Book Review: Cultural Politics in Greater Romania
University of Maryland.
Livezeanu, Irina. Cultural Politics in Greater Romania: Regionalism, Nation-Building and Ethnic Struggle, 1918-1930. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995.
In 1918, Greater Romania was formed by the Great Union of the Old Kingdom (Wallachia and Moldova), Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia. Far from solving the national question in Romania, however, unification merely presented a host of new national questions, which Livezeanu's book superbly illustrates.
Ethnic minorities in the Old Kingdom had comprised only some 8 percent of the population, but Greater Romania saw this figure rise to 30 percent. Urban centers were minority enclaves: over 40 percent of the Romanian urban population was non-Romanian, a figure that reached two-thirds in the urban centers of the new provinces of Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia (9-10). Intellectual, commercial and political life in these provinces were dominated by non-Romanians at the time of unification.
The response of the Romanian government was a conscious campaign of Romanization. Although the ethnic composition of the provinces varied, the perceived problem of entrenched local non-Romanian elites was the same in each. Thus the 1920s saw a sustained campaign by the Romanian government to promote national education and, at the same time, to attempt to reduce the importance of non-Romanian centers of education - particularly in Transylvania, with its strong German- and Hungarian-language secondary educational institutions and universities. Creating a strong Romanian national ethos in the new provinces would not only safeguard them against potential revisionist threats from Hungary and the Soviet Union, but would serve to elevate a largely peasant Romanian population to take the place of non-Romanian urban elites.
Livezeanu ably constructs a narrative that links this educational policy to the rise of extremist nationalism among students in the 1920s, a movement that subsequently would give rise to the Legion of the Archangel Michael, Romania's indigenous Fascist movement. Ethnic Romanians were in fact over-represented at the university level: 80 percent of the study body, compared to 72 percent of the country's population. The problem was the conditions of overcrowding, limited resources and competition to obtain one of the limited university student openings - even as the government consciously tried to use the universities to build a national elite that would unite the country. The prominence of Jewish students in Romanian universities (over 14 percent of all students) created ripe conditions for student movements directed against minorities, and especially against Jews (238-239). The rise of nationalist extremists and indigenous Fascism was, then, in part an outgrowth of the educational policies the Romanian government employed in its attempt at nation-building (297). Students did not oppose the government's nation-building policies; rather, they did not find them radical or rapid enough.
Cultural Politics in Greater Romania is an excellent text on Romanian ethnic relations in the 1920s; while more consideration is given to the Romanian discourse on those problems, in this case it is a strength since Livezeanu is able to focus on that position and give excellent archival support. For scholars of nationalism, her suggestion in the introduction that Gerschenkron's theories of state intervention in industrialization can be applied to nationalism - the state can substitute cultural policies for the structures of industrial society which Gellner stipulates as a prerequisite for the development of nationalism (6) - is intriguing. Her approaches to nationalism in Romania, openly influenced by that of Liah Greenfeld, raise some interesting questions about the influence of pre-existing national identities and nationalisms on late developers.
Nationalism Project Home * About The Nationalism Project * What is Nationalism?
Bibliography of Journal Articles * Book Reviews and Abstracts * New Books
Nationalism Links * Subject Bibliographies * H-Nationalism
Conferences/Calls for Papers * Search
Eric G.E. Zuelow
Copyright © 1999-2007 by Eric G.E. Zuelow