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Feature 17 Nov 17

Romania’s Dacian Wolf Sends Wrong Message, Experts Warn

The choice of a Dacian wolf as Romania’s logo for the presidency of the European Council in 2019 has caused controversy over whether it might send a confusing nationalistic message about the country. 

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
The logo of Romania's European Union Council Presidency scheduled for the first semester of 2019. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Facebook

Ioan Nicolae Dobrinescu, 14, a high school pupil in Bucharest, said he was sad when Romania’s European Affairs Minister, Victor Negrescu, handed him the prize for winning the competition to design the logo for Romania’s presidency of the European Union Council, which the country is set to assume in January 2019.

Dobrinescu was one of the 200 participants in a contest launched by the Foreign and Education Ministries, inviting young students to design the logo. His creation, a red-yellow-blue Dacian wolf, was selected by the jury and by the public on social media as the winner at the end of October.

He received the prize of 3,000 euros and a trip to Brussels last Thursday during a ceremony at his school, but said he did not feel too happy.

“I sadly noticed that people who don’t know me wrote improper things about me and slandered me because of my drawing,” he said when he received the prize.

“I did it with all my heart. To me, the European Union has to be sure of itself, strong. Yes, like a wolf. A wolf – as we learned in history class – is part of all European cultures. We also learned in school that Romania is host to the biggest wolf population in Europe. I’m glad we’re protecting nature. I think we have to tell Europe that,” he stressed.

However, despite the young designer’s intentions, his logo has been criticized by many branding experts as nationalistic, and many experts, political scientists, and historians say it risks sending the wrong message.

Romania is a staunch supporter of a more united European Union, with President Klaus Iohannis reaffirming that view on many occasions, even if some politicians from the ruling coalition express euro-sceptic ideas.

However, Dacian symbols and myths have been used and indeed twisted in recent years by various Romanian right-wing or conspiracy groups as part of their nationalistic, euro-sceptic ideology.  

“If you search on Google for the phrase ‘the Last Dacian’ [in Romanian] you find surprisingly many results. It’s very frequent. You need to take it case by case because many people simply use it in a touristic way or to promote a certain product and are aware it’s a role they’re playing. But there are plenty who, deep inside, see themselves as Dacians,” historian Tudor Rosu, who works for the History Museum in Alba Iulia, told BIRN.

Rosu also says that beyond that group is a third category of people who fall for the nationalistic narratives circulating on the internet and in social media. “These ideas grow on a nationalistic background: that we are the oldest people on the planet, that we’ve been here for 20,000 years – God knows how long – and we are better than everyone; we civilized the world, taught them how to write. Even that Latin itself was born in Dacia,” he pointed out.

An ancient history that needs more research:

The Dacians were the ancient inhabitants of the area near the Carpathian Mountains and west of the Black Sea, on the territory of present-day Romania and Moldova, as well as parts of Ukraine, eastern Serbia, northern Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary and southern Poland. Many ancient sources present them as part of the larger Thracian tribes, although singled out by their monotheist religion, worshiping Zamolxes, and by their cult of the wolf.

In the absence of historical records written by the Dacians themselves, analysis of their origins depends largely on the remains of material culture, which historians say explains the void of data about their civilization before the Dacian wars of AD 101-6, when the Romans occupied about half of the wider Dacian region - western Wallachia as far as the Olt river and Transylvania.

Rosu told BIRN that the impact of the Roman conquest on these people is unclear. One hypothesis was that they were eliminated. “In fact, we just don’t know. We don’t even know how many Dacians lived in this area, how many were left after the war or what exactly happened to them,” he pointed out.

Dacian myth serves Romanian nationalism:

But the study of the Dacians did not remain purely a subject of ancient history in Romania. It has inspired over time and continues to inspire nationalistic ideas about the origins of the Romanian people.

Rosu explained that Dacian nationalism started as a current at the end of the 19th and early 20th century with a series of historians who wrote more about their “revelations” rather than about science. “That’s something a historian shouldn’t do,” he said.

The idea that Romanians are the heirs to the ancient Dacians was also used to support Romania's claim over Transylvania, then under Hungarian rule. 

Afterwards, historiography between the two world wars, in the context of a right-wing political trend led by the fascist anti-Semitic Legionnaires, increasingly embraced the idea of the glorious Dacian past that gave Romanian the ultimate right over the homeland.

Later, the government of communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu claimed the uninterrupted continuity of a Dacian-Romanian state, from Gaeto-Dacian King Burebista to Ceaușescu himself.His government commemorated the supposed 2,050th anniversary of the founding of the “unified and centralized” country that was to become Romania. Several movies dedicated to Burebista and the Dacians were produced in the 1980s by the Communist propaganda machine.

“However, there were limits for these ideas. The boundaries were clearly set and served the purpose of the message the regime wanted to send: that we are here in charge of this land, that we are a nation descended from the Dacians, we continuously lived in this space for over 2,000 years,” he explained.

Thecurrent gained traction even after the fall of Communism and it is still growing, especially due to conspiracy theorists who use modern tools to spread their ideas, while scientists and historians fall behind when it comes to making their research easily available to the public.

A confusing message:         

Dobrinescu’s logo was voted by over 10,000 people on social media and it was, by far, the most popular logo in the contest. But some of the jury members were still not happy with the outcome. Three professional associations in the marketing and advertising industry, IAA Romania, Advertising Agents Union and IAB Romania, criticized the government in an open letter released on November 9.

The specialists said the Ministry of European Affairs needed to involve professionals more than it did in the process of selecting a logo for the Presidency of the European Council, even if “the process would need to be restarted”.

Minister Negrescu meanwhile defended the logo selection process last Thursday, saying that the contest among young students was meant to make Romania’s Presidency of the European Union Council more popular.  He said the competition was transparent and had involved a public vote for the logos.

“The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not take any part in it, we did not vote,” Negrescu said. ”Our message is that we support an educated, creative Romania where talented youth thrives,” he added.

Political analyst Bogdan Nedea told BIRN that he personally likes the logo. “It’s actually a cool one,” he pointed out.  “I agree with the idea of reviving the ancient Dacian period, historically and even in tourism, but we need to do it properly,” Nedea said.

He believes that lack of proper knowledge of the Dacian period combined with an identity void contributes to the spread of fake news and conspiracy theory blogs that feed into nationalistic ideologies. He believes that the Dacian nationalism trend with all the unproven theories is not yet a mainstream current; it remains on blogs and social media.

But he stressed that if Romania invested more in research of ancient Dacia, to confirm or disprove some of the theories floating on the internet and influencing the young, the symbols of the Dacians would be cleared of negative connotations and Romania would be able to open a debate and brand itself with a clean, clear message.

“But real research efforts in terms of Dacian culture are unlikely to happen very soon” he pointed out. “And I expect this association with ancient Dacia to also feed other nationalistic currents in future, such as Orthodox nationalism [which is currently militating for the ban of gay marriage],” he pointed out.

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