Vladimir AGRIGOROAEI, 5 aprilie 2009

The Return of the Bearded-Woman to the Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo. Soon on DVD!

Immediately after Rambo had killed everybody, having burned and pillaged everything, he finally decided to surrender to Colonel Trautman and nobody ever thought of Rambo being set free again. Nevertheless, there he was, roaming freely in the Vietnamese jungle in Rambo II and still later, in Rambo III, Afghanistan, where he killed, burned, and pillaged even there. Nobody could stop Rambo, this fearless one-man army—not even the Kalamazoo Congress organizers!

A year ago, 33 Romanian medievalists were scandalized and “protested to some of the presentations included in the sessions 35, 82 and 132 announced in the program of the 43rd Kalamazoo International Congress.” They wrote to the organizers, telling them that “Mr. Napoleon Săvescu and several other speakers in those sessions are not specialists in history or Medieval Studies, and [that] their previous publications have a dubious reputation in the Romanian historiography due to their nationalist exaggerations.” These Romanian specialists in Medieval Studies told the Kalamazoo organizers that the aforementioned speakers “embrace a doctrine known as ‘protochronism’, a nationalist trend imposed by the Communist regime in 1974 … a particularly pernicious, ‘nativist’ discourse aiming at favoring only Romanian developments at the expense of any influence coming from abroad or associated with non-Romanians.” They knew that “protochronism is hostile to ethnic minorities and cultural exchange, two features that are in direct contradiction to the very purpose of the Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo.” They also knew that “advocates of Romanian protochronism have endorsed some of the most aggressive forms of xenophobia in the history of post-Communist Europe.” They demanded “the rejection of any presentations inspired by the political agenda of protochronism,” because “such presentations have nothing to do with the principles of scholarly exchange based on mutual respect and the pledge of non-commitment to nationalist politics, on which the very idea of the Kalamazoo Congress is based.” They signed the petition, from the highest ranking professors to novice MA students. They received a polite, yet negative answer from the organizers, with the further pledge of “scrutinizing more carefully any future submissions from this group.” It was the year of Our Medieval Lord 2008.

Meanwhile, we’ve crossed over into 2009, and we are extremely proud to present you “Rambo IV.” In this new super production, Rambo rambles freely across the medieval plains of Michigan. With his gun and bullets, Rambo aims once again at Romanian Medieval Studies and Romanian historiography in general. This time, the session’s number is 198 and it includes four speakers. Its title (“Spirituality and Patristic Literature of the Thraco-Geto-Dacian Holy Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Byzantine Romanity in Europe and Asia Minor”) contains, as always, a couple of historical contradictions. For most people, the medieval inhabitants of France are not the Gauls, the medieval inhabitants of Tuscany are not the Etruscans, and the medieval inhabitants of Romania are not the Thraco-Geto-Dacians. We tend to call these people French, Italians, and Romanians (or Vlachs). Since the Thraco-Geto-Dacians did not exist during the Middle Ages, it is highly difficult to trace their written texts, and their Holy Fathers, anywhere outside one’s tormented mind.

The next contradiction, this time a double one, regards the listing together of three terms: the same Thraco-Geto-Dacians, the Byzantines, and the Romanity. Since these people were supposed to be Thraco-Geto-Dacians, they cannot be Neo-Latin; furthermore, they cannot be Byzantine! These problems are nonetheless ignorable once one takes a look at the papers’ titles. What does Jordanes have to do with a medieval congress? One simply does not know. What does the “Romanian Language, Popular Culture, and Art in the Medieval Religious Heritage of Maramures” have to do with the Holy Fathers, and – last but not least, are there any “Historic and Literary References about Thraco-Geto-Dacians in the Middle Ages”? No, there are none, that’s for sure. The ‘medievalist’ speakers of this session are a film director (Timotei Ursu), a priest (Cristian Stefan), a Political Studies professor (Bogdan Stefanachi) and a New York-based Romanian surgeon (Napoleon Săvescu). This strange mixtum-compositum reminds a Romanian reader of the famous tale of Harap Alb.

Even though presented in this humoristic tone, things are rather sad. In case the Kalamazoo Congress organizers do not know it, Mr. Săvescu is the author of a “theory” proclaiming that the American Continent had been colonized by these Thraco-Geto-Dacians long before the dawn of Antiquity. They are supposed to be the ancestors of the Maya. They must have written the “Popol Vuh” manuscript and they must have been discovered by a certain Dr. Wallace in 1998, somewhere in the X-lineage of the Ojibwas and the Sioux, probably around Michigan, or even Kalamazoo. Mr. Săvescu proclaims that not only Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were Dacians, but also the whole of Europe. This entire continent had been colonized by Dacians a long time ago. By Jove, even the Romans were Dacians. The French were Dacians once, just as well as the Germans, and the Norse. In view of this research, one would strongly recommend that the Kalamazoo organizers invite to their congress a group of Mormon researchers from Utah to speak about how the late antique or early medieval Jesus was christening Native Americans. Personally, I don’t see too many differences between the two “historiographical” approaches. If it works out for medieval Dacians, why shouldn’t it work for the angel Moroni?

One reads on Mr. Săvescu’s site that Romania should be renamed Dacia. There is also a poll dealing with this subject. Furthermore, one finds that he described his political and historical views in a letter entitled “Ce înseamnă a fi naţionalist?” (“What does it mean to be nationalist? “). The author of these lines does not wish to make further comments. He knows too much; just as most of his Romanian readers know it. To the Romanian historian’s eye, the Kalamazoo session no. 198 brings forth sick memories of those times when a dictator imposed a doctrine, when one was supposed to write according to a demented nationalist dogma. It brings back memories of times when Transylvanian Saxons were sold for money like slaves by the Communist regime. It brings back memories of the persecutions against Gypsies, the forced assimilation measures taken for the Csangos. It brings back memories of the seventies and of the eighties, a time when the Securitate (the Central Intelligence Police) spied on researchers, on their families, and on their research. It brings forth memories of those forbidden books one was not allowed to publish because they did not explicitly praise a particularly Romanian achievement. It brings back memories of the dictator’s photo on the first page of every magazine. It brings back memories of nationalist exaggerations such as those printed in “Magazin Istoric”, the vehicle of the Nationalist-Communist historical doctrine.

I know that in the USA nobody pays much attention to what happened in Romania. I know that most US citizens cannot even locate Romania on a map; but I also know that mistakes should not be repeated. The survival of the protochronist doctrine in a contemporary nationalist form leads to other right-wing exaggerations and Medieval Studies, like any other scientific field, should not lend a hand to its growing influence. Xenophobia and racism have nothing to do with the study of history. I am not chauvinistic. I am not xenophobe. I am not a racist. I embrace or criticize a theory according to its own intrinsic well or badly disputed arguments. The nationality of my fellow medievalists does not interest me. I simply do not care whether my counterpart is Hungarian, Serbian, American or French. I care only about our common pledge to sincerity, respect, and non-political commitment.

One knows why the protochronist session at Kalamazoo has been accepted again, despite the letter sent last year. One knows that money talks, but up to what point? I came to the sad conclusion that since Romanian researchers don’t have the money, they’d better keep their mouths shut. In fact, their mouths should be shut in order to let others enjoy the freedom of their speech. The politics of this highly-regarded freedom of speech wish to encourage plurality, anti-xenophobia, and cultural diversity, but it is extremely interesting to see that in Kalamazoo session 198 they will encourage xenophobia and racism. I cannot understand this. This sinuous road tends to turn the historian’s weapons against him.

When Max Müller first wrote about an Aryan “race” in 1861, he did not know which road his ideas might overconfidently travel. In 1885, Rudolf Virchow spoke of his results in craniometry, he told everybody that the Europeans are in fact a mixture of various races, that there is no pure race, that such classifications are absurd; but who listened to his hypotheses half a century later, when Alfred Rosenberg started talking about the Aryan race? Do you recall that they said the Aryans were “masters”? Do you remember they said they have built a civilization that dominated the world from Atlantis about ten thousand years ago? Do you remember what part these so called “scientific” theories played in Nazi Germany? When Nazi ideology was building up, the historians laughed at its silly pseudo-historical exaggerations. They tolerated these exaggerations in view of the Nazis right to the freedom of speech.

Similarly, in 1974 Edgar Papu published an essay entitled “The Romanian Protochronism.” He was not a nationalist. He was a literary critic who wished to enlarge and enrich another theory belonging to another literary critic, Eugen Lovinescu. The latter spoke of “Synchronism” and both of them dealt with the cultural strivings of a small culture adapting to the mainstream influences of their “older Western brothers.” Both of them were innocent; both of them wished their best. There was nothing wrong about their ideas, but immediately after the publishing of Edgar Papu’s theory, the National-Communist regime used it as a manifesto claiming the prevalence of autochthony over any foreign influence. Dacians were all over the place. They had built a great empire, similar to the Atlantis empire of the Aryan race, and Protochronism was attached to official Marxism. The new theories stated that the Dacians had produced a permanent political state traceable through the Middle Ages, the Modern Age, and into our contemporary era. If one pays attention to what the Kalamazoo session 198 papers address, one finds THIS theory and no other!

Truly, Romania is not capable of developing Protochronism to the scale of the Nazi ideology in the Germany of the thirties. Truly, the followers of this pseudo-historical doctrine do not come in great numbers in Romania, but their aim is evident, nonetheless. Truly, one finds them amusing when one discovers their silly exaggerations. They are silly, but they are also historical extremists. One knows that medievalists all over the world call the Kalamazoo gathering a Zoo. Nonetheless, I had no idea it recently evolved into a Circus. Beyond his grave, P.T. Barnum could surely be proud.



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