Romania's First Public Diplomacy Hit in the United States
Updated: Jun 2
For a long time, the international fairs, an invention of the industrial age, granted countries the most visible stages to showcase their identity, economic power, and cultural achievements. Until late in the 20th century, they offered the context for Romania’s biggest and most impactful programs of national promotion. Among these participations, few compared with the grandiose and memorable Romanian program at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which opened exactly 81 years ago, on the 1st of May. It remains to this day, by the impressive scale, exquisite vision, quality of protagonists, skillful execution and enduring impact, one of Romania’s greatest public diplomacy coups in the United States.
The 1939 New York Fair, one of the biggest ever organized, took place at Flushing Meadows, Queens, with the slogan “Dawn of a New Day” and attracted exhibitors from all corners of the world, huge crowds, and prominent guests.
The Romanian Pavilion, with its two edifices, the main building, designed by G.M. Cantacuzino, and The Romanian House, designed by Octav Doicescu, gathered a lot of praise and was considered by some American visitors as “the best in terms of architecture and general display, which conveyed the image of one of the most interesting countries in the Fair.” The overall theme of the fair was skillfully illustrated in exhibitions about progresses made in aviation, agriculture, research, and the oil industry. The pavilion’s restaurant, serving the tastiest items of the rich, ever-surprising Romanian cuisine, rivaled only with the French one and soon became the meeting place of choice for the American elite visiting the pavilions.
Culture, then as today one of the country’s main resources, featured prominently through some of the biggest names in visual arts, music, and folklore. The pavilion’s commissioner, Dimitrie Gusti, was himself a great name of Romanian intellectual life, with ground-breaking research in sociology and ethnology. George Enescu, the greatest Romanian composer and a star violinist and conductor, performed at the Met with his
usual mix of precision and passion; Constantin Brâncuși, by then a legendary figure of modernism, while usually abhorrent of large social gatherings, mingled with the crowds; the greatest voice of Romanian traditional music, Maria Tănase, entertained the American and international guests accompanied by the famous traditional band headed by Grigoraș Dinicu. The pavilion was adorned with paintings by Nicolae Grigorescu, Ion Andreescu, Theodor Pallady, Gheorghe Petrașcu, sculptures by Cornel Medrea, Oscar Han, Mihai Onofrei, Mac Constantinescu, Milița Petrașcu, Ion Jalea, and monumental works by Olga Greceanu, Dem Demetrescu, Lena Constante, and Nora Steriade.
The Romanian pavilion, which in comparison to many others was finished on time and not weeks after the official opening of the Fair, was inaugurated with a lavish ceremony whose guest-list read like the Who’s Who of New York elite society: Sara Delano Roosevelt, the President’s mother, New York mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, Grover Whalen, the President of the Fair’s organizing committee, Eduard J. Flynn, the U.S. commissioner. The event was also attended by Radu Irimescu, Romania’s Special Envoy and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States.
Read more (in Romanian) on the Facebook page of the Diplomatic Archives of the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs/ Arhivele Diplomatice ale Ministerului Afacerilor Externe