Monday, 6 December 2010

Habits

Old habits die hard. In the current flood of WikiLeaks, which more confirm our suspicions rather than susprise or shock, it is quite easy to see how regimes of yesteryear still have their tentacles in the current day reality of post-communist countries.

It is hardly surprising that Romania was called a ‘wild’ place. But interestingly, whilst Russia is said to be run by Putin-connected Mafia, the former Soviet Union’s and Romania’s old tactics are still shown as very much alive.

Recent data, coming from outside the streams of WikiLeaks information, shows how surveillance techniques are used in Romania as an ordinary routine to monitor people’s interactions.
In a country where mass media was labelled as a key danger to national security (does this sound familiar to anyone?...), just in the last year a total of 3000 orders were given for phone tapping alone.
This is double compared to 2005, and the ‘peak’ is attributed to the election campaign- whilst Romanian media mentioned this casually, it is a remarkable fact that this can be even casually thought to be a ‘normal’ state of affairs simply because politicians’ and media personalities ‘had’ to be kept under observation due to elections…

The stalinist ghosts of Securitate are truly walking casually on the streets of Romania in 2010.

Parallels with the former Soviet Union (and current Russia) are easy to make, considering that despite the vast shrinking in size & population (consider Russia now vs. former Soviet Union), Russia employs more secret intelligence officers than ever before in the FSB’s old incarnation, the KGB. Current official count is 600 000 intelligence officers…

Russia, in all its post-stalinist might, deals with its politicians via such methods, ranging from extensive surveillance to assasination attempts. Romania is certainly showing that not only still copies attitudes from Ceausescu’s era, but also cranks up efforts in at least monitoring, if not suppressing, its own political and media figures.

Old habits do die hard, especially when there are key models in the close neighbourhood to imitate…

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Post-mortem

Recently, the Romanian poet Adrian Paunescu died. This would have been an otherwise ordinarily tragic event, but his past has given rise to numerous posthumous debates. Latter, in turn, raise interesting questions about man vs. opus, morality vs. legacy.

He was buried with military honours. Considering the poet was a fervent supporter of Ceausescu’s dictatorial regime, who greatly benefited from praising the regime and its key figure, this poses the question whether anybody who considers Romania is still run by the old circles is misled (after all, 85 of top 100 most powerful Romanians are all faces from the old regime… to quote a quick & easy statistic).

It is difficult not to remember his propaganda marathons on TV, during the total of 3 hours of daily TV broadcasts… He organised vast rallies of ‘patriotic’ poetry and songs, all fervent pro-regime propaganda under the veil of ‘artistic’ programming.

So… where is the line between the person and his opus? Speer may have been brilliant architect, but was a lackey of an unspeakable regime…

Paunescu has re-invented himself after the Revolution as a lackey of the new (and then fervently neo-communist) regime headed by Ion Iliescu (who was in Ceausescu’s close entourage and became first Romanian president, dressing up in ‘democratic’ colours as ‘savior of the nation’). During the following years, in the Romanian pluralist political scene, Paunescu managed to swim between the moving buoys such that always maximally benefited from whatever political party was at power.

He was, until the very last moments of his death, a spineless version of chameleon (quite some creature), who, with maximum opportunism, sung the praise of whoever he could benefit from the most.

Clearly, his opus therefore is in much debate. Nothing objective can be said about art, except when that art is just incredibly bad… Some say his ‘opus’ really is that bad. But that is again a personal opinion. What remains a fact, is that his opus was intertwined with his political convictions and his manoeuvres on the political and ideological scene.

So it is difficult to separate man from his opus in this case. Since the person, in both his personal and political life, was a truly despicable amoral piece of work, his output is much debated from a moral perspective.

Some now claim with great fervour, that he was a patriot. Well, a person who sides with any regime of any kind does more damage to the country than any more open enemy of that country… Patriotism is not a blind and opportunistic, unreserved support of any regime in that country… if anything, it is usually the very opposite…

Some claim he was a great poet and they quote how many volumes he published – as if quantity is correlated with artistic greatness.

Others commented in press that he really wasn’t a servant of the Ceausescu regime, because he had his run-in with the regime. Yes, true, Paunescu spent some years out of favour, but purely because of an event (a tragic accident at one of his rallies) that had nothing to do with his political convictions (or changes of the latter).

Looking at 400+ comments wrote in to an article in the Romanian national media, the trend of the discourse and the patterns are quite obvious to an analytical eye: it is a fight between indoctrinated ‘opinions’ and rationalism.

People who (often unable to spell in their mother tongue) write in capitals, directly abusing negative comments about the ‘great poet’, just show a total inability to respect others’ opinions, or to mount rational counter-arguments.

People quote that they felt very happy at Paunescu’s rallies organised during Ceausescu’s reign. All they are stating is that they were successfully sucked into the propaganda machine, and hence already conditioned by it, they cannot look at the ‘great poet’ in every angle.

Many make fundamental semantic and logical mistakes, my absolute favourite is the person who wrote in screaming capitals: anybody who dares to criticise the poet’s work has complete lack of common sense. Truly perfect point made about dogmatic attitudes and indoctrination, but the comment’s author clearly didn’t realise how perfect own goal he/she scored.

So the one thing that can be said, is that he was and will remain a highly controversial figure of previous and current regimes. His poems, of vastly varying quality and convictions, will stand the judgment of time, but separating completely the man from his work remains a dangerous mistake to make.