Sunday 27 April 2014

Easter in the Bucovina

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.

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.


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.

Voroneţ Monastery

Ed Miliband cannot be England's first Jewish or atheist Prime Minister

Mr. Cameron turns out to be a Christian, though, as he self-deprecatingly once said, his faith fades and reappears
“like Magic FM in the Chilterns."
Mr. Clegg also told us this week that he is not an atheist, but an agnostic.  His wife and mother are both devout Catholics, his grandmother a devout Russian Orthodox, so he says that perhaps he will come to believe in God.

An article in the Spectator this week says that Ed Miliband won't be our first Jewish Prime Minister but can be our first atheist Prime Minister. This is inaccurate. Ramsay Macdonald was an atheist and Attlee believed in the Christian 'ethic but not the mumbo jumbo' and therefore was also an atheist. 

Chamberlain was a Unitarian and so not a Christian, but not, I assume, an atheist. (Many Unitarians in our day are atheists, though not in Transylvania, where they are numerous.) 

Most modern Prime Ministers were Christian. Wilson, Callaghan ( a lay preacher), Home, Macmillan, Mrs Thatcher and Mr. Blair were all very religious. Is Gordon Brown? I suspect so, son of the manse that he is. Edward Heath's first job was on the Church Times but I know no more of his religious ideas than this. Churchill was not, though he talked about 'the man upstairs' - he was too much the Edwardian progressive. Bonar Law I think was a freethinker, but my memory might be at fault. Lloyd George liked singing hymns. Salisbury and Balfour were deeply religious Christians. 

Disraeli was a Jew as regards his race but converted to Low Church Anglicanism. Michael Howard, had he become Prime Minister, would have been our first adherent to the Jewish religion to be Prime Minister, as he occasionally enters a liberal synagogue.

I have forgotten whatever I might have known about Asquith and Eden's religious views. Can anyone assist me? 

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Lenin spoke English with an Irish accent

Lenin spoke English with an Irish accent, say Russians.

Is there any footage of Lenin speaking? 

Here is Trotsky speaking English, courtesy of Pathe, which has put its films on the net.

And here is the Kaiser speaking English

Monday 14 April 2014

George Orwell on gun control

How much more free England was in the 1930s is illustrated by this quotation from George Orwell, who turns out to be no friend to gun control.

“That rifle on the wall of the labourer's cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.”

Thursday 10 April 2014

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Odessa

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Odessa - not from the Nazis but from the Romanians. The Romanians are remembered by elderly Odessans for their corruption but were kinder rulers than the Germans or the Communists and, when the Russians started to defeat the Germans, the Romanian government stopped deporting the remaining Jewish population to extermination camps. Mr Putin seems to think that the Soviet troops liberated the city from the Nazis. 

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Bulgaria is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

At dinner last night a Romanian friend told me that Bulgarians, visiting their monasteries, behave like holidaymakers, unlike Romanians who behave like pilgrims when they visit theirs. Two Bulgarian academics told me recently that the Church is not liked and respected south of the Danube the way it is here. I wonder why. Are the centuries of Turkish rule the reason? I should have thought Turkish rule would have made the people like the Church more, not less.