recognize one another. What transpired here today proves the validity of this position.
Unfortunately, we are very few in number today. Where we were over eight hundred and fifty thousand Jews before the Second World War, strewn across all the territories of Romania back then, today the Jewish communities of Romania hardly total around seven thousand. Yet, we nevertheless try to preserve our history. In our limited capacity nowadays, we strive to maintain this opening towards culture, towards art, towards science, towards everything that is of importance.”
 Stanley Wells, Shakespeare For All Time, Macmillan, 2002, p. 170
 Panait Istrati, Kira Kiralina, Moș Anghel, BPT, 1969
 Özlem Kumrular, Sultana Kösem. Power, ambition, intrigue, RAO Publishing, Bucharest, 2018, pp. 46-49.
Founders of Levantine Studies in Romania
Professor Mihai Berza:
A visionary of Romanian research into the Levant
Commemorative session marking 40 years from the death of Professor Mihai Berza, Director of the Institute of South-Eastern European Studies
A specialist in Mediaeval History, the world-renowned historian Mihai Berza made a name for himself through his erudition and the great synthetic capacity of the studies he undertook in his over 40 years of academic activity, from the history of economics to that of ideas, and from genealogy to heraldry.
Mihai Berza was born on the 23rd of August 1907 in Tecuci. He embarked on his university studies in 1929 at the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy in Iaşi, which he followed with doctoral studies abroad, in Rome and in Paris. In 1939, he was named Deputy Director of the “Nicolae Iorga” Institute of Universal History. In 1944, he chaired the Department of Methodology and Historiography and the Department of Genealogy and Heraldry at the School of Archival Studies. In 1950, he was tenured Professor at the Faculty of History at the University of Bucharest, head of the Department of Mediaeval, Modern and Contemporary History. In 1963, he became the first Director of the Institute of South-Eastern European Studies, a position he held until the final year of his life.
He was a corresponding member of the Romanian Academy, a titular member of the Academy of Social and Political Sciences, the Vice-President of the International Association of Byzantine Studies, member of the Serbian Academy of Science and Art and of the Academy of Lisbon, and an invited Professor at the Collège de France.
Mihai Berza passed away on the 5th of October 1978.
Professor Emil Constantinescu, President of the Scientific Council of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization:
“Mihai Berza, a man of character: memories from under the Communist dictatorship”
“We are gathered here today to commemorate one of the great personalities of Romanian culture and the historical sciences, one we view as a predecessor to our own Institute. I have extended my invitation to remembrance to those notable personalities that can share some of their own memories about Professor Berza, and I would kindly ask you to allow me to begin with my own.
303, For those very young, that is a mere number, not particularly worthy of significance. Yet for those whose university studies involved reading the Humanities at the University of Bucharest – Letters, Philosophy, History and Law – and were students between 1953 and 1961, 303 is a number they will never be able to forget. In student code, 303 meant a certain student hall of residence, situated in the former Royal Stables on the banks of the Danube. Within the building, there was a large hall, in which condemnation hearings were oft held. From time to time, all totalitarian regimes need to instil fear, for it is through fear alone that they can ensure their dominance. And their greatest fear is their fear of intellectuals – undoubtedly a justified one – because Communist regimes collapse when the intellectual elites began to speak freely; when, as Vaclav Havel had predicted, they overcame their fear.
Fear needed to be constantly reinforced and thus, in the aforementioned period, condemnation hearings were regularly held. One could always find reasons to hold such meetings and, in order to maintain and exacerbate the general feeling of terror and dread, the people destined to be subjected to the humiliation of a particularly well-organized audience were carefully chosen. Those who associated with the condemned were immediately condemned in turn, being seen as no better or, often times, as being guiltier than those initially the object of these violent verbal condemnations – especially in the aftermath of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, when students at the Humanist faculties in Bucharest tried to organize a solidarity action at “the Clock”, in University Square. Those first on the scene were arrested and summarily sentenced. The students at the Faculty of Law, among whom I was at the time, were taken to the Tribunal to see how their colleagues were being condemned. The Party did not settle for that, and also oversaw the organization of their condemnation sessions.
At 303, the session was presided over by the Prime Secretary of the Municipality of Bucharest, Florin Dănălache. A brute. Today, we avoid this topic; yet it is well-known that until 1989, when Communism finally and bloodily fell in Romania, with the exception of Ştefan Andrei, of Ion Iliescu and Manea Mănescu, the Central Party Committee and the leadership of the Communist Party were comprised of people of the same cloth as the two Ceauşescus themselves: people with barely four elementary school grades to their name, sometimes with a so-called workers’ university or political studies degree. This Florin Dănălache, whom I remember very clearly, was seconded by the head of the student organization, Iulian Cârțână. Those students that were denounced by their fellow peers were forced to acknowledge their guilt, and Rector Jean Livescu – a nullity –, a German teacher from Iaşi who had become a university professor and rector, would stand up and declare: “From this moment onwards, he is no longer a part of the CYU (the Communist Youth Union), and no longer a part of the University!” The consequences would not stop there. Many were afterwards sent to re-education through forced labour, or to prison.
March 12th, 1959. The session lasted a very long time. The proceedings were begun by an assistant from the Faculty of Philosophy, who was also a seminarian in Law. She stood up and unmasked a fellow student who had skipped the seminary on Scientific Socialism three days prior, telling her colleagues she was going to see her mother-in-law who was baking pastries. This was the gravest of motives. She was jeered and thrown out of the University. This was just the prelude, however, with the purpose of the meeting being to condemn the actions of Professor Pippidi. The motive for this was very clearly enunciated by the young and brave historian, Iulian Cârțână: Professor Pippidi had refused to sign the appeal in support of Manolis Glezos. The Prime Secretary of the Greek Communist Party, a remarkable figure who had flown a national flag on the Acropolis under the German occupation, had again been arrested in 1958, following a previous arrest in 1948 during the civil war in Greece. The entire Socialist bloc was supposed to sign appeals in favour of Manolis Glezos, but Professor Dionisie Pippidi had not put his name down. “Why didn’t you sign the appeal for Manolis?”, asked Dănălache. Professor Pippidi wasn’t even allowed to speak, because the time was better spent giving the floor to his colleagues who were supposed to condemn his actions. To the surprise of all, Professor Berza did not violently and vulgarly condemn Professor Pippidi; even worse, he tried to come to his defence, which was unpardonable. The applause from a small group of Law students – myself included, together with my colleagues Ţepeneag and Mutulescu – were drowned out by the boos of the crowd, devoted to their sanctioned mission to jeer.
The conclusion of the whole affair was that the people guilty of committing the crime of joining the “defendant” were to be eliminated from the higher education circuit and the scientific milieu altogether. Things did not turn out quite this way, because in the meantime “higher Party organs” reversed this decision. Yet its purpose was achieved. Its goal wasn’t so much the elimination of certain people who traded in ancient or mediaeval history, less interesting to party propaganda; the goal was to influence and intimidate the student body and the other professors. Years later, a few of us who were there that day, or who were deeply influenced by what happened at 303, were reunited. Two of these people are here today, sitting to my right and my left respectively, and you will likely hear their stories as well. The third is unfortunately not with us anymore, but is someone I evoke very fondly. I am speaking of Professor Zoe Petre, who recently passed away, and who played an extremely important role in the establishment of this Institute.
In Romania, the Communist regime was first and foremost a criminal regime. Professor Gheorghe Brătianu, the mentor of Mihai Berza, was assassinated in Sighet Penitentiary for refusing to rewrite his works on Bessarabia and on the Black Sea. He was gravely ill yet was offered no medication, and once he died, he was cast out into the cemetery for the poor. A man’s legacy, erased – what a horrible crime. Assassinations would be carried out both within and outside of prisons, to say nothing of the cultural crimes that were being committed by the regime. The transformation of the boyar mansions across Romania – which were often home to extensive libraries and pieces of art – into I.A.S. headquarters for keeping sheep, where they fed the fires with precious books, or into mental wards for schizophrenic patients, destroyed a great deal of our common heritage. This only happened in Romania, as the Bolsheviks put the works of art in Russia away for safe keeping. They, at least, had that much respect. In Romania, the Communist party was led by illiterate and uncultured brutes, who hated culture with every fibre of their being.
We find ourselves today celebrating 100 years since our Great Unification, yet these things are still left unspoken. When you set yourself the goal of genuinely talking about the past hundred years of history, and all you focus on are a few battles and great achievements, when you omit the horrible dramas that your people had to suffer through, you bring nothing of value going forward. Unfortunately, the younger generations have nothing to learn from these centennial celebrations, which have done little other than accentuate the moral crisis our country is going through. This is why I believe that now, when this opportunity to talk about Romanian identity – which can only be a cultural identity – was missed, we must evoke the great personalities of the past such as Mihai Berza, they who will remain in our histories not only through their work, but also through who they were. Meaning, through their character. The dignity of a nation is not determined by its President, its Government, or its Parliament. It is the sum of the individual dignity of each person, and of the self-respect that we each must nurture before ever hoping to garner the respect of others.”
Academician Răzvan Theodorescu, Vice-President of the Romanian Academy:
“Mihai Berza, a professor of great distinction.”
“I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the invitation to evoke the spirit of one of the most brilliant professors I have ever had. Perhaps paradoxically, during the times of greatest hardship of the Stalinist and neo-Stalinist period, the Faculty of History at the University of Bucharest had never before had such talented professors, greater even than those in Iorga’s and Giurescu’s time. A handful of the most learned people imaginable, and from among them, I was closest to three. I have recently spoken about these three in composing a book with biographical inflections, where I gave their names to posterity: Emil Condurachi, Ion Nestor and Mihai Berza. I list them in this order because I have remained close to Emil Condurachi for my entire life; Ion Nestor was my undergraduate dissertation supervisor; and Mihai Berza, my doctoral supervisor. I had actually met Mihai Berza before becoming a university student, through some family ties. His son, Tudor Berza, my colleague at the Romanian Academy today, I had met when we were both children. At that time, I was also fortunate to meet Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcaş, Tudor’s grandfather and Mihai Berza’s father-in-law. In a way, through my being here today as vice-President of this academic forum, the Romanian Academy pays homage to a family that, over three generations, gave us three members of the Academy: Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcaş, Mihai Berza and Tudor Berza. While not being a direct student of his – I enrolled in Archaeology and Greco-Roman Studies – I would nevertheless attend his lectures because, out of all our professors, Mihai Berza was the most elegant, discrete and distinguished. He was a joy to behold, absolutely extraordinary. At one point, knowing full well what his concerns and preoccupations were regarding Southern Italy and the Eastern Mediterranean, I dared to ask him to conduct the proceedings of one of my seminaries’ works. Mihai Berza had the great kindness, and offered me the great privilege, of him attending the presentation of the paper, despite the fact that on the very same day he had been faced with great hardship and loss in his family.
In your speech, Mr President, you evoked the ‘303’ moment. We followed all the developments and lived through their inevitable consequences. I was with my colleague, the regretted Zoe Petre, known then as Zoe Condurachi. We spent the entire day together and we could not believe what was transpiring before our very eyes. During a break, the most vocal of the three accused, Ion Nestor, came over to us and told me: “We’ll be speaking about you.” I didn’t understand. Zoe and I were wondering what he could have meant… That same sinister Dănălache asked the three professors to give him an example of one student whom they thought they had educated properly, and Professor Nestor, Professor Berza and Professor Pippidi had come to the agreement that they would make mention of yours truly. Professor Nestor also had the unfortunate idea – and he later apologised and explained why he did it – to have a brief pause, and add: “The eminent student Răzvan Theodorescu.” Two weeks later, the same Dănălache demanded to know what had become of “the eminence.” I was kicked out of the CYU, out of the University, and forced into the unskilled labour pool. For three years, I was an ironmonger – concreter. I returned during the period of relative thaw, in 1963.
I will never forget the moment when, having successfully become a project researcher at the Institute of Art History, when accepted by George Oprescu, he added: “I heard about you from Berza.” … Between 1952 and 1954, Professor Berza had been removed from his position at the University and worked at the Institute of Art History, in a field alien to his academic formation that he nevertheless became a specialist in in those times of hardship: heraldry during the reign of Stephen the Great, the artistical repertoire of the period, Suceviţa Monastery… He was working with three others, whom I will always remember with love and piety: Emil Lăzărescu, Teodora Voinescu and Maria Ana Musicescu. In 1963, after George Oprescu received me and told me he had heard of me from Berza, the aging academician began to laud the achievements of Mihai Berza, despite him being the son-in-law of Tzigara-Samurcaş, whom he had hated all his life. Yet, he said: “That Berza is something else, though!”
Mihai Berza started off under the tutelage of Gheorghe Brătianu, to whom he would always feel a deep sense of extraordinary loyalty through the toughest of times. I remember how he spoke about him, in “Revue des études sud-est européennes”, even in Papacostea’s „Balcania”, at a time when you couldn’t even mention Gheorghe Brătianu’s name. Mihai Berza defended his doctoral thesis in Iași, where initiatives for Universal History were being formulated that did not exist, with the notable exceptions of Iorga and Brătianu, in Bucharest. Among other studies, it was in Iași that Oțetea, he who would go on to sign Mihai Berza’s PhD certification, had conducted studies on Guicciardini, and where Oreste Tafrali was undertaking studies on Thessaloniki. It was an emulation of universal history to which Mihai Berza contributed with „Amalfi preducale.” His PhD thesis was published in Italy in 1938 and, afterwards, in France. Berza followed this up with a remarkable and extremely interesting study of „Le sentiment national chez les lombards méridionaux”. At the same time, he was carrying out his own research into Carolingian France and the Carolingian moment: „Le voyage en France du Pape Jean VIII”, „Autour de l’élection royale de Mantaille.” He also authored a number of studies in the 1940s on the Black Sea. In modern times, Mihai Berza has drawn academic attention – perhaps even more strongly than Brătianu – to the fact that the Mongols, through a kind of Pax Mongolica, created a favourable framework for Italian merchants to ply their trade across the waters of the Northern Black Sea. All these studies ought to be collected into a History of Old Romanian culture. Mihai Berza is thoroughly deserving of the republication, perhaps even under the auspices of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization, of his works authored in the 1930s and 1940s, until the time his academic career was cut short. He was the son of a landowner after all, coming from a line of Moldovan petty nobility.
During the period of relative liberalisation, beginning in 1963 – 1964 and lasting until 1971, Professor Pippidi and Professor Berza would become corresponding members of the Romanian Academy. I remember when, once, I came across Professor Berza in the square in front of the Academy, who beamed: “Did you know they’re making an Institute of South-Eastern European Studies?” He was delighted, as the establishment of an institute of Balkan Studies had been his life’s dream, come to fruition with the assistance of Emil Condurachi and the younger Virgil Cândea. That was a very special time, a time of Romanian emulation of this field. It was a pleasure to join them, all the people I have mentioned, in attending various congresses. I also remember the walks down the streets of Athens in 1970, with Mihai Berza, Alexandru Rosetti and Zoe Dumitrescu-Buşulenga. It was then that Professor Berza was elected as President of the Commission for the History of Ideas.
For me, Mihai Berza will always remain a symbol of distinction, elegance, discretion and of an impressive erudition. Professor Berza will continue as one of the most beautiful effigies of my biography. On this 40th anniversary of his passing, I thank you for taking the time to remember him.
Dr Tudor Berza, Corresponding Member of the Romanian Academy:
“Memories of home are stored elsewhere than those of the teaching desk. Thanks to my father, my maternal grandfather and to the library, I considered pursuing a career in history. Had I followed through, I would have likely gravitated towards archaeology, from an intrinsic need for freedom and nature. I vividly remember the time when, at 15, one night my father came to me and said “You’ll not do for history!”. And so, I chose geology, leading to my meeting Emil Constantinescu in the auditoriums of the Faculty of Geology in 1961.
When my father passed away, I was 34. I had observed him during my 30 years of conscious existence, but his photographs and other images I would, by chance, find, captured moments that nobody ever spoke about. It was a small, lost, paradise.
Our family traces its lineage from southern Moldova from around 1700, from the grassroots. My great-grandfather had managed to amass a household of 300 hectares, which after his death he left to his son, Teodor Berza, my grandfather. He had four children, the youngest of which was Mihai Berza. Less skilful than his father, towards the end of his life he was left with notably less property than he had started with, but had managed to provide all his children with the finest education. The family extravagances were road trips to the West – via automobile –, activities usually reserved to those of better social standing who would own several thousand hectares.
In 1929, Mihai Berza finished his degree at the University of Iaşi, going on to teach in a number of schools in Iaşi and Fălticeni. During the same period, he also completed his military service, specializing in anti-aircraft artillery while keeping guard over the Danube. Between 1931 and 1933, having won a scholarship, he studied in Rome together with his first wife. In Rome, one of his colleagues was his good friend Dionisie M. Pippidi. In the next cohort of bursary students, the class of 1933-1934, was his future wife Ana, whom he met in Rome. The two decided to get married and – completely unusual for the time – went straight to their parents informing them of their decision, and the wedding date was quickly arranged for 1935. After that, Mihai Berza won a scholarship to Paris, where him and his wife spent the following period. Between 1937-1938 he was the Secretary of the School of Rome, during which time he completed his PhD. Between 1928 and 1943, Mihai Berza wrote 17 separate scientific studies and journal articles on the history of the Western European Mediaeval period, including his doctoral thesis that was published in the yearly Proceedings of the School of Rome,
Mihai Berza was then appointed via Royal Decree to the position of Professor at the School of Archival Studies and, in 1948, was transferred to the University of Bucharest. In 1942 his first son, Alexandru, was born, and in February of 1944 his second, myself. From that period, during the war, we are left with paltry few photographs, not least because the family was taking refuge. In 1950 his eldest son, Alexandru, died of leukaemia, a development that affected my father more than was widely known, and one that came to define the entire rest of his life.
The second stage in his life and career – following the dreadful 1950s, dreadful both for him and for the country – begins in the 1960s. Beginning in 1962-1963 he returns to the academic limelight, and is returned several of his previous titles including that of Doctor of Letters and a professorship at the University of Bucharest. From 1963 onwards, he would devote himself to the leadership of the Institute of South-Eastern European Studies. This was the period during which he came into his own as a professor, mentor, guide and director. During this time, Mihai Berza attended a number of international congresses on history. The disease that first appeared and was diagnosed in 1967 returned, ten years later; yet despite the odds, Professor Mihai Berza continued to work assiduously until his final days.”
Professor Tasin Gemil, PhD, Director of the Institute of Turkology at the “Babeş-Bolyai” University, Cluj-Napoca:
“Mihai Berza, my mentor.”
„I consider it a great honour to have been invited to share some of my thoughts here today. I was not Professor Berza’s student; my university years were spent in Iaşi, where I also worked for a number of years and where I also got my PhD. While it is true that Professor Berza was in my doctoral review panel, I consider him my mentor for remotely guiding my research from Bucharest. Such is my view. I have always declared that I indeed have two mentors that shaped my scientific personality and evolution: Leonid Boicu in Iaşi and Professor Mihai Berza in Bucharest.
During that period, provincial researchers at regional Institutes would travel to Bucharest for further documentation. In trimestral shifts, I would effectively move short-term to Bucharest, for ten days or two weeks at a time, and visit Professor Berza. He would always warmly receive me, however busy his schedule might have been, and we would spend a good hour to hour-and-a-half talking. For half of the time that I had his ear, I would present my progress since our last meeting, and for the other half, he would provide helpful guidance which I would note down. These meetings were decisive for my academic career. Firstly, Professor Berza’s mantra – that stuck with me as well – was „Only write when you have something to write about”- to disseminate an idea, a piece of information firmly based in verifiable sources. „Have you found anything new?” If I had, I would talk to him about the respective document and he would always argue that I should publish it. We would discuss it, and he would provide bibliographical hints. Many a time, he would ask: „You know, these people who write so many books? Whenever can they find time to read one instead?” He was right, of course, but I have the feeling that that sentiment is much more applicable today than it was back then. Systematic and thorough documentation was the academic foundation he most ardently cared about.
Like I said, he was in my PhD review commission. When I received his notes, in a way I felt frightened, because his analysis had been as meticulous as to correct the accents in the French and Italian. He corrected the accents, of which were cited, and some were in the footnotes. I have carried forward his rigour and have in turn applied it to my own doctoral students. For this reason, over the past twenty years, I only graduated sixteen PhDs while other professors have passed hundreds. I read every submitted thesis with a pair of pencils, one blue and one red, once or even twice over. Nearly all my doctoral students have had to rewrite their PhD theses at least once, if not twice or thrice. I owe my rigour, serious nature and deep respect for the academic establishment entirely to Professor Berza.
I just recalled one of Professor Berza’s visits to Iaşi. Professor Petrescu – Dâmboviţa, the Director at the time, delegated me the honourable and very pleasant duty to await Professor Berza in the train station in Iaşi and to accompany him to his hotel. That night, we talked at length in the restaurant of the hotel and the next day he held a conference with a full house. He asked how much time he had, and when answered with „50 minutes”, he took his watch off, set it on the table, and in his baritone voice that silenced crowds and drew attention, spoke for exactly fifty minutes. He had an extraordinary oratorial talent.
Professor Berza was also my protector. It is to him and to Professor Emil Condurachi that I owe my visits to Turkey on UNESCO scholarships, without which I could not have pursued a career in this field. During the 1970s, after consulting Ottoman documents, I published a study on the tributes owed by the Romanian Principalities to the Sublime Porte. Of course, I had read the study by Professor Berza on the same topic, published in the S.M.I.M, I believe, in 1958. He had not had access to Turkish documents, and published his findings based solely on European sources. He consulted those sources so thoroughly, and analysed the financial and economic data to such a degree – even taking into account inflation for the period – that the numbers for the tribute that he forwarded in 1958, without consulting Ottoman sources, largely coincided with the numbers I found in the financial registries of the Ottoman Empire. His scientific rigour made Professor Berza reach such conclusions, in a field where numbers are the most important thing. I would like to express my undying gratitude towards Professor Berza and his memory, to whom I owe a substantial part of my scientific career.”
100 years of diplomatic relations with the Arab world
The Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization, in partnership with the Romanian – Pan-Arabian European Cultural Centre in Bucharest (C.C.E.R.P.A.) and the “Dimitrie Gusti” National Village Museum, organized an event dedicated to celebrating 100 years of diplomatic relations with the Arab world. Two conferences on the “History of Romanian-Arab Relations” and on “The Study of the Arabic Language and the Translation of Arabic Literature into Romanian”, were held in the theatre-hall of the Village Museum, and were graced by the presence of a significant number of ambassadors from Arab World countries to Bucharest, as well as by members of Romanian academia and artists representing the cultural milieu of Bucharest.
Paulina Popoiu, PhD, the Director of the “Dimitrie Gusti” National Village Museum, opened the proceedings by drawing attention to the particularly rich, close and interesting relationships that the Museum and the embassies of the Arab-Levantine countries have established over the last ten years underlining the numerous collaborations with the embassies of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Iran, Algeria, Qatar, Morocco, Tunisia, as well as with other Levantine countries such as Armenia and Georgia. By bringing the Romanian public in contact with other civilizations foreign to them, the National Village Museum is therefore an especially important cultural bridge between the Arab and Romanian civilizations, thus facilitating an open dialogue between the two cultures.
In turn, the President of the Scientific Council of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization stressed the importance of an open dialogue between different identities in order to reach common practical solutions for the long-term. Diplomatic and cultural exchanges between two fundamentally different civilizations will necessarily lead to a better mutual understanding, to the softening of geopolitical and geostrategic discourse and to the promotion a culture of peace in the Levantine space.
The proceedings continued with the intervention of Professor Aurel Turbăceanu, the first ambassador of Romania to several Arab countries, notably Libya and Saudi Arabia. The creator of Romanian inroads to the Arabic world, Professor Turbăceanu recounted its rich and vibrant history, showing how critical the exchanges of goods, people and ideas were for the formation of stronger connections between states and for the promotion of peaceful conviviality in the region.
Professor Nicolae Dobriṣan, a philologist specialising in Arabic with lengthy and prestigious academic and research experience, corresponding member of the Academy of Arabic in Cairo and of the Syrian Academy, spoke about the relevance of Arabic to the Romanian language, drawing attention to the multitude of Arabic terms that entered Romanian through Turkish influence. Professor Dobriṣan also underlined the similarities between Romania and the Arab countries: “[both] have achieved their political ideals, have known economic growth and the consolidation of their national unity, and have assumed their rightful place on the global scene. Both the Arab World and Romania have had historic highs and lows, and due to their appurtenance to the same geographic region, it is only natural that their spirituality manifest such common notions as temperance, kindness, generosity, tolerance and goodwill.”
Eugen Cojocariu, Secretary-General of the International Section of the Romanian Broadcasting Company (“Radio România Internațional”) stressed the political, strategic and cultural importance of airing the programmes of “Radio România Internațional” into the Levantine aether, thus facilitating a better understanding of Romanian culture and civilization beginning with the first broadcasts towards the Arab world, in 1932.
The participants were invited to the opening of an exhibition, conceived as a dialogue between paintings with a Romanian theme on the one hand, and works of Arabic inspiration on the other. The exhibition is the brainchild of two Romanian painters – Paul Mecep and Vladimir Ivanovici – who successfully managed to underline the numerous similarities between two civilizations that have had such different evolutions.
Emil Constantinescu, President of the Scientific Council of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization:
“The motto under which we have begun this dialogue is “Understanding the Other”. I invite you to collaborate with us through an open and honest dialogue down this long road of maintaining our respective identities.”
“When I was elected President of the Academy of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin and created the first system of higher education specifically tailored to cultural diplomacy worldwide, with courses at undergraduate, Masters and PhD levels, I also launched the “Levant Initiative for Global Peace”. Because the Levant is the cradle of Abrahamic religions, the cradle of cultures, the cradle of the very concept of democracy and that of the sciences themselves, I focused my efforts on the academic and religious milieus. Living my entire live in the academic world, I realised that students, and the youth in general, now only trust their professors and their religious leaders.
Cultural diplomacy does not aim to resolve open, ongoing or frozen conflicts. Its main goal is the creation of a culture of peace through education, and I was glad when the Romanian – Pan-Arabian European Cultural Centre was established in Bucharest. This centre recently entered a partnership agreement with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization, because we share a common goal: the creation of a culture of peace through dialogue. The motto under which we have begun this dialogue is “Understanding the Other”, as there is no true dialogue apart from that between those people who maintain their identities, as only thus can one better understand the identity of the Other. This is why I invite you to collaborate through an open and honest dialogue down this long road of maintaining our respective identities. We are now at a time when the Western civilization is fast becoming decadent, the intellectual elites are being diluted, and there is a grave confusion between the democratization of education and its massification. As political discourse collapses into populism, democracies now require a democratic conscience, not just democratic institutions. Our endeavour aims to return to the foundation of our common culture. This is a long and arduous road, yet one that I hope we can walk together.
RESEARCH REGARDING THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN ROMANIA AND TURKEY
BETWEEN 1878 AND 2018
Professor Tasin Gemil, PhD, Director of the Turkology Institute at the „Babeș – Bolyai” University, Cluj-Napoca:
„Today, Romania and Turkey have a strategic partnership and are joint allies in the largest and most powerful military-political alliance in the history of mankind – NATO”
„In the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 and Romania’s independence from the Ottoman Empire, the two states were each committed to setting the groundwork for a new type of relationship between equal partners, taking onboard the positives of centuries of close contact between the two cultures. In this spirit of amicable coming together was the letter – dated 3/15 February 1878 – written by the Romanian Foreign Minister Mihail Kogălniceanu and addressed to his Ottoman counterpart, Safvet Pasha. Consequently, the Sublime Porte officially recognized the independence of Romania before countries such as Italy, the United Kingdom, France or Germany.
In September of 1878, Romania and the Ottomans established official diplomatic relations and proceeded to exchange diplomatic representatives. Romania sent Dimitrie Brătianu to Istanbul as “extraordinary and plenipotentiary minister”, while the Porte named Süleyman Bey as envoy of the same rank to Bucharest. Ottoman consulates were set up in Iaşi, Călăraşi, Tulcea, Constanța, Giurgiu, Turnu-Severin, Brăila, Galați and elsewhere, while Romanian consulates in the Ottoman Empire were established in Thessaloniki, Adana, Izmir, Monastir and Ioannina, among other places.
140 years ago, a fundamentally different rapport was begun between Romania and Turkey, with a mutually advantageous cooperation on multiple levels at its core. With the exception of a few relatively short divergent periods, the bilateral relationships between the two countries have always led to closer cooperation between them. Today, Romania and Turkey have a strategic partnership and are joint allies in the largest and most powerful military-political alliance in the history of mankind – NATO.”
Professor Emil Constantinescu, PhD, President of the Scientific Council of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization:
„The Parliament of Turkey proposed that the ratification of the first Eastern-European countries’ admission into NATO only take place on the condition of Romania’s prior accession to the alliance.”
„As host, I must confess that this is the first scientific gathering that the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization has organized at its headquarters, and I hope there will be many more opportunities for us to meet going forward. My intervention will not be in the guise of a scientific essay, nor will it have the official tones that opening remarks usually have. I would simply like to share some of my thoughts with you, and some of the personal experiences I have had in my relationships with Turkey.
My first meeting with President Demirel was, as often happens in the Balkans, something more than simply a meeting between two heads of state. We became friends, and I am glad to be able to say that we remained as such until the end. Upon his 90th birthday, I was among those invited to celebrate at Islamkoy, in Isparta. During my mandate as President of Romania, each year we had two state visits, a phenomenon rarely seen in the history of diplomatic relations: one in Bucharest and one in Ankara, each reinforced by other events hosted by Turkey at the same time. For instance, in Istanbul we discusses the launch of the grand project of Eduard Shevarnadze, „The Rebirth of the Silk Road”, at a meeting between the President of Turkey, the President of Georgia, the President of Azerbaijan and the President of Romania. The cultural raminfications of this project are today being taken up by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization.
Alongside bilateral relations, the Romania – Bulgaria – Turkey trilateral played an essential role in fostering Turkish goodwill and support for Romania’s accession to NATO. For the historians present, another aspect rarely seen in international relations bears mentioning. The Madrid summit ratified a staggered approach to the accession of Eastern European states to NATO; there was to be an initial round – made up of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, – while Romania was nominated to the top spot in the second round of accession. The Turkish Parliament then proposed that the ratification of the first-round states’ admission into NATO only take place on the condition of Romania’s prior accession to the alliance. This gesture of goodwill on behalf of the Turkish Parliament, recorded in the proceedings of that institution, is somewhat lesser-known. Yet when we speak of the relations between Romania and Turkey, we cannot solely talk about history and diplomacy. We must take the two countries’ warm disposition towards each other as a whole into account, a state which might seem paradoxical to those whose knowledge is limited to that of mediaeval warfare or solely to the establishment of mutual diplomatic ties.
I would like to end with another confession. At the end of my mandate, in September of 2000, I was interviewed by a Financial Times journalist, who was writing a very broad and thorough article about the situation in the Balkans. One of the questions he asked was something along the lines of „Why are there so many Turkish investors in Romania, and so few Western investors from the United States or the United Kingdom?”My answer was short and revealing: because Turkish investors don’t read the Financial Times, have first-hand knowledge of Romania, and picked up on the existence of a fundamental factor for the development of economic relations: a friendly business environment. This friendly atmosphere was not created by politicians. It comes from the imagination, the myths and fables we’ve spun about one another, and thanks to it the friendship between Romania and Turkey has lasted for centuries. It has held strong so far, and I hope it will last a long time from now, so that other researchers have the opportunity to study our intercultural relations in the coming centuries.”
Professor Ioan-Aurel Pop, PhD, Rector of the “Babeş–Bolyai” University, Cluj–Napoca, President of the Romanian Academy:
„Two modern states, that fulfilled different yet important roles in the history of the European continent.”
„At the close of the modern era, Romania’s relations with the Ottoman Empire had a very special basis, and for the start of the contemporary era, our rapport with Turkey was also grounded on new developments. This was the rapport betweeen two modern states, that fulfilled different yet important roles in the history of the European continent. The tradition of Turkology Studies is very strong in Bucharest and, of course, in Iaşi. Yet I would remind our audience that, following the Great Unification, shortly after the founding of the National University of Dacia Superior – whose „godfather” was the great historian Vasile Pârvan, who also taught there for a semester and whose commenement speech, „The Duty of Our Lives”, contains valuable insight to this day – South-European studies, with a large omponent of Turkology, were developed at the academic level. From this basis, after the fall of the Communist regime, our university was the first in Romania to establish an Institute of Turkology, headed by Professor Tasin Gemil, who represented us as Ambassador of Romania to two Turkic countries, broken off from the former Soviet Union. He was also recently elected a member of the Academy of Kazakhstan, which represents an international recognition of his academic importance and his contribution to the study of Turkology.
Moreover, more recently the Romanian Academy and several universities in Romania have developed very good relationships with Turkey and thus had a taste of the Turkish academic milieu. We successfully published an album containing photographs that Professor Gemil found in the Istanbul University Library, which begin from as early as the end of the 19th century, in 1878 – when official diplomatic relations were established between the two countries, and continue with interesting depictions, primarily of Dobrogea. The album was published following a joint effort by the Universities of Cluj-Napoca and Istanbul. I would also like to draw attention to the very good relationships we have fostered through this facilitating agency, TIKA, which has helped us tremendously with supplying tehnical machinery for several of our university laboratories. As such, our rapport is dynamic, with the Institute of Turkology publishing a scientific journal edited in several languages, titled „Studia et documenta turcologica”. We are happy to see that the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization and the Institute of Turkology have such strong ties, thanks in no small part to the great personality of President Emil Constantinescu, whose wish it has been that in this corner of Europe relationships be more than amiable. I see in today’s symposium, „Research regarding the relationships between Romania and Turkey between 1878 and 2018” a testament to this reciprocal desire.”
His Excellency Osman Koray ERTAȘ, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Romania:
„Regardless of transient evolutions, Turkey remains a strong ally and friend to Romania”
„Turkey’s relations with Romania have continuously developed over our 140 years of common history. The Royal Household of Romania created the framework of bilateral relations with both the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic of modern times, and this close framework is manifested to this day. Even during the Cold War, despite being on different sides, we had a special relationship keeping in mind the specificities of the time period. However, these topics will be touched upon at length by the distinguished academics here with us today. Our relations with Romania have developed very rapidly after the 1990s. Following Romania’s transition to democracy, Ankara and Bucharest first became close allies and commercial partners. Then, through the bilateral accord reached at the highest levels in 2011, we entered a strategic partnership. Of our neighbouring countries, Romania is today the one with which we have the closest relations politically, militarily and economically. Our Turko-Tatar co-ethnics and co-nationals, as living testament of our common history, represent a durable bridge of friendship. We hold a special appreciation for the Romanian policy of safeguarding the rights of our compatriots. Such a daring, inclusive and tolerant approach should be taken as an exemplary model by other countries in our region.
Economic and commercial cooperation is one of the cornerstones of our relationship. Turkey is Romania’s largest commercial partner after the European Union. In 2017, the value of bilateral commercial exchanges reached 5.5 billion US dollars, a constant trend towards our goal of 10 billion. Turkey has over 7 billion dollars in investments in Romania, including here those in tertiary countries. Over 15.000 Turkish businesses are active in Romania’s industrial, commercial, service, finance, real estate, construction, grocery, production and transport sectors. Due to these intense commercial and economic exchanges, the number of outbound flights to Turkey has recently risen to over 50 a week.
While other parts of the world are enjoying the Fourth Industrial Revolution, our region is still subject to proxy wars, sectarian violence, territorial disputes, terrorism and suffering. Unfortunately, the surpluses of these wealthy nations are invested in the region in the form of arms deals and of violence, instead of aid, prosperity and development. Although these problems do not affect us directly, we cannot afford the luxury of approaching them as a third-party observer. We have to resolve these issues through a principled approach to foreign policy, one based on enterprise and proactivity. This foreign policy we like to call enterprising and humanitarian. „Enterprising”, because we base our foreign policy on a realistic, independent, creative and efficient approach, one that can bring together different elements of power in an optimal manner without hesitating to take the initiative while at the same time pursuing sustainable development and peace. Our foreign policy can also be called „humanitarian” because of our aim and efforts to contribute to the peace, well-being and prosperity of humanity without discriminating based on ethnic, religious or sectarian grounds. With this approach, and given recent developments, we have become the world’s largest supplier of humanitarian aid. In 2017, humanitarian assistance offered by Turkey reached a figure of 8.06 billion dollars. In 2016, our contribution was 6 billion dollars. Divided by the levels of GDP in the past two years, Turkey has become the most generous provider of humanitarian aid worldwide.
Moreover, our country harbours the largest number of refugees in the world. Turkey is one of the countries that are paying the highest price for the war in Syria, and for its effects beyond the Syrian border. Currently, we are housing over 3.5 million Syrian refugees. We have spent 32 billion dollars to welcome them to our country. In some cities, the number of Syrian refugees has even surpassed the number of local residents. Around 350.000 Syrian babies were born in Turkey. Syrian and Iraki refugees to our country have access to free medical services. Approximately 613.000 children are receiving free education. All basic services in the refugee camps are covered by us, free of charge, and many international organizations regard us as a worthy example in this regard. Besides the refugee crisis, Turkey has had to simultaneously deal with three other setbacks: the bloodiest military coup in its history, violent terrorist attacks and proxy wars on its borders. Any one of these crises, even on a smaller scale, could easily have destabilized any European country were it to have taken place there. We have all witnessed the efects of the migrant crisis of 2015: internal political turmoil, weakened governments, the questioning of the fundamental principles of the European Union, new radical and xenophobic movements. Despite all this, Turkey has managed to remain an element of stability in the region. Within two years, we have managed to lift the state of emergeny we were forced to institute after the military coup, and to focus on a reformist agenda, with a focus on the accession process to the European Union. We regard Romania’s taking over of the Presidency of the European Council in 2019 as a very important opportunity in this regard.
Both our bilateral contacts and those reached through NATO continue in perseverance, as do the trilateral reunions between our countries. The Trilateral Meeting of the Foreign Affairs Ministers of Turkey, Poland and Romania took place in Bucharest not two weeks ago. That was an opportunity for us, as close allies, to discuss topics of regional interest. Regardless of transient evolutions, Turkey is a strong ally and a friend of Romania. The ties that were established 140 years ago continue to reap positive results to the benefit of both our peoples, especially with regard to security, economy and trade.”
Mrs. Yasemin MELEZ BİÇER, co-ordinator of TIKA:
„Academic and scientific relations are continuously developing due to ongoing concrete projects”
„The relationship between Romania and Turkey is one based on a long history. Certainly, both the activities and relationships between scientists and academicians in both countries are continuously and dynamically developing, due to the ongoing concrete projects in both nations. In the context of the permanent development of bilateral relationships between the two states, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency – TIKA –, an entity part of the Embassy of the Turkish Republic to Bucharest, began its activity in Bucharest in 2015. Through its ongoing projects, occurring in many different fields such as education, medicine, restoration and the development of academic and cultural partnerships, our agency is proud to contribute to an even better rapport between our two countries.”
Dean of Romanian Turkology, Mustafa A. MEHMED (in collaboration with Scientific Researcher Nagy PIENARU, PhD, from the “Nicolae Iorga” Institute of History at the Romanian Academy in Bucharest):
„140 years of Romanian–Turkish Diplomatic Relations”
By means of the piece of work bearing the title above, the authors attempt to go through the main phases of the 140 years of diplomatic relations between Romania and Turkey, highlighting at the same time some of the noteworthy events which took place during each of those phases. As is well known, the relations between the Romanian principalities (Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania) and the Ottoman Empire evolved under special circumstances of subordination, falling short of full annexation and integration; a different evolution from others in the Balkans who were directly influenced by the Turkish and Islamic legal and administrative system. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, concluded by the Treaty of Berlin (July 1878), would radically change the relations between Romania as an independent state and the Sublime Porte, setting both on a position of equality according to the customs of international diplomacy. After the signing of the Treaty, the first phase of Romanian-Turkish diplomatic relations developed straightforwardly, through the founding of diplomatic representations in Bucharest and Istanbul. The First World War (1914 – 1918) would bring the two countries together yet apart, locked in conflict on different sides of the hostilities. At the end of the First World War, at the Paris Peace Conference (1918 – 1920), Romania achieved its “Great Unification”, while the Sublime Porte, losing the war, fell irredeemably into disarray. The Turkish people, led by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) and his fellow fighters, nevertheless started their liberation struggle, and were to eventually come out victorious through the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on the 24th of July 1923. A few days later, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed on the 29th of October, after the abolition of an Empire which had lasted for more than six centuries. Only later could New Turkey, led by M. K. Atatürk, become a free country, by taking control of its own fate. From this moment onwards and during the entire interbellum period, the diplomatic relations between Romania and the Republic of Turkey were to achieve important milestones, of which some have gone down in history. While Romania joined the Second World War on the side of the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy etc.) until 1944, Turkey somehow managed, with great difficulty, to maintain its neutrality until nearly the end of one of the most destructive conflicts of mankind. After the German Reich’s defeat, Romania entered the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, becoming a part of the Socialist Bloc, while Turkey joined the network of democratic countries, joining NATO in 1952 and reinforcing the alliance’s strategically critical South-Eastern European flank. Several years after the Cold War had begun in earnest and Ceaușescu had become leader of Romania, despite the fact that socialism was gaining ground, diplomatic relations between Romania and Turkey were somehow resumed, and a system of reciprocal visits every six months, in one of the two capitals and at different levels of the administration, was established. Some of these were courtesy visits, without any other purpose such as Protocols or Conventions to be signed. Only after the 1989 Revolution and Romania’s shift towards democracy did Romanian-Turkish relations fully stabilize, with major evolutions in their relations taking place in today’s completely new geopolitical landscape, with increasingly greater possibilities for their development. In our presentation, we shall identify the more important events or accomplishments of each phase of the 140 years of diplomatic relations between Romania and Turkey.
Associated Lecturer Adrian-Bogdan CEOBANU, PhD, “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University, Iaşi:
„Policy, Diplomacy and Economy. The Visits of the Romanian Ministers of Foreign Affairs to Constantinople (the end of the 19th – beginning of 20th centuries)
„With Romania achieving independence and the recognition of its new judicial status by the Ottoman Empire, Romanian-Ottoman relations overcame the tensions in place prior to 1877. Diplomatic relations between the two states were established in the autumn of 1878, with the reciprocal delegation of plenipotentiary ministers to each of the other’s capital, which modified the dynamics of bilateral relations. During the reign of Carol I, a number of Foreign Affairs ministers went on official visits to Constantinople. In fact, the young prince himself visited the Sultan’s residence in the autumn of 1866, where he received official confirmation of his rulership from Sultan Abdul-Asiz. In the present paper, we aim to present the context of the visits to the banks of the Bosphorus of two Romanian Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Mihail Pherekyde and Alexandru Marghiloman. We will assess the composition of their official delegations and the manner of their reception by the Ottoman authorities. We are primarily interested in the political and diplomatic aspects of the two visits, but also in their economic implications in the rapport between the governments of Bucharest and Constantinople.
Associated Lecturer Marian ZIDARU, PhD, “Andrei Șaguna” University, Constanța:
„SOE in the Balkans during World War II: The Case of Salvet Lütfi Tozan alias ’Pants’”
SALVET LÜTFI TOZAN was a Turkish subject of Bosnian origin, bilingual in Serbian and Turkish and fluent in French. During the Great War he took an active part in politics and strongly opposed the Young Turks’ alliance with Germany. Prior to and immediately after the outbreak of World War II, several members of British Embassy in Ankara were frequent guests at the Pants household, among them Commander Wolfson who enlisted Pants’ support in the provision of naval and other intelligence. In 1941, Commander Wolfson made an agreement with Pants whereby the latter engaged in chartering Turkish ketches on behalf of the Germans as a means of providing regular sources of information. During the Second World War, Tozan was one of the most important SOE agent in the entire Balkans. In August of 1941 the Romanian Surete arrested Rică Georgescu, who was Iuliu Maniu’s collaborator and the W/T operator. With Georgescu’s and the W/T set’s disappearance from the scene, SOE had to fall back on couriers as a means of maintaining contact with Maniu. In trouble, the SOE resorted to simple and traditional methods that countered the German Svilengrad border control with the privileges of diplomacy, which even the Nazis still found it expedient to respect. They used Tozan, who was then Finnish Consul in Istanbul. He became the main SOE contact with Maniu. But shortly thereafter he was arrested by the Hungarian Secret Police. A Hungarian agent, with whom he was instructed to make contact, in an excess of suspicion misunderstood his approach and denounced him. But two payments into a Swiss Bank of 20,000 Swiss francs and 20,000 dollars brought Tozan safely out of his Hungarian cell with a Croatian passport. The present paper tells Tozan’s story between 1941-1944.
Melike ROMAN, Bucharest:
„A book about Nicolae Titulescu edited in Turkey”
The present conference, bearing the title of „Research Regarding the Relationships between Romania and Turkey between 1878 and 2018”, highlights the 140 years of continuous cooperation and friendship between Romania and Turkey. Without a shadow of a doubt, the sustainability of these relations is due both to the wisdom and efforts of Romanian and Turkish public officials, and to the feelings of mutual friendship and sympathy that have been enlivened in the hearts and thoughts of two nations that share the same geographic space. In this context, I would like to bring to your attention a book published by Bülent Habora in Istanbul in 1982, under the title: “Nicolae Titulescu, the Great Romanian Patriot, the Diplomat and the Statesman” and subtitle “The Sincere and Permanent Friend of Turkey”. At the beginning of the book there are pictures of Nicolae Titulescu and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk followed by the caption: “Romania and Turkey are determined to pursue a sincere and affectionate friendship, with the belief that it will grow stronger in the future. Signed, Nicolae Titulescu.” “Feelings bind nations stronger than treaties do. Romania has a fraternal place in o
ur hearts. Signed, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.”
Claudiu-Victor TURCITU, PhD, National Archives of Romania:
„Ottoman-Turkish Documents in the National Archives of Romania”
Due to the geo-strategic position of the three Romanian Principalities and the historical evolution of this space, the Ottoman-Turkish archival sources found within the National Archives of Romania are naturally quite extensive. The present paper intends to present a general image of the quantity and types of Ottoman documents within the repositories of the NAR. Unfortunately, despite the efforts undertaken by prestigious archivists and experts in Ottoman paleography, the dispersion of the Ottoman-Turkish documents in many funds and collections, together with the paucity of experts in Ottoman paleography has inevitably led to a reduction of access to the information contained by these archival sources. This is the reason why the inventories of these funds and collections are incomplete, for many such sources the only mention being “document in Ottoman-Turkish writing”. We should mention that an analysis of the status of Ottoman-Turkish documents and their content was already compiled by the well-known historian Mihail Guboglu in 1957. In the years since, due to the transfer of documents between the territorial branches of the National Archives, the return of illegally confiscated documents to the rightful owners and the policy of acquisitions of the National Archives of Romania, significant changes were observed in comparison to the situation presented by Mihail Guboglu six decades ago, primarily in regard to the quantity of documents in our posession. At the same time, we will attempt to highlight the actions undertaken by the archivists-paleographers of the National Archives since 1960 towards the completion of the national archival fund, which, following the policy of mutual agreements between the National Archives and other archival institutions – in particular with Başbakanlik Arşivi – created an important and rich collection of documents on substitution support (microfilm), which is a critical source of research on the evolution of Turkish-Ottoman relations. Finally, we will focus our analysis on the new directions and perspectives offered by contemporary advances in archival science, especially with regard to the achievement of standardized archival descriptions and the digitization of archival documents.
Professor Călin FELEZEU, PhD, “Babeş-Bolyai” University, Cluj-Napoca:
„The Evolution of Bilateral Relations between Romania and Turkey in the Post-December 1989 Period”
In 2018, we celebrate 140 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries, shortly after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, which in Romania is knows as the War of Independence. Beginning with the September 1991 visit to Romania of Turkish President Turgut Ozal, a stellar opportunity for the signing of an agreement of Romanian-Turkish friendship, cooperation and good neighbourly relations, the presidential and prime ministerial visits between the two countries have had a minimally annual frequency. To these are added the frequent bilateral consultations at the ministerial level of experts in different fields. The bilateral relations between these two strategic partners, Romania and Turkey, were and continue to be exceptional, a fact which is also proven by their common projects carried out over 140 years of partnership in the fields of politics, economics, academia etc. During the diplomatic mandate of the current Turkish Ambassador, H.E. Osman Koray Ertaş in Bucharest, these relationships have fruitfully developed, which is also being reflected in the strengthening of Turkish ties with the city of Cluj-Napoca.
Associated Lecturer Valentin NAUMESCU, PhD, “Babeş-Bolyai” University, Cluj-Napoca:
„Post-Kemalist Turkey and the New Strategic Relations at the West – Middle East Confluence. NATO in the Black Sea Region and the Implications for Romania”
Post-Kemalism, reflected in a mixture of political, strategic and societal transformations of Turkey over the past years, has created - beyond the already known domestic implications – the conditions for a number of significant developments of Ankara’s foreign affairs in the region. It seems that Turkey is slowly “leaving” the West, after reaching a quite advanced level of integration in the past, and is now turning its face toward the Middle East, towards authoritarianism and Islam. NATO’s situation in the Black Sea is just one of the multiple facets of this change. The stagnation of Turkey’s accession to the European Union and the souring of US-Turkey relations, alongside the international negative assessments of Turkey following the attempted coup of July 2016, assessments which were focused on upholding liberal democracy and the rule of law, all have served to create a new context of regional and bilateral relations. The aim of this research is to explore the quality and substance of the relations and trust in the Black Sea region, between the NATO allies but also between the allies and Russia, taking into consideration the improvement of political relations between Ankara and Moscow. Romania’s position in this process will also come under scrutiny. Based on the qualitative method of discourse analysis (from political statements and official documents) but also on secondary sources (interviews, mass-media analyses and comments, academic bibliography etc.), this paper explores how deep and irreversible Turkey’s current alienation from the West is, and whether there are any signs that the weakening of relations with NATO and with the EU could only be temporary.
Margareta ASLAN, PhD, “Babeş-Bolyai” University, Cluj-Napoca:
„Cultural Diplomacy between Romania and Turkey (1990 – 2018)”
Cultural diplomacy is one of the main pillars of diplomacy, one through which bilateral relations among states can be built and developed to superlative forms. The cultural diplomacy of Romania in the Republic of Turkey is being developed in a more visible and organized form through the inauguration of the „Dimitrie Cantemir” Romanian Cultural Institute in Istanbul. Conversely, in Romania the local and cultural Turkish institutes that focus on the promotion of Turkish culture are carrying out their remarkable activities with clear, measurable and visible results in various fields (commerce, tourism, education, medicine, etc.). The bilateral relations between Romania and Turkey have been and will remain truly exceptional, a fact which is also reflected in the cultural milieu thanks to the sustained efforts of both institutional and societal mechanisms, which will continue to work together to promote the cultures of our two countries and build social and cultural bridges that are meant to facilitate the fusion and fruitful collaboration of cultural elements in the formation of future “Cultural Ambassadors”.
Güven GÜNGÖR, PhD c. at the Academy of Economic Studies, Bucharest:
„The Evolution of Economic Ties between Romania and Turkey in the Last Decade”
There are certain countries whose name has more often been pronounced during the last decade than during previous ones. Especially so since the global economic downturn highlighted the performance of those countries, among which Turkey is considered as a special case. Being one of the most important actors both in its region and on the global scale, Turkey demonstrates a very well crafted combination of democratic principles combined with its unique cultural and religious characteristics. This has proven true particularly when taking into consideration that the economic crisis we are faced with is one that has had the most profound effect globally since the Great Depression, and one where even those countries which had been the stars of the previous decade were severely affected. Turkey has nevertheless succeeded to cope with this crisis. Moreover, Turkey has played a very important role in the Balkan region in terms of its contribution to the improvement of market economies and international trade, especially so after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Turkey’s role as regional developer is also reflected in Romanian-Turkish economic and commercial relations. Keeping in mind that Romania is the largest country in the region, it had and still has tremendous economic potential to develop and to establish strong economic and commercial ties with neighbouring countries and beyond. A chronological study of the bilateral relations between Romania and Turkey provides us at a glance with the main indicators supporting the above mentioned aspects.
The Levant: cradle of religions, culture, science and democracy
The Levantine example of interreligious co-existence and the historical experience gathered in this area can become sources of inspiration for the contemporary social co-existence
The first panel of the conference, in the first session, was moderated by academy member Răzvan Theodorescu, president of the Arts, Architecture and Audio-Visual Section of the Romanian Academy, and included eight speeches on various topics such as: Levantine urban model; essential principles of interreligious and intercultural co-existence; perpetuation of the art of medicine of Greek and Roman tradition in the Levantine influence area; political and economic interests of the great world empires and powers in the Middle East, in the past and now; the Syriac area, a transition environment of Greek philosophy to the Semitic culture and its subsequent translation into Arabic; analysis of the transition from paganism to Christianity in late Egyptian antiquity; assessment of religious functions and responsibilities of female royalty members in the ancient Syrian area; archaeological analysis of ancient Troy sites.
Dr. Fatih Saracoglu, the secretary general of Marmara Group Foundation in Istanbul, offered an image of multi-ethnical and multi-linguistic dynamism in the Ottoman Levantine area where, in addition to Turks, Armenians or Jews, there were numerous Italians or Spaniards. The prominence of classical Levantine cities, Izmir, Beirut, Alexandria and the culture of co-existence and communication they promoted, noted in the printing workshops which produced books in various languages or in the schools which focused on learning Occidental languages, such as Italian, French and Spanish, confer this environment the status of unique paradigm of the capacity of inter-ethnical, inter-cultural and inter-religious co-existence of humanity.
Prof. Dr. Adrian Lemeni, from the Justinian the Patriarch Faculty of Theology and director of the Centre for Dialogue and Research in Theology, Philosophy and Science within Bucharest University, had a speech on “Identity and dialogue in the current context”, emphasizing the concepts of religious identity and inter-religious dialogue, stressing the axial value of faith as identify factor, and later discussing the influence of consumerism on contemporary cultural and religious inter-relationships. The Levantine example of interreligious co-existence and the historical experience gathered in this area can become sources of inspiration for the contemporary social co-existence. In the area where the three monotheist religions were formed and primarily manifested, the culture of permanent dialogue was and is based on acknowledging religious identity; thus, dialogue never failed in compromise, and identity was not a synonym for isolation. On the contrary, taking dialogue for the mere exchange of concepts or information leads to an overflow of information, which is incapable to create a culture of co-existence. Therefore, the need to maintain faith becomes an essential component of co-existence, whose purpose is not the mere economic and social sustainability or peace, but on the one hand the acknowledgement of limits and human capacities, and on the other hand the creative stimulation to meet the other.
Prof. Dr. Luiza Spiru, from the Carol Davilla Medicine University, showed in her speech “Benchmarks in the history of medicine in the Levant area” elements on how the practice of medicine became crystallized in Wallachia, Banat and Transylvania, how the members of the profession organized in guilds, how primary surgery started to take place, and the development of modern medical academic education, in the nineteenth century. Under the aegis of Greek and Roman therapeutic art, developed in the Levant area, the practice of medicine which developed in the Romanian countries may be reassessed now as one which preserved fundamental principles on the assessment of the psychological and physical human structure, some of which have completely disappeared in modern societies.
Prof. Dr. Daniel Barbu, from the Political Science Faculty of Bucharest University, in his speech “At the gates of Levant: empire, nation-state and pluralism”, radiographed the history of the Middle East in the nineteenth and twentieth century, assessing the inter-war and post-war involvement of the great global powers in the configuration of the political map of Levant, the Occidental trends to replace the traditional religious and ethnical pluralism, specific to this area, with national states with a monolithic ethnical and religious nature. At the same time, he emphasized the danger and negative consequences of perpetuating these artificial visions into the contemporary world, by ignoring the fragile balance and millenary sensitiveness in this area. The efforts of area reconstruction after the brutal military interventions in the last years are difficult, oftentimes political solutions of a purely pragmatic nature continuing to create difficulties and fuelling a potential for conflict which exists here, by eluding a fundamental reality of the Levantine geography, which is that “the past is still alive and present”.
Mr. Cătălin Ștefan Popa from Georg August University of Gottingen had a speech on “The dynamics of philosophical and theological cultures in the Syriac Levantine area (sixth - ninth centuries)”, emphasizing the phenomenon of transmission of Greek philosophy, in particular the works of Aristotle, but also other works under the name of the great Greek philosopher, in the Syriac language and then of retranslation from Syriac into Arabic. The context generated by the translation of these works, namely the need to use them as instruments of dialectic argumentation to promote the non-Calcedonian doctrine, would be repeated with the advent of Islam. The translation of Greek philosophy from Syriac into Arabic lead to the advent of Islamic dialectic theology (kalam), providing the essential premises to develop the Islamic culture and thinking. The Levantine area thus became a place where a phenomenon of great value for the history of human civilization took place, taking into account that, later, these philosophical works will be retranslated from Arabic into Latin by the Jewish translators in Spain and Andalusia, and will reach the Occident, thus crystallizing the European philosophical thinking.
Mr. Silviu Anghel, from the Bucharest “National Museum of Old Maps and Books”, analysed in his speech “Conflict or peaceful transition? The current debate on the transition from paganism to Christianity in the late Ancient Egypt”, the process of transition from paganism to Christianity in the fourth century Egypt, showing the current status in Alexandria. The erosion of paganism and the advent of Christianity still is a debatable phenomenon, taking into account the vitality and religious competition existing in the Alexandrine Levantine area. The affirmation of Christianity was possible by taking over specific traditions of the Egyptian area among which, in particular, the burial cult and rituals.
Dr. Isabela Popa, from Bucharest University, presented in her speech “The ritual role of queens in Ancient Syria” the particular religious roles and functions of Syrian female royalty in the ancient era. The distinctions of feminine ranks in the royal family, their liturgical involvement (undertaking of ritual, oracular and oratorical responsibilities), general affinity for female divinities lead to the conclusion of a prominence of the statute and value of the woman in the cultic domain in North-Western Syria.
Dr. Cătălin Pavel, from Kennesaw State University of the United States, showed in his speech “Homer’s Troy - between the Mycenaean and the Hittites” the status and results of archaeological research in the sites of the former city of Tory, on the Western coast of Asia Minor. He showed and assessed the topographic location, various artefacts belonging to successive historical periods, pre-suppositions on the evolution of civilization in this area based on data extracted from Homer’s epic works, as Homer, “although not a historian, appears to have relied upon historical grounds”.
At the end of the first session, academy member Răzvan Theodorescu concluded on the diverse nature of communications and issues under review, affirming that they all contribute to sketching the profile of Levantine civilization, culture and religion, and to identifying the complex identity which crystallized in this area of exceptional uniqueness in the history of mankind.
Faculty of Orthodox Theology, University of Bucharest
Prof. Dr. Răzvan Theodorescu
Vice-President of the Romanian Academy
“I have the privilege to moderate this afternoon session, which is the first panel of our conference, devoted to a tremendously important topic of the world history. It’s about the role, the place of Levant, the role and place of this magnificent space where there is the origin of some civilizations, some major civilizations, the ancient empires, the Abrahamic religions, the Islamic science and so on. And this space, called the Levant, is the main topic of our conference organized by the new born Institute from Bucharest.”
Dr. Fatih Saracoglu
Secretary General of the Marmara Group Foundation, Istanbul
“The Contribution of the Levantines in Turkey”
“Le Levant, The Levant or Il Levante literally means Earth where the sun rises. Geographically, the Levant lies from Egypt to the Eastern Mediterranean shore - Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Greece. This area host three important cities – Izmir, Alexandria and Beirut. In my speech today, I would like to present the Levantine newspapers in Izmir, their culture and their life together as a calendar sheet of history. But firstly, I want you to know that the Levant was the center of trade and diplomacy. Anatolia was rather a political center, less an intellectual one. Izmir was both Ottoman and European. A further comparison with Anatolia shows that global and religious cohabitation was characteristic of Izmir. Izmir, also known as the Levantine pearl, hosted Armenian churches in the XVIIth century. Five languages of Levantines were spoken in Izmir: Turkish, Romanic, French, Armenian and Spanish. Spanish was spoken by the Sephardic Jews. The Romanic was in the majority at a high level. Romanic was taught besides Turkish in school. The purpose of this was that the Ottoman government employees to become bilingual. The Ottoman authorities were enforced to learn and speak Romanic. Some Catholics used the Latin writing of the Romanic, Latin being known as lingua franca. As it happened in Alexandria and Beirut, it was replaced by French, Italian and lingua franca. Since the 1840s, it has become the most common language. In 1863 the Italian general consul claimed that even among the Italians, the Italian language had almost disappeared. The citizens of Izmir spoke French with an accent like singing a song. In the Jewish school of Izmir, certain professors were set for Turkish lessons, but even more effort was spent for teaching French. The chief Rabbi demanded everyone in the community to learn French. Born outside Izmir in Urla, in 1900, the Romanic poet George Seferis was taught French besides Romanic. He communicated in French with his father.”
Prof. Dr. Adrian Lemeni
Director of the Centre for Dialogue and Research on Theology, Philosophy and Science at the University of Bucharest
“Identity and dialogue in the present context”
“In the current context, marked by multiple challenges as to the reality of identity in general and to the religious identity in particular, it is essential to support the acknowledgement and revelation of spiritual and cultural identity, but not in an aggressive and rigid manner. Identity is not a closed and self-sufficient reality leading to isolationism and negativism. The positive confession of the specific values of a cultural and spiritual identity in a constructive and inclusive way focusing on an open identity, in dialogue with other cultural and religious traditions, with full respect for otherness. In order for the dialogue between different cultural and religious traditions to be fruitful and consistent, it is necessary to recover and promote the profound and common values of the spiritual traditions. In the current context, it is imperative to build and grow a culture of dialogue. Dialogue is not only an exercise to respect the principle of otherness, but a chance to confess one’s own cultural and spiritual identity, in a perspective of actual understanding the other. Under such circumstances, religious identity cannot be used as tool to create dissent and segregation. The confession of religious identity should be done by the rules of dialogue. Cultural and spiritual identity should represent a resource for mutual enrichment. The context of the contemporary world requires the existence and development of dialogue and international cooperation. The current society poses common problems for all religions, who are called to a joint effort to find mutual answers to such problems. In this light, which strengthens and builds a culture of dialogue, the vocation for unity and solidarity is activated and valorised. Interreligious dialogue favours the meeting of various cultural and religious traditions, contributing to the enhancement of relations between larger communities of different national identities. The cultivation and valorisation of identity is not an option to an isolationist attitude and judgment, but involves the acknowledgement of differences in a wholesome and consistent perspective. The authentic structure of identity is dialogic. In the current context, it is important to affirm the reciprocity between identity and dialogue. Interreligious dialogue and the valorisation of the religious size of intercultural dialogue may significantly contribute to finding the religious and spiritual roots of the need for other, thus strengthening the spirit of cooperation and overcoming the risk of generating fundamentalist and integrist attitudes. Interreligious dialogue is necessary, so that great spiritual traditions get to know each other, respect each other, and generate a good co-existence”.
Prof. Dr. Luiza Spiru
“Carol Davila” University of Medicine, Bucharest
“Aspects of Medical History in the Levant”
“I want to mention that in 1694 Constantin Brâncoveanu, the ruler in Wallachia that time, was the one who founded the Princely Academy of Sf. Sava in Bucharest. The lectures were delivering in Greek that time, because the importance of the Roman and Greek civilization over Wallachia territory was very important. Later on, Alexander Ypsilantis was the ruler of Wallachia and he refounded the curriculum of Sf. Sava Academy, and the courses were in French, Italian and Latin. And later on, in 1857, Carol Davila created the first University of Medicine and Pharmacy, but it was not called like this in the very beginning. Initially it was established under the name of The National School of Medicine and Pharmacy. Dr. Carol Davila was a military doctor trained in Italy, who emigrated to Romania in 1853. Carol Davila has studied medicine at the University of Paris and then has been trained and graduated in Italy, coming to Romania in March 1853. He organized the military medical system in the Romanian army and the country's public houses system. Nicolae Kretzulescu together with Carol Davila have introduced the medical training in Romania, in 1857, by founding The National School of Medicine and Pharmacy, a really exceptional fact at that time. Davila was not only the founder of The Medical School, together with Nicolae Kretzulescu, but he also has been involved in many scientific associations in Romania, like the Medical Society and Red Cross Society or The National Science Society. He was also famous for the invention of the treatment of cholera. Only at the end of the 18th century, after the 200 years of Ottoman occupation in Banat and Transylvania, when the Austrian Empire involved very much in the medical organization, we can speak about the beginning of the medical organization in this region, about hygiene, sanitary aspects, sanitary education, the first specializations evidence based, with diplomas and coordinated training. It is very important that only in 1847 there was the first anesthesia with alcohol and in 1887 there was the first important area in Banat and Transylvania to create emergencies team and groups to take care about the patients. It is also very important that in 2015 we have an evidence book written by Ioan Hategan. This is a retrospective of the first important things that have been covering by medical point of view in a historical synthesis and for medicine few aspects are mentioned: in 1745 - the first pharmacy, in 1757 - the first hospital, in 1819 - the first administration for the antiviral vaccine in Central Europe. So, I think that we can talk about real history of Levantine influences over Wallachia, Banat and Transylvania. The most important was the Roman and Greek influence and then, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and of course, the Ottoman Empire as well. Not forgetting Dobrogea, this part of the country that has been controlled by the Ottoman Empire for 400 years and also Banat, for 200 years.”
Prof. Dr. Daniel Barbu
University of Bucharest
“At the gates of Levant: empire, nation-state and pluralism”
“When President Constantinescu asked me to contribute to this conference, I just realized that we are almost on the day one hundred years after the Arab uprising, in the fall of 1917, which reshaped completely the Levant, a land under the Ottoman domination before that moment. And in the events that occurred one hundred years ago, we have - I believe - several keys to understand the present political processes in the Middle East. We don't call it today the Levant, but rather the Middle East, and my key observation would be that in the Middle East the past is still present, it is still alive and works at full speed to reshape the balance that has been established between different empires for hundreds of years. What happened in 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920 (there were seminal years for the whole region) was a clash of empires. (…) My point is that the nation state, the idea of the nation state as promoted by European powers in the 20’s, 30’s and after the Second World War, and with a new energy by the American foreign policy, attends to promote this very restricted image of a nation state unified by ethnicity and religion, which would damage the whole region and add new conflicts. You can see from Iraq to the new conflict in Yemen adding to the old conflict between Israel and Palestinians, how the whole region is moved by a kind of permanent earthquake, a political earthquake which has no end inside.”
Dr. Cătălin Ştefan Popa
Georg-August University, Göttingen
“The dynamics of the philosophical and theological cultures in the Syriac Levant between the VIth and the IXth century”
The first Syrian engaged in translation process of Greek Philosophy is Sergius of Rēšāīnā (d. 536), who studied in Alexandria, wrote on logic and science in Syriac, and translated Aristotelian texts. There was obviously a general preoccupation with the philosophical works of Aristotle which were translated or re-translated into Syriac in the course of the 6th and 7th century. This is the other side of the medal, namely, that in this period, in the Greek-speaking world, the philosophical thinking seems to get into the shadow. The scholars divided the philosophical materials in Syriac into three genres: firstly, translations of Aristotelian texts; secondly, texts that are frequently found to contain definitions; and thirdly, texts that introduced the reader into the major themes and philosophical notions. The translators of these books into Syriac, respectively the editors or improvers of previous translations are theologians and former students at the Monastery of Qenneshre. Athanasius of Balad appears as one of the most significant translators of the 7th century. Until his death in 684, he translated Aristotle’s Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics and Sophistical Refutations. Jacob of Edessa and George, bishop of the the Arab Tribes, are regarded as successors of this kind of literary activity: Jacob revised a translation of Aristotle’s Categories, and George of the Arabs, a first-generation disciple of Athanasius, was involved in a similar work. George is also considered an interpreter because he, additionally, prepared introductions and commentaries to the philosophical materials (Categories, On Interpretation and Analytics). To what extent, if at all, was Aristotle integrated into the task of Christian’s theological reflection? Let’s answer this question quoting a passage from the commentary on the Categories, written by George, bishop of the Arabs, and preserved in a manuscript from 8/9th century. For George quintessential is the question of the “end” of Aristotelian philosophy: “What is the end of the Aristotelian philosophy? We say (it is) that we may know the one principle, cause, and creator of all. For the Philosopher demonstrates in the treatise called Metaphysics (Syr. bātar kyānyātā = Gr. meta ta physika) that the principle and cause is one, bodiless, from which everything has come into being.” George and the Syriac tradition in which he stood made use of Aristotle, on one side to win debates with rival churchmen, and on the other side, to acquire knowledge of the single principle of everything. Some parts of this textual richness of the Syriac Levant has been preserved in manuscripts such as Vatican Syriac 158, which contains the following philosophical pieces: Athanasius of Balad’s Introduction to Logic; Athanasius’ translation of Porphyry’s Eisagoge; a Life of Aristotle; the Tree of Porphyry; Jacob of Edessa’s translation of the Categories; On Interpretation; and at the end, Prior Analytics I,1-7. It is quite clear that this process of translation was “institutional”. In this sense, I will mention here the well-balanced argument of Jack Tannous: “It was at places like Qenneshre and certain other high-powered Miaphysite monasteries, such as Mar Mattai and Mar Zakai, that the intellectual underpinnings of the Syriac-speaking Miaphysite movement in the seventh century were created and maintained.” In these intellectual centres, the church leadership was instructed on the basis of the rhetoric and Greek philosophy, in order to be able to provide satisfactory answers to the questions of a confessional rival. It was the fact that in the ʿAbbāsid period the caliphate had an open minded attitude towards the scientific Greek values. Under the caliph Al-Manṣūr’s political measures, in the second half of the 8th century, several medical and philosophical text were being translated from Greek into Arabic. One of his successors, namely al-Maʾmūn, supported as well this translation’s policy, at the beginning of the 9th century. As Sebastian Brock pointed out, we can imagine, that when Syriac scholars started the second phase of this significant translation activity, in the late 8th and early 9th century, “they had a solid groundwork of experience in translating upon which to build”. This experience was accumulated through this long tradition of translating Greek literary materials into Syriac. And of course, the final stage of this process was much more complex because there were “translators, such as the physician Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq al-ʿIbādī, who preferred not to translate directly from Greek into Arabic, but to do the work in two stages: first from Greek into Syriac, and then from Syriac into Arabic. Since there was no previous experience of translating directly from Greek into Arabic, it was found simplest to make the translation into Arabic from a related Semitic language, namely Syriac, rather than directly form an Indo-European like Greek, with a very different linguistic structure.”
Dr. Silviu Anghel
National Museum of Maps and Old Books, Bucharest
“Conflict or Peaceful Transition? The Ongoing Debate about the Shift from Paganism to Christianity in Late Antiquity Egypt”
“Perhaps a very good way to open the subject is to discuss the death of Hypatia, one of the best known moments from late Antiquity. In 415, this Alexandrian scholar, writer and professor was murdered by a mob; she was dragged by their tormentors into a church, mutilated and eventually killed. It’s interesting that we don’t know almost anything about Hypatia herself, but the violent death transformed her into a symbol. And I said “transform” because Socrates Scholasticus, the main source about this subject and the only contemporary one writes that she was killed because of local politics, a dispute between Chiril of Alexandria and a local prefect. Only centuries later, the very dogmatic chronicle of Johannes Nikiu wrote that Hypatia’s death was part of the triumph of Christianity over Paganism, connecting her death with the destruction of the Serapeum in 391 A.D. In the 17th and 18th century, in the wake of devastating religious wars, many intellectuals made Hypatia the champion of reason over religious fundamentalism, which was a cause of misfortunes in their eyes. (...) But I think the most famous commentator on Hypatia’s death is Voltaire, who, in his philosophic dictionary, was against the killing of a woman for writing books and for being beautiful and he concluded in the typical fashion: “When one finds a beautiful woman completed naked, it is not for the purpose of massacring her”. But how often was violence the agent of religious shift in late Antiquity? I can find only three examples of religious violence in the late Antic Egypt. So, the episode of the death of Hypatia was not representative, but rather anecdotal, but it is still haunting the European society today and has been recently turned in a movie. Even if the scholars are moving away from this paradigm, I say shift from Paganism to Christianity because it has been described in many ways and all the other terms are charged. For Christians it is usually called a triumph, the fulfill of the prophecy and for the Christian church triumph was an irreversible, inescapable process. If you look at, for example, the most influential work in English about that period, Gibbon’s ”The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, you will see that he speaks of the right of the Christianity in a very strict way. Gibbon had inherited the confrontational model of the Christianization. And after all, this is what the source depicted – a militant Christianity which gradually infiltrated in every city, in every village and in every groove, until even the remote corners of the Roman Empire were marked by Christianity.”
Dr. Isabela Popa
University of Bucharest
“The cultic role of the royal women in Ancient Syria”
“What should be noted is that the religious activities registered by the sources date from the first half of the second millennium BC, more specifically until the fall of the northern Syrian Kingdoms under Hammurabi’s domination and the destruction of Mari. Unfortunately, apart from scarce inscriptions, the vast majority of the data concerning royal women’s agency in religion comes from the archive of Mari, excepting a few entries from Karana. Royal women were identified as: AMA LUGAL (mother of king), DAM LUGAL (wife of the king), LUKUR LUGAL (escort, concubine of the king) and DUMUS MUNUS LUGAL (female child of the king). If the status of princesses and that of the mother of the king are clear, we may not state the same concerning the queen. Considering the above titles, the women whose religious agency I’ll be studying further are those closely related to the king: his mother, daughters (queens), wives and concubines. The sources revealing their religious agency are quite diverse, extending from inscriptions to letters and accounting lists. Evaluating the available data, I would try to portray the religious life of royal women in the second millennium Mesopotamia, although the information is neither homogeneous, nor descriptive. Nevertheless, those ladies seem to have been involved in a large variety of cultic activities. They may bring offerings, make sacrifices, transmit prophetic messages and the content of dreams, inquire oracles (Mari). As we may see, the appurtenance to the royal family offers access to a multitude of resources and sometimes the pious gesture of those ladies are also an indicator of their power and prestige at a certain time of their lives.”
Dr. Cătălin Pavel
Kennesaw State University, USA
“Homeric Troy – between Mycenaeans and the Hittites”
“These are just a few words about the city that was designed by Homer in “The Iliad”, a city where I have excavated for six years, in Troy. Whenever I say I am an archaeologist, people ask me where have I excavated, and when I say Troy, I often get the reaction – “Oh, I love Greece!” Of course, Troy is not in Greece and it was not populated by Greeks. But I find this confusion very relevant because it says a lot about how an oriental city is actually part of the European culture, is part of what we consider education. Troy was ever since the beginning of the Bronze Age surrounded by very thick walls of a kind you have never seen in the Balkans. The Trojans were not Greeks. We know they were speaking Luwian, which was related to the Hittite language, their architecture was Anatolian, and Troy was colonized by the Greeks later in the 8th century BC. But in the time of the Trojan War, this must have been an Anatolian city. The archaeologists of Troy have read Homer, loved Homer and would often have this pressure on their shoulders to wonder if they could find something from Homer’s books. We are not really interested in strictly the history of the city of the Trojan War, but in the role played by Troy somewhere in the interface between Levant, Anatolia and the mainland Greece. So, as you can see in the late Bronze Age in the 13th century BC, Troy was somewhere between worlds and you could find Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan, ostrich egg from Egypt and amber from Scandinavia. And over thousands of years of continue occupation, it has developed more than 15 meters of debris layers that you have to dig through to understand the history of this city. And to conclude, during the research, the team working in Troy in ‘88 has installed a series of flags in front of the village where we were living, flags of Turkey, of Germany, of the United States, of the Great Britain and, because of me actually, the flag of Romania. The point is this kind of cooperation holds us together.”
The goal of the dialogue is not unity in faith and perception, but mutual understanding, respect and enrichment
Please allow me to report from the second section of Panel 1: „The Levant – cradle of religions, culture, science and democracy.“ The section contained 3 papers. I will start with the summary respecting the presentation’s order.
Dr. Adina Boroneanţ from “Vasile Pârvan” Institute of Archaeology, Romanian Academy, Bucharest, presentend the following topic: Long distance connections in the prehistory of the Iron Gates of the Danube. Dr. Boroneanț took into discussion The Iron Gates area of the Danube which yielded the largest agglomeration of archaeological sites in Southeastern Europe covering the period from the end of the Pleistocene to the middle of the Holocene. Herpresentation gave us a very comprehensiblebrief account concerning the goods, technologies and people that travelled from the Levantine area into the Iron Gates gorges area in the period of the Mesolithic (ca. 12,000-6200 BC) and the Early Neolithic (6200-5700 BC). The thesis of the presentation was that the implications from the Levant region had repercussions also in the area of the Iron Gates. Based on archaeological research Dr. Boroneanț made us aware about exchanges of goods from Mediterranean area such as snail shells in attractive colors, green rocks and exotic objects which attested a transfer of practices from the levantine region. The analysis of the excavations attested as well, a significant number of human burials which give appropriate credit to the hypothesisof an accentuated mobility of people from south areas towards The Iron Gates.
The next paper was given by Dr. Dan Tudor Ionescu fromThe Metropolitan Library, Bucharest, who puts the focus on the exciting question: why did Alexander the Great not adopt tiara in his royal use? A tiara is a jeweled, ornamental crown. Dr. Tudor Ionescu provided in his presentation important data about Quellenstand und Forschungsstand. When Alexander was proclaimed the King of Asia, he came to adopt a reformed court style that included a fundamentally new and grandiose royal costume and an impressive set of royal insignia. Although Alexander adopted persian satraps at his court, he did not assume the tiara, the full-sleeved coat dress and the baggy trousers, elements of the exotic Median or cavalry.
Taking our questions, Dr. Tudor Ionescu concluded that the rejection of these royal pieces by Alexandre shows that the Persians had never perceived him as their own king, but as the conquering foreigner.
The last paper from the sesion was presented by Diana-Alice Boboc-Enache who made a Hermeneutics of Religion - political factor of the Ancient Levant. The speaker started with a etymology of Levant’s concept and came than to the purpose of the religious dialogue in this area. According to Boboc-Enache ,,the Levant represented a dialogue between the East and the West, and therefore, after the Muslims conquered most of the Mediterranean in the 7th century, the dialogue was waged between Islam and Christianity, a debate which now sounds louder than ever.“ It is very significantly to notice here an indian anectode presented by Boboc-Enache and which I believe is characteristic for the starting phases of each dialogue: namely, a father draws the number 9 in the sandbut his son sees the number 6. And this is because what you see it depends of your own position. The common point of the above presentation was the dialog, and we could conclude in accordance with the paper presented by Boboc-Enache that the goal of the dialogue is not unity in faith and perception, but mutual understanding, respect and enrichment. For this reason, the purpose of the dialogue will not be to prove that one side is right and the other is wrong, but rather to explore the respective positions in order to understand them better. When this is done, many prejudices, built on half-truths, will fall aside.
Cătălin Ștefan Popa
Prof. Dr. Nicolae Achimescu
Director of the Centre for Intercultural and Interfaith Study and Dialogue at the University of Bucharest
"I would like to say a sincerely welcome at the second session of Panel 1, which has the theme "Levant - The cradle of religions, culture, science and democracy". It is my great honor to moderate this second session and I announce you the communicators: Dr. Adina Boroneanţ from the "Vasile Pârvan" Institute of Archeology of the Romanian Academy, Dr. Dan Tudor Ionescu from the Bucharest Metropolitan Library and Diana - Alice Boboc."
Dr. Adina Boroneanţ
“Vasile Pârvan” Institute of Archeology, Romanian Academy, Bucharest
“Long distance connections in the prehistory of the Iron Gates of the Danube”
“My speech is on archaeology. I tried to make it as little specific as possible, to give it a more universal character. This is not a history of the Levant, but of the repercussions of what happened in the Levant area, as we see in its extended meaning nowadays, on an area reaching up to the Iron Gates. The construction of the two dams at Iron Gates I and II, a huge construction, largely influenced Romanian archaeology. It was innovative in many archaeological areas and introduced a period that did not exist in Romania before: The Mesolithic. To build the dam at Iron Gates I, in Gura Văii, constructors had to flood no less than 100 archaeology sites on the Romanian bank. They were studied by a group of specialists from the Romanian Academy and museums in the region in a very short timeframe, from 1964 to 1971, after which they were covered in water. A complex map collection of the Iron Gates was put together and everything that could be recovered in a seven years window was recovered. In terms of early prehistory research, this activity revealed a significant number of archaeology sites attributed to the Mesolithic, a period between the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic. It is the largest agglomeration of sites of this type in South-Eastern Europe. A unique case, discovered following a huge industrial undertaking. We are somewhere between 12,500 and 6,000 years before Christ, and communities are sedentary. 70% of their diet consists in fish; therefore, they do not do much apart from fishing and hunting. They have a stone tool which they use in all their daily activities, they have a specific burial ritual which didn’t change much over the 6,000 years, they have valuable artefacts which distinguish these communities from what happens in the world around them. The Neolithic occurs between 5,590 and 5,900 and is associated with the beginning of agriculture and the discovery of pottery. At the Iron Gates, this is a bit changed; communities in the area prefer to live off fishing and hunting, and to a smaller extent from growing plants and livestock. Archaeological research revealed exchanges at a quite large distance: raw materials, artefacts, technological knowledge and even people. Ornaments travel most often and come from the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean or the Adriatic region. Rocks and minerals such as silex, obsidian, and jade also travel. Very rarely, exotic artefacts never found in other sites in Romania also travel. Surprisingly, the obsidian used here comes from Hungary, from the Tokaj Mountains, which shows that the Iron Gates are a major area for exchanges and certainly a way to transfer knowledge”.
Dr. Dan Tudor Ionescu
The Metropolitan Library, Bucharest
“The use of the tiara as a symbol of Achaemenid kingship: why did Alexander the Great not adopt it?”
What is a tiara? The tiara is, in fact, a type of headgear, a high crown extension, worn by Persian and Achaemenid kings. We do not have an exact representation of the Achaemenid era tiara, but we have the famous Persepolis reliefs, where all the characters, whether King, Grand Vizier, throne heir or imperial guard soldiers, immortals, wear a high cover on their heads. Based on the iconographic testimonies, we cannot accurately identify an Achaemenid tiara, but later on, during the Parthian and Sasanian Persian royalty, this tiara became clearly distinctive.
After the Gaugamela battle of 1 October 331 BC, Alexander the Great is proclaimed Basileus Tes Asias, King of Asia, by his victorious troops. He shall then conquer Babylon, Susa and will ultimately reach Persepolis and Pasargadae, the ancient capitals of Persia. King Darius the Third managed to escape the battlefield, not for being a coward, as often blamed by Greek and Roman sources, but because the Achaemenid Royalty was the very symbol of cosmic order and subsequent resistance for the Persians. He found refuge in Media, at Ecbatana. Alexander waits in Persepolis doing nothing for four months, which is completely inconsistent with his usual approach of forceful and decisive military takeover. This long period of inactivity was explained in two ways. Engels’ theory says that mountain crossings were blocked by snow and ice and he could not travel out of Persida, the Fars province in South-West Iran. The second theory, by British scholar Green Hammond, says he waited to be acknowledged as king of kings by the Iranian aristocracy and be crowned according to the Persepolis ritual.(...) After this waiting period and after destroying Persepolis, Alexander forced his way through the crossings, captured Ecbatana and the last Iranian thesaurus. He followed Darius to Partia, beyond mountain crossings, and found him abandoned by his soldiers, who had killed him to spare him from being captured alive by Macedonians. Darius’ body was sent to Persepolis to be buried in the Achaemenid necropolis, with royal honours. Alexander attempts to be accepted by his subjects as successor, even informal, of their kings. He had done the same in Egypt before, where inscriptions show him as Pharaoh or incarnate deity, but we have no Greek, Latin or other source specifically saying he was crowned by the Pharaoh ritual by Egyptian priests. We are thus witnessing an acknowledgement of the heritage of the peoples he had conquered - Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Medes - but, on the other hand, a lack of acknowledgement of the entire crowning ritual of these peoples. (...) His not wearing the tiara is a sign that Alexander the Great was never truly a king of Persia, a king of kings, but for the Persians of his time only a foreign conqueror, who tried to be accepted by them after the harsh moment of military conquest. His short life never allowed him to be more than that”.
The Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization
“Religion as a political factor in the ancient Levant”
“Levant meant a permanent dialogue between the East and the West, and after the Muslims conquered the largest part of the Mediterranean Sea, in the seventh century, dialogue took place between the Islam and Christianity. The British historian Edward Gibbon called the Eastern part of the Mediterranean region “the coast that echoed so much of the world polemic”, a debate between Christianity and Islam, which now echoes louder than ever. An eloquent example of heterogeneous cities, where mosques, churches and synagogues were built one next to the other, without knowing whether most people were Christian or Muslim, is represented by the cities Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut, which, being placed on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, were practically at the heart of Levantine dialogue, in the first line between the Ottoman Empire and Europe, between the East and the West. Levantine dialogue was also represented by the names of cities, Smyrna and Alexandria inheriting their name from their Greek past, the first city being founded by Greek colonists in 688 before Christ while the second by Alexander the Great in 331 before Christ. However, the name of Beirut originates in an ancient Phoenician word, which means “spring”. However, Levant is not only a history of three key cities, but also of the ways in which they reflected dialogues between the East and the West, between cities and states. This is also a search to find whether, as many inhabitants said, these cities were truly cosmopolitan, possessing that co-existence elixir between Muslims, Christians and Jews, an elixir that the world longs to have to this day. (...) How can religion, in its various forms and manifestations, influence the political world? How can one add religion in the discourse of international relations, thus changing their theoretical understanding? These questions may seem simple, but they are nothing like that. One can analyse a religion in various wide contexts, such contexts however sharing relations. First of all, religion is among the principles of one’s identity. And the argument that identity issues influence policy is accepted to a large extent. Religion includes a system of beliefs that influences behaviour and not many will be able to deny that religion is the source of many people’s beliefs. This concept may be applied to both leaders and masses”.