Comunism şi represiune în România. Istoria tematică a unui fraticid naţional

TitleComunism şi represiune în România. Istoria tematică a unui fraticid naţional
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsIacob, Bogdan
Author(s) of reviewed materialCesereanu, Ruxandra(ed.)

Title translated:
Communism and terror in Romania. The thematic history of a national fratricide. Series: Plural M.

PublisherIaşi: Polirom
ISSNISBN 973-46-0312-4
Review year


Full Text

The volume is the Romanian version of a monographic issue of the French journal Communisme focused on communism and terror in Romania. It is the product of the collaboration between Stéphane Courtois and the directors of the Sighet Memorial for the Victims of Communism (Mrs. Ana Blandina and Mr. Romulus Rusan). The coordinator, Ruxandra Cesereanu, gathered researchers from two generations: some of them are names already established in the field of communism studies, others are young PhD graduates, representing newer academic trends.

The main themes of the book are: communist takeover, terror, armed resistance against the new regime, collectivisation, deportations and forced labour, institutional censorship, and the personality cult of Nicolae Ceauşescu. Most contributions are relying on the totalitarian paradigm, which inevitably leads to generalizations and a highly engaged academic approach. In spite of this, the volume contains informative studies that show the big-picture of the academic debates as well as the main motifs of the academic community dealing with the historical experience of communism in Romania.

Of the seventeen contributions contained in this collection, I will turn my attending to only a few, the ones I considered to either bring forth interesting research/analysis or to reflect characteristic topoi of the historical writing about Romanian communism. These are the studies authored by Ioan Ciupea and Stăncuţa Todea (“Represiune, sistem şi regim penitenciar in România 1945-1964 – Terror, the penitentiary system and regime in Romania 1945-1964”), Doru Radosav (“Rezistenta anticomunistă armată din România între istorie si memorie – Anticommunist resistance between history and memory”), Doina Jela (“Canalul Morţii – The Death Channel”), Ruxandra Cesereanu (“Tortură şi oroare: fenomenul Piteşti 1949-1952 – Torture and horror: the Piteşti phenomenon 1949-1952”), Igor Caşu (“Gulagul basarabean: deportări, represiuni şi foamete 1940-1941, 1944-1951 – The Basserabian Gulag: deportations, terror and starvation”), Ioana-Macrea Toma (“Cenzura instituţionalizată şi incorporate. Regimul publicaţiilor în România comunistă”), and Angelo Mitchievici (“Biografia unei secunde: 4 martie 1977 şi mitul Marelui Architect – Nicolae Ceauseşcu, eroul fondator – Biography of a second: March 4th 1977 and the myth of the Great Architect – Nicolae Ceauşescu, the founding hero”).

Ciupea and Todea’s essay is a synthetic, comprehensive review of the research done until now on the victims of communism. The authors attempt to offer an estimate of the number of those who were victims of ‘the penitentiary colony’ in Romania. They can be divided into at least five different categories: the arrested, the sentenced, the executed, the dead and the deported. Ciupea and Todea’s contribution represents a valuable historiographical and quantitative introduction to the literature dealing with terror in Romania, opening the way both for further research and comparison with other cases in Eastern Europe. They also manage to corroborate the waves of repression with the changes of party line and the power dynamics in the socialist bloc.

Doru Radosav builds his essay on the stereotypical antinomy between the values of the Romanian political and cultural environment and those of Soviet Bolshevism. According to him: “it [the anticommunist resistance] represented from the beginning the clash of two worlds, two political, cultural and ethic systems, that is, between the post-1944 Romanian democratic society and the communist, totalitarian, foreign alternative.” (pp. 80) [my translation] He continues by creating a series of typologies of the anti-communist resistance movement based on social-cultural criteria. One of his conclusions is that “all the forms and typologies of resistance make up and maintain a culture of resistance which manifests itself in an ever-shifting form activated and reproduced at the level of the non-ideologized, subsistent collective conscience.” (pp. 85) [my translation] The problem with this type of argument is that it is challenged by what other authors in the volume identify or hint to – widespread “collaborationism” within the population. Moreover, the author also fails to explain, despite suggesting there was general opposition to the regime, the lack of cohesion and of unitary action within the resistance movement. Both for the two decades taken into account and for the post-1964 period, the few opposition moments were highly isolated and segmented. This very point is stressed by Andreea Iacob’s contribution, “Anti-solidaritatea. Represiunea asupra greviştilor mineri din 1977 – Anti-solidarity - the 1977 repression against miners”. Mrs. Iacob understands by “anti-solidarity” exactly the lack of communication and common action between the miners and other dissidents (e.g. Paul Goma). This very much applies to the first 20 years of the resistance, as most groups acted locally without managing concerted action, making resistance diffuse.

Doina Jela’s article is a brief account of the functions of and reasons behind the creation of the Danube-Black Sea Channel. What catches the eye in this piece is the highly judgmental style of the author. In her introduction she states that “the paupers (săracimea) were not immune [to the propagandistic and demagogic discourses of the communist leadership], but they did represent a consistent percentage of the population.” She carries on by summarizing the general revolutionary and transformative ethos (misguided according to her) of the people in charge with the designing, projecting and building of channel – a collaborationism of the lowest sort in her view. To this compromised majority she counterposes the victims of the Channel – the political prisoners and all those who were doing forced labour, part of the communist project of “terror and re-education.” They were branded “hostile bourgeoisie”, and selected to grave the Channel. Doina Jela is the author of the Black Lexicon – tools of communist terror, among other influential books. The main problem with the argument is that it mirrors the totalitarian type of discourse, the very propaganda that it attempts to expose and criminalize. Doina Jela’s contribution wishes to be an indictment against the Channel project, the regime, and against those who collaborated with the communists in order to achieve it. She creates this almost mythical battle between heroes and villains, which also generates a breakage between one social category (“the bourgeoisie” in this case) and the rest of the population, regardless of their political colouring. Isn’t this a derivation of the “class-struggle” discourse in which the actors are abstract categories, whose thinking and acts are dependent on collectives they (supposedly) represent rather than their individual profiles?

Ruxandra Cesereanu’s article is a very interesting analysis of the so-called Piteşti phenomenon: the practices of re-education and of the creation of a “new man”. She takes the “unreasonable” (Diner) or the “sublime” (Ankersmit) and tries to understand the inter-play of notions such as victim-torturer or trauma-guilt. The author takes one of the most extreme and symbolically important moments of the communist terror in Romania and she uses it as illustration of the fundamentally transformative and criminal intentions of the regime against the population. The working premise for her contribution is a quote form H.-R. Patapievici, who argues that “what we call today the ‘Romanian people’ is the result of the Piteşti experiment applied to country-level after 1946.” Indeed in Romania, the RCP had its own “Enlightenment project”, its social engineering project, like any other modern state. Furthermore, the violence, barbarity and rationale characterizing the Piteşti experiment could be found at numerous times during the various phases of the communist project of modernization. Even so, to extend it the entire history of communism in Romania, such evaluation becomes a conceptual whitewash rather than a revealing characterization. While the motif of the Piteşti experiment is re-education, one could argue that ultimately Romanian national-communism relied on acculturation.

Igor Caşu’s contribution presents an overview of the repressive Soviet policies against the local population in Bessarabia. It offers data on the process and a historiographical introduction to the topic. The main purpose of this study is to point out how the intentionality of communism in its Soviet Stalinist version differed from “other totalitarian movements, particularly Nazism.” Subsequently, Caşu argues against the possibility of comparing communism with Nazism in terms of “body-count” or on the premise that both of them were criminal and/or evil. He argues for and pursues an inquiry into the nature, reasons, functions and consequences of the Stalinist repression in Bessarabia (both after the nonaggression pact and the end of war) in the context of the overall project of creating a Soviet people.

Ioana Macrea-Toma’s article is a highly insightful analysis of the systemic functions of censorship under communism in Romania, which comes very close to that of Verdery’s National ideology under socialism. She describes the process by which censorship transforms from an outward means of repression and of silencing opposition to an internalized phenomenon dependent on both individual/career dynamics and on the checks and balances of an already mature system of knowledge (re)production (to paraphrase Foucault). In her opinion, censorship evolves in direct relation with the development of the RCP’s politics of culture and it is highly dependent on personnel dynamics.

The last contribution of the volume I would discuss is Angelo Mitchievici’s, who offers a refined theoretical evaluation of the manner in which communist leadership used discourse to manipulate the 1977 disaster for purposes of creating and/or deepening Ceauşescu’s personality cult. Mitchievici’s study is an excellent introduction into the political language of national-communism. His main premise is that “there is a mythological substratum belonging to the cultural-historical national vulgate accessible to Ceauşescu during his primary education, which helps him into building a personal cultural-historical pantheon” that will later become the foundation of the values and myths defining Romanian national-communism. On the basis of this symbolic toolkit, Ceauşescu will represent himself as the “Great Architect” – he who founds, who always has knowledge and wisdom to share (indicaţii and recomandări), and always constructs and transforms for the sake of progress for the people – the Leader (Conducătorul). Mitchievici, by analyzing these concepts, traces how the communist leadership attempted , at the level of its political language and representation, a synthesis between what the author calls the “heroic-revolutionary” dimension and the “architect/founder” one, thereby coming close to my earlier characterization of national-communist hybridization of the communist regime in Romania under Ceauşescu.