The German In Romanian Mentality

The character, or the characteristics, of a human collectivity, to the extent to which there can be such globalizing characteristics, have constructed, it is known, from the very beginning of history, just as many reasons that influenced the ideas one people made of the other. They led to the appearance of images, clichés of thought, stereotypes and, I should say, to the creation of unrealities that have often, too often, made manipulation of consciousnesses easier. The examples are innumerable and even their mere enumeration would require extensive elaboration. That is why I think it is enough to mention here just the subtle remark of Botho Strauss, a well known contemporary German playwright, that I was pleased to recall in other circumstance as well: "The image appears when reality lacks something". That is what happened with the idea that Romanians made in time about the foreigner of German origin, an idea that adopted a wide array of hypostases, depending on the group on which the observations were projected, or on the ones that made them. In other words, if they were directed towards the Saxons in Transylvania, the Swabians in Banat, the representatives of the bureaucratic or military apparatus of the Habsburg empire, or the Germans settled on the other side of the Carpathians. Or, eventually, to the ages and circumstances that generated them. Being favored by the Hungarian Royalty that brought them to Transylvanian land, the Saxon communities had a very different status from that of the local population, which offered them from the very beginning a distinguishing feature in the landscape of Ardeal. A situation that made, for instance Ion Budai Deleanu, Gheorghe Barit or Ion Pop-Reteganul, look with an admiring, but also understanding, envy upon the prosperity of the Saxon burgs and villages protected by the officials, having the advantage of institutions that allowed the inhabitants to enjoy the fruit of their work, of cultivated priests that took care of the habits and of the cultivation of the parishioners, just as the recognized community they were part of protected them from oppressions. And they allowed someone like Dinicu Golescu, Gheorghe Sion and Temistocle, chevalier of Greul, to dedicate true lyrical passages to the Saxons' way of life "forever neatly dressed", living "in houses of concrete each of them with three or four rooms, glass on window panes, painted blinds", working the land "with the utmost zeal", having gardens like "true earthly heavens", so that "they gather and do not waste and that's why they have more than the other people". And enumerations like these can continue on several columns. The Swabians in Banat enjoyed just as flattering appreciations. For example, Ioan Slavici, who knew them better, wrote: "I was thrilled by their flourishing villages, their horses and cows of the best breed, the well kept churches and schools". It is also true, nevertheless, that the observers of the states of affairs in the western parts of the country saw also differences, some of them very obvious, between the Saxons and the Swabians. For, Nicolae Iorga noticed, "Their villages and little towns do not look like those of the Saxons in Ardeal at all, just as, spiritually, these two kinds of Germans are not at all alike… some are traders and craftsmen, some started off as ploughmen. The Saxons became Lutherans 300 years ago, the Swabians remained Catholics. The first are from the mouth of the Rhine, the others come from its origin, some having all the slowness of tired water, the others all the swiftness of the young spring." In Bucovina, the Romanians' image of the Germans was influenced by a whole array of specific factors. In order to create the supporting elements to establish its supremacy, the Austrian administration resorted to colonists brought from the most different corners of the empire, and under the pretext of the need for "Kulturstrager", imported a great plethora of clerks of all sorts and degrees. So that if "the honest, the clean and the hard-working German element" (according to N. Iorga) who introduced new techniques and methods of work, new habits, other eating habits, and even new crops on the fields of the province (potatoes), didn't face resistance, "Beamters" of all sorts were considered a true pest, whose traces can be discovered in the popular poetry of the times. Perhaps the most relevant testimonials on the long cohabitation between the Romanians and the German foreigners were transmitted to us not in the observations of some isolated or casual witnesses – writers, historians or newspapermen – but in the popular consciousness onto which the proverbs are grafted. Expressed in concentrated and suggestive formulae with rhythm and rhyme, they mirror a vast experience of life transmitted, amplified and adopted from generation to generation. My research allowed me to discover – in the collections of I. A. Candrea, Ioan Urban Jarnik, A. Iuliu Zanne etc. – over a hundred such sayings that might suggest, as eloquently as possible, the conclusions drawn by the ones that first formulated them, from an experience very different by its nature. Experiences that often mirror an unquestionable consideration for the worthiness, perseverance or household spirit of the neighbouring Germans (First the German made a clock, then he cut the rooster. In the German's house you don't know which is the attic; all is ordered at the German's place, so that he won't be left with an empty stomach), but some other times they stigmatize a certain lack of generosity and certain habits (The German will invite you once, the Romanian ten times; The German is kind you can tell, but won't lend you tools as well; The German thinks he is the best and should order all the rest). Even though they are persistent, the stereotypes are not eternal as well. So that a change as sudden as it was brutal in the Romanians' image of the Germans in general, and of the Saxons in particular, was tentatively introduced by the Entente's favorable press and journalism, around, during, and right after the First World War. One of many, many examples is an article in Adevarul (The Truth), on 5th April 1916, entitled just like this: "We and the Saxons". Except for the Hungarians, the author roared, we had throughout our history, just as we have today, an enemy just as irreducible and who would desire our disappearance just as much: the Saxon people." Then the judgments for and against the Germans became more balanced, until, with Hitler's accession to power, with the offensive of the 'Right' in the country, but especially during World War II, the virtues of the alleged "German race" came back to great honours. And again, of many, many others, this little, but significant, sample from "Stone Grinder" magazine, dated 21st July 1940: "The almost instantaneous defeat of France proves the faults of its moral being and the unquestionable superiority – with respect to this – of the German soldier shining at the flame of an ideal in which the country and the faith in its destiny occupy the first position". Obviously, all these are just a few scarce notes about a vast theme, which might, when appropriate, generate useful reflections not only when it comes about the Germans, but about all "the others" as well, which our consciousness considers at times as a deliberately positive otherness, and at other, most of the times, as an equally arbitrary negative one. Dilema veche, 2-8 July, 1999

by Dumitru Hîncu