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A Conspiracy of Silence.

"Voices & Shadows of the Carpathians."
selected and introduced by Constantin Roman.

Voices and Shadows of the Carpathians Cover "More than in poetry, it is in
aphorism that the word is God."

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), "Ecartelement".

Structure of the Anthology

From the 500 quotations compiled in this anthology it should not be surprising that the most frequent sources came from professional writers like Ionesco, Marthe Bibesco, Mircea Eliade, poets such as Paul Celan, Ana Blandiana and Dinescu, or from artists such as Georges Enesco or Constantin Brancusi, and philosophers such as Cioran and Steinhardt.

The themes presented below, either as aphorisms or quotations from interviews and books, vary considerably – from Bigamy to Socialism and from Anti-Christ and Aliens to Writing, whilst the list of people who made history is equally wide– from Mussolini to Karl Marx and Ceausescu and from Goethe to Coco Chanel.

Equally varied are the Romanian authors, ranging from philosophers to engineers, from feminists to conservatives, from anti-Communist resistance fighters and dissidents to Communist Party members and Securitate operatives, from aristocrats and princes to commoners, from religious and mystic figures to iconoclasts, from Francophiles to Germanophiles, from the obscure to the internationally renown, from the classic to the contemporaneous, from native Romanians to ethnic minorities.

As a distinguished master of aphorism, Cioran’s quotations account for significant number of entries. The fact that the sculptor Brancusi comes second to Cioran, is perhaps due to the peasant origin of the former, as Romanian rural folk are famous for their sharp wit and condensed observation and nearly each one of them is a natural-born poet, musician or spontaneous teller of aphorism.

The fourth and fifth most frequent quotations are extracted from the correspondence or interviews of Marthe Bibesco and that of Georges Enesco respectively. King Michael of Romania’s quotations come from his interview published in Paris in 1992. Paul Celan’s quotations come from his speeches, or answers to editors, other than two short poems from the Penguin’s bilingual edition of "Selected Poems", translated by Michael Hamburger (1996). Mircea Eliade’s quotations are from his fiction and non-fiction works. Consequently the first nine and perhaps the most famous Romanians (Cioran, Brancusi, Ionesco, Bibesco, Eliade, Celan, Enesco, King Michael and Princess Ileana) account for nearly two thirds of the quotations.

They are followed by the next nineteen authors with a proportion of only one fifth of the total quotations – Isidore Isou (5), Fr. Nicolae Steinhardt (5), Paul Goma (5), General Pacepa(5) Queen Marie (4), Mircea Dinescu (4), Gregor von Rezzori (3), Vintila Horia (3), Matyla C. Ghyka (3), Tristan Tzara (3), Ana de Noailles (3), Marin Sorescu (3), Viorel Gheorghita (3), Doina Cornea (3) Antoine Bibesco (2), Lucian Blaga (2), Virgil Gheorghiu (2) and Miron Paraschivescu (2).

More than half of the authors account for some 15% of the quotations. This is understandable because of their very profession, more specialist career, or lesser international stature: from amongst this last group of Romanians two were aeronautical engineers (Coanda and Vuia), four were anti-Communist resistance fighters (Rizea, Ogoranu, Gheorghita, Craciunas), one a footballer (Dan Petrescu), a Securitate agent (Valentin Lipatti), a Communist jailed by his fellow travellers (Belu Zilber)- all of them most unlikely candidates for aphorisms. An esoteric addition to this latter group are the few flippant characters, whose pronouncements are, to a degree, quite amusing. Here I think of the ("politically incorrect", by today’s standards), remarks made by the 19th century Romanian Francophiles dismissing Germany and the Germans (Delavreancea, Urechia): "Goethe? A practical German, a gardener from Erfurt". or the colourful Antoine Bibesco and his cousin Countess Starjensky, née Bibesco, with her impromptu remark about the Pope: "Let me through: I am the Pope’s Mistress", which cost her husband’s diplomatic career.

For the Romanian women were famous for their wit, panache, beauty and often recklessness; before the war they were holding literary salons and they "collected" celebrities which were at their feet – such was the case of Princess Bibesco and PM Ramsay MacDonald: maybe she was a prying mantis, as not even Hitler or Mussolini could refuse her an interview – her presence was electric and her entourage fascinated. Perhaps this was the hallmark of the "Muses" prior to WWII; come the Second World War and the Iron Curtain, a world divided caused the woman-fighter to emerge – the dissident Doina Cornea who would look the tyrant in the eye and defy him to the point that her sense self-preservation would not count any more and might be mistaken for "insanity": it did not fit the norms! it was heroic! So were the women like Elisabeta Rizea, the simple peasant from the Carpathians put in chains (in the 20th century!), or the 16-year old school girl Oana Cantacuzino, thrown in jail for being outspoken against Communism (q.v. Oana Orlea) and many unnamed heroines like her. Elise Bratiano, wife of the Romanian PM who was the founder of Greater Romania after WWI, was thrown out in the street from her own house and reduced to abject poverty by the Communists: she was exacting a meagre living from sawing by hand and selling slippers, at the age of 70; yet in spite of these vexations Elise Bratiano remained a dignified woman – an example of that genetic resilience which cause a nation to regenerate and survive.

After Ceausescu’s demise the women were in the forefront of the Alianta Civica (q.v. Ana Blandiana) or in the first Salvation Front (Doina Cornea). They were fired by a strong sense of justice, reflected in their prose and poetry of all the nine women quoted here.

The poets are under-represented to make the sample significant. The difficulty stems from the need to use only a small extract from a whole poem: this does not do the poet any justice (q.v. Eminescu, Crainic): instead only a few very short poems were chosen (Celan, Blandiana, Sorescu, Dinescu). The post war poets are represented by Marin Sorescu, Ana Blandiana and Mircea Dinescu, Miron Radu Paraschivescu and the pre WWII by Crainic. Amongst the classics are Mihail Eminescu and Dosoftei, the latter included specifically for the topicality of its theme – the origin of the Romanian people (q.v. Moldavians). Preference was given to 20th century, post war poets.

The exiled poets are represented by Anna de Noailles, Tristan Tzara, Gherasim Luca, Paul Celan, Isidore Isou.

Quite a sizeable group of these uprooted Romanians who made their fame abroad are claimed by more than one country, by virtue of being influenced by, contributing to, or being naturalised, or perhaps coming from an ethnic minority in Romania. In this latter category fall the poets Isidore Isou, Tristan Tzara and Paul Celan, the philosopher Nicolae Steinhardt and the painter Victor Brauner who were born in Romania of Jewish stock, or Gregor von Rezzori who was of mixed Austrian, Romanian and Greek parentage (his mother had Phanariot ancestry) or Panait Istrati, mentioned above.

Some of the Romanians quoted here, come from the aristocracy or royalty (the Voyevodes Alexandre Lapusneanu and Stephen the Great of Moldavia, the Chronicler Miron Costin, the Stolnic Constantine Cantacuzino, Queen Marie, King Ferdinand, Princess Ileana, King Michael, Antoine and Marthe Bibesco, Ana de Noailles née Princess Brancovan, Countess Leonard Starjensky, née Bibesco, Oana Orlea – née Cantacuzino, Elise Bratiano, née Princess Stirbey). But other figures come from the simple and often illiterate folk (Brancusi, Panait Istrati, Vuia, Gheorghita, Rizea, Ogoranu, Dinescu), or from the obscure country squirarchy (Cioran, Blaga, Celibidache, Enesco), or minor provincial professional families (Ionesco, Lipatti, Steinhardt). What could be more humble than Panait Istrati’s social origins issued from a Romanian washerwoman and a Greek smuggler from Braila, a sleepy port of the Lower Danube? Yet the self-educated Panait Istrati, who started his life as a tramp, wrote in French and was lionised in France by Romain Rolland as the "Gorky of the Balkans" – for him it must have been a quantum leap! He was not the only one of a kind – there were scores like him who came on foot, like Brancusi, from the tranquil backwater of the rural Romania to the lights of the metropolis in a foreign country, to make their name in a foreign culture: not the easiest path!

The selection of the subject matter may require some explanation in order to understand the esoteric, the politically incorrect, the obscure, the politically biased, or the bland. It is self evident that a selection of any kind is dictated by the author’s particular preference and the public to whom this particular message is intended. Some of the factors which dictated this collection of biographies and quotations were discussed above and could be summarised as follows: There is first and foremost a broad idea of ‘belonging’ to the same ‘Romanian Space’ which has never been sufficiently explored before, especially in the case of the exiles who wrote in languages other than Romanian. An other important consideration is bringing on the same stage the ‘greats’, (many of whom made their name abroad), give them an identity and consider them together with lesser known authors. Outside Romania’s boundaries, many Romanian writers and poets were ignored, sometime because of the Communist censorship, but more often because they were never translated in a language of broader circulation. This latter group was considered of sufficient merit to bring to the fore, alongside the great and the famous.

Not all criteria were based on a literary or philosophical merit – in the case of Vuia and Coanda their seminal contribution to science was paramount in choosing the theme of aeronautics (q.v. aeroplanes) which may disconcert the reader. These two engineers are an exception. Some artists were also introduced (and with the exception of Brancusi and Brauner), Istrati and Pallady are less well known. Although they figure in "Benezit" . They are in because their theme appeared attractive – the self denial, in the case of Istrati, typical of the hard-nosed exile who has to succeed through sacrifice and in the case of Pallady the rather self-centred pronouncement (not untypical Romanian) about being ‘timeless’ (q.v. modern). It may be that all talented people, of all nations have delusions of self aggrandisement, or snobbery, which may be exacerbated in a foreign environment (Brauner’s contention that his life may have a ‘universal’ dimension, or Eliade’s terror at being ‘common’, q.v.).

The reason why certain ‘classics" were introduced makes a somewhat discordant but justifiable note. This is because the question of the origin of the Romanian nation had been central to the thought of historians and writers for several centuries, as they tried to counteract fanciful theories by foreign apologists (usually Hungarians). The dispute stemmed from the attempt in justifying Hungarian ascendancy over the Romanians living in the Habsburg Empire (Transylvania) – hence the theme developed by chroniclers such as Costin, Cantacuzino, or historians such as Iorga. By the 20th century the concern of Romanians about Romania was its unfortunate geographical position (q.v. Marthe Bibesco) which, to their mind causes all ills to come from the East (q.v. Pruth river, Russians, East, Karl Marx). Depending on the writer’s political position, the contrary may have been true, whereby being in the sphere of Russian influence was the best possible thing (q.v. Sadoveanu’s quote "East"). The somewhat defensive attitude towards one’s neighbours (q.v. Russians, Hungarians) has to be seen in the political context, whereby Romania suffered an intrusive and often oppressive foreign interference. It is therefore somewhat easier to understand Eminescu’s jingoistic verse (q.v. aliens).

The Communist backlash brought new themes of concern about moral values, freedom of expression, persecution, resistance, which were introduced in text and which come mostly from political prisoners. Amongst them some were extreme right-wing sympathisers and fierce nationalists. This is not the reason of their inclusion; what prevailed was rather the concern to complete the picture of a very complex political and social history of the 20th century, which caused so many upheavals. In this context it is understandable than many a Romanian thinker had sought refuge in a certain irony and even cynicism (the poets Sorescu, Dinescu, the philosopher Cioran). Of particular interest is the Romanian thought on West European themes (q.v. Irish woman, British, German, France, Paris, or on Western personalities – George VI, James II, Goethe, Bach, Marcel Proust, Michelangelo, Clemenceau, or more recently Yehudi Menuhin, Juan Peron or Jimmy Carter. Some of these figures are controversial, such as that of Karl Marx, Stalin, Mussolini, Gadhafi, or Hitler but the Romanian angle gives them an intriguing facet.

The majority of the subject matter is of a wider circulation touching on universal themes of philosophy or everyday life: here too the reader may detect a Romanian specificity, whether about the condition of women (q.v.), of monarchy (q.v. King), Judgmental (q.v.) Hunger (q.v.), Genius (q.v.), children (q.v. Children of Romania), Upbringing (q.v.).

A certain complementarity exists between the topics of the exiles and that of the Romanians who stayed on to live under Communism: the former developed themes about the human suffering away from its Romanian hearth (Vintila Horia’s parallel with Ovid’s own exile, q.v.); the themes of those who stayed ‘native’ are concerned more with the effects of prisons (Steinhardt, and others) reflected in a strong memorialistic output, or the effects of the régime on individual freedoms (q.v. Passport, Marx, Guernica, Morning Elegy, Securitate).

The Western reader unacquainted with the socio-political situation in Ceausescu’s Romania may be perplexed about Mircea Dinescu’s poem "A Drinking binge with Karl Marx" or about Sorescu’s poem "Passport" – this is hardly surprising as the question of having a passport is taken for granted nearly everywhere in the free world – not so in the Communist countries. To make it the theme of a poem it was both courageous and powerful – it was seditious for the totalitarian system. Again Dinescu’s suggestion at Karl Marx being "clean-shaven" whilst it may sound a trifle preposterous or irrelevant to a Western reader, strikes a meaningful chord with his East European counterpart – under Communism sporting a beard, a moustache and log hair was deemed to be ‘decadent’ (except for Karl Marx). Youngsters who would have a similar hairstyle would be branded "anti-social" and sent to compulsory re-education camps; for Marx to have a bit of his own medicine meted on him, albeit a pill of a Ceausist taste, would have been extremely funny a proposition to contemplate from a Romanian perspective. Likewise the idea of market liberalisation ("free the pastrami makers", etc), when people were queuing for hours to buy chicken claws, (because there was nothing else at the butcher’s), explains why one may "get drunk on a slice of bread", because the collapse of a repressive system is in sight ("the Berlin clocks went haywire"). Again, the parallel between the Spanish experience during the Civil War and the Romanian communist experience (a country without newspapers) in "Guernica" is also a hint for the uninitiated – it is not a riddle - it is rather a matter of contrasts and parallels in history. Ana Blandiana’s "blanching" experience and prophesy that the snowstorms will end up by wining over the ashes of an extinguished fire is prophetic. Such verse was a poignant cry before Ceausescu’s flight by helicopter from an angry, famished crowd, whose courage came to the fore because they reached the limit of their endurance: here the poet made herself the echo of such people, as she voiced their anger and their hopes.

There is always a tinge of sad irony and cynicism which often colours the Romanian thought, both at home and abroad. Cioran’s ironic cynicism is well known; Dinescu or Sorescu’s less well so. It is a well rehearsed attitude for any Romanian who had exhausted all other avenues in reaching a solution to resort to irony as a form of escapism from a harsh political reality. Many a political joke under Stalin or Ceausescu landed innocent victims in prison and often the poet’s own verse was stifled for the same reasons. Sorescu and Dinescu’s verse had survived by performing a delicate tight rope act – it is an aspect which needs to be further researched and published.

Commenting on poets from the other end of the political spectrum, the crawling dwarfs at the dictator’s Court need not take much of the space – suffice it to give one or two short examples (q.v. Paunescu) for the reader to decide for himself. The same must apply to Ceausescu and his consort, although getting acquainted with their lucubration would help the reader to understand an awful lot more of the socio-political atmosphere in which Romanians lived for four decades of repression. To be able to fathom these conditions the Western reader must make a leap of imagination, for, as one former political detainee put it there is an unsurpassable chasm "between being in Hell as opposed to being part of Hell".

No matter how diverse in subject or in literary value, or indeed in political or philosophical belief these quotations might be, no matter how well-known or obscure within or without the boundaries of Romania all these names maybe, by coming from the Carpathian space they have a certain complementarity, a commonality of perception and often of suffering, which bring them all together, like as many voices of the same Chorale.

For they all reflect the moral-political dilemma, the political metamorphoses (and chameleonism), the confrontation between intellectual and social affinities and the absurd political commitments of a tormented land, caught up in the ideological war between Nazism and Communism. In this drama exacerbated by WWII the obvious victim was the Romanian Freedom and Democracy, whose demise led eventually to Ceausescu’s Kafkaesque prison-state.

What makes our attempt rather singular is the inclusive approach, not in the least that of twinning the voice of the Uprooted with that of the Romanian left behind. Both voices are arresting and poignant, given the Initiation in the practice of Communism and for this reason at least they deserve to be given a fair hearing.

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