Marxism-Leninism was largely abandoned in favor of an interpretation of Romanian history that assigned to the Communist Party the role of leader of the nation. For the party and Ceauşescu, then, history was not the bearer of grand truths about the evolution of Romania; it was, rather, a tool for achieving practical goals of the moment.
Literature, from such a perspective, was supposed to perform a similar service. The convergence of the cult of personality and nationalism found extraordinary expression in the doctrine of protocronism (protochronism; first in time) in the 1970s and 1980s. Its immediate origins may be traced to an article published by the literary critic Edgar Papu (1908–93) in the popular literary and cultural monthly Secolul 20 (The 20th century) in 1974. In moderate tones he suggested that it was time to measure the originality and merits of Romanian writers of the past against the background of their contributions to European cultural values. Some of his comments fitted in with the new nationalism and self-glorification Ceauşescu was indulging in. Numerous supporters of the regime, who became known as protochronists, took over Papu’s ideas for their own purposes, thereby intensifying the nationalist rhetoric. They were convinced that the Romanians had erred in emulating Western culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, since it had imposed upon them a deep sense of cultural inferiority. Papu, too, expanded upon the theme, and in Din clasicii noştri (From our classics; 1977) he proposed to transform the Romanians’ supposed feelings of cultural inadequacy into a sense of dignity and self-worth. The protochronists now took matters to absurd lengths. They compared Neagoe Basarab to Dante and Machiavelli, and they pronounced Mihai Eminescu the precursor of modern European poetry and I. L. Caragiale the indispensable innovator of modern drama. On the other hand, the protochronists were highly critical of Eugen Lovinescu. His doctrine of synchronism was anathema to them because, in their view, he recognized the superiority of the West and accorded it the decisive role in modern Romania’s evolution, thereby belittling the contributions of Romanian writers and thinkers.
30 September 2014
Wordcatcher Tales: Protocronism (First-in-time-ism)
From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 4790-4807: