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September 25, 2022

The day of national culture

Towards the end of 2010 the Romanian Academy presented Parliament with the proposal to establish the Day of National Culture on January 15, the birthday of our national poet Mihai Eminescu. The proposal came as a dignified, natural reaction to the trend of denigrating the life and work of Eminescu, a trend through which all kinds of “talking heads” and pretentious “elitists” were aspiring to offices of “cultural ambassadors” in Western capitals where they eventually “forgot” they were Romanians and fell in line behind professional denigrators. To the honor of that Parliament, the Romanian Academy’s proposal was made into a law. Consequently, every January 15 solemn scientific conferences and other cultural events are organized both at the Romanian Academy and at the Romanian Athenaeum, at the National Museum of Romanian Literature, at the “Mihai Eminescu” Memorial House in Ipotesti, on radio and TV, in many other institutions in Romania and in Chisinau.

The fundamental goal of many of these events is to affirm, based on the Eminescu model, our national identity in the context of European globalization. A goal that has rich resources of argumentation in the literary works of Mihai Eminescu, as is well known. And since a great culture, as the basis of national identity, is promoted in particular through the education system, it is natural for school issues to hold an important place in the analytical events of January 15. Especially today when the current education law has a lot of imperfections that cannot be addressed, at least not for now. Why not? Because opinions on these imperfections are as confused as the said legislative imperfections. So that even the new leadership of the Education Ministry admits its inability to clarify the problems, despite its electoral promises. Hence, it is necessary and natural for schools issues to hold a central place in the analytical events occasioned by the current Day of National Culture. Including for the fact that Eminescu himself is a source of teachings, a peak under the standpoint of formulating educational ideas and principles that also have the value of a guide for the current Romanian education system. In the reports he addressed to the Public Education Minister in 1875-1876, when he was school inspector, as well as in his entire literary works, Eminescu conducts the most ample and deep analysis of the real state of Romanian education in the second half of the 19th Century. It’s a stage with which the current Romanian education system unfortunately has some similarities, at least in what concerns the closing down of some schools, the poor financial rewards offered to teachers, the ill-fated involvement of local political factors, the rise of illiteracy etc. The up-to-datedness of Eminescu’s criticism also stems from the fact that it is a criticism of regeneration, attacking the discrepancy between what schools ought to be and what they are in reality. In his analysis the correlation of facts is so natural, his arguments so lively, his dialectics so tight that the construction of ideas gives the impression of a single slab, but precisely the “simplicity” and clarity of the attitude per se, synonymous with common sense, bears witness to a superior conception and contribution. That is why his observations and conclusions have been frequently debated until today but have never been contested. Especially concerning such a complex and contradictory phenomenon that Romanian education was at the time. In the context of the petty politics confusions of today, the relevancy of Eminescu’s observations appears even more obvious when we read texts such as: “School should not be a store of foreign knowledge, but the exercise of man’s entire individuality.” From this perspective, Eminescu notes: “The general impression that rural schools in this county game me was poor. Everywhere there is low attendance and high administrative negligence, everywhere the poverty of the farm worker, the often frightening mortality, public hardships and work commitments born out of these almost unbearable hardships. Both the social and administrative environments make school an almost useless thing.” Eminescu saw the improvement of this tragic state of things through “another system of taxes and through the freer organization of labor.” And those things would implicitly have addressed “the absolute lack of pedagogical means,” would have led to the election of prefects and other decisional factors “from among people that know administration, finances and political economy.” The teacher’s personality is naturally placed at the basis of the whole process of modernizing the education system. The discrepancy between the principles of renewal and the possible incapacity of those called on to apply them are followed in all of their social, intellectual, moral and psychological consequences throughout several years at the end of which Eminescu foresees a possible national drama. One that we are faced with even today. In Eminescu’s criticism on the closing of rural schools, on the education based exclusively on memorization or on the profoundly modern dissociations and complementarities between education and training, the future is associated with the imperative of creation, of independent development, not development through loans and factual imitations. Because “foreign education entails foreign spirit” and “we, Romanians, are in the unfavorable position of being governed by a generation (…) that doesn’t stay in any kind of touch with the country.” Seemingly intuiting the limited but possible reproaches about the “nostalgic” character of such a philosophy on education, Eminescu points out: “If we sometimes like to quote some of the gentlemen of old, we are not saying with this that their time can return. Not reinstating the past, but establishing an honest and sober state of things, this is the target that any of us confines to.” And the honest and sober state of things in the education domain meant, just as it means today, raising the Romanian school everywhere to the status of a superior institution of education and culture, animated by our high national ideals and that would benefit from all the means necessary for educating the personalities of the young generations. Society during Eminescu’s time, just like our society today, was convinced that prosperity stems exclusively from the obsessively intensified economic-financial accumulations. Eminescu’s idea of prioritizing investments in human resources, in man’s multilateral training, represents a powerful message for the future. Today too, precisely the heroic manner in which this idea was developed and supported fuels our state of soul in the light of which we perceive Eminescu as our eternal contemporary.

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