Neo-Western Supremacism

"Born in Botosani (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) in 1850, Mihai Eminescu is widely regarded as Romania's finest romantic writer, and is recognized as both Romania and Moldova's national poet. Most Romanians can recite line after line of his work, the legacy of years of forced rote learning. His status as one of Romania's most notorious anti-Semites (he once wrote that 'the Jew does not deserve rights anywhere in Europe') has not overtly affected his popularity.
"The seventh of eleven children born to a lower-middle class family, Eminescu was schooled at a German-language gymnasium in Cernauti, in present-day Ukraine (…) A founding member of the Orient literary movement – which wanted to gather together a library of Romanian folklore and which believed that Romanian culture should be less western and more indigenous – Eminescu nevertheless took the road west himself to Vienna, to study Philosophy (…) "His most famous poem, the rather sugary Luceafarul (Hyperion), famous for its delightfully simple, childlike couplets, was published in this period (after his return to Romania)." No, I have not gone crazy, I am just quoting out of a travel guide found in a library, the rubric "Romanians You Should Know"! The other famous Romanian presented in that guide is, get this!, sports coach Stefan Kovacs, sidelined in Romania because he was a Hungarian ethnic. No, this is neither Hungarian malice, nor the long hand of Zionism, and, probably, it is not even an unfriendly agency spreading deception. This is just inyourpocket, a company that has become a market leader informing the world about cities in Central and Eastern Europe. The point is not the fact that Bucharest is not presented as a paradisiacal space, or that many pieces of information, which are utterly correct, also warn about the threats the foreign tourist may face in our capital city. The tone is very favorable. More, it is meant to fascinate the tourist rather than put him off. But this kind of "fascination" is precisely the issue here. The information itself is not questionable, what is annoying is the type of discourse and a certain policy of the imaginary which go far beyond the space and case of Romania. The following "introduction" is telling in that respect: "Romania is a wonderful land of extremes. Stiflingly hot during the summer, freezing cold during the winter. A land where an obscene amount of wealth is locked into the hands of a tiny number of people, a land where poverty is ubiquitous. Romania is where the Western world ends, and where the Slavic East begins. The last territory to be incorporated into the Roman Empire, when Rome comprehended the fairest part of the Earth and the most civilized portion of mankind, and the first to be abandoned to its Barbarian fate. Two thousand years on, Romania has finally rejoined the civilized world, or the European Union at least: another Empire born of (a Treaty of) Rome." So this is what it is all about. Romania is one of those tourist attractions on the last frontier, namely where the "civilized" world ends and the chaos of "Barbarity" begins: Bucharest is a "unique city (a cross between the socialism of Warsaw and the chaos of Cairo)," inyourpocket also warns us. Such a frontier land can only be one of "extremes," namely of nature and an uncontrolled, non-civilized society, which is exuberant in its primitive-childish vigor. And this is precisely what fascinates tourists who wish to get away from the civilized world, which is sometimes experienced as excessively self-controlled and ordered. Generally speaking, this is what the foreign tourist has learned to expect, and this is precisely what is offered to him with professionalism by the said guide. Business-wise, this does a great favor to Romania. The note on Eminescu is part of this type of discourse, and this is how it should be read, because it is hard and useless to combat any piece of "information" in that note, as most of the info is, in fact, accurate. So, we should not analyze the ingredients themselves, but the recipe used to select those ingredients in order to compose the profile of our "national poet." And this recipe includes: the lack of education in this part of the world (Romania's national poet was born in the Austria-Hungary empire and was educated anywhere in the world, except in Romania, and in any language, except the Romanian language); the childishness of his poetry, which is in fact touching, and which is typical of primitive peoples (to a mature Western mind, Luceafarul is sugary and delightfully childish); and, not least, there are the moral diseases of backward societies: xenophobia in general, and anti-Semitism in particular. This last ingredient is (also) part of another discourse, namely the policies of remembering, whose peak is the German Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung: Europe is very proud of these policies, and with good reason, too. But on one condition, I would add: not to use them just in order to exorcize and pardon their own sins, projecting what is left of the collective sins onto a space seen as different from Europe's own symbolic space. However, these sins, which the "mature" Westerner feels he has got rid of, are included in the recipe that brings fascination to the distant realms people dream of. These tourist-attraction lands are seen as something like carnival societies where, in the space and during the time set by a traveling agency, (almost) everything is allowed, because in that place (almost) nothing is "ok," so the tourist can allow himself an indefinite number of "peches mignons" (pretty little sins). But, to make it possible to commit these little sins without worrying about it, the tourist must be convinced that he is in the realm of major sins, which he confronts and fights, in fact, like a true civilizing hero (not like a petty Hedonistic sinner…). At the end, all the tourist can do is light candles for the pardoning of the sins committed by these nice locals – and for his own salvation at the same time. Who can deny our own chaos and sin? But, on the other hand, is there not a dose of a well-orchestrated hypocrisy in this type of discourse, which is neo-Western-supremacist? Dilema veche, May 8-14, 2008 Translated by Monica Voiculescu

by Vintilă Mihăilescu