The Significance Of Transylvania, 1944

excerpts  The significance of Transylvania during the childhood and teens of those who in 1916, at the time of the Old Kingdom, went to place our youth in the melting pot where the spirit of a whole nation was to broil in order to win its political unity is not only of interest to us now, but will be at some point of interest to the history of the spirit of this land.Romanian society had accomplished its first political deeds: the union of the principalities and the independence of the kingdom and then, as if during a respite following a great strain, it turned towards social and cultural matters. The totalitarian political instinct was nonetheless shaping itself deep down and was elaborating, with organic fatality, the sublime vision of Romania standing on Dacian foundations. That is why, at the end of the last century, literary games or social dialectics ceased or faded into the background and there emerged, in all its power, the Transylvania mystique! It was the first time in the history of Romanians that an idea had taken scope over all Romanians from everywhere and from all walks of life, for to the Transylvania mystique created in the kingdom, Transylvania answered with the mystique of the "Country," and even peasants would declare, with that geometrical and implacable tranquility of the Romanians living between the arms of the Carpathians: "We want to be united with the Country!" The desire for Transylvania to be united with the rest of the country spread like wild fire and came to be, on the eve of the war, the very spiritual and entelechial form within which the Romanian phenomenon lived. The prospect of the union heralded a double victory: first and foremost, the chance to gather all Romanians under one flag, for our imagination also shaped Transylvania into a symbol of the process of unification of all Romanian provinces, and thus this gathering was to result in a unique essential living of the Romanian soul and all that was Romanian under the sun; secondly, a mutual social-moral correction and especially a cleansing of all remnant Levantine and Balkan influences through Transylvania's primary virtues. At once a national ideal of high standing and devouring aspiration and a social-moral one, the ideal of the unification held sway over everyone and especially the young, who learnt, both in school and out of school, that the Romanian people had one more battle to fight to bring closure to a two thousand year history before starting another one, much more cultural and organized. We had the distinct feeling that we were approaching this middle point – between the two millennia of history that were about to culminate with our coming together as a whole and the history of a culture per se, which was to come – and thus did everything the passionate soul of a teenager could think of to hasten the approach of this turning point. The feeling that we were on the eve of a great miracle and a great trial gave a solid and ineffable meaning to our young lives that few generations could boast, and which also explains the heroism and the martyrdom that the young – and the elder too, alongside them – were capable of during the terrible years of the war, which indeed was not late in coming...Transylvania was the ethical and metaphysical function of our teenage years. (...) Our readings back then! Reading was an ascetic and Benedictine activity, a demanding occult discipline, an illumination, a chiseling and a burning of our being so we could feature, free of any rough edges, in a huge fresco depicting all those who sacrificed themselves to save the nation. And because individual study did not suffice, we would gather and organize meetings during which we became initiated, and emerged ourselves, in the nationalist doctrine, where the issue of Transylvania took pride of place. Besides our personal libraries we had our shared library with many books, some of them rare, which even a statesman would have found informative. We had updated bibliographical lists for all Romanians living beyond the borders, and we would buy always the latest books, and make subscriptions to newspapers. And we were but high school students! Our sessions of initiation into the life of Transylvania had the entire severe thrill and the tenderness of strange incantations, of liturgies. With whispers and soft gestures, we sat with our brows bent over the depths of our beings and the mysteries of the nation, and the soul of Transylvania was our Eucharist. We had a youthful admiration for its resistance, we shared its suffering with long silences, we transformed our entire existence in a prey for it. When our meetings ended, one or two hours later, we each went our separate ways quietly, impersonally, still imbued with fragments of glorious stories and feeling surrounded by precious shadows. The things we knew back then! We kept up to date with all the movements in Transylvania, we knew the history of its last two hundred years better than we could ever hope to know that of the Old Kingdom. There passed through our imagination the faces of the fighters, the revolutions, the rulers' deceptions, the agony in Vienna, the absolutist age, the never enforced nationalities' law, the activity in a foreign parliament, the demonstrative passivism, the resumed activity... all the stages and the stopovers, the bleeding and the inner triumphs, the joys amid all the pain and, above all, we glimpsed the soul of the great tense waiting, the collective soul of Transylvania stretched with organic obstinacy over an intuition of its future. All that happened in the province beyond the mountains was of interest to us. It was with this state of mind that we went to war: some as conscripts, others as volunteers, and the youngest as scouts. All through the Great War the image of Transylvania was our banner. The former readers of the history of Transylvania, partakers in the intimate reunions of initiation into the lives of oppressed brothers, the little nationalist Benedictines did their duty in the very heart of danger. They fought with a steady belief that they were heading for resurrection, not for death. Too often they died, but they died simply, not knowing what it was they sacrificed, since they had not yet lived long enough to have a personal inventory. (...) And if they survived, they did it with equal simplicity, as if it were not them, but their substitutes, that stayed alive... The smallest, the children and pre-adolescents, the scouts, served in the hospitals, ran errands between various army units or died on the wayside when going into exile. It was our children's crusade. The union of Transylvania and Romania was erected on the most profound and the most beautiful realities of life: suffering and youth.And there was no greater joy than when our troops broke into Transylvania for the first time, early in the war and, one after another, cities and souls were liberated and joined the larger Romanian soul. Or when, at the end of the war, our armies, now fraught with the martyrdom of two years of death and suffering, reentered the same Transylvania of our hearts. It felt then as if we were reliving the Genesis and the geography of existence were reshaped. The waters became separated from the earth, non-Romanians from Romanians and the inimical fortunes of our history faded into visions of shadows and eternal impotence. Today Transylvania enjoys pride of place in the Romanian soul. Its history and the epos of the struggle to accomplish the union will be a lesson for all those who come after to learn. What other peoples have had since the dawn of their history we achieved after almost two millennia of transfiguration. That is why we shall never forget where we come from and we will know what we must be henceforth. For here begins the Via Appia of Romanian destiny. Transylvania and our autochthony We know that others too speak of Transylvania and document its importance to them. They even invented the phony diversion of "Transylvanianism," a kind of common soul of all the peoples living in Transylvania, which they seek to oppose to ethnic realities. But it is refuted by history, by the psychology of peoples and by the philosophy of culture. And it does not stop here: these voices have spoken, on pathetic occasions, of how "sacred" Transylvania is to them! But let's not be mistaken: it is, in essence, a twice-removed sacredness. It is derived from vanity and auto-suggestion. To an imperially-minded people like the Hungarians Transylvania, seen with the eyes of the power enthusiast, might achieve a sacred aura. A people who have spared nothing in order to offer themselves the voluptuousness of domination, nothing from religion to alliances with other peoples who share their propensities, cannot resign themselves to seeing Transylvania in other hands but theirs. Power frenzy is itself a mystique and one of the most intense at that. Therefore, auto-suggestion is fatal and as such explainable. Wasn't there a great Hungarian poet, albeit one with Slavic blood running through his veins, who used to think of himself as a radical and to say that he heard, at the back of his mind, the galloping hoofs of the horses of Arpad and his comrades across the endless Hungarian steppe? The power mystique can indeed beget idols. During the rare moments of relaxation, however, the truth becomes obvious to everyone. Thus, some while ago, a Hungarian publicist spoke of Hungarians returning to Mongolia, where they could finally find some peace and once again attune themselves to nature. However isolated this voice, it was nonetheless symptomatic. Can we possibly conceive of a similar idea emerging among Romanians, for instance? Can any one of us conceive, even in their dimmest moments, of Romanians settling elsewhere in the world? Besides, Hungarians, should they be able to conquer territories elsewhere, they would. Just like the Jews, though their psychological structure is different, the Hungarians seek to rule and their country is where they are the rulers. Naturally, we do not ignore the fact that, for a people of invaders like the Hungarians, having stayed or having been forced to stay put for a thousand years is no small thing and it alone could be cause of a delirium of justification. We are equally aware that today the Hungarians' situation is tragic. They have turned overnight in a people with a mediocre history, in the very century in which ethnic conscience reached paroxysm! At least, at the time when the Turks were ruling over Buda, national consciousness was not as strong as it is today. Extending the argument, we could even speak of a more complex dimension of the Hungarians' tragic predicament, with at least three aspects. First and foremost, the Hungarians are imperialists, but they are a small people. To compensate for this, they have always had to make alliances in order to be able to dominate. There is scarcely any big state or power in Europe whose friendship or even alliance they have not sought, one at a time or, as circumstances allowed, simultaneously... These leagues must have been tough at times on Hungarian vanity. The Hungarians can only be friends with peoples that share their imperialistic psychology or that assist their imperialistic purposes. But these friends are all too often sadistic to their small allies... It is indeed tragic to be a small and yet imperialistic people. Secondly, we can speak of the tragic dimension of imperialism as such, of the desire to dominate other peoples. Such a people can never be truly autonomous for it always needs others. It depends on the presence of the dominated other and is, in a way, its slave. Even a proud and nonchalant people like the English, for instance, is at the same time the least independent because it has to keep up with everything that goes on around the world and check on its empire. This insufficiency is all the more intense with peoples like the Hungarians, which thrive in demonstrating their power over others. Their ultimate autonomy is an illusion. It is tragic to be in a way dependent on the people you seek to dominate. Peoples without imperialistic ambitions feel much freer, for they at least enjoy their full autonomy. Their life is not conditioned by others; they do not need others to justify their existence. Romanians are such a people. Thirdly, what goes around comes around and tragic outcomes can be in store for even the greatest imperialistic peoples. Yesterday's subjects might become tomorrow's rulers or might turn independent. There have hardly been greater historical tragedies than the fall of empires. It is such a tragedy that the Hungarians are now experiencing and little ability do they demonstrate to adjust their destiny to the new circumstances. As humans, we are sympathetic with their pain, however unjust they might have been in the past and however absurd they might be now, but we do not ignore that history is often made of tragedies... But who has spoken of our own two thousand years long tragedy? The Hungarians have so far lived a life of ease. They have taken what was ours: our wealth, our freedom, our churches, our right to worship, our doinas... even our kings. It was mostly from these lands that came the goods that fed the Magyar nobility, the soldiers who fought for ideals that were not theirs – and our Corvin dynasty made Hungarian history. They confiscated most of our history. It grieved my heart when, soon after the war, I visited museums and libraries in Cluj and saw the tokens of Magyar supremacy carefully preserved from the past centuries, valuable documents belonging to Hungarian families that were free to grow, accumulating heirlooms, refinement and titles in the haze of the past, while our painfully earned fortune was enjoyed elsewhere. Today, finally, history has done justice to us, the autochthonous.For indeed, it is by comparison to others that it becomes clear the full extent of what Transylvania means to us and what we are, as a nation, on these lands. It is Transylvania that gives the full measure of Romanian autochthony. It is the ultimate and, in a way, the supreme significance of Transylvania – its international significance in a way. To others it can be the spirit of colonists or of town-dwellers, a conquerors' camp or a feudal fortune. To us Transylvania is a history that takes us back to prehistory and even down into ontology. Nowhere in the world does autochthonism have a deeper and more harmonious meaning than with us. We have sprung out of this land like a plant that took its historic meaning especially from the Roman soil. Some of our soul seems to have permeated the land on which we live and, in its turn, the land became part of us. In the life of Romanians, people and land merge into something similar to the relation between the sound and box of a violin. Not only is the sound of the chords determined to some extent by the body of the violin, but the body itself is somehow transformed, in time, by the modulations of the sound... In no other people in the world is this land mirrored as in us, so that in order to define itself it needs us... The idea of autochthony is the dominant value of the Romanian soul. Even strangers have understood it, at least in part. That is precisely why Hungarians have taken pains in shattering this idea of Romanian autochthony, by suggesting that Romanians left Transylvania. In so doing, they felt they were smiting at our very strength. Autochthony is the ultimate defining element of the Romanian soul. When contemplating the Romanian lands one gets the feeling it is itself synthetic and has come together in order to shape a unity of life and a closed circle. The waters spring from the depths and hills of the Carpathians, some flowing towards the south, some towards the north, but in the end they all converge... So organic is the fusion between ourselves and our land that when the theorists of Romanian existence came to be it was possible to say, as Blaga did, that there is a deep accord between the culture-shaping space of our subconscious and the most basic form of the Romanian geographical space, though such an accord did not necessarily need to exist. Rădulescu-Motru, Nechifor Crainic, among others, also emphasized and gave theoretical form to the idea of an organic connection between soul and nature with Romanians, while historians and geographers have documented much of the same idea. The intimacy between ourselves and our land is so deep that, although we have not always given Romanian names to the large geographical entities – whose names tell rather of political domination and invasions – we have named so many of the smaller things, proving thus that this land has belonged to us to the minutest detail, irrespective of the general form of government or ownership. The land belongs to those who connect to it in detail. The word "Transylvania" itself is not of Romanian origin. It is a Hungarian word, but so amazingly has it been turned Romanian that it suffices to utter it to picture the whole of Transylvania and all it means to us. "Transylvania" has come to have a magical sonority that suddenly brings to life a whole array of virile, heroic meanings and demure affections. Fiery names, evoking heights and hills, great acts of bravery and minor incantations. (...) Also as a name "Transylvania" has become Romanian substance, part of our autochthony. True enough, it is also reminiscent of the many peoples living on its lands. But it is precisely because of this, and by comparison, that it suggests, more than any other Romanian province, the essence of Romanian autochthony. Which is in itself the very foundation of Romanianness, and Transylvania expresses it best, turning, ultimately and significantly, into our very principle of ethnic reference.

by Vasile Băncilă (1897-1979)