Nicolae Iorga was a Romanian historian, university professor, literary critic, memorialist, playwright, poet, and politician. He served as a member of Parliament, as President of the post-World-War-I National Assembly, as minister, and (1931-32) as Prime Minister. He was co-founder (in 1910) of the Democratic Nationalist Party and was ultimately assassinated by fascist Iron Guard (legionnaire) commandos.
Iorga attended University of Iaşi, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude after completing his undergraduate studies in a single year. He went on to study in Paris, Berlin, and Leipzig, obtaining his doctorate in 1893. A prolific author, he is estimated to have written 1,250 published volumes and 25,000 articles. He traveled extensively throughout Europe, and his written works in many languages bear out the claim that he could read, write, and speak virtually all of the major modern European languages.
Upon receiving his doctorate in 1893, Iorga became a member of the Romanian Academy, becoming a full member in 1911. From 1902 to 1906 he was the editor of the nationalist Sămănătorul review, moving on in 1906 to found the newspaper Neamul românesc. For the rest of his life, even while serving in Parliament or as a minister, he was a daily contributor to that paper.
As part of a group of a group of professors, physicians, soldiers, etc., he helped bring Scouting to Romania.
The co-founder, with Iorga, of the Democratic Nationalist Party was A.C. Cuza, a violent anti-Semite who split off in 1920 to found the National Democratic Christian Party, soon to be the National Christian Union, a precursor of Romanian Fascist groups such as the Iron Guard. Iorga shared Cuza's anti-Semitism, but was not as systematically anti-democratic as Cuza. In 1925, Iorga was briefly a member and honorary president of Iuliu Maniu's National Romanian Party, but left it, declaring it not to be a peasant organization but, according to A.L. Easterman, "a party of small-town lawyers promoting their own petty interests." He returned to his more customary role as a "One Man Opposition".
After General Ion Antonescu came to power upon the abdication of Carol II (September 7, 1940), Iorga was almost alone in publishing any defense of Carol. On the front page of Neamul românesc on September 9 he wrote that "It is an elementary duty of honour to recall the love with which he was summoned, at one time by the entire nation and to recognise the great efforts he made as our ruler to strengthen and develop our country." (Easterman 1942, 269) On September 15, writing of Maniu's role in helping to bring down Carol, he compared him to Robespierre as a politician who "…stands for morality above all else … cannot have committed any sin … can prove to everyone at all times that he has never made a mistake … cold, dominant, and cruel." He also attacked the Iron Guard as "corrupters of the nation".
Months later, on November 27, 1940, Iorga was assassinated by a group of Iron Guard commandos. The Iron Guard considered Iorga responsible for the 1938 death of their charismatic leader, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu: after Iorga (in his capacity as a minister) had backed the claim that Codreanu had slandered him, Codreanu was arrested and imprisoned, then was shot, putatively during an attempted prison escape. After the earthquake of 1940, when Iorga had to leave his damaged home in Vălenii de Munte for another residence in Sinaia, a group of legionnaire commandos from Bucharest took him from his house to the Strejnicu forest near Bucharest, tortured him, shot him in the back, stuffed a copy of the September 9 Neamul românesc in his mouth, desecrated his body, and left it by the side of a road.
In recent years, apologists for the Iron Guard have claimed that the assassination was performed not on the orders of the fascist leadership, but under the command of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. However, this alternative is generally rejected by historians, especially since the Soviets have not been shown to have had consistent reason for such a move (if Iorga was indeed a vocal opponent of the cession of Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Hertza region to the Soviet state, so was the larger part of Romanian society).
Iorga's scientific activities partly reflect his lifelong beliefs. As a moderate nationalist and an advocate of peasant traditionalism (as exemplified by his association with Sămănătorul), Iorga became interested in tracing the history of the rural domains in old Wallachia and Moldavia. Thus, faced with the lack of sources related to Romanian events during the Dark Ages, and attempting to depict the process of transition from Roman Dacia to a Romance-speaking people (see Origin of Romanians), Iorga directed his efforts towards investigating the preservation of Roman customs by the peasantry. He spoke of peasant polities that would have survived to the Middle Ages, giving them the working title of Romanii populare (roughly: "People's Roman-like polities").
Iorga claimed that the Romanii would have served as the basis for relations between Hospodars (deemed peasant-voivodes) and the people (a development that was meant to cut off the medieval states from foreign influences). It got him into a polemic with modernist figure Eugen Lovinescu and Lovinescu's Sburătorul group. Lovinescu pointed out the persistence of external points of reference in early Romanian culture, and the latter's repeated attempts at being integrated in the wider, European, sphere (notably, with the indication that hospodars would usually dress according to Western fashions).
However, Iorga was by no means an advocate of Romanian preeminence and absolute originality. He was an internationally-acclaimed byzantinist (and the very first one in Romania), connecting the Romanian space with the Byzantine Empire and the Southeastern European sphere in general. His work Byzantium after Byzantium (1935) deals with the strong links established between the Empire and the two principalities in today's Romania. It depicts the developments after the Fall of Constantinople (1453), with the hospodars assuming the role of protectors of Eastern Orthodoxy (notably, by becoming the main patrons of Mount Athos), the perpetuation of Byzantine ceremonial customs, and the massive immigration of Byzantine clerks and intellectuals. Iorga moved away from the negative view most Romanian historians had taken of the Phanariotes.
In ample studies that dealt with Southeastern Europe in general, Nicolae Iorga contributed to the history of social and economical Byzantine structures, and investigated the role later Crusades (those of the 1300s and 1400s) played in shaping a common European identity. His other major field of work concentrated on the Ottoman Empire, with Iorga pointing out a reflection of Byzantium after Byzantium in Turkish ideology: he established that Eastern Orthodox institutions would have been given a new purpose after the conquest, since the new overlord was tolerant of them and the last years of Byzantine rule hade seen a forced union with Roman Catholicism (as the step taken by Emperors to ensure Western support for the besieged state). He also argued that the Sultans would have openly continued several essential Imperial policies.
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