Historia Universitatis Iassiensis 8, 81–111

Cătălin BOTOȘINEANU | Trădători vs. patrioți la finalul Marelui Război. Excluderea lui Constantin Stere de la Universitatea din Iași

Abstract. The war did not only modify the boundaries between the belligerent states, but also the relationships between people, irreversibly altering their destinies. In the case of Romania, during the inter-war period, the political leaders who supported the Central Powers had to deal with marginalization. The latter were, almost without exception, demonized. The work of “moral regeneration” that accompanied the birth of Great Romania was thus doubled by the “purging” of the “traitors”. As early as during the war, the accusation of betrayal had already become a tradition. The “Antantophiles”, in 1917, and then the “Germanophiles”, in March-October 1918, successively identified their political adversaries by the name “traitor”. In this way, in the institutions of the Romanian state, the inter-war period started under the auspices of searching for “Germanophiles” and esta¬blishing war crimes.
During this turbulent beginning, the main “traitor” became the University of Iași professor and National Peasant’s Party member Constantin Stere. The case of his removal from Iași University was more than an issue pertaining to Romanian higher education. The debate around his isolation involved great energy and resources, leading to his being called “the Romanian Dreyfus case”, as Mihail Ralea aptly called it at the time.
Stere received his university degree in Iași where, after graduation, he held the position of professor of constitutional and administrative law of the Faculty of Law starting with 1901; he was also rector of the University in 1913-1916. He was one of the founders of the Viața Românească magazine in Iași, one of the ideologists of the “Poporanist” movement, an important member of the liberals and one of the most important peasant party leaders after the war. He was president of the State Council in Bessarabia and one of the important figures in the Union of Bessarabia with Romania on 27th March 1918. Important legal counsellor and politician, Stere was, from the beginning of the war, a public militant for the cause of Romania as an ally of the Central Powers.
The particulars of the Stere case reveal not so much as a judiciary practice, but rather a judiciary line imprinted by the Romanian state on the files of “the former Germanophiles”. When the war ended, in January 1919, the decree through which universities and secondary schools were to suspend from the educational system all those who “had an antinational attitude, inappropriate for the nature and duties of their position”. The decree from January 1919 did not state a time limit for the duration of the suspension. The matter was deftly transferred to the juridical system. The university professors, in whose names criminal investigations had been opened, were going to remain suspended sine die so as to be later acquitted by the public prosecutor’s office.
16 secondary school teachers and three university professors (two from Iași University and the German lecturer from the University of Bucharest) were suspended from teaching. The “traitors” suspensions were dictated by civil institutions, namely the Universities of Iași and Bucharest, which relied on accusations of treason and the criminal prosecution suits opened in their name by military or civilian courts to support their decision. As a consequence, as the sentence of the judicial system was pending, public accusations borrowed the language of the official position on the betrayal of national interests.
In 1920-1922, the Romanian state amnestied most war crimes committed by soldiers or civilians who stayed in the territory occupied by the German army. Collaboration with the enemy was among these war crimes. An exception to these decrees directly concerned Stere, who had been, starting with 1917, the director of the Bucharest newspaper Lumina. The newspaper had been dropped by the German aviation into Romanian territory, too, and the exception from the amnesty of crimes mentioned the instance of newspaper and brochure distri¬bution. Curiously, Stere’s prosecution file was unknown and, most importantly, no judiciary investigations pertaining to criminal suits were started against the professor. For this reason, they could not include his crimes among the stipulations of the amnesty decrees. Due to this, the 1921-1922 attempts to bring Stere back to his position as professor of Administrative Law at the University of Iași failed. The ministry retorted that Stere’s suspension was directly connected to his criminal prosecution investigation, which was not yet finalized. It is for this reason, in our opinion, that Stere was definitively excluded from the University of Iași at the beginning of 1919, although the official term used was “suspension”. He remained suspended until the end of his university career, retiring due to his age on 1st February 1936.
It is also true that Stere himself did not want or show any signs of resorting to the clemency of the liberals. He imperatively asked to defend his innocence on trial, but the inquiry, in his case, was never begun. In fact, in 1928-1931, when the National Peasants’ Party he was a noteworthy member of, was governing the country, Stere did not return to his university case. He probably understood the official postponements and avoidances from the first years after the war as a less brutal way of being excluded from Iași University. He always thought his conduct during the war was legitimate and the orchestrated guilt was premeditated by the liberal to satisfy the winners’ desire for retaliation.