Opening address to the „Cultural spaces and backgrounds in Romania” reunion, University of Leipzig, September 27, 2015
I am happy to participate in this inaugural meeting in the Old Senate Hall of the University of Leipzig, which brings together culture, music and art.
Culture, music, arts were not only an unity factor of Europe. These were, in equal measure, and often simultaneously, an identity ground, an element that succeeded in giving more self-consciousness to European people rather than any other political project. The states provide political protection to their nations, culture provides understanding of their own identities. Before the unification and then the political reunification of Germany, the will of German scholars to give the thinking a German expression and to disseminate this thinking through schools, universities, academies, theaters, music, books, built the united German nation of today.
A somewhat similar experience was as well encountered by the people in South-Eastern Europe during the modern era. Under the domination of some multinational empires or even lacking their own state embodiments for centuries, these people have built their identity through culture. Whether we are talking about the humble reading book or elementary grammar, the history book - often mythological or the political manifesto-book, culture was that one unit preserving, developing and perceiving the identity elements on which the nations in this part of the continent were shaped, profoundly influencing their struggle for independence.
In the Europe of Nations during the 19th and 20th century, people revived through culture. The more so as the political act of birth and consolidation of the nation-state was, as well, a book. A book belonging to a new type of sacredness, which is no longer religious, but political. The constitution - the code of fundamental rights and freedoms, is today the foundation book, the ultimate reference of each of the European states.
The University founded in 1408, the printing press in 1481, the book trade developed in the 16th century, the first Bookseller’s Exchange in 1825, the famous University Library and the Book Fair of today make Leipzig a symbol of progress through culture and science for both Europe and the entire world.
As former rector of the University of Bucharest, who had the chance to organize the anniversary of 300 years of existence of this higher education forum of Romanians, I cannot help but to remember that the first rector of the University in Cluj after the First World War, Sextil Puşcariu and the great Romanian historian, Nicolae Iorga, rector of the University of Bucharest during the interbellum, both pursued their higher education at the University of Leipzig. As I cannot either forget the visit to the Leipzig Book Fair I made during my Presidency, together with a large delegation of writers from Romania.
As we are opening a symposium dedicated to cultural spaces and backgrounds, I mention that the emblematic street of the Romanian capital’s historical Old Town bears, since the 18th century, the name of Leipzig (Lipsca), marking the trade relations of Wallachia and Moldavia with the German space. On this street there is a historical building, Manuc’s Inn (Hanul lui Manuc), the oldest caravanserai on the millenary „Silk Road” that connected Europe with China through Central Asia. In this building constructed by Manuc Bei, a wealthy and influential Armenian, took place – at the end of a six-year war between Russia and Turkey, the negotiations that will conclude with the Peace Treaty of Bucharest in 1812, after which the Principality of Moldavia will lose its eastern side, which will pass under the Tsarist Empire under the name of Bessarabia. The Peace Treaty of Bucharest was negotiatied for Russia by the immigrant french prince Alexandre - Louis Andrault de Langeron, which will be rewarded by the Russian Tsar, Alexander I, with noble titles, land and money, and for Turkey by the Phanariot Prince Dumitru Moruzi, great dragoman of the Ottoman Empire, which will be convicted by the Turkish Sultan, Mahmud, to death by decapitation.
Manuc’s Inn will host, throughout time, many distinguished guests from Western Europe and, then having passed into Dacia hotel and theater, will host countless memorable performances, including those of the National Theater Orchestra conducted by the famous German violinist Ludovic Weist and will become, by the eve of the First World War, the favourite meeting place of all the political parties.
Culture was not and is not just a factor of European unity, a factor of national identity or a founding factor of collective political freedoms. Culture has become and is bound to remain still an instrument of individual freedom, of resistance and memory. The citizens of Leipzig know this just as well as the Romanians do. To these citizens I am now bringing the expressions of admiration and gratitude of all Romanians. We have not forgotten that, during the tempestuous autumn months of 1989, a great demonstration of solidarity with the Romanian villages threatened with demolition confronted, in front of Saint Nicholas Church, the hostility of the East-German totalitarian regime. Those villages were the living memory of our ancient culture. To the generosity with which the citizens of Leipzig have then exposed themselves to repression on behalf of the Romanian cultural heritage we are now attempting to respond by brining to Leipzig, 26 years later, the testimony of interethnic cohabitation and the wealth of plurality and cultural interferences in Romania.
September 27, 2015
Prof. Emil Constantinescu