Questions to the narrator
- 00:11What do most Rumanians really think of Nicolae Ceaușescu?
- 03:25What’s his personality like? How would you describe his personality?
- 06:55What is the nature and extent of the personality cult in Romania? Could you give some examples of it?
- 09:46What has Ceaușescu’s concentration of power in his own hands, this cult of personality, done to the Romanian communist party?
- 12:24What role does Elena and Nicu play in the system?
- 14:36To what extent is the servile system of power, the sort of clan system, the family system then?
- 16:13Is Romania a Marxist state
- 17:40What is the role of the Securitate in Romania?
- 19:58Why would a faction of the Securitate want to replace Ceaușescu?
- 21:16Can you give us two examples of Ceaușescu’s gigantomania?
- 23:16To what extent is Romania an anachronism, a one-off? Or are all communist states potential Romanias?
- 26:11To what extent is Marxist-Leninist ideology really not believed in in communist parties’ elites, and if it isn’t, why do they keep propagating it?
- 27:10How does that ideology justify them exactly, could you explain that?
- 29:10What are the obstacles to the communist parties themselves, making their societies more liberal, sharing power?
- 30:39Can I just ask you to clarify that. What do you think is the limit for even a reform communist and what he can allow?
- 31:46For even the most avant-garde, the most liberal reformed communist, what are the limits, what is it he can’t allow?
- 32:42What are the limits to the reforms that even the most liberal communist could allow?
- 33:23What is the role of the intellectual, the writer, the priest, in Eastern Europe, and how does it differ from Western Europe?
- 34:40But do ordinary people, ordinary workers, let’s say in Czechoslovakia, look up to the writers? And do they feel in some sense that writers embody their thoughts, their conscience?
- 36:30Has the trauma, the brutality of totalitarianism, the daily experience of it, even nowadays, in some sense been galvanising of creativity?
- 38:07Why are so many leading dissidents former fanatical excommunists?
- 40:13To what extent is the opposition that emerges in Eastern Europe still socialist, still left-wing? Do the ideals of socialism still survive as the main alternative in Eastern Europe?
TranscriptPlease note that this transcript is based on audio tracks and doesn't have to match exactly the video
What do most Romanians really think of Nicolae Ceaușescu?
Mr. Ceaușescu came to power in 1965, and for some years he was quite popular as a leader in Romania because of his promise of national independence and because of his pledge to provide Romanians with more internal freedom. And he was also quite popular in the West, which for most Romanians was also a reason to be satisfied with the new image of the country in the West. The situation, as many people know, deteriorated in the middle of the 1970s, and nowadays Mr. Ceaușescu is, I would say, universally resented in Romania. This is, of course, sometimes surprising for the West, taking into account that for a long time we have been accustomed here to thinking of Romania as a maverick country of the Warsaw Pact, and also about Romanians being so happy with their fearless leader. Now social riots, social unrest and so on are being widely reported in the West. For me at least, this is not surprising at all. I left Romania in 1981, I was almost sure that such a thing would occur one day. And the general sentiment among Romanians now is that things cannot continue this way. It’s very hard to accept this extraordinary monopolisation of the national image, this extraordinary pressure on the Romanian people. This extraordinary, absolutely unprecedented pressure put on the Romanians by Ceaușescu’s ambitions to create a great Romania. Actually, his dream is that Romania should become a major international power. I would say that what is happening now in Romania, and I don’t think I’m at all exaggerating, is a kind of warfare between the party leader – I don’t say the party leadership because there is no party leadership in Romania now, there is a party leader, Mr. Ceaușescu, and his cronies and sycophants – and the general population. Mr. Ceaușescu nowadays is very unhappy with the performance of his people. As a friend of mine, Professor Mihai Botez, a well-known Romanian dissident, once put it, Mr. Ceaușescu is very much like the Führer was in his last days. He thinks that the Romanian people do not live up to his expectations, and “Too bad then”, as the Führer said, “too bad for the Germans”, is now “too bad for the Romanians”. And if they have to vanish just to pay tribute to what we call in Romanian Conducător, which is a perfect translation of the German Führer, or the Russian вождь [vozhd’] for Stalin, so if the Conducător wants to have Romanians disappear because of his extraordinary dreams of grandeur and other extravaganzas, he will not be unhappy with that.
What’s his personality like? How would you describe his personality?
There are many images of Ceaușescu. Mr. Ceaușescu has been a hardened Stalinist his whole life. He was educated within the Romanian Stalinist political culture. He joined the party during the underground period. It was not an easy decision for somebody, it took some courage to join the Romanian Communist Party during the interwar period. Still as a student of, let’s say, Romanian communist affairs, I still wonder why he joined the Communist Party. Taking into account his mindset, his mental framework, I would have expected somebody like him to join the other side; maybe the extreme right or the far right in Romania. However, he joined the Communist Party. He spent some years in prison and after the war he became the leader of the communist youth. Then he was a political general in the Romanian army. And he was the former leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej’s protégé, and was almost appointed, or anointed, by Gheorghiu-Dej to succeed him. His personality is described by many friends who had known him during the so-called underground period, the clandestine period of the party, as being almost fanatical. This man is really a single-minded person. He has one goal. He is wedded to the idea of socialism or communism in Romania, his image of communism, the image that was instilled into his mind by the Problems of Leninism, Stalin’s opus magnum. And Mr. Ceaușescu wants Romania to be really, forgive me the word, a Stalinist paradise, and he will do whatever he can for this. He has never hesitated. On the other hand, despite all the rumours, and they are not only rumours, despite the information about the luxurious pleasures and exotic, almost fanciful indulgence in luxury of the Ceaușescu clan, I think Mr. Ceaușescu personally is very much like Stalin. He enjoys having dachas and palaces and castles, but he can easily live in a very austere environment, too. The family’s a different story, the kids and so on. But I think he himself is interested in only one thing, power. Power, which is used by Ceaușescu to carry out and to implement his political designs. That means turning Romania into a great communist power. Perhaps in this respect I would think that he has had two political models in his whole political career. One projection, or one way of fantasising, was Stalin. And the other one, I think everybody would be surprised, was Tito. Ceaușescu was very much enamoured with Tito, and like Tito he has the same – how would I call it – Napoleonic complex. This is too small a country for his genius. And he would do whatever he can to turn Romania into a new Dacian or Thracian empire, kingdom or whatever.
What is the nature and extent of the personality cult in Romania? Could you give some examples of it?
Romania under Ceaușescu has created something which can be compared, to the best of my knowledge, only to China during the Cultural Revolution and to North Korea under Kim Il Sung. Compared even to Enver Hoxha’s cult in Albania, Mr. Ceaușescu’s cult is much more interesting, speaking from the point of view of political analysis and political science, or the pathology of power, everybody is entitled to choose whatever he wants. First of all, it’s not only his cult of personality. It is also the family’s cult of personality. It’s not only Mr. Ceaușescu who is idolised, it’s also Mrs. Ceaușescu, and lately it’s also the dauphin, the son, Nicu Ceaușescu, who happens to be a former classmate of mine. And I think that the problem with Mr. Ceaușescu’s cult of personality, which is absolutely fantastic in terms of engineering, creating and designing all the slogans and all the rhetoric, what is interesting nowadays in Romania is this is a totally unbelieved cult of personality. I was told, and I quote reliable sources, that whenever Mr. Ceaușescu visits a county and he has what friends would call a band of fools, all this kind of extraordinary mass demonstrations of love, admiration, adoration and almost religious identification with the leader, he’s the person who, before going there, checks all the slogans and approves the slogans. Taking into account his ambition to be considered also a poet: it’s well known in Romania, though it’s not published this way, that he is the author of the anonymous text which are the lyrics of the national anthem in Romania, and his ambition is to be a poet, and many other things. So the point is that he creates the slogans, the chanted slogans, almost the rhymes, and he’s very happy with this. In this respect I think that this is also development. The cult of personality now in Romania is the main institution which guarantees the political and symbolic reproduction of the system. There is no other institution. The education system in Romania is in a very poor situation, I mean the university system, high school system and so on. There is also a general crisis of confidence. So the cult of personality for Mr. Ceaușescu is the only way to instil values linked to his regime and to convince Romanians that his aims are worth fighting for.
What has Ceaușescu’s concentration of power in his own hands, this cult of personality, done to the Romanian communist party?
First of all, I would say that it has turned the Romanian Communist Party into a non-entity. Nowadays the Romanian Communist Party plays the role of a kind of showcase for Mr. Ceaușescu’s grandeur and eccentricities. There is no Romanian Communist Party any more in Romania. This situation can be compared to other communist countries, where the party has increasingly declined or lost a lot of its influence. But in Romania it’s a different situation. Here you have the party replaced by the party leader, in other communist countries –
Sorry you have to stop there.
In other communist countries, there is of course a lot of talk about the leading role of the party. However, we have witnessed the same erosion of the party’s power, for example, in Hungary, where there is a lot of evidence that the party has almost lost its traditional leading role. The same thing has happened in Poland. We all know that the party has been almost replaced in a certain critical historical junction, problematic historical junction, by the military, or at least the political faction within the military. But when the party has lost its power in these countries, let’s call them the developed area of socialism, it has in one way or another benefited the civil society, or the opponents of the party. In Romania it has happened because of the man who is the party’s leader, who embodies the party. To my knowledge, nobody has talked more about the party’s leading role, the communist party’s attributes, power, and so on, than Mr. Ceaușescu. His first important theoretical statement when he became the General Secretary of the Party was in 1966, on the 45th anniversary of the Romanian Communist Party. Mr. Ceaușescu wrote a long article for Scânteia, the party’s newspaper, insisting on the collective leadership. Everything was there in this statement, very orthodox, and still he practised the most unorthodox approach to the party’s leading role. For all practical purposes, the party in Romania is now an institution meant or bound to celebrate Mr. Ceaușescu’s power and nothing else.
What role does Elena and Nicu play in the system?
First of all, Elena has been appointed by her husband, with the gentle approval of the sycophantic political executive committee, the chairperson of the commission for “cadres”, which is the personnel commission of the Romanian Central Committee. Every important political appointment nowadays in Romania, even at the level of a city party committee, a mayor of an unimportant city, has to be approved by Elena. To give you an example about her ambitions and her power: Nowadays in Romania, important documents are of course typed, and there are carbon copies. Mr. Ceaușescu gets the No. 1 copy. And then Elena being No. 2 within the party, and this is my description of her power, Elena used to get No. 2 copy, that means a carbon copy. And she complained and said that she was also entitled to have the original. So at the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party, they now type two originals. Which is quite exciting at least because of the Romanian tradition in the theatre of the absurd: One day the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party might have two different originals, and the contradiction between the two different originals can create a crisis in the top leadership. But this is a joke, I still assume that they have the same originals. Elena is extremely powerful, extremely shrewd, she knows very well the intricacies of power. She is very much prone to intrigues. And she has been the éminence grise and actually the driving force in promoting Nicu to an increasingly powerful position. Nicu has been, for a long time, well known for his playboy proclivities. At the same time, he’s very much interested in power, and I would not underestimate his thirst for power.
To what extent is the servile system of power, the sort of clan system, the family system then?
Romania is now ruled by a political clan, and I would dare to call whatever is happening now in Romania the tribalisation of socialism. It’s almost a dynastic scenario, with the holy trio working there, aspiring to create, or to eternise, Ceaușescu’s power. Ceaușescu is too familiar with the experience of contemporary socialism, with whatever has happened in other countries, to know that all his monuments, statues and portraits can disappear from one day to the next after his biological or political passing away. The problem therefore for him is that this man is really interested in eternity. He’s committed to it. So the problem for him is to ensure eternity, to get eternity. And the only solution would be to promote somebody who could not biologically, or by links of consanguinity, betray him. Not a Khrushchev to betray Stalin, not a Dubcek to betray Novotny, or somebody else, Gierek to betray Gomułka. Somebody who owes everything to him and is related. And this person would of course be his son.
Is Romania a Marxist state?
Romania is described by official Romanian and also Soviet propaganda as a Marxist-Leninist state. It belongs to the Warsaw Pact, to Comecon, it belongs to all the official organisations. According to the party by-laws, Marxism-Leninism is the official ideology. But beyond this veneer of appearances, Romania has turned into something else. It’s very difficult for me to describe and to conceptualise the reality of power, the nature of power in contemporary Romania. The best term perhaps would be socialist feudalism, or social feudalism. There’s a combination of feudal rigidity with this almost feudal despotism, with rules which remind one of the rules before the constitutional monarchy. Romania is not a constitutional monarchy. Romania is an absolute monarchy. And actually the practices, I mean in agriculture and others, what Ceaușescu and his folks have managed to do in Romania was to carry to an extreme the logic of Stalinism. I would call Romania a perfect example of what Stalinism would have meant, had Stalin not died in 1953.
What is the role of the Securitate in Romania?
According to the general belief in Romania, Romania is a champion within the system in terms of security police infiltration of all groups and all communities and all collectives. Actually, no independent political, social or other organisations or associations can exist nowadays in Romania. The security police controls everything, from the Writers’ Union to the Graphic Artists’ Union or the Composers’ Union. By that, I don’t mean that the writers are members of the security police. Of course there are some members, but there is perfect surveillance of everything. Of course they are very well paid. They are the only people in Romania nowadays who might say that they are happy from the point of view of their salaries, their special food stores, of all the privileges that they are provided with by the party. However, I would mention something which seems to me quite symptomatic and encouraging in a way. It is the fact that recently, it seems that some top people in the hierarchy of the security police in Romania have realised how dangerous the current course is. Otherwise, I could not and cannot explain the leaks from Romanian official government sources, and also the kind of tolerance on the part of the security police at the moment the important party veteran Silviu Brucan came with his statement after the Brasov riots. This statement was given or provided by Brucan in Bucharest. Brucan lives very close to Ceaușescu in the presidential neighbourhood in Bucharest. And still he was able to get in touch with the British journalist, to provide him with the statement, to call that guy again, to call other media people. Without, I wouldn’t say complicity, I would say kind of a benign neglect on the part of the security police, things like that would not happen in a communist country.
Why would a faction of the Securitate want to replace Ceaușescu?
I think it’s a matter of being fed up one way or another with all this cult. They are the best informed people in Romania. Nobody is better informed than the security police. They know exactly what is now smouldering in Romania, what the problems are, that actually things are boiling over there, and a kind of spontaneous explosion, absolutely unchanneled, uncontrolled, with no leading group organisation you can talk to, like KOR in Poland or even the democratic opposition now in Hungary, might result in a disastrous experience or adventure for the security police. They would be the first victims. They know how hated they are. So, at this moment, the end of the Ceaușescu dictatorship and helping the end of the Ceaușescu dictatorship by the security police would not mean that they don’t like this dictatorship. They know that Ceaușescu now represents a risk for them, and in order to defend their position they would have to get rid of Ceaușescu.
Can you give us two examples of Ceaușescu’s gigantomania?
One of the most conspicuous outcomes of Mr. Ceaușescu’s interest in turning his rule into a kind of unforgettable event in Romanian history, that I would mention first, is of course the Black Sea canal, or the Danube – Black Sea canal, which is an extraordinary waste of money, an extraordinary investment, absolutely reminding one of Stalin’s dreams of creating or turning the Soviet Union into a kind of empire with canals everywhere, and also with forced labour. And the other thing is his decision to bulldoze almost half of the historical centre of Bucharest, to destroy a lot of important historical monuments, cultural monuments and religious monuments. For a country like Romania, where history has so many times been threatened by foreign invasions, religious monuments are the only proof of our survival there. And now this man, who claims to be the symbol of Romanian patriotism, is spearheading the campaign for the destruction of the most important historical monuments in Bucharest. Bucharest is not the same city I left behind in ’81 when I left Romania. All the pictures I got from Bucharest, all the information I got from my friends there, suggest to me that Bucharest is nowadays very much like Pyongyang, or very much like Mengistu’s Addis Ababa or something like that, not like the very attractive city I used to know in the south of Romania.
To what extent is Romania an anachronism, a one-off? Or are all communist states potential Romanias?
I think that to Mr. Ceaușescu’s credit, he cannot be regarded as just a parody of contemporary socialism, a kind of Idi Amin Dada of Eastern European socialism. I think that he has experimented, sometimes even with Moscow’s approval, with one of the possible ways of developing socialism in this century. I don’t think that the Romanian experiment is a betrayal of socialist ideals, I don’t want to use such terms. I think this was initially a well-conceived attempt at the appropriation of nationalist symbols by a communist regime placed in a critical situation. So in this respect, I assume that other communist regimes in critical situations might re-discover the manipulative value of nationalism, of patriotic symbols that they can appropriate. They can fraudulently appropriate these symbols and create the same kind of nationalistic frenzied entrancement, like Ceaușescu did. This was the beginning. We all know that sometimes in history you cannot control all the facts. It started this way, now it’s a bit out of control. So perhaps it would not happen the same way the day Kadar’s successor would discover the need to functionalise the Hungarian nationalist ideology. Or Jaruzelski himself would re-discover the pleasures of Moczarism. We all know that such a thing existed in Poland in 1968. Actually, the same socialist demagogy plus nationalism was Moczar’s line. There is no great difference between the jingoistic vocabulary of the Romanian right-left ideology – the Ceaușescuism, and the Moczarism in 1968, antiforeign, anti-western, obsessed with the national destiny, the national predestination. I think it’s also very appealing, I’ll give you just one example, for Third World radical elites. It is a fact that Mengistu’s constitution was written after a group of legal experts from the Revolutionary Party in Ethiopia went to Bucharest. And actually it’s almost copied, word by word, from the Romanian constitution.
To what extent is Marxist-Leninist ideology really not believed in in communist parties’ elites, and if it isn’t, why do they keep propagating it?
Communist parties in Eastern Europe and in Central Europe, and in the Soviet Union for that matter, know very well how unpopular they are at the moment. They know full well that actually with the notable exception of the Russian Revolution in 1917, they came to power because of foreign intervention, foreign pressure, because of what we call a ‘dictate’. So the only solution for them is to cling to the myth of their historical role. This myth is assigned to them by the ideology. So the ideology has to be kept in place and safeguarded regardless of whatever changes these parties might resort to. They will stick to their ideology.
How does that ideology justify them exactly, could you explain that?
First of all the communist parties, according to this ideology, embody the willingness of the proletariat, of the working class. Second, they embody the idea of historical progress. So they represent the willingness, the interest of the majority of the population. Thus they are entitled to exercise power. This is because of ideology. Now everybody, and primarily the proletariat in communist countries, know they do not represent the interests of the proletariat. So there is a clash between symbols, between official ideology and the real consciousness of what people believe. That’s the reason why ideology has to be acted out. People have to play ideological roles. That’s also the reason for the conflict between public person and private person, which is one of the most tragic, almost schizophrenic situations in Eastern Europe. The soul of the individual, the mind of the individual is permanently divided. The problem becomes even more difficult at the moment you have kids, for example when they go to school, and they are always told by the family, “Don’t tell them,” again the story of us and them, which continues to exist in Eastern Europe. It’s them, I mean the school system, who says, for example, that comrade Gierek, or Jaruzelski, or comrade Kadar, is the best possible leader in this world or in all possible worlds, and so on. And they know that the situation is not as good as the school pretends it to be. I have experienced a lot of things in Eastern Europe, I sometimes believe that the leaders want us to play this ideological role, assuming that the more you play it, the more you are supposed to believe what you are supposed to say.
What are the obstacles to the communist parties themselves, making their societies more liberal, sharing power?
My reading of developments, or dynamics, in Eastern Europe is that without division within the party elite, nothing can happen. Even the Hungarian Revolution, which was a spontaneous revolution, was favoured by the division of the party elite, the disarray at the level of the party elite. And unlike some of my friends especially in the Solidarity movement and in other Eastern European independent groups, I do not underestimate the conflicts between, let’s say, reform-minded and conservative minded communists. I do not share the views of the reform-minded communists, but sometimes the existence of a reform-minded faction, like the Dubček-Kriegel-Smrkovský faction in the Czech Communist Party, can lead towards a kind of liberalisation of the system. And these people might be really true believers. I would say now that even the most liberal-minded communist reformer would not agree to the idea of real pluralisation and fragmentation of political power. At this moment this is the bottom line. I think they would go back into the Marxist-Leninist fold, and they would repent and say, that’s not what we want.
Can I just ask you to clarify that. What do you think is the limit for even a reform communist and what he can allow?
For the time being, the limit for any kind of reform communist was to put an end to the Leninist illusion of a totally homogenous party and to admit the existence of factions within the party. Not a single communist party, not even the Italian Communist party, which is the most liberal in the whole world, has renounced the Leninist stipulation about prohibition of factions within the party. And actually it would be impossible for them to do it, because at the moment they would accept factions within the party, then they’ll renounce the dogma of the necessary break between communist parties and social democratic parties, which was the rationale for the existence of the communist parties since the Communist International was established in 1919. So that would be the first thing. I assume that somebody like Dubček might have thought of the need for factions within the party. But then, the litmus test –
For even the most avant-garde, the most liberal reformed communist, what are the limits, what is it he can’t allow?
Even for people like Dubček in ‘68, Prague Spring, and for Gorbachev, even in his wildest dreams of reforms, I think that it is the limit, the final question, the fundamental question, and they would not go beyond that. They would not transcend the idea of the monopoly of power to communist party. They will accept, of course, a dialogue with some open-minded intellectuals. They would agree and they would make some concessions to those intellectuals. They would allow those intellectuals even to open their mouth a bit. But the final problem remains. Is the party the only holder of political power –
What are the limits to the reforms that even the most liberal communist could allow?
Not even somebody like Gorbachev, assuming that he would have the most utopian ideas about party tolerance, or any other communist leader in China, for example, would go beyond a certain limit which is ideologically imposed, which he cannot mentally overcome. That’s the idea of the party’s leading role, the party’s monopoly on power. They will not renounce their monopoly, their domination. This is their raison d’être, and they are not going to give it up any way, anywhere.
What is the role of the intellectual, the writer, the priest, in Eastern Europe, and how does it differ from Western Europe?
First of all, the opposition in Eastern Europe has for a long time been primarily an intellectual opposition. Solidarity has changed a lot of things. But in other communist countries, in East Germany, in Hungary and even in Czechoslovakia, the opposition is still primarily overwhelmingly intellectual. That, on the one hand, is a very important thing. On the other hand, the second thing is that the party claims to rely upon the intellectuals. Though it is a worker’s party, though there is this kind of ideology, the party is very much interested. It’s an ideological power of what is happening there. I dare to call it ideocracy, if you want to call it this way. So they need intellectuals. They also need party intellectuals, and they need intellectuals to support the party. So you have a division within the intelligentsia between those who have joined the course, then there are those who are quite neutral, and then there are those who have decided to oppose the system in very different ways.
But do ordinary people, ordinary workers, let’s say in Czechoslovakia, look up to the writers? And do they feel in some sense that writers embody their thoughts, their conscience?
For a long time the regimes have tried to create a kind of an antagonism between the working class and the intellectuals. In this respect, Poland is a classic case, or even in Romania intellectuals are seen as a kind of nuisance. They are those people who always criticise, those troublemakers. And that has been instilled into the minds of the workers for a long time through special party meetings and all kinds of the information and confidential reports, with party Politburo members coming and talking to the workers and appealing to the workers. I still remember Gomulka and Gierek in 1968 going to Katowice and saying, “The working class is going to support the party against those intellectual adventurers, the professors and the students from Warsaw University”. That’s one thing. Now things have started to change. The party cannot offer the same welfare type of advantages they have offered to the working class for a long time, I’d call it the end of the socialist welfare state. And if it is the end of the socialist welfare state, that’s of course the beginning of the socialist class struggle. In this respect I can envision, not tomorrow but in the long run, the type of alliance between certain radicalised sectors of the working class and certain segments of the intelligentsia, which would also be made up of disenchanted party intellectuals. I would not dismiss the presence of these people in such a possible coalition.
Has the trauma, the brutality of totalitarianism, the daily experience of it, even nowadays, in some sense been galvanising of creativity?
Always the experience of the limit, what the Germans call the Grand Situation, is an extraordinary opportunity for mindful people to ponder their life experiences. In this respect, I would compare what Stalinism has created in music, for example, and this is the most abstract of all arts, to what America had at that moment. I would compare Shostakovich and Prokofiev to Aaron Copeland and Gershwin, and I don’t know who is going to look better – the Soviet Union under Stalin or the United States under Roosevelt. However, I think that the Mandelstams, the Pasternaks, the Achmatovas have appeared not because of the constraints, but despite the constraints. And we are very much fascinated by their tough experiences and by the way they sympathised their tremendous psychological dilemmas and the psychological dilemmas of a society in deep trouble. At the same time, I don’t believe that this is one of the benefits of the system. I believe it’s one of the virtues of those who have resisted the system.
Why are so many leading dissidents former fanatical excommunists?
There is the famous saying, I think it was Ignacio Silone, who said once that the final struggle is going to be the struggle between communists and excommunists. So first of all, after having belonged to an ideological movement, I don’t mean here organisational or institutional belonging, which has claimed to restore human dignity – as Malraux put it in his La condition humaine: That’s what communism provides man with: human dignity, the opposite of humility and humiliation – then the experience of disappointment is perhaps one of the most traumatic one can have in one’s life. On the one hand, it’s disenchantment; on the other hand, people who have been attracted to the left, let’s call it the left for the purposes of the discourse, are usually also very much interested in ideals like altruism, generosity, selflessness, and so on. And these ideals have to be resumed in our own experience or in a political experience. Some of them broke with any form of political experience. Others, like Konrad for example, have referred to the beginning of antipolitics, of something completely different from the old political games. Some others are still very much politically committed, like Jan Jozef Lipski trying to create the Polish Socialist Party, which is not at all anti-politics, it’s very traditional politics. And still they want to continue, to resume with their initial dreams. So it’s a kind of prolongation of one’s own radicalism.
To what extent is the opposition that emerges in Eastern Europe still socialist, still left-wing? Do the ideals of socialism still survive as the main alternative in Eastern Europe?
Being in the States, I have been asked about my own political orientation and I have to quote here somebody. I’d prefer to quote myself but I would quote Leszek Kolakowski, with a piece he has published in Dissent magazine, with the title Why I Am a Socialist Conservative-Liberal AntiCommunist. In this respect I think that this description, Socialist Conservative-Liberal Anti-Communist, would provide us with the best description of the general mood of the intellectual political opposition in East Central Europe. Left and right are primarily nowadays western concepts. There in those countries are people who do not think usually in terms of left or right. I don’t speak here about those who have all kinds of nostalgia for the days of the monarchies or for the days of the historical traditional parties. I speak here of future-oriented people. And those who are futureoriented couldn’t care less about traditional western-imposed divisions and dichotomies between left and right. Anyway they feel these are obsolete concepts. So what they want is to create a new type of political experience. Which would be, if I can say this, beyond left and right.
Vladimir Tismăneanu (1951)
Romanian and American political scientist, professor of politics,president of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania (2006–2007), chair of the editorial committee (2004-2008) and editor (1998-2004) ) of the East European Politics and Societies academic review and director of the University of Maryland's Center for the Study of Post-Communist Societies.
Tismănenu left communist Romania in 1981 and a year later arrived to USA. For over two decades, he has been a permanent collaborator of Radio Free Europa, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle and BBC. Later on Tismăneanu became a contributor to several periodicals, including Journal of Democracy, Studia Politica, Sfera Politicii, 22 and Cotidianul.
In 1983, he joined the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia as a research associate. Between 1985 and 1990, he taught at the University of Pennsylvania and since 1990 at University of Maryland. In 2004, his book Stalinism for All Seasons was granted the "Barbara Jelavich Award" by the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS) as an exceptional work on the history of Central and Eastern Europe.