Sunday 6 November 2011

Donald Dunham on the Romanians

(Donald Dunham an American diplomat stationed in Bucharest submitted his doctoral dissertation Rumanian Profile: A Study of National Character as Reflected in the Visual Arts, on May 20th, 1948, in the midst of the Communist takeover. It begins magnificently. I wish I could find a copy of the book whcih someone once lent me.)

The Romanians are a social phenomenon. As a nation among nations, they are westerners evolved in the East. They are Latins surrounded by Slavs. They are Romans two thousand years away from Rome. They are contemporaries re-produced on Trajan’s Column. 

They are peasants with the utmost in sophistication. They farm instinctively, but are suspicious of machinery. They speak a language like Italian but the majority of their words are Slavonic. They are superstitious but religious at the same time. They are astutely intelligent, but refuse to be intellectual. They submit to invasion but preserve their identity. They support great wealth and extreme poverty. They produce striking beauty yet can live in filth. 

As a collective personality, the Romanians are Oriental in their souls although Latin on the surface. Their patience is almost unending but they are quick to explode in argument; they are peace-loving yet would disintegrate without controversy. They are passive but strong in their resistance; spontaneously adaptable, still difficult t influence. They are romantic but never escape from reality. 

They are charming yet cruel in their ridicule, warmly emotional but calculating, generous yet concentrate on the ‘main chance.’ They are opportunistic but lose interest after they have gained the advantage; they seize the moment, still adopt the long view. 

The Romanians are a people of colorful contrasts and extreme extremes, born in classic times, ravaged by barbarians, indentured to the Turks, dominated by the Byzantines, the Greeks, dictated to by the Hungarians, Poles, Austrians and others, seduced by the French and not recognized as a country until 1878. Yet they emerge with a character that defies this confusion, that is definitely, emphatically, unmistakably Romanian. This character was born of a Dacian shepherd and a Roman lass, whose progeny became dwellers with nature itself, epicureans with earthy values and a tough constitution. 

It developed in composition and grew in strength under the invasions of waves of barbarians. Slavs were added to the original Dacians and the Roman colonizers. Christianization was extended in Wallachia and Moldavia by the Byzantine Church and intrigue was introduced as a science by the Greek ruling emissaries of the Sublime Porte. With the intrigue came the Greek culture of the mind – the analytical clarity of the Mediterraneans – which evaporated as Greek, as it was quickly absorbed as Romanian. Following this permeation came the magnetic seduction by Paris and the synthetic adoption of French-Western artistic values, by those classes who would afford to visit the “Rive Gauche” and return. 

Today you find the cult of the mind imbedded as an element of character in all classes second only to emotional spontaneity as a national characteristic. The Greeks were more successful than the French because they came to Romania and did not make Romanians come to them, and because their main influence was middle class and thereby could infect those classes both above and below them. The French appealed to aristocracy; the upper and wealthy classes of Romania went to Paris yearning to prove themselves by Gallic standards, perhaps eventually to return to the country of their birth to demonstrate their cultural acquisitions.

1 comment:

  1. They are astutely intelligent, but refuse to be intellectual - magistral !