Ana Blandiana was born in 1942, in Timişoara. She is a Romanian poet, essayist, and political figure. Her editorial debut took place in 1964 with a booklet of poems. She became known for her “Calcâiul vulnerabil” (“Achilles’ Heel”, 1966) and “A treia taină” (“The Third Secret”, 1969). In 1966, Blandiana appeared for the first time at the International Poem Contest (in Lahti, Finland). In the late 1980s, assuming risks of reprisals of the communist regime, Ana Blandiana started writing protest poems, in answer to the increasingly harsh demands of the system in general. After the Romanian Revolution of 1989, she entered
political life, campaigning for the removal of the communist legacy from administrative office, as well as for an open society. In October 2017, she was announced as The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry’s twelfth recipient of their Lifetime Recognition Award.
“Do not be in a hurry to answer.
Linger awhile with the question”
To answer the question, I should first clarify the answers to two other questions:
1) To what extent does communism still exists in post-communism (the historical phase that we have been living through for the last thirty years, a phase too contradictory and lacking in personality to have its own name)?
2) To what extent is communism still a threat and a risk in post-communism?
1) From the political (i.e. declarative, ideological), economic, financial, and human rights standpoint, the answer is: to a negligible, almost non-existent extent. From the standpoint of mentalities, policies for selecting people, and the will, need and ability to manipulate, the answer is: to a very large extent, large enough to jam the mechanisms of the rule of law, whose effectiveness is the sine qua non condition for the disappearance of communism.
2) Over the last thirty years, I have tried to give myself heart by writing over and over again that history does not go into reverse. I am no longer so sure, because in the end, it can turn back without taking the same paths and without arriving at exactly the same place. The undigested but functional mixture of communism and capitalism in China places Marx in parentheses. Capitalism is victorious in China and the country has globalised, conquering the world’s markets, while communist-style repression is adapting to battle the internet and social media.
Despite being a member of the EU, despite being subject to the control of international financial mechanisms, despite the presence of multinationals and the emergence of billionaires, what has been happening in Romania for the last thirty years sometimes takes forms familiar from before eighty-nine, so much so that an analytical spirit obliges us to be suspicious.
Just as for Ceaușescu the temptation of the cult of personality embodied by Mao and Kim Il-Sung was inescapable, for the practitioners of illiberalism, not only Putin, but also Erdogan are the unavoidable models. In this way, at least in the former communist countries, communism might survive via its worst feature: lack of freedom, dictatorship. Nonetheless, I don’t think the subject of the persistence of communism and arguments against communism will have any great weight in the upcoming elections. This does not mean that the elections won’t be dominated by the forms of manipulation and disinformation specific to communism. The reason is, on the one hand, the absence of any system of education to help young people see what kind of world they’re living in (I won’t go so far as to assume that education has been purposely designed to prevent them from understanding), and, on the other hand, the fact that the shock of the sudden transformation of the rules of poverty into the rules of consumption, the difficulties of adapting to capitalism, as well as the various forms of disillusionment since eighty-nine, have given rise to a weariness that is unable to move beyond the problems of survival. The results of the upcoming elections will not depend on memories, logical conclusions, and unassailable ideas, but on the huge capacity to manipulate.
Obviously, in every ex-communist country, the most serious problem is the corruption that has reached dimensions and forms that are not only endemic but quite simply unprecedented, in the sense that not only do they impede the functioning of the mechanisms of state, but also they are capable of dissolving the state. Of course, this does not mean that it is not a universal phenomenon, which has existed throughout history, from the court of the pharaohs to the court of the Sun King, and from the Far East to the two Americas. But what is specific to the countries that have emerged from communism is the transformation of corruption into a political weapon against consolidation of the rule of law. In post-communism, corruption, arising from a general human sin, from an almost universal failing of the human soul, has been reset and transformed from an individual defect into a collective trait required for survival in a society thus perverted and prevented from evolving. In post-communism, corruption is not only theft from the state, but also the connection between those who steal from the state. The continued operationality of the networks of political repression that covered the whole country under the old regime, their renovation and adaptation to the next generation, has made possible their transformation via political means into mafia-style apolitical networks. These historically rooted networks represent the mechanism and the power of corruption in post-communism. I draw this logical conclusion thinking about the situation in Romania, but it is also equally valid for Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Russia, the Ukraine, and Serbia.
From paying an entire army of trolls to manipulate the internet to buying off the press wholesale (entire publications) and individually (separate journalists), from the theft of votes to the suppression of voting, from the shameless, paranoiac lies told by political leaders in their declarations to the press to electoral promises that defy both logic and common sense, those who have held power in Romania over the last tirty years have elevated mendacity to the level of state policy and have employed manipulation as the current method of governance. Post-communism is above all else the political system which, employing every technique of manipulation at which communism excelled (communism was always more productive in this area than liberal countries), succeeds in preventing consolidation of a rule of law that would be capable of counteracting the numerous forms whereby the communist legacy is perpetuated in society.
“Freedom is the right not to lie,” said Camus. In this respect, post-communist society is not free.
The same as under communism, in post-communism, power’s lack of transparency is one of the conditions necessary for it to function. Everything takes place in secret because everything must be hidden from the eyes of the many. The network of interests must remain secret in order to be effective; the archives must remain under lock and key lest the truth be discovered about the revolution. The secret of the secrets is the very relationship between communism and post-communism, the continuity between them.
In this respect, the idea of lustration launched for the first time in the former communist countries by the Timișoara Proclamation of 11 March 1990 was the most serious threat to post-communism, a threat that was ultimately not only defeated, but also thrown into derision, in order thereby to erase the true scope from memory, along with the realities from which have sprung dynasties, heirs, uninterrupted private interests, and above all methods.
One of the specific characteristics of post-communism is its tense relationship with memory. Normally, in order to move forward, you must look at the past as if in a rear-view mirror, which shows you what is coming up behind you. Moreover, you must discover and analyse the past in order to uncover its residues in the present.
Logically, the European integration of the former communist countries has placed the European Union and Western Europe in general in a close and complicated relationship with post-communism. It is an ambiguous and troubled relationship, the same as the post-war relationship of the free world with communism and the area of the world it controlled.
Viewed from the East, this relationship was marked by a damaging asynchrony: After entire decades in which the peoples of the so-called “people’s democracies” viewed with fascinated hope and admiration the real democracies of the West as real, unattainable models, the historic moment in which this became possible caught the West on the wrong foot, uncertain of itself, doubting its own identity. We arrived in Europe when Europe had begun to rethink how it defined itself, disowning itself, allowing itself to be diluted, for economic reasons (the shortage of labour) and moral and political reasons (human rights), by waves of immigration made up of war refugees, people fleeing poverty, people seeking freedom, or people quite simply eager to take advantage of social security systems founded on human rights that were not respected in their own countries.
In this way—after the thrilling moment the wall fell, when the two Germanies solemnly and symbolically joined together and the former communist countries set out toward the free West, bringing as their dowry the suffering of the last half a century to add it to Europe’s heritage—in a short time, the mutual discovery of the two parts of our continent proved to be a mutual disappointment, despite obvious gains for both sides.
The last thirty years of our history have trampled not only every social contract and every integration treaty, but also every rule of historical evolution, which usually does not entail stupidity, low cunning and illogicality. The fact that we are ashamed of what is happening to us ought not to prevent us from seeing what is happening in the other countries around us, however. And what we see is just as depressing.
And not only corruption that is generalised and directly proportional with the high positions held by those who practise it, but also the ideological innovations aimed at protecting it are more or less the same in every post-communist country. The European Union has integrated the countries of the East, many of them without having met the criteria and standards that the European Union itself laid down and which it follows, because thereby not only were strides taken toward unifying the whole continent, but also there were prospects for an infusion of fresh, albeit ideologically tainted, blood.
What is the link between post-communism and illiberalism, this political wave that looks set to become a more than European network and threatens to throw into doubt the very mechanism of democracy?
The truth is that after 1989, which for the whole of the East was an inevitable year, the East Europeans still alive after almost half a century of communism were terrified and amazed to discover that it is much harder to be free than not to be free. I remember writing in 1990: “We were locked up for almost fifty years in the basements of a prison whose gates have strangely been thrown open. It is perhaps fated that we continue to be lost for a time in its filthy, winding passageways, hysterical with emotion and haste, searching for the exit. But it is not normal that we give up looking for it and, weary, apathetic, start living in our prison cells of our own free will.” I was obviously thinking of the situation in Romania, but what I said was valid for all the other countries, perhaps with the exception of Czechoslovakia, where in the first few years, Havel’s prestige blurred the background. I was also thinking of Romania when, over the years, the situations of the former people’s republic diversified, without their eluding any of the childhood illnesses of the freedom that held them within post-communism.
For thirty years, Romania has been adrift, ever since the 1989 Revolution—a political spectacle in which most of the actors were unaware that they were mere actors—gave Romanians their ration of freedom, a ration that each of us has used as best we knew how and which, in the absence of the rigours of the rule of law, risks being turned into an overdose. Those who were best positioned to do so used their freedom to divide up the country: the economy, finance, governance, the secret services. Those at the bottom gained the freedom of a five-day week, the freedom to strike, to be disobedient, the freedom of poorly paid jobs which ultimately degenerated into unemployment, inflation, poverty, disorientation, ignorance, chaos, endemic theft. The most beautiful and deceptive freedom was that taken by those who had ideas and principles: justice, consistency, strength of character. Obviously, in a world where there was a huge amount of talking, in which the difficulty wasn’t speaking, but being heard, in which information is filtered or stifled depending on the political interests of the moment, their voices and actions are erased. This does not mean that moral models are pointless. On the contrary, they are vital if we are to re-enter the civilised European world, and moral reform, which the nouveaux riches, opportunists and gangsters on the crest of the wave can afford to ridicule, remain the only means to avoid catastrophe. In a country in which the scale of virtues has been inverted and everything is phony—from university degrees to the public discourse, from drinking water to people’s characters—recourse to morality, viewed not as a utopia, but as a pragmatic project, is the only solution, and without it, it will not be possible to achieve either economic reform or social justice. The present-day swamp, in which they attempt to conceal the guilty past under the seal of state secrets, foretokens a dictatorship of material poverty, in which the simple man thinks only of how he will put food on the table tomorrow and in which culture (including the culture of truth and honest work) will seem to him a luxury, a utopia. In any event, school truancy is making ours a country of illiterates, and if the younger generation continues to leave the country, we will no longer be able to call ourselves a country.
The return to hell—an anabasis named post-communism—is proving far more complicated than was predicted and it is hard to predict how long it will last.
Translated by: Alistair Blyth