Reviewed by Marin Constantin*

 

Vasile Şoimaru (born on April 30, 1949, in Cornova, the Republic of Moldova), is basically a lecturer in economics (PhD in 1978) at the Academy of Economic Studies in Chisinau, the Republic of Moldova; another specialization of the author (as particularly represented through the book under discussion) is that of writer and photographer. On March 27, 2008, on occasion of the 90th anniversary of Moldova’s unification with Romania), V. Şoimaru issued a first version of his current major work, with the title Românii din jurul României în imagini [Romanians from around Romania in images], as a result of the author’s travels along of “over 100,000 kilometers” in ten Southeastern European countries. This time, according to his own account (p. 22),  V. Şoimaru’s book draws on “about one quarter of one million kilometers” he counted during “almost 12 years” across the “Romanianness from beyond Romania’s present borderline”, which is recorded within the “1000 images” making his today’s “ethnophotographic monograph”.

In her foreword, Professor Zamfira Mihail remarks that Romanians from around Romania was preceded by the three volumes that Tache Papahagi had published – in 1928, 1930, and 1934 – as Images d’ethnographie roumaine – actually, a landmark of Romanian interwar ethnography.  As to the starting point of V. Şoimaru’s own project, it is associated with his “need of a complete knowledge of what the Romanian soul would mean beyond the contemporary borders of Romania”; within such enterprise, the Romanian language is argued to have been “an element of control, [as] a people’s identity mark”. The crucial question Vorbiţi româneşte? (Do you speak Romanian?) is indeed described as “miraculous” in V. Şoimaru’s photo-travelogic approach of Romanian communities that – like a “nimbus” or a “garland” – live around Romania (Z. Mihail, pp. 5-8).

Following V. Şoimaru, as “a pilgrim through the Romanianness” (in Vlad Pohilă’s words), is to acknowledge Nicolae Iorga’s sentence according to which “Romania is surrounded by Romanians”. As a matter of fact, such “pilgrimage” is an attempt to encompass the Romanian history and geography as well. V. Şoimaru’s itineraries, therefore, are not only “ethno-photographic”: from his native Moldovan co-villagers – in Cornova, the Orhei County – to the Moldovans in Northern Bukovina, Transnistria, Southern Bessarabia, and Northern Caucasus, the Aromanians in Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, and Macedonia, the Vlachs in Bulgaria, Serbia, the Czech Republic, and Poland, the IstroRomanians in Croatia, the Romanians in Hungary, the Bolohovenians in the Polish Galicia and Pokutsia, in the now-Ukrainian Transcarpathia, and in Podolia (also in Ukraine), between co-national and foreign friendship and reticence – the author’s clockwise journey across transborder Romanians is continuously lived (according to V. Pohilă) as an ethno-psychological endeavor. Patriotism is enounced as the primum movens of this project and its “primordial” ethos (V. Pohilă, pp. 9-11).

How is V. Şoimaru representing his travelling experience? After openly describing it as a personal quest – “I always had the curiosity to know my brothers […]” (p. 12) -, the author highlights his classical references: “I was guided by the works of five great researchers of Romanians from the four cardinal winds: Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu[1], Teodor Burada2, Mihai Eminescu3, Nicolae Iorga4, and Anton Golopenţia5 […]” (p. 13). While synthesizing his Moldovan citizenship and his Romanian national identity, V. Şoimaru’s memories constantly narrate and hypostasize his own sense of Romanianness, as an ethno-cultural consciousness stemming from, and revealed by, the very encounters he accounts for, “in the field’:  “Aunt Vasiliţa (aged of 79) from Moldovanskoe, Krasnodar, confided she sang Hora Unirii [Romanian round dance, as celebrating the 1859 unification of Moldova and Wallachia] in 2009, after 65 years […]”, “Thousands of Romanian soldiers lie buried in the Kuban soil, and no Romanian official does anything to retrieve Romanian dignity” (p. 14), “If comparing Romanianness of the two Romanian capitals – Chisinau and Bucharest -, then Chisinau should be recognized as the authentic capital.” (p. 15) “In Ukraine beyond the Dniester and Bug, Anton Golopenţia’s research team discovered thousands of non-Russified villages, inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Romanians who, after World War II, will be Russified; nowadays, in the independent Ukraine, these Romanians are massively Ukrainized, and very rarely a Romanian can still speak his ancestors’ language.” (p. 21).

The structure of the book includes 12 chapters about as many distinct areas of the Romanians from around Romania, one chapter dedicated to the “Children of Romanianness: from the Caucasus foothills to the Rocky Mountains” (pp. 304-311), and a last chapter concerning “Romanian vestiges worldwide: Turkey, Italy, Austria, Baltic Countries, Kazakhstan, and Canada” (pp. 312-339). As for the core 12 chapters, they deal with “(1) The historical Maramureş [Transcarpathia]” (pp. 24-57), “(II) North Bukovina and Hertza Region” (pp. 58-111), “(III) Bessarabia” (pp. 112-151), “(IV) Transnistria” (pp. 152-165), “(V) New Serbia and Slavo-Serbia [in Ukraine], Crimea, and North Caucasus” (pp. 166-191), “(VI) Quadrilateral and the Bulgarian Valley of Timok River” (pp. 192-205), “(VII) The [Serbian] Valley of Timok River and the Serbian Banat” (pp. 206-217), “(VIII) Aromanians [in Greece, Albania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria]” (pp. 218-253), “(IX) Istro-Romanians [in Croatia and Slovenia]” (pp. 254-265), “(X) Romanians in Hungary” (pp. 266-271), “(XI) Slavicized Vlachs in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland” (pp. 272-293), and “(XII) Bolohovenian traces in the Polish Galicia and Pokutsia, and in Podolia [in Ukraine]” (pp. 294-303).

Within the limits of my book review, it is only possible to “pick and choose” some of what V. Şoimaru himeself has selected to best visualize Romanians extra muros. Needless to argue that my own choice, in this case, cannot be otherwise but incomplete and inequitable; by admitting such risk, I hope that the examples from below could determine the reader to make – much more comprehensively, indeed – his own inventory of the book pictures. Let me now just transiently evoke the wooden church “St. Nicholas” of Apşa de Mijloc (dated 1428)(p. 24), the wooden watermill in Apşiţa village (p. 35), the herding in Slatina village (p. 39), etc. (Transcarpathia), “Mihai Eminescu” Monument in Cernăuţi (p. 63), “Ion Neculce” Monument in Boian (p. 72), Monuments of Romanian soldiers in Zveniacin and Valea Cosmin (pp. 83, 87), Malanca winter ceremonial in Crasna Bukovina (p. 92) (North Bukovina and Hertza Region), “Stephen the Great’s Oak Tree” in Cobâlnea village (p. 120), “Mihai Eminescu” Monument in Chisinau (p. 126), “Last historical household of a răzeş [Middle-Ages free peasant]” in Bursuceni village (p. 130), Căpriana Monastery (p. 132), a woman’s wooden weaving loom in Sărata village (p. 142), Cetatea Albă / Bihorod Dnistrovski (p. 150) (Bessarabia), the traditional peasant house in Caragaş village (p. 154), “Lucian Blaga” College in Tiraspol (p. 156), the church ruins in Perişoare village (p. 163) (Transnistria), the traditional peasant house in Gruzskoie (p. 174), the Slavo-Serbian plain near Frunze village, the vestiges of Mangop citadel (p. 184), Moldovan villagers in the Caucasian villages of Moldovanskoie, Moldovanovka, Moldovka, etc. (p. 186), the wooden cross remembering Romanian soldiers’ sacrifice in the Don Bend battle, November 19-24, 1942 (p. 190) (New Serbia and Slavo-Serbia [in Ukraine], Crimea, and North Caucasus), a view of Baltchik (p. 194), the remains of Romanian school in Turtucaia town (p. 200), the Monuments of Romanian 1877-1878 heroes in Grivitsa and Smârdan (Quadrilateral and the Bulgarian Valley of Timok River), the Romanian folk dancing in Jâtcovitsa village (p. 209), “Mihai Eminescu” Monument in Uzdin town, Romanian church in Torac town (p. 217) (The [Serbian] Valley of Timok River and the Serbian Banat), the views of Aminciu town (p. 220), Avdela village (p. 224), Samarina village (p. 230), Moscopole Monastery (p. 234), Kruschevo town (p. 244), Peshtera town (p. 251), Aromanian folk festivals in Moscopole (p. 234) and in the Punikva Mountains (p. 248) (Greece, Albania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria), the “Zvontchiari” folk ceremonial in Jeiani town (p. 259), a folk fair in Utchika town (p. 262), Istro-Romanian cemetery in Cicearija village (p. 264) (Croatia and Slovenia), “Nicolae Bălcescu” Romanian College in Gyula town (p. 269), the Romanian village centre in Micherechi (p. 271) (Hungary), the Vlach folk costumes in Moravia (p. 274), Romanian nuns at the Vilemov Orthodox Monastery (p. 276), the Vlach open-air museum in Rožnov pod Radhoštĕm (p. 279), Vlach / Goral villages of Dolny Kubin and Lendak (p. 281), the Vlach / Goral sheepfold in Istebna-Koniakow-Jaworzynka (p. 291) (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland), the Moldovan Orthodox church in Lvov (p. 298), Bolohovenian cave monastery in Bacota (p. 302)(Galicia, Pokutsia, and Podolia), etc….

What conclusions can be drawn, after all, from V. Şoimaru’s ethno-monograph in images? It has been said that he would have “tracked the Romanians in the world as if visiting the Holy Land places”, as a sort of mission “to share with all Romanians their identitary geography” (Lidia Kulikovski, pp. 340-341). In fact, this book – even if mapping Romanianness, as its visual “theme” – has now definitely become a part of the world iconography, since (according to Andrei Vartic, p. 343) “To take a photo today, in either German, English, or Romanian manner, means to be a world’s citizen.” Romanians from around Romania implicitly speaks of various geographic and ethnographic areas – broadly localized in Southeastern and East-Central Europe. As a result only in appearance paradoxical, it is rather cross-cultural, than ethnocentric. When one of the book’s reviewers (Nicolae Dabija, pp. 344-345) calls the reader’s attention that “Romanians from around Romania did not emigrate from Romania, but they were born in their native places, which always belonged to them and their ancestors” – his notice is essentially (despite some cases of migration and exchange of population6) about ethnic rootedness and permanence (in its historical meaning, “permanence” is another term of Nicolae Iorga7 ).

Of course that V. Şoimaru’s book is now on open to further interpretations of the ethno-cultural identity and belongingness in contemporary Europe. I expect such exegetic “rethinking” to severely question a phrase like Mihai Eminescu’s “‘Romanians are everywhere autochthonous, not colonists…’8, which is one of V. Şoimaru’s axioms in pursuing his “initiatic travel to provide a geo-ethnic memory […]” (Th. Codreanu, p. 351). In lieu of any other conclusion, I need to accept the lack of statistical evidences for the current situation of Romanian or Latinophone “archipelago” in East-Central and Southeastern Europe9. And, since the Department of Romanians from Everywhere will probably “prioritize”, among its so legitimate programs, the initiative of providing an approximation (at least) of the number of such “neighboring” Romanians, V. Şoimaru’s “ethno-photography” is already referential for the design of a next assessment (demographic, social, and cultural, this time) of cross-border Romanianness.

 

 

Annuaire Roumain d”ANtropologie. Tome 51, 2014. (Editura Academiei Române), p.165-168.



* Institutul de Antropologie „Francisc Rainer”, Academia Română, Bucureşti; adresa electronică a autorului: marinconstantinro@yahoo.com.

[1] Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu, Pe unde sunt şi pe unde au fost românii [Where Romanians were and are], Wartha Calendar, 1867.

2 Teodor Burada, Puncte extreme ale spaţiului etnic românesc [Extremities of Romanian ethnic territory], Vestala Publisher, Bucharest, 2003.

3 Mihai Eminescu, Românii din afara graniţelor ţării şi unitatea spirituală naţională [Romanians from outside Romania and their national and spiritual unity], Saeculum I.O. Publisher, Bucharest, 2000.

4 Nicolae Iorga, Neamul românesc în Basarabia [Romanian people in Bessarabia], Semne Publisher, Bucharest, 2006; Nicolae Iorga, Neamul românesc în Bucovina [Romanian people in Bukovina], Semne Publisher, Bucharest, 2006; Nicolae Iorga, Neamul românesc în Ardeal şi Ţara Ungurească la 1906 [Romanian people in Transylvania and Hungary in 1906], Saeculum I.O. Publisher, Bucharest, 2005.

5 Anton Golopenţia, Românii de la est de Bug [Romanians from eastern Bug], Vol. I-II, Enciclopedica Publisher, Bucharest, 2006.

6 Vlach presence in North-western Bulgaria is to an important extent related to the Romanian nineteenth-century migration from Southeastern Wallachia (as associated to the fiscal regime in the Romanian Principalities)(V. Vaseva, „Vlachs”. In Anna Krasteva (ed.), Communities and Identities in Bulgaria, Longo Ravenna: Editore Ravenna, 1999, pp. 315-329). For the exchange of Romanian and Bulgarian groups of population in Northern and Southern Dobroudja, see V. Nicoară, Dobrogea: spaţiu geografic multicultural [Dobroudja: a multicultural geographic space], Constanţa: Muntenia Publisher, 2005.

7 Nicolae Iorga, “Permanenţele istoriei [Permanencies of history]”. In N. Iorga, Generalităţi cu privire la studiile istorice, Third edition, Bucharest, 1944, pp. 237-255.

8 Mihai Eminescu, [Se vorbeşte că în Consiliul], Curierul de Iaşi, 17, 19, 21, 26, 28 November 1876; Mihai Eminescu, Opere [Literary Opuses], Vol. V, „GUNIVAS” Publisher, Chisineu, 2001, pp. 204-205.

9 An estimation like Stelian Ţurlea’s (see Romanians from around Romania, p. 353) is only general, even though it might partly be referred to present census results across East-Central and Southeastern Europe (with the caution for either the accuracy of ethno-linguistic and confessional data of censuses, or the variability of not only civic, but also ethnic self-identification among Romanians, Moldovans, Aromanians, Vlachs, Bolohovenians, etc.) According to S. Ţurlea’s assumption, “Romanianness” would include 3,300.000 people in Bessarabia, 459,300 in Ukraine, 800,000 in the Valley of Timok and 38,000 in the Serbian Banat, 400,000 in Greece, 130,000 in Bulgaria, 500,000 in Macedonia, 20,000 Hungary, 40,000 Bosnia and Herzegovina, 15,000 Albania, etc.