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Remembering the Roman past, building a European future

Forum 449
ensuing tensions remain today. In Slovakia and Romania, the last phase of the entry
started with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and pretty much ended with their mem-
bership in European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), at
least legally speaking. Although they seem to have achieved a comfort zone of the full
membership in international society, memories and experiences of the past still inform
the role-identity of those states. Turkey and Serbia are more difficult cases, because they
are still ‘not quite there’. As Ejdus and Wigen point out, their memories of the past and
national narratives are still in the process of synchronization with the European ones.
In sum, the English School will mark the 30th anniversary of publication of The
Expansion of International Society in 2014. With this Forum, we aim to pay tribute to
this landmark study and expand its legal argument about the entry into international
society with our sociological perspective. Moreover, we also want to connect with the
wider International Relations (IR) scholarship interested in the role of collective memo-
ries and in some cases collective amnesia in shaping contemporary international prac-
tices such as EU/NATO enlargement and international norm diffusion. The Forum also
sheds a novel light on past and present challenges of political transition in Central and
South-Eastern Europe, traditionally a concern of comparative politics. Essays presented
in this Forum can also speak to the growing body of scholarship interested in temporal or
spatial liminality in world politics. If global international society is indeed composed of
regional international societies (only one of them being the European one), it would be
exciting to see how collective memories play into identity formation of various ‘cusp
states’, lying at the edge of established regions of the world. In sum, this Forum should
serve as an inspiration and an invitation to both historically minded IR scholars and those
dealing with contemporary issues to seriously take the role of collective memories in the
making of international society.
Remembering the Roman past,
building a European future
Alexandra Gheciu
University of Ottawa
This article contributes to the exploration of the entry of Central/Eastern Europe into
international society by examining the ways in which the translatio imperii idea informed
the nineteenth-century nation-building project in two Romanian principalities: Moldavia
and Wallachia. I suggest that the collective memory of Romanian people descending
from imperial Rome played an important role in the national narrative that was articu-
lated and strategically disseminated in an effort to secure international support for the
project of creating a modern Romanian state and integrating it into international society.
450 International Relations 28(4)
In their interactions with representatives of European powers, Moldavian and Wallachian
elites evoked the Roman roots of Romanians and pointed to what they regarded as the
historical role of Moldavia and Wallachia in defending Europe from its Eastern others in
order to legitimize the project of national unity and entry of a united, modern Romanian
state into international society. I conclude by suggesting that, as in the cases of Serbia
and Slovakia, elements of nineteenth-century Moldavian and Wallachian historiography
resurfaced in post-Cold War political discourses aimed at ‘returning’ Romania to Europe.
In the post-1989 context, political elites regarded the accession to Euro-Atlantic institu-
tions as closely linked to the process of transcending a system of governance that had
been imposed by an aggressive other, and reaffirming Romania’s true identity. This ech-
oed in interesting ways the views and practices of nineteenth-century Moldavian and
Wallachian reformers, who sought to escape the influence exercised by the Ottoman
other, recapture Romania’s Latin legacy and on this basis reclaim its place in Europe.
My study of the Moldavian and Wallachian/Romanian cases draws on Iver Neumann’s
sociological approach to the expansion of international society. For Neumann, it is
important to enrich the analysis developed by classical English School scholars by
exploring the relational dimension of identity-construction practices involved in the pro-
cess of expansion of European international society.11 In a similar vein, I examine the
relational dimensions of practices of identity-construction and accession to European
society in the Romanian case. I also seek to contribute to an exploration of the relation-
ship between the expansion of international society and the civilizing process, focusing
on the under-analysed dynamics of civilizing practices conducted in peripheral European
societies. The entry into international society of the Romanian principalities can be con-
ceptualized in terms of interactions between polities emerging from a suzerain system
and the core European powers. Moldavian and Wallachian elites sought to escape the
suzerain system through a process of imagining – and seeking recognition for – a united
Romanian community that stretched all the way to the glory of Rome and was essentially
different from, and superior to, the Oriental other to which it had been unfairly sub-
jected.12 Collective historical memories of Roman roots shaped the discourse and prac-
tices of nation building through which elites from the two principalities sought to
transcend Oriental influences, build a modern, united Romanian polity, and obtain inter-
national support for the independence of that polity. The process of transcending Oriental
influences involved the adoption of Western institutions and norms in an effort to con-
struct a modern, Western-style Romanian state that would qualify for full inclusion in
Historical context
To put the growth of the Romanian movement for national unity into context, it is worth
recalling that in the fifteenth century, Wallachia and Moldavia (principalities that had
developed in the Middle Ages in parts of the territory of Roman Dacia) were obliged to
submit to the Ottoman Empire’s suzerain control through Charters called ‘Capitulatii’.13
However, the relationships between Moldavia, Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire
underwent some changes in 1828–1829, giving the principalities broader autonomy. It
was in that context that the Romanian principalities’ process of entry into Europe started
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to acquire consistency.14 Inspired by liberal and nationalist ideas elsewhere in Europe, a
host of Western-educated intellectuals and boyars15 started to demand new political
reforms and an end to foreign domination.16
Remembering the Roman past and the defence of Christian
As in the cases of Serbia and Slovakia, memories of a distant, glorious past were system-
atically invoked and cultivated by Wallachian and Moldavian elites in efforts to secure
admission to international society.17 In this case, collective memories revolved around the
idea of a direct link to ancient Rome. In the nineteenth century, the idea of the Roman past
was systematically invoked in discourses through which Moldavian/Wallachian elites
understood their world, mobilized the people of the two principalities behind the project
of national unity and pursued international support for independence and European inte-
gration of a modern, united Romanian state. At the heart of the discourse on the Romanian
nation lie two interrelated collective memories.18 First, there is a memory that amounts to
a foundational myth, stressing a direct, undiluted connection between modern Romanians
and their Roman ancestors.19 Thus, in the nineteenth century, the collective consciousness
of prominent intellectuals from Moldavia and Wallachia revolved around the idea of
Roman blood, referring to the Roman colonization of Dacia (broadly speaking, the terri-
tory of modern-day Romania) following Emperor Trajan’s conquest in 106 AD. Second,
there was the collective memory of heroic defence of Christian Europe by the Romanian
principalities during the Middle Ages. The implication of this collective memory is that,
by virtue of their sacrifice in the fight against Europe’s others (particularly the Ottomans),
the Romanians had not only demonstrated their virtue as good Europeans but had also
earned a debt of gratitude – which the West should repay by supporting the project of
national unity and accession to the European society.
Simultaneously, Wallachian and Moldavian elites sought to secure domestic support
for their political project by engineering a process of imagining a (Romanian) commu-
nity that stretched all the way back to the glory of ancient Rome, and had to fulfil its
destiny by reclaiming its ‘natural’ place in Europe. In the early and mid-nineteenth cen-
tury Wallachia and Moldavia, there was a systematic, (liberal) elite-driven campaign to
disseminate historical accounts that stressed the Latin purity of the Romanian nation.
Those accounts involved a convenient collective amnesia: they forgot that following the
withdrawal of the Roman administration from Roman Dacia, several semi-nomadic peo-
ples lived alongside – and mixed with – the local populations. In some of the most influ-
ential nineteenth-century interpretations of the origins of modern Romanians, the
emphasis is placed almost exclusively on the Roman colonists, depicted as the embodi-
ment of a particularly virtuous version of the Roman spirit. For instance, in the writings
and speeches of Ion C. Bratianu (leading Wallachian intellectual and liberal politician,
considered as one of the principal founders of modern Romania), we encounter the idea
that the Romans who conquered Dacia embodied the true republican spirit. Those
Romans had not come from corruption-ridden Rome, but from the rural areas, where
traditional Roman virtues were still intact. According to Bratianu, in the new Roman
colony, ‘democratic traditions were preserved with holy and pure reverence’ – and it is
452 International Relations 28(4)
because of those traditions that the Romanian nation ‘has a mind and soul prepared for
democracy’.20 In a similar vein, prominent Moldavian intellectuals also sought to high-
light the Roman origins of all Romanians and the political continuity from Dacia, through
the Roman Empire, to the Romanian principalities.21
The Oriental other, the French connection and the politics
of identity definition
In the collective memory of nineteenth-century Wallachian and Moldavian intellectuals
and politicians, the theme of Roman origins was closely linked to the image of Romanians
as defenders of Europe against numerous others – particularly the Ottomans. The theme
of differentiation from/civilizational superiority to the Ottomans became especially
important in a situation in which, as Neumann and Welsh have demonstrated, the
Ottomans occupied a particularly powerful discursive position in European processes of
identity-construction – as the inferior other against which Europe could define itself.22
The nineteenth-century theme of a West that was able to flourish, thanks, in part, to
Romanian bravery and sacrifice, found a particularly potent expression in the speeches
delivered by Ion C. Bratianu. In his words:
We were the advance guard of Europe from the thirteenth century until very recently; we were
the bulwark of Europe against the Asian invasions of the past. The European states were able to
develop then because others sacrificed themselves in order to shelter them.23
In a similar vein, Mihail Kogalniceanu24 depicted the Romanians as ‘the defenders of
religion and civilization against Islam and Asiatic barbarism’.25
If, in the nineteenth century, the Ottomans were portrayed by Wallachian and
Moldavian intellectuals and politicians as the other from which the Romanians needed to
take distance, the Western powers were increasingly cast in the role of friends and pro-
tectors. A particularly powerful role in the Romanians’ collective consciousness was
occupied by France – seen as the big sister by virtue of its Latinity, and a natural protec-
tor given France’s international influence. Thus, for the Romanian elites of the nine-
teenth century, the ‘Western model’ of civilization meant primarily the French model;
almost annexed to it was the model of Belgium – as a small, partially Francophone
country, that provided a French-style model of governance.
As the Moldavian and Wallachian elites were intensifying their efforts to pursue
national unity and secure entry into Europe, they appealed to France for support in nego-
tiations with the other Great Powers. In particular, they sought to persuade French lead-
ers that supporting the Romanian project was the right thing to do for a Latin European
power with a commitment to the mission civilisatrice. A particularly potent expression of
this quest for French support can be found in Ion C. Bratianu’s 1853 memorandum to
Napoleon III. The Romanian politician sought to persuade the emperor that the union of
the two Romanian principalities and the integration of the new state into European soci-
ety would constitute not only a natural development – given the Latin roots of Romanians
– but also something that would be in the interest of France. In Bratianu’s words, ‘The
army of the Romanian state would be the army of France, its ports on the Black Sea and
Forum 453
the Danube would be entrepôts for French trade’. Furthermore, as ‘our second home-
land’, ‘France will have all the advantages of a colony, without the expenses which this
implies’.26 In essence, by articulating a discourse that placed a strong emphasis on the
status of a future Romanian state as a quasi-colony of France, Bratianu was framing the
question of national unity and integration into Europe via discursive categories that were
familiar to France – indeed, categories through which France made sense of the world.
As Edward Keene has demonstrated in his critique of classical English School
accounts, far from being simply the anarchical society portrayed by Hedley Bull,
European international society only upheld the principles of equality of rights and peace-
ful coexistence within its boundaries; in its relationships with non-Europeans, the
Europeans set out to ‘civilise’ the backward ‘barbarians’.27 In our case, what is surprising
is that a leading European politician was willing to employ the French discourse of mis-
sion civilisatrice to place his own polity on the edge of European society, in a position of
clear subordination to the fully ‘civilised’ core. For Bratianu and his allies, however, that
position of subordination was a reasonable temporary solution, which would enable the
orientalized Romanians to be (re)socialized into European values and thus resume their
natural place in Europe.28
Following a complicated political process, on January 24, Wallachia and Moldavia
achieved political unification under the leadership of Alexandru Ioan Cuza. The new
state, however, would not have survived had it not been for the support of its Latin pro-
tector, France. Indeed, it was to France that the new Romanian ruler appealed in his quest
for external support. In messages sent to Napoleon III on 5 February 1859, Cuza reiter-
ated the idea that the Romanians, after centuries of sacrifice, both needed and deserved
the support of their Latin relatives, the French, in the fulfilment of their legitimate dream
of national unity.29
A full analysis of the process that led France to support the Romanian project is
beyond the scope of this article. But it is worthwhile to note that in explaining to the
French Parliament his support for the Romanian cause, Napoleon III embraced the role
of protector highlighted in the Romanians’ discourse, and used the idea of both protect-
ing and (re)civilizing the less advanced, but still Latin Romanians to re-affirm France’s
identity as a civilizing force. This idea was clearly reflected in his address to the French
Legislature on 7 February 1859: ‘If I were asked what interest France had in those distant
countries which the Danube waters, I should reply that the interest of France is every-
where where there is a just and civilising cause to promote’.30
There is a rich literature that examines the ways in which the mission civilisatrice
shaped the European powers’ definitions of identity in the nineteenth century.31 But what
is particularly interesting about the discourse employed by Napoleon III is that it reveals
the important role that civilizing missions within Europe played in France’s definition of
its own identity. The image painted in Napoleon III’s address is one of a multi-tiered
international society, involving a certain possibility of mobility: with the right (French)
civilizational guidance, the Latin Romanians could potentially (re)become fully
European, and could move from the outer tier (of ‘distant countries’) towards the inner
tier of civilized/fully European societies.32
Following his election as the ruler of the Romanian principalities, Cuza moved very
quickly to establish modern institutions in the new state. Concern about the ‘Oriental
454 International Relations 28(4)
ways’ of many Romanians, coupled with a desire to construct a viable state as quickly
as possible, led the Romanian elites – often with the aid of French advisers – to copy
many of the core institutions from countries like France and Belgium. In other words,
Romanian elites became willing participants, even initiators of a ‘civilising’ process
through which, by copying Western standards, they were hoping to turn their country
into a polity worthy of admission into the European society. Thus, within a very short
period of time, the young Romanian state borrowed institutions such as Parliament,
legal codes, the judicial/administrative systems, as well as education and the army. The
Romanian language, too, was subject to a process of modernization under French influ-
ence, leading to the marginalization of its Slav and Oriental components, and a massive
‘re-Latinisation’ through the adoption of numerous neologisms of French origin.33 In
this process of de-orientalization of Romanian culture, pro-Western reformers system-
atically depicted Moldavians and Wallachians who were opposed to their ideas as rep-
resenting the voices of the Oriental other, who were not legitimate participants in the
construction of the modern Romanian state.
However, Cuza’s increasingly authoritarian governance style bred growing discon-
tent, and in February 1866, he was forced to abdicate. Following Cuza’s removal from
power, the Romanian political elites resumed their campaign to secure the support of
European powers for the idea of a foreign prince as the leader of Romania. Finally, they
settled on Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, who had connections to the strong-
est aristocratic families of Europe (including France), and thus – Romanian elites argued
– possessed the authority needed to support Romania’s dream of full unity and integra-
tion into Europe. With the support of France, Prince Karl was proclaimed Domnitor
(Prince) and assumed the name of Carol I of Romania on 20 April 1866. Carol I (who
reigned until 1914) continued the process of French-inspired liberalization. With the help
of France, Carol also continued to build a modern army, which was to play a significant
role in solidifying the independence of the modern Romanian state by helping to defeat
the Ottoman Empire during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877–1878. Following that war,
Romania was officially recognized as an independent state.
Returning to Europe after 1989
The theme of return to the Roman roots was once again mobilized by Romanian reform-
ers after the collapse of communism, as they sought to re-enter European society – in this
instance, via admission to the EU and NATO. It was only after 1996, with the ascension
to power of liberal forces led by the Democratic Convention that a significant process of
liberalization and return to Europe could begin in Romania. The new government insisted
that its mission was to return Romania to its ‘natural place’ in Europe.34 As it became
clear that the road to integration into the EU would be particularly complicated, Romanian
reformers identified admission to NATO as their first priority.
In their effort to fulfil that aim, the Romanian reformers were facing serious
challenges both domestically (given the obstacles created by nationalist forces) and
internationally, as they had to persuade the West that despite its persisting prob-
lems, Romania deserved inclusion into Euro-Atlantic structures. Their approach in
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that context was reminiscent of the strategy adopted by the nineteenth-century
reformers. Thus, they articulated a discourse that stressed the Romanians’ Latin
origins and their history of defence of Europe from its Oriental others in an effort
to persuade the West that Romania was inherently European and, hence, deserved
inclusion into Euro-Atlantic ‘clubs’. Linked to this, the theme of historical debt also
resurfaced after 1989. In discussions with NATO representatives, Romanian nego-
tiators evoked the ‘Yalta betrayal’ (when the Western powers allowed the imposi-
tion of Soviet control over Romania).35 In the context of NATO accession
negotiations, Yalta was repeatedly mentioned as part of the argument that the West
had a special debt vis-a-vis Bucharest – a debt that required that Romania be (re)
integrated into Europe.
Second, there was an emphasis on the idea that Soviet-imposed communism had
corrupted Romanian society, much like contact with the Orient had done in previous
centuries. Consequently, Romanian reformers argued, if their country was to resume
its ‘normal’ position in Europe, it needed to transcend the malign influence of the
Soviet Union/Russia. To achieve this, Bucharest needed to rely on the systematic
advice/guidance of the West – as the embodiment of the values that were at the heart
of the true Romanian identity, but had been forgotten by many Romanians.36 What
followed was a fascinating period of international socialization, during which
Romanian actors were systematically guided by NATO representatives, who were
explicitly seeking to teach the Romanians the values, norms, principles of liberal
governance, particularly related to civil-military relations. In 2004, Romania fulfilled
its dream of joining NATO. Yet, in many ways, it has continued to be perceived as a
country that still has much to learn from the West in order to complete its evolution
into a fully liberal polity, transcending the legacy created by its long association with
Europe’s others.
In conclusion, the memory of its Roman roots played a key role in nineteenth-
century Romanian projects to achieve national unity and entry into Europe, just as
it shaped the project of return to the West after 1989. The interlinked themes of a
destiny shaped by the Romanians’ Latin origins and a long history of virtuous strug-
gle in defence of European civilization shaped nineteenth-century nation-building
practices and discourses aimed at persuading the European powers to support
Romanian political projects, just as they shaped post-communist arguments in
favour of inclusion into the Euro-Atlantic structures. At the same time, both in the
nineteenth century and in the post-1989 era, there was a sense that due to contact
with Europe’s others, Romanian society had been corrupted – and, in order to recap-
ture its true identity, needed the guidance of Western states. Thus, the Western dis-
course of mission civilisatrice was mirrored in interesting ways in the discourse
articulated by Romanian reformers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and
legitimized a series of socialization practices in which Western experts and officials
were systematically involved in disseminating liberal norms in Romania. It was
only following such extensive socialization practices that, in the post-Cold War
world just as in the nineteenth century, Romania obtained recognition as a member
of the European society.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.