Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 18
25 October 1999

Catherine Lovatt M I O R I T A:
The Mioritic Space
Romanian National Identity in the Work of Lucian Blaga

Catherine Lovatt

National identity is a classification open to interpretation, with few people able to agree on the definitions and perceptions of "nation" and "identity." It is essential to note, however, that national identity goes beyond the boundaries of racial distinction. Race is one classification of a society, but to classify a society as a nation with a distinct identity also depends on cultural links which may cross racial boundaries. Milan Kundera has defined national identity in this way: "The identity of a people and of a civilisation is reflected in what has been created by the mind - in what is known as 'culture.' If this identity is threatened with extinction, cultural life grows correspondingly more intense, more important, until cultural life itself becomes the living value around which all people rally." The importance of culture in Romanian national identity was interpreted in a unique fashion by the Romanian writer, Lucian Blaga.

Blaga, a renowned inter-war poet and philosopher, advanced the concept of the Spatiul Mioritic (the Mioritic Space), which provided a definition of the Romanian national identity through a combination of environment and culture. The environment helped to shape the Romanian lifestyle and the Romanian lifestyle helped to shape the environment. A distinct culture developed over time when collective experiences occurred within the Romanian environment. Consequently, national identity is self-defining. Foreign nations may provide descriptive tags to define their neighbours but, essentially, a national identity can only be created by the members of a particular nation.

Originally, Blaga had argued that the origins of the Romanian nation evolved from the Thracian world, before the Roman conquest of Dacia. However, he also argued that other factors were influential in the development of a national identity. For example, politics, geography and history. Because of such diversity and continuous change, Blaga advanced a theory fundamental to his understanding of the origins of a national identity - his concept of "style".

Blaga regarded "style" as the total number of categories used by a people to differentiate historical periods, works of art and ethnic communities from one another. The sources of style came from unconscious categories within the mind. He proposed that these were the original roots of a nation. Unlike the Freudian concept of the unconscious as chaos, Blaga regarded it as a collection of primary and secondary categories that, grouped together, created the "stylistic matrix". Numerous combinations of the matrix existed and, therefore, different interpretations of the style of the Romanian national identity existed. Primary categories included primary instincts, such as the desire to form order, whereas secondary categories included preferences for movement or calm and for the massive or delicate. In Blaga's theory the unconscious created cultural impulses which ultimately defined the national identity.

Mystery and unconscious

Drawing from Jungian theories of the collective unconscious, Blaga developed the concept of the stylistic matrix as a history of thousands of years in the life of the group. In other words: a complex fusion of all that was characteristic of the group and the individuals who comprised it. Because new experiences occur and new elements are incorporated into the group, the stylistic matrix is continually changing. Therefore, as a product of history, the matrix can be used to explain why styles vary in different regions. Consequently, one can argue that identity can only be defined on a local level rather than on a national level where there are too many regions with differing experiences and their own unique stylistic matrices.

By concentrating on the unconscious as the main determinant of the style of a nation or group, Blaga has almost ignored the role of human will and reason in determining their own path of development and creation of their own identity. He does not deny that both these concepts have played a part in the progression of a people and a nation, yet little mention is made of their impact. However, Blaga's psychoanalysis does help to explain why he disliked the rational and why mystery was at the centre of his world. The unconscious is something that is not necessarily understood and little rationality can come into force. The unconscious itself is a mystery.

Blaga applied his abstract theory of style to his concept of the Mioritic Space. This notion was influenced greatly by the variations of the folk ballad Miorita (The Little Ewe Lamb). Miorita is considered to be one of the best expressions of Romanian pastoral folklore and has over 900 variants. The variant most often referred to is that of Vasile Alecsandri (1850): "Where the mountains mate, there is Eden's Gate. They're approaching lo! And downhill they go, three fair flocks of sheep which their shepherds keep, one Moldavian, Transylvanian one, one a Vrancean man."

A shaggy sheep story

The ballads of Miorita show man and nature as two inseparable entities and tell the tragic story of three shepherds - a Moldavian, a Transylvanian and a Vrancean - the first being warned by his lamb that the others are going to kill him because he is wealthy and has more sheep. The Moldavian's response is to ask the lamb to tell the other two to bury him in the meadow near his sheep, nature and the stars. He then asks the lamb to urge everyone not to speak of death but to say that he has married a prince's daughter at heaven's gate. Blaga considered the variants of Miorita to reflect "Romanianness" (possibly through the unconscious and conscious primary and secondary categories of the poets' minds) because it emphasises a profound love of nature and stoical acceptance of destiny. However, it also contains several moral factors emblematic of Romanians. For example, there is a Christian sense of peace, forgiveness and a lack of rancour. Nevertheless, this positive aspect is opposed by the appalling idea of a murder plot and a sense of apathy in accepting and not preventing an injustice. Above all, there is deception with the Moldavian telling the lamb to convey an inaccurate story.

The diversity of these folk ballads over time have portrayed a changeable image of the Romanian environment as seen through Romanian eyes. Blaga regarded these ballads as the plai (the ridge or slope of a hill usually covered with meadows) of the Mioritic Space. However, the plai is more than topography, it is a symbol of the Romanian environment where the unconscious cultural development of the national identity occurred. Blaga used this interpretation to explain the difference between the Romanians and Saxons of Transylvania. He argued that the ballads of Miorita were reflected in the Romanian landscape. The alternation of accented and unaccented syllables throughout the poetry represented the layout of the Romanian environment. The unique arrangement of Romanian peasant houses separated by green fields were the unaccented syllables of the ballads. Blaga demonstrated his theory by comparing Romanian villages with those of the Saxons, who have lived side by side with the Romanians for seven centuries. He found that they built their own homes in line with the German unconscious spatial horizon.

Although it appears that Blaga was using the landscape to define the collective identity of Romanians, he did emphasise that the relationship was more profound. For example, even though the Romanians had a sense of dwelling in the Mioritic Space they might actually have been living on the great Baragan plain in Wallachia. In cases like this, the folk song took the place of the plai. Just as the Romanian was governed by the Mioritic Space, the Saxon inhabiting the same land was still dominated by the "Gothic Space" inherited from their ancestors.

The mysticism and spirituality surrounding Blaga's theory of the Mioritic Space was also transposed into the religious arena. Blaga believed that Catholicism and Protestantism encouraged the growth of cities whereas Orthodoxy was suited to the development of villages. Therefore, the villages in the West were miniature cities that had lost their rural character and creative originality. On the other hand, the cities in the East were oversized villages that had retained their primitive, creative powers. Thus, the originality of the Romanian spirit came from the derivations from Orthodox dogma brought about in semi-pagan folklore and the stylistic elements that differentiated Romanians from their Bulgarian and Serb co-religionists manifested themselves most strongly in the productions of folk poets and artists. Consequently, self-definition through the cultural unconscious of Romanians established a unique perception of "Romanianness."

Lucian Blaga provided a complex theory which united the origins of the Romanian nation into a national identity constructed by the Romanians themselves and moulded from a combination of culture and the environment. Miorita, in its various mythical and symbilic forms, would appear to epitomise "Romanianness," and Blaga's theory identified Romanians as Romanians at a time when their national identity had been written and rewritten as an apolitical object. Unfortunately, Blaga's philosophy has never received the same attention as his poetry, leaving his theory of the Mioritic Space largely a project for academic debate.

Catherine Lovatt, 25 October 1999



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