Δευτέρα, 11 Ιανουαρίου 2016

Manuela Marin: Aspects of the ‘Creative Resistance’ in Communist Romania

Manuela Marin, “Aspects of the ‘Creative Resistance’ in Communist Romania, (Remembrance in time, Transilvania University Press of Brasov 2012), pp. 86-92.

The problem in studying the masses within extreme right and extreme left regimes came to the attention of foreign historians after the Second World War, when the totalitarian model was formulated. Challenging this model’s assumptions regarding the nature of the relations between the masses and the political regimes and using the methods of social history in the context of the historical evolution of the Soviet Union in the interwar period, the revisionist school brought into discussion besides the topics concerning the social basis of Stalinism, the conflict between the center-periphery and the administrative weakness of the Soviet Union, as well as that of the resistance. Thus, the active forms of resistance came into the attention of the representatives of this school and especially those of the passive resistance of the population against the Soviet regime, analyzed in the context of the actions of different social classes (peasants, workers). If for active resistance, its forms are clearly defined (eg, demonstrations, protest meetings, strikes, petitions) and it places its subjects in open, direct opposition to authority, in the case of the passive resistance things are not always as clear. Obviously influenced by the works of James C. Scott, historians who have addressed this topic have made a distinction from two different perspectives: the first includes passive resistance as part of the behavior of subordinate classes / groups, while the second makes it clear that passive forms of opposition are characteristic to the category of ordinary people (related to this aspect,

some authors even make a clear distinction between dissent, the specific form of intellectuals’ opposition and the passive resistance that characterizes the way in which the simple individual relates to the authoritarian political regime).

Consequently, passive resistance refers to those forms of everyday resistance in the sense of the term provided by James C. Scott. They allow individuals to pursue their own interests in their current activity, manipulating, reinterpreting and adapting the official game’s rules, without providing justifiable grounds for a confrontation or direct intervention of the authority against which these acts of passive resistance are directed.

Among these forms of passive opposition, James C. Scott has included delays in initiatingactions (foot-dragging), negligence, sabotage, theft, concealment, false compliance, feigned ignorance, rumors, gossip, songs, jokes, gestures, etc. All these are part of what he called hidden transcripts. They represent those speeches, gestures, informal practices

employed by subordinate groups that contradict, modify or reinterpret similar practices initiated in the public space and which characterize all their relations with those who they are subject to. In Scott's opinion, that specific interaction in the public space of the subordinated groups with those who behold the power and which contradicts their position expressed through hidden transcripts is called public transcripts. Because these two types of transcripts are the result of a process of domination, their content reflects the dynamic and constant struggle between those who are dominated and the dominating ones especially since the latter affect the transcriptions and condition the similar manifestations of those who are subordinated. However, the hidden transcripts, through their complexity (including those mentioned above as gestures, mimicry, hidden behavior, speech acts etc.) allow the subordinate groups to create a subculture that gives meaning to their passive forms of resistance regarding the official political line and at the same time to customize the ideate content of the social space as an expression of the indirect unofficial opposition towards the official transcript specific to the formal

exercise of power relations.3

Trying to define resistance as part of the complex response that the society gave to the Stalinist regime, Lynne Viola stressed that there one cannot talk of only one resistance, but rather of resistances or acts of resistance, different in size and content having multiple meanings. This is due to the fact that the acts of resistance are influenced and at the same

time illustrate the complexity of the society in which they emerged, with all the internal political and social divisions, along with all the conflictive forces acting within it.4

Sheila Fitzpatrick uses the term sedition (in Russian kramola) to describe various forms of everyday resistance in the Soviet Union from 1960 to 1970 years. However, the author notes that these forms of daily opposition of the Soviet citizens were their only real political acts, while the model of popular democracy of the Soviet Union assured them only a simulated participation in the political decision making process.5

In his monograph dedicated to the Soviet Magnitogorsk city, examining how socialism was not just built but also lived, Stephen Kotkin introduced the expression of creative resistance to characterize how people in that city in the middle of construction responded to official policies and to the manner in which they were implemented. This type of

resistance is defined by those "little tactics of habit”, such as behavior, language, attitude employed by individuals to avoid or undermine the meaning of written and unwritten rules of appropriate behavior officially established. In other words, the creative resistance was an imaginative original reinterpretation of the official rules so that they served the interests of individuals, but at the same time they had to maintain the appearance of scrupulous compliance of official regulations.6

Applying the above mentioned to the subject of our study, we will analyze the resistance in communist Romania as part of everyday existence of subordinate groups which developed a series of specific acts of resistance. These acts through their diversity and complexity gave birth to a form of subculture specific to groups, reflected by the emergence and development of hidden transcripts.

Also, the manner in which official transcripts (in our case, the official political and propagandistic discourse of Romanian Communist Party) influenced creatively the hidden content of these will be another focus of our analysis. Applying the above mentioned to the subject of our study, we will analyze the resistance in communist Romania as part of everyday existence of subordinate groups which developed a series of specific acts of resistance. These acts through their diversity and complexity gave birth to a form of subculture specific to groups, reflected by the emergence and development of hidden transcripts. Also, the manner in which official transcripts (in our case, the official political and propagandistic discourse of Romanian Communist Party) influenced creatively the hidden content of these will be another focus of our analysis.

As I said before, the everyday acts of creative resistance were the result of the manner in which some people reacted to official policies and how their application had influenced the everyday existence. However, our analysis will not be a thematic one that identifies those decisions or official policies that have generated opposition from the population, but will concentrate on identifying and portraying its specific forms in the context of communist Romania.

The first form of such a resistance was the one of political discussions. In this context, we should note that due to the centralized control of Romanian Communist Party (hereafter abbreviated as RCP) on the Romanian society, almost any topic of conversation acquired a political significance. One such topic was concerning the difficulties arising in the food supply of the population during the 1980s. The expression of the dissatisfaction of the population regarding the food shortages "in various places and circumstances starting from the queues for food … to the work place or even in organized meetings" was an action which implied a political stake as it denied the successful economic policies and made less credible the paternalist argument put forward by Romanian propaganda as a primary aim of the party-state’s activity. Thus, in an informative note was quoted a citizen’s testimony stating that "it got worse than during the war, we give all to to capitalists and still staying at queues in the cold", while another said that "it would be better if the state thought about the necessary supplies instead of throwing people at

the parade".7 In other cases, public remarks aimed at the significance of domestic political events. Thus, in a dialogue captured in another memo of the Securitate in Arad, a worker said that he does not even know when will be the Eleventh Congress of the Communist Party "because for months they only deal with Congress, the radio, at television and in the newspapers are filled with Congress news; it irritates you that much propaganda for nothing, that workers cannot expect anything good, but must keep quiet".8

Another citizen denied the democratic character of the socialist system and denounced the measures taken in this respect by the Romanian communist regime to maintain the appearance of a democratic participation of citizens in the political life: "it’s in vain to make expenses for election propaganda, because even if no Romanian would vote, those

proposed will still be elected, and those who do not vote for the Communists, will be under surveillance and should expect who knows what from the police force".9

A second identified form of resistance is the subversive use of language. In this case, we will consider firstly what the Securitate identified as "documents containing hostile message". Thus, in the context of elections of deputies for people's councils, in a voting precinct

was found a note "with a mentioning that denigrated the RCP", while in another ballot box, "on one bulletin was written the objection regarding the lack of opposition in elections".10

Also, the members of Securitate have recorded that on the cover of the Cinema magazine in January 1989, two young men wrote on the faces of the Romanian presidential couple "ox and cow" as an expression of personal dissatisfaction with the political and economic situation in Romania.11

The proliferation of hate speech was also an example of subversive use of language. According to the documents prepared by Securitate, the target of such negative comments was the "superior leaders of the party and state". However, given the fact that Ceausescu was identified by the official propaganda discourse as the only party and state leader, we can actually say that his person was the principal target of expressions classified as "disparaging" or "libelous". Usually, this type of comments was influenced by the negative effects of the economic measures initiated by the Romanian communist regime led by Nicolae Ceausescu. For example, a retired man from the city Sebes was recorded in the Security documents because he "made biased statements regardin the socioeconomic situation in our country and brought insults to the senior party and state leaders".12

In the category of documents with “hateful content" belong some letters written by various individuals to different bodies of the central party or state or, where appropriate to foreign radio stations, identified by Securitate as having a hostile attitude towards the communist regime in Bucharest. In one of his volumes of memoirs, Paul Niculescu-Mizil showed that during the leadership of Nicolae Ceausescu there was a system for studying and solving various letters sent by citizens.13 Presented by official propaganda as a concrete and eloquent manifestation of the socialist democratic regime, this system of examination and resolution of "proposals, complaints and requests of the working people" was found in all local and central levels of party and government administration, of mass organizations and not in the least as part of the activity of the Romanian media.

Within this system, the citizens were encouraged to contact the authorities with proposals of general interest, with allegations of deficiencies or irregularities in the activity of economic entities, with applications to solve personal problems, to denounce abuses by local officials and last but not least to express their views on current issues of domestic and foreign policy. This latter type of correspondence between citizens and authorities is relevant to the topic of this paper for three reasons. Firstly, these letters constitute an argument proving the existence and expression of personal views of various people on various topics through official channels. Secondly, a minority of those who addressed local authorities expressed views that questioned the performance of the

Romanian communist regime and that of its leader. Thirdly, the letters were the most often used form of dissemination of documents containing ‘hateful content’ as shown by data from the internal documents of the central bodies of Securitate.14

Since the documents issued by the Securitate about this type of letters were mostly informative reports, they gives only general details regarding the motivation of their classification as documents of "hostile nature". Thus, a person sent in 1977 to the central bodies of the party and state and to some private individuals seven letters "in which they slander the party’s and state’s policy on the rights and freedoms of the citizens".15

A professor of Romanian language and literature from Cluj sent two anonymous letters to “Flacăra” magazine and a letter to the Central Committee of the RCP during the 1983- 1984s "whose content brought serious slander to the socialist system in Romania, while at the same time it derided some aspects of the economic and socio-political situation, using both offensive and indecent language".16 In some cases, the letters’ signatories complete their "slander" and "hateful comments" with threats of acts of violence. Due to personal grievances, a worker from Sibiu sent a letter threatening with "acts of violence against the state leadership", while a priest in Cluj found it necessary to turn his threats towards the Romanian national broadcasting institution and to the editorial committees of Făclia and Scânteia newspapers.17

Letters of the Romanian citizens addressed to foreign radio stations (Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, BBC, Deutsche Welle) entered from the Securitate’s point of view in the category of documents with “hateful content” for two main reasons. Firstly, the activity of these radio stations was considered to be hostile to the communist regime in Bucharest, because their programs were "systematically denigrating the Party and the Romanian state policy, the achievements in the construction of socialism ...", aiming at "undermining the state’s authority and the moral-political unity of the people ... incitement to disorder and protest".18

Secondly, by their subject (by asking help for immigration, describing the difficult political and economic situation, the limitation and violation of rights and freedoms), these letters gave a touch of truthfulness and an

argumentative basis for the criticism aimed by this media radio stations to the Romanian Communist regime.

Starting from the above, including both types of letters among the creative resistance means of the population to the communist regime is justified for several reasons. Firstly, the simple man used a tool officially sanctioned, that of the system of studying and solving letters in order to articulate and express the different views on the official political line. Secondly, the formulation of different opinions based on information from

external sources is in itself an act of resistance because it involves linking and comparing the information content of that officially distributed with that received through alternative channels of information. In this context, the awareness of the common people of the existence of a discrepancy between the official version and the one formed from personal experience and the information received from outside stand behind the articulation of their perspective on the current situation. Thirdly, the option to send a letter to a foreign radio station to make public a wish or a personal opinion contrary to the official political line represents also an act of resistance because it highlighted the individual’s refusal of resignation to the omnipotence of the communist regime.

Humor was another form of people's resistance against the Romanian communist regime. Luisa Passerini's explanations on the causes of success of humor during the fascist regime apply also to the Romanian case. To avoid conflict with state authorities, the individual had to have a certain degree of self-control in his daily behavior. In this context, jokes and laughter have become the most conveniently means for ordinary people to relieve the psychological pressure caused by the required compliant external display of official conduct.19

The most popular form of humor in the communist era was the political joke. Political jokes were mostly about Nicolae Ceausescu, designated as "uncle Nicu", about his wife "LenuŃa" or about both of them. They invoked, as appropriate, ubiquitous figures in the daily life of ordinary people (such as policeman, the Securitate, the one in charge with

propaganda, the party activist), they ridiculed party events (congresses, conferences, elections, working visits of Ceausescu) or represented a way of making fun of trouble as in the case of the unfortunate effects of the measures initiated by the Romanian communist regime (food crisis, energy crisis, the systematization of rural areas policy, etc.).

The subversive potential of political jokes was confirmed also by the fact that the county bodies of the Securitate were concerned with identifying those people who popularized the "libelous and defamatory content jokes about some high personality of the state leadership" within the narrow bounds of family and friends.20

Two important elements recommended the inclusion of political jokes among the population's creative resistance to the communist regime. Firstly, under the guise of extreme irony and sometimes black humor, political jokes stressed even more the discrepancy between the reality presented by official propaganda and the real situation of ordinary people, doing this in a form accessible to a diverse and large numbers of

audiences. Secondly, in the lack of alternative means of information, jokes offered a critical analysis of key internal developments. Thus, these forms of humor not only indirectly challenged the official policies and their alleged positive results, but they also contributed to the development of alternative views of daily reality different from those promoted through the official channels.

To illustrate the above, we will analyze two such jokes. This is about the sale of stamps with the figure of Ceausescu, that were supposed to have been sold our very quickly. Therefore, the representatives of the counties would have come to Bucharest to ask for more. Only one county representative came back with the stamps complaining that they do not stick on the envelopes. Eager to prove the contrary, a post office worker explains that if you spit its back, the stamp sticks perfectly. The county representative slaps his forehead, having the following revelation: "Damn it! Here's why the stamp did not stick properly! They were spitting on the face".21

Selling stamps with the figure of Ceausescu and the haste with which they would have sold out refers to his personality cult and the fact that the local party's leaders political survival depended on the dedication with which not only would they perform their task of promoting and supporting the party, but also of promoting the adulation of the supreme head of the RCP phenomenon. The figure of the party activist poorly equipped intellectually is even more hilarious as it is not only the subject of a collective farce staged by his subordinates, but he/she is also unable to recognize an act of protesting. Another political joke, which has different variants, has its main character Nicolae Ceausescu or his wife. The RCP leader is shown angry that he cannot find a particular pair of shoes, while Elena Ceausescu boasts with pride during an external visit with a unique pair. The reason is that those shoes would be Ceausescu's BA thesis.22

Obviously,the joke alludes to the basic job of the RCP's leader, as a shoemaker, detail often omitted from his official biography. This is because being a shoemaker was not an appropriate job for a Communist leader because of its non-proletarian character. At the same time, this biographical omission was able to neutralize possible questions related to intellectual preparation of Nicolae Ceausescu, which was validated on a groundless basis by the titles and national and international academic awards that he had received throughout the period of his leadership. The existence of these jokes on the modest professional beginnings of the Romanian communist leader demonstrate the existence of popular counter image of Nicolae Ceausescu that questioned the main assertions of the Communist propaganda on his background before getting to the supreme function in the party.

Another example of popular resistance to the Romanian communist regime was the creation of conspiratorial/subversive groups. Although most of the examples selected by the Securitate in its documents identified in the composition of these groups adolescents, yet there were cases in which adults were involved. From the data reports of the local Securitate’s bodies resulted that the tendency of most of these groups was to adopt a symbolic and a fascist-inspired organization (in fact Nazi).

Thus, a group of 14 teenagers from Drobeta Turnu Severin used the Nazi salute amongst them, wrote on the board, on the textbooks expressions and fascist signs manufacturing at the metal workshop of the

school a number of such signs.23 A similar environment suggestively named "Swastika" was annihilated by the intervention of local Securitate’s authorities in Bihor County. Influenced by Sven Hassel novels, three members of the group, students in 12th grade in a school from Oradea, engaged in discussions praising the actions of the commando forces of the Gestapo during the Second War and inserted into their personal belongings and vocabulary specific Nazi symbols and words.24 The Securitate’s investigations revealed that some hostile letters containing Romanian communist regime were signed on behalf of illegal organizations or groups. Continuing the example described above, the

person who sent in 1977 seven letters denouncing violations rights and freedoms in Romania signed on behalf of an organization called "Făclia Moldovei". 25

The inclusion of these groups/organizations in the category of creative resistance elements is justified for several reasons. The first aims to organize these groups even outside the legal framework controlled by RCP. The second reason concerns the organizational characteristics of the groups. The fact that a part of the communist youth identified in the of Fascist model a more attractive manner for organizing their spare time than that proposed by the Communist Youth Union (hereafter abbrevited as CYL) was an evidence of the failure of the political education for this category of the population. This is because Fascism continued to be identified by the official propaganda as the ideological and historical enemy of communism in Romania. However, the existence of a specific hierarchical internal structure and of some specific elements of group identification undermined the standardization efforts promoted through the CYU organizations to create potential sources of obtaining the loyalty of its members outside the control of the RCP. And last but not least, the coagulation of entourages was able to intensify and diversify behaviors that questioned the official policy direction, such as listening and commenting on news from foreign radio stations or the illegal collective attempts to cross the border. In a political context other than that of the former Soviet bloc, the formation of such groups/organizations should have been classified as a manifestation of every citizen’s rights to meet or as a simple manifestation of adolescent rebelliousness, which tends to identify and also to distinguish itself in the manner of spectacular and adventurous formulas from the conformity of the adult world around them. However, for the reasons mentioned above, for the communist authorities and bodies of the Security the establishment of these groups represented in their differential and opposing potential, a minor threat, yet not insignificant in in the context of multiplying against the monopole power of the RCP. A final element of creative resistance identified by us aims the means used by ordinary people in relation with local authorities. Obviously, our attention will focus only on those types of interactions after which the individual would creatively instrumentalize the set of official regulations to achieve its purpose. For example, a group of inhabitants of a commune in Alba refused to vote had they not been provided with the much-needed has tanks. Most of the time, those who were identified as authors of "hostile documents" invoked in their defense the argument that they had been influenced by "the news heard on foreign radio stations" or that the material hardships or personal grievances had pushed them to such reckless acts.

Also, drunkenness had always been a handy argument to explain the rapid and convenient personal actions against the Romanian communist regime.26 Our article focused on identifying and illustrating with data from documents issued by the Securitate’s bodies the main types of the population’s creative resistance acts against the Romanian communist regime. In this regard, we have identified in political discussions, documents containing “hateful content”, humor, the creation of conspiratorial groups and last but not least, the instrumentation for personal interest of the interaction with officials the particular expressions of resistance of the simple man to the omnipotence and omnipresence of the State-party. The examples above give a partial and

nuanced image of the individual’s relations with the communist regime from Bucharest.

In this type of relationship, the individual is found capable to formulate opinions contrary to RCP’s version of reality, to use the official sanctioned or unsanctioned channels in order to make them known and last but not least to adopt a course of conduct designed to question the organizational and educational structure of the communist regime.

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