Friday, 29 December 2006

Benedict Anderson: Romanian Unknown Soldier known

Catching up with British news and views, I read something that struck me. In gruesome contrast to Benedict Anderson's (1991) theory that the essence of any monument to the unknown soldier was its emptiness or the anonymity of the fallen soldier there interred, the Romanian Unknown Soldier was indeed known.

As mentioned (in what looks to be a very interesting article I haven't yet had the chance to read) by Marina Roy (n.d.) in reference to Saddam Hussein's nationalist cultural heritage work,
Benedict Anderson notes that: "No more arresting emblems of the modern culture of nationalism exist than cenotaphs and tombs of Unknown Soldiers. The public ceremonial reverence accorded these monuments precisely because they are either deliberately empty or no one knows who lies inside them, has no true precedents in earlier times." [Anderson, 1991: 9] The empty tomb represents the ideal everyman, willing to sacrifice himself for the glory of the nation.
In the article "president of the plains" in the Guardian on the 23rd of December 2006, Simon Hoggart noted that:
At a lunch in Paris the playwright Eugene Ionesco told him the true story of the Unknown Romanian Soldier. The Romanians were the only country without their own. So late in the first world war they assembled the corpses of 10 freshly killed, unidentified men. The youngest in a troop of scouts was asked to choose one to be the Unknown Soldier. After he made his selection the press asked him why. "Because it was my father," the boy said. Ionesco added: "Later a Bucharest paper had a headline: Son of Unknown Soldier dies in Danube canoeing accident." It's a nice, gentle, funny book. You could find it through
I couldn't access it, but Sandra Reineke's (2003) paper on the "imagined sisterhood" discussed the wonderful moment when, on the 26th of August 1970, "nine women trespassed the tomb of the Unknown Soldier underneath the Arc de Triumph in Paris. There they laid a wreath to the wife of the Unknown Soldier".

Anderson, B. 1991: Imagined Communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.
Reineke, S. 2003: "Imagined sisterhood: Citizenship and the feminist press in postwar France". Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, USA, 27th August. [Abstract available at:]
Roy, M. N.d.: "Saddam's arms: Nationalist and Orientalist tendencies in Iraqi monuments". Available at:

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