Romanian horse on the European menu

Radu Golban

A few years ago, I wrote an article entitled “The Old Horse and Sovereignty”. In the wake of the European scandal concerning the dubious origins of British lasagne meat and the discussions about regionalisation, that story has now taken on a life of its own. In Marin Preda’s novella entitled Calul (“The Horse”), a man flays a horse. The faithful horse reaches the end of its life, drained of its energy, only to be bludgeoned to death by its owner. The systematic watering-down of Romania’s statehood is symbolised in Preda’s novella in the most vivid of ways by the theme of the poor horse’s death. A more appetising political dish is European lasagne, which embodies the change in the form of meat from fillet to minced meat. It can be likened to the gradual renunciation of sovereignty known in European culinary terms as regionalisation.
The grotesque image of the horse, “an old horse, with curly hair on its belly and almost all of its skin bearing chafe marks from harnesses, which could barely walk, its head hanging downwards, swaying heavily and slowly like a big worn-out well-bucket”, mirrors the state of our sovereignty, which has been eroded by a relentless crisis, rent asunder by toxic regionalisation and perforated by separatist devolution. In political terms, the harness that is chafing away at our sovereignty has been cut from both the “cloth” of the EU and the integrationist “leather” of the nation’s leaders: both are seeking to get rid of our national statehood as if it were an old horse that is of no use to anyone and constantly needs to be fed. Blinded by power and with limited preparation, the integrationists in Bucharest do not realise that their political aspirations are turning Romania into a country club while other states are rallying to establish a thousand-year Reich.
Back to Preda’s novella. What do we know about the character in the novella, Gheorghe Florea, who takes the horse to the outskirts of the village and bludgeons it in the head with a bone until he kills it? Aside from the traits we would naturally expect in this ordinary peasant, we know that he must perform the task of killing the old animal “now, in the morning, before the sun rises and its heat takes hold of him, the task he had thought about the day before.” Our state sovereignty is not quite so old that we can take such a hasty decision on a winter’s day, ridding ourselves of it just as Gheorghe Florea rids himself of a faithful animal. Romania’s sovereignty stems from the 1878 Congress of Berlin, which enabled the country to pass from Ottoman suzerainty to political, internal and external independence as a state – a fact that might suggest to us that over a century later, Germany is once again acquiring the princely right to spend the first night with the young maiden that is Romania.
At the European level, our enormous debts to German banks as the price of our sovereignty and a late agrarian reform after a failed revolt set us on the path to both the National Legionary State and communism. Twenty years after the fall of communism, Romania’s statehood is ebbing away. The old horse provided Gheorghe Florea with a living by ploughing his field, pulling his cart and carrying him on its back. Horses are not normally slaughtered, even if they are old and can no longer work; in the same way, no state waives the hard-earned sovereignty that it has won through the sacrifices of several generations. The easy and casual political discourse about this subject is also mirrored in Marin Preda’s novella, in the narrative description of the protagonist: “Stopping beside it, Gheorghe Florea began to laugh as he watched it standing there in the middle of the yard, worn out and with its hooves fanning out like black bowls in the soil, unable to walk any longer”. Without any doubt, after the countless attempts to take it away, Romania’s statehood has a price which resembles the horse in the novella ever more closely and has likewise been brought to the centre of attention, or the “middle of the media yard”, where its infirmities are being pointed out to us.
Let us not forget that the fanned-out hooves symbolise the labours of many generations of Romanians who fought for this historic cause. Unlike Florea Gheorghe, who sought to slaughter his horse, however discreetly, before sunrise and out of sight of his fellow villagers, those in Bucharest are opting to dissolve our sovereignty for the sake of their political aspirations as if this were a public act. To take revenge on 23 August for bringing us communism or on our current political adversaries, there is no need for us to go as far as doing away with the state – a state which has safeguarded not only the country’s material existence, but also its cultural homeland. As they suffer blows to the “dazed head” held in place by ropes, the poor horse and the state are finding it harder and harder to breathe. In his pitiful situation of having to flay his horse, Florea Gheorghe’s economic thinking was healthier than that of today’s political class: he sought to optimise the horse/food balance only for his own household rather than for the whole village. Unlike the politicians who fear the rest of the world and believe that we cannot cope with globalisation without giving up our sovereignty, he was not afraid that his fellow villagers would swallow him up if he were alone and without his horse.
Through the Europeanisation of this country, Preda’s Romanian horse of sovereignty as ended up in a French abattoir to be turned into minced meat and Romania has been served up on a plate to Brussels. By contrast with the simple-mindedness of Gheorghe Florea in the novella, the integrationist and defiant ruling elites, insensitive to the needs of an impoverished populace, are trotting out ever more sophisticated explanations for the national sacrifice and for the purpose of tomorrow’s Lesser Romania.

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