Our Defense Abroad

Let us not be deceived by articles and books issued by courtesy or for which we pay, and this so seldom. We are not loved abroad. Even if people remember the fine welcome we give people – which is so comprehensive according to the customs, and at times even sufficiently ingratiating, perhaps also with reason but rather because of the old slavish habit to kowtow, – still we are not treasured. To this grateful memory, at times even emotional – some give us umbrage, talking with delight about the beauty of Romanian women without realizing what a gross thing they do – esteem never adds. This is not something new. It has been going on for centuries. That's how it's been with us because of I ignore what unjust quirk of fate. We have constantly been met with the same antipathy, and what is worse, even in the case of a foreigner nurturing good thoughts, the same complete misunderstanding of our nature, of our customs.Since times of old when political life was barely taking shape on the banks of the Danube and in the valleys of the Carpathians nobody heeded us. We were dead to this world and, it was better that way instead of being the last to be known. Only later on, when the Ottoman threat was hovering over central and western Europe, somebody in Venice, in the war against the sultan, or in Rome, where the Pope had the duty to stand up for Christianity, possibly became aware that in the land of Moldavia there was a staunch champion against "the heathen". It is true, only praise was extended to him, the gold from the Pope's treasure going to Matthias Corvinus, the king of Hungary who boasted that it was he the great crusader, with the Moldavian Stephen just a captain of his.Afterwards, when the war against the Turkish emperor in the old Byzantium came to an end, we became known more by all sorts of pretenders to the throne who turned Catholic, Protestant, whatever, and sported all sorts of genealogies to show it was them and only them who were "the true heirs". Thus there rose the danger of being regarded, as it happens today to those who give loans to young Romanians who forget about payback, as a kin of mendicant frauds.Michael the Brave's fame spread for years, although his enemies never tired of presenting him, until he was killed, and even afterwards, as a savage barbarian, driven by the desire to spill blood and making more civilized nations suffer under his iron yoke. And if he was known as a person, as a hero, nobody had the slightest idea about his nation. When they heard about Făgăraş where he had placed his Lady, Stanca, in shelter, they called her "Vagarossa".Seldom has there been talk about us, besides the unaccountable "Shepherd from the Danube" by La Fontaine, at the time of the great 17th century monarchs when you could stand out either by a war waged without assistance from others or thanks to a shining Court or a brilliant literature in a generally understood language. For most people we were just this: Christians subject to the Turks and oppressed by them, which in very many respects we were not. Constantin Cantacuzino the Steward, who had lived for years abroad and heard with his own ears what sad reputation we had, rose in indignation against those mistaken conceptions about us! But he wrote in a language that the foreigners did not speak. Thus, they came to find out about the wide learning and literary endeavors of Dimitrie Cantemir, for example, only because he had written about patriotic topics, like the history of the Ottoman Empire and others, in languages that others could understand, too.For the philosophical, revolutionary 18th century we were part of the herd subjected to the barbaric Turks who had put us in the care of Phanariot shepherds, more skilled in shearing than putting herds to rich pastures. When our boyars started to go abroad, a thing completely forbidden for a considerable time, westerners acquired a new ridiculous notion: that of the "Moldo-Wallachian boyar", dressed in a robe, girdled with a shawl, wearing a "pitcher" on his head, which was nothing but a furry cap, riding in his own coach driven by a Gypsy, and squandering money savagely made at the expense of oppressed peasants.Sons and grandsons of these "Orientals" came to study in the West. Dressed like their colleagues, speaking good French learnt from tutors or in pension schools, enthusiastic about the new liberal ideas, the public opinion in Paris deemed them a nice oddity. Especially as being the sons of rich people they paid well and the international revolutionary groups that they joined alongside Italians, Hungarian and Poles did not differentiate them from the other freedom fighters. Yet the country, the nation they came from interested them only as elements of the universal revolution; hence the numerous sympathies they garnered in the 1850s.Even when we had a State, our endeavors still remained unheeded. That's what happened to the valiant battle of 1877, with the opposition put up to Russia's conquest plans, the development of an original literature and culture. All that was known was that in this country there wrote, among other non-professionals, Queen Elisabeta, interesting also by her poetic pen-name, Carmen Sylva. Much later there emerged the name of Panait Istrati who with his superb story-telling talent presented us either bizarrely, in The Princess of Snagov, or, in his Bolshevik period, as slaves oppressed by a class of despicable capitalists. Besides this there was also the fame of the partying Romanian and possibly also the tax-evading Romanian.When in the Great War ©, we laid down our lives for others that we admired and loved, the joy that we had finally "joined in" was quickly darkened by the tribulations of an army poorly equipped so that we got the feeling that the friends to whom we looked with sympathetic eyes considered us an unpleasant burden. Our national union did not awake in anybody any overflow of warm sympathy but instead bolstered the hatred of our old enemies, Hungarians, Russians, Bulgarians, plus the recent passion of the Germans, of the entire German race against whom we had fought contributing to their downfall. So it is up to us now to put up a defense and to continue to do so even today when many peoples, like the British, for example, show so little interest in us, whereas our enemies are understood, loved and helped.Meanwhile we defend ourselves with admirable, almost uniquely awkward gaucherie.First, despite all the press attaches, some of whom do absolutely nothing, considering their position as a sort of scholarship where you need take no examination, we never know when we are attacked and what is the goal of those who attack us, that is we ignore the means to counter them. I myself have so often discovered hideous pamphlets that nobody had signaled. As a rule, newspapers do not have foreign correspondents whom they could very easily find among the thousands of students spread everywhere in the world, who, even if looking to study, do not take the least pain to spread, like the 1850 immigrants did, the name and image of their country and nation. Other people too have legations that are genuine laboratories of intelligent and active propaganda, and around the minister and the secretaries stand young people who do not overlook anything as far as their nation is concerned. And even when we put pen to paper what an ill service we do, most often than not, to the Romanian cause! Besides a few books dating from the war period, everybody think themselves to have knowledge inborn, most varied, fit for such a task. As to talent, few are those Romanians who do not think that it is given to everybody in this blessed nation. The result? Wooly length where shortness and prevision are needed!This is not about writing alone but also about its circulation. The matter seems not to concern us in the least. We lack famous publishing houses to undertake the task. When Mr. Gamber, a Romanian from Orşova, a brother of higher officers, who kept a book shop of excellent reputation was threatened to lose all his wealth, I had to help him, which I actually did. Then the whole press presented me to be throwing away, as Prime Minister, the country's wealth in order to make a fortune from the publication of my books by this man dedicated to his homeland. A diligent division of work in legations and consulates cannot be even conceived of. When someone needs documentation on Romania that someone will have to go, for instance, to the Czech legation and will be served right away.But whereas our measly propaganda remains ignored, rotting in offices, a good knowledge of Romanian by those appointed in each country to follow our press helps them understand the rich collection of monstrous assertions against our leading class to be detached from the very Romanian newspapers! Those who write so many fallacies and calumnies are mistaken to think their dirt is buried in the wastebasket. To say nothing of the infamous gesture of some Romanians who go to foreign editorial offices "to show their opposition to the government". During their brief stay in power I got all the proofs I needed in this respect.Our scientists make discoveries that cannot be kept secret. Some of them have a splendid reputation abroad although I am familiar with the case of a press attaché who thinks he is allowed to bite their backs in the filthiest manner. A wonderfully rich literature remains completely unknown. The few existing anthologies did not have the press publicity necessary and nobody took care that they should reach the public. It was only at the end of the war that the name of a poet like Eminescu got across and not in all the countries. Many translations were achieved in Italy thanks to the diligent work of Mr. Isopescu. The professor of Romanian worked alone to gain a few admirers in Italy. The writing of Panait Istrati was considered a phenomenon for a people incapable of such manifestations. When in fact we have long had many better works than his. Miss Văcărescu who is very appreciated, is also a Romanian but how many people know that Mrs. de Noailles is a Brancovan by her father.Our art is far from being renowned as it should be, except for the folk and historical one that we abuse in makeshift exhibitions where extremely precious objects deteriorate or even, as was a recent case, get misplaced or lost.The music of Mr. Enescu counts more than I don't know how much propaganda but he is not under the wing of any legation.The best recommendation, the best weapon are honest, hard working Romanians. Only them should be seen abroad, and not all those good-for-nothing and cheats. And because there are foreigners coming to our country to do business, or out of a genuine desire to learn about us they should find equal consideration and activity here. Because today peoples are judged not by what they say about themselves but by what they do. Advice in the Dark, Complete edition Radio conferences 1931-1940 The Romanian Radio Broadcasting Society, 2001
© The First World War.

by Nicolae Iorga (1871-1940)