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Post-communist bizarreness 28/12/2010

Posted by allthingsro in history, politics, translations.
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The Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes in Romania has published the results of a new opinion survey about the regime described as “illegitimate and criminal” by President Traian Băsescu.1 Commentators have described the position of public opinion on the communist dictatorship as thoroughly “bizarre” and “ambivalent”.

The figures are indeed enough to make the mind boggle.
44% say that communism “was a good idea but applied incorrectly”.
38% believe that establishing communism in Romania was a good thing.
38% believe that it was a bad thing.
52% believe that the problem of access to the Securitate’s files is not important.
Only 10% believe that they or members of their family suffered as a result of the system, but within this group:

  • 28% mentioned material shortages;
  • 24% mentioned the limit on the right of free speech;
  • 23% mentioned professional discrimination;
  • 18% mentioned the limit on freedom of conscience.

83% believe that they did not suffer.2

So are Romanians nostalgic for communism?
The same question was raised on the publication of the previous survey on the same topic in September 2010. In one form or another, nostalgia has been discussed in all eastern European countries. Vladimir Tismăneanu, in an article in the newspaper Evenimentul zilei, provides a more nuanced perspective: “I don’t know to what extent the survey demonstrates nostalgia for the socialism of Dej and Ceauşescu, but rather a latent protest against the frustrations of today. Would a communist regime have been able to respond effectively to the global economic crisis? I seriously doubt it.”
And he continues: “Far more than the romanticisation of our particular variety of communism, it is the anxieties of the present that explain positive opinions on the Ceauşescu era. In crisis situations, there is always a temptation not to see freedom as an opportunity. This must not be forgotten when we take part in the democratic conversation about the totalitarian past and even more so when we undertake to draw up educational strategies to prevent the obliteration of our public memory.”3

It is perfectly true that dissatisfaction with the present and fears about today and tomorrow make some regret the stability in Romania before 1989. This is the logic of “the lesser evil”: “the State gave us secure jobs and houses”. In other words, some value the fact that their primary needs were fulfilled. I am convinced that, if they were asked to give further details and to explain, many would, however, remember just what those jobs were like, that they worked in poor conditions, that they suffered because they had to do without all kinds of things, etc. But “the details” are easily forgotten or put between brackets. And, in any case, a simple survey cannot capture them.

From euphemisms to belated condemnation
There is, however, an additional explanation for the bizarre attitudes Romanians have towards communism. For the youngest, the communist regime is already “history”: they know it from what they have read (if they have read about it) or from what their parents and grandparents told them about it. That is to say, from a jigsaw puzzle of impressions and experiences which sometimes do not succeed in creating a whole which is necessarily true and correct.
On the other hand, both the young and the old (who experienced communism directly) have defined their opinions and attitudes in accordance with how the communist regime has been discussed in the last 20 years. And as far as this chapter is concerned, we are in a sorry state. Let’s remember that, at the beginning of the 1990s, only a minority in Parliament supported the 8th point of the Proclamation of Timişoara, which called for communist activists and Securitate officers to be banned from holding office for three parliaments. Let’s recall that radical anticommunists at that time were smeared by representatives of those in power and exposed in some newspapers as “traitors”, “Western sell-outs” “in the pay of foreign agencies”. Ex-president Ion Iliescu introduced the term “good people” into the public discourse (a term familiar to sociologists and propagandists). These “good people” were to be obedient and go along with the then majority.
But the majority refused to enter into any kind of critical debate on communism and any kind of initiative to put things in right – a lustration law to ban the old nomenklatura from holding office and the founding of an institution to examine the Securitate’s files, for example. So much so that tackling these key problems – our relationship with the recent past – has been delayed by the recourse to all kinds of euphemisms: from Ion Iliescu’s remark on 22nd December 1989 that Nicolae Ceauşescu “had only stained the noble ideals of socialism and communism” to the 1999 Law on Access to the Securitate’s files which most aptly described the Securitate as “the political police” – that is to say: an ambiguous choice of words, open to interpretation and hard to demonstrate. The official condemnation of communism, when it belatedly arrived in 2006, was not accompanied by enough concrete measures to validate it.
On the other hand, the disappointments produced by politicians (“They are all the same,” as so many fellow citizens of ours think) have clouded people’s vision, so that they no longer see what the advantages of democracy must be. Free speech? Freedom to travel to the West? These are abstractions. Even if many people benefit from them – and they seem natural to them; they have become used to these rights – they are “forgotten” when the questions in a survey ask for clear and distinct answers to each question.

Far more than nostalgia and anxieties produced by the present, this survey shows the ignorance and disorder in ideas, values and perspectives. Confusion. That is to say: the very thing which appears to dominate, at every level, our public space.

This article by Mircea Vasilescu appeared in Dilema Veche, no. 357, 16 – 22 December 2010. Translation by Daisy Waites.

1 Reported on Realitatea on 15 December 2010.
2 The complete results can be found on the Institute’s website.
3 Tismăneau’s article appeared in Evenimentul zilei on 29 September 2010.

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