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Romania’s History Through Its Newspapers

A decade after its founding, the ‘Sever Bocu’ press museum is making a name among institutions devoted to preserving southeastern European cultural history.

by Peter Gross 28 November 2017

Romania’s “Sever Bocu” Press Museum houses some 898 newspapers published from 1837 to 1949, from the years prior to the formation of the nation state to the first years of the country’s suffocation by Marxism-Leninism in the aftermath of World War II. Additional holdings of newspapers from the communist period (1947-1989) make the museum a significant repository for those magnificent vehicles that carry the "first rough draft of history," as The Washington Post’s president and publisher in 1946-1963, Philip L. Graham, defined journalism.


Situated in Jimbolia, around 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the city of Timisoara in western Romania, this Lilliputian museum of gigantic importance to Romanian and Eastern European history is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, along with its continued uniqueness in the region. While there are state and national museums in the region that hold newspaper collections, only Serbia can boast of a newspaper museum. But its Museum of Politika and the Serbian Press, inaugurated in 2003, is conceptualized around the history of one newspaper, Politika, and is, therefore, limited in its intent and holdings.


In contrast, the “Sever Bocu” Press Museum is a rich and highly diverse newspaper repository. It is appropriately named after a newspaper editor, owner, politician, and businessman who was killed in a communist prison in 1951. Bocu owned a string of newspapers: Tribuna (The Tribune), Vointa Banatului (The Will of the Banat), and Vestul Timisoara (The West of Timisoara). The museum’s holdings offer a historical stroll through the turbulent years in which the modern Romanian nation state was established, beginning with the union of Wallachia and Bessarabia that created the United Principalities in 1859; the 1877 War of Independence; the trials and tribulations of the ongoing struggles to establish a national identity through World War I and the incorporation of Transylvania and the Banat in its aftermath; the very tentative, incipient democratization of the Romanian kingdom in the interwar period; World War II; and the Soviet-imposed communist dictatorship.


From one of the earliest newspapers, Albina romaneasca (The Romanian Bee, 1837) to publications like Gazeta de Transilvania (Transylvanian Gazette, 1838), Telegraful roman (Romanian Telegraph, 1853), and Timpul (Time, 1876) – edited by Mihai Eminescu, one of the country’s literary giants – the publications in the museum give one a feel for the vicissitudes of the country’s establishment and growing pains in all areas of endeavor. And so does Foaie pentru minte, inima si literature (Sheet for Mind, Heart, and Literature) started in 1840, and an early champion of a progressivism embodied eight years later in Europe’s 1848 revolutions. One can also read Higiena si scoala (Hygiene and School), introduced in 1876 and the first Romanian medical journal; and Razboiul (War), dedicated in 1877 to the War of Independence, also known as the Russo-Turkish war, that ended the Ottoman Empire’s control of the Romanian Kingdom established in 1866.


Dozens of other publications from each of the country’s provinces provide a first-row introduction to the ugliness and decency of political arguments, as well as the cultural, social, educational, and minority issues that defined both the domestic and international evolution of the new Romania. Publications devoted to certain professions – from agricultural to legal, military and others – and those addressing the interests of students, women, and religious denominations provide a cornucopia of information about the bubbling life in an evolving country.


Also available for perusal are the noteworthy publications established by some of the luminaries of Romania’s literary, academic, and political worlds: the literary critic, prime minister (1912-1913), and foreign minister (1910-1914) Titu Maiorescu’s Convorbiri literare (Literary Conversations), founded in 1867; the historian and prime minister (1863-1865) Mihail Kogalniceanu’s Dacia literara (Literary Dacia), introduced in 1840; and the historian, literary critic, poet, and playwright Nicolae Iorga’s publication Neamul romanesc (The Romanian Nation), launched in 1906. Also available is the monthly Revista fundatiilor regale (The Magazine of Royal Foundations), a historical artifact of Romania’s royal house devoted to literature, the arts, and culture that lasted barely 13 years, disappearing in 1947 together with the Kremlin-forced abdication of King Michael.


Among the most important newspapers in the museum’s collection are the liberal Adevarul (The Truth), launched in 1871 in the eastern city of Iasi and in 1888 in Bucharest, and dubbed the country’s New York Times. It ceased publication in 1946 after the communist takeover, and was resurrected in 1989 right after the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime. Another significant newspaper available is the right-leaning Universul (The Universe), established in 1884 by Italian immigrant Luigi Cazzavillan, a newspaper that was nationalized by the communists in 1948 and eliminated by them in 1953.


And then there are the newspapers and magazines published in German, Hungarian, Serbian, French, English, Bulgarian, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Russian, and Hebrew in the museum’s collection, evidence of Romania’s multi-cultural richness, now vanished in the aftermath of the 20th century’s nationalism and communism.


The museum’s collection “is continuously enriched either by subscriptions to some [contemporary] publications … or by various donations,” explains Cristina Dema, the institution’s coordinator.


The “Sever Bocu” is a still expanding gold mine for scholars and others who are interested in both Romanian and Eastern European history, and best of all, entrance is free and open to all.

Peter Gross
, Ph.D., is a professor in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennessee in the United States. He has written extensively on the subject of East European media and its evolution since 1989.
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