Romania viewed by an American: Video interview with Prof. Ernest Latham
By Nicholas Dimancescu, Romania's honorary consul in Boston (see below more bio info)
Prof. Ernest H. Latham, a historian and a retired Foreign Service officer, is a resident of Washington, D.C. He served at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest as cultural attache during the years of the Communist regime. Dr. Latham is a well-known specialist in Romanian history and has done extensive research on American and British journalists in Romania during World War II. In more recent years he taught at the Babes-Bolyai Univ in Romania. Professor Latham contributed to two books on Romania: "Athene Palace," (contributed) and "Miorita: An Icon of Romanian Culture" (author).
The interview by Dan Dimancescu, filmed in August 2009 at the Inn on Balaban (Bran, Romania), is divided into seven segments:
1: When and why did he first visit Romania - 2:30 mn
2: First impressions (Late 70s & Early 80s) - 4:00 mn
3: The Role Religion Plays in People's Lives - 3:00 mn
Religion plays a more ubiquitous role in the daily lives of Romanians that it does in other western nations to which it is compared by Latham.
4: Key historical factors affecting Romanian identity - 4:30 mn
Latham argues that 'Latinity' and 'The Quest for Unity' between Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania are key defining factors of Romanian Identity. He dwells too on the effects the Ottoman, Russian, Austro-Hungarian Empires and how they worked to plunder and subvert Romanian aspirations. A third theme is addressed in Segment 5.
5: A 'Non-Urban' Legacy- 6:10 mn
Latham points out quite persuasively that Romanian, unlike most other European nation-states, never enjoyed a long and pervasive urban-legacy. The first true 'Romanian' city (Bucharest) dates as an large urban center only in the middle 1850s though founded several centuries earlier. The absence of such a tradition is manifest in cultural and political behavior.
6: Romanian Intellectuals - 4:00 mn
Asked about what qualities characterize Romanian 'intellectuals', Prof. Latham provides some keen insights as well the observation that the 20th century 'intellectuals' were principally of the 'right' ideologically - unlike those of most other western nations. The mentor was Nae Ionescu (see below). Most prominent internationally, in that regard, was Mircea Eliade.
ABOUT Nae Ionescu (1890-1940): His life's work had a profound effect on a generation of Romanian thinkers, first for his studies on comparative religion, philosophy, and mysticism, but later for his nationalist and far right sentiment. Some of the figures he influenced include Constantin Noica, Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran, Mircea Vulcanescu, and Petre Tutea. The existentialist and partly mystical school of thought Ionescu introduced bore the name Trairism. Trairism intersected at several points with the ideology of the Iron Guard; the connection became even more direct when many of its adherents also publicly associated with the latter.
7: The Peasant Revolt (Ra˘scoala) & Land Reform - 6:00 mn
Post-1850s Romanian history is closely linked to peasant-related issues. Prof. Latham explains why parts of this history, specifically the Peasant Revolt of 1907, have been a 'no-go' zone for Romanian historians. He emphasizes, too, the dilemma of chosing between politically and socially motivated land reform versus large-scale agricultural farming demanded of modern economies. Eidelberg's book documents the causes of the revolt but stops at describing or analyzing the revolt itself. "It ranks as one of the most important peasant revolts in East European History." The latter is summarized in the introduction.
Dan Dimancescu is president and founder of BEH lcc and BtF srl companies and is active in heritage restoration and tourism in Romania. He has taught at several universities (Dartmouth College, Boston University, University of Nantes) and is author or co-author of books on management and technology policy and most recently on Romania (Romania Redux). He has organized expeditions for the National Geographic including articles covering the Danube River and the Romanian Carpathians. He studied at Dartmouth College, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the Harvard Business School. Born in England, the son of a diplomat, he holds both US and Romanian citizenships.