Category Archives: religion

Born and Bred in the NK Gulag

From Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden (Penguin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 119-134:

In stories of concentration camp survival, there is a conventional narrative arc. Security forces steal the protagonist away from a loving family and a comfortable home. To survive, he abandons moral principles, suppresses feelings for others, and ceases to be a civilized human being.

In perhaps the most celebrated of these stories, Night, by Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, the thirteen-year-old narrator explains his torment with an account of the normal life that existed before he and his family were packed aboard trains bound for Nazi death camps. Wiesel studied the Talmud daily. His father owned a store and watched over their village in Romania. His grandfather was always present to celebrate the Jewish holidays. But after the boy’s entire family perished in the camps, Wiesel was left “alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy.”

Shin’s story of survival is different.

His mother beat him, and he viewed her as a competitor for food. His father, who was allowed by guards to sleep with his mother just five nights a year, ignored him. His brother was a stranger. Children in the camp were untrustworthy and abusive. Before he learned anything else, Shin learned to survive by snitching on all of them.

Love and mercy and family were words without meaning. God did not disappear or die. Shin had never heard of him. In a preface to Night, Wiesel wrote that an adolescent’s knowledge of death and evil “should be limited to what one discovers in literature.”

In Camp 14, Shin did not know literature existed. He saw only one book in the camp, a Korean grammar, in the hands of a teacher who wore a guard’s uniform, carried a revolver on his hip, and beat one of his primary school classmates to death with a chalkboard pointer.

Unlike those who have survived a concentration camp, Shin had not been torn away from a civilized existence and forced to descend into hell. He was born and raised there. He accepted its values. He called it home.

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Romanian Democracy, 1920s–1930s

From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 2799-2815, 2865-2899:

The 1930s was the decade of crisis for Romanian democracy. The world depression exacerbated existing economic problems and sharpened social tensions and thus gave impetus to those forces hostile to the prevailing parliamentary system. The crisis enhanced the appeal of anti-Semitism among certain elements of society, who used it to rally support for their particular brand of nationalism. Foremost among organizations that made anti-Semitism the ideological core of their new Romania was the Iron Guard, which reached the height of its popularity in the mid 1930s. The accession of Carol II to the throne in 1930 also boded ill for democracy, as he made no secret of his disdain for parliamentary institutions and of his intention to become the undisputed source of power in the state. Nor can shifts in the European balance of power be ignored. The rise of Nazi Germany and the aggressive behavior of fascist Italy combined with the policy of appeasement adopted by the Western democracies encouraged both the declared opponents of democracy and the hesitant in Romania to conclude that the future belonged to the authoritarians. The leading democratic parties themselves seemed to have lost much of their élan of the preceding decade. They proved incapable of withstanding the assault from both within and outside the country and acquiesced in the establishment of Carol’s dictatorship in 1938, an event which marked the end of the democratic experiment in Romania for half a century.

Two parties dominated political life in the interwar period – the Liberals and the National Peasants. The fortunes of the Liberal Party never seemed brighter, as it held power for long periods, especially between 1922 and 1926. The driving force within the party came from the so-called financial oligarchy, which was grouped around large banking and industrial families headed by the Brătianu family and its allies. The intertwining of banking, industry, and political power on such a grand scale was a consequence of the state’s having assumed a crucial role in promoting economic development. Through this remarkable intermingling of business and financial interests and politicians the control of industry, banking, and government inevitably fell into the hands of the same people.

One issue, nonetheless, continued to nurture rightist movements – anti-Semitism. By no means a post-war phenomenon, it could in its modern form be traced back at least to the early decades of the nineteenth century as Jewish immigration into the principalities steadily grew. In the interwar period a leading advocate of action against Jews was Alexandru C. Cuza (1857–1947), professor of political economy at the University of Iaşi. In 1923, he formed the League of National-Christian Defense (Liga Apărării Naţional Creştine), which had as its primary goals the expulsion of the Jews from all areas of economic and cultural life and the education of young people in a Christian and nationalist spirit.

One of Cuza’s most ardent followers, at least initially, was Corneliu Zelea Codreanu (1899–1938), who created his own, more extreme nationalist organization, the Legion of the Archangel Michael, in 1927. Three years later, he established a military wing of the Legion, which he called the Iron Guard, a name that was soon applied to the entire organization. Outwardly, the Guard resembled German and Italian fascism with its uniforms and salutes and its glorification of its leader – the Căpitan – but all this was merely form. The substance of Romanian fascism – the anti-Semitism, the Orthodox Christian (in a distorted form), and the cult of the peasant as the embodiment of natural, unspoiled man – came from native sources. Here, the traditionalist hostility to cosmopolitanism, rationalism, and industrialization found a crude expression. But lacking was an ideology. Guard leaders ignored calls for a Romanian corporate state on the grounds that the appearance of the new man must precede the adoption of programs. Otherwise, they argued, institutions would simply reinforce the existing “corrupt” society. While there was thus a strain of idealism in the Guard’s doctrine, repeated acts of violence and intimidation against opponents revealed at the same time its thuggish nature. When the new head of the Liberal Party and prime minister Ion G. Duca outlawed the Guard in 1933 in order to eliminate the “forces of subversion,” it retaliated by assassinating him. He was succeeded as prime minister by Gheorghe Tǎtǎrescu (1886–1957), the leader of the so-called Young Liberals, who were more tolerant of the extreme right than the mainstream Liberals.

Between the elections of 1931 and 1937 the Iron Guard became a mass movement, rising from 1 to 15.58 percent of the popular vote. Its strongest constituency was young and urban, but it cut across class boundaries, appealing at the same time to peasants and rural clergy, elements of the urban working class and the middle class, and the periphery of society. The leadership of the Guard at this time, its heyday, was formed by university-educated, middle-class intellectuals, but its nationalism appealed to all those who felt alienated by a political and social system which seemed to them to have been created outside and at the expense of “Romanian realities.”

The Iron Guard appealed especially to members of the young generation of intellectuals. Its call for a national rebirth based on the simple, traditional virtues of the Romanian countryside offered salvation from a social and political order that seemed to them corrupt and adrift. They enthusiastically embraced the exhortations of their mentor Nae Ionescu, the spiritual father of the Iron Guard, to experience life, not reduce it to abstract formulas, and they proclaimed themselves the missionaries of a new spirituality. Their mission, as they defined it, was to bring about the spiritual reconstruction of Romania, just as the previous generation had achieved political unity. The Iron Guard seemed to many of them to be the embodiment of the youthful vitality needed to set the country on the way to returning to itself. But Emil Cioran wanted to accomplish just the opposite. In his dissection of modern Romania, Schimbarea la faţă a României (The transfiguration of Romania; 1936), he looked to the Iron Guard to carry out a “creatively barbarian” revolution to save the country from disintegration by substituting totalitarianism for democracy. He praised the Guard for their “irrational merging” of themselves into the nation and for their heroism, which “began in brutality and ended in sacrifice.”

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Earliest Romanian Historiography

From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 680-700, 728-740:

The attachment of the Romanians to the East is perhaps most visible in the persistence of Slavic or, more precisely, Middle Bulgarian as the language they mainly used for serious writing and other purposes well into the first half of the seventeenth century. The adoption by the Romanians of Slavic as their liturgical language and the language of the princely chancelleries in the fourteenth century was an event of singular importance in their development. Slavic reinforced their ties to the Byzantine cultural and religious world and served as the primary instrument for the transmission of its sacred and secular heritage. The Romanians could accept Slavic as the language of the church because it ranked with Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and they used it in the affairs of state precisely because of its prestige as a sacred language. But Slavic could not become their religious language in the full sense of the term. Spoken by a part of the clergy, the great boiers, and scholars, it was never the language of the mass of the population, who said their prayers and created a rich folk literature in Romanian.

Monasteries were the major centers of cultural activity in the principalities. Besides spiritual and educational functions, monks were preoccupied between the fifteenth and the first half of the seventeenth century with the copying of Slavic manuscripts, of which some 1,000 have survived. These copyists were thus responsible for preserving the Middle Bulgarian and, to some extent, the Slavo-Serbian versions of the greater part of the Byzantine–Slav religious literary patrimony. Princes were among the most ardent patrons of manuscript copying and embellishment. Ştefan cel Mare was always keenly aware as an Orthodox sovereign of his religious responsibilities to his own people and to the peoples of the Balkans under Ottoman rule and of his role as God’s representative on earth, and thus he was a prodigious builder of churches and monasteries and richly endowed them in Moldavia and throughout the Orthodox East with beautiful manuscripts for church services. Although the value of these manuscripts today is scholarly rather than as pieces of original literature, they reveal much about the intellectual and spiritual needs of the upper strata of Romanian society. The manuscripts were mainly religious in content, but their readers were not limited to monks and priests. It is evident from notations on the manuscripts that boiers, chancellery clerks, and the middle class also looked to them for spiritual guidance. The ascetic, mystical view of life was thus not confined to the monastery, but encompassed significant elements of the literate secular society.

Among the relatively few original compositions in Slavic or Slavo-Romanian, as it is often called because of influences of Romanian, were the earliest works of Romanian historiography.

The Protestant Reformation, though it gained few religious converts, deeply affected cultural life and the sense of identity in the principalities and among the Romanians of Transylvania. It offered further evidence that the Romanian medieval worldview was far from being impervious to influences from the West.

The absence of texts in Romanian before the sixteenth century may be attributed to the belief among the literate classes that the spoken language was not as suitable for sacred writings, legal documents, and history as Slavic. It is significant that the oldest text in Romanian that has survived is a private letter about practical matters written by a merchant in Câmpulung, in Wallachia, to the magistrate of Braşov, in Transylvania, warning of the movement of Ottoman troops. It is dated 1521, the same year that Neagoe Basarab completed his “Advice” in Slavic. The differences in the Romanian of the letter from modern Romanian are slight, and the style is polished, evidence that the language had been used in writing for some time in correspondence and even in rough drafts of official documents before their translation into Slavic.

Romanian was introduced as the written language in secular affairs in the second half of the sixteenth century, as the princely chancelleries ceased using Slavic exclusively, Moldavia in 1574 and Wallachia in 1593. The first chronicle in Romanian, an original work, not a translation, dealt with the reign of Mihai Viteazul and was composed in Wallachia about 1597. This and the so-called “Moldavian Chronicle,” now lost, composed several decades later, laid the foundations for the flowering of historiography in Romanian beginning in the middle decades of the seventeenth century.

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Ottoman Romania: dar al-dhimma

From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 581-601:

The juridical relationship that evolved between the principalities and the Ottoman state in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries owed as much to Ottoman pragmatism and legal theory as to the political and social conditions prevailing in Moldavia and Wallachia and the international circumstances of the time. From the perspective of the Islamic law of nations, which the Ottomans observed, the principalities lay in an intermediate zone between dar al-harb (the domain of war), that is, territories contested between the Muslim state and its enemies, and dar al-Islam (the domain of Islam), territories where their inhabitants were subject to a Muslim ruler and Islamic law. The principalities by the sixteenth century clearly no longer belonged to the former, but they had not entered the latter. Some historians have placed them in dar al-sulh (the domain of peace) or dar al-‘ahd, territory acquired by the Muslim ruler by treaty; still others, in accordance with the Hanafite school of law, which predominated in the Ottoman Empire, have assigned them to dar al-muvâda’a (the domain of armistice) or dar al-dhimma (the domain of protection and tribute). The latter two terms may represent most accurately the two main phases through which Ottoman–Romanian relations passed, the years 1538–41 marking the dividing line. At the beginning of their encounter, the principalities were vassal states obliged to pay the tribute and render military service, and, then, as the relationship grew tighter, the sultan, for his part, assumed certain responsibilities toward the principalities, notably to give them protection.

The arrangement that thus emerged enabled Moldavia and Wallachia to escape incorporation into the Ottoman political system, as had happened to the Christian states south of the Danube. Various ‘ahd-names and berāts (writs of appointment) granted by the sultans allowed the principalities almost full internal autonomy. Thus, the sultan acknowledged the right of the prince and the boiers to rule “in accordance with custom” and forbade Turkish civil and military officials or the Muslim clergy to involve themselves in the internal affairs of the principalities. He allowed the boiers to elect the prince, but reserved to himself the right to approve their choice and to invest the new prince with the insignia of his office. As a consequence of autonomy, the laws and legal system, the social structure, landholding and agrarian relations, cultural and intellectual life, and the status of the Orthodox Church were left unchanged. But the sultan took charge of foreign affairs, prohibiting the princes from maintaining diplomatic contacts with foreign states or conclude treaties with them, and he undertook to defend the principalities against foreign attack.

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Hapsburg–Romanian Act of Union, 1701

From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 1037-1075:

Circumstances created an unlikely community of interests between the Habsburgs and the leading element of Romanian society – the upper clergy. In search of allies for their campaign to overturn the dominance of the three nations the Habsburgs looked to the Romanians, who could hardly be defenders of a political and social order that disdained them as outsiders. They recognized the inconvenience of the Romanians’ Orthodoxy, but they had at hand a stratagem that had proved effective among the Ruthenians in the seventeenth century – the Church Union with Rome based on the principles enunciated at the synod of Ferrara-Florence in 1439, which had temporarily ended the schism between the Byzantine and Western churches. The Church Union with the Romanians would serve perfectly the purposes of the Habsburgs, who were intent on using the Roman Catholic Church as one of the instruments for holding together the empire’s diverse territories. Thus, under the supervision of the Roman Catholic Primate of Hungary, Cardinal Leopold Kollonich, negotiations with the Romanian Orthodox bishop and his archpriests, which were conducted by the Jesuits, who returned to Transylvania with Habsburg armies, resulted in the Act of Union of 1701. Under its terms the Orthodox clergy and faithful acknowledged the Pope of Rome as the visible head of the Christian Church and accepted the use of unleavened bread in the Communion, the existence of Purgatory, and the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. But all other matters, including canon law, ritual, and practices such as a married parish clergy, remained untouched. In return the Romanian clergy were to enjoy the same rights and privileges as the members of the three nations among whom they lived. In this way the Habsburgs gained the good will of an influential elite, who could, if they chose, foster imperial aims among the large rural population. In time, so the Habsburgs and Kollonich reasoned, the Romanian clergy would come to see the Church Union as a step toward conversion to Roman Catholicism. The now Greek Catholic, or Uniate, clergy acquired, or at least were promised, social and political benefits befitting their station. The Court of Vienna chose to believe that the actions of the clergy also signified the acceptance of the Union by the mass of Romanian peasants, and thus it regarded the Orthodox Church as having ceased to exist.

The Church Union with Rome marked a turning point in the history of the Romanians of Transylvania. It opened to them Western cultural and intellectual influences of the most diverse sorts by providing the new Greek Catholic clergy with unprecedented opportunities for higher education in Roman Catholic lyceums in Transylvania and universities in Rome, Vienna, and Trnava (Nagyszombat). The aim of the Habsburgs and Kollonich was to form a well-educated and devoted Greek Catholic clergy that would be inspired to gain adherents for the Union among the mass of the rural population. But events were to take a different course. In time, rare (for Romanians) educational opportunities and the experience of Central Europe enabled the Greek Catholic clergy to assume political as well as spiritual leadership of the Romanians as they organized the struggle to end discrimination against Romanians and raise themselves to the rank of a fourth nation.

No less important a consequence of the Union was the sense of identity which it fostered and which by mid-century the clerical elite had transformed into a new idea of nation. Inspired by their bishop Ion Inochentie Micu-Klein (bishop, 1729–44), who was conscious of Roman origins and regarded his church as a bridge between East and West, they conceived of nation in ways that differed fundamentally from the privileged communities represented by the three nations. The nation the clergy served was ethnic, and it encompassed all Romanians, even if social distinctions remained strong. They accepted without debate their descent from the Roman conquerors of Dacia and the Latin origins of their language, but they were not modern nationalists, as they did not go so far as to make either history or language, that is, ethnicity, the justification for equality with the three nations. Rather, they still depended on the diplomas of emperors and kings and other authoritative juridical documents for that purpose. Yet, they conceived of the Church Union as significant beyond the bounds of religion. It was for them a return to Rome, to the ethnic origins that ultimately defined them. At the same time, they expressed devotion to their Eastern cultural and religious heritage and were utterly opposed to making their Greek Catholic Church more Latin.

The mass of the peasants reacted to the Church Union very differently from the clerical elite. They resisted it with all their being, an obstinacy that reveals a mental climate in the villages beholden to tradition and a sense of community defined by religion. The Greek Catholic clergy, who were trained to be missionaries of the Union in the countryside, in fact did little. They were deeply aware of how devoted the peasants were to Orthodox rituals and practices, and even though the Union made no changes in either, they were anxious to avoid the upheaval they knew even the mention of Rome and the Pope would cause. The great majority of peasants, therefore, did not know that the clergy had accepted the Union and that they, too, were considered Uniates.

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Hapsburg Transylvania’s Union of Three Nations, 1438

From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 1018-1031:

The Habsburgs in Transylvania were confronted by institutions and mentalities that slowed the absorption of the principality into the general structures of the empire. To succeed, then, they would have to undermine those autonomies that had arisen since the era of settlement by the Hungarians, Saxons, and Szeklers and had taken form in the so-called Union of the Three Nations in 1438. The Union evolved into a monopoly of power and privilege imposed by the Hungarian nobility, the Saxon urban patriciate, and the upper classes among the Szeklers. They were the three nations. Social class, not ethnicity, determined membership, and, thus, the masses of Hungarian, Saxon, and Szekler peasants and others were excluded. The three nations in the fifteenth century were, naturally, Roman Catholic, but in the sixteenth century the Protestant Reformation made many converts among the Hungarians (Calvinist and Unitarian), Saxons (Lutheran), and Szeklers (Calvinist). The new Protestants and the remaining Roman Catholics eventually reached an understanding, and adherence to one of their churches became a condition of political privilege, that is, of membership in one of the nations. The three nations and four churches formed the backbone of Transylvania’s autonomy when the Habsburgs arrived. The Romanians, who composed perhaps half the population of Transylvania in the early eighteenth century, were not a part of this system. They were excluded because they were Orthodox and overwhelmingly peasant.

During these centuries the Romanian Orthodox Church had led a precarious existence as merely tolerated by the three nations, but had, nonetheless, been able to maintain an administrative organization and a hierarchy presided over by a Metropolitan in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the seventeenth century the church was subject to heavy pressure from the Calvinist princes who were determined to convert the Orthodox clergy and faithful to Calvinism.

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Religious Cleansing after the Crimean War

From The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2011), Kindle Loc. 7351-7390:

To encourage the Christian settlement of the Crimea, the tsarist government introduced a law in 1862 granting special rights and subsidies to colonists from Russia and abroad. Land abandoned by the Tatars was set aside for sale to foreigners. The influx of new Christian populations during the 1860s and 1870s transformed the ethnic profile of the Crimea. What had once been Tatar settlements were now populated by Russians, Greeks, Armenians, Bulgarians, even Germans and Estonians – all of them attracted by promises of cheap and fertile land or by special rights of entry into urban guilds and corporations not ordinarily available to newcomers. Armenians and Greeks turned Sevastopol and Evpatoria into major trading centres, while older Tatar towns like Kefe (Theodosia), Gözleve and Bakhchiserai fell into decline. Many of the rural immigrants were Bulgarian or other Christian refugees from Bessarabia, territory ceded by the Russians to the Turks after the Crimean War. They were settled by the government in 330 villages once occupied by the Tatars, and were helped financially to transform mosques into churches. Meanwhile, many of the Tatars who had fled from the Crimea were resettled on the lands abandoned by the Christians in Bessarabia.

All around the Black Sea rim, the Crimean War resulted in the uprooting and transmigration of ethnic and religious groups. They crossed in both directions over the religious line separating Russia from the Muslim world. Greeks emigrated in their tens of thousands from Moldavia and Bessarabia to southern Russia after the Crimean War. Moving in the opposite direction, from Russia into Turkey, were tens of thousands of Polish refugees and soldiers who had fought in the Polish Legion (the so-called ‘Ottoman Cossacks’) against Russia in the Crimea and the Caucasus. They were settled by the Porte on Turkish lands in the Dobrudja region of the Danube delta, in Anatolia and other areas, while others ended up in Adampol (Polonezkoi), the Polish settlement established by Adam Czartoryski, the leader of the Polish emigration, on the outskirts of Constantinople in 1842.

On the other side of the Black Sea, tens of thousands of Christian Armenians left their homes in Anatolia and emigrated to Russian-controlled Transcaucasia in the wake of the Crimean War. They were fearful that the Turks would see them as allies of the Russians and carry out reprisals against them. The European commission appointed by the Paris Treaty to fix the Russian-Ottoman border found Armenian villages ‘half inhabited’ and churches in a state of ‘advanced decay’.

Meanwhile, even larger numbers of Circassians, Abkhazians and other Muslim tribes were forced out of their homelands by the Russians, who after the Crimean War stepped up their military campaign against Shamil, engaging in a concerted policy of what today would be defined as ‘ethnic cleansing’ to Christianize the Caucasus. The campaign was largely driven by the strategic demands created by the Paris settlement in the Black Sea, where the Royal Navy could freely operate and the Russians had no means of self-defence in their vulnerable coastal areas where the Muslim population was hostile to Russia. The Russians focused first on the fertile lands of Circassia in the western Caucasus – territories close to the Black Sea coast. Muslim villages were attacked by Russian troops, men and women massacred, farms and homes destroyed to force the villagers to leave or starve. The Circassians were presented with the choice of moving north to the Kuban plains – far enough away from the coastal areas for them not to be a threat in case of an invasion – or emigrating to the Ottoman Empire. Tens of thousands resettled in the north but equally large numbers of Circassians were herded by the Russians to the Black Sea ports, where, sometimes after weeks of waiting by the docks in terrible conditions, they were loaded onto Turkish boats and taken off to Trebizond, Samsun and Sinope in Anatolia. The Ottoman authorities were unprepared for the mass influx of refugees and several thousands of them died from disease within months of their arrival in Turkey. By 1864 the Muslim population of Circassia had been entirely cleared. The British consul C. H. Dickson claimed that one could walk a whole day in formerly Circassian territories and not meet a living soul.

After the Circassians, it was the turn of the Abkhazian Muslims, at that time settled in the Sukhumi – Kale region, where the Russian campaign to clear them off their lands began in 1866. The tactics were essentially the same as those employed against the Circassians, except this time the Russians had a policy of keeping back the able-bodied male workers out of fear for the economy, and forcing out their women, children and the elderly. The British consul and Arabic scholar William Gifford Palgrave, who made a tour of Abkhazia to collect information on the ethnic cleansing, estimated that three-quarters of the Muslim population had been forced to emigrate. Overall, counting both Circassians and Abkhazians, around 1.2 million Muslims were expelled from the Caucasus in the decade following the Crimean War, most of them resettling in the Ottoman Empire, and by the end of the nineteenth century the Muslims of these two regions were outnumbered by new Christian settlers by more than ten to one.

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