You are on page 1of 17

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

FROM ELITE CULTURE TO CULTURE FOR THE


NEW PEOPLE: THE RECONSTRUCTION OF
ROMANIAN IDENTITY THROUGH THE
CULTURAL PRESS (1948-1964)1
ANDRADA FTU-TUTOVEANU

1. Introduction
Under the slogan for the people, about the people, by the people, the
Romanian context is an interesting case in point when it comes to
approaching popular cultures from the perspective of local identities
especially those considered minor or marginal, such as Eastern European
countries, both in relation to communism and post-communism. The late
1940s and 1950s were quite possibly the most significant period in
Romania in terms of both the identity crisis and cultural shift the country
underwent due to the process of Sovietisation, alternatively read as
cultural colonisation (see Ftu-Tutoveanu 2012, 7793).
Indeed, Romanian culture suffered a process of distortion or identity
deconstruction followed by reconstruction in terms of Soviet mimicry
based on a canon that depend[ed] on discursive criteria established in the
metropolitan centre (Mignolo 1993, 125). Subjected to stereotypically
optimistic propaganda encouraging the population to contribute to the
process of building a Communist Paradise, Romanian culture was actually
disfigured during the late 1940s and early 1950s, becoming unrecognisable
if compared to its interwar characteristics and the tendencies shown prior
to the instalment of communism. Romanian culturealways a crossroads
or border culture between Western and Eastern influenceswas then
forced, under extreme political pressure, to accept a radical shift towards
the Soviet cultural canon. Consequently, during the late 1940s, Romanian
High culture, predominant until then, can be referred to as a captive

342

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

and a beheaded one, since the elites were either eliminated (see Toma
2004, 325-335) or forced to adjust to the official discourse:
The Stalinist blueprint for Eastern Europe was based on a unique strategy
of transforming national political cultures into carbon copies of the USSR.
The leaders of the local communist parties and the growing administrative
and secret police apparatuses enthusiastically implemented this blueprint,
transplanting and even enhancing the characteristics of the Soviet type of
totalitarian system. (Connelly 1999, 107)

In intimate connection with the above-mentioned strategy, and in tune


with the political and social changes, the media turned into an essential
instrument to implement the cultural policies imposed by the regime;
simultaneously, the media became the mirror of such transformations,
which were to convince the readers, already significant in number, of the
legitimacy of such measures and the regime itself (Ftu-Tutoveanu 2011,
78-87). While the (cultural) press may usually be quite safely regarded as
the most faithful reflection of the evolution of trends and ideas
animating, for instance, the literary or artistic environments, within the
totalitarian context it actually shows the directions and effects of
propaganda. Thus, the complex mechanisms through which the official
discourse was implemented are most visible in the cultural periodicals of
the time, such as articles, prose and poetry sections, criticism, inquiries
among artists or transcriptions of their meetings, to mention but a few.
The Soviet cultural canon provided that culture should no longer be
elitist or bourgeois, but become popular or, explicitly, mass culture.
Although in post-war Western contexts popular culture has been accepted
as essential due to the (re)production, massification and commodification
of cultural products, in the case of satellite countries in the Soviet bloc, as
is the case of Romania, the situation was radically different. It was an
aggressive, artificial, politically-controlled process that involved the
levelling of all tendencies and originality towards the model of Soviet
cultural homogeneity and monotony (Rolf 2009, 601). The process meant
eliminating, transforming, re-educating or replacing the prominent voices
through a complex punishment-and-reward mechanism. Elimination meant
purging people but also periodicals and books that were already
publishedthrough the purge of libraries, both personal and publicor
were entering the publishing process. It rapidly led to a closed, tightly
controlled system, based on fixed and rigid ideological (and even physical
and psychological) boundaries:
Sovietising culture was a work in progress, and various experts of cultural
production had an influential voice when it came to defining an adequate

FROM ELITE CULTURE TO CULTURE FOR THE NEW PEOPLE 343


Soviet style. Participants sometimes worked towards the leader by
acting in ways they imagined to be expected by the political centre. (Rolf
2009, 603)

The creation or, in some cases, radical transformation of key


institutions was an essential process towards achieving total control of all
cultural production. Thus, in June 1948, the Romanian Academy became
the Academy of the Popular Republic of Romania. In the following year,
the Writers Union was created and would amass substantial power and
centralise important resources, such as library funds, publishing houses
and magazines. In January 1949 other radical interventions took place
based on the decision of the Romanian Workers Party (RWP) to focus on
the stimulation of scientific, literary and artistic activities (Selejan 2007,
171; Ionescu-Gur 2005).2
A more urgent matter having been solvedthe conquering and the
stabilising of the power of the State (Selejan 2007, 16)some actions
were initiated in 1948 and 1949 as part of the process of literature
appropriation by politics. Decrees aiming at stimulating scientific, literary
and artistic activities were issued, such as the decree issued on 14 January
1949, for book editing and distribution, considered an instrument for
stimulating literary creation. As stated elsewhere (Ftu-Tutoveanu 2012,
87), this decree mirrored the cultural policies that typically resulted from
cultural sovietisation, including the nationalisation and centralisation of
publishing houses and all printing, control over copyright issues and all
cultural publications and reproductions, etc. In 1948-1949 the official
press organs revealed the complex measures adopted by the regime in
order to subordinate literature and the arts.

2. Explaining the concepts


The concept of minor culture, as employed in the current study,
applies to two functional levels. First, in a more general perspective
influenced by post-colonial studiesthe concept may be used to refer to
the relationships between a particular national culture and those aligned
with the dominant or hegemonic discourses. Historical and linguistic
factors are also involved and the case of Romaniaa small nation, always
at the border of great empiresis no exception. In this respect, Lucian
Boia spoke of symbolic borders as both real and equally fictional limits
(2008, 61), using the concept of geographical predestination (2008, 50)
to explain the case of Romania in relation to the status of a constant
marginal or peripheral nation. While acknowledging that the discourse of

344

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

identity and otherness is always relative to the speaker problema-cheie


este pn la urm cine vorbete despre cine: unde se situeaz pe axa
centru-periferie cel care ine discursul i unde se afl cel care formeaz
obiectul acestui discurs (2008, 54) [the key-issue is, after all, who speaks
of whom: where is the speaker placed on the axis centre-periphery and
where on this axis is the object of the discourse], Boia retrieves the
discursive, historical and geographical predestination of Romania for a
peripheral condition, in relation to Ancient Greece, Rome, the Byzantine
Empire, the Otoman Empire, the Habsburg and Russian Empires, and
more recently, to the European Union (2008, 54-61).
Notwithstanding the above, minor can also be interpreted in the light
of the specific historical context in the late 1940s-1950s and particularly
the context of the 1950s totalitarian regime: Romanian culture was
minorised not only as a national culture, but also in its relation to power,
having been turned into an instrument. In this sense, culture is in the
service of proletarians and, more specifically, in the service of propaganda.
High culture was minorised in a process that sacrificed originality and
aesthetic values to the function it performed within the system. As Adrian
Marino (1996, 126) argues, the relation between politics and literature is
neither uniform nor universal, as it is context-dependent. Moreover, in a
totalitarian state such as communist Romania this dependence is extreme,
as censorship and propaganda appropriate literature, both in terms of form
and message, turning it into an educational and manipulating instrument
towards the captive mass audiences.
The appropriation of culture by politics was aggressively performed,
leaving no room for questioning its relation to power, as the following
quotation reflects:
[S]uprimarea libertii comunicaiilor i a deplasrilor, cenzur slbatic,
dogme, normative, dirijism birocratic, limb de lemn, lozinci goale, eroi
pretins pozitivi, propagand, aa-zisul spirit partinic n literatur. []
mai nseamn suprema oroare pentru orice scriitor care concepe i scrie
liber i independent, n demnitate: transformarea sa n funcionar literar i
n instrument docil de propagand. [] A fost constrnsmai ales la cei
ce pstrau nc un reflex de independenla duplicitate i ipocrizie, la
oportunism i cinism. (Marino 1996, 18-19)
[[S]uppression of the freedom of communication and travelling, wild
censorship, dogmas, normative documents, bureaucratic domination,
wooden language, empty slogans [], propaganda, [] the supreme
horror for any writer who conceives and writes freely and independently:
his transformation in a literary clerk and an obedient instrument of
propaganda. He was thrown a few financial privileges. [] He was

FROM ELITE CULTURE TO CULTURE FOR THE NEW PEOPLE 345


forcedespecially those maintaining a reflex of independenceto
duplicity and hypocrisy, opportunism and cynicism.]

The transformation of the writer into an obedient clerk is part of a


larger process focused on the deconstruction and then reconstruction of
identity using Soviet blueprints. Therefore, the Eastern European countries
adopted the Soviet model on identity construction policies defining the
manner in which identity patterns were promoted through the available
media: the regime was creating individual and group patterns. This
involved a set of complex, politically-controlled social matrices,
materialised in different codes and representations and intended to
deconstruct, reconfigure or reshape individual and group identities. This
artificial de- and reconstruction of identities took place at several levels,
involving social, gender, professional and individual identity. These new
identity patterns promoted a specific orthodoxy manifested in a set of
stereotypical features defining the new man, the new woman, but also
the new writer or worker. Speaking of the process as it took place during
the Sovietisation of Romania, Morar-Vulcu (2007) argues that identity is
constructed, referring to an artificial, imposed construction. He means that
the monolithic official discourse imposes (through media) a series of
Soviet-modelled identity matrices and typologies. Paraphrasing Benedict
Anderson, Morar-Vulcu argues that in this system not only the nation but
all types of identity (collective, individual, cultural or political) are
imagined through the discourse (2007, 99-100) and therefore artificial.
Within culture, this reshaping or construction of an artificial group or
individual identity meant institutionalising artists, who were, as mentioned
earlier, transformed into paid clerks, grouped into institutions on which
they were fully dependent, both financially and socially. The cultural
periodicals reveal the recurrent plans that were required from them, as
they had to engage themselves in producing a certain number of works
every year and then, if possible, produce more. Institutional power
manifested itself in official normative papers and the duty to attend
meetings, while discussions on culture often placed emphasis on
production and paid work (loans, salaries, awards and high royalties and
any kind of privilege for the faithful). When problems existed, the
institutional hierarchy placed the writers in the position of asking for
support from the communist leaders. The following transcript of a
dialogue between a president of the Writers Union and the chief of the
state shows the required artificial, repetitive and stereotyped wooden
language (Thom, 2005):

346

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
Tov. George Macovescu: Activitatea noastr se desfoar conform
indicaiilor pe care dumneavoastr ni le-ai dat. n repetate rnduri
dumneavoastr ne-ai spus c sarcina noastr principal este de a produce
cartea. Producia noastr, a scriitorilor, tovare secretar general, este
cartea, cartea pe care o producem, cartea care ajunge n minile cititorilor
notri. V putem raporta c planul acestui an se ridic la 2.600 de titluri de
literatur care vor fi tiprite [] Trebuie s precizm c numrul este bun
i putem afirma c inem pasul cu producia material, conform planului de
stat care exist n ar. (Macrea-Toma 2009, 147)
[Comrade George Macovescu: Our activity is being performed according
to the indications you gave us. You told us repeatedly that our main task is
to produce the book. Our production, the writers production, comrade
general secretary, is the book, the book we produce, the book that reaches
the hands of our readers. We can report that this years plan rises to 2,600
literary titles to be published. [] We have to add that the number is good
and we can state that we keep up with the material production, according to
the state plan in our country.]

If the regime was using the media to promote its identity construction
policies in order to create the new man, within culture it was definitely
fabricating writers (Macrea-Toma 2004, 136).

3. The Paper Curtain


Le fameux rideau de fer [] ntait donc quun simple rideau de papier
(Spiridon 2004, 20)
[The famous iron curtain [] was therefore no more than a simple paper curtain]

Sorin Toma, senior editor between 1947 and 1960 of the official
newspaper of the Party, Scnteia, admitted that the newspaper had been
designed to justify the policies promoted by the unique Party and shape
public convictions and behaviours in accordance with the official ideology
(2004, 310), following thus the same pattern as the Soviet propaganda and
official newspapers (and mainly Pravda). The decade between 1948 and
1958 meant even more: this was the time when Soviet troops were present
in Romanian territory; thus, the Sovietisation of culture was performed
under military pressure. Despite the heavily promoted voluntary (or self)
Sovietisation (Connelly, 1999), many authors, among them Malte Rolf
(2009), do not agree that this process was accepted voluntarily or
enthusiastically.
The leaders in Bucharest formed a puppet regime ruled by Moscow
and all directions relating to culture, the economy, etc. were decided

FROM ELITE CULTURE TO CULTURE FOR THE NEW PEOPLE 347

there, leaving little in terms of decision making to the local leaders.


However, the latter had similar ideas to the Soviets when culture was
concerned. Dej (the General Secretary of the Party) himself and the rest of
the local leaders had been communist workers, politically trained by
Moscow and with little education, so they were interested in culture and
cultural periodicals only as instruments of political propaganda. The
ideological orthodoxy (Fitzpatrick 1992, 238-250) of the message had to
be the same, irrespective of the instrument (be it an official newspaper or a
literary work) and the political leaders never missed the chance to correct
all possible heresies in cultural products, even if this meant showing
writers how to write or correcting the thought of influential scholars.
This decade, especially its early years, is therefore very interesting as
Soviet control was then at its peak. The appropriation of cultural products,
institutions and cultural actors was extremely significant for the
communist regime in Romania since, although power had been conquered,
it now had to be legitimised. If persuasion and propaganda are generally
used to reach power, the usual stages were reversed in Romania:
politically-controlled cultural periodicals, and all cultural products, were
used after the establishment of the communist regime and served not the
ascension to power, but its consolidation and legitimacy (Osman 2004,
48). As it had very little public support at its instalment, the communist
regime needed media (cultural periodicals such as Flacra or
Contemporanul among them, considered to be more attractive to their
readers due to the emphasis laid on the visual component) in order to
persuade people about the benefits of a new political order which was
already a fait accompli.
Another function of media was to impose new values and standards in
order to reshape the opinions and convictions of the audiences by
controlling the truth. Official information was carefully controlled and
filtered before reaching the masses (millions of copies of periodicals were
distributed and almost imposed on the peopleas is the case of the official
newspaper Scnteia): Puterea creeaz i distribuie o entitate bastard,
amestec [] de real i iluzoriu, de spus i presupusacest produs hibrid
este informaia oficial (Coman 2007, 134) [By monopolising
information, Power creates and distributes a bastard entity, a mixture of
partial truths and credible lies, of reality and illusion, said and presumed
this hybrid product is official information]. Through the press, the
communist regime applied a complex persuasion and control system in
order for the propaganda message to have the necessary impact on the
readers minds and emotions, wishes and acts. As put by Lasswell,
Propaganda [] is the technique of influencing human action by the

348

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

manipulation of representations (1995, 13). The purpose was to make


them react as expected, ensuring they remained passive in some aspects
while mobilising them in others: the propagandists task is to intensify
attitudes favourable to his purposes, to reverse obstructive attitudes, to win
the indifferent or at least to prevent them from becoming antagonistic
(Lasswell 1995, 18).

4. S(t)imulated debates
The overwhelming control of all intellectual activities and cultural
products was, however, paradoxically treated by propaganda, as far as the
cultural press reveals it. Intellectuals, Katherine Verdery argues, were
considered both necessary and dangerous, because of their abilities to
influence social values, but also because the political perspective on their
cultural role was different from the official one (1994, 64). Verdery adds
that the talents of the intellectuals were also essential for the legitimisation
of the regime, which required the monopoly of the cultural means of
production and, most especially, the very language, which had to be duly
transformed into an authorised version, with ideological effects (1994,
65-67).
Although any real debates and controversies were hushed down, and so
diversity of ideas simply was not allowed to exist but systematically and
effectively replaced with monotonous thought (generally expressed with
wooden language, simulating cultural effervescence), debates and
intellectual verve was a favourite activity of the cultural periodicals of the
time: many (artificial, content-less) gatherings, conferences and debates
were organised within the abovementioned institutional environment.
Farce was therefore not an exception but the rule in cultural meetings:
everything from roles to attitudes (enthusiasm, zeal, hatred, etc.) was to be
simulated. These role-plays were very much based on a collective or
organised lie (or living within a lie, as Vaclav Havel et al. (1985) put it),
(both politically- and socially-based) convention and compromise. Ana
Selejan (2007, 465) quotes for instance an article published in
Contemporanul in 1951 by V. Nicorovici, mentioning the debates that had
taken place that same year and, most significantly, the phrases used (i.e.
opinion opposition, combative spirit, animating the working
sessions and so on), which attempted to suggest effervescence and
participation, quite ironically when confronted to the transcripts of the
wooden language monotonous discussions.

FROM ELITE CULTURE TO CULTURE FOR THE NEW PEOPLE 349

As suggested above, the press revealed an obsession for its lively


participation in discussions (Selejan 1998, 8), which was the opposite of
the actual immobility, monotony, fear and artificiality of the cultural
manifestations and practices of the time. Paradoxically, even those
measures taken to encourage and make such meetings and cultural
activities more dynamic (or at least appear to be so) were artificial and
bureaucratic; for instance, institutions were placed in charge of
stimulating the activity of creation, as well as the debates and
controversies. The topics were conventional and the debates had to follow
the predictable lines and apply the same monolithic language. The
meetings usually had an administrative purpose: to plan work or to give
instructions. Occasionally, however, the farce had hidden purposes: the
meeting, disguised as a working session, was actually meant to punish,
find a scapegoat for a certain problem, or offer examplessee Jars case
below (Toma 2004, 203-206). In addition to exemplary meetings,
authors were also sanctioned in articles which, although written by critics
or journalists, were commanded by political leaders. Thus, for example
Sorin Toma confessed in his postcommunist memoirs that he received the
task to write an important (yet literary) article directly from Iosif
Chiinevschi and not through Leonte Rutu, who usually mediated the
communication between the Party and the newspaper Scnteia. Moreover,
he was told that this direct communication was due to the fact that the
initiative of this article belonged to the Party leadership and more
precisely to the General Secretary himself (Toma 2004, 331).
The instrumentalisation of the cultural press is thus most visible in
such exemplary meetings or critical articles published by the controlled
periodicals. Not only the meetings, but the whole series of inquiries and
interviews published by the cultural periodicals of the time transmit the
same artificial enthusiasm s(t)imulated by propaganda: writers always
fully engage to write more and better, in terms of ideological
faithfulness or orthodoxy. They make conventional statements of
adhesion to the cause, always expressed in the ideological wooden
language which had invaded public communication and particularly press.
Consequently, reality and fiction were no longer easily
distinguishable: reality, explicitly the most important thing culture had to
focus on, was actually fictionalised in this convention.
Moreover, in this role-play, parts were reversed and the discourse of
propaganda was very much a substitute for reality, while both writers and
readers had to at least pretend they accepted the simulacrum (Osman 2004,
49). Beneath the conventional optimism and engagement in the cause,
cultural periodicals and the cultural products they promoted were

350

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

disfigured, forced to squeeze and develop within an artificial matrix,


subjected to military discipline: no wonder, then, that the formula of the
Soviet regimenting of intellectual life and culture (Tismneanu 2003,
109) should be widely used when approaching Romanian culture, during
its grey, uniform and obedient years, later referred to by writers as the
obsessive decade.

5. Correctional measures and resistance


If the history of Romanian communism reveals the existence of certain
periods characterised by relativeyet controlledfreedom, in the late
1940s and early 1950s, any sign of disobedience was punished in an
exemplary form, as shown above. Alexandru Jars case of public
discrediting is one of the most symptomatic ones: a writer with a
communist background who had dared to ask for some independence for
writers. Sorin Tomas testimony on this public symbolic execution is that
it had been carefully planned and organised so as to set an example and
warning to the other writers (2004, 206). Thus, rather than establishing
directions and censoring unfaithful works, the regime was actually
punishing (or threatening to do so with) those who dared to oppose
them:
Mai nti sunt acuzai de colaboraionism o serie de scriitori, apoi de
rtciri ideologice i de pactizare cu fascismul german, ceea ce creeaz
panic i derut n rndul scriitorilor, care de teama represaliilor se
nregimenteaz masiv n rndurile PCR sau rspund unor comenzi politice
imediate, scriind cu frenezie despre traduceri din literatura sovietic. []
n librrii, edituri i biblioteci epurarea crii vechi este radical. []
Numeroase biblioteci particulare sau publice sunt arse, zeci i mii de cri
sunt aruncate la gunoi, transportate n pivnie i beciuri ntunecoase, unora
dintre cele mai importante arhive li se dau foc. (Popa 2001)
[First, some writers were accused of collaboration [with the enemy], then
of ideological errors and pacts with the German fascist, which created
panic and confusion among writers, who feared massive retaliation and as
a consequence entered the Communist Party or responded to immediate
political orders, writing frantically about translations of Soviet literature.
[...] In bookshops, publishing houses and libraries the purge of older books
was radical. [...] Many private or public libraries were burned, tens of
thousands of books were thrown away, transported to dark basements and
cellars, some of the most important archives were set on fire.]

FROM ELITE CULTURE TO CULTURE FOR THE NEW PEOPLE 351

As already mentioned, the former cultural elites, who had had proWestern ideas and education, were eliminated and dismissed from
universities and institutes, sometimes even sent to labour camps.
Consequently, they had to remain silent, had no signature right or else
had to learn to speak the new language. It is therefore interesting to see
if resistance as such existed and, if so, how it functioned and which were
the correctional measures associated to it. In Adrian Marinos words
(1996) resistance characterised
care au refuzat, direct sau indirect, tacit sau declarat, s scrie n favoarea
regimului totalitar comunist. Care s-au opus, ntr-o form sau alta,
transformrii literaturii n instrument de propagand. Care au protestat i
rezistat, ntr-o msur sau alta, indicaiilor, normativelor,cenzurii,
dispoziiilor administrative i legale. (Marino 1996, 21)
[those who refused, directly or indirectly, silently or openly, to write in
favour of the communist totalitarian regime; those who opposed in one
way or another the transformation of literature into a propaganda
instrument; those who protested against, and more or less resisted, the
directives, normative documents, censorship, legal and administrative
decisions.]

These legal measures meant that the ideological pressure (the socialist
realism monopoly) had administrative, legal and even repressive equal
correspondents, all organised in a complex bureaucratic system (Toma
2004, 335). Marino studies resistance under two main categories: passive
and active resistance. In the first category, the author placed, first, the
silent, passive, spontaneous resistance expressed by the refusal to write;
secondly, he speaks of an assumed, conscious refusal to contribute to
commissioned festive articles and similar pieces of writing. In the second
category of active resistance, he places, first, political-literary and political
resistance through literaturethe explicit refusal to sign, collaborate or to
become a cheaterand, secondly, the most serious one: publishing
clandestine works, sending books and papers abroad, collaborating with
Radio Free Europe and adding political subtexts among others (Marino
1996, 21-27).
A few very important writers of the time, however, were allowed to
write outside the ideological pattern, due to a combination of prestige
and political faithfulness. This phenomenon could be referred to as
negotiation of boundaries or canons: in exchange for this partial freedom
of writing these important authors used to offer numerous articles or
literary works, very faithful to the official ideology. Sometimes these
contributions were very significant, both in dimensions and political
involvement, such as Petru Dumitrius extensive novel on the Danube-

352

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Black Sea canal, Drum fr pulbere [Road without Dust], which was
presented as a great socialist work, while the building site that serves as
setting for the work was in fact a labour camp, mostly for political
prisoners. Their conscious negotiation made it possible for some valuable
works to appear in the 1950s, but the authors were later marked by this
compromise. As Nistor argues, few books survived in terms of aesthetic
value and even fewer as morally uncorrupted (2009, 156).
Transcripts of meetings or other documents made accessible after 1989
placed great interwar personalities in a very dramatic light in relation to
compromise. The manner in which the writers had to obey, and bow to
political directions, listening to and obeying instructions issued by
political leaders despite the latters lack of education, is visible in
transcripts such as that of a dialogue recorded in an official meeting at the
beginning of 1960 between a Romanian Academy member and important
interwar prose writer (G. Clinescu) and the general secretary of the Party,
Gh. Gheorghiu-Dej. The writer visited the political leader in relation to his
book, blocked by censorship, but had to behave as a yes-man to Dejs
speech on the Partys involvement in establishing a right direction for
the writers to follow. Sorin Toma mentions Dej saying that he had read
and annotated a part of the aforementioned book in order to emphasise
what was ideologically incorrect or unacceptable (in his words, wrong).
Most significantly, the General Secretary of the Party proved inflexible
towards any unorthodox directions in literature (stating that the Party
makes no compromises when the Party spirit is concerned) and with
writers attempting to avoid the main ideological direction, shown by the
political leaders (Toma 2004, 209). The Academy member and influential
writer was advised on the right way to approach literature and this
behaviour, simulating protection, is highly representative of the relation
between politicians and cultural producers of the time.

6. The right way


This right cultural way involved some pre-established rules deeply
connected to the political context of the time (and extremely powerful
during the Sovietisation process). Therefore, what was only left to discuss
when criticising a work of art was the degree in which the rule was
obeyed; in fact, specialised critics were replaced by groups of proletarian
readers, considered more legitimate as they spoke for the masses. If not
perfectly conforming to the official ideology (as was usually the case), the
purpose of all debates and meetings was to correct the work (see Toma

FROM ELITE CULTURE TO CULTURE FOR THE NEW PEOPLE 353

2004, 208-210), which in the case of literature led to revisions and new
editions. During the first decade of the communist regime, artists, however
privileged, were treated with simulated superiority and tolerance by the
proletarians, as culture was in the service of workers. The simulated
educational influence of proletarians over writers was extensively present
in cultural periodicals, mirroring reality. The conclusions of such
meetings were that the works could be improved and made to sound
right. This meant full acceptance from the writer of the workers
criticism. Thus, an example quoted by Selejan is that of Davidoglu
confessing that, following such an educative meeting within a factory in
which he was criticised for the death of a character, he conformed and
changed the plot of his book (Selejan 2007, 100).
The rules of what, to use Fitzpatricks terminology (1992, 238-250),
could be referred to as orthodox literature required that this should be
simple and accessible, as clearly stated by Selejan (2007, 100): write so
we can understand. However stereotypical and monotonous, literature
was presented as showingand not just imitatingreality. Fiction was
explicitly considered heresy, as fantasy was considered part of the residues
of the old literature and a form of covering and concealing the truth,
while both culture and society were in fact kept captive within a universe
of conventions and simulacra. As a consequence, topics had to be taken
from proletarian realities: attention was paid to covering the topic in
quantity and faithfulness to the ideology whilst aesthetic value played no
relevant role. The cultural press was very much interested in the extent to
which such real life subjects were covered: Progrese inseminate se pot
observascrie Eugen Lucamai ales n nuvelistica oglindind viaa
uzinelor i fabricilor (Selejan 2007, 201) [An important progress can be
noticedEugen Luca wroteespecially in the short stories reflecting life
within plants and factories], while the novelist Petru Dumitriu wrote a
series of articles on the topic of building sites. Self-criticism was always
appreciated even when ideological victories were acknowledged. The
stereotypical discourse had to leave room for improvement (usually
involving new editions of the same volumes) and progress, particularly in
terms of revealing an improved political education and therefore a
religious-like knowledge of truth (Selejan 2007, 466).
Besides imposing proletarian subjects on artists, other absurd situations
required intellectuals to support political measures and become interested
in them, such as the example of poets writing on the benefits of kolkhoz
(Soviet-modelled collective farming) policies, as part of a campaign to
promote the elimination of the differences between intellectual and
physical work.

354

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Paradoxically, as conventional and devoid of content as they were,


cultural productsand literary works in particularwere prolific enough
during communism in terms of quantity. In fact, after inquiring about the
number of published books in a certain year, Ceauescu commented that
literature was very productive (Macrea-Toma 2009, 147). Although
Ceauescus allusion refers to a period outside the scope of the current
study, it is equally applicable to the 1950sa period which, although
heralded as most aggressive and restrictive in terms of ideological control,
reveals a rich cultural production in terms of quantity.
Being offered privilegesreferred to as priviligentsia by Sorin
Antohi (2005) and Macrea-Toma (2009)or simply having no other
choicepunishment has already been mentioned here, especially
writers, but also other cultural producers, followed directions as closely
as possible and produced a significant number of works, even if very few
of these were valuable and ultimately survived. For the category interested
in gaining privileges and occupying a position within the state institutions
or organisations, especially in the Writers Union, compromise actually
meant a transfer of power: they could thus exert influence over some
aspects of publication and make decisions in this respect, influence the
content of school textbooks and decide upon literary awards (Verdery,
1995, 194).

7. Conclusions
This mapping of the cultural press between the late 1940s and early
1950s leads us to conclude that the few existing periodicalsthe most
significant of which were Flacra and Contemporanulreveal
monotonous content and repetitiveness, expressed in stereotypical
language and visual representation clichs. As a result of Sovietisation,
cultural periodicals did no longer record live cultural phenomena but
adopted an artificial, conventional code that was applied with no
exception. Consequently, originality and aesthetic values were sacrificed
to political, ideological principles, all of these being extra-cultural factors
and influences.
Thus seen, culture was held captive between very well organised
borders, merely an instrument for the education of the new man,
deconstructing in fact and then reshaping his identity. Restrictions were
extended on every level of culture, from organising and censoring writing
and publishing to restricting access to reading. The latter was performed
through the limitation of people and book circulation and the purging of

FROM ELITE CULTURE TO CULTURE FOR THE NEW PEOPLE 355

libraries, with special funds created for those considered to be dangerous


books. These were controlled through a centralised censorship and
publishing system, together with a whole lot of institutions which, in order
to group and control all intellectual professions, unions and institutions
with specific legislation (but also privileges), controlled prizes and fees,
regulated punishment and even conducted public executions in regular
meetings.
As a consequence, Romanian culture in the 1950s was subject not only
to an unexpected and radical change that took it away from its natural
leanings towards the West and Western modernism,3 but also to
aggression and captivity on political and even military grounds.
Propaganda and ideological discourse, after the Soviet model, replaced all
cultural initiatives and movements, while culture became a conventional
mechanism with predicable methodologies and results. The artificial
transgression from a former elite culture to a culture for the people, about
the people, by the people resulted in an organised convention in which
most of the producers and receiversthe new people subjected to an
artificial de- or reconstruction of their own identitylearned only to
simulate interest and enthusiastic involvement. The disciplined and
uniform evolution of culture was only seldom interrupted by exceptions,
such as rare manifestations of resistance (exemplarily punished) or, in case
of the most privileged, political negotiation in what Pruteanu has called
the deal with the devil (1995).4

Works cited
Boia, Lucian. 2008. Jocul cu trecutul. Istoria ntre adevr i ficiune.
Bucharest: Humanitas.
Coman, Mihai. 2007 (1999). Introducere n sistemul mass-media. Third
Edition. Iai: Polirom.
Connelly, John. 1999. Captive University: The Sovietization of East
German, Czech, and Polish Higher Education, 19451956. Chapel
Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
Ftu-Tutoveanu, Andrada. 2011. Legitimising Power Discourse: Political
Ideology within the Romanian Cultural Press in the Late 1940s and
1950s. Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Brasov. Series IV.
Series IV: Philology and Cultural Studies 4: 77-88.
. 2012. Soviet Cultural Colonialism: Culture and Political Domination in
the Late 1940s-Early 1950s Romania. Trames. A Journal of the
Humanities and Social Sciences 16: 7793.

356

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. 1992. The Cultural Front: Power and Culture in


Revolutionary Russia. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University
Press.
Havel, Vclav, et al. 1985. The Power of the Powerless: Citizens against
the State in Central-Eastern Europe. Ed. John Keane. Armonk, NY:
M. E. Sharpe.
Ionescu-Gur, Nicoleta. 2005. Stalinizarea Romniei: Republica Popular
Romn. 1948-1950: Transformri instituionale. Bucharest: Bic All.
Lasswell, Harold D. 1995 (1934). Propaganda. In Propaganda, ed. Robert
Jackall, 13-25. Houndmills: Macmillan.
Macrea-Toma, Ioana. 2009. Privilighenia. Instituii literare n
comunismul romnesc. Cluj-Napoca: Casa Crii de tiin.
Marino, Adrian. 1996. Politic i cultur. Pentru o nou cultur romn,
Iai: Polirom.
Mignolo, Walter D. 1993. Colonial and Postcolonial Discourse: Cultural
Critique or Academic Colonialism? Latin American Research Review
28: 120-134.
Morar-Vulcu, Clin. 2007. Republica i furete oamenii. Cluj-Napoca:
Eikon.
Nicorovici, Vasile. 1951. Pentru o cotitur n munca de creaie a
scriitorilor notri. Contemporanul 260(39).
Nistor, Viorel. 2009. Aspecte ale cenzurii comuniste n proza romneasc
postbelic. Studia Universitas Babes-Bolyai, Ephemerides 1: 143-168.
Osman, Fernanda Emanuela. 2004. Note despre poezia agitatoric a anilor
50. Caietele Echinox 7: 48-64.
Popa, Mircea. 2001. Schimbarea de paradigma Vest-Est sau ocupaia
sovietica n cultur. Caietele Echinox. Postcolonialism &
Postcomunism 1: 134-139, http://phantasma.ro/wp/?p=2688.
Preda, Sorin. 2006. Jurnalismul cultural i de opinie. Iai: Polirom.
Pruteanu, George. 1995. Pactul cu diavolul: ase zile cu Petru Dumitriu.
Bucharest: Albatros.
Rolf, Malte. 2009. A Hall of Mirrors: Sovietizing Culture under Stalinism.
Slavic Review 68: 601-630.
Selejan, Ana. 1998. Literatura n totalitarism. 1955-1956. Bucharest:
Cartea Romneasc.
. 2007. Literatura n totalitarism. 1949-1951. Bucharest: Cartea
Romneasc.
. 2008. Literatura n totalitarism. 1952-1953. Bucharest: Cartea
Romneasc.
Spiridon, Monica. 2004. Le rideau de papier. Caietele Echinox 7: 11-22.

FROM ELITE CULTURE TO CULTURE FOR THE NEW PEOPLE 357

Thom, Franoise. 2005. Limba de lemn. Trans. Mona Antohi. Bucharest:


Humanitas.
Tismneanu, Vladimir. 2003. Stalinism for All Seasons: A Political
History of Romanian Communism. Berkeley: University of California
Press.
Toma, Sorin. 2004. Privind napoi. Amintirile unui fost ziarist communist.
Bucharest: Compania.
Verdery, Katherine. 1994. Compromis i rezisten. Cultura romn sub
Ceauescu. Trans. Mona Antohi and Sorin Antohi. Bucharest:
Humanitas.

Notes
1

This paper is supported by the Sectoral Operational Programme Human


Resources Development (SOP HRD), financed from the European Social Fund
and by the Romanian Government under the project number ID59323.
2
Short quotes in Romanian have all been translated into English by the author of
this paper. Longer quotes are preserved in the source language and provided with
an English translation.
3
Interwar Romanian literature was deeply connected to and influenced by Western
Modernism.
4
This is the title he chose for his work Pactul cu diavolul: ase zile cu Petru
Dumitriu (1995).