The Albanian Bucharest: From Merchant Elites To Cultural Elites

excerpts The gradual development of a cultural Moldo-Walachian elite of Albanian origin, that was able to manifest an awareness of the cultural identity of its origins through certain activities in this respect, an elite devoted to the idea of a modern and independent Albania, comes into view at the beginning of the 19th century. The process started, in incipient forms, at the end of the 18th century but became larger when the Moldo-Walachian aristocracy started to make efforts to establish a modern Romanian state. The process was accelerated especially by the fact that elements of Albanian origin inside the Moldo-Walachian aristocracy integrated in the development process of modern Romania. In the 16th and 17th centuries, many Albanians and Macedo-Romanians penetrate the social structures, mainly the military and merchant ones, becoming then political or military leaders or merchants. The term elite is used in the present discourse with a larger meaning, referring to people within hierarchies of various Moldo-Walachian social categories, even if, as far as education, culture and sometimes manners were concerned, they did not correspond to the true elitist structures.It is precisely the process of passing from the marginal elite (the merchant, commercial, mercenary one, etc.) to the higher hierarchical structures with the corresponding decision-making potential, such as the high officials, rulers, bankers, and the entire range of free lancers, that represents the subject-matter of this discourse. This hierarchical structuring of the ethnic Albanian people from Bucharest happens in the context of a hierarchical structuring at the global level of the Moldo-Walachian society, especially after 1831. At this date, for instance, the famous merchant Hagi Tudorache buys the title of first class patent holder, a document which entitles him to an aristocratic rank. He receives a new patent in 1847, through which he officially acquires the rank of boyar by descent, a diploma which was signed by Prince George Dimitrie Bibescu. It represented an accession to the hierarchical ladder of the Moldo-Walachian society, which was experiencing changes at that time. The phenomenon was linked to the reforms included in the Organic Regulations enforced during 1830-1831.The common denominator is the fact that "the Albanian environment from Romania has a unifying tradition, which gives its members the awareness of belonging to this group. As early as the 17th and 18th centuries, the Albanians who lived in Romania came from the south of Albania, from Epirus, and, in the 18th and 19th centuries, they were merchants, craftsmen, guards, forming thus on Romania's territory a sort of embryonic middle class. It is first an environment of merchants and craftsmen, responsive to the mobilising efforts from the growing intelligentsia."[1]It was against this merchant and handicraft background (which was to be joined by the political and military environments, where there were numerous Albanians who had been naturalised as early as the 18th century) that the cultural Albanian elite developed, beginning with the first part of the 19th century, absorbing the new Albanian elements who had come to the Principalities in the meantime. A ruler of Albanian origin, Alexandru Dimitrie Ghica, decided on October 24th, 1834 "to release 100 ducats per year" to a young man of similar origin, Dimitri Hristea Capitanovici, for "the study of medicine, that he pursues at the University in Vienna." After he completed his studies in Vienna, Hristea went to continue his studies in Germany where, in 1840, "he passes the exam of Doctor in medicine and surgery at the University of Heidelberg." In 1832, Doctor Teodor Gherghiadis's widow, called Frusina, asked in a letter addressed to ruler Alexandru Dimitrie Ghica in 1832, June 17th, for the financial support consisting in 200 ducats "for her son Hariton who was taking acting lessons in London's Academies."[2]The young generation from 1820-1840 that continued its studies in the West for liberal professions, with the help of the School Sponsors, or of private persons – although the Principalities often went through thorny circumstances: 1821-1822, 1825-1826, 1828-1831 – would have a prevailing role in the modernisation of the Walachian Principalities, starting with its return from the Western academies. Most of these people were of modest descent. The School Sponsors helped only youngsters from the middle or lower classes. As far as the youngsters of aristocratic descent were concerned, all of them followed the courses of Western colleges or academies. Prince Nicolae Shutzu left testimonies about the people from his generation or from generations close to his. One of the famous boyars, the great hetman Alexandru Ghica, was described as an "honest, fair, righteous man by nature and principle and proud to be like that. The only one from his country who can be qualified as incorruptible; with sufficient good-breeding, with useful basic knowledge, but lacking orderliness, prone to idleness, being easily put off by things that require effort or constant attention; having a tendency to do good and eager to do it for everyone without making too much effort however, or going out of his way. A sort of apathetic kindness, indolence, if I may put it like that, is one of the characteristic features of the family to which he belongs."[3]Among the first rulers from the Ghica family who succeeded in leaving something to remember to the Walachian chroniclers was Grigore Ghica who, "coming to the throne of Wallachia, found the country in the most miserable state, but due to the great abundance that God bestowed then, to all things being cheap, and to God's wisdom, that country redressed." Grigore Ghica was, in his youth, "guided by Alexandru the Exaporite, he learnt Greek and Turkish very well, as well as the other European languages. Being still young, he proved, however, to have the wisdom of an old man, and when his uncle Ioan Voda acceded to the throne of Walachia, he was given the job of dragoman, to which he remained loyal for 11 years. The rulers of the kingdom, seeing Grigore Ghica's merits and loyalty and knowing his family as well, made him ruler of Moldavia and his brother, Alexandru, was given the job of great dragoman instead."In Bucharest, this ruler "did many good things for the people regarding both their taxes and their protection, to the great joy of the whole country and of the boyars, whom he left as they were, with all their habits. He delivered that country (Walachia) from the nearby Turks; these Turks, that had founded villages and houses on the land of Walachia, grew in number over the years and caused much grief to the nation."[4] Over the past ages of turmoil and confusion, we find another Ghica – Matyla Ghica, a Romanian prelate exiled in Paris, who influenced Mircea Eliade in his scientific and academic route in the 50s; he was a prelate and a talented writer, his work of art The Golden Number being still held in high esteem nowadays in Western academic environments. Another representative member of the Ghica family, Nico Ghica is described as "benevolent, showing scrupulous uprightness, and generally loved and appreciated for his qualities. He was often assaulted by gloomy ideas; his opinions were hesitant, excessive scruples tormented him to such an extent that he lost self-confidence, and felt the need to be given advice and guidance. Overwhelmed by murky ideas and perplexed in his intimate concerns, he ended his life in a deplorable way."[5]The portraits described by Nicolae Shutzu are not different from those of Villara from Bessarabia, although they are denied by the former. One can easily notice a common denominator of personality traits of the young generation from 1820-1840, mainly framed between negative benchmarks.[6]Despite laudable efforts of some of them to detach themselves from the old Oriental habits and manners, the background that their parents had to bear with great difficulty, often with the risk of losing their life and assets, would spurt out violently. These contrasting traits, which clashed within the most refined and educated characters, were the result of a long social evolution at the limit of survival, where the padishah's or the ruler's appetite could only be measured by the number of headless corpses or of the exiled.The Albanian emigration spread in the first half of the 19th century on three continents, and one of the most dynamic diasporas was that in Walachia and Moldavia. The communities of Albanians integrated themselves and involved themselves in the changes that the respective local or regional communities began to put into operation through their social elites. Thus, "the Albanians have eased and supported the establishment of the new states and contributed to the development of the national trends of the other peoples without freeing themselves through their own power, though…"[7]Elida Petoshati maintains that "the phenomenon of Albanian Renaissance acknowledges as an official date for its existence the moment when the Evetar, drawn up by Veqilharxi, was published in Bucharest, in 1840", which was nothing else than the first primer of the Albanian language.[8]A series of events then followed for the Walachian society, in a very short time, events in which the Albanian communities actively participated due to their social, or economic, status. The years 1848-1849, 1856-1859, the short-term achievements of the Moldo-Walachian cultural and political elites were relevant themes for the great merchants and bankers of Albanian origin from the Romanian towns and boroughs. The young Moldo-Walachian state flourished, offering solid financial positions to the Albanian and Macedo-Romanian communities. Called The France of the Orient by the Albanians from the Balkans, modern Romania, which had begun to shape its political and cultural identity, had become the pivot for the assertion of Albanian cultural ideals.Thus, one of the illustrative characters of Balkan immigration in Romania after 1860, the merchant who later became a banker, Vanghel Zappa, "of an undisputable Albanian origin", addressed a message to his fellow countrymen who came from the South of Danube: "Romania is our homeland, and ensures the welfare of our life and of our existence."[9]There is an interesting thing to be noticed here. People with mainly an average level of education, with a booming financial situation, gradually penetrated the cultural elites either by offering support to culture (which implied a general and specific cultural training which had to be continuously expanded on a solid and fertile background in this respect) or by their own cultural undertakings (primers, various specialty books, literature, advertising, etc). The next generation, backed up financially by the one under discussion, fully shaped a cultural elite in all its professional structures. In this respect, Cătălina Vătăşescu emphasises the fact that "the social role of the Albanian intellectual" during 1840-1860 was connected to "his commitment to the process of enlightening and educating the people, regardless of whether he had a degree or not, and regardless of his specialty."[10]There have been exceptions as well. At least regarding Elena Ghica, daughter of Ban Mihalache Ghica and Catinca Faca. Born in Bucharest, in February 1828, and raised at the royal court of her uncle Alexandru Dimitrie Ghica, ruler of Walachia, "the young princess would receive a remarkable education." She could speak Greek, Latin, French, English and German, which opened up broad perspectives for her towards the principal European cultures. Following a period of personal disillusionment related to her family and her husband, after 1860 "the princess devotes her life to literature and art, travel, to the social-political problems connected to the national rights of the oppressed peoples and to women's emancipation"; it is probably since that time that her penname Dora D'Istria, with which she signed all her papers, exists. She contributed to various magazines of the time, such as: Revue des deux mondes, International Review (USA), Il Dirito (Italy), Tour du Monde, Debats, Le Siecle, Illustration (Paris), Mondo Ilustrato (Turin, Piedmont), Ilustrierte Zeitung, L'Observateur (Belgium), etc.Hence, a certain acceleration is to be noticed, after 1900, of the activities of the Albanian cultural communities in Romania regarding the Albanian national movement. The conjoined efforts of the former with the similar ones in the Balkans and throughout Europe, created a public opinion sympathetic to the Albanian standpoint, beyond the disputes between the local leaders of different groups. The Albanian community from Bucharest, stimulating and collaborating with the Albanian communities from other Romanian cities and boroughs, succeeded, for 75 years, to help the Albanian people culturally, a people that went through a double process of de-nationalisation: through the Turkish influence and the Greek influence.The opportunities created by the leaders of the Albanian communities in Romania for the generations of young Albanians who came to Romania after 1850 were crucial to the creation of the human background necessary to the direct approach of this national movement through the construction of an Albanian cultural identity within the young generations of Albanians. These generations, advocates of modernity and of liberal professions, rooted in the Romanian social and political structure, coordinated their activities regarding the configuration of the modern Albanian state through cultural elites. The process was imperative after 1900, on the background of the independence gained by Bulgaria (1908) and of the Balkan wars (1912-1913).
[1] Cătălina Vătăşescu apud. Cristina Maksutovici, The Albanian Community in Romania, The History of the Albanian Community in Romania, vol. I, Bucharest, 2000, p. 200[2] Maria Stan, Bucharest Youngsters Studying Abroad, History and Museography Materials, vol. IX, 1972, Bucharest, pp. 176-177[3] The Memoirs of Prince Nicolae Şuţu, The Cultural Foundation Publishing House, Bucharest, 1997, pp.132-152[4] The Chronicle of the Ghica Family, The Academy of SRR (Socialist Republic of Romania) Publishing House, Bucharest, 1965, chapter On Grigorie Ghica's Reign and His Lineage, pp. 247-287. "During this ruler's reign, no Turk could take money from the poor arbitrarily, as justice was done to everyone in fair trial by the subprefects of the county. (…) He forbade the Turks to plough and sow, by royal firman, he attracted back into the country most of the people who had fled, many years before, to the Danube shores, and thus, many people gathered into the country; he put everything in good order." (ibidem, p. 362) [5] The Memoirs of Prince Nicolae Şuţu, The Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, Bucharest, 1997, p. 207[6] Ibidem, p. 246. In the Annual of the Walachia Principality published in 1842, there are numerous high officials of aristocratic families of Albanian origin and even freelancers. It is important to mention that this happened during the rule of Alexandru II Ghica. He called himself "ruler, prince – by God's grace – over the entire Romanian territory". [7] "The Albanian element – scattered as it is in all corners of the empire, from the Drin to the Euphrates, right at the end of Caramania, as border guardian-soldiers, governors of vilayet, pashas, guardsmen of the sultan or of the pashas in Greece, Asia Minor, etc., as well as soldiers in their garrisons, from the Carpathians to the Nile in the military service of their masters and even beyond the Adriatic – plays an essential part in the social system that develops during this period." (Dumitru Polena, The Albanian National Movement, UCAR, Bucharest, 2000, p.13) [8] Elida Petoshati, Aspects of the European Culture from the Albanian publications in 20th century Romania, Deliana Publishing House, Bucharest, 1999, p. 54[9] Heliade Radulescu, apud Sava Iancovici, The Romanian –Albanian Relations in the Age of Rebirth and Emancipation of the Albanian People, Revue des Etudes Sud-Est Europeenes, vol. IX, 1971, no. 1, pp. 23-24[10] Cătălina Vătăşescu, The Intellectual and Cultural Activity of Albanians in Romania (1844-1912), apud. Intellectuals from the Balkans in Romania, the 17th and 20th centuries, The Academy Publishing House, 1984, p. 165

by Adrian Majuru (b. 1968)