Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.
Nicolae Ceausescu was not exactly a team player. He adopted the title conducator – literally, the leader – and constructed his own personality cult. He defied the Warsaw Pact by refusing to allow Romania to participate in the Soviet-led 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. He preferred to pick up leadership tips from Beijing and Pyongyang – where Mao and Kim Il Sung offered larger-than-life examples — than from the apparatchiks of Moscow. He cultivated court poets who sang his praises and arranged for the endless republication of his own pedestrian contributions to Marxism.
Ceausescu didn’t stop at politics and culture. He wanted to transform the very physical structure of the country. He planned to wipe out what he considered non-viable villages and consolidate the countryside into larger collectivized units. He also reshaped the urban centers of Romania’s major cities so that, among other things, there would be a large central square and a balcony from which he could address his throngs of admirers. It was one of his most enduring – and disturbing – legacies.
But Ceausescu’s most ambitious infrastructure plan was for the Romanian capital itself. In the 1980s, he implemented a huge “urban renewal” project that destroyed a large chunk of the historic center of Bucharest. The new government-residential complex would be the architectural counterpart of his personality cult. By the time of his downfall in December 1989, this new Civic Center was nearly complete.
“It’s a very big stretch of land: about five kilometers long and maybe one kilometer wide: so, five square kilometers,” architect Mariana Celac told me in an interview in her apartment in Bucharest in May 2013. “Parts of it were historic. There was a part that was a late 19th-century industrial site along with what became a proletarian neighborhood at the beginning of the 20th century. There were more than 20 historic landmarks, including 15th/16th-century churches. There were also ghettos of very poor people. The ghettos were used to suggest that the new Civic Center would be clearing away old neighborhoods of no value and no interest. But there was also a part that was quite an elegant neighborhood built in the 1920s after the First World War. The variety of urban structures in Bucharest is remarkable.
Romanians called the urban destruction that took place Ceausima – which combined the words “Ceausescu” and “Hiroshima.” But because of the lack of publicity surrounding the project and the punishments meted out to dissidents, few spoke out against the new Civic Center. Mariana Celac, however, took the enormous risk of criticizing the grandiose initiative in an interview with French media.
“I could feel what was happening there – the direct reality of extreme harshness for the people living there — because at that period I had a very old uncle who was living there alone,” she explained. “I went to him maybe two or three times a week with some provisions. Because of the construction site, which was filled with huge cranes, all the links between the northern part of the city and the southern part of the city were interrupted. There were very few places where you could pass to the other side. And I saw how the demolition advanced.”
It was 1987 when she spoke out. “Until then I’d never spoken publically,” Celac said. “They asked me if I wanted to give an interview, and I said yes. I felt very good about it. If you have an opinion, you should express it under your name. Going into the open was maybe one of the most revealing and interesting experiences of my life. It wasn’t easy because, you know, I have a family. My mother, who was quite an old person, was probably afraid of what could happen to me. But at the same time, just speaking about your feelings and your opinions was a remarkable moment.”
Her friends rallied around her. But she lost her job. “The authorities basically believed that these were the opinions of an unbalanced person and there was no need to respond in any way,” she said. “When I was fired from the institute, there was a meeting with my colleagues. During that meeting I was thinking of the meetings of the Stalinist era, when the outcome of such a meeting was the firing squad. It was not in my case, but I could understand the sort of emotional situation it could be if one’s life was at stake.”
Two years later, Celac became one of the founders of the key organization of civil society that emerged from the changes of December 1989: the Group for Social Dialogue. She continued to do her architectural work, including a fascinating project near a flood area of the Danube where architects and sculptors build more enduring structures out of local materials.
When she looks back to the changes of 1989-90, she assesses them as an architect would. “Such a change in the structure of the society is very much like an earthquake,” she concluded. “During an earthquake, the forces that are usually keeping the building in place are those of gravity. But when the earthquake comes it is elasticity, the converse of gravity, that preserves the integrity of the building. It’s the same thing with such a change.”
Let’s start with your decision not to enter politics after 1989.
I decided not to enter into active politics and to try something different in terms of encouraging a moral renewal of Romanian society. And so I joined the Organization of Architects. It was quite an interesting period because the architectural profession had been heavily affected by the Communist regime and by the architectural and urban planning practices of the dictator. Going back to architecture at that moment, to revive it as a liberal profession, was very important. The lawyers or the doctors did not suffer as much under the influence and the pressure of Ceausescu as the architects.
In a way, immediately after 1990, things were easier to change. Such a change in the structure of the society is very much like an earthquake. During an earthquake, the forces that are usually keeping the building in place are those of gravity. But when the earthquake comes it is elasticity, the converse of gravity, that preserves the integrity of the building. It’s the same thing with such a change. It’s very visible now when the revolutionary movement is gone. The inertial forces are still there, and the influence of the old thoughts is much stronger and much more believable than it was at the very beginning. Of course, we were much younger. We were much more confident in what could be done. We were much more sure that no deep changes had occurred in the Romanian society, that communism had been sort of an external force imposed upon us, which apparently was not entirely true. Somehow it changed a number of things.
So I managed the Group for Social Dialogue. And I, together with a group of colleagues, started this process of the regeneration of the architectural profession. In a way, we succeeded because these big “factories of projects” disappeared, and the architects established smaller practices. This has been a way of entering and understanding the practice of an open society through this profession. We reestablished the Chamber of Romanian Architects, and we’d like to think that architectural practice is getting better. Of course, there is much more freedom and pride in the ways that architects are organizing their professional lives, and it has little to do with the quality of architecture. That depends on people.
I did a number of different things, all of them linked somehow to the idea of social dialogue, immediately after the first stage of changes when political forces established or reestablished the historic political parties and when there had been a number of clashes as some very strong forces tried to stop the protests. The Group for Social Dialogue, in my view, remained interested and engaged and in discussion with the upper layer of power and authority. But I was interested in what was happening at the grassroots level.
So I developed a number of projects. One was a study about what was happening in areas built during the worst industrialization period of Ceausescu’s regime. Another project was organizing the residential area of Gypsy people especially in urban areas — because the general feeling is that the Gypsy problem is a rural problem, which is not true at all. We established a group to work in the ghettos, which are quite big and can be found everywhere in urban areas. We tried to revive the traditional building materials and techniques used by very poor people. We’ve had good results in building good frames and safe housing. Somehow the Group of Social Dialogue remained connected to the upper echelons of the authority, and I went down to the grassroots.
Before I ask you more about these projects, I want to go back to the 1980s and actually ask you about a story you mentioned the first time we talked. You talked then of your experience in becoming a dissident in part because of complaining about “urban renewal” here in Bucharest. How did people find out about the building project that became Ceausescu’s Civic Center? Did they only find out about it when the bulldozers started knocking down houses? Or were there articles in the newspaper that proclaimed this new project of Ceausescu’s? How did you find out about it in the first place?
There had been very little in the press about the project. Even in the professional press there was practically nothing. There are two very good books, which we published through a small publishing house for books about architecture, about how the whole project developed. Ceausescu was so convinced that people approved of his project that there was practically no information or exposes about the project – even within the profession. From time to time, there was a small exhibition or plenary session of the Union of Architects where some sort of discussion took place, but nothing more.
And then there was the operation itself, the building site itself, which tremendously affected a great number of people. A lot of people had their lives really ruined. They were moved overnight into very small apartments, mostly unfinished, in a new residential area, and the site was cleared of everything.
Was that neighborhood known for anything in particular? Was it a historic neighborhood in any way?
It’s a very big stretch of land: about five kilometers long and maybe one kilometer wide. So, five square kilometers. Parts of it were historic. There was a part that was a late 19th-century industrial site along with what became a proletarian neighborhood at the beginning of the 20th century. There were more than 20 historic landmarks, including 15th/16th-century churches. There were also ghettos of very poor people. The ghettos were used to suggest that the new Civic Center would be clearing away old neighborhoods of no value and no interest. But there was also a part that was quite an elegant neighborhood built in the 1920s after the First World War. The variety of urban structures in Bucharest is remarkable.
I could feel what was happening there – the direct reality of extreme harshness for the people living there — because at that period I had a very old uncle who was living there alone. I went to him maybe two or three times a week with some provisions. Because of the construction site, which was filled with huge cranes, all the links between the northern part of the city and the southern part of the city were interrupted. There were very few places where you could pass to the other side. And I saw how the demolition advanced. In a way, I understood what was going in Ceausescu’s mind. When you have a city, it seems much bigger because there are streets, and there are corners, and there are perspectives, and there are buildings. But when you flatten everything, the feeling is that the space is just getting smaller. You see just the big buildings, and there is nothing in between. So I saw how this whole thing developed and the reality for people living there.
The feeling still persists. Now there is this idea that the time has come for Bucharest to have a valuable city center: to clean up all the old insignificant parts and have, I don’t know, a Versailles or a Westminster or a Buckingham Palace. People want to enter this congregation of big nations that have big capitals. As the memory of the hardships fade, this feeling becomes more prominent. Well, we have a Parliament, and this big space now in front of the Parliament. There is this large avenue that is, in my view, completely absurd because it goes against the natural evolution of the Bucharest city center, which is organized along the north-south axis. But the avenue goes from west to east. It’s completely unnatural from my point of view. But somehow the city is absorbing it.
So you found out about it because you were going there several times a week delivering food for your uncle. When you talked about it with your friends, did you discover that other people were upset? Other architects?
The discussion about the reconstruction of city centers had already been going on for maybe ten or 15 years. The Bucharest operation was the last one in a series of remodeling the cores of the main Romanian cities – especially in Moldova and Muntenia (Valachia). Ceausescu was astute enough not to intervene too drastically in Transylvania because it was more exposed to scrutiny from the Western press. But if you look at Iasi, Vaslui, Bacau, Galati, Calarasi, Craiova, the older, historic parts of the cities were destroyed and replaced by a very simple group of buildings — administrative buildings, hotels, a supermarket or department store. There’s also a big round square, of course. As with Mussolini’s towns, there’s a balcony and a place where people gather to salute the dictator.
So the discussion about the transformation of the cities and the building of new civic centers as they were called had been going on for many years. It was not a problem to find architects willing to participate. That’s something characteristic about the profession of an architect. That’s why architects are always there when dictators put big initiatives on the table. The urge to build is so big and the ego of a builder is so over-sized that a big initiative will always find an architect. It happens everywhere.
But you were upset enough to talk to those French journalists about the center here in Bucharest.
Yes. I talked to that French man in 1987. Until then I’d never spoken publically. They asked me if I wanted to give an interview, and I said yes. I felt very good about it. If you have an opinion, you should express it under your name. Going into the open was maybe one of the most revealing and interesting experiences of my life. It wasn’t easy because, you know, I have a family. My mother, who was quite an old person, was probably afraid of what could happen to me. But at the same time, just speaking about your feelings and your opinions was a remarkable moment.
Your mother was worried. What were the other reactions from your family?
I knew only the positive reactions. Some people, seeing me in the street, crossed to the other side. And events developed quite quickly because I lost my job at the design institute where I was working. But a number of people I would never have expected to be nice were nice. They found a workplace for me in a very small enterprise administering houses that were state property. It was in a very poor part of the city, and it was a small enterprise that supervised repairs. I was with them for about two years – until the changes.
Did the government respond in any particular way? You were fired, but did they respond specifically to this report, or did they ignore the criticism?
No, they ignored it. The authorities basically believed that these were the opinions of an unbalanced person and there was no need to respond in any way. When I was fired from the institute, there was a meeting with my colleagues. During that meeting I was thinking of the meetings of the Stalinist era, when the outcome of such a meeting was the firing squad. It was not in my case, but I could understand the sort of emotional situation it could be if one’s life was at stake. A number of my colleagues said, “Okay, it’s an opinion, and it’s not our opinion, so she should go.” So the opinion of my colleagues was that I should leave the design institute. That was the only professional discussion about the issues. In that last part of Ceausescu’s rule, there was almost nothing about the construction of the new civic center, even when the work entered the final phase and the facades were already in place.
As I said, now it’s a part of Bucharest. It’s interesting that the official end towards the Parliament is much less lively or animated than the other side where there’s all sorts of commerce and restaurants. The whole boulevard is almost four kilometers long. They planted big trees, not small ones, that are supposed to grow. Now the greenery is so beautiful that you cannot see the architecture.
I was here in August 1990, and it was very hot and barren. There was no commerce.
No. It is very quiet there except for events like a car race or a beerfest or a concert of big pop bands. At one point I think it was Adrian Nastase, the former prime minister, who wanted to establish a museum for modern art in an unfinished part of the parliament building. And it there was quite a strong debate. I was very much in favor of putting the Museum of Modern Art there because it would put real life into that building. And the museum is now there, even if a number of artists were very much against it. But it’s quite a problem to get there. It’s on the hill, and you have to enter a gate. The Museum of Modern Art is on the backside of the Parliament and will face the Cathedral of National Redemption. It’s now under construction.
Tell me a little bit about how the Group for Social Dialogue came together. It was a relatively small number of people, and it was a very difficult time.
Some of the founding members have quit, some were expelled for some reason or another, and some new younger members have joined the group. But at the very beginning, we all knew each other somehow. Before the fall of Ceausescu, it was just some meetings. Then on December 23, when there was still some shooting – I don’t know if it was real shooting or not – there was a visit to Bucharest by a group of surgeons and doctors from Medecins Sans Frontieres. Three doctors and the philosopher Andre Glucksman stayed in this house. They were staying here because the emergency hospital is very close to this place. And the same evening I went with them to Andrei Plesu’s house where there was also Mircea Dinescu and Gabriel Liiceanu. And somehow the idea of the Group of Social Dialogue came up. Two days afterwards, the Ceausescus were executed. On December 30, we had a press conference, at the Hotel Intercontinental. All the international press was there. That’s when we announced the Group for Social Dialogue. The person who spoke the most was Stelian Tanase who became the first editor in chief of the journal. Maybe Liiceanu and Plesu as well. It was a revolutionary atmosphere with a lot of people. After that, because Silviu Brucan intervened, the Group of Social Dialogue moved to a building on Calea Victoriei. I was fiercely opposed to that.
It was an old 19th-century residence refurbished for Nicu Ceausescu as the headquarters for a committee on UN youth or something like that. The interiors were brand new, and everything was remade in a very bourgeois fashion. The only active place was underground, the basement, which was a disco bar or something like that. I found it absolutely improper. The whole atmosphere, the decoration, the furniture: everything was very formal. It was a sort of revenge. The GSD remained there, and it’s still there, and so have the furniture and paintings and things, which have all gotten shabby.
It was interesting to learn when I talked to you 23 years ago that you made a decision as a group to be careful about expanding the membership. There were only 30-some members at that time.
The issue came up in discussion when there was the idea of transforming the group into a political party. GSD was a group of intellectuals. They were not eager or ready to do the job of organizing all that a party does. On the other side was the idea that the group should remain a place to develop critical thinking. Establishing a political party or embracing a political program meant a strong limitation on the idea of critical thinking, of critical analysis. I expected the group to be more open to dialogue, which did not happen. The group remained until now very much against the National Salvation Front and the crypto-Communists. It was all very much linked with a very personal view of politics. So the conflict, or the controversies, or the polemics within the group were intellectual and literary and involved very, very big egos and very strong personalities. But the magazine 22 is a good magazine.
It’s still published today.
Yes, they used to print 200,000 issues each week. Now I think it’s something like 10,000. It is an intellectual magazine that often takes sides. It has been close to Basescu, for instance. Maybe now that it’s less visible. But it’s a good publication. I tried to open the magazine to social issues like extreme poverty, the formation of ghettos, and education and healthcare in connection with poverty. These are the main issues of Romanian society. But I didn’t succeed.
It’s discouraging to hear that there’s so little interest in those issues.
Now it is even more complicated because the Social Democrats are now in power. They think of the correction of poverty in terms of some sort of widespread social philanthropy, which is the most ineffective and dangerous way of approaching the issue.
So, personal charity.
Is there any political force or civic organization that is offering a different alternative in response to poverty and ghettos?
What I see is not a coordinated political force but a number of initiatives at the local levels, which are very different in character. They could be for instance educational or develop a network of workshops on civil industrial activities, where people who are not skilled or schooled could work. In this way they could leave behind the system of personal charity, which is not enough to challenge the question of extreme poverty. So right now I see multiplying these local initiatives, which are so different that I don’t know how they can unite to become a critical mass on the political stage. But it could be a landowner who converted his land into helping people with some sort of activities. It could be a philanthropic association helping people in school.
I met with one very good initiative in Cluj that worked with disadvantaged children, mostly Roma children with disabilities. The problem is that their funding has been reduced, not increased. And they’ve had to lay off two-thirds of their staff. And other people have told me that the NGO sector has shrunk in Romania.
Yes, that was something else that started at the very beginning when a lot of money was coming from outside along with fax machines and copy machines, things like that. It became common knowledge that an NGO was something funded from outside. Which was debatable. Those who are successful now developed some sort of self-supporting activity. The subsidies or the funding will not increase, so the NGO sector has to reform.
One of the projects you mentioned was using traditional materials for housing people in need. Can you give me some examples? What materials are you talking about?
About five years ago, a group of us — three architects and three sculptors — went to a remote place where there was no electricity, no nothing. We started an experiment in building with only local materials and very simple tools — and very quickly. We started with this idea after there had been a big flood on the Danube, and we had seen how the adobe houses had melted away in a few hours because they were poorly built. The place was near the Danube delta, an archeological site, where there have been excavations of old Greek, Roman, and Byzantine settlements. And every year, for three or four years in a row, we constructed a building in two or three weeks from bottom to top.
The materials were stone. We got the stones by hand. And adobe. We were helped by the Gypsy community in the nearby village. We also used the local wood. Because it’s a very arid area, the trees were small. They also grow wheat for the horses, so we used thatch.
It looks like Korea, with the same traditional thatched roofs.
Wood and thatch and adobe everywhere produce the same type of expression.
You did it in this village?
No, near the archeological excavations.
And this was for people who had been displaced?
No, it was just experimental. It was for the people who came for the excavations, the archeologists and so on. But the whole thing was to elaborate the design of these adobe houses. We established certain rules about how the foundation needs to be established, how the structure maintaining the roof needs to be built, how the adobe walls have to be constructed so that even if a flood comes again, the house will remain standing. Because we have done it with our hands with very simple tools, with only local materials, the prescriptions are very realistic.
You did this in 2009?
And are the excavators, the archeologists, are they still living in these buildings?
They’re very beautiful, the buildings.
Yes, well, I don’t know about beauty….
And has anybody followed your prescription?
Yes. We were not alone in trying adobe building. There were other groups trying the same thing, and there were other groups trying to revise building wooden houses or houses in straw. That’s not a local idea. It’s imported, but anyway people are trying to use this technique. It all started in 2006 after the floods, and it multiplied in different ways.
The idea was to make sure that people know what they have to do to build good, safe houses. Again, if the flood comes, people are waiting for the authority to come and to rebuild the village, but a number of factors intervene. So we are working right now on a number of rules that are simple and understandable for building houses in rural areas by people themselves.
That’s a great project. I want to ask you about the second project, and that is the problem of ghettos in the city and Roma who live in them. I interviewed someone from Plovdiv in Bulgaria. Plovdiv has a very large Roma neighborhood, Stolipinova, where about 50,000 Roma living. The space in Stolipinova is limited. It can’t grow horizontally, only vertically. And the population is increasing, with people are also coming in from the countryside. So it’s become a very big problem in Bulgaria. So I’m interested if the situation here in Romania is similar.
I don’t think we have anything here similar to that. Here we have dispersed ghettos. Some settlements might have two or three or four thousand people in the same place. You have ghettos of several families or several hundred families and houses. Even in the historical centers of cities, even in the part of Bucharest where every tourist goes to have beer, there is also a ghetto. There are clusters of people, some in old houses. Large parts of the Ceausescu residential complexes are occupied by ghettos. The concept should be developed towards the rehabilitation of those settlements. I don’t know how it could be done without some sort of industry or economic activity. People in the ghettos are saying, “We can do everything. We can build houses, lots of houses. We can do everything! But we need places to work.”
I tried to speak with people in the church here. It was the only success story I had seen of ghetto rehabilitation. These missionaries go there, live there. They come invested with the authority of the Almighty and become like the father of the family who is able to give advice, to make sure that the children are well-looked after, to take people to the church on Sunday.
Which church was this? Evangelical…?
Yes. I also saw an Orthodox Church doing something similar, but it’s quite rare. There are efforts to produce social workers from the Roma community. They are educated and go work in the mayor’s office or in the department of schools. But they almost never go back to the community. So, looking at all the possible variants, the person coming with the authority of a church is maybe the most feasible arrangement we can have.
So, you talked with someone from the church and…?
Yes, and they see things another way. They say, “Here is our church, let people come to the church. We will not go into the secular life. Our nuns, for instance, they left the secular life, and they will not go back to face the misery and violence.” So it didn’t work. It only works if there is some sort of personal initiative.
The international organizations are also somehow losing the battle because the idea was that if the money’s there and the education is there, things will be sorted out by themselves, which is not exactly true. Money coming from outside, and not being generated from within, can do much more harm than good.
Well, it certainly creates a certain dependency.
So, you’re still a member of the Group for Social Dialogue, but you tried to push the organization more toward addressing social issues.
Yes, but that was a long time ago.
So, why do you stay in the organization?
Well, let’s say that it was the first such organization that had been established. We were friends, even if for some reason, for instance, Gabriel Andreescu was expelled after the conflict with Plesu. I was sure that that was not the way to solve a problem within the Group of Social Dialogue. The original idea was to accept or manage different points of view even if personally that can be difficult for intellectuals who work with language in very expressive ways. But, well, I was there from the beginning, and I remained with them while being much less active. I’m not writing for the journal. I’m much less active. But I’m one of the founding members.
When you look back at what happened in early 1990 with the Group for Social Dialogue and the Civic Alliance, it was a very eventful year. If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do it any differently? And do you think the Group for Social Dialogue should have done anything differently at that time?
I don’t know. Everything that happened was so much linked to the pressures of the moment that it’s very hard to imagine a different sort of development. But maybe I would wish that at the very beginning the internal philosophy of the Group for Social Dialogue would have developed much more towards social-based problems than towards personal competition between these very intelligent and very well-informed and very remarkable people. At the time it was said, and I still say now, that the task of such a group was to formulate a program for the people. Every intellectual has his or her own program and will never give up on this program – there is no program for the entire intelligentsia. So there is a difference between the intelligentsia’s or the elite’s program and the program that the elite designs for the society it lives in. That’s why the Group for Social Dialogue should have formulated a program for the people, not for itself. Those are two very different things.
Do you think the Group for Social Dialogue had some important accomplishments at that time even though it didn’t address social issues as it might have?
Yes, of course. The group analyzed all the main issues discussed in parliament and in government, so it became a force that could not be ignored. From the very beginning, its influence and its impact and its presence have been much more important than the number of members, and I think it is still like that. I am following the debates on TV, and there the point of view of the Group for Social Dialogue is always somehow present – even if it’s much more linked now with the institutional power of parliament, government, the supreme court, legal organizations, and so on. It’s much more important and visible than it was before. I think it still plays quite an important role.
When you think back to 1990, do you personally have any second thoughts in your overall perspective in how politics work?
I see no difference between myself in the time of Ceausescu, myself in 1990, and myself now. And that makes me glad. I think it’s a consequence of the links and attachments I’ve had. I’d never exchange those for any kind of advantage. So, I’m the same, I think.
When you look back to 1989 and everything that has changed or not changed in Romania since 1989 until today, how would you evaluate that on a scale from one to ten, with one being most dissatisfied and ten being most satisfied?
Same scale, same period of time: your own personal life?
Looking into the near future, how would you evaluate Romania’s prospects for the next two or three years on a scale of one to ten, with one being the most pessimistic and ten being most optimistic?
Bucharest, May 23, 2013
Romania’s leading opposition group, the Group for Social Dialog (GSD), consists of only 31 members. “The sympathy or antipathy that it enjoys,” group member Mariana Celac told me, “is out of proportion with its physical size.” I met with Celac in the Group’s headquarters, formerly belonging to a shadow organization devoted to elevating Ceaucescu’s son Nicu to the top of some United Nations commission on youth. GSD was formed immediately after the December revolution although those involved had been in contact with one another during the Ceaucescu days. Most had been openly critical of the regime. The group counts as members scientists, engineers, architects, writers: a cross-section of the intelligentsia.
The first question that the group faced was size: should it admit new members. The answer was no: all members knew one another and trusted one another. The process by which new members would be recruited would require interviews and would begin to resemble the screening done under the previous regime. Instead of enlarging the initial group, the members decided to encourage those interested to form other groups along similar principles–informal, non-partisan, non-governmental and dedicated to the development of civil society. Consequently, the Group has worked to create independent trade unions, foundations, and cultural associations. Some of these institutions of civil society have subsequently appeared: three independent trade union confederations, a students’ league, the Timisoara Society, the Agora Society in Iasi, the Alliance of Independent Democrats in Cluj.
There is no leader of the group, no hierarchy. There is, however, a board. One of the major activities is the publication of a journal, “22″ (the day when Ceaucescu was ousted in December). Neither literary nor explicitly political, 22 features essays on social matters. 200,000 copies are printed each week. Another group activity is the convening of twice weekly sessions at which guests are invited to speak (Adam Michnik, for example). They have hosted some political debates but so far the National Salvation Front has yet to participate (it is slated for after the summer vacation). Third, position papers are produced on particular topics: the elections, the events in University Square, ethnic conflicts.
There had been “a fierce debate” over whether to participate in the elections as a group. Ultimately the group decided against participation though particular members ran as independents (they lost). Most members felt that the Group should remain a group of “critical reasoning about power” and should facilitate dialog. According to public opinion polls that the Group conducted, the elections results strongly favoring the National Salvation Front came as no surprise. What surprised Celac was the degree of predictability of the poll. After so many years of living under dictatorship, she had expected people to reply disingenuously to the poll questions. The results also showed that the Group “is still very far from the main strata of society,” leading her to speculate that they might be simply “a group of elitist intellectuals outside the mass of society.”
Each member of the group focuses on a different topic. Gabriel Andreescu, for instance, looks at human rights. Documentation has been done on the June events and a videotape made of the events was shown to a parliamentary commission looking into the affair. An architect, Celac was been particularly concerned during the Ceaucescu era with the damage wrought by the Civic Center project. She has worked to put together a data bank on the various houses, monuments and churches destroyed in order to raise the Civic Center. The Ministry of Culture has been sponsoring the project (started under Ceaucescu) but the funding is coming to an end.
We talked a little about general Romanian problems. People from the West, Celac said, often think that the Communist power structures in Eastern European countries were entirely alien: remove the Communist parties from power and democracy will take hold just as in the West. The question always remains, she said, just how much the power structures really have changed in Romania since the revolution. The other question is the way people think. 45 years of living under Communism have shaped people’s consciousness: Romanians are accustomed to security in job and social services. Romania, she quotes a friend, is an “intrauterine society” that produces “intrauterine personalities.” In other word, people don’t have a lot of room in which to maneuver and frankly like it that way. In addition, there is a feeling of helplessness.
She admitted that the new Romanian government is pursuing internal reform policies not terrible different from the policies pursued by its neighbors. She is not, however, very enthusiastic about these new technocrats in power. They are attached to rationalist, technocratic thinking and “think that everything can be solved by a good computer.” She thinks, on the other hand, that a certain amount of chaos and disorder is necessary in Romania, especially on the economic level: “this is not part of the technocrat’s Weltanschauung.”
Celac’s own story of dissent is interesting. Frustrated by her failures to stop through official channels the demolition of villages and the center of Bucharest, she gave an interview critical of the government’s policies to French TV. After several more interviews, she lost her job and was put into internal exile. Other dissidents–Andreescu, Mircea Dinescu, Radu Philipescu–were likewise isolated and silenced. When Silviu Brucan issued a letter critical of the government signed by former top party leaders, the concerns were quite similar to those voiced by the dissidents: “the priorities were so clear that you couldn’t escape them.” When events began to heat up in the capital, the authorities shipped Celac up North. She returned to Bucharest at the beginning of December and, knowing that the end of Ceaucescu was near, went out and bought a bottle of champagne. She and several others got together and wrote a declaration against violence.
On July 13, 60-100,000 people gathered in Bucharest to protest the violence of June 13-15 and the detention of over 100 people including student Marian Munteanu. Similar meetings have since been held in Timisoara, Iasi, Sibiu. The students are organizing for the fall: they will change their tactics but have not announced what they will do exactly. They have made some contacts with miners in order to initiate a dialog.