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A Tale of Two Villages

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi

Chapter 7. From the Dependent Peasant to the Citizen-Peasant: The Bases of a Rural Political Culture

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1The micro-history of these two villages enables us to survey the entire communist and postcommunist period and to unravel the mechanisms used to subject the countryside as planned and implemented by the Communist Party. There is no doubt whatsoever that the destruction of the peasantry as a social class was an intended outcome of the party’s policies. The aim was unambiguously to destroy the village as the symbolic site of traditional culture and to replace that culture with a brand-new social construct: a new way of farming the land, a new social organization, and a new tradition, engineered in the laboratories of the party’s Propaganda Section. This process is documented not only in the foundational texts of communism, but also in many party documents, some official, others published after the Revolution, as well as in the minutes of many top-echelon party debates about the fate of peasants and villages. The fundamental question concerns the extent to which this project of enforced modernization was successful. What were the long-term effects of social engineering on the social structure of villages and on the peasants’ political behavior and their ability to act collectively? The answer emerging from our analysis so far is inconclusive. To provide a more comprehensive answer to that question, I will now cast one last look at Nucşoara and Scorniceşti, and also draw on a nationwide statistical analysis in order to identify the effects of fifty years of social engineering on the peasantry as a whole.

The social structure of the village world during the communist and postcommunist periods

2In the nineteenth century Nucşoara was a region with a sparse population in the vicinity of an extensive monastery-owned estate at Curtea de Argeş. Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza’s secularizing reforms triggered an entirely new social dynamic, creating the first generation of peasant landowners, followed by a second generation at the end of World War I, a generation of those who did not have land and leased from those who did. The actions of Iancu Arnăuţoiu at Nucsoara and, throughout Romania, the cancellation of farming debts at the time of the Great Crisis were instrumental in creating a class of middle landholder peasants.

3The village of Scorniceşti was typical of the plains. Properties there were extensive, but labor productivity was low, and so land was farmed out to peasants who worked both on their own plots and those of the boyars, on a contract basis. After 1989, land restitution consolidated the processes of property-building in Nucşoara, and signaled the start of a similar process in Scorniceşti. Most peasants today are landowners. In Nucşoara, a nuclear family—i.e., parents and dependent children—own between six and eight acres. In Scorniceşti an extended family—also comprising members associated with the nucleus by marriage—has an average of thirteen hectares. Because prior to 1998 it was impossible to sell land legally, many families decided to combine their plots and work them communally for greater efficiency. The differences in property size do not generate significant differences in social status, and as a general rule there is no correlation between status and wealth. One exception to this pattern are the Rroma. At the bottom of the social ladder, the Rroma are largely landless, and unhappy at being treated as second-class citizens by the council and the police. “We don’t like to be called ‘Rroma’. But the council practises racial hatred when they take no notice of us. At school, our children are getting a good education. When I go to see Mrs Şerban, she sends me away, the same for all of us here. The police are the same. But the council is really bad.” (Rroma artisans, Slatina, Nucşoara) As they are the poorest in the community and with the largest number of children, the Rroma are also the most vulnerable, because they depend on the social benefits distributed by the council. And it is not difficult to guess exactly how this distribution takes place. Some mayors believe that the recipients must do some socially useful work in exchange for benefits, and by this they usually mean mowing the hay on the mayor’s or deputy mayor’s land. As far as the rest of the villagers are concerned, their social homogeneity can be explained by the relatively small differences in property size. Nobody in either village owns more than fifty hectares of land.

  • 1 Data from the National Statistics Institute, available at

4So who are the “peasants”? Is everybody who lives in the countryside a peasant? Or just landowners who farm their own land, even though they might live in the city? Or perhaps only rural inhabitants who work their own lands? By 2000, sixty per cent of land in Romania consisted of individual properties (subsistence plots), sixteen per cent belonged to state farms, twenty per cent was the property of private associations, and four per cent the property of commercial companies. Two-thirds of the land thus distributed consisted of plots of less than three hectares, and even those were often divided into noncontiguous plots; the other third belonged to peasants who had resettled in towns. Sixty per cent of land was owned by people over sixty years of age, i.e. individuals with a life expectancy of less than five years given the current standard of living in Romania’s countryside. Only nine per cent of those endowed with land were under forty, and therefore physically fit enough to work on their land. Romania’s rural population has aged. About fifty per cent of all rural residents had retired by 2000, due either to age or ill-health; the national average was twenty-eight per cent.1

5Although most peasants are landholders, only a few are self-declared “farmers,” i.e. owners producing for the commercial sector. Most plots are farmed for subsistence purposes, with the produce being sold at the market, or swapped for foodstuffs. This takes us closer to a definition of the “peasantry.” We could say that peasants are residents of villages, communes, or small towns (or the suburbs of larger cities) whose households survive by working individual plots or gardens and who, consequently, have a peasant lifestyle based on economic self-sufficiency.

Table 3. Rural/urban comparative social indicators

Table 3. Rural/urban comparative social indicators
  • 2 The samples used are described in Appendix 1.

Source: CURS 12

6The overwhelming majority of rural residents depend on the land for their survival, irrespective of whether they have other employment apart from farming. Even the village intellectuals would find it impossible to make ends meet without their individual plots and gardens. Rural residents are usually cash-poor, but they have been further impoverished in the transition period by annual inflation rates which varied from 20 to 150 per cent or even higher. Pensions and wages have been constantly linked to—but remained just below— inflation, which has led to a considerable decrease in purchasing power, especially in rural areas (see Table 3).

  • 3 In the Bărăgan region. Interview conducted in the village of Ciorogirla, Bolintin Vale, Ilfov count (...)

7Rural households produce basic foodstuffs, such as eggs, meat, vegetables, milk, alcoholic brews which the peasants could otherwise not afford to buy. All those who depend for survival on what they produce from their own land can be considered “peasants,” and they include the elderly, owners of plots, members of associations, and intellectuals, who do not buy food and who produce all they need on their own land. In all these cases, the most important function of the land is to produce food for the peasant family. Any excess land beyond the individual plot and garden contributes less to the economy of the peasant household. And although the family associations in Constantineşti and Teiuş, as well as the larger individual plots in Nucşoara, produce for commercial, as well as for subsistence, purposes, they cannot yet be considered farms. They have little equipment, and their small revenue is almost totally absorbed by the future production cycle. By 2000, the number of individuals on leased-out land was still very limited, to some extent because the relevant legislation did not come into force until late 1994 (see Table 4). The performance of the associations, as well as of peasant tenants, varies widely. Some associations, such as Comagri, produce almost nothing; others, such as Furnica, yield 300 kilograms per hectare. Very efficient tenants are able to supply owners with 600 kilograms per hectare.3 A common feature of what is delivered to the landowners consists of animal fodder and is not for sale. Many such arrangements do not involve cash transactions at all, and grain is exchanged in the market for seeds or fertilizer. Agricultural production as such comes chiefly from larger farms and from state farms which were still in the process of privatization in 2002. In recent years, various types of subsidy have been offered to large farms, the so-called “agricultural 1 exploitations” of over 110 hectares. In the summer of 2002, for highproductivity grain crops with a yield of 2,000 kilograms per hectare the investment was 250 euros per hectare, including the cost of imported fertilizer. The state attempted to set a purchase price of 3,000 lei (equivalent to 60 euro cents) per kilogram of grain, but wholesalers would offer no more than 2,000–2,500 lei. After a decade or so of state monopoly, grain started increasingly to be traded by the private sector or used for exchange in kind at the market. This, however, did not lead to an increase in its price. On the contrary. The highly reduced price of grain relative to investment means that the peasant economy is still an underproductive system, and only a major increase in productivity can change things. Smaller plots are entirely non-viable. “If someone leases only one acre out to me, it’s his own risk; he can’t expect more than three sackfuls of produce per acre,” says one farmer from Bolintin Vale, a village in the plains. Vegetable, fruit, and vine production seem more profitable than wheat cultivation, but peasants have no capital and are conservative, so they stick to wheat.

Table 4. Uses of landed property

Table 4. Uses of landed property

Source: CURS 1

8Productive agriculture is an aspiration for farmers-in-the-making, the majority of whom are agronomists by training. Most peasants are happy just to produce enough to keep their livestock, but even this is no simple affair, although they entrusted the management of the association to the same people who formerly ran the state cooperatives, “because they had experience in the area and know about land.” Those who prefer to work their own land do so largely with traditional equipment, the horse and the spade, because, they say, the spade “is good, otherwise if you mechanize you must use herbicide and it’s expensive, 30 dollars per acre.” The peasants whose chief investment is labor and who use primitive farming tools are in the majority (see Table 4). They are, in fact, the real “peasants,” those who have survived as a class, and form a group with shared economic interests. Their contribution to the Romanian economy is, however, nil. The peasantry is merely subsisting, nothing more.

9Nowadays, the rural population tends to assess the country’s economic situation as being rather good, unlike the urbanites, who have been plunged into the depths of a dark pessimism by a decade of constant decline in industrial output. Yet, even today, rural residents earn only sixty per cent of what their urban counterparts earn (see Table 3). Incomes are more evenly spread in rural areas, and the population is more advanced in age and less educated. Ninety-six per cent of rural residents live in traditional homes, compared with only forty-six per cent of those who have homes in towns of under 30,000 inhabitants. Owning a traditional house, with no running water or central heating, proved an advantage when subsidies for domestic energy consumption were cut during the transition and energy bills spiraled in the towns. Many rural households still do not have a telephone or a washing machine. Private heating arrangements involve having to secure a permit and having sufficient money to purchase firewood; many people are therefore dependent on those who control access to such resources.

10Urban–rural inequalities in lifestyle are a legacy of history, and they survived despite communist slogans. Around 1965, peasant income was about half the national average. From 1964, when Nicolae Ceauşescu took power, industrialization under the communists soared at an unprecedented rate. This produced additional incentives for young, active, enterprising people to leave the villages. They settled in towns in great numbers in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Only in 1996 was migration from and to towns more or less in balance. This happened as migration to the cities declined as a result of ageing among the rural population. It declined from 42.5 per cent in 1973 before peaking spectacularly to 69.8 per cent in 1990, after the collapse of communism, and dropping again to 24.7 per cent in 1996 (see Table 5). Reverse migration, previously insignificant, rose as cities were hit by the economic recession of the early 1990s, and urban–rural migration reached 30.7 per cent in 1999.

Table 5. Urban/rural migration 1973–2000

Table 5. Urban/rural migration 1973–2000

Key: U=urban, R=rural

Source: CNS

Table 6. Occupational structure of the active rural population

Table 6. Occupational structure of the active rural population

11Source: CNS 2000

12The percentage of people employed in agriculture declined steadily in the communist period and was reported to be under thirty by 1981. However, by 2000 it was about thirty-five per cent (see Table 6). The percentage of people living in villages, most commonly as families in mixed employment—in which men work in the nearby town, while women work in the garden and on the arable plot—was far higher (forty-seven per cent, see Table 7). In the communist period, as men left the villages to take up employment in the new industries, even if only temporarily or as commuters, women increasingly ended up working in agriculture. Although they represented only fourteen per cent of the national workforce in 1979, women accounted for sixty-three per cent of those employed in agriculture.

Table 7. Urban/rural residence in 2000

Table 7. Urban/rural residence in 2000

Source: CURS 1

13The transition has strongly affected the social structure bequeathed by communist social engineering. The long-term impact of modernization could be assessed only once the distortions induced by the planned economy had disappeared starting in 2000. One such distortion was the hundred per cent employment rate. At the time, men from rural areas could get jobs as security guards for state enterprises or other such sinecures, but all this disappeared with the total collapse of the state sector. Commuters from rural areas were among the first to lose their jobs in the early 1990s. The lucky ones took advantage of a special scheme offered by the government and applied for early retirement, returning to their villages with pensions that were much higher than what the cooperatives would have offered them. The majority of cooperative members, as well as skilled workers from urban areas—the most typical products of communist engineering—retired on minimum pensions ten years after the fall of the regime. Half of those who were cooperative members in 1989 had retired within the next ten years, and a quarter of them owned individual plots. Others joined the agricultural associations which succeeded the cooperatives as new forms of voluntary joint ownership.

Table 8. Changes in occupational status during the transition decade (general population)

Table 8. Changes in occupational status during the transition decade (general population)

Source: CURS 1

Status and upward mobility

14There is little social stratification in the rural world. The little that exists is largely a residual legacy of the communist period. The only groups who can claim a distinct status are the agronomists, or agricultural specialists, in lowland areas and the foresters in the mountains. Both groups have considerable power as experts, not to mention other, equally important, powers they have in relation to access to resources and the control of key roles in the agricultural associations.

  • 4 Weber, On Charisma and Institution Building, 177–80.
  • 5 Jowitt, Social Change.
  • 6 Mungiu-Pippidi, Politica după comunism, and idem, Secera si buldozerul.

15Who precisely are these groups—the agronomists and foresters— which share a lifestyle and many interests with the peasants, yet enjoy far greater influence and, more importantly, a monopoly on access to major resources? The definition is almost self-evident: The foresters and the agronomists are corporate groups, or status groups. Peasant society in general values status highly. After the social leveling which occurred under communism, distinctions amidst this society are now made on the basis of the groups’ closeness to power. The term “status group,” as originally defined by Weber,4 referred to a group of people whose prestige derives from a specific monopoly which they managed to acquire. This community has a shared lifestyle and moral code, as well as its own social philosophy linked to the monopoly they have of specific resources. The birth of a status group, Weber noted, is grounded in usurpation strategies which involve sustained group efforts to acquire access to ever higher status. Status groups have a communal organization, are very exclusive, and protect themselves against contact with strangers. The suggestion that the social organization of Romania was based on closed access and privileged groups was first posited by Ken Jowitt,5 and later taken up by Mungiu-Pippidi.6 While Jowitt claimed that this type of closed society was a structural characteristic of Romanian peasant society, I suggested that it was the outcome of social intervention under communism. The annihilation of social stratification by the communists and the positioning of people solely in relation to the sources of power have encouraged this type of social organization, which survived communism and developed further during the transition period. Nucşoara’s predatory elite, which included many of the commune’s intellectuals drawn from various professional backgrounds, is such a status group, and controls access to all public services.

16Entrepreneurs form a special category in the countryside. They speak for the future. Many are descendants of peasants and have returned from the towns. However, rural businesses in building, manufacturing, and trade are run by a category of people with a peasant background. In many cases, individuals in this category spent a transitional period in towns before returning to the village. Domneşti, for instance, the larger commune near Scorniceşti, is full of such people—ranging from forestry engineers to old age pensioners—who returned from Piteşti to their parents’ villages once they retired. In Scorniceşti, a great part of the entrepreneurial elite comprises people who spent time in cities, usually for their studies but often after graduation too. They are the only ones who earn cash, employ other people, and create economic growth. In theory, entrepreneurs should be an inclusive category, operating openly in the market economy. This is true of this particular group, but only to a certain extent. Their new lifestyle, which they acquired quickly, and their resources show that in their case there is an overlap between class and status group. Entrepreneurs in Scorniceşti enjoy the hunt and other shared leisure pursuits, and they even have their own club. The people who meet there, the chiefs of police with a monopoly on guns, the local bankers who control access to loans, and the political leaders, form a category which increasingly resembles a status group. Membership of this club, which controls all the major local resources, is not drawn exclusively from one social class. The bankers and policemen come from state institutions and derive their power from the illegitimate control— a de facto privatization, actually—of access to these public resources. The state banks support many businesses by lending money, and the main status group in Scorniceşti gravitates around these loans. But what gives hope to the town is the smaller alternative group of businesses people, those who manage without state bank loans, like Marlene and her factory. If their success is sustainable, it will advance the open society of Scorniceşti as a whole, as they are the real promoters of economic growth.

17The two villages being studied here illustrate two different, yet equally significant, trends. Nucşoara, the picturesque village of the mountainous region, has a demographic structure which is typical of the Romanian countryside today: The population is ageing and the young have either left or are leaving. The population declined from 2,000 in 1991 to 1,800 in 2002. There are few weddings and even fewer births. At school, classes keep shrinking and teachers have fewer children to teach. Vacant homes fail to find buyers. Nucşoara is going to disappear gradually; so too are the larger communes in the mountains. In the post-transition period, modernization continues apace: in Domneşti the handsome nineteenth-century village pub was demolished and replaced with bars and terraces with plastic chairs. The coal mines have closed, and all the men are now unemployed: mowing the hay is their only lucrative occupation. People from the city have started to build in the area, but these are, of course, holiday homes. One way or another, the real peasants will disappear.

18In contrast, Scorniceşti, the unappealing village on the plains, full of dust and demolition sites, and located in an even more rural county, appears to be prospering. There are problems with the infrastructure, but although serious they do not threaten the town’s future. On the contrary, there are hopes that enough resources will accumulate to encourage growth. There is little unemployment, and the textile industry will be sustainable if some politician does not one day decide out of the blue to scrap it. It is not doing well enough to make people prosperous, but sufficiently well to bring in necessary cash—in parallel to the locally produced food—and to create in Scorniceşti a small market for non-agricultural produce. The only way in which individuals and the town as a whole will survive is if both agricultural and industrial activities can be sustained, until a stronger industry emerges and brings in better revenue. Already, about half of those employed in local industries no longer have land and are, therefore, no longer peasants. The younger generation still live off the produce of their parents’ gardens and livestock, but they are losing the skills and inclination to keep a cow on their own. Lifestyles in Scorniceşti are not yet urbanized, but they will be.

19The overall levels of poverty drastically reduce the peasants’ options. They have little money to buy clothes, and they can scarcely afford to buy newspapers or books. Television is an exception, and the most influential means of urban culture. Yet television programs are perceived differently in villages and towns. The villagers are not keen on political talk shows, which they consider too confrontational, and they generally avoid politics. Soaps and television series, whether set in Spain, Brazil, or Trollope’s England, are regarded as good family spectacles, but they are watched in total incomprehension of the context. I asked one of my local respondents for an update on the latest episode of a British period drama, and was told that “the Duke has troubles with his children.” Television has an influence on the young, and it often teaches them about things they cannot afford. In Scorniceşti, children have never travelled further than the neighboring 1 town, Slatina, yet the stock reference in discussions among adolescents is to Beverly Hills 2001.

20It doesn’t matter whether villages are moving towards urbanization or extinction, one thing is common to both these tendencies: the decline in the influence of traditional sources of authority. After communism, priests have become mere mortals, and no longer enjoy the respect they enjoyed before the last war. Churches, both in Nucşoara’s hamlets and in the fief of the mayor of Scorniceşti, are full of elderly women. Nucşoara’s priest sided with those who opposed the arrival of the partisans’ cross in the village cemetery. It was surely not a Christian gesture, yet it was not done maliciously, but out of an entrenched conviction that there is such a thing as an “official” truth, or at least that the only truth is the one upheld by a majority. Unsurprisingly, nobody sees him as an anointed guardian of good and evil, but merely as a supplier of essential social services, such as funerals, although even those he has to provide free of charge now.

21God is no longer a spiritual and moral reference. Fifty years of atheism, and especially repeated exposure to experiences which have shown that evil can be rewarded or at least victorious on a large scale, have taken their toll: Nowadays only the old former political detainees from Nucşoara ever mention God. When the peasants vote today for the former Communist Party secretaries, it is a quiet profession of atheism. In today’s rural Romania, those with a spiritual calling take the vows. Thousands of young peasants have done so in the last ten years, but in the social sphere the Church has got nothing to offer. Nucşoara’s priest, a Democratic Party candidate, and one of the many priests in Romania to have participated to political elections, says honestly: “This was chance, you know. I chose this party because they came to me and suggested it.” So, even when it comes down to opportunism, the Church will let others come to it rather than take the initiative. The vacuum left in the social arena by a lethargic Eastern Orthodox Church has been filled by the very active Protestant sects. In Scorniceşti they recruited enough adherents to be able to start building a church.

  • 7 Kideckel, The Solitude of Collectivism.

22David Kideckel noted with surprise that neither the Church nor the family were able to protect the individual against the compromises demanded by the communist regime.7 It would be more accurate to say that they were no longer able to do so after the 1950s. The appointment of Patriarch Justinian as head of the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1948 marked the beginning of an accommodation between the Church and the communist state. Not unlike Nucşoara’s peasants, who were endowed with other people’s lands, the Church was offered incentives and became a partner in the regime’s success: It took over the assets of the suppressed Greek-Catholic Church, hundreds of churches for the return of which Greek-Catholics fought bitterly in court after 1989. The Eastern Orthodox priests who joined the resistance did so as a personal choice. Afterwards, out of esprit de corps, they recruited one another to join the cause of the partisans. Father Dragomirescu served a long prison sentence simply because the partisans asked for a favor—which he could not even provide. The commune’s other priests, Andreescu, Constantinescu, and Drăgoi, were all executed by the communist regime. It is unsurprising, therefore, that their successors should have refrained from giving advice on moral and political conduct to their parishioners. They were content with simply saying a prayer for the well-being of the state’s leader, as Orthodox tradition required, even when the leader in question was Nicolae Ceauşescu.

23The role of the family was equally ambiguous. In the postcommunist transition period, the rural family has appeared to gain strength chiefly as an economic unit, as family members gradually realized that only by combining their labor could they exploit their land productively. Under communism, however, stories of family solidarity are matched in equal numbers by stories of betrayal or indifference. Marina Chircă is still angry with her sister, Ana, because the latter allowed herself to fall for a Securitate man posing as a suitor and let slip a few names, which later led to the partisans’ capture. By the time Ana realized it was a trap, it was too late. Having learned this, Marina left her house the next day without taking anything with her, determined never to return because she was certain the Securitate were about to arrest her. As she approached the village bridge, she came across Ana, and took her along with her. Ana did not question anything, left her Securitate suitor behind, and together they went up into the mountains, where they hid for five years before they were caught. Despite having to share the same attic for five years in the house of a former servant, they were never reconciled.

24Family ties sometimes break down under the pressure of dramatic circumstances. After a hesitant start, the Securitate came up with a well-defined strategy, especially in the capture of partisans: It recruited members of their families, who were then subjected to blackmail and torture. These “deep-cover informants” were often credited in Securitate documents with the capture of opponents of the regime. Once the purely coercive phase came to an end, the family was often invoked as an excuse and cover for selfishness and compromise. “Father joined the party for our sakes,” said the doctor in Nucşoara. Such self-exonerating statements are shared by the four million former members of the Communist Party and their families, whether peasants or not.

The neo-dependency model

25Communism destroyed the traditional sources of authority and created new dependencies, on a different basis. Under the communist regime, there were three main sources for the dependency of the peasant either as a cooperative member or as a commuting employee in a state enterprise. On the one hand, there was an economic dependency, not just on salaries, pensions, and allocations, but also, for cooperative members, on food rations. In the 1980s a rationing system was also introduced in state enterprises, and consequently access to basic foodstuffs such as sugar, oil, and bread became strictly controlled and correlated to party membership and discipline.

26The second source of dependency was political, and was more widespread in urban areas than in the countryside. In villages, too, state employees—intellectuals, civil servants, cooperative members, and state farm staff—were subject to political control. Debate was allowed only within the system thus created, as illustrated by the very suggestive recollections of Nicolae Popa from Scorniceşti. Popa, like Constantin Paşol from Nucşoara, was a communist from the start. Both attempted to encourage a debate within the system, by denouncing corruption and suggesting alternatives to the party’s absurd policies. Significantly, neither was successful. Political dependency was made complete through a network of political organizations membership of which was compulsory: the Union of Young Communists (UTC), the trade unions, and the Communist Party itself.

  • 8 Waldron, Communist Neo-Traditionalism, 21.

27The third source of dependency is the most important for understanding why the status groups survived and even flourished during the transition. It is what Waldron has called personal dependency on one’s superiors.8 Far from being impersonal and equitable, communism, like any other tyranny, produced smaller tyrants who lived off the arbitrary distribution of promotion and awards. The overblown personal character of the system, the excessive growth of string-pulling, and old boys’ networks were the rule rather than the exception and have had long-term consequences. The patronage networks of Romania today are firmly grounded in its communist past.

28The new personal relations of dependency are undeniable, and they replaced fully those based on the traditional authority of prewar times. As a priest’s son and a teacher, Arnăuţoiu enjoyed real respect from his fellow-villagers. His power stemmed from his affiliation to these categories of traditional authority, strengthened by his considerable personal charisma. The same can hardly be said of Ungureanu and Neacşu. Their past and present power rests on their proximity to a discretionary center of power, whose agents they have always been. The authority they exercise is not their own, and legitimacy is out of the question: They live on the residue of a coercive power over their fellow-villagers, converted into a milder form of patronage. Authority normally means that “A has legitimate power over B, with the latter’s consent.” However, under communism, and even today, in the postcommunist era, when peasants do not have an alternative source for the goods they receive from the local authorities, we can hardly talk of free, consensual social relations. In this case, what we find is domination, the sustained exercise thereof, and not authority, which in all its forms is constantly deflected and corrupted. This is the reason I call the postcommunist model of social control described here a neo-dependency model.

  • 9 Botez, Romanii despre ei inşişi.

29There are connections between neo-dependency—with its implicit particularism and the non-modern character of its economic and administrative bureaucracy—and the communist regime’s earlier, coercive phase. Captors became patrons, and pure coercion was upgraded to persuasive coercion, but they remained the principals of this game. This second phase of Romanian totalitarianism was not far from what Waldron, based on his ethnographic work, defined as an alternative model to totalitarianism and labeled as “neo-traditionalism.” Yet, this phase appears to have been simply a developmental stage of the same old totalitarianism, the main difference being that the blind, cost-intensive coercion of the earlier stage was replaced by a rational contract offered to those who accepted the system both publicly and in private. If this contract is seen as a means by which the regime acquired legitimacy, then we have indeed a regime which differs from the hard-line totalitarianism of the Stalinist era, i.e. a neo-traditional regime. However, the Romanian experience contradicts such an interpretation. Neo-dependency is a subtler way of controlling society as a whole. It is both more comprehensive and more pervasive than coercion. For this reason, a neo-dependency regime needs a greater number of cadres: Every head of section, civil servant, or party secretary becomes virtually an agent for society’s mobilization and control. The arbitrariness of power and the particularism are not side-effects, but signals and manifestations of the unlimited power shared by those networked to the central source. There will be hierarchies, naturally, separating the top chiefs from people such as Mrs Şerban, but her power will endure as long as it is discretionary and, as such, each agent of the regime will behave just like her. Abusive attitudes are exterior signs of power, and particularism creates the necessary incentives for not rebelling against an unjust system. It is easier to network than to revolt! In the social arena, energies are not directed towards changing the rules of the game towards a system based on open and non-personal relationships. Instead, efforts concentrate on climbing the ladder towards inclusion in the group with access to the source of all bounty. This mechanism deflects social energies towards opportunism rather than social protest. There will still be those who do not choose this path or will openly defy the system. Against those, the neo-dependency regime will employ surveillance and repression as relentlessly and efficiently as any totalitarian system. Yet, repression will be less visible because it will be directed against fewer individuals, the majority having accepted the regime, a process first analyzed by the Romanian dissident Mihai Botez.9

30Many of the former political detainees had to resign themselves as well: The regime was there to stay. The man who opposed collectivization in Constantineşti ended up working closely with Vasile Bărbulescu at the cooperative, where he was employed as a driver. One of the sons of Father Drăgoi became head of the local Forestry Service, because he was better educated than the others and the regime needed someone with the necessary accountancy skills. In the 1960s their choices had been limited: The young ones were barred from higher education, as were those children considered to have come from a kulak background. However, in the 1970s they started to be gradually integrated into the regime. The most spectacular case was that of the partisan Ion Gavrilă, who managed to hide until the 1970s, when he was arrested. Ten years earlier, he would have been put on summary trial and executed. But the Securitate officers who processed his case were a new generation, with better education and subtler persuasive techniques. His principal job-searching ally was a Securitate colonel, who eventually, after many failed applications, managed to get him a job. He was hired by a state farm in Sibiu county. There, the former partisan pulled his weight, showed creativity in responding to his superiors’ absurd demands, and became an important cog in the socialist machine.

  • 10 This was the case, for instance, in 2002, with the fuel subsidies for mechanized agriculture, which (...)

31In rural areas, political power belonged to a narrow status group, which held it on behalf of the communist regime. They managed to do so by taking advantage of one essential aspect which remained unchanged: the peasants’ lack of economic autonomy. In the place of cooking oil or sugar rations, these rural elites distributed property title deeds, farming subsidies, and permits for various projects, which in other countries are either unnecessary or are issued automatically and non-discretionarily. In postcommunist Romania, however, such applications are dealt with so slowly and ineptly that applicants need a personal connection to secure a result.10 This is a self-perpetuating system: The superior status group is the only agency capable of oiling the state’s chronically cranky machinery, on which the subsistence peasant economy depends for survival.

32In a society such as the one described here, power becomes particularistic and creates relations of dependency and deference, which is the contrary of modernity, where authority is universal and non-personal. The privileged groups subsequently invest in pseudo-authority, that is, they make and unmake subaltern authorities according to the group’s interests: “We will elevate so-and-so, but we don’t need so-and-so.” Mayors are frequently appointed in this way: They are often nobodies with little authority, and people know that they are 1 controlled from backstage by the real power-holders, to whom sole deference is due. Nobody in the two villages discussed here ever suggested for one minute that their mayors are the most influential men in the village. In Scorniceşti’s local council, Mr Neacşu commands more respect than the present mayor. As for the mayor of Nucşoara, people are quite happy to tell you that the mayor is “retarded” and was placed there only because he is easy to manipulate.

33Once created, pseudo-authority strives to gain legitimacy and recognition on a scale compensating its modest start. Ceauşescu, for instance, demolished the houses of the old Bucharest elite to build a brand-new neighborhood, which included the People’s House and the Boulevard of the Victory of Socialism. The entire nation was his playground. Elena Bărbulescu and her husband had only Scorniceşti, but they did what they could: the “Brooklyn Bridge,” the 20,000- seater stadium, accommodating more than the village’s entire population, were no mean achievements. The post-transition nouveaux riches come from the city, where they made their fortunes, and go to the countryside to build not houses, but palaces. Theirs are palaces in concrete, with neon lights and a remote control for the garage, for they are not sufficiently well educated to have good taste or employ an interior decorator. There are not many of them, but enough to make a pattern. The most famous is the tycoon-turned-convict Ilie Alexandru, who had a detailed, smaller replica of the Dallas Southfork Ranch built in the Bărăgan region. Each village seems to have its own Ilie Alexandru. This shows that the village remains the symbolic site for converting wealth into status, the new elite’s most prized currency.

34These local political power holders, located in the village and interacting directly with the peasants, must be distinguished from the real principals, of which they are the agents. The local authority can be said to sit astride a frontier line looking in both directions. It is there to relay power, which is why when communism was installed it was so important to gain this strategic position and secure a transfer of power from the old power holders such as Nucşoara’s Arnăuţoiu family. In order to do this, as elections loomed in the crucial year 1946, the Communist Party brought in the heavy artillery: in Scorniceşti this was Ceauşescu himself. The Communist Party secured by violent means its privileged position at the interface between the village and the outside world. To achieve this, the party created new cadres overnight. People like Gheorghe Şerban were quickly installed in key posts and trained on the job to give them a smattering of legitimacy. After 1990, the same position was disputed by representatives of several parties. But was the competition fair? No, because the key to success remained proximity to state power, which was firmly in the grip of former communists. This explains the considerable ascendancy gained by people such as Ungureanu, the eminence grise, the most influential man in Nucşoara. He joined the main postcommunist party on its creation and had a nephew who became deputy for Argeş county. These were clear signals for the villagers that he had the key which provided access to the new power center as well as the old one. Later, that nephew became a prefect, which only enhanced the informal authority already enjoyed by Nucşoara’s chief gatekeeper. The retired forester Ungureanu denies that he is the source of power, and argues that the favors he did for people, either himself or through his godfather, the Securitate colonel Ploscaru, endeared him to them.

35Ungureanu’s wife had been christened—along with half of the village—by Iancu Arnăuţoiu. Later, Ungureanu and Ploscaru became in-laws: The Securitate officer had come to the village to hunt down partisans, but ended up sharing their life as one of them. This maneu - ver is more than an opportunistic survival strategy, it is the very essence of neo-traditionalism. It involves adapting a form of traditional alliance to an entirely new situation and—because Ungureanu had been recruited because of a blemish in his personal record—it also meant turning coercion into collaboration, as well as into a social and family contract. His position today is a somewhat humbler variant of the position held by Iancu Arnăuţoiu before the war. This is how Arnăuţoiu’s daughter sees the situation:

  • 11 Arnăuţoiu Ion, “Arnăuţoii, Istoria unei familii,” 2–3.

Father was much loved and listened to in the village. They’d all come to him for advice. When someone was about to marry, they’d come to consult with father. Nobody ever signed a document without seeing father first. He’d make the draft and then they’d go and have that certified. And I can tell you, at one stage, over half the people in the village were my father’s godchildren! […] And father said to them: “If you vote for this party now in power, they’ll build a school for you.” And they’d all go to vote, my father and the whole village, and then they had their school. The parties kept their word to him, and he 1 bargained with them. Because, I can assure you, father’s word had some weight in the village. And when father went with the whole village to cast their votes for those guys—and everyone in the country did it—of course the winners built their school. He managed to have schools built this way in Secături, in Sboghiţeşti, and in Slatina. Three schools!11

  • 12 Mihalache, “Cum să facem azi politică,” 68–73.

36Iancu Arnăuţoiu mediated between the village and the central source of power: He brokered loans for the purchase of land, he was everybody’s guarantor, and it was he, too, who fixed the votes, cast en bloc according to previously made arrangements. He did not have power, but he exercised a legitimate authority recognized as such. He was with the Peasant Party: Ion Mihalache and his wife had honored this allegiance by attending his daughter’s wedding. But in the “votes-for-schools affair” he voted with the liberals, the rival party, because they had a better chance of winning and had promised him the schools. Ion Mihalache famously complained of people’s compliance to this system. He identified four central factors which corrupted political participation in villages: One was pure opportunism (you join the party which gives you something in return), the second was “functional” partisanship (the need for political power as a weapon against a rival or enemy), the third was seduction (you go for the most “attractive” of the candidates), and, finally, kinship politics. In his own words: “I am conservative because this is what I think is best, because the Godfather is conservative and I cannot cross him, because that would mean being against him.” “Our politicians know our weaknesses full well. They have started a real ‘hunt’ in the villages, marrying, christening, wooing village leaders only for political purposes. They are not the culprits; the culprits are those who indulge in this political slavery, an undignified position for any reasonable citizen endowed with free will. Without doubt, politics […] has become a matter of seeing to personal interests at the expense of public interests.”12

  • 13 Caragiale, “Din primăvară pină-n toamnă.”

37Ion Luca Caragiale wrote similarly about the “historic” (conservative and liberal) parties, which, he contended, were “two large factions, each with their own clients rather than partisans.”13 This system, dating back to the era of limited suffrage, was recreated in Romania in the aftermath of the introduction of political pluralism in 1990. But the country, as we shall discuss further, had only partly been freed from communism at that stage.

The reinvention of politics in the village

38Brutal coercion, political as well as economic, which was revived in the 1980s with the new delivery quotas for livestock, suddenly disappeared in 1990. The peasants received their plots back, without any further conditions. This explains why the peasantry as a whole voted for Ion Iliescu and why the peasants were slow to realize that the source of all this bounty was the Revolution itself, not its leader, enthroned by the army and the bureaucrats. In the village world, evil, as well as good, is personalized along the lines of the old traditional authority. This is best expressed by Nicolae Popa when he compares Dej to Ceauşescu: “Dej was a kind man, a very kind man. He had our time in the army added onto our employment cards and, himself being uneducated, he introduced that scheme with education at the workplace. Then Ceauşescu came along and took those years off our length of employment. You could say that one God gaveth and another tooketh away.”

39The children of Scorniceşti had not yet been born when Ceauşescu was alive, but they hero-worship him: Ceauşescu was the Leader with a capital L; of course he had his shortcomings, but he was true leader material. Mr Paşol is highly dismissive of the leadership qualities of anti-communist politicians. “These guys couldn’t, even if they would,” he says. The only one to come close to Ceauşescu on the leadership vigour scale is Vadim Tudor, the populist radical leader, who was in fact one of the communist poets praising Ceauşescu. In Scorniceşti, he is well liked by the children, by the communist Constantin Paşol, as well as by the teacher Marinică Popa. The latter, although generally critical of collectivization and communism, reminisces fondly about the “leadership skills” which Ceauşescu definitely had, in spite of his “lack of schooling.”

40In legislative elections, in Scorniceşti and Nucşoara alike, the vast majority voted consistently and without exception for the “governing party,” i.e. the party regarded as the successor to the party state. Initially named the National Salvation Front (FSN), it was subsequently renamed the PDSR (Socialist Democratic Party of Romania), and then the PSD (Social Democratic Party). This voting pattern prevailed in most of rural Romania, with the exception of a few highly developed rural areas such as Prahova, which has fewer peasants owing to the 1 fact that the villagers there are employed in the petrol industry and in tourism. At most, when one or two members of the local elite decide to leave their comfort zone and try another party, some anti-communist councilors might get elected, but never more than a third of the total. Miraculously, the liberals managed to win in Scorniceşti one year, but this was a mere blip, and the general elections were again won by the PSD, represented by Mr Neacşu. If you ask people why they voted for him, they tell you: “Well, what else could we do, since he ran!” But the former Communist Party activist is not without merits. The local council in Scorniceşti has several EU programs in place, some initiated when Neacşu was mayor, others under his designated successor, the current incumbent. By contrast, Nucşoara is stagnating. During the electoral campaign, all the candidates explained that there was no money then, nor would there be in the future—something which the villagers already knew—because there were very few salary earners and the council could not collect enough revenue from the pensioners alone.

41But how did political freedom start? Like everywhere else in Romania, it started in an atmosphere of revolutionary fervor. In Scorniceşti, the first mayor “was not elected, he elected himself. He simply went to the village hall on the first day of the Bucharest revolution and remained there until 1992. In that year, elections were finally organized, contested by eighteen candidates, and the one with the most buddies won. They had no political platform, just promises.” In Nucşoara, the first to be unanimously nominated was the cashier of the cooperative, but he withdrew as soon as he realized what a headache the land-related conflicts were going to be. In any case, he was one of the wealthiest people in the commune and he did not need the job. Then, for about nine years, there was just one mayor. Initially he was with the governing party, but when the latter split he, like Ungureanu, the prefect, joined the party’s younger branch. As regards the councilors, they came predominantly from the older postcommunist party. The only political changes occurred not through shifts in voting, but through the migration of councilors. In the words of Nucşoara’s first postcommunist mayor, the one who stepped aside: “The councilors migrate from one party to another. But the secretary [Mrs Şerban] is still here and she was here before” [i.e. before 1989].

42On the rare occasions when something new does emerge, it ends up being controlled by the old guard, because the predatory elite have ample means to hijack any project. A young female teacher from Scorniceşti—not young enough to have been spared agricultural “duty” with her pupils under Ceauşescu—took very seriously the words of a leader who left the governing party to do something new:

You know, when […] said he was going to leave the PDSR and create his own party, with younger people. But there was no-one to help build the ApR [Alliance for Romania] in Scorniceşti. And he’d keep calling me to Slatina, to talk about things. “Wouldn’t you want to do this for the ApR? You know the people, you can convince them, and we’re going to pay you.” And I said “As far as I’m concerned, I just want presents for the children, for Children’s Day, and for Christmas.” That was all. And so, I went out to talk to people, I recruited members, I recruited […] the most members. Younger people. And then once I’ve made the party—very nicely, we had a party at the community center, and I washed the dishes and bought the food and cleaned up—then the deputy mayor comes and takes it all from me. And then this party leader actually increased my membership fee and insisted I attend their meetings in Slatina. So I said what the hell, if you’re no longer happy with my work, you can have your bloody party back. And it used to be such a good party.

43Electoral campaigns are quiet affairs, but there is plenty to drink and a raft of promises. The Rroma are carted off to the polling stations in the candidates’ cars to make sure they vote for the right people. Nucşoara’s former mayor says that the local branch of the PDSR blackmailed the Rroma into thinking they would no longer be allowed to collect firewood and timber in the forest if they did not vote PDSR. The party state is represented locally by its chairman, Mr Cornel, a forester, naturally. The Rroma are quick to defend themselves: “Well, they made us promises, so we voted for them. We asked for three neon lamps, and we didn’t even get that. We would have voted for them anyway. Well, yes, they come and turn our heads with a bottle of brandy and promise they’re doing this and doing that. They come and take us [to vote, author’s note] in the car. I was recovering after an operation and they still came to take me. Mr Berja [the current PSD mayor, author’s note] came with a light lorry to take me. But the candidates from the other parties were here too.” In Scorniceşti, 1 too, the mayor distributed serious amounts of booze during the campaign, and made promises to the local grandees. So it goes. However, the much-maligned Rroma are fully aware ideologically: “We voted with the left ’cos that’s what poor people do; it’s a poverty vote, and we go with the state, ’cos in the end it’s the state that provides for us.”

44We go with the state, we vote for the state, because only the state has got the power to help us. Although by the time of this conversation anti-communists had succeeded in being returned to office for a four-year term (before being replaced again by former communists), many people still believed in the omnipotence of the state and nobody was in any doubt whatsoever about the predatory elite’s ability to hold the state captive. There are two main reasons for this. One is that the anti-communists managed to win only as part of a broad coalition, which was insufficiently successful to be able to claim identification with the state. The second, and very powerful, reason is that locally, in the countryside, state is identified with the status group, i.e. with the predatory elite. This reality is difficult to ignore in Nucşoara, where the PDSR has its headquarters right in the village hall, whereas the Peasant Party has no headquarters at all, and failed to secure a base even while it was in power. “People didn’t join, because they were afraid,” says Vică Berevoianu, the local peasant leader. “I joined, and so did the mayor’s father [a former political detainee, author’s note], as this was our party before the war. But when the son became mayor, he voted for the PDSR. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Iancu Drăgoi, a former partisan, agrees: “People are afraid. When our men were being hunted down, the Securitate would come and load up truckfuls of people, for no other reason than perhaps having run into them in the mountains.”

45Though coercion might no longer be applied, fear is certainly still present. But is fear the only explanation? Fear cannot entirely explain the retrospective admiration for Ceauşescu, nor can it entirely explain voting behavior. It is easy to see that people are reluctant to side openly with the opposition. The ballot is secret, yet, as the Rroma say, the village voted en masse “for the state.” While being typical of a certain way of thinking, this expression is bizarre in that context, because in the elections referred to in the interview the PDSR was returned to power after its only period in opposition (where it had been sent by urban voters in 1996). When interviewed, the peasants say that the governments prior to 2000—i.e. the anti-communists— were better for them. The vouchers handed out by those governments, which the peasants could use to buy fertilizer and pay for machines, proved to be of better practical use than the cash subsidies offered by the PDSR, money which did not always reach the intended beneficiaries. Yet, in spite of all this, the peasants continued to vote for “the state.” Here is the explanation offered by a former Communist Party secretary from Scorniceşti:

Well, yes, under Ceauşescu I used to be local branch secretary. Before, politics meant working for the party, and I joined out of conviction, honestly, out of conviction. And I was, how shall I put it, I was, well, disappointed in a way. I didn’t expect all that happened at the time. Now, however, from a different perspective and with all the information that came out, I can say that we were, how shall I say, the product of the society in which we lived. I started talking to people here, and we realized that had we continued under communism we would have gone bust. But, I can tell you honestly now, having done a degree in political studies I’m less of a communist than some people here. The factory workers here, the peasants, now, they really are communists. In their hearts.

46Are peasants really more “communist” than city-dwellers? And is this the most enduring effect of communist domination? The concluding section of this chapter looks at the evidence.

Rural vs. urban: political cultures compared

  • 14 Mungiu-Pippidi, Politica după comunism, 195–9.

47The peasants are more skeptical than the urbanites when it comes to the possibility that they might actually have an influence on the politics of their country, region, or village. And yet, they have more faith in the performance of governing bodies than the urbanites do. The differences are statistically significant, and confirm the profile of the city as more active and demanding and of the village as more obedient and passive. Although economically poorer, the village has richer resources of social confidence than the city: The peasants are significantly more inclined to credit all public institutions for their performance (Table 9). With respect to interpersonal trust, the villagers are significantly more reserved with strangers than the city-dwellers are. They are, however, less nationalistic with respect to territories, given that the village is more parochial and identifies with the nation to a 1 lesser extent than the city (Table 10).14 Otherwise, the urbanites and the villagers are equally sceptical with respect to their fellow humans and believe equally that family and acquaintances are more trustworthy than strangers.

Table 9. The map of social confidence in the village, commune, and city

Table 9. The map of social confidence in the village, commune, and city

Source: BOP Poll, Metromedia, 2001

Table 10. Political beliefs and values: a village/city comparison

Table 10. Political beliefs and values: a village/city comparison

Sources: CURS polls, March 2000, CURS 1, Eurobarometer CURS, October 2001

48Differences in levels of trust are confirmed by in-depth analysis (Table 11). In a bivariate regression analysis, interpersonal is correlated with rural residency. But if we control for education, income, and age, the association between lack of trust and rural residency no longer applies. In other words, if two individuals have similar levels of income, age, and education, the fact that one lives in a village and the other in a city is not a predictor of a gap in interpersonal trust. Urbanites and villagers are equally distrustful in Romania. If there is such a thing as a specifically “peasant” psychology of distrust, then it can be said to apply to the entire Romanian nation, not just to peasants. The same could be said of envy and social frustration: The variable “It is always the same people who benefit from regime changes, whereas decent people continue to have a hard life” reflects the opinion of vast sections of the population in villages and cities alike.

Table 11. Analysis of interpersonal trust

Table 11. Analysis of interpersonal trust

Dependent variable: interpersonal trust
Significance levels: *p<0.05, **p<0.01, ***p<0.001
(data from CURS 1 poll)

  • 15 Iorga, Supt trei regi, 21.

49Two of the supposedly chief features of the peasantry, distrust and envy, are equally observable in urbanites. Predictably, the psychology of the limited good became a cross-national psychology after communism. The Romanian historian Nicolae Iorga was among the first to deplore the absence of solidarity and the lack of self-organizing skills among peasants, features which he attributed to the parochialism of poorer villages and which, he thought, were responsible for the failure of peasant revolts: “Smaller villages […], scattered across wide distances and almost without connection between them, are like self-sufficient, organic, genealogical cells. This separatist spirit has dominated them from the very beginning, and it is this that makes the peasant individualistic, unable to reach out to his peers and join them in a common endeavor. Romania had peasants, but not peasantry as a social class.”15 Nowadays, such characteristics have spread across postcommunist society. Lack of capacity for collective action translates into very low membership figures for associative life both in the countryside and the city. Social capital indicators, such as trust and associative life, strongly correlate not with rural residency, but with the region’s development level, using a regional infrastructure as proxy.

  • 16 Mungiu-Pippidi, Politica după comunism, chs 4–5.

50Significant differences between rural and urban can be found in the case of two other important elements of “rural psychology.” Peasants are significantly more authoritarian and collectivist than urbanites. They believe that equality of income among people is more important than freedom. They also believe to a greater extent than urbanites that in theory, although not in practice, communism was a good idea. They also believe more than city-dwellers that the state should manage the economy (peasants are more “statist”), but only by a small margin. When we regress either authoritarianism or collectivism on social status controls, it becomes obvious that differences between the age groups, income, and education of urban and rural populations, and not residence in itself, explain their different attitudes. Most differences in Tables 9 and 10 arise from the fact that the population of the countryside is older, less educated, and poorer than its urban counterpart and, therefore, variations in trust and confidence levels are not structural, but related to social context. In some cases, after controlling for income, education, and age we find that the peasants are significantly less statist than the urbanites. In complex analyses which attempt to explain the choice of individualism over collectivism, rural residency does not count significantly, but the development level of the region does.16 Controlling for income, education, and age, peasants are economically more optimistic and also less nationalistic. Their comparative economic optimism can be explained by the greater autonomy they have vis-a-vis urbanites in terms of producing their own food. Only one genuine rural/urban difference survives, predictably along the lines of a rural psychology: rural residency determines obedience, even when controlling for income, education, and age. The peasants believe that leaders must be obeyed even when they are wrong.

Table 12. Rural residence as a determinant of political attitudes

Table 12. Rural residence as a determinant of political attitudes

Significance levels: *p<0.05, **p<0.01, ***p<0.001

Source: Author’s own analysis based on data from the CURS 1 poll.

51The values in the second column are standardized regression coefficients

52Differences in terms of political literacy are perhaps the most striking. Urban residents are rather ill-informed on and uninterested in ideology, but rural residents are even worse in that respect. It is hard to have meaningful politics when only five per cent of respondents think it is important that a candidate is left wing or right wing. The percentage of those who cannot tell the difference between the right and the left explains why this variable does not explain political preference in national voting models. This percentage represents over three-fifths of the rural electorate, if one adds those who said that they know the difference between right and left but then give the wrong answer when tested.

  • 17 Mungiu-Pippidi, Politica după comunism, 11.

53There is a strong urban/rural difference in voting behavior. In both 2000 and 1996, 45 per cent of the rural vote went to the main postcommunist party, the PDSR, perceived as the successor of the partystate, against 32 per cent of the urban vote. Earlier, in the 1992 and the 1990 elections, the percentage of peasants voting for the postcommunists had been even higher, but that was later affected by splits in the new “party state” in 1992 and in 1997 which created much confusion. Rural residence was and remained a strong predictor of voting in favor of the postcommunist president, Ion Iliescu, even in multivariate models,17 after controlling for income, education, and age. The strongest correlation between rural residency and a consistently procommunist stance was found, predictably, in the poorer areas in the hills and the plains, which are predominantly agrarian and where there are only a few, recently established towns.

  • 18 Panel survey, autumn 2000, designed by the author and executed by CURS, available at

Table 13. Urban/rural political cognizance: a comparison18

Table 13. Urban/rural political cognizance: a comparison18

Source: CURS 2 poll

54The contrasting findings about peasant passivity and obedience to authority on the one hand and peasant contention and passive resistance on the other have formed the subject of a vast literature, often with contradictory conclusions. In the absence of political freedom and outside support, the peasant would appear to be entirely dependent on those who have absolute control over the state and power resources. Under collectivization, the landless peasant was an example of this dependency at its worst. Conversely, in communist countries, the peasant who had land and weapon and was consequently autonomous defended himself against the predatory communist state, which attempted to reduce him to servitude. The peasant resistance to communism in Romania, animated by the old elite in places such as Nucşoara, or led by peasants themselves—for instance by the Gavrilă group in the Făgăraş mountains—depended on the promise of external support for regime change. It collapsed soon after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and had made it clear that the West had abandoned Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. In the circumstances, regime change was recognized as unattainable.

  • 19 Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies, 292.

55Even in regimes which guarantee political freedom, one can hardly speak of a peasant political culture. Even when he is enfranchised and the ballot is secret, the peasant will rarely vote against “those in power,” although some peasants in impoverished Southern Italy have been known to vote for the Communist Party. Usually, in post-traditional societies, rural voting behavior is that described by Huntington: “The role of the city is constant: it is the permanent source of opposition. The role of the countryside is variable: It is either the source of stability or the source of revolution. [...] He who controls the countryside controls the country.”19 Rural voting is brokered by the local elite. At the time of Iancu Arnăuţoiu, rural voting was a collective rather than an individual affair, and remained so under the incomplete freedom of the postcommunist transition. It has been and continues to be negotiated between the local authority, which controls access to local resources, and the national authority, in a twotiered model of state capture. Was this model building on the institutional legacy of the interwar model, and did communism become a neo-dependency system under the corrupting influence of a peculiar Romanian mentality and of residual kinship politics? Or was the model built anew? Given the massive and violent impact of communism, the first variant looks unlikely. If we want to understand the parallels between interwar and postcommunist political behavior, the cause must be sought elsewhere. Our survey so far has produced enough evidence to show that we are faced with a reconstruction of the institutional framework of political subjection and particularism. To a large extent this is due to the fact that some of the social conditions which prevailed in the interwar period remained unchallenged in the postcommunist period: There has been no attempt over the last decade to pursue agrarian and rural policies aimed consistently at removing those conditions. A review of the main factors which have caused the postcommunist transition to replicate the interwar political model would look as follows:

  1. The reintroduction of subsistence plots, which led to land fragmentation

  2. The continued existence of an agrarian overpopulation with no employment opportunities in industry or the service sector

  3. The low productivity of individual plots, over fifty per cent of 1 which are still farmed in traditional ways (using horses for example)

  4. An overproduction of poor-quality grain, massively undersold with respect to investment per hectare

  5. A dependency on state subsidies in the form of cash or voucher handouts

  6. Local gatekeepers having discretion in the distribution of state subsidies and who trade them for votes

  7. Political illiteracy and political apathy which, after fifty years of single-party politics, became the equivalent of the interwar illiteracy.

56This list suggests how informal arrangements of power in pre-communist Romania reproduced themselves in the postcommunist era: The land policies of the 1990s, on top of the chronic underdevelopment and lack of education, recreated the set of factors which made competitive politics of little meaning in the countryside when tried before the war. The postcommunist transition seems therefore to have regressed the village’s institutions to the premodern agrarian and political realities which prevailed prior to 1918. Sadly, that system, denounced by both Mihalache and Caragiale at the time, is even less fitting in the twenty-first century in a country which has now become a member of the European Union. The outcomes alone are more different, but the difference does not favor the present. Past political patronage led to the building of schools and the development of the village. During transition, resources were definitely not used in the public interest, but towards purely private objectives: Patrons are more decidedly predatory spoilers and people victims rather than citizens.


1 Data from the National Statistics Institute, available at

2 The samples used are described in Appendix 1.

3 In the Bărăgan region. Interview conducted in the village of Ciorogirla, Bolintin Vale, Ilfov county.

4 Weber, On Charisma and Institution Building, 177–80.

5 Jowitt, Social Change.

6 Mungiu-Pippidi, Politica după comunism, and idem, Secera si buldozerul.

7 Kideckel, The Solitude of Collectivism.

8 Waldron, Communist Neo-Traditionalism, 21.

9 Botez, Romanii despre ei inşişi.

10 This was the case, for instance, in 2002, with the fuel subsidies for mechanized agriculture, which were still being processed long after work had been completed.

11 Arnăuţoiu Ion, “Arnăuţoii, Istoria unei familii,” 2–3.

12 Mihalache, “Cum să facem azi politică,” 68–73.

13 Caragiale, “Din primăvară pină-n toamnă.”

14 Mungiu-Pippidi, Politica după comunism, 195–9.

15 Iorga, Supt trei regi, 21.

16 Mungiu-Pippidi, Politica după comunism, chs 4–5.

17 Mungiu-Pippidi, Politica după comunism, 11.

18 Panel survey, autumn 2000, designed by the author and executed by CURS, available at

19 Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies, 292.

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 3. Rural/urban comparative social indicators
Crédits Source: CURS 12
Fichier image/jpeg, 112k
Titre Table 4. Uses of landed property
Crédits Source: CURS 1
Fichier image/jpeg, 80k
Titre Table 5. Urban/rural migration 1973–2000
Légende Key: U=urban, R=rural
Crédits Source: CNS
Fichier image/jpeg, 140k
Titre Table 6. Occupational structure of the active rural population
Fichier image/jpeg, 80k
Titre Table 7. Urban/rural residence in 2000
Crédits Source: CURS 1
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Titre Table 8. Changes in occupational status during the transition decade (general population)
Crédits Source: CURS 1
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Titre Table 9. The map of social confidence in the village, commune, and city
Crédits Source: BOP Poll, Metromedia, 2001
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Titre Table 10. Political beliefs and values: a village/city comparison
Crédits Sources: CURS polls, March 2000, CURS 1, Eurobarometer CURS, October 2001
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Titre Table 11. Analysis of interpersonal trust
Légende Dependent variable: interpersonal trustSignificance levels: *p<0.05, **p<0.01, ***p<0.001(data from CURS 1 poll)
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Titre Table 12. Rural residence as a determinant of political attitudes
Légende Significance levels: *p<0.05, **p<0.01, ***p<0.001
Crédits Source: Author’s own analysis based on data from the CURS 1 poll.
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Titre Table 13. Urban/rural political cognizance: a comparison18
Crédits Source: CURS 2 poll
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© Central European University Press, 2010

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