Sunday, 27 April 2014

Easter in the Bucovina

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In the end, from all my options for Easter, including Mount Athos, Meterora, Kiev, Transylvania, Rome and Clacton-on-Sea, I chose to return to Bucovina and the wonderful painted monasteries, which are for me the most lovely things in Romania, which is saying a very great deal.

Actually, wanting to see what was going on in Ukraine, I went to both Northern and Southern Bucovina. Northern Bucovina has been in Ukraine since the Soviet troops got there in 1944.

For those who don't know, the Bucovina was part of Moldavia that was taken from the Sultan by the Hapsburg Emperor in 1775 to link Galicia (Austrian Poland) to Transylvania. In 1919 the Bucovina was given to Romania but the northern half was seized by Stalin in June 1940. Sometimes people say that this was agreed under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 but, in fact, Russia's annexation of Bessarabia (which is now the Republic of Moldova) and the Northern Bucovina had not been agreed with Germany. Romania, allied to Hitler, took it back in 1941. Stalin regained it in 1944. 

Most of the Romanians fled or were deported to Siberia after 1944, but I noticed that the villages near the Romanian border have signposts in both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. This means that the villagers, or some of them, speak Romanian, are Romanians.

The name Bucovina means land of the beech trees and they are everywhere on the rolling hillsides. 

The capital of the Bucovina under Austria and until 1940 was Cernauti. This is its Romanian name, it's Czernowitz in German or Cernivtisi in Ukrainian. It was an enormous pleasure to return for my second visit.  Since my first visit I have had the chance to hear a lecture on life in Cernauti before 1914 by an Australian historian - Bucovina was Austria's equivalent of the Wild West, an unsettled place where fortunes could be made and lost and where people of all ethnic groups settled, Jews being the largest group. People of different ethnic groups never live side by side in complete amity but the citizens of Cernauti seem to have got by without too many great problems. The end of the Habsburg monarchy and war was to change this.

For decades I only travelled in post-Communist Europe and I still find it depressing to go to Western Europe. All that shininess and affluence make my heart sink. But I went to Western Europe for the monuments and to places like Burma and Mozambique to see the world until I realised that it is only Eastern Europe that I really love - where people are human and  normal. I especially love Ukraine and dear Cernauti, which are like Eastern Europe used to be in the late 1990s. 

Last time I was there, in 2007, I thought it was much like Satu Mare or Baie Mare or many other Austro-Hungarian towns but it is more charming than they are. The buildings are wonderful pastel shades in the early evening sunshine and there is an indescribable calm here which is only found in countries which are not powerful or rich or in the EU. What a joy it is to leave the EU, although the people of Western Ukraine would probably love to join it.

We arrived on Good Friday, and the mauve-pink Cathedral, once Romanian Orthodox and now one of the three kinds of Ukrainian Orthodox, was thronged with worshippers. I spent ten minutes there but my friend who had driven me to Cernauti stood outside waiting for me and so I went out again by that same door wherein I went, sorry that I should miss the Burial of the Lord ceremony, when a coffin is taken in procession around the church and nearby streets.

We walked around the lovely town bathed in evening sunlight and the sense of pleasing melancholy that you get in provincial towns towards the end of day, especially in obscure countries.I had looked forward to  chatting to locals about revolution and war but there was no-one to talk to. We did see an impromptu shrine to the heroes killed at the Maidan in Kiev, two of whom were local men or boys. Then we looked through the empty town for somewhere to eat and ended up eating a wonderful halibut at our hotel, the Hotel Bukovyna and salmon blinis. Far too big a feast for Good Friday, I know.


Photo: EU flag flying over Cernauti townhall
EU flag flying over Cernauti town hall 
Cernauti, Easter Saturday
We spent Saturday morning mooching around Cernauti and then went back to the future in Romania where we stumbled on the wonderful little painted church at Padrauti. Rain-swept and chilly it was easy to imagine Stephen the Great winning a battle against the Muslims in this remote barbaric spot.

Padrauti

Then Suceava and though the town was closed for Easter we ate a really wonderful tochitura in a brasserie called Centru Vechi. I realise that huge portions are the Bucovinan idea of hospitality. Even I, even I, left half my food.

I found the war memorial in Suceava saddening. Romanians should have avoided war in 1877 and 1916. Had Romanian borders not been enlarged in 1919 Romania might have kept out of Second World War and avoided Communism. On reflection, though, this last idea is unconvincing because even had Romania remained neutral in the First World War Bessarabia (now Moldova) would still have dropped into her arms after the Russian revolution and therefore would have been taken back at some point by Stalin. It would however have been in Romania's interests to stay out of the Great War and in the interests of her allies too. Norman Stone said that the entry of Romania on the Allied side in 1916 delayed the Allies' victory by a year.

In Suceava I read about the fifty thousand Jews rounded up into the Cernauti ghetto by Romanians by order of Antonescu in 1941 and later killed. I had forgotten this until someone reminded me. attended the Catholic Mass and then the Orthodox, which moves me much more deeply. The latter ended at 3.30 and then I found Lidia Rusu, with whom I was staying, who drove me back - it took over an hour - to Vama.

Sunday lunch was cooked by Lidia Rusu's husband who is the best cook I have encountered in fifteen years in Romania. I knew an equally good Hungarian cook in Transylvania in the early 1990s but she moved to Hungary and, alas, she is dead. In any case it is not possible to compare Hungarian food with Romanian food. The meal was wonderful and unfortunately I found I did not a strong enough personality to resist the home-made tzuica.

Vespers at the village church (a pretty one built in 1990 but to the same design as churches had long ago). Then my second visit to the Vama Egg Museum, now much bigger than in 2002 and a thriving business with painted eggs from around the world. I saw an ostrich's egg, which in Switzerland had been cut open and made into the replica of a church complete with congregation. But the painted eggs from the region were the point of the exhibition. Painting eggs (emptied of their contents first) are the Bucovinan tradition.

Monday began with Mass on a crisp sunny morning at the beautiful painted monastery at Moldovita. Then lovely Voronet and Humor. For readers who do not know Romania these and several other monasteries have no architectural interest but are famous for their wall paintings inside and outside which form wonderful galleries of mediaeval sacred painting. Romanians come to see them for their great beauty and also for the purpose for which they were made as an aid to prayer.  Bucovina is becoming more developed these days and starting to get a little commercialised but there is still a sense of holiness here and still a traditional rural way of life, though that is changing very much. Now Romanians go and find work in Eastern Europe and Romanian agriculture is, for reasons I do not fully understand, in big trouble.



VoroneŇ£ Monastery


7 comments:

  1. Just discovered your wonderful blog. I am a photographer currently working on a project about the relationship between Romanians and British. I'd like to get in touch with you but can't find contact details on your blog. I'm commenting here under my blog ID but if you can reply to this email I will email you back on my personal email

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  2. Wonderful. Interesting how the borders to these E European countries are constantly changing and will continue to do so. I have to say you are slowly selling to me that E Europe should be explored. Romania in particular, the countryside, the people and culture seem to be well worth a visit. I have an English friend who now lives in Australia with his partner who is from Moldova, again a beautiful country with the most welcoming of people. Glad you had a good Easter holiday. Sandra

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  3. I don't know if I have commented before but I have visited your blog from time to time for a while now. I ran across this article in scanning news about Romania and I wonder what you make of it? http://www.worldpolicy.org/blog/2014/04/28/romanias-eu-membership-costs-vs-benefits

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  4. Maybe it's a great over-simplification, but I believe that joining the EU was the ruination of Romanian agriculture - which was simply too small-scale and under-capitalized to cope with the competition from large-scale West European farming methods developed on the back of years of excessive subsidies. And as Romania's old agricultural system disappears, so will many of the customs and traditions that make much of the Romanian countryside so appealing. I agree with Paul: the EU is not necessarily a good thing.

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  5. You mention a comment by Norman Stone to the effect that Romania's entry into the First World War delayed the Allied victory by a year. I have much respect for Norman Stone, but this comment baffles me. I fail to understand how this could be. On what arguments was his opinion based??

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    1. I have not read the remark in context but Romania was swiftly defeated and conquered, so her entry into the war aided the Central Powers and injured the Allies.

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  6. FIRST : In 1877 is the moment when we won our independence. A must do think. SECOND: Norman Stone is the biggest idiot in the world. In First World War, the eastern front was composed only from Romania and Russia. Because of the Bolshevik revolution Russian armies retreated. Romania was alone against Germany, Habsburg Empire, and Bulgaria. As a bonus the few Russian divisions that were in Romania to help to hold the front retreated in a chaotic way, killing, raping and so on. The eastern front had to resist. For that to happen France send through Norway, Finland then Russian all the way to Romania, a military mission, which role was to bring new guns, supplies and officers to train the Romanian soldiers so that they could resists and hold the front. Romania kept fighting and because of that, the Germans and the Habsburg Empire dispatched 2 armies from the western front to bring in Romania to defeat the only army still fighting in the east. Romania is the only reason why the allied forces were not defeated. Imagine all the armies from the east coming to the west to defeat France and England. The conclusion is that Norman Stone is the biggest idiot.
    Third: Well… Second World War was a tragic think. Stalin took Moldova and north of Bucovina (Cernauti) that was Romanian territory. Bulgaria took two counties in the south of Romania and Hungary took half of Transylvania killing almost the entire population of Romanians in that region. All this happened because of Hitler. Hitler needed the Romanian oil supplies and the Romanian army, simply because we had the largest army after Germany and Italy. Hitler was the only one that promised Romania that will get back the stolen territory. And because of that, because we wanted to be united, we made the pact with the devil and went to war against Russia.
    The conclusion of all this is that in 1877, in 1916 and in 1940 Romania had to enter in all this wars because this was the only way that the Romanian dream could be accomplished and that dream is all Romanians and all the Romanian provinces in one country. It is a sacrifice that had to be done.

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