Recently there was a special screening of 1978 Romanian film Ecaterina Teodoroiu in Reykjavík and an accompanying exhibition, celebrating the hundred years anniversary of the Romanian unification. Romanian historian Florin Nicolae Ardelean visited the country to have a dialogue with Icelandic historian Valur Gunnarsson regarding the feminine war – and we used the opportunity to ask him some questions about Romanian arts and culture, and history of course.

Florin was born in 1983 and works at the Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Transylvania’s most populous city. He’s worked in the fields of education, historical research and has been a history consultant for a video game company.

Lately his research has been dedicated to the history of the First World War, with emphasis on the cultural and diplomatic relations of Romania in this context.

Tell us a bit about the film you discussed in Iceland, Ecaterina Teodoroiu.

The film was produced in 1978 (there’s another one made in 1931, a silent film), was directed by Dinu Cocea and tells the story of Ecaterina Teodoroiu, the only Romanian woman who fought in the WWI. It was watched by almost 3.5 million people in Romania. It is however a film made during the communist period and it reflects the values and ideals specific to that period. Nevertheless, this film has its merits, and the personality of Ecaterina Teodoroiu deserves renewed attention, because she exemplifies a historical process that was taking place in the first decades of the XX century, the emancipation of women. Ecaterina Teodoroiu is a vivid illustration of the multiple roles assumed by Romanian women during the First World War. The main character is exceptional; she assumes the role of a soldier although, before reaching that position, she passes through other roles that were more or less common in Romanian Society during the First World War. It is a film that captures several genuine aspects of the Great War: the drama of military confrontations, the tragedy of death, and the fighting spirit of human beings confronted with great adversity.

But what is Teodoroiu’s place in Romanian history today?

During the communist period she was used as an instrument of cultural propaganda, therefore today she doesn’t receive so much attention. It is undeniable that some historical events and personalities were portrayed in an unrealistic manner by communist historiography, but that is not a serious reason to ignore them. Their value as subject for honest historical research is unchanged. 

Queen Mary and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals also play a significant role in the war, as shown in the exhibition, tell us a bit about them.

Queen Marie of Romania (1875-1938) was one of the most influential personalities in Romanian history, during the Great War. A descendent of the British royal family, she married Ferdinand, the heir to the Romanian throne in 1893. She was a role model in the most modern sense of the word. Through her involvement in public life and humanitarian actions she inspired whole generations of Romanians. During the most critical moments of the war she visited the camp hospitals,attended military and civilian ceremonies, and raised money for the wounded,the war prisoners and the widows. The Romanian queen also played an important role in the diplomatic negotiations during the war and at the Paris Peace Conference. Her personal ties with the most important royal families in Europe and the cultural and political elite were very important in securing a favourable outcome for Romania at the end of the war. It is fair to say that she played a significant part in the historical process that ended with the Great Union of Romania in 1918. 

At the end of 1916, two campaign hospitals and a sub-unity of ambulances of the Scottish Women Hospitals (SWH), also known as “The Grey Partridges” because of the colour of their uniform, were deployed on the Romanian front. The organisation was founded at the beginning of the First World War and its mission focused on two very specific objectives: to help the war effort by providing medical assistance and to promote the cause of women’s rights. The female medics and nurses in Romania were led by Dr. Elsie Inglis, born in 1864 in India. The doctors and nurses of the Scottish Women Hospitals spent one year on the Romanian front and managed to save the life of thousands of Romanian and Russian soldiers and civilians. They shared the difficulties of the Romanian army and civil population who retreated towards the North as a large part of the country was being occupied by foreign troops.

Romanian cinema is blooming and people speak of a new wave. Any idea what brought it on?

The New Wave of Romanian cinema started in the first decade of the 2000, with films and directors that explored the realism of that period: The Death of Mr Lazarescu by Cristi Puiu or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days by Cristian Mungiu are some of the most well-known films. Directors like Radu Muntean, Corneliu Porumboiu, Radu Jude, Tudor Giurgiu and others also got awards in international film festivals and started being recognised as Romania’s new cinema directors.

There are also older films by reputed Romanian directors that one should look at: The Reenactment by Lucian Pintilie (and all the director’s films, actually) or Mircea Saucan, Alexandru Tatos or Dan Pita.

Romanian films won the top prize at two of Europe’s most prestigious film festivals this year – Berlinale (Touch Me Not) and Karlovy Vary (I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians). How has the reaction to those experimental films been in Romania?

Romania no longer has a good network of cinemas, which means a lot of the new films are being shown only for a week or two, so the total number of viewers is not that big. Some love them, some not 🙂 The above films are personal approaches to intimacy and history, respectively, and one should see them like this.

But enough about movies, what about the literature?

There are our classics – most of them have been translated into English, but there arealso contemporary names to follow: Ioana Pirvulescu, Claudiu Florian, DanLungu, Varujan Vosganian. Please visit www.icr-london.co.uk for all the new translations and literary events. One of my personal favourites is Mircea Eliade, who is a very well known historian of religions but he also wrote excellent fiction ranging from magical realism to social novels and other works inspired by Romanian folklore.    

But what about Romanian music?

We might not have Björk or Sigur Rós, but we are pretty famous in opera (Angela Gheorghiu), traditional – Balkan brass-type – music (Fanfare Ciocarlia or Tarafde Haidouks) and classical, of course. George Enescu is Romania’s most famous composer and there are a few pianists or violinists to follow: Alexandra Dariescu, Daniel Ciobanu, Remus Azoitei, to name a few. Dance/electronic and rock music also play an important part, for those interested.

Finally, Romania had a pretty turbulent history during it‘s first hundred years. How do you see the next hundred turning out?

I think that most historians are very tempted to make predictions, because of the nature of our work. I usually avoid to make predictions because I think we have enough troubles in understanding our past therefore making guesses about the future should be the least of our concern as historians. However I do believe that wishful thinking and building positive scenarios for the future is useful. So I like to think that in the near future military conflicts will become a curiosity of the past and the place of wars will be in museums and virtual realities. As for Romania and Romanian society I hope that in the next hundred years we will have a stronger civil society, with active citizens who will stand up for their freedom and democratic rights. I also believe that through better education and critical thinking Romanian society will become more interested in global problems, like the protection of the environment. At the same time I believe that people will come to understand that being patriotic, proud of their own national culture and history has nothing to do with radical nationalism and that there will be a place for national and cultural diversity in a globalised world.

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