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„Eroul necunoscut” - un profil etnologic
An Ethnological Profile of the ”Unknown Hero”

Author(s): Ioana-Ruxandra Fruntelată
Subject(s): Ethnohistory, Oral history, Culture and social structure
Published by: ASTRA Museum
Keywords: notebook; ”unknown hero”; archaic mentality; Transylvanian village; Dicu;

Summary/Abstract: Several interpretations of the term „hero” are possible, depending on the context of reference. Nevertheless, it is common place that heroism implies as its first trait violent death embraced by the hero for the benefit of the community. Violent death is fertile and connected to sacrifice in archaic mentality. As battles or wars are the most frequent opportunity for a person to meet violent death, war culture should also be taken into consideration for understanding the substance of heroism.The two World Wars are the last modern wars associated to violent death, as postmodern wars are allegedly ”zero dead” confrontations. The term ”unknown hero” or ”unknown soldier” was coined to depict the anonymous dead in the modern wars, who are usually common people remembered for their sacrifice to defend an idea (most of the times the national idea). ”Unknown heroes” do not choose or are not chosen to die, in fact, they fall in battle while trying to survive it. Their heroism consists in the power to preserve their humanity under atrocious circumstances and is documented by their front line diaries, correspondence and other written materials. Their attributed heroic quality points more to a compensatory function for the loss of so many lives than to a creative function for the society they belonged to. In Romanian rural communities, war heroes are honoured on the Ascension Day (40 days after Easter) together with all ancestors of the place, irrespective of the circumstances of their death.An ethnological approach of the issue, aiming to identify and explain rationally the rules that people abide by, although unaware of that, would regard ”unknown heroes” as result of a process of acculturation between inherited oral culture and informal war culture. I analyse as such a representative ethnological document, a front line diary belonging to Ioan Dicu, a Romanian householder in a Transylvanian village. Dicu died in a prisoner camp in Russia in 1945. His notebook was transmitted by his wife to ethnologist Ilie Moise in the 1970s and Mr. Moise had it published in 2010.Dicu’s discourse displays elements of his inherited rural agricultural background interwoven with recurrent motifs in the mass culture of his time, School and Church being the most important references alongside with his fondness for family and home. The author of the diary is able to cope with the draining war journey toward the Eastern front line by preserving his core values, which are love for home, faith and solidarity. The identity of the ”unknown hero” is centered around those values which assert him as an exemplary human being. He is not a revolutionary but a conservative whose greatness is the power to bear his ”village” with him in order not to get lost in an anomic world. We can speak of a category of ”unknown hero” including people who could survive the horrors of war life, even if they didn’t survive the war. The accounts of such front liners are documents to an extremely alien reality but also to a liminal state of mind of those experiencing war close up.

  • Issue Year: XXVII/2013
  • Issue No: 27
  • Page Range: 72-82
  • Page Count: 11
  • Language: Romanian