“The Putna Celebration: 1871–2021. The Continuity of an Ideal”

Constantin Flondor, The Putna Celebration of 1871

We are in the year 1871. The history of Europe is in imminent change. The revolutions of 1848, all over Europe, changed mentalities, national destinies. As a result, the luckier Romanian provinces managed to achieve the “small union” in 1859. As of May 10, 1866, King Carol I took over the destinies of a united Romania, first as voivode and then, from 1881 on, as “anointed” king. The Romanian provinces carry two empires on their shoulders: the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Empire. One has already several centuries of history in the Romanian space; the other has replaced the “Ottoman wooden yoke with the Austrian iron one,” as the saying goes in the country ever since 1775. In Europe an air of change, of entering modernity, encompasses evolved societies. Against this background, the Romanian youth studies abroad, at renowned universities. In the Romanian provinces, higher education is established, in Iași, in Bucharest, in Cluj, in Oradea. The Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) ended in Europe—its outcome leading to the unification of all the German provinces and the end of the reign of Napoleon III in France. In this context of major events in European history and diplomacy, in Putna, at the edge of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a celebration and a congress of Romanian students are organized by the Romanian Youth Association.

Epitaph donated by the Romanian Ladies of Bukovina, organized by Elena Istrati of Iași, 1871

It is no coincidence that Putna is chosen as the venue, the initiators and organizers considering that “the celebration in question would be more dignified and more festive if taking place at the tomb of Stephen the Great on St. Mary’s Day.” At the same time, the position of Bukovina in the geographical and historical structure of the Romanian provinces is highlighted: it is “the sentinel of Romanianism against the Nordic colossus and its ethnographic parts,” and also the strategic “joint that connects Romania, Moldova, and Bessarabia with Maramures and Transylvania.” All this was specified in the “Call to the Romanian Youth,” elaborated in a first form in Vienna on December 25, 1869 (Christmas Day), by an initiative group. What importance can these two sequences of an event, seemingly without major historical pretensions, have for a young nation in such an extremely active context, important for a developing Europe?

The urn placed on the tomb of Stephen the Great by the Romanian Youth Association, 1871

Deciphering the subsequent history of Romanians and Romania, looking at it with the detachment and lucidity of a century and a half distance from those events, today we can have the dimension of the dream, of the hope, of the despair even, of what the two moments of that collective action meant. The Putna Celebration and the Congress of the Romanian Students were the consequence of a complexity of factors but also of a century-long desire, postponed but never forgotten, which emerged as a celebration/feast day.

In memory of those times and those events, an impressive exhibition was opened at Putna Monastery on June 15, 2021, at the Jacob of Putna Cultural Center, which marks the beginning of an important series of commemorative and celebratory events for the providential moments and personalities of our resilience and persistence in history.

The Tomb of Stephen the Great with gifts from the 1871 Celebration. Photograph from 1913.

The significance of the Putna Celebration is still insufficiently assessed or known. That call issued to the Romanian youth, written on the symbolic day of December 25, 1869, in Vienna and sent to the Romanian students from all the university centers of Europe, contains all the desiderata and directions to follow for the later union from December 1, 1918. If we put side by side the later political desiderata with the desiderata expressed by the crowd gathered at the Putna Celebration or which resonated with it, we can say that the union of December 1, 1918, had a strong and authentic popular vote expressed more than half a century earlier. Naturally, we ask ourselves now, before the history the documents and displays in this exhibition “emanate”: If today’s academic youth should make a new appeal to all the young Romanians scattered in the world, what would this call sound like? Perhaps the first question should be: Which Romania, the one away or the one here? We have over ten million Romanians abroad, who represent “a Romania in search of an identity.”

In 1871, the Romanians formulated an ideal related to the unity of all Romanian provinces. From a temporal perspective and that of the initiators of the Putna Celebration, the “continuity of an ideal” is not an aspiration but a duty. Whether we assume it or not is our choice, conscious or induced; and anyway, only free peoples have the power to choose. More so, peoples are important in history in the way they relate to and manage their freedom.

Adrian Alui Gheorghe
Putna, June 15, 2021