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Vasile Ladislau Pop (1819–1875) came from a priestly family of noble origin, living in Berind (Berend, Kolozs County). He was the second of the ten children of priest Ananie Pop and his wife, Anastasia. He attended elementary, secondary, and high school classes at the Roman Catholic (Piarist) High School in Cluj, where he was among the most diligent pupils of his generation. During this formative period he received a middle name that is the translation from Romanian into Hungarian of his first name (Vasile, which became Ladislau), thus resulting in his full name Vasile Ladislau Pop. After graduating from high school in 1835, he enrolled at the Faculty of Law in Cluj, which he graduated three years later. In 1838, thanks to his father’s intervention with Ioan Lemeni (1780–1861), the Greek Catholic Bishop of Blaj, he obtained a scholarship to study at the Theological Faculty of the University of Vienna, as a student of the Saint Barbara Seminary. Four years of theological studies followed in the capital of the Austrian Empire, where young Vasile Ladislau Pop completed his formative profile with theoretical notions and the German language, which were to be particularly useful in his later career. The Viennese studies facilitated his insertion into an extremely complex formative environment, which allowed access to readings and ideological trends that proved to be particularly stimulating for his political and cultural horizon. It was during this period that Vasile Ladislau Pop came to study the works of Transylvanian Romanian illuminists, such as Petru Maior (1756–1821), Gheorghe Șincai (1754–1816), and Samuil Micu (1745–1806), who historically and linguistically affirmed and legitimized the Roman origin of the Romanians as an indisputable argument for recognizing the Romanians as a political nation with equal rights alongside the other political nations in Transylvania.
Image source: “Oameni de știință și cultură din Reghin și împrejurimi”, Album, 11, Petru Maior Municipal Library (Biblioteca Municipală Petru Maior), Reghin, http://www.bibliotecareghin.ro/index.php?Book=43.
After completing his studies in Vienna, Vasile Ladislau Pop returned to Transylvania, where he was appointed teacher of mathematics at the Theological Seminary in Blaj. Although he taught there for only three years, until 1845, his pupils and posterity remember him as the first teacher who taught mathematics in Romanian at the Seminary in Blaj. During the time he spent in Blaj, he also met a new generation of teachers, such as Ioan Rusu (1811–1843), Ioan Cristoceanu (1810–1844), and Demetriu Boieriu (1812–1871), with whom he became close. With some of them, he established a long-lasting friendships. We particularly refer to the teacher, historian, philosopher, and politician Simion Bărnuțiu (1808–1864), with whom he shared the same ideals and political-cultural projects aimed at the recognition of political rights for the Romanians in Transylvania.
His friendship with Bărnuțiu drew him into the Lemeni conflict in Blaj, during the period 1843–1846, between the new generation of teachers and the older one grouped around Bishop Ioan Lemeni, which led to his expulsion from Blaj.
The road to “Vienna, to the Emperor’s right hand”
For Vasile Ladislau Pop, the expulsion from Blaj (1845) was a major turning point in his professional career. Sent by his father to study theology to become a priest, but expelled by his bishop because of divergent opinions, Vasile L. Pop decided to abandon his clerical career for good to pursue a legal career. That was the moment in which he promised his father that he would only return home when he “arrived at the right hand of the Emperor”. Consequently, in the same year 1845, he enrolled in law studies at the Royal Board (Court of Appeal) in Târgu Mureș, which he graduated in 1848, obtaining a lawyer’s diploma. He began his career in Reghin, where he had met the young Elena Olteanu in 1846, and married her in the autumn of 1848. From the very beginning of his legal career, he benefited from the support of the Olteanu family and their relatives, which made it easier for young Vasile L. Pop to enter the intellectual circles of Transylvania. Vasile L. Pop’s in-laws, a family of merchants, enjoyed a good reputation in the area, and Elena’s maternal uncle, also a merchant, openly assumed his support for the two.
In 1849, Vasile L. Pop was appointed district commissioner in Reteag (Bistrița County), and shortly afterward, legal advisor at Bistrița Justice Court. It was the beginning of an ascending administrative-political career, which took him, in the next two decades, to the highest positions and dignities held by a Transylvanian Romanian until then. After working as a legal advisor in Bistrița (1852) and as a legal advisor at the Supreme Court in Sibiu (1854), he was promoted to a legal advisor at the Ministry of Justice in Vienna (1859). The peak of his career came in the years of the “liberal thaw” at the beginning of the seventh decade of the nineteenth century, when he was named vice-president of the Transylvanian Government and president of the Transylvanian Supreme Court. In 1863, he was appointed private councilor of the Emperor. He was only 45 years old at the time and had managed, thanks to the superior education he had benefited from and to the support of his parents-in-law’s family, to take up some of the highest state positions held by a Romanian up to that point. He also participated as a deputy in the proceedings of the Transylvanian Diet in Sibiu, in 1863 and 1864. In that capacity, he helped to draft laws meant to establish rights for the Romanians, which were going to be equal with those of the other nations inhabiting Transylvania.
With the signing of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, Vasile L. Pop was designated vice-president of the Court of Cassation in Budapest, a position he held until the end of his life. Moreover, in recognition of his merits in the service of the Romanians of Transylvania, in 1868, he was elected chairman of the Astra Association (Transylvanian Association for Romanian Literature and the Culture of the Romanian People). He died on February 17, 1875, in Budapest, and was buried in Reghin, in the Olteanu family crypt.
The case of Vasile L. Pop is a good example of the social mobility of an individual who, coming from a priestly family, left this socio-professional category and pursued a legal career, which propelled him to the top of the political pyramid of Transylvania in the years of Austrian neoliberalism. Pop’s marriage to Elena Olteanu, her family’s support, and the kinship networks created around this family contributed to his social ascent.
Federațiunea, 11–12, MDCCCLXXV, 9/21 February 1875, 33.
Transilvania. Foia Asociațiunii transilvane pentru literatura și cultura poporului român, 5, VIII, 1 March 1875, 49–51.
Nicolae Comșa, Dascălii Blajului. Seria lor cronologică cu date bio-bibliografice (Blaj: Tipografia Seminarului, 1940).
Elie Dăian, Al doilea președinte al Asociațiunii: Vasile L. bar. Pop 1819–1875 (Sibiu: Editura “Asociațiunii”, 1925).