"Why did the Romanians lean towards the Greek Church while they kept in use the traditions of the Latin language, which they still speak today by a natural gift? Why were there schismatic Romanians between Catholic Poland and unbelieving Turkey? Why did the Danube, which did not serve as a border, upstream, on the Pesth side, break the unity of beliefs, downstream, on the Bucharest side? "
Is not the whole history of Romania contained in these few lines? The writer from whom I have borrowed these discouraging questions makes a severe judgement on the present organisation of Romania, on its tendencies and its future.
Nothing is more respectable, nothing is more inspiring than a sincere, loyal, convinced, highly expressed opinion based on a thorough study of the past, that is to say, of the successful or failed attempts, of the present, which is made up of daily struggles, daily efforts, and finally of the aptitudes and tendencies of a nation. It is therefore somewhat foolhardy of me to want to find the good seed where the masters see only the chaff, or to believe in the future, in progress, when they find only carelessness and sleep.
But is it not in nature to seek movement and life? And as long as a nation has not disappeared from the world, is there not in us an intimate feeling, - condemned by experience, I agree, but instinctive, so to speak, which leads us to seek in this quasi-cadaver the last pulsations, the almost extinguished feeling of its existence, - I mean of the nationality?
So it is with Romania. Without wishing to put any passion into a report which must above all be impartial, I confess that statesmen, historians and publicists view the present state of the Danube provinces with sadness. And I have only too much reason to recognise the accuracy of this assessment, - at least for the history of recent years.
A man whose thought I esteem, and the vivid, brilliant, pictorial form that he knows how to give to his thought, said to me on this subject: "What Romania lacks is the fact that she does not exist by herself. It does not shine. It receives light from all sides, from the north as well as from the south, from the east and from the west. It will be Greek, Russian, French, German, what else? Athens, a hotbed of intelligence, overflowed on all sides, '-civilisation emerged in all forms. Artists, writers, navigators, philosophers, craftsmen, its children were going to carry to all points of the globe those first seeds so fertile which were to create the modern world in Gaul, Africa, Spain and Asia Minor. - But Athens was a home, - a sun. - Romania is only a moon. "
Is this a final condemnation? - I hope not. Although this sentence emanates from a serious and enlightened mind, I cannot help feeling a ray of hope in favour of a young people, thrown perhaps too soon into a difficult struggle with European diplomacy, placed by its geographical situation between fierce competitions, but which can find, which will find, I hope, in its patriotism, in the feeling of its nationality, of its individual existence, the courage and the strength to create for itself a position worthy of the attention of Europe and of the sympathy of unselfish nations.
The Danube provinces have nothing of their own, no language, no religion, no art, no government. Industry, the exploitation of the riches of the soil, the mines and the forests, are the only things that can give this country a place in Europe.
Where does this state of infancy of Romania come from? Should we see the cause in the ingratitude of the land, in the poverty of the soil, in the inclemency of the climate? Far from it, when we look at the products exhibited by the Romanian commission, we are astonished to see the mining, agricultural and forestry riches represented by remarkable samples.
Thus the government has begun the exploitation of several rock salt mines, located in Ocna, Telega and Slahik, and the results already obtained allow us to foresee a formidable competition with the famous mines of Wieliczka and Bochnia, in Poland. The blocks exhibited by the government, a bust of the Emperor, and a table carved from solid block were awarded a gold medal. Shouldn't this award, which is well deserved, become a powerful incentive for the royal exhibitor?
Rock salt mines are not the only ones in Romania. Work undertaken in recent years has led to the discovery of vast coal deposits. Some of them have already been put into operation. The mines of Lainitch, Beydad, Comianesti, are in full report. These establishments, directed either by the State or by individuals, Messrs Ghika, Bel-lic, etc., have sent quite remarkable samples. It is to be hoped that in a few years this industry will have taken on the extension that the richness of the soil implies. Copper and silver lead are also in abundance, but, until now, these metals remain buried underground for lack of arms to extract them, for lack of money, perhaps, and especially for lack of initiative.
Oil is found in considerable quantities in Plojesti, and in this canton alone several mines have been dug, the principal ones by M. Jacovenco, and M. Foucault, a French engineer, who has been established for several years in the provinces, and to whom the Romanian government owes the impetus given to the work on the mines.
Like the mining industry, the agricultural industry is still backward. But it also finds in the soil a force of production, a power of vegetation, which gives agriculture time to develop, and the farmers time to become farmers and agronomists. This is how nature gives credit to human work.
Romania's forests contain the oak, the beech and the ash, and this last tree is of great help for work that requires both strength and lightness. The government received a gold medal for its oaks, while Mr. Savoüi received an honourable mention for various remarkable species. I recommend in particular a sample of ash with undulating veins, which is very curious and used in cabinet making. However, Romania should not behave like a spoiled child towards nature. The magnificent trees which crown the mountains and which are available for all the needs of industry and construction, etc., must be replaced. It is necessary that a reforestation, intelligently directed, follow step by step the axe of the woodcutter; it is necessary finally that one renews incessantly this treasure which France sees impoverished so quickly in our forest regions, thanks to the disproportionate cuts.
Cereals are becoming more abundant every day in Romania. The main ones are wheat and corn. The soil is very rich and the samples on display are truly remarkable. The export is acquiring a higher figure every year. The struggle is already established on the markets between the Romanian wheat and the famous wheat from the Crimea. Powerfully helped by the fertility of the soil, this crop is spreading and embracing a larger territory every day. Corn, which is also exported, is grown in all the cantons. The peasants make of it, under the name of mamaliga, a very nutritious bread, pleasant to the taste, and of a very inferior price to wheat bread, even of secondary quality.
The cultivation of tobacco has been spreading for some years and is increasing seriously, especially in the eastern provinces. Initially hampered by the monopoly imposed by Prince Couza, it has taken off again under the regime of freedom inaugurated by Charles of Hohenzollern. Large plantations now exist and supply factories. Under the spur of competition, progress is gradually being made, quality is rising while prices are falling. It is from Turkey that Romania has borrowed tobacco, as it had already borrowed corn. The samples exhibited by these two nations are singularly similar, and it is reasonable to suppose that in the near future Turkey will see its neighbour take away the monopoly of Eastern tobacco. Among the exhibitors, I shall mention Mr. Marghilomay, whose leaf tobacco is worthy of attention.
Where does Romania get the wines it produces? Is it an import like most of its productions? I would like to think so. In any case, they have, in the country at least, a certain reputation. The best known and most sought-after wines are those of Cotnar, Dealamare, Dragachani and Odoberti.
Livestock itself is not yet very common. In some provinces, however, merinos and goats are raised, and their wool and hair are exported in very respectable quantities. The importance of this export is explained by the small number of factories that Romania has today. However, it produces thick woollens, felted sheets, and coarse woollen fabrics for the clothing of rural populations. In an article on Romanian costumes, I have already spoken enough about these embroidered and brocaded fabrics, decorated with multicoloured designs: it is therefore unnecessary to return to them here.
To these animals must be added the lynx and the fox, which provide beautiful furs. By mentioning the bear, the wolf and the chamois, which are very common in the mountains, I have completed the fauna of Romania. I will add that Mr. Buchiety, from Bucharest, has exhibited, in addition to a very complete and very curious ornithological collection, a wolf, a bear, a chamois, a fox, which only lack movement.
What can I mention as an industry? The pottery that the farmers of Oboga, Lespedzi, etc., make themselves and take to the neighbouring markets. In general, these are household vases made of terracotta or earthenware. A few attempts at porcelain have been made, and, if I am to believe the information I have obtained from a good source, there is no shortage of kaolin in Romania any more than there is of clay. But science must indicate the deposits, and it is asking a lot of a newly born people to demand first of all the use and exercise of all its wealth and faculties.
Shall I also mention the candle factory that a Frenchman, M. Faulquier, has created in Galatzi? His products are recommended by the excellence of their manufacture and above all by a quality which is becoming the sine qua non of sales, - cheapness.
One industry in which Romania already stands out is metal casting and beating. While Mr. Christesco received an honourable mention for some very fine work in red copper, Mr. Carapati received the same award for his religious goldsmithing. The Romanian commission devoted a whole room to objects of art related to worship, and one can admire a very beautiful holy shroud enriched with gold embroidery by the pupils of the Central School of Bucharest, under the direction of their teacher, Mrs. Bruzinska.
Before concluding this industrial review, I would like to mention the two sleighs that visitors admire in the machine gallery and that justify attention by the elegance of their forms and the richness of their ornaments. It would be premature to talk about Romanian typography, although Bucharest has several establishments, such as the National Printing House, the Associated Printers, etc. I still see in the publications on display only a modest imitation of what is done throughout Europe.
The arts occupy a somewhat restricted place in the Romanian exhibition; and it takes a great deal of goodwill to find in a room occupied almost exclusively by painters from the Roman States the few paintings sent by the Danube Principalities.
In concluding this note on the Danube Principalities, I can only confirm what I said at the beginning. Romania is born to political and social life. Without initiative, without a natural background, without what the Romans called ingenium and what we have roughly translated as the genius of a nation, without the original qualities that make a people its own, Romania cannot hope to take the place in Europe that some countries occupy.
But, without aiming at the leading role, a nation can occupy an honourable rank. Romania already has for herself the precious advantages of a fertile soil, abundant in riches of all kinds. The government has taken the initiative in major industrial and agricultural works. Let it continue. Encouraged by the protection of the State, by the benefits it will derive from its work, the particular industry will develop, as it has done in Switzerland, in Belgium, etc. In the not too distant future, Romania can become for Europe what Odessa was with its wheat, Thibet with its goat's hair, Poland with its salt, Russia with its wood, Belgium with its coal. It can finally become a great centre of production. Is it greatness, is it glory? No, but it is wealth.
And if Romania does not occupy, like Prussia, a great place in the history of nations, she will be able to console herself with this word so profound and so true: "Happy are the peoples who have no history! "
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée