Fantasmagorias in Romanian historical films: how we were lied to with exaggerated characters and events, well concocted by the communist propaganda machine

Decades ago, Romanian films were perhaps the only kind of entertainment in our country, with the communist regime tightly holding the “reins” of the scripts and adapting them as it pleased.

Few were those who realized, in those days, that historical films did not fully respect the reality on the ground, the communist propaganda apparatus intervening whenever it felt that a certain historical fact might put the regime in a bad, less than heroic light.

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“Dacii” / Photo: Buftea Studios

Romanian historical films, full of falsehoods meant to put the communist regime in a good light

For example, we can remember the Battle of Călugăreni. The historian Marius Diaconescu was the first to point out the many falsehoods in Romanian historical films. He claimed that the Battle of Călugăreni in 1595 would not have been so successful in reality. “Michael the Brave inflicted heavy losses on the Ottoman army, but in the evening he retreated from the battlefield into the mountains. The Turks also occupied Bucharest and the city of Targoviste. If seen as a battle, Michael the Brave won at Călugăreni because there was an ambush there. However, if this battle is seen as part of the Turkish campaign as a whole, then he lost,” he said.

It seems that, in reality, retreating to the mountainous area, Michael the Brave would have asked for help from Sigismund Bathory, prince of Transylvania, with whose help he would have attacked the Ottoman army. So, without help, it is not known whether the battle would have ended the same way.

Moreover, the union of the Romanians, also linked to Michael the Brave, would not have been, in reality, an idea identical to what was later circulated, historically claiming that in the Middle Ages, there was no such project.

The Battle of the Ruins would also be a little different from what modern historians believe. “Everyone knows that Mircea the Elder defeats Baiazid at Rovine. This is not true at all, because after the Battle of Rovine, Mircea the Elder stays almost two and a half years in Transylvania. If he had won the battle, what was he looking for in March 1395 in Brasov and worshipping the King of Hungary, Sigismund of Luxembourg? Why did the Hungarian army try four times to restore Mircea the Elder to the throne of Wallachia and failed because the Turks always came and chased Mircea away?”, said Marius Diaconescu according to historia.ro.

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“Mircea” / Photo: Buftea Studios

And if you’re wondering what the historical truth is, about the “robber” Pintea the Brave, it seems that we don’t get entirely true events here either. “In the film we are told that the Romanians were oppressed by the Habsburgs and fought against the Habsburgs. False! Pintea the Brave was a highway robber. It was precisely the Habsburgs who supported the Romanians in the conflict that had just begun between them and the Hungarians,” the historian said, trying to show how conflicts between ethnic groups are manufactured nowadays, but also during the communist period.

In the world of historians there is also some controversy about the friendship between Stephen the Great and Vlad the Impaler. Most historians believe that the Moldavian ruler wanted to save Chilia from the Turks. According to new information, this was not exactly true. It seems that Chilia was attacked by the Turks from the sea and by Stephen the Great from land. In conclusion, the two armies worked together against Vlad Țepeș.

The writer Stelian Tănase noted a number of propaganda-related falsehoods in Romanian films and in Mircea. “The film about Mircea the Elder is as propagandistic as Michael the Brave and I can’t watch it without smiling. Thus in the film Dan, the brother of Mircea the Elder, is presented as a traitor at the court of Baiazid when in fact Dan was Mircea’s elder brother and had died in 1386 many years before Rovinj (1394) at the siege of Tarnovo. Baiazid also erroneously appears much younger than Mircea,” he said. Perhaps even more interestingly, the character was named Mircea the Great, thus avoiding the official Mircea the Elder, so as not to make the connection with the old age of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

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“Mircea is wrongly presented as a bastion of Romanianism when at that time one could not talk about it, and Mircea was in fact also half Serbian (his mother being the daughter of the Cneaz Lazar). But if Eminescu’s mistake (in the case of Mircea the Elder) as well as Bolintineanu’s in the case of Stephen the Great’s mother (Mrs Oltea could not hear about the battle of Razboieni in 1475 because she was dead and buried at Probota Veche in 1465) was natural, as they did not have enough documentary sources in this regard, the communists’ mistake was deliberate”, Stelian Tănase said.

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Sequence from “Mihai Viteazul” / Photo: Buftea Studios

How the regime tried, through Romanian historical films, to convince you that the Dacians were also communists

Naturally, the forgeries also had their say in films about the Dacians. Dacians (1967), Columna (1968) and Burebista (1980) being just three examples. “Perhaps the most tiresome element borrowed from everyday reality and present in the films are the meetings. For the two films from the early years of the Ceausescu regime, the proportion of these meetings is at a somewhat bearable level. In the film Burebista, the motif of meetings is obsessive, as if taken from the realities of the years in which the film was made: the council of princes, the council of arms and fortifications, the meeting with foreign emissaries, the meeting of the Magna Mater, the war council before the conflicts with oxen and bulls, Caesar’s council after the conquest of Galilei”, says Ciprian Plăiașu.

Last but not least, a great deal of emphasis was placed on propagating the idea that the boyars were greedy, and therefore enemies of the people. “Even in historical adventure films (for example, the Haiducilor series directed by Dinu Cocea, or the Mărgelatu series, directed by Doru Năstase, with scripts by Eugen Barbu) or in those with a war setting and police intrigue (Sergiu Nicolaescu’s Commissario Moldovan series), the bourgeois or bourgeois characters were ostentatiously bearers of moral defects (greed, cowardice, arrogance, perfidy), unlike the outlaw heroes or communist illegalists, who could only be brave, sincere, altruistic and sympathetic”, said Călin Hentea, according to Adevărul.

And this is how what can be called “historical nationalism” appeared in Romanian cinema during the communist period; a period of sad memories, passed through the filter of those who wanted to preserve their image at the expense of the truth and, ultimately, of history.

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