Thursday, 8 November 2007

15. Exchange - Part 2

Theatres, cinemas, concert halls, orchestras, well, anything cultural, have also been exposed to the laws of the new economical reality. Stable state funding, meaning an automatic coverage of expenses and salaries regardless of the number of tickets sold, is just a distant memory that often seems as unreal and dream-like as many other things from the Ceausescu years. But ironically, it is exactly this area where those years, despite all their oppression, had beneficial effects compared to the jungle capitalism that suddenly burst through the cracks of the terminally aged pavements and road surfaces of the new Romania.

Libraries could fill their shelves with (not black-listed) books from funds which were simply there during the Regime... Plays and concerts could be organized with programmes of non-censored works in mind... Now everybody, in order to survive, has to focus on number of tickets sold... Theatre companies are sliding into desperate commercialism mixed with enthusiastic experiments in the avant-garde. Concerts feature a veritable salad of movie tunes mixed with some movements from here and there, seemingly picked from some ‘best of...’ list of catchy classical tunes...

Plays are staged with naked actresses as ‘novel’ versions of classics, cabarets go on stage with populist, tragically desperate, primitive and above all, sleazy humour...
Bookshops, ironically, enjoyed during the Regime happy days of packed shelves, piles of uncensored classics and carefully vetted translation of foreign authors. Crowds filled the confines of those shops all the time, rapid fingers flipping through many pages, sampling, picking, choosing, paying affordable prices... All this has changed, like everything else destined to feed the mind and soul. Gradually many bookshops, privatised of course, started to disappear and office equipment shops opened in their place, all showing new priorities and new profit making possibilities. The few surviving, struggling book stores were and are selling extremely expensive books, imported ones sporting astronomical price tags due to the currency exchange rates... We started to call them, like many other shops filled with goods that are only affordable for the new dubious elite, museums... People walk in, have a look, wander out and resume their pedestrian existence.

Local film festivals, like Alter-native in my home town, struggle every year to find sponsors despite steadily growing success, increasing quality of submitted works and the growing attendance of the public... Quality magazines struggle for survival despite the number of readers, ultimately die out purely due to funding re-prioritisation and their place is taken by acres and waist-high piles of cellulose sporting titles like ‘Crime and rape’...

When people buy some ‘must have’ items, like mobile phones, and replace their rusty, disintegrating communist-era cars with extraordinarily expensive new ones, pay back the loan with huge interest due to high inflation and medieval greed of the banks, then still somehow manage to pay off the bills, they have no money left for culture and arts... Therefore a commercialisation of the cultural scene, combined with an essentially poor potential audience, led to the characteristic post-communist (anti-)cultural phenomenon witnessed there.

Inevitably, nostalgia of the past era has turned up... In still freezing homes, in any one of the concrete deserts cut off from the electricity grid after tens of thousands of families could not pay the bills any more, not 6 months, not one year, but ten years after the Revolution that brough all this new freedom and new captivity into their lives, minds assaulted by yet another promising tirade of yet another Government decided that all the oppression of the old Regime was bearable compared to this.

Moral survival, the abstract concept of freedom of speech and many such luxurious things, were overtaken by the need for physical survival on the priority list in the minds of people who thought that the new Romania would no longer face them with such challenges. The ability to voice an opinion without the risk of being arrested is something that pales in significance, when compared to the ability to feel that your work can sustain your family and that you can afford some heating in your home in January...

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