The early 19th century was a time when the Romanian space modernized. It involved a new way of seeing the world, with an increasing awareness of fundamental rights and freedoms that no authority could violate
Public opinion started leaning towards secularism and the rule of law, to the detriment of a despotic state of church institutions. The French influence was essential in inspiring modern ideas, at a time when political and military events led into a new era.
The Romanian Principalities, still under Ottoman control, were in dire need of reform. The Ottoman political and economic model had failed, and was a hurdle to new trends and aspirations. Modernity had sown the seeds of national movements, and in the Romanian space it manifested in the Greek and Romanian insurrections of 1821.
The French Revolution was the decisive element in the emergence of national movements, as emphasized by historian Georgeta Penelea Filiti: “The French Revolution largely laid the groundwork for what was about to happen over the following two decades, culminating in the 1821 moment. When it comes to Romanian lands, we have to draw a line between the national movement led by Tudor Vladimirescu and the rather foolhardy movement of the Greeks led by Alexander Ypsilantis, an adviser to the Czar of Russia. I dare say “Romania”, in quotation marks, because it was a Greek, Philippide, who used for the first time, in 1816, the term “Romania”, meaning the area inhabited mostly by Romanians. Ypsilantis came to the Romanian Principalities from Russia, first to Moldavia, then to Bucharest, hoping that he would get a Christian people, and his own Greek people, to rise up and be helped by Russia. That did not come to be, his movement failed, unfortunately, just as Tudor Vladimirescu's movement failed. Things did not go well between the two, and Tudor ended up being killed by Ypsilantis’ people.”
Modernization in the Romanian space followed the times, and in retrospect it could not have been hindered by any factor, just as it was not the result of any plan. It was first and foremost a result of the French influence.
Historian Georgeta Penelea Filiti once again: “This state of mind generating profound changes and rifts in society are not easy to quantify and pinpoint. People had more information, had in their hands merchandise from Western countries, people talked about fashion and cuisine. What changes is the language that people use, the French language starts insinuating itself, replacing the Greek language among Romanians. There was no imposition to adopt either the Greek or the French languages, it was about the language of the era, the language of culture dominating the Romanian space. However, the Romanian language was being encouraged as well. […] We have to keep in mind the fact that not all French people arriving to the Romanian space were revolutionaries, there were also a lot of refugees. The French Revolution, among the bloodiest, given that any revolution is bloody, but the French Revolution was so more than most, produced a lot of refugees, who were looking to make a living. A lot of French people became secretaries, teachers, public servants in various ministries, and at the same time they were highly sought after as private tutors for wealthy families. The French spirit prevailed. Some of the French people were revolutionaries as well, people of all walks of life left France to settle in Bucharest.”
The ideas of modernity had a prevailing influence in Europe due to Napoleon I's military campaigns, which turned the old political order on its head. The turmoil caused by France traverses Europe, from Britain to the west to Russia to the east, and also to the Ottoman Empire.
Georgeta Penelea Filiti believes that in the Romanian space, the French drive to transform Europe from the ground up was represented by a generation of cultured youth, as always a ferment for change: “There was a movement here seeking to create in Bucharest a center of change so strong as to generate a revolution, but that was hard to make happen. As they say, Napoleon stirred the hill of ants, and the most important thing is that this caused a lot of young people in the Romanian space to take up studies abroad. They looked up to the emperor, they saw a savior in him. In 1813, a lot of Romanians went to study in Halle, along with Greek speakers that were settled in the Romanian space, including Aromanians. In Halle, Gottingen, Vienna, plenty of young people went to study medicine, among them Apostol Arsachi. When the emperor passed through Halle, he had the opportunity to hold a speech attended by him. It is a beautiful, fiery speech, in which he says: 'Your Majesty, save the Christian from the Ottoman Empire!' Dozens upon dozens such appeals rained on Napoleon, who was obviously a good Christian, but he was also an emperor, a dictator, who pursued his own politics.”
Romanian modernity took shape in the first two decades of the 19th century, but its ideals supposed a lot more time to pass, and lot more struggle.