Livezeanu - Views and Contributions

Views and Contributions

In analyzing nationalist successes in early 20th century Romania (Cultural Politics in Greater Romania), Irina Livezeanu builds on the theories of American social anthropologist Ernest Gellner, specifically on his definition of nationalism as a product of industrial society and the emphasis he places on academics having promoted and imposed nationalist theses. She applied Gellner's ideas and concepts to a particular case, that of the predominantly rural Romanian society, and, in this context, linked them to the conclusions of Liah Greenfeld. According to Greenfeld and Livezeanu, although nationalism was generated by economic and social development in England, it grew independently from that point on, and was equally able to impose itself in less underdeveloped regions.

Irina Livezeanu applied these concepts to the study case of Greater Romania, and, in particular, to the process of Romanianization associated with the latter regime. She thus concluded that, although Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia joined the Kingdom of Romania on the basis of ethnic and cultural links, the governments and cultural establishment in Bucharest also directed a process of centralization and cultural assimilation. According to historian Constantin Iordachi, this pro-Romanianization stand was equivalent to "a Kulturkampf", and often meant "sacrificing democratic and pluralistic values on the altar of historically-motivated nationalism." Based on the book, University of Tampa professor Thomas J. Hegarty argued that "Romania's swollen bureaucracy, in alliance with the nationalist intelligentsia for whom it provided employment, attempted to compensate for the thinness of ethnic Romanian urban civil society with an interventionist strategy of cultural activism." This process was also connected to the underrepresentation of Romanians among the elites of the newly-acquired territories, a situation which, despite Romania having committed itself to the Minority Treaties a the Paris Peace Conference, Romanianization policies attempted to overturn.

Irina Livezeanu's analysis was also noted for evidencing the role of alternatives to unionism in the Romanian-inhabited regions of Austria-Hungary, including House of Habsburg loyalism, advocates of regional autonomy, and federalists endorsing the United States of Greater Austria. She cites examples of Romanian nationalists such as Aurel Popovici and Constantin Tomaszczuk, whose discourse, standing as an alternative to unionism, was marginalized by most other historians.

Livezeanu has also developed an original take on the rise of fascism and the far right in interwar Romania, which she connected with the impact of nationalist discourse in Romanian culture and society. She sees the Iron Guard, Romania's main fascist group, as an autonomous development, largely independent from its Italian fascist or Nazi counterparts, but dependent on its contacts with the local middle class, bureaucracy and intelligentsia. Building on the conclusions of Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell, as well as on her interpretation of texts by fascist politician Nichifor Crainic, she proposed that Romanian fascism was actually a revolutionary-minded aspect of earlier conservative nationalism.

In analyzing the transformations undergone in Greater Romania, she also points to the rise in antisemitism as a direct consequence of the land reform, arguing that the "national issue" (of Romanian versus foreigners) replaced references to the "social issue" (of peasants versus other classes), allowing Romanian nationalists to identify with the peasantry and contrast it with the local Jewish community. Livezeanu thus indicated that the contrast was generally being made between Romanian peasants and the Jewish element, perceived as not just foreign, but also "cosmopolitan and capitalist".

One of Livezeanu's main conclusions deals with the competing social and political projects of the period, and specifically with the contrast between, on one side, the urbane and capitalist goals of National Liberal theorists such as Ştefan Zeletin, and, on the other, rural protectionist and populist ideas both right-wing and left-wing (from the Iron Guard and the peasant theocracy imagined by Nae Ionescu to socialist-influenced Poporanism). She noted that liberalism, capitalist integration in the rural sphere, and industrialization had failed to impose themselves by the start of World War I, and that some of the early reforms associated with the National Liberals were in fact censored by protectionists. However, she proposed that the education reform carried out by the National Liberal politician Spiru Haret, often seen as a victory of Poporanism, was actually proof of the party having an elaborate plan to modernize the rural areas. Thus, she argued, the policies of Haret and his colleague Constantin Anghelescu were partly overturned by supporters of rural protectionism, both populist (Alexandru Averescu) and fascist (the Iron Guard's National Legionary State).

Livezeanu's thesis on the birth of Romanian fascism was criticized by Constantin Iordachi, who argued that the link between the local middle class and far right movement was only obvious in the cases of fascist intellectuals such as Nae Ionescu and Crainic, whereas the Iron Guard is known to have engaged in an open conflict and, eventually, a bloody battle with moderate nationalist groupings. He nonetheless praised Cultural Politics in Greater Romania for its innovative approach, while noting that: "the examination of the civil society concept in the interwar context presents a special interest for contemporary Romanian society, given that it evidences the measure in which the obsession over historical justice, the excessive centralization, xenophobia and ethnocentrism undermine the development of democratic pluralism, alienate any potential sentiment of loyalty the national minorities might have toward the Romanian state, bereaving Romanian society of important creative forces." Historian Ovidiu Pecican also cited Livezeanu's study, alongside those of Jean Ancel, as evidence that the image of interwar Romania as "solely nimbed by the progresses following stately unification" needed to be amended.

At a conference hosted by the Romanian Cultural Institute in 2007, Livezeanu spoke against what she called "historic and historiographic autarky" in contemporary Romanian culture, arguing that it was a still-surviving consequence of censorship imposed by the Romanian communist regime. She proposed that the reemergence of nationalist themes in writing history after the Revolution of 1989 was owed to the ongoing influence of various "nationalist-communist" ideologues, as well as to the prominence of nationalist thinkers during the interwar, but argued that the phenomenon was on the decline, and that younger Romanian historians were able to relate to such topics "as mere researchers". She argued that, given the moment, "I believe that any study which would question and deconstruct rather than defend, excuse or accuse various institutions is worth the effort."

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