Archive for the ‘Romania’ Category

My Trip to Hungary

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

                I’m writing this blog post about my trip to Hungary about a month ago. I wish I could say that I was on vacation, but I went for a funeral. Still, I noticed a few things there that relate to our class, so I thought I would write about them in the blog. First, I should give a little background.

                I stayed in a small town Dunapataj (pronounced with a y-sound at the end, not with a hard j-sound) in the south of Hungary. I should also mention Ordas (pronounced Ordush, with a sh-sound at the end), which is next door. They have grown together. I have family and friends in both, with my grandparents’ house in Dunapataj. The topics that follow have to do with both towns, their inhabitants, and small town life in Eastern Europe, which fascinates me. (more…)

Stalinism in Eastern Europe

Monday, November 26th, 2007

The Romanian Embassy and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars invite you to a scholarly conference on Stalinism in Eastern Europe to be held November 29-30. The first day’s events will be at the Romanian Embassy (Sheridan Circle–a short walk from the Dupont Circle Metro) and the second at the WWIC (Federal Triangle Metro). This conference brings some of the most important scholars in Romanian and East European studies together in one place. You should feel free to attend either day or both.

The schedule for the event follows below.

Stalinism Revisited – the Establishment of Communist Regimes in East-Central Europe and the Dynamics of the Soviet Bloc (29-30th November, 2007 – Washington D.C., USA)

Conference Program:

29th November, 2007 –Embassy of Romania to United States of America (Washington D.C.)

9.00 am – 9.30 am
Welcome Address – Daniela Gitman = Chargé d’Affairs a.i, Embassy of Romania to United States

- Horia-Roman Patapievici = President of the Romanian Cultural Institute

Link to Ceausescu’s big flop of a speech

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Romanian Cinema in D.C.

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

The Washington Post ran a very laudatory extended review of current Romanian cinema in yesterday’s edition. Among the many films praised by Philip Kennicott was 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. This film, about a young woman’s harrowing experiences with an illegal abortion during the last throes of the Communist regime is described as the best film ever to deal with the sensitive and controversial issue of abortion.

Kennicott writes:

[The film] puts an abortion on screen–not just the extortionate brutality of the back-alley abortionist and the emotional exposure of young women with nowhere to turn, but the process, the tubes, the spread legs, the waiting, the aftermath. Watching it will leave you furious not with the characters for their moral choices, but with the poverty of American artistic life. This is a film we could never make, because we refuse to look at reality. Mungiu [the director] has courage, and the results are a film expansive enough to contain the emotional and intellectual confusion that haunts the issue.

I’d say that is (a) a pretty ringing endorsement of Romanian cinema and (b) a powerful indictment of American cinema.

A number of the films described in the piece will be shown around town in the coming weeks. I’ve also procured a copy of 12:08 East of Bucharest (mentioned favorably in the review) and it is in the JC Library media collection (not on reserve).

The Walls Came Tumbling Down, by Gale Stokes

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

The Walls Came Tumbling Down, by Gale Stokes 

Written in 1993, Gale Stokes’s The Walls Came Tumbling Down is an early effort to explain why the collapse of the Soviet bloc nations, which came as such a shock to most of the world in 1989, was actually a long time coming.


Stokes divides the era of Communist Eastern Europe into two halves: pre-1968 and post-1968. The argument is that from the end of World War II until 1968, whatever opposition there was within the bloc countries was almost entirely aimed at reforming and perfecting the socialist system, and that the idea of ending socialism was not even a consideration. But the events of 1968, culminating in the invasion of Czechoslovakia, convinced the oppositionists that reform was not possible. This was the start of “anti-politics”.


The author’s explanation of how anti-politics developed is very interesting. Since there was no chance of reform, and no way to resist the power of the state (backed by the Soviets), then there was no hope in any normal political opposition. Out of this hopelessness came the idea that the only thing to do was to live life “as if”, to go through life making moral choices and be unafraid of the consequences. And since the Communists claimed to be the sole keepers of truth and justice, living by your own rules, even in the tiniest instance and regardless of what ‘your rules’ might be, was in and of itself an act of opposition. By turning the idea of opposition from a political task to a moral one, the oppositionists did not have to agree on what the “correct” political solution might be. They just had to agree that the existing regime was a false one. This allowed people with widely divergent political leanings to be on the same side and to face down the regime together.


Eastern Europe in Revolution, after the fact

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Eastern Europe in Revolution ed. Ivo Banac.

            Eastern Europe in Revolution, published in 1992, presents a thoughtful recounting on the transitions from communism to miscellaneous political structures, as well as some as yet unfulfilled predictions about the future of the former satellite republics. Banac has collected individual chapters which recount the conditions and results in each country, rather than essays which generalize the situation of the entire region. This approach allowed greater comparison between countries, as each essay focuses on unique conditions of the countries. (more…)

National Identity: Ceausescu v. Intellectuals

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Verdery, Katherine. National Ideology Under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceausescu’s Romania. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

For my post this week I’ll focus on a theme in Verdery’s book that I hope to elaborate on for my paper next week.  Last week I posted on Trond Gilberg’s Nationalism and Communism in Romania which, among other things addresses the ways in which the Ceausescus repressed the intellectual community in Romania and sought to supplant those hostile or unsupportive of the RCP line with pseudo-intellectuals willing to take direction from the Party.  Both of these books deal with the concept of National identity in Romania and its importance to members of all different strata of society.  (more…)

A Return to Diversity and the Pitfalls of Historical Surveys

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

By Laszlo Taba

Joseph Rothschild and Nancy Wingfield, Return to Diversity: A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II (1999)

Joseph Rothschild’s and Nancy Wingfield’s Return to Diversity: A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II is well written, though it shares some of the typical problems of historical survey literature. For an area of history that is complex and difficult to explain, they do an admirable job of organizing their subject. The problems with the book predominantly have to do with its structure.


Ceausescu’s cult of personality

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Gilberg, Trond. Nationalism & Communism in Romania: The Rise and Fall of Ceausescu’s Personal Dictatorship. Boulder: Westview Press, Inc., 1990.  

The good thing about being the “dear leader” and holding absolute control over all political and economic aspects of a state is that when things go wrong, blame can be spread over all the intermediary functionaries who were too inept to implement the flawless plans of the leader.  The bad thing about it is that when the pedestal you’ve built yourself begins to break apart it’s going to be an ugly fall.  Trond Gilberg provides an in depth look at Ceausescuism in Nationalism and Communism in Romania.  Ceausescuism can be described as a blend of Marxist elements and traditional Romanian nationalism shaken up and implemented by a delusional paranoid sociopath.  Characteristic elements of Ceausescuism are: a populist emphasis, a strong leader, Romanian nationalism and chauvinism, isolationism and autarky, personality cult and megalomania, and a bit of Marx. (49-56)  (more…)

Matt Hobbs – Sugar’s “Native Fascism in the Successor States, 1918-1945″

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Native Fascism in the Successor States, 1918-1945 (Peter Sugar, ed.)

The collapse of the Habsburg monarchy after the First World War produced a multitude of states in East Central Europe.  Some of these countries were the rebirth of states that had existed in the past (Poland), some were multinational themselves (Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia), and others were mere “rump states,” shadows of their former selves (Austria, Hungary.)  All of them faced similar challenges in postwar Europe.  Economies were struggling, or occasionally being united under a common state government for the first time; a large influx of veterans returning to private life, in both defeated and victorious states; and attempts to leave the monarchy of the Habsburgs behind and establish democracies.  In many ways, these successor states shared this situation with the two main Central powers of World War I, Germany and Italy.  Likewise, they all saw the development of significant domestic fascist parties.  Native Fascism in the Successor States sets out to “investigate what features of the fascism of Eastern Europe differed from those observed elsewhere and what common characteristics these local manifestations had that could be tied, at least to some extent, to their common Habsburg inheritance” (147.)