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Religious Representations, Interpretations and Manifestations in Romanian Arts and Politics

Panel Chair: Bulent Senay | Friday, August 28, 1:30-3 p.m.

The panel brings together three papers which complete and complement each other, convening in one point: they all deal with the use of religious (Christian Orthodox) symbols to convey political messages in Romanian history. The first paper deals with the representation of the enemy in mural art by use of religious symbols in 15th century Moldavia (with the message “all our enemies will go to hell”), the second with the use, misuse and abuse of religious symbols and manifestations in Romanian World War II politics (despite its religious guise and message, Romanian fascism – just like other fascisms – was in fact a political religion, not a religious movement) and the third with the use of religious interpretations to obtain political outcomes during the Romanian Holocaust (despite their open anti-Semitism, convinced by the Chief Rabbi’s religious arguments, the main Romanian Church leaders intervened by the political establishment to try and save the Jews from certain death).

Bulent Senay

Representations of `Infidels` and `Heretics`: Jews, Turks, Tatars and Armenians in the Paintings of 16th century Orthodox Monasteries in Bucovina

The first half of the sixteenth century represented an intense period for Orthodox art in Moldavia. During this period, an innovative type of iconography developed: the churches and monasteries commissioned by the rulers were fully decorated on their outer walls with large scenes. But beyond their scale, what is intriguing about these scenes is their message. In striking examples of `otherness / otherisations`, the representations not only expose a mobilizing anti-Ottoman/Turkish and anti-Tatar manifesto but also depict Jews as infidels and Armenian Christians and sometimes Catholics as heretics in scenes of the Last Judgment. Yet, despite the interest this should raise, there are not enough researches that provide articulate analysis of this unique case. Indeed seven of the Bucovina monasteries, considered masterpieces of Byzantine art, were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993, but little scholarly literature is available to explain the phenomenon. This paper therefore attempts to cover a gap by exploring the process whereby some of these monasteries with all their architectural beauty became a means of ‘othersisation’ for not only religious but also cultural, economic, and even political reasons.

Mihai Chioveanu

Cherubims of a Modern Political Apocalypse. The Ultra-nationalist Mysticism of the “Legion of the Archangel Michael”

Based on a case study of the Iron Guard, this paper intends to re-examine Romanian fascism’s use, misuse and abuse of quasi-religious Orthodox ceremonies, symbols, and liturgical language in politics, in order to attract followers. Because despite its mysticism and irrationality, intolerant dogmas, apostles and martyrs, sacred rites, offering total explanations and demanding unwavering dedications from its adherents, claiming permanent affirmation and enthusiasm, punishing the heretics and non-believers, the Iron Guard was, and has to be analyzed as, a fascist political movement of protest and integration, forging new elites of messianic nationalists, which made extensive use of religious representations and manifestations, and not as a religious sect or a theocracy, else not only would we Orientalize Romanian fascism, but also sanitize it. The selected themes and interpretation thereof aim to first explore and then synthesize various aspects that have so far been neglected, rapidly discarded or, conversely, overemphasized by historians when analyzing the religious disguise of political objectives.

Felicia Waldman

Making Use of Christian Orthodox Interpretations to Save the Jews: Chief Rabbi Alexander Safran in World War II Romania

In his attempt to save his congregation during World War II, Romanian Chief Rabbi Alexander Safran appealed to the most important figures of the Romanian (national) Orthodox Church, trying to persuade them to intervene by the political leadership of the country to stop the persecution of the Jews. From the Patriarch, Nicodim, to the Metropolitan of Bukovina, Tit Simedrea, and the Metropolitan of Transylvania, Nicolae Balan, Safran approached each and every Church leader possible to ask for their help on the most diverse issues affecting the Jews, from the obligation to wear the yellow star to the deportations to Transnistria or the death camps in Poland. The paper traces the arguments brought by Safran in these meetings, in a review that will show how the wise use of Christian Orthodox interpretations was able to help save part of the Jews of Romania.


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