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Heroes and Victims

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Heroes and Victims explores the cultural power of war memorials in 20th-century Romania through two world wars and a succession of radical political changes—from attempts to create pluralist democratic political institutions after World War I to shifts toward authoritarian rule in the 1930s, to military dictatorships and Nazi occupation, to communist dictatorships, and finally to pluralist democracies with populist tendencies. Examining the interplay of centrally articulated and locally developed commemorations, Maria Bucur's study engages monumental sites of memory, local funerary markers, rituals, and street names as well as autobiographical writings, novels, oral narratives, and film. This book reveals the ways in which a community's religious, ethnic, economic, regional, and gender traditions shaped local efforts at memorializing its war dead.

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7 Chapters

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1 Death and Ritual: Mourning and Commemorative Practices before 1914

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Death and Ritual  19

After the body was interred, for six weeks “a girl would be hired to bring water to different houses, for the soul of the departed.”3 At the six week mark, “when the second almsgiving [pomană] for the dead is to take place, the mother, sister, cousin, or another woman from the family takes an offering of warm bread, a black rooster or hen, then a few hot embers in a small container, together with some incense, a scarf in whose corners she ties a few coins, as well as a wax candle and then goes to the well” to offer them to the girl who had been hired to commemorate the soul of the departed by bringing water to neighbors.4 An elaborate almsgiving meal and ceremony would follow, and for seven years after the death of a family member, families, especially women, would continue to perform specific rituals to ensure the peaceful passage of the dead into the afterlife. After that, the memory of dead ones would be kept alive by visits to the grave throughout the year and almsgiving in their name during religious ceremonies dedicated to the memory of the dead.5

 

2 Mourning, Burying, and Remembering the War Dead: How Communities Coped with the Memory of Wartime Violence, 1918–1940

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reconstructs the first attempts to deal with these losses at the local level, which is where the initial impact of coping with the dead in World War I took place.

By placing the story of these responses ahead of the discussion of how political elites attempted to capitalize on the massive deaths in World War I toward political ends, I want to accentuate the dialogical relationship between margins and the center in commemorative practices. My analysis questions the very centrality of what was happening in the capital, in large cities, and in the officially sanctioned commemorative practices linked to the war. Other historians, much like the cultural elites of the interwar period, have read the role of the government unproblematically as legitimate, rather than seeking legitimacy.2 A closer look at what took place in the interwar period in rural and community-based commemorative practices reveals divergence and a fluid, two-way communication between official and vernacular practices, with the capital often playing the role of catching up to the quick commemorative initiatives that sprouted up elsewhere after the war. This decentered narrative then helps question the significance and specific meaning of nationalist cultural practices as viewed from the center, describing official commemorations more as reactive rather than proactive phenomena in relation to community-based and individual cultural practices. What nationalism and heroism came to mean in the twentieth century can only be understood in this unstable context, which underscores the relative and often secondary significance of central political/state institutions vis-à-vis more locally relevant practices and traditions. In this chapter and the next, I lay the groundwork for what it meant to communities and individuals to deal with the massive deaths and traumatic experiences of the war. In chapter 4, I turn to the institutionalized means of commemorating World War I.

 

3 Remembering the Great War through Autobiographical Narratives

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All this humiliation . . . you witnessed with your own eyes. Of course for you this spectacle remains a great, indescribable pain. . . . You did well to bring to light all that you saw. Others should do the same. . . . Our Calvary will not be fully told if we don’t also know these horrors. . . . When all is known, the virtues of our people who produced today’s Romania will appear even more brilliant.

—Take Ionescu (1921)1

If I dare bring to light my modest war Journal after so much time, it is because I kept waiting for others more capable than me, more competent at writing, to speak and remember those who fulfilled their duty under the folds of the holy Flag of the Red Cross, raised here by the greatest and dignified Queen of our days. I waited, I searched, but I did not find more than two-three lines here and there.

—Jeana Col. Fodoreanu (1928)2

3

Remembering the Great War through Autobiographical

Narratives

R

emembering World War I was only in part a matter of mourning the dead and coping with loss. While some worked to lay to rest their loved ones, others worked through their own remembrances of the war. In the interwar period Romania saw an explosion in autobiographical writing, much of it centered on the 1914–1918 period.

 

4 The Politics of Commemoration in Interwar Romania, 1919–1940: Dialogues and Conflicts

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Only we [soldiers], and nobody else, have the right to take care of the remains of our comrades and their commemoration.

—The Heroes Cult (1919)1

In different places in the country, to commemorate our Heroes and historic deeds, various monuments are raised that lack in beauty and greatness; instead of reinforcing sentiments of piety and national uplifting, they diminish [such sentiments].

—The Heroes Cult (1938)2

4

The Politics of Commemoration in Interwar Romania, 1919–1940

Dialogues and Conflicts

O

n a brilliant fall day, on the morning of 18 September 1938, a multitude of people descended upon the little town of Mărăşeşti. Thousands of peasants, working class people, schoolchildren, middle-aged women, soldiers, priests, along with numerous representatives of political parties and the government, all holding flowers and flags, awaited the arrival of King Charles II (1893–1953) for the inauguration of the

Mărăşeşti Mausoleum, which stood majestically in the background. The day was filled with emotion—pain, honor, sadness, rejoicing, and even resentment among some.

 

5 War Commemorations and State Propaganda under Dictatorship: From the Crusade against Bolshevism to Ceausescu's Cult of Personality, 1940–1989

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War Commemorations and State Propaganda under Dictatorship  145

response was polite but unequivocal. No such monuments were to be erected by families for the moment, until a new law for building commemorative markers was passed. Furthermore, the bodies of those who perished fighting in the war were under the authority of the Ministry of War, and their policy was crystal clear. All combatants would be buried with military honors at (or close to) the place where they had perished, in military cemeteries assembled by the army.3 Families were instructed that they were not to put up any funerary markers that identified their departed ones as having perished in the war.

If in World War I the Romanian state was unprepared to deal with the massive deaths and their damaging psychological impact for the multitudes of families and communities directly affected by these losses, the regime of Ion Antonescu (1882–1946) in World War II began combat fully prepared to control the process of burying, mourning, and commemorating the soldiers who died in the war. Legislation passed initially by Charles II in 19384 and then revised slightly by the Antonescu government in 19415 was detailed and placed responsibility for war commemorations on the shoulders of the state, to the detriment of vernacular activities. Due to this legislation and the nature of the fighting, with the troops moving quickly through large swaths of territory and fighting predominantly on soil beyond the authority of the Romanian state,6 most of those who perished fighting in the Romanian army, whether on the side of the Nazis (21 June 1941–23 August 1944) or on the side of the Soviets (23 August

 

6 Everyone a Victim: Forging the Mythology of Anti-Communism Counter-Memory

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Everyone a Victim  195

experience, witness, and political positioning. However, they all had one thing in common. Those whose memories were unaccounted for in the official commemorations of World War II created counter-myths of the war’s memory, positing recollections of their own personal experiences as the truthful version of what had happened, in contradistinction to the official version. Concealed from public discussion and confrontation, these counter-memories evolved into undisputed family- and communitynourished myths that self-identified as opposition against the corrupt Communist dictatorship, to be prized and never questioned, because of their intrinsic moral value in opposing the Communist regime.

Out of this dialectical relationship between official commemorative discourses and counter-memories grew parallel stories about the victimization of Jews in Transnistria and Transylvania, of Romanians and Germans in Siberia (the Donbas, Komi, and other labor camps), of Hungarians in Transylvania, and of the heroic resistance of hajduklike figures in the mountains at the end of the war, some of them ardent supporters of the Iron Guard. This resistance to Communist dictatorship through counter-memory was by no means exclusively (or even dominantly) democratic. It was, instead, community based, invoking values that were anti-Communist, ranging from religious beliefs in the importance of self-sacrifice and the need to remember to xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

 

7 The Dilemmas of Post-Memory in Post-Communist Romania

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people who had lived in the Communist prisons of the 1940s and 1950s as the only

“untainted” leaders.5

Overall, people didn’t look to the political scene for signs of moral restoration; there was little faith in political processes in post-Communist Romania.6 Instead, with the exception of figures like Corneliu Coposu (1914–1995), who was regarded as a rare moral compass in politics, most people looked toward intellectuals and especially those who had suffered under Communism as heroic victims situated above the corruption and moral morass of the late Communist period. But Romania had no Václav

Havel (1936– ), nor did it have a Solidarity movement. Dissent in Romania had meant far lesser things, and most people were unaware of even significant dissident actions, such as the 1977 miners’ strikes in the Jiu Valley, or the responses of writer Paul Goma

(1935– ) to those events and his expulsion to France.7

Romanians started to search for signs of subterranean truths and authentic forms of resistance that had to be hidden because of the particularly harsh nature of the

 

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