The power and peril ideas: continuity and change in Romanian publishing.
The last fifteen years have revealed some from positions and, above the struggles of government, a battle of ideas to decide several questions: the definition of the Romanian being; the placing of him in conditions most propitious to the creation of original values; the influencing of his future. (1)
Munteano raises issues that have driven Romanian politics and culture since 1989. That he recorded these thoughts in 1939 is quite revealing. Publishing in Romania since the early 1990s has actively revisited many of the same questions Romanian intellectuals first raised in the interwar period, but were frequently unable completely or unequivocally to answer. As the communist dictatorship circumscribed legitimate discourse under state socialism, the last decade and a half has marked for Romanians an exhilarating rediscovery both of their country's intellectual heritage and of its enduring relevance for the challenges the Romanian nation faces today as it stands at the threshold of the European Union and struggles to elaborate a meaningfully usable past.
If any descriptors sum up the state of Romanian publishing over the past two years decades, they are "collapse, explosion, and recovery." Between Elena Ceausecu's accession to membership in the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party in 1973 and her gradual assumption of greater authority in the cultural sphere, the number of volumes published in Romania declined from an average of 60,000-70,000 annually in the early 1970s, to a mere 1,800 by 1989. (2) At the beginning of 1990, Romania had but twenty-seven official state publishers. Book production was governed by the usual bureaucratic processes characteristic of most of the East Central European communist states, whereby manuscripts first had to pass ideological muster with the Council for Socialist Culture and, only then, would be submitted to their assigned publishing houses for publication. The State Office for Book Distribution determined a title's number of copies and arranged for its distribution in bookstores. (3) By 1991, Romania had 10,000 registered publishing houses, some of which printed titles in hundreds of thousands of copies, (4) especially in fields formerly taboo under the communist regime, including primary sources such as memoirs, diaries, and document collections. These genres had been prohibited because often they contested the state's official version of the national past. Popular fiction, such as thrillers and romance novels, also appeared in great quantities, having been generally rejected under communism for their socially deviant contents.
By the early years of the new millennium, economic realities, including production costs, which have risen forty percent since 1998, (5) along with a general decline in readership, began to contain the industry. Today, only about one hundred publishing houses are in continuous operation, and of those, approximately ten now dominate the market, with the former state publishers maintaining only a small presence. (6) In spite of constraints, the overall state of Romanian publishing remains vibrant. The number of published titles continues to increase, from an average of just over 6,000 in 1993, to nearly 10,000 in 2003. (7) The average print-run of books in recent years has also stabilized to between 2,000 and 2,500 copies. (8) One of the most urgent challenges is distribution, the privatization of which has still not benefited from substantial investment and has left many small and medium-sized cities, with populations in the 10,000-20,000 range, without any bookshops. (9) Another issue is to formulate new ways to measure reader purchasing patterns more accurately, as the market remains very sensitive to price, with little variation capable of registering a very large impact on sales. (10)
The major publishing houses in Romania today have responded well to the market imperatives generated by the appetites of Romanian readers. The most visible and widely recognized publisher is Humanitas, founded by philosopher Gabriel Liiceanu in 1990. The success of Humanitas derives from the strategy its founder defined for the press at its inception and to which it has faithfully adhered.
Its first mission was to publish the works of important Romanian writers who, although not completely unknown to Romanians, were never published in communist Romania. (11) Most notable were the inter-war intellectuals Eugen Ionesco, Emil Cioran, and Mircea Eliade. The latter two flirted openly with the Romanian far right in the 1930s. All three emigrated and spent most of their lives in the West: Ionesco and Cioran in Paris and Eliade as a distinguished professor of religion at the University of Chicago. Between 1990 and 1995, eight titles by Ionesco appeared in Romania, fifteen by Eliade, and eighteen by Cioran, (12) helping to bridge the decades-long chasm between Romanian literature published at home and that produced abroad.
The second component involved publishing literature pertaining to the communist experience, not only of a testimonial nature concerning Romania, such as Lena Constante's The Silent Escape (1995), but also leveled critiques of Stalinism and the Soviet regime by Grigori E. Zinoviev, Nikolai I. Bukharin, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The third part consisted of an effort to synchronize Western research and publications in the social and physical sciences with Romania's own. Coupled with that effort was the fourth objective of the publishing house; that is, to pay particular attention to philosophy, considering Liiceanu's own background. A special effort has been made to publish classic theories of democracy by Hannah Arendt, Franois Furet, Samuel Huntington, and Max Weber. An additional priority was to make Romania's perception abroad available in translation, with the publication in the late 1990s of titles such as R. G. Waldeck's Athene Palace (1942), American historian Keith Hitchins' two books, The Romanians 1740-1866 (1996) and Rumania 1866-1947 (1996), and Arthur Gould Lee's Crown Against Sickle (1950).
While Humanitas has tended to print publications that fit into the above categories, it remains open to any field. Vlad Zografi, the assistant director of Humanitas, sees Romania's demography as a challenge both for his own publishing house and for the industry. Since 1990, one million Romanians have left the country, including about one hundred thousand intellectuals, the very readership to which Humanitas has catered. Accordingly, while remaining on a firm footing, the natural constituency of Humanitas has gradually declined. Zografi estimates that the potential public inside Romania for his firm's books presently stands between 20,000 and 30,000. (13)
Other publishing houses have also made Romanian translations of important foreign works a part of their production, including Curtea veche, which publishes two monographic series of translations, one on the European Union and the other on Balkan history. The former, The European Idea (Ideea europeana), is funded partly by the French embassy in Bucharest and naturally features many French translations. The other series, the Balkan History Project, covers Romanian translations of major English-language histories of the Balkans and East Central Europe including Richard Crampton s Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century and After (1997), Peter Sugar's Eastern European Nationalism in the Twentieth Century (1995), Philip Longworth's The Making of Eastern Europe from Prehistory to Postcommunism (1997), and Istvan Deak's The Politics of Retribution in Europe (2000).
Artemis publishing house (Editura Artemis) specializes in facsimile reprints of major Romanian works including Dimitrie Cantemir's Istoria Moldaviei (History of Moldavia), Ion Nistor's Istoria romanilor (History of the Romanians), Nicolae Densusianu's Dacia preistorica (Prehistoric Dacia), and George Calinescu's Istoria literaturii romane (History of Romanian Literature). Polirom, which along with Humanitas is one of the leaders in Romanian publishing today, continues with its series Historia: Document, which includes a variety of titles by both Romanian and foreign authors that deal largely with the communist experience. Some recent volumes include a political biography of Nicolae Ceausescu by Pavel Campeanu, a documentary history of the Securitate, and a history of the Holocaust in Romania as related by survivors. (14)
While a spate of diaries, memoirs, and document collections has appeared since 1990, Romanian historical methodology has exhibited greater consistency with the communist period, and has been much slower to change. Perhaps the best illustration of this continuity is the Romanian Academy's recent Istoria romanilor (History of the Romanians, 2001-). Although commissioned by the president of the Romanian Academy Eugen Simion, (15) much of the impetus for the publication came from the Romanian parliament in the late 1990s during its debates about the need for new history textbooks. Rather than directing that concern to the Ministry of Education, legislators instead looked to the Academy, maintaining that it first needed a new "official" history of Romania before new textbooks could be written. However, the provenance of the project dates back to the late 1970s, when an editorial board was assembled and a first volume completed before the plan was abandoned in 1980. (16) At that time, the authors and cultural authorities never could agree how to reconcile the assumptions of the nationalist vulgate. (17) This school of thought posits a clearly linear national development from the Romanians' origins in ancient Dacia to the present, with the later period of Roman rule, which occurs well after the supposed Dacian birth of the Romanian nation and constitutes an obvious interruption in independent national formation.
Instead of a complete revision of historical approach for the Academy's new history, many of the same historians who had participated in the original project in the 1970s were simply reassembled. Although the authors resist a simple endorsement of the nationalist vulgate, the resultant eight volumes are nevertheless riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. The most frequent problem is the extensive use, especially in volumes 3 and 4, of texts that had been originally prepared for the jettisoned 1980 project and of literature previously published elsewhere. (18) The academy has responded to such public criticism by describing how volume 4, covering the Middle Ages, was compiled using parts of chapters written for the 1980 version as well as works written by the same authors later. However, the resultant synthesis made determining the precise author of each fragment very difficult. One example is the use of another author's name for a piece written by Serban Papacostea, who had refused to participate in the project, which the Academy declared to be "a regrettable negligence." (19)
Perhaps the most egregious problem in the series is the inconsistency between volumes 1 and 3 regarding the origins of the Romanian nation. Volume 1 was written at the height of "Thracomania" in the late 1970s, when the nationalist vulgate enjoyed official support from the Ceausescu regime. Accordingly, volume 1 of the new history argues that Romania experienced an unbroken development, beginning in the Dacian period well before the beginning of the Common Era (A. D.). However, the authors of volume 3 place the birth of national consciousness well into the Middle Ages. Consequently, the first three volumes collectively entertain the proposition that the Romanian nation was effectively "born before its birth" (20) by placing the beginnings of Romanian national identity in volume 3, when the nation already exists in volume 1 a full millennium and a half earlier.
In spite of these obvious shortcomings, Eugen Simion defends Istoria romdnilor because of its "importance for the nation, its proportions, and its quality," (21) rhetorically asking what need Romania would have for yet another history with "too many myths and too many statues, and far too many heroes which prevent us from entering Europe!?" (22) Even the title appears to be a consideration aimed at enhancing its perceived authority and reception. By calling it Istoria romdnilor, the academy has placed it alongside the earlier, much more distinguished, multi-volume treatments of Romania's history first undertaken by Alexandru D. Xenopol in the nineteenth century and later by both Nicolae Iorga and Constantin Giurescu in the twentieth. Readers must ultimately look elsewhere for more nuanced treatments of the development of Romanian nationhood in the works of historians such as Sorin Mitu and Lucian Boia, (23) both of whom more honestly confront the complexities of identity formation and are unwilling to divorce national identity from its important relationship to modernity.
Continuity is also apparent in Romanian literature since 1989. The novel played an especially important role in communist Romania. The genre's creative license allowed it to substitute in subtle ways for other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences whose political implications often marginalized scholars' serious research. As Bogdan Lefter has observed, entirely new trends in Romanian fiction have yet fully to emerge since 1989. Moreover, he considers criticism leveled at local writers for not creating a "new" novel in the 1990s as unfair, given that the political obstacles that had previously impeded the work of historians, sociologists, and political scientists disappeared after 1990. Consequently, the issues dealt with in fiction until the end of the Ceausescu dictatorship have now been taken up by their respective disciplines. It will take time to generate new paradigms in fiction. (24)
Although a few important novels appeared in the 1950s, including Marin Preda's The Moromete Family and George Calinescu s Poor Ioanide, the literature of the early communist years consists of unmemorable praising of proletarian culture. However, with the second volume of The Moromete Family, Preda inaugurated the "obsessive decade" idiom, which later gained favor with Ceausescu as a way both to discredit his predecessor, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, as well as to offer something of a critical outlet to writers. Consequently, the 1950s became an era of political and social extremes, which by its official sanction, at least deflected criticism from other developments in Romania. Indeed, writer Ioana Ieronim observes that, in a novel she wrote in the 1970s about a Romanian village and the dislocations and impoverishment it experienced in the wake of collectivization, she originally placed the action of the book in a timeless context to show the enduring relevance of the issues. Nevertheless, following initial rejection by the censors, she was able to publish the book only after she set the narrative twenty-five years earlier to coincide with the so-called "obsessive decade." (25)
During the "thaw" of the 1960s, writers endeavored to emulate the modernist, lyrical aestheticism of the interwar period, characterized by an introspective, metaphorical, and symbolic style. (26) That tendency later changed as Romanian fiction evolved over the course of the 1980s, when a generation of younger writers emerged who turned away from the neo-modernist idiom that persisted until 1989 and embraced substantial changes in poetry, prose, and essay genres. This new writing was characterized by a free use of colloquial styles, the liberal use of irony and parody, and a multicultural perspective that combined both popular and elitist literary structures. (27) These trends were still developing in 1989 when Romania changed, so that the same authors who had established Romanian postmodern literature in the 1980s simply continued with their work, including poets Marta Petreu and Romulus Bucur as well as critics and essayists like Sorin Antohi and Mircea Mihaies. In short, the literary continuity on either side of the 1989 divide has led Bogdan Lefter to posit an instance of "asymmetry between history and rhetoric," observing that while political turning points are sometimes also cultural landmarks, they are not always so. (28)
Developments since 2000 have witnessed the emergence of young authors who constitute something of an angry generation, questioning how precisely the postmodernists were really dissidents and accusing their parents' generation of having done nothing under communism. (29) Their works tend to be not only critical, but also ironic and generally parody the communist experience. Yet, even these trends were detectable in the years leading up to 1989, notably in Ion Sirbu's novels Adio, Europa! (Farewell Europe) and Lupul Si catedrala (The Wolf and the Cathedral). (30) Younger authors' works echo these same themes, including Caius Dobrescu's Balamuc (Madhouse) and Radu Aldulescu's Amantul colivaresei (The Lover of the Woman Who Cooked the Funeral Wheat Porridge). (31) The last five years also mark the appearance of the novel verite, which straddles the divide between fact and fiction, taking documentation as a point of departure and embellishing that reality with fiction. Perhaps the most representative of recent novels in the genre is Stelian Tanase's Clientii lu' tanti varvara: istorii clandestine (Auntie Barbara's Clients: Secret Histories, 2005), where the author uses his own Securitate file and embellishes it with credible fiction to create a historical novel about Romanian communism.
The relationship between fact and fiction also remains somewhat tenuous about certain historical topics in Romania when broaching subjects like the Holocaust. While many document collections have been published relating to the fate of Romania's Jews during World War II, most of them produced by Hasefer (Editura Hasefer), a publishing house devoted to Judaica, few candid monographs have appeared. One of these, Radu Ioanid's The Holocaust in Romania, (32) made barely a splash when it appeared in 1998. Enduring skepticism about Romania's role in the fate of its own Jews and of those in Transnistria, along with the blame placed on the Hungarian occupation for the fate of Northern Transylvania's Jews, have tended to preempt an honest consideration. That the Academy's new eight-volume history ends at 1940 would also suggest a reluctance to undertake officially a critical examination of either World War II or the communist period. Indeed, even the entry for "Holocaust" in the only major, post-communist, multi-volume encyclopedia describes it as "the destruction of the greater part of the Jewish population in Europe ... by Germany and its allies." (33) No mention is made either of the number of Jews who perished in Romanian-occupied lands or of Romania's complicity.
Georgeta Dimisianu, the director of Albatros publishing house, one of the former state publishers that has retained an important presence in the post-communist market, tried to exculpate Romania from responsibility in the Holocaust. Dimisianu argued in an interview that the Jews in Transnistria collectively regarded Romanian occupation forces like any ally of Nazi Germany, as an enemy to be resisted. Stunned by her implication that the Jews got just what they deserved, like any other military combatant, this author asked her about the hundreds of thousands of Jews who perished in detention in Iasi, and in Odessa, and elsewhere in Transnistria, to which she replied "that did not happen." Ironically, her comments punctuated a conversation in which she proudly maintained that Romanian publishing, history especially, is now firmly rooted in the documentary record. (34)
Ioanid's book was published by Hasefer, whose chief editor, Alexandru Singer, maintains that he founded the press in 1995 largely in response to being turned down repeatedly by other publishing houses for works about the Holocaust in Romania. Those presses argued then that the documentary record was simply inadequate to justify such publications. (35) Singer defined Hasefer's mission as presenting the role of the Jews in the history of Romania, addressing more specific questions such as who the Jews are, what Jewish culture is, what Judaism itself is, and the role these issues have played historically in Romania. (36)
Although resistance to reassessing more controversial, less flattering dimensions of Romania's past may remain, the discourse of the last fifteen years has been influenced profoundly by the nation's interwar intellectuals, who struggled to fathom Romania's identity and the nations place in Europe, not unlike the realities that the country faces today. Exerting a disproportionate influence on this debate, not only with their published essays, but also with their preeminence in the periodical press, especially the weeklies Dilema, 22, Romania literara, and Observatorul cultural, are members of a younger generation with an eclectic ideological orientation. Their ideas combine neo-extreme right and neo-orthodoxist assumptions, not dissimilar to those of Nae lonescu and Nichifor Crainic in the 1930s, with an elitist intellectualism and internationalism. (37) As Romania confronts what it means to be Romanian in the new millennium while at the same time seeking integration with Europe and meeting the expectations that will accompany EU membership in 2007, much of the interwar intellectual discourse has not only made a deep impression on the country's leading intellectuals, but has been at least implicitly, if not explicitly, endorsed by them. Somewhat like lonescu, Cioran, and Eliade in the 1930s, Humanitas director Gabriel Liiceanu, Dilema director Andrei Plesu, and Romanian Cultural Institute president Horia-Roman Patapievici together constitute something akin to Romania's early twenty-first-century intellectual troika. All three have similar academic backgrounds, having graduate degrees in theology, history, and the history of ideas.
Liiceanu and Plesu, while respected cultural personalities, are nevertheless connected to this neo-orthodoxism, which by its authoritarian and elitist implications, limits public dialog. (38) However, it is Patapievici's book Omul recent (Recent Man, 2002) that perhaps best illustrates both the ideas of the neo-orthodoxist group and their potential consequences. The first half of the book is about how modernity has reached a dead end, echoing Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West (1926-28). The subtitle of Omul recent makes clear what Patapievici sees as the futility of modern society: "a critique of modernity from the perspective of the question 'what is lost when something is gained?'" Patapievici's solution to that crisis is a rediscovery of the human connection to God. The second half of the book consists of a minute criticism of Western democracies, along with the author's step-by-step formula for how effectively to run such societies. He argues that democratic legal systems are far too litigious and spend most of their time resolving petty grievances. Instead, Patapievici proposes replacing formal legal structures with committees of learned men to resolve disputes, not dissimilar to the philosopher kings of Plato's Republic. He further argues that society should have no need of money and should return to land as the basis of property. Perhaps most disturbing, Patapievici maintains that minorities should have their rights revoked, as they are now organized against states from within and constitute a threat to majorities. (39)
While his argument is ominous, especially for democratic establishments, which command such influence on both politics and culture, the ideational content of Omul recent is hardly original. Aside from Spengler, much of his argument lies in Emil Cioran's Schimbarea la fata a Romaniei (The Transfiguration of Romania, 1990), first published in 1936 and reprinted in post-communist Romania by Humanitas in 1990, 1993, and 2001. Although Cioran spent most of his life in exile repudiating the extremist ideas he advocated in his book, they have resonated powerfully with intellectuals like Patapievici, and quite possibly much of the Romanian public, which has grown tired of the "corruption, political chicanery, and inefficiency" of post-communist Romanian democracy. (40) Admittedly, virtually no one in Romanian politics is likely to argue, as did Cioran, that "intolerance, absolutism, and totalitarianism grounded in terror" (41) are an appropriate substitution for democracy, especially since the country already had that experience under Ceausescu. Nevertheless, the ultimate goal of Ciorans vision in Schimbarea la fata a Romdniei was Romania's synchronization with Europe, along with the adoption of Western values and economic and cultural models. (42) How exactly the nation reconciles what writer and literary historian George Calinescu called "the sociological necessity of our accession to Europe" (43) with an indigenous set of cultural values remains an urgent political imperative for Romania.
In the final analysis, Romanian publishing has experienced a revolution even more dramatic than the country's political one in the last fifteen years. While the leadership of the communist eras second-rank nomenklatura may have frustrated much of the country's development since 1989, the power of ideas has invigorated book production, making both Romania's and the world's literary and intellectual heritage fully accessible to a public eager to discover and to re-discover. Publishing has proven one of post-communist Romania's most successful and lucrative industries. These realities suggest that the nations publishers will continue to infuse the public with ideas, which will facilitate not only Romania's entry into Europe, but also its sustained contribution to European culture in the twenty-first century.
(1) Brasil Munteano, Modern Rumanian Literature (Bucharest: Curentful Press, 1939), 166.
(2) Author's interview with Horia C. Matei, former head of the Encyclopedic Publishing House (Editura enciclopedica) and current director of Meronia Publishers (Editura Meronia), conducted in Bucharest on September 9, 2005.
(3) Oana Radu and Stefania Ferchedau, eds., A Short Guide to the Romanian Cultural Sector Today: Mapping Opportunities for Cultural Cooperation (Bucharest: Royal Netherlands Embassy in Bucharest and ECUMEST Association, 2005), 140.
(6) Author's interview with Doina Marian, Managing Director of the Romanian Publishers' Association (AER), conducted in Bucharest on September 8, 2005.
(7) Radu and Ferchedau, Short Guide to the Romanian Cultural Sector, 140.
(8) Ibid., 141.
(9) Interview with Horia Matei.
(10) Author's interview with Vlad Zografi, assistant director of the Humanitas publishing house, conducted in Bucharest on September 6, 2005.
(12) Ion Bogdan Lefter, A Guide to Romanian Literature: Novels, Experiment, and the Post-Communist Book Industry (Piteti: Editura Paralela 45, 1999), 108.
(13) Interview with Vlad Zografi.
(14) Pavel Campeanu, Ceaugscu: Anii numaratori inverse (Iasi: Polirom, 2002); Marius Oprea, Banalitatea raului: O istorie a Securitatii in documente 1949-1989 (Iasi: Polirom, 2002); Holocaustul evreilor romani: Din marturiile supravietuitorilor (Iasi: Polirom, 2004).
(15) Author's interview with Ion Bogdan Lefter, conducted in Bucharest on September 8, 2005.
(16) Author's interview with G. A. Niculescu, conducted in Bucharest on September 10, 2005.
(17) Constantin Iordachi and Balazs Trencsenyi, "In Search of a Usable Past: The Question of National Identity in Romanian Studies, 1990-2000," East European Politics and Societies 17: 3 (2003): 420.
(18) G. A. Niculescu, "Archaeology and Nationalism in 'The History of the Romanians' (2001)," unpublished paper, 5.
(20) Ibid., 6.
(21) Eugen Simion, Istoria romanilor, 1: xiii-xiv.
(23) Sorin Mitu, National Identity of Romanians in Transylvania (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2001); Lucian Boia, History and Myth in the Romanian Consciousness (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2001).
(24) Lefter, A Guide to Romanian Literature, 52.
(25) Author's interview with Ioana Ieronim, conducted in Bucharest on September 10, 2005.
(26) Interview with Ieronim and Lefter, A Guide to Romanian Literature, 92.
(27) Lefter, A Guide to Romanian Literature, 112.
(28) Ibid., 115.
(29) Interview with Ieronim.
(30) Lefter, A Guide to Romanian Literature, 111.
(31) Ibid., 112.
(32) Radu Ioanid, Evreii sub regimul comunist (Bucharest: Editura Hasefer, 1998). Translated into English as The Holocaust in Romania: the Destruction of Jews and Gypsies under the Antonescu Regime, 1940-1944 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000).
(33) Dictionar enciclopedic, vol. III H-K (Bucharest: Editura enciclopedica, 1999), 104.
(34) Author's interview with Georgeta Dim4ianu, conducted in Bucharest on September 6, 2005.
(35) Author's interview with Alexandru Singer, conducted in Bucharest on September 9, 2005.
(37) Interview with Lefter.
(39) Horia-Roman Patapievici, Omul recent: O critica a modernitatii din perspective intrebarii. "Ce se pierde atunci cand ceva se castiga?" (Bucharest: Humanitis, 2002); and interview with Lefter.
(40) Marta Petreu, An Infamous Past: E. M. Cioran and the Rise of Fascism in Romania (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2005), 257.
(41) Ibid., 176.
(42) Ibid., 166, 258.
(43) Ibid., 119.
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|Author:||Pennell, Daniel M.|
|Publication:||Indiana Slavic Studies|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2006|
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