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Past for the Eyes

 | 
Oksana Sarkisova
, 
Péter Apor

Objects of Memory: Museums, Monuments, Memorials

Raising the Cross

Exorcising Romania’s Communist Past in Museums, Memorials and Monuments

Gabriela Cristea et Simina Radu-Bucurenci

Texte intégral

  • 1 Unlike many other Central and Eastern European countries, Romanians (academics included) prefer to (...)
  • 2 This paper is concerned only with permanent exhibitions on the communist regime. Temporary exhibit (...)
  • 3 The National History Museum has not been able so far to organize a permanent exhibition on Romania (...)

1Exhibitions on the communist1 past are scarce in Romanian museums. In contrast to this scarcity, the commemoration of the “communist tragedy” through memorials, monuments and the hybrid species of memorial-museum is disproportionately present. Only a very skilled and determined museumgoer will be able to discover the few places where aspects of the communist past are permanently exhibited in Romanian museums.2 In Bucharest, the visitor should be prepared to go underground to find the only permanent exhibition dedicated to Communism, in the unexpected location of the Romanian Peasant Museum.3 Outside Bucharest, he or she will have to travel 700 kilometers to the Sighet Memorial Museum, located near the Ukrainian border. This former political prison is the most elaborate visual discourse on Romanian Communism, with its fifty rooms dedicated to the victims of Communism, a memorial in the courtyard and a cemetery outside the city of Sighet. A visitor who is unfamiliar with Romanian public discourse, will probably be struck by the abundance of crosses and other religious symbols and metaphors embedded in or framing the visual discourse on Communism.

  • 4 “Romania doesn’t need a museum of Communism, but a museum of the fight against Communism,” Adrian (...)

2We will argue that these discourses about Communism are actually discourses about anti-Communism, that is: the struggle against Communism in Romania.4 One of the main characteristics of the discourse on the communist past has been the attempt to distance, or alienate, this past and to avoid integrating it into a coherent history of the country. The fact that Communism has so far been a strongly marginalized topic only assisted the initial drive towards distancing its history. We will explore the methods through which this “distancing” or “alienation” has been accomplished in visual representations of Communism. This article will dwell mainly on those exhibitions and the monuments erected to the victims of Communism, arguing that what was marginal for more than fifteen years, the anti-communist approach to Communism, is now becoming mainstream discourse in Romanian public life. At the core of this discourse is the assertion that the communist regime was a foreign body introduced by force into the national history, a devilish undertaking to be finally defeated by proper exorcism. Thus, the anti-communist discourse and the public discourse of the Romanian Orthodox Church became strongly allied since both appealed to national feelings and frustrations.

AGORAS OF PLURAL NARRATIVES VS. TEMPLES OF UNIQUE TRUTH5

  • 5 The distinction between agora museum and temple museum is discussed in Michael M. Ames, Cannibal T (...)
  • 6 Ames, Cannibal Tours, 26.
  • 7 Pierre Bourdieu and Hans Haacke, Free Exchange (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), 98.
  • 8 Ames, Cannibal Tours, 111.
  • 9 Richard Sennett, Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization (London: Faber and (...)

3As public services and “educational centers,”6 museums play a very important role in the “construction of consciousness.”7 In Eastern and Central Europe, museums, memorials and monuments about Communism are among the most important places where societies develop a new type of “collective self consciousness”8 by dealing with and interpreting their own recent past. The fact that they initiate debate rather than simply represent public opinion on the controversial past brings their discourses into the political arena. Above all, monuments, memorials and museums are important because they work with visual stimuli. The public space of debate nowadays is no longer a place of discourse, but rather a “place of gaze.”9

  • 10 Stephen E. Weil, A Cabinet of Curiosities: Inquiries into Museums and their Prospects (Washington (...)

4Abbé Henri Grégoire, an important figure in the French Revolution, called the museum of the time a “temple of the human spirit.”10 This title implies some important assumptions: that those who work inside the museum are performing some kind of priestly function, that the visitors’ attitude is one of reverence, and that the objects inside are sacred. In the nineteenth century, at the time of nation-making, modern museums inherited the same type of authority. At that moment, existing private collections were appropriated by the state and, subjected to its aims and ambitions, became modern state museums. As central spaces in supporting the construction of the nation-state, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries they were turned into Temples of the Nation.

  • 11 Ihab Hassan, “POSTmodernISM” in Lawrence E. Cahoone (ed.), From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Ant (...)
  • 12 Wolfgang Ernst, “Archi(ve) Textures of Museology” in Susan A. Crane (ed.), Museums and Memory (Sta (...)

5According to Ihab Hassan the specific elements representative of modernity are collection (accumulation), sincerity, reality, exemplarity (uniqueness), while post-modernity is marked by waste, irony, virtual worlds, mass production.11 Consequently where we speak of “postmodern” museums, Wolfgang Ernst and Michael Fehr have written about “museums of Waste,” “virtual museology,” “museum, media and archaeological gaze,” “ironic museum.”12 These are not museums which the visitor enters like a Temple, to receive a single Truth, Reality, uniqueness, and accumulation of information for the better identification with an ideal, but museums seen as agoras—places of meeting, discussion and confrontation with different variants of what is perceived as being the truth.

6Museums, monuments and memorials of (anti-)Communism in post- 1989 Romania mainly function as “temples of Truth,” confined to National History. Raised after 1989, their anti-communist discourse is shaped by national values and uses modern means of visual representation. No postmodern techniques and functions of museum discourse are used: the museum is not seen as an “agora” where the conflicting memories of the past could, ironically and fragmentarily, face each other. Nowadays, any attempt to create an “agora museum” of Romanian Communism is made more difficult as it would go against the existing anti-communist victimizing discourse, currently endorsed by the President of Romania.

ROMANIAN ANTI-COMMUNISM

  • 13 Laura Gafencu, Anca Simina, “Exorcizare unei epoci” [Exorcising an era], Evenimentul Zilei (19 Dec (...)
  • 14 Lia Bejan, Luminita Castali, “The solemn meeting to condemn Communism has been transformed into a (...)

719 December 2006: “Parliament was hell yesterday. Our representatives were yelling, whistling and stamping.” This sentence opens an article entitled “Exorcising an Era.”13 The same day similar articles covered the front page of newspapers: “The solemn meeting to condemn Communism was transformed into a cheap circus reminiscent of a group exorcism.”14 Leading the “exorcism,” with perfect calm and determination in the growing chaos, Romania’s President, Traian Băsescu, delivered his fortyminute speech on the crimes of the Romanian Communist regime, seventeen years after its overthrow. Meanwhile, members of the ultranationalist Greater Romania party (România Mare) were trying to stop the speech or at least to disrupt the desired solemnity of the moment.

  • 15 Speech by Romania’s President, Traian Băsescu, on the Occasion of Presenting the Report of the Pre (...)

As head of the Romanian State, I condemn explicitly and categorically the communist system in Romania, from its establishment, on dictatorial basis in 1944–1947 to its collapse in December 1989. Taking into account the realities presented in the Report, I state with full responsibility: the communist regime in Romania was illegitimate and criminal.15

  • 16 Even though the President condemned the communist regime, the headlines were all about the “condem (...)

8The President of Romania based this statement on a report issued by the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of Communist Dictatorship in Romania. The Commission itself was established in April 2006, with the precise purpose of delivering a report on the basis of which President Traian Băsescu could, whole-heartedly, condemn “Communism.”16

  • 17 Adrian Năstase, ex-Prime Minister of Romania, declared in 2004 that “anti-Communism is obsolete” a (...)
  • 18 See the reaction of political analysts in “Political analysts appreciate Băsescu’s move,” Ziua (10 (...)

9However, the idea of the communist regime being a criminal one was totally alien to Romanian public discourse as recently as just two years ago.17 One can hardly imagine the shock and wonder of the Romanian voter when, during the presidential elections in 2004, Traian Băsescu, the candidate of the anti-communist opposition challenging the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDSR), the successor of the Romanian Communist Party, made this remark on television: “What a curse for Romanian people to be forced, fifteen years after the Revolution, to choose between two Communists!”18 Having based his campaign on accusing his opponents as the heirs of the communist dictatorship, Băsescu, after winning the elections, launched a systematic policy to re-write the history of Communism centered on the condemnation of communist crimes. Up to that moment, the anti-communist discourse had been restricted to a small group of intellectuals and former political prisoners who had been trying for years to make their ideas heard. In the early 1990s they were labeled “hooligans” and “fascists” by the then Romanian President, Ion Iliescu, for claiming exactly what has now become the official position of the same institution, the Romanian Presidency. Since then, their voices have gained authority in intellectual circles, while remaining marginal in Romanian society at large. At the same time their discourse has remained radical in its Manichaeism and lack of nuances.

  • 19 Stelian Tănase, Clienţii lu Tanti Varvara. Istorii clandestine [Aunt Varvara’s clients. Clandestin (...)
  • 20 Ibid., 493 (original emphasis).

10One of these radical elements is the attempt to distance and alienate the past as a nightmare, a horror film whose scenario somehow imposed itself on Romanian society. In his latest book Stelian Tănase, political scientist, self-appointed but quite famous historian, media personality and member of the aforementioned Presidential Commission, tries to depict the communist nomenklatura by tracing its roots in the years of illegality. His argument is as much historical as it is psychological. Tănase tries to convince his readers that living in illegality had such lasting effects on the members of the communist elite that they continued to act throughout their political careers as if they were still in the cellars. “The underground meant dehumanization, alienation; it was a laboratory for producing human hybrids, monsters that would prove themselves after seizing power.”19 These people, Tănase claims, “have run the country for decades from the underground that they never actually left. They remained hidden in a bunker, far away, alien to society, continuously conspiring against it. They never managed to come to the surface, to gain legitimacy, not even for one day in almost half a century during which they were running the Romanian world. They remained condemned to their condition of eternal creatures of darkness.”20

  • 21 An English translation of a chapter from Stelian Tănase’s book is available on-line in the journal (...)
  • 22 The President’s speech assesses the establishment of the Communist regime in Romania along the sam (...)
  • 23 Andrei Pleşu expressed the same idea of the non-responsibility of the Romanian people, by a metaph (...)

11Stelian Tănase is a talented writer of novels and history books.21 He gained access to archives that other historians never saw and is one of the contributors to the Report that led to the official condemnation of the communist regime in Romania. Thus he is no longer a marginal voice, as he was in the early 1990s. And what does this voice tell us now? That Communism was brought upon an innocent society by some sort of monsters, creatures of darkness, human hybrids who never became part of Romanian society. It is not very hard to see how, in this framework, a denunciation of Communism becomes very easy, and indeed necessary.22 After all “we,” the normal people, the society had nothing to do with it. It was “them,” the aliens, the human hybrids, that brought this curse upon us.23

  • 24 Speech by Traian Băsescu.
  • 25 The idea of “putting a cross at the end of something” will recall to many Englishspeaking readers (...)

12This is precisely the discourse that the official condemnation of the communist regime is now reproducing: “The exported Communism that we lived through for five decades is a wound in Romania’s history, an open wound whose time has come to be closed forever.”24 Seen as a wound, or as a place of darkness and death, the communist past had to be closed or distanced with an equally powerful symbol. Those involved in the “exorcising” of Communism thought that the cross had the appropriate symbolic power, through its mixed Christian-traditional (even pagan) symbolism. The distance between the world of the living and the world of the dead is one of the most radical distances one can think of. In Romanian Orthodox and popular tradition, the cross usually marks this line. The cross stands at the border and keeps the two worlds from contaminating each other. The Romanian language retains this understanding in the expression “to put the cross (on something)”25 which means to finish something definitively. This is precisely what President Băsescu is now prescribing. In the visual discourse on (anti-)Communism, the cross is one of the most powerful and widely used distancing techniques, meant to reformat the public discourse on the past by introducing a series of binary oppositions such as nightmare vs. reality, bad vs. good, fake vs. authentic and finally death vs. life.

WHY THE CROSS? AN ALLEGORY

  • 26 Constantin Grigore Dumitrescu, b. 1928, is the initiator of the 187/1999 law granting each Romania (...)
  • 27 Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu (ed.), Album Memorial. Monumente închinate jentfei, suferinţei şi inpte (...)

13The Association of Former Political Prisoners in Romania, led by Ticu Dumitrescu since 1990, supported the construction of the first monuments dedicated to the sacrifice, suffering and struggle against Communism.26 Eighty-two monuments were built between 1991 and 2004 from private funds, with no support from any state institution. In 2004, the Association published an anniversary memorial album with pictures of all these monuments. The introductory text claims that “during the forty-five years of communist terror (1945–1989), Romania became a country of organized crime, of torture chambers, of detention and extermination camps. During this period, an entire nation lived in terror, humiliation, lies and fraud. If Moscow had not sustained the Romanian Communist Party, all these things would not have happened.”27

  • 28 There are four monuments which are not constructed in the form of a cross, or where the cross symb (...)
  • 29 “Greater Romania” refers to the country’s expanded territory encompassing Transylvania, Bessarabia (...)
  • 30 Dumitrescu, Album Memorial, 28.

14The overwhelming majority of these monuments, some of them humble constructions, others great works of art, are based on structures of marble, stone or wood shaped in or marked with the form of a cross.28 Some of them represent the map of “Greater Romania”29 as it used to be between the two World Wars. On the monument in Insula Mare, Brăila, all the places of detention and labor camps from the communist period are represented by the symbol of the skull and crossbones on a map of Romania. The map is dominated by the image of Jesus on the cross, creating an overall strong sense of intense religious feeling. (Fig. 1) The stylized crosses often recall the crosses on tombs. Some are placed in parks, others at crossroads, where communist statues once stood, and most of them in graveyards or near churches, as if the bodies of the victims were actually there. These monuments seek to operate as symbolic reburials, since the victims of the struggle against the establishment of Communism were buried without religious services in unknown places or in large common graves. The monument in Bistriţa-Năsăud is described as “an obelisk of marble, six meters high, surmounted by a white cross, and with a basrelief that symbolizes Golgotha on the main facade.”30 The monument in Calaraşi is a combination of four crosses, one for each façade. The first façade is dedicated to those who fought, suffered and sacrificed themselves against Communism; two other façades are dedicated to the veterans of the First and Second World Wars. The fourth commemorates those who fought during the Revolution of 1989. This last example shows that in the anti-communist imagination the communist period is incorporated into the history of national suffering, the victims of which are comparable to those of the First and Second World Wars.

Fig. 1 Inscription on the monument in Brăila, “The Horrors of the Communist Regime”

15Most of these monuments were inaugurated with a religious service, in the presence of political leaders who gave speeches and priests sprinkling holy water and burning incense. The inscriptions on these monuments further illustrate the discourse that they sustain:

  • 31 Ibid., 146.
  • 32 Ibid., 147.
  • 33 Dumitrescu, Album Memorial, 146.

[h]ere as everywhere in the country, during the times of the Soviet-communist devastation, sons of the Romanian people, fighters for the defense of the national being, were murdered. Honor their self-abnegation and sacrifice by bearing its fruits for tomorrow!31
The monument of the anti-communist resistance in the Banat belongs not to those who raised it, but to those who sacrificed their lives under the sign of communist torture, which destroyed the country and the nation. This [monument] is a modest “symbol” from those who survived the prisons of the red devil.32
They sacrificed themselves for Christ, for dignity and for national freedom. If we die here in chains and torn garments it is not we who honor the Romanian people, but the Romanian people who have honored us for dying for them.33

  • 34 In 2003, the Association of Former Political Prisoners began a project for the construction of a m (...)
  • 35 Dumitrescu, Album Memorial, 146.

16These inscriptions on the monuments are typical of the way Communism was represented in Romania between 1993 and 2004, although it remained a marginal voice of the ardent anti-communist minority. However, what was marginal for more than fifteen years is gradually becoming mainstream discourse in Romanian public life. For the Association of Former Political Prisoners, and the regional leaders of the Association, who supported the construction of these monuments,34 the period from 1945 to 1989 was a time of “Soviet devastation,” when the country was led by a political regime metamorphosed into a “red devil.” Those who fought against it, the victims, “sacrificed themselves for Christ, for dignity and for national freedom.”35 It seems that only Christian symbols are powerful enough to oppose “the red devil.” This nationalist and victimizing discourse, radical in its simplistic Manichaeism, is shaped on a religious dichotomy: Christ vs. the devil, order vs. disorder, light vs. darkness.

  • 36 The Carol Park is the creation of the French architect Edouard Redont. It was opened in 1906 on Fi (...)
  • 37 The project of building the Cathedral of National Redemption was conceived in 1878– 1879, after th (...)

17In April 2004, it was decided overnight that the monument to the Communist Heroes in Freedom Park (Carol Park), which had been erected in 1963 and contained urns with the ashes of the major party leaders, Stefan Gheorghiu, I. C. Frimu, Dr. Petru Groza, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, should be destroyed. The fences round the memorial were removed, the interior heating system dismantled, and bulldozers expected to come and destroy the monument any moment.36 The entire affair was not the outcome of a public decision about the communist past. It was neither the state nor civil society that was trying to break the silence that had surrounded the monument for those forty years, but the Church. The Orthodox Patriarchy wanted to build the Cathedral of National Redemption on the very spot where this “unfortunate” monument stood.37 Only in this indirect way did Romania’s recent past and its memory enter the public arena: in a scenario where the communist ruins and their physical presence were opposed to the virtual presence of the Cathedral of National Redemption. This was one of the actions that pitted Communism against religion, or rather, Communism against “national” redemption through religion.

  • 38 The Association Solidarity for the Freedom of Consciousness was established to stop the building o (...)

18A lot of people gathered in front of the monument to demonstrate.38 The vast majority wanted to keep the monument either because they wanted to preserve an important and historical green oasis in Bucharest, or because they considered the building of an Orthodox cathedral inappropriate, or even because they were against the demolition of a socialist monument. Others supported the demolition plan as a way of erasing the traces of an awful communist past. A minority argued that the communist monument should be transformed into a monument dedicated to the heroes who fought against Communism. There were even some who maintained that the monument should be preserved in its present form and transformed into a future Romanian tourist attraction.

  • 39 In 2005, in Revolution Square, Bucharest, a monument was raised to the Victims of the 1989 Revolut (...)
  • 40 Arhitectura ortodoxa [Orthodox architecture], TV show on Romanian Public Television, 19 February 2 (...)

19There was no large-scale public debate in Romania about the construction of the anti-communist monuments. This could mean that symbolizing the anti-communist struggle by using religious symbols was accepted and taken for granted by both public opinion and art critics; it might also mean that both public and critics were largely indifferent to this commemorative urge.39 All these monuments seem to correspond to the common imagery of the fight against Communism. Very recently, at the beginning of 2007, the Romanian architect and theoretician, Augustin Ioan claimed that the religious symbolism suffocates the memory discourse of the monuments and memorials of Communism.40

COMMUNISM UNDERGROUND. THE ROMANIAN PEASANT MUSEUM

20The Romanian Peasant Museum is one of the rare examples of a communist museum (i.e. an official museum of the communist regime) transformed into a museum about Communism. Despite its name but in accordance with its history, the Romanian Peasant Museum is still the only institution in the capital to have a permanent exhibition on Communism. It is also the location of the ongoing battle of Orthodoxy versus Communism, presented as truth versus lies, authenticity versus fakery, recent history versus atemporality.

21The Romanian Peasant Museum was re-established in 1990. The building assigned to it was originally built at the beginning of the twentieth century as an ethnographic museum. The Museum of National Art had been removed from the building in 1952, and the Lenin-Stalin Museum installed in its place. It was successively renamed the Lenin Museum, the Museum of the Romanian Communist Party and, finally, the History Museum of the Communist Party and Revolutionary and Democratic Movement of Romania, which occupied the building until 1990.

22The Romanian Peasant Museum was to construct its identity in sharp contrast with its predecessor. It was not only a question of institutional succession; the distance to be established was between two eras, two worlds, two regimes. The team at the Peasant Museum chose to establish this distance in a very peculiar way. On a museographical level, the basic concepts in dealing with the heritage of the old museum were fakery and truth. The former communist museum was considered a “fake museum”; therefore its objects were “fake objects.” The new museum was built through a dialogue with the objects, but this very dialogue was denied to the “communist” objects. On a discursive level, the distance taken was even sharper: the old museum was a “ghost” still haunting the building of the Peasant Museum, which needed to be exorcised.

  • 41 Before World War II, the museum was known as the “museum on the boulevard” since it was located on (...)
  • 42 Famous Romanian architect, representative of the “neo-Romanian” architectural style. The museum wa (...)
  • 43 Irina Nicolau, Carmen Huluţă, Dosar sentimental [Sentimental dossier] (Bucharest: Ars Docendi, 200 (...)

23The idea of this basic opposition was present from the first moment of the re-establishment of the museum, in February 1990. Andrei Pleşu, the Minister of Culture at that time, explained his decision: “The idea of reestablishing a museum of ethnography in the building on the boulevard41 was not the result of an effort of imagination, but of memory. That building was designed by Ghika-Budeşti42 especially to be an ethnography museum. (…) It seemed symbolically useful to exorcise the ghosts of a fake museum such as the Museum of the Romanian Communist Party with a museum belonging to the local tradition.”43 Andrei Pleşu announced in this statement the two basic lines of thinking about the former communist museum: however, what they claimed to be a “fake museum” was lively enough to produce its own “ghosts” after its officially announced death. The only way to make sure the ghosts will not bother you again, is to make sure that the dead are really dead. Or, even better, that they were never alive.

  • 44 Among the new people, the most important is the director appointed in 1990: Horia Bernea, the famo (...)
  • 45 Ioana Popescu, tape-recorded interview by Simina Radu-Bucurenci, Bucharest, Romania, April 26, 200 (...)

24The links connecting the Romanian Peasant Museum and the former Communist Party Museum were more powerful than just inheriting/reoccupying the building. The museum inherited the exhibitions, the entire collection, the library and, not least important, the staff of the communist museum. The story of the Peasant Museum is told by the new staff as the story of a struggle: a physical struggle with the transformations that the building had undergone as a communist museum and with all the objects that had lost any purpose or meaning, and a spiritual struggle with the ghosts of Communism.44 The physical struggle did not take too long: only a few months for dismantling, cleaning the exhibition rooms and transferring the objects to other institutions (such as the National History Museum). Ioana Popescu, head of the research department and a visual anthropologist at the museum, who had been a member of the new museum team since 1990, told us the story of the rediscovery of the exhibition rooms: “On the outside, the building has arches in neo-Romanesque style. On the inside, we were surprised to discover no cupolas, no arches. There were long rooms, some square-ish, some like wide halls that you walked through, with straight walls on each side. Then we realized that the walls were not real: they were only fake walls hiding the splendid interior architecture.”45

  • 46 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 32.

25The same company that had installed the earlier exhibitions was hired to dismantle them. They discovered that the panels and the fake walls were so solidly made that it took an enormous amount of time, money and work to get rid of them. The researchers of the museum actively participated in this process. “We float in the red works of Ceauşescu and in the blue volumes of the Soviet Encyclopedia. The panels of the earlier exhibitions are deeply embedded in the walls, meant to last for eternity. They leave holes like craters after they have been removed.”46

26Another part of the physical struggle was against the old collections, which were considered “trash” by the researchers and museographers of the new museum.

  • 47 Popescu, interview.

At first, we wanted to throw everything away. Then we realized that we couldn’t do that because we could be attacked when it was noticed that we had thrown away communist books. The political moment was still not very clear (…) So we discussed it with the Museum of National History and with the State Archives and we tried to throw over to them most of this trash, what we called “trash.” What nobody wanted to take we put in the basement, in a room that we still call the Chamber of Horrors. Later, we received offers from abroad, from private persons or institutions that wanted to buy communist objects from us. But they were no longer here, so we answered loftily that we would not sell our country.47

  • 48 Irina Nicolau, writer and ethnologist, was Bernea’s right-hand in conceiving and building the muse (...)
  • 49 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 22.

27Irina Nicolau has different memories of how the difficult heritage of the Communist Party Museum was handled.48 She recalls that they treated the collections of the old museum carefully since they were a part of recent history and they did not want to do what the Communists had done: to erase the past.49 However, most of the exhibits of the earlier museum were not regarded as having even patrimonial value. The former Communist Party Museum was thought of as a museum of fake photographs and words.

28Exorcising the communist ghosts is a recurrent metaphor in the narrative of the museum, and also of post-communist Romanian society at large. “Exorcism” became more than a metaphor when Horia Bernea decided, in the spring of 1991, to call on the clergy to chase away these spirits in a religious ceremony.

  • 50 Popescu, interview.

While the dismantling took place, Horia Bernea had the idea that we needed to clean the space not only of fake walls and fake objects, but also of the bad spirits that must have sneaked in and lived among us. (…) He brought some prelates who came to sprinkle the holy water (aghiasmă), to clean the whole museum. They entered every storage room, every little corner; we have pictures of that. And it is interesting to see that we were all there. We were all there because we all had to be sprinkled with holy water. (…) And the priests who came with huge buckets of holy water were sprinkling with all the strength in their muscles. It seemed that their arms were going to break off their shoulders when they were sprinkling. They flooded everything in holy water. When they found themselves in front of that famous sculpture of the heads of Marx, Engels and Lenin—there was one in almost every room—they drenched, flooded it with water as if this would destroy it. One of these triple busts ended up in the interior courtyard of the museum. It was huge, so we couldn’t send it anywhere, we had no money for special transport, so finally it was dragged to the museum’s courtyard and it is still there among the rubbish and the debris, surrounded by a square metal fence.50

  • 51 Ibid.

29Conquering the space of the museum was thus one of the first tasks of the team gathered around Horia Bernea and Irina Nicolau. In the early phase they were not even allowed to enter the exhibition halls. They felt surrounded by a hostile environment, which included not only the building and the “fake objects” of the communist collection, but also the old museum staff. “They received us with a clearly stated, declared hatred. We finally managed to greet each other but it was clear that we were taking their place and they would have to leave, one way or another. That they would not find a place in the framework we were contemplating for our museum. It was very hard for us to get to know them by name.”51

  • 52 The first temporary exhibition organized by the museum in 1990 was “Clay Toys,” followed by displa (...)

30However, in the middle of all these mundane problems, the museum began to organize small events and exhibitions,52 to produce unconventional little booklets, most of them hand-made, and to establish its reputation as an innovative institution, which put patrimony objects on show, and hired traditional bands (lăutari) to play music on the streets of Bucharest. They began to think of permanent exhibitions, searching for a theme that would give meaning to the new name of the museum. The outcome would have to be both a “healing museum,” as Irina Nicolau wanted it, and a “testifying museum,” as Horia Bernea wished. And it did become, in our view, both a healing and disturbing museum, thought-provoking, irritating and beautiful, fundamentalist and delicate. In 1996, it was chosen to be the European Museum of the year.

  • 53 Gérard Althabe, “Une exposition ethnographique: du plaisir estéthique, une leçon politique,” Marto (...)

31The “healing” component of the museum was obviously aimed at the traumatic memory of the communist regime. Paradoxically, the initial reaction to this past was a total indifference, a deliberate refusal to make any reference to recent history. This was reflected in the first permanent exhibition, entitled “The Cross,” which was inaugurated on April 19, 1993. The French anthropologist Gérard Althabe observed that the exhibition probably told more about the communist past by its total lack of reference to it.53

  • 54 Al. Tzigara Samurcaş was the director of the museum from 1906 to 1948.
  • 55 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 37.

32Actually, it told rather about how the communist past was viewed in the early 1990s by the Romanian intelligentsia: as a black hole that had to be forgotten, in order to make it easier to reach back to the interwar period where the “real” Romanian history and identity were supposed to be found. As Irina Nicolau put it: “There is in Romania a huge emptiness that one has to fill in with one’s own body, in order to build upon it. Or maybe it is better to build a bridge over it, with one pillar in Samurcaş’s54 times and the other in the place where the future starts. But are we wise enough to make that bridge? Are we working fast enough?”55

  • 56 Popescu, interview.

33After cleaning the museum and removing the traces of the communist past, it seemed necessary to the new staff to reinstall a sense of normality and truthfulness in the previously abused image of the peasant. And this normality could only be reached by keeping silent, for a time, about everything that had been mystified and altered under communist rule. As Ioana Popescu remembers: “We started with the idea that the discourse on the cross must not be a vindictive discourse. Horia Bernea did not want to use “The Cross” either as a cover for the horrors of Communism or as a weapon. He simply wanted to try to induce a certain normality, a normality that he could not imagine in the Romanian world in the absence of the cross. A cross that he saw was an element of balance and order. (…) So he started by trying to make peace. A calm and normal speech. We did not think for a moment that in the exhibition “The Cross” there should be the victory of the cross over Communism.”56

  • 57 Althabe, “Une exposition,” 155.

34However, the idea of such a victory is implied, for example, in a case described by both Ioana Popescu and Gérard Althabe. One of the museum’s façades had been decorated with a huge socialist realist mosaic, which the museum staff was not allowed to remove because it was considered a work of art. Their first solution was to cover it with a wooden structure. After a small, old village church was reassembled in the courtyard they suddenly realized that the church had become the main point of interest, while the mosaic had become almost invisible. So the covering was removed and the mosaic with its workers and socialist mothers surrounded by happy children is still there. Ioana Popescu claims that, even though it is there, one no longer sees it. Gérard Althabe considers this “the mise en scène of the victorious resistance of Christianity over Communism.”57

  • 58 Vintilă Mihăilescu, “The Romanian Peasant Museum and the Authentic Man,” Martor: The Romanian Peas (...)

35As the analysis of monuments dedicated to the victims of Communism shows, the cross was a typical symbol of anti-Communism in the 1990s. However, it would be an over-simplification to say that this is the reason why the cross became the organizing principle of the museum. Vintilă Mihăilescu, a sociologist and director of the museum since 2005, wrote a critical article analyzing the “conservative revolution” that the Romanian Peasant Museum proposed in the 1990s.58 He explains the choice of the cross as an attempt to put the Romanian peasant on a European Christian map, to transform nationalism into Eurocentrism. The museum, in this view, is not a museum of the peasant and much less of the Romanian peasant; it is a museum of the “traditional man,” of the “real Christian,” as he existed before the Great Schism. Christianity and its symbols are thus much more than anti-Communism. They may be very effective in the anti-communist ghost-hunt but their value is ultimately eternal, profound and a-historical.

  • 59 Horia Bernea, interviewed by Mihai Sârbulescu. Mihai Sârbulescu, Despre ucenicie [On apprenticeshi (...)
  • 60 Recently republished, for example, Ernest Bernea, Spatiu, timp si cauzalitate la poporul roman [Sp (...)
  • 61 The inter-war concept of rânduială (translated as “order” and refering to a special, traditional w (...)

36One must not, however, underestimate personal choices. Horia Bernea had a life-long commitment to the symbol of the cross. As he remembers in an interview, in the 1970s he was dreaming of designing a huge cross over the Carpathians that would be visible from the Moon (together with the Chinese Wall, the only other human-made construction visible from there). “Through an act of megalomania, I wanted to affirm the Cross. Again the Cross! Only now do I realize that It has always followed me.”59 Horia Bernea’s father, Ernest Bernea was active in the interwar period as an ethnologist in Dimitrie Gusti’s sociological school of Bucharest. He wrote extensively on the Romanian peasantry, its views on time, space and causality.60 He was also active in the Iron Guard, the extreme-right wing political movement of interwar Romania, which he joined in 1935. His name is not often mentioned in connection with the visual discourse of the museum, but his ideas about the peasant world are there.61

  • 62 Some of the ultra-nationalist writers of the interwar period were rehabilitated during Romania’s n (...)
  • 63 Horia Bernea, Câteva gânduri despre muzeu, cantităţi, materialitate şi încrucişare [A few thoughts (...)

37The Christian dimension that was suddenly re-discovered in the Romanian peasant can thus be traced to an interwar (extreme) right-wing tradition.62 However, the discourse that the Peasant Museum was proposing, at least at the time of the opening of “The Cross,” was very much a-historical. Time stood still in the halls of the museum, while its space expanded beyond the Romanian borders. It is a museum about the European traditional man, “profoundly Christian, formed in continuation of ancient civilizations, organically bound to the Mediterranean world, to civilizations that can be traced back from India to Brittany,” as Horia Bernea explained.63

  • 64 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 102.
  • 65 Traian Băsescu stated in his speech for the condemnation of the communist regime: “It was an oppre (...)
  • 66 The little room called Time, which thematizes the peasant understanding of (cyclical) time is as t (...)

38What could make this timeless, profoundly European and Christian peasant, “a relic of European Middle Ages elsewhere lost,”64 step back into history? The visual discourse of the Romanian Peasant Museum states very clearly: it was Communism. While many East European intellectuals claim that Communism, i.e. “Real Socialism,” was a step out of history for these countries,65 the Romanian Peasant Museum asserts the contrary. The timeless existence of the peasant, in perfect harmony with God and nature, was abruptly pushed into history through the installation of the communist regimes. The only rooms in the Romanian Peasant Museum where the time component is very present are those concerned with the collectivization process.66

  • 67 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 137.

39The idea of an exhibition on Communism was Irina Nicolau’s; however, the concept was worked out together with Horia Bernea. The exhibition opened in 1997 under the title “The Plague—Political Installation.” (Fig. 2) It is housed in a small room in the basement, just before one reaches the toilets. The only explanation given to the visitor is the brief notice at the entrance: “A memorial of the pain and suffering collectivization caused to the peasant world.” The upper parts of the walls show red hammers and sickles, which “painted in oils on a strip of blue (…) still look like drops of blood,”67 while the lower parts are covered with issues of the communist newspaper Scânteia, bearing lists of peasants imprisoned for resisting collectivization. The walls, painted in red, are lined with busts of Lenin and Stalin (Fig. 3, Fig. 4) and crammed with large portraits of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. The center of the room is occupied by a huge vase with the inscription: “To comrade I. V. Stalin, a sign of love and gratitude from the Romanian Association for Tightening Relations with the Soviet Union.” To read the inscription, one has to go round four times. The cord surrounding the vase is supported by four huge ashtrays. A green board entitled “The collectivization class from child to adult” features poems and short compositions that children were forced to learn and write about the benefits of collectivization and hatred of the kulaks (chiaburi). The exhibition was accompanied by a booklet, The Red Ox, consisting of the testimonies of peasants who suffered through the collectivization process.

Fig. 2 The permanent exhibition The Plague—Political Installation (© Roald Aron and the Romanian Peasant Museum)

  • 68 Horia Bernea and Irina Nicolau, “L’installation. Exposer des objets au Musée du Paysan Roumain,” M (...)

40Horia Bernea explains the symbolism of colors in the Plague exhibition. For example, the board was a reminder of the early years of Communism. During its retreat from Romania the German army abandoned several wagons of green paint made by I.G. Farben. The Soviet troops used it to paint everything from public benches to public toilets, from offices to kindergartens. So, for Bernea, green was the color of Communism.68 The contrast between this room and the rest of the museum could not be sharper. While everything in the museum was meant to breathe harmony and beauty, “The Plague” made an immediate impact by its ugliness. Walking through it, the visitor is assaulted by the strong, violent colors and the “fake objects” (mainly communist kitsch) on display. One of the slogans of the Romanian Peasant Museum is “a real museum is one that you come back to.” “The Plague” seems to contradict this by making you want to climb back up the stairs, to get out of that basement.

Fig. 3 Detail with Lenin painted red from the exhibition
The Plague—Political Installation
(© Roald Aron and the Romanian Peasant Museum)

Fig. 4 Detail with two identical Lenin statues from the exhibition
The Plague—Political Installation
(© Roald Aron and the Romanian Peasant Museum)

  • 69 Bernea and Nicolau, “L’installation,” 225.
  • 70 Ibid., 225.

41One of the strongest points of the new museographic discourse proposed by the Peasant Museum was dialogue with the objects: letting the objects speak for themselves, letting them “conquer” the space and find their most appropriate place in the display. Horia Bernea claims that “The Romanian Peasant Museum was born out of dialogue with the objects, an accepted, alert, always attentive dialogue, without any preconceptions.”69 In the case of “The Plague” exhibition, he confessed, the freedom of the object had been totally ignored. The objects in this exhibition had originally been exhibited in the Communist Party Museum. They were, by necessity, objects of a fake past, of an unreal reality. “As opposed to the dialogue with the patrimonial objects, where I forbade myself any preconceived ideas, here we absolutely needed a political bias. As we couldn’t exhibit the lies of the regime, we tried to exhibit its ugliness.”70

  • 71 Popescu, interview.
  • 72 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 58.

42It seemed more urgent for Bernea’s team, in the early 1990s, to bring into the museum what was beautiful and harmonious about the Romanian peasant, what was timeless about him. Only after the permanent display was more or less finished, did the need for a discourse on ugliness become urgent. The museum that they had composed was “a serene museum, a museum of peasant balance, in which you didn’t notice that you were in fact walking on bones, walking on dead people, dead peasants who had everything taken away from them.”71 From this point of view, it was itself becoming fake and misleading and it needed, Irina Nicolau thought, a counter-balance to all its serenity. This counter-balance would be “The Plague.” Irina Nicolau was thinking about it as early as 1990. “I was dreaming of an exhibition set up in the technical basement, where we could isolate four small, damp rooms and a former bathroom with broken tiles, a steamy mirror and a dirty bath-tub. I imagined the bath-tub filled with water in which old newspapers would float among the sunken bronze busts of Lenin, Stalin and Gheorghiu-Dej.”72 “The Plague” is not very far from what Irina Nicolau imagined in 1990. The toilets next to it are not dirty, but they do smell like toilets through the permanently open door.

  • 73 Bernea, “L’installation,” 224–5. The idea of keeping the visitor “prisoner” for a while, in order (...)
  • 74 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 140.

43The troubling thing about this “political installation” is that it is not necessarily only about collectivization. It is a discourse on the years of Communism, on the ugliness, absurdity and fakeness of the first decades of communist rule in Romania. In a published conversation between Irina Nicolau and Horia Bernea about this exhibition, the main theme is representing Communism, not collectivization: “Pasternak said that a talented writer should describe those years so that the blood of the readers freezes and their hair stands on end. This is the reaction we should have aimed for, but we obviously did not succeed. We could have obtained it only if we had locked up the visitors in the exhibition room among all the aggressively ugly objects and kept them there without water, food or sanitation for a week.”73 A small sheet of paper kept and later published by Irina Nicolau makes the intentions behind the display even clearer. It contains a list of possible titles for the exhibition on collectivization imagined by Horia Bernea. “The Plague” could as well have been entitled “The Breaking of the Silence,” “Essay on Death,” “Essay on Murder” or “The Plague—the Breaking of the Silence.”74

  • 75 Horia Bernea quoted in Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 140.

44To talk about Communism in 1997 was indeed “breaking the silence.” To this end Horia Bernea used harsh metaphors in the booklet accompanying the exhibition: “Communism is a disease of society and the soul; it is opposed to the life-giving convention; an ideal stupidity, totally oriented against life; a destructive atheist sect; orientation against the spirit, comfortable to the lower qualities of man; the exaltation of shameful evil; absolute hatred, affirmed with no reservations; an attempt to destroy the multimillenary attempt at spiritualization; a sinister utopia.”75

NATIONAL CALVARY: THE SIGHET MEMORIAL MUSEUM

  • 76 Vladislav Todorov, Red Square, Black Square: Organon for Revolutionary Imagination (New York: Stat (...)
  • 77 Speech by Romania’s President, Traian Băsescu. Official museum site: http://www.memorialsighet.ro/(...)
  • 78 An English businessman of Romanian origin, Mr. Misu Carciog, paid all the costs of the restoration (...)
  • 79 On 14 January 2007, one month after Traian Băsescu made his speech in the Parliament on the crimes (...)

45Vladislav Todorov in the introduction to Red Square, Black Square: Organon for Revolutionary Imagination76 describes the dilemma that the excommunist countries face in front of the ruins of their recent communist past: whether to conquer the ruined space by force or to ask for the Grand Ruin to be kept as a ruin. After its opening in 1993, the Memorial Museum of the Victims of Communism and of Resistance functioned as a ruin of Romania’s past for five years. The building where the museum is located used to be a major political prison in Sighetul Marmaţiei, in the far north of the country, two kilometers from the border with the Ukraine, that is, the previous USSR border. The prison operated between May 1950 and July 1955 as an extermination centre for the political, religious, economic and administrative leaders of interwar Romania. After 1955, it was transformed into a common prison, all the political prisoners being transferred to other places in the country. In the 1970s it was entirely empty. The prison museum today is the most important institution in Romania that presents in visual terms the forty-five years of Communism. In 1997 the government funded the final stages of the restoration process—the roof was repaired, the interior painted white—and “in 1998, the Council of Europe designated the Sighet Memorial as one of the main memorial sites of the continent, alongside the Auschwitz Museum and the Peace Memorial in Normandy.”77 Nevertheless, the first funding forthcoming in 1994 was not from local, national or international sources, but from private funds.78 The creation of this memorial museum was the most important enterprise of the Civic Academy Foundation, founded in 1993. In 2006, some of its members became important contributors to the Report of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of Communist Dictatorship in Romania. It is only recently that the Civic Academy Foundation’s effort has become part of the mainstream discourse in Romanian public life, since before 2006 its visual discourse was totally alien to Romanian society at large.79

  • 80 The Space of Meditation and Prayer was built by the architect Radu Mihailescu, in a modernized ant (...)
  • 81 The curators of the exhibitions are also the members of the Center of Research, headed by Romulus (...)
  • 82 The executive scientific board of the International Center for the Study of Communism includes Tho (...)

46The museum started by exhibiting one room of torture (Neagra—the black room) and the cells where major political and intellectual figures of the interwar period used to be imprisoned, starved and then killed. Some of the cells were named after the famous political leaders who were imprisoned—and sometimes died—there (e.g. Iuliu Maniu and Gheorghe Bratianu). In three cells only those objects that were “originally” found there were exhibited (the iron beds, the heating installation, sometimes the bed-cover, some iron pots where the prisoners received water). In 1997 the place still contained only the empty cells of the ex-political prison, the memorial, and the Space of Meditation and Prayer, erected in the courtyard.80 After 1997, the museum of the prison turned into a museum of the victims of Communism and of Resistance.81 The cells on the ground floor were transformed into exhibition rooms displaying different aspects of Communism: detention and Gulag, Securitate and demolition, resistance and repression, fake elections, Ceauşescu’s “Golden Era.” Summer schools and conferences began to be held here and the International Centre for the Study of Communism started to function.82

47The sensation of fear provoked by this place is intensified by the rectangular and enormously high black iron façade, that was built at the entrance to the museum. Iron was used also to construct stairs inside the prison, which did not exist before 2002, but which were built in the style of the prison building. (Fig. 5) While entering the museum, the visitor immediately notices the Maps Room off the entrance corridor. On the walls, over 230 places of imprisonment, forced labor and forced residence, as well as psychiatric institutions with a political character, places where fights and executions took place, and common graves are marked by crosses on a large map of the country. Six smaller maps present in detail each of these categories. On the floor, beneath the big map, there is a cluster of the barbed wire used in constructing prison fences. After this “accommodation room” one can enter the former prison itself. From this spot, the entire building, with its two floors with many cells on both sides, is clearly visible.

Fig. 5 The façade of The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of Resistance (© The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of Resistance)

48The first exhibition cell is called “Fake Elections.” It exhibits a double-bottomed wooden box for ballot papers. It is not an original artifact, but it shows how elections were faked. In the room “Repression against the Church,” among documents testifying to the repression of Orthodox, Greek and Roman–Catholic Churches, a big white cross is painted on the floor, with handcuffs and striped prisoner’s clothes thrown on it. The room “Collectivization: Repression and Resistance” exhibits the terror and impoverishment that peasants suffered during the thirteen years of the collectivization process. It is stated here that 96 % of the agricultural area of the country and 3,201,000 families were brought into collective farms. On the front wall there is a map of Romania and in the middle of the room a permanently green piece of turf. This last installation “stands for both the land, alive and free, and for the grave of those who sacrificed themselves for it.”83

  • 84 We do not know if the voices were authentic or just “mise en scene.”

49Thick plastic panels with texts and images are on the walls of other rooms (e.g. Workers’ Movements in the Jiu Valley and Braşov). In the room “The Golden Era or Communist Kitsch” the viewer will find two statues representing Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife. Other objects represent Ceauşescu’s cult of personality by portraits and clothes he used to wear on special occasions. In 2004 the voice of Ceauşescu making speeches could be heard throughout the prison: as soon as the visitor entered the room, the sensors started the audiotape. The second soundtrack in the museum was played in the Securitate room evoking sounds and voices heard during interrogations.84 The museum exhibits a teleological understanding of the communist regime: from the original sin, namely the forged elections, the subsequent crimes of repression and terror followed logically up to Ceauşescu’s cult of power, ending in the emergence of resistance and the victory of anti-communism. The museum has special exhibition rooms dedicated to anti-communist movements in Eastern Europe: 1956 in Hungary, the Prague Spring, Charta 77, Solidarity, the Velvet Revolution.

50In 2004, many empty cells could still be seen on the first and second floors. On one door was written: “exhibition under construction.” It seemed that the memory of Communism itself was under construction. The empty cells seemed even more powerful than the completed ones. The blank spaces served as markers of forgetting and remembering, as “ruins” of one’s past. The dilemma of processing the past has its model in the drama of Hamlet. While Fortinbras wants to remove the dead bodies (the ruins) in the final scene, Horatio needs them to be kept on stage because only through them can he re-collect the story of the past. Todorov considers that the second variant is the appropriate way of dealing with the past: collection of ruins, re-collection and (re)narration. Ruins construct a public space of sight and of reflection.

  • 85 The current rooms of the memorial museum are (numbers refer to the former cell numbers):
  • 86 Pierre Nora (ed.), Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past (New York: Columbia University Pre (...)
  • 87 Armand Gosu, “A Memorial about the Past for the Future,” Revista 22 (July 2002): 645. Ana Blandian (...)

51After 2004 the empty spaces in the Sighet Memorial disappeared. They were seen as imperfections to be removed, not as inevitable gaps between the memories of the past. Nowadays the museum contains approximately fifty exhibition rooms on the ground, first and second floors.85 Time and money have resuscitated “History.” “History is the reconstruction of something that does not exist any more,” says Pierre Nora; “[h]istory belongs to everyone and to no one and therefore has a universal vocation. (…) History was holy because the nation was holy. The nation became the vehicle that allowed French memory to remain standing on its sanctified foundation (…) Memory is life, in permanent evolution, subject to the dialectic of remembering and forgetting.”86 The president of the Foundation of the Civic Academy, Ana Blandiana, claimed that the main purpose of this Foundation is “the rescue of memory (…) Everything that happened in politics and public life after 1990 showed that the memory of the last fifty years had been deleted. At that moment I found it very important to recover history as a way of refurnishing our brains and as a way of building a minimal point from which to begin a normal life. What happens in Sighet is not necessarily a way towards the past but rather a way towards the future.”87 To “rescue memory” and to “refurnish our brains,” paradoxically, are actions that are not specific to the way in which memory functions, but to the way history does. That is why this museum does not play with different types of memories about the past, or search for competing interpretations, but accepts oblivion by simply affirming a single victimizing version of the past: suffering and death on the altar of the Nation. Consequently, the Sighet Memorial Museum is constructed as a holy place of the Romanian nation, and not one that comes from debate between individual memories. The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of Resistance is a memorial for those who fought the communist system and who became its victims.

52The cemetery of the Memorial is called the Cemetery of the Poor. It is situated outside the city, two and a half kilometers away. Since the prisoners’ graves could not be identified among the thousands of graves prior and subsequent to the 1950s, a landscape project was developed. On the 14,000 square meters of the cemetery, the outline of the whole country was marked by planting mainly coniferous trees. “The idea is that, in this way, the country will keep its martyrs in its arms and mourn them through the repeated generations of vegetation. From a viewing point which will be placed on a raised area, actually on the bank of Tisza (the current frontier with the Ukraine) visitors to the Memorial will be able to see this symbolic drawing more and more distinctly as nature perfects the project.”88 Chris Rojek claims that “death sites and places of violent death involving celebrities or large numbers of people, almost immediately take on a monumental quality.”89 Choosing to talk only about victims, and placing a memorial camouflaged as a museum about Communism in a former political prison, accompanied by a monument-like cemetery, makes the discourse about the past radical, combative and, accordingly, lacking in nuances.

ONLY ANSWERS

  • 90 Leon Wieseltier, “After Memory,” New Republic 208 (1993): 7.

53Leon Wieseltier considered monuments and memorials as spots that paradoxically interdict memorization. In public places, when people see monuments, “they say only: once there was someone who wanted something remembered here. In front of these figures and markers nobody stops any longer, or thinks or shudders. They are bulwarks against thought, devices for the prevention of any intrusion of the past into the present.”90 This can happen not only to monuments built centuries ago, but also to new ones. Wieseltier is referring to the monuments for Holocaust victims. But with all of them—whether for wars, the Holocaust, Communism, Revolution—the same thing happens: they are seen, recognized, and then forgotten.

  • 91 Quoted in Ibid., 5.
  • 92 Wieseltier, “After Memory,” 5.
  • 93 Fehr, “A Museum and Its Memory,” 75.

54“There is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument,” says Robert Musil. “They are no doubt erected to be seen, indeed, to attract attention. But at the same time they are impregnated with something that repels attention, causing the glance to roll right off, like water droplets off an oilcloth, without even pausing for a moment.”91 The creation of anticommunist monuments and memorials brought about a kind of obtuseness of sight and of understanding. Wieseltier suggests that this obtuseness was caused by their unique message, which “was so central for our life that it did not play any kind of role in our consciousness.”92 The result was another kind of distance, an alienation of one’s past. Between total forgetting and total remembering in a museum (about Communism) a very subtle equilibrium should to be found. In “A Museum and Its Memory,” Michael Fehr says, “any place defined only by memories or relics, like many museums, will cause death by suffocation. (…) Memory and amnesia have to be related, and have to work together; otherwise, separated from each other and fixed absolutely, they both lead by different paths to chaos and death.”93

  • 94 Speech by Romania’s President, Traian Băsescu.

55Nonetheless, Romanian museums often seek to imitate the convincing power of memorials and monuments. Appealing to nationalist and religious feelings and fears, memorials and monuments proclaim a single victimizing version of history. Instead of aiming to become agora museums, places of discussion and debate, Romanian museums dream of becoming memorials. In the speech that condemned the communist regime on 18 December 2006, Romania’s President made recommendations about the memorialization of Communism. Among them was the creation of a Museum of Communist Dictatorship that “like the Holocaust Memorial in Washington, would be both a place of memory and an affirmation of the values of the open society.”94 The future Museum of Communist Dictatorship is to be a memorial museum. It will be curated, among others, by the Civic Academy Foundation, the makers of the Sighet Memorial, and the Association of Former Political Prisoners, the makers of the monuments to the victims of the communist regime. One does not have to be a fortuneteller to predict fairly accurately what this museum will look like and what it will attempt to convey to the public. A place where demons are exorcised, visitors are frightened to death, victims become martyrs and no third way is offered between victim and perpetrator; no questions, no dilemmas, no doubts, only answers.

Notes

1 Unlike many other Central and Eastern European countries, Romanians (academics included) prefer to call the pre-1989 period Communism, disregarding alternative denominations such as Socialism, “Real Socialism” or “actually existing Socialism.”

2 This paper is concerned only with permanent exhibitions on the communist regime. Temporary exhibitions were organized in the 1990s, although rarely. Their number has recently increased as the topic of Communism is becoming almost fashionable. Another important spot where Communism is visually represented is the Leisure Park near Craiova, where the businessman Dinel Staicu built a hotel called RSR (Romanian Socialist Republic) near a swimming pool and a football field. In the same location there is a church and a memorial dedicated to the tragic death of the Ceauşescu couple.

3 The National History Museum has not been able so far to organize a permanent exhibition on Romania’s recent history. At the time of writing (2007) the museum offers access only to the historical treasury and a replica of Trajan’s Column, the rest of the building being under reconstruction.

4 “Romania doesn’t need a museum of Communism, but a museum of the fight against Communism,” Adrian Iorgulescu, the Romanian Minister of Culture declared at the opening of the temporary exhibition “The Golden Era. Between Propaganda and Reality.” The exhibition is housed in the National History Museum and was opened in 2007 on the symbolic day of January 26th, Nicolae Ceauşescu’s birthday.

5 The distinction between agora museum and temple museum is discussed in Michael M. Ames, Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes: the Anthropology of Museums (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1992).

6 Ames, Cannibal Tours, 26.

7 Pierre Bourdieu and Hans Haacke, Free Exchange (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), 98.

8 Ames, Cannibal Tours, 111.

9 Richard Sennett, Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization (London: Faber and Faber, 1996), 358.

10 Stephen E. Weil, A Cabinet of Curiosities: Inquiries into Museums and their Prospects (Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995), 7.

11 Ihab Hassan, “POSTmodernISM” in Lawrence E. Cahoone (ed.), From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology (Oxford–Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996), 4.

12 Wolfgang Ernst, “Archi(ve) Textures of Museology” in Susan A. Crane (ed.), Museums and Memory (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 17–34; Michael Fehr, “A Museum and Its Memory: The Art of Recovering History” in Crane (ed.), Museums and Memory, 35–59.

13 Laura Gafencu, Anca Simina, “Exorcizare unei epoci” [Exorcising an era], Evenimentul Zilei (19 December 2006). Available at http://www.expres.ro/article.php?artid=284959 (accessed 10 January, 2007).

14 Lia Bejan, Luminita Castali, “The solemn meeting to condemn Communism has been transformed into a cheap circus reminiscent of group exorcism,” Gardianul (19 December 2006). Available at http://www.gardianul.ro/2006/12/18/politica-c7/scandal_in_ parlament-s88149.html (accessed 10 January, 2007).

15 Speech by Romania’s President, Traian Băsescu, on the Occasion of Presenting the Report of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of Communist Dictatorship in Romania (Romanian Parliament, 18 December, 2006). Available at http://www.presidency.ro/?_RID=det&tb=date&id=8288&_PRID (accessed 10 January, 2007).

16 Even though the President condemned the communist regime, the headlines were all about the “condemnation of Communism.” The synonymy between Communism and communist regime is considered perfectly valid in Romanian everyday and public speech.

17 Adrian Năstase, ex-Prime Minister of Romania, declared in 2004 that “anti-Communism is obsolete” and “graves should be left in peace.” Quoted in Edward Kanterian, Knowing Where the Graves Are: How Romania Has Begun to Deal with its Communist Past. Available at http://www.draculacastle.com/html/cgulag1.html (accessed 2 February, 2004).

18 See the reaction of political analysts in “Political analysts appreciate Băsescu’s move,” Ziua (10 December, 2004). Available at http://www.ziua.net/display.php?id=164648&data= 2004-12-10 (accessed 22 January, 2007).

19 Stelian Tănase, Clienţii lu Tanti Varvara. Istorii clandestine [Aunt Varvara’s clients. Clandestine histories] (Bucharest: Humanitas, 2005), 71 (original emphasis).

20 Ibid., 493 (original emphasis).

21 An English translation of a chapter from Stelian Tănase’s book is available on-line in the journal Archipelago. As announced by the journal, the chapter belongs to the novel Aunt Varvara’s Clients, translated with the financial support of the Romanian Cultural Institute. Available at http://www.archipelago.org/vol10-12/tanase.htm (accessed 22 January, 2007).

22 The President’s speech assesses the establishment of the Communist regime in Romania along the same lines, calling it “exported Communism,” “imposed through foreign dictate.” Speech by Romania’s President, Traian Băsescu.

23 Andrei Pleşu expressed the same idea of the non-responsibility of the Romanian people, by a metaphor. “If one brings a brothel to high school boys, who is responsible for what happens next?” Cultura Libre, TV show on Romanian National Television TVR1, May 25th, 2006. Available at http://cultura--libre.blogspot.com/2006/05/25-mai-andrei-plesusi- marius-oprea.html (accessed 1 June, 2006).

24 Speech by Traian Băsescu.

25 The idea of “putting a cross at the end of something” will recall to many Englishspeaking readers the old habit of letting an illiterate sign a document with an X. However, in the Romanian context the expression is certainly related to the cross as a Christian symbol.

26 Constantin Grigore Dumitrescu, b. 1928, is the initiator of the 187/1999 law granting each Romanian citizen free access to his/her own Securitate dossier and denouncing the Securitate as political police.

27 Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu (ed.), Album Memorial. Monumente închinate jentfei, suferinţei şi inptei împotriva comunismului [Memorial album: Monuments dedicated to the sacrifice, suffering and fight against Communism] (Bucharest: Ziua, 2004), 6.

28 There are four monuments which are not constructed in the form of a cross, or where the cross symbolism is not so evident. It is interesting to note that all these exceptions are inside the Szekler region of the country where the majority of the population is Hungarian.

29 “Greater Romania” refers to the country’s expanded territory encompassing Transylvania, Bessarabia (nowadays Republic of Moldova), Bukovina and Dobrouja in 1918.

30 Dumitrescu, Album Memorial, 28.

31 Ibid., 146.

32 Ibid., 147.

33 Dumitrescu, Album Memorial, 146.

34 In 2003, the Association of Former Political Prisoners began a project for the construction of a monument dedicated to the victims of the anti-communist resistance cofinanced by the Romanian Minister of Culture. The monument, called “Wings” (by artist Mihai Buculei), will be finalized in 2007. It will be placed in the Square of the Free Press (former Piaţa Scânteii), where the statue of Lenin used to stand before 1989.

35 Dumitrescu, Album Memorial, 146.

36 The Carol Park is the creation of the French architect Edouard Redont. It was opened in 1906 on Filaret Hill and named after Karl Eitel Friedrich Zephyrinus Ludwig von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, known as Carol I, the first king of Romania, who reigned from 1866 to 1916. When the Communists came to power the name of the park was changed into Freedom Park. Adrian Majuru, “De la Gradina Filaret la Parcul Regele Carol” [From the Filaret garden to the Carol park], Cultura 7 (April 2004): 21.

37 The project of building the Cathedral of National Redemption was conceived in 1878– 1879, after the War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. The subject was reopened in the interwar period. At that time, Patriarch Miron Cristea gave his agreement for this cathedral to be built in Bucharest. In 2000, after fierce debates the winning project was designed by architect Gheorghe Bratilaveanu. The cathedral will cover 1,800 square meters and will be 95, 60 meters high. After considering many locations finally Arsenalului Hill, near the Parliament House (ex-House of People) was chosen. In the end, the monument remained in the same place since another location for the cathedral had been chosen.

38 The Association Solidarity for the Freedom of Consciousness was established to stop the building of the cathedral in Carol Park. Association site is available at http://www.humanism.ro/articles.php?page=62&article=131 (accessed 19 February, 2007).

39 In 2005, in Revolution Square, Bucharest, a monument was raised to the Victims of the 1989 Revolution. It was heavily criticized by many important names in the field of art in Romania: for its “kitsch” style (it was called “the olive on the stick,” or “the potato on the stick”), for its lack of harmony with the surrounding buildings and for the price that was paid for it from public funds. Alexandru Ghilduş, the artist who built it, was paid fifty-six billion Lei (approximately 1.6 million Euro).

40 Arhitectura ortodoxa [Orthodox architecture], TV show on Romanian Public Television, 19 February 2007, from http://www.tvr.ro/webcast/emisiuni.php (accessed 19 February, 2007).

41 Before World War II, the museum was known as the “museum on the boulevard” since it was located on the main promenade of Bucharest, Kiseleff Boulevard.

42 Famous Romanian architect, representative of the “neo-Romanian” architectural style. The museum was built according to his plans between 1912 and 1938.

43 Irina Nicolau, Carmen Huluţă, Dosar sentimental [Sentimental dossier] (Bucharest: Ars Docendi, 2001), 17–8.

44 Among the new people, the most important is the director appointed in 1990: Horia Bernea, the famous Romanian painter and artist. He continued to run the museum until his death in 2000.

45 Ioana Popescu, tape-recorded interview by Simina Radu-Bucurenci, Bucharest, Romania, April 26, 2004.

46 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 32.

47 Popescu, interview.

48 Irina Nicolau, writer and ethnologist, was Bernea’s right-hand in conceiving and building the museum. She was the center of an informal group of mostly young people who were co-opted into the museum’s projects.

49 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 22.

50 Popescu, interview.

51 Ibid.

52 The first temporary exhibition organized by the museum in 1990 was “Clay Toys,” followed by displays of icons, painted Easter eggs, an exhibition called “Chairs,” all experimental and daring in terms of exhibiting techniques and message.

53 Gérard Althabe, “Une exposition ethnographique: du plaisir estéthique, une leçon politique,” Martor: The Romanian Peasant Museum Anthropology Review 2 (1997): 144–58.

54 Al. Tzigara Samurcaş was the director of the museum from 1906 to 1948.

55 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 37.

56 Popescu, interview.

57 Althabe, “Une exposition,” 155.

58 Vintilă Mihăilescu, “The Romanian Peasant Museum and the Authentic Man,” Martor: The Romanian Peasant Museum Anthropology Review 11 (2006): 15–29.

59 Horia Bernea, interviewed by Mihai Sârbulescu. Mihai Sârbulescu, Despre ucenicie [On apprenticeship] (Bucharest: Anastasia, n. d.), 120.

60 Recently republished, for example, Ernest Bernea, Spatiu, timp si cauzalitate la poporul roman [Space, time and causality for the Romanian people] (Bucharest: Humanitas, 2005).

61 The inter-war concept of rânduială (translated as “order” and refering to a special, traditional way of relating to life and nature, in which everything has its place and outside which the “good” cannot be achieved) was used as one of the structural principles of the Peasant Museum. It was also the name of the journal that Ernest Bernea was editing back in the 1930s.

62 Some of the ultra-nationalist writers of the interwar period were rehabilitated during Romania’s national-communist period. Most of these writers, like Ernest Bernea or Constatin Noica, were reedited in the 1970s and 1980s with the Christian dimension carefully deleted. Their vision would be fully rehabilitated, Christianity included, after 1989. See Katherine Verdery, National Ideology Under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceausescu’s Romania (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

63 Horia Bernea, Câteva gânduri despre muzeu, cantităţi, materialitate şi încrucişare [A few thoughts on museum, quantities, materiality and crossing] (Bucharest: Ars Docendi, 2001), 21.

64 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 102.

65 Traian Băsescu stated in his speech for the condemnation of the communist regime: “It was an oppressive regime, which deprived the Romanian people of five decades of modern history.” Speech by Romania’s President, Traian Băsescu.

66 The little room called Time, which thematizes the peasant understanding of (cyclical) time is as timeless as the rest of the permanent exhibition.

67 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 137.

68 Horia Bernea and Irina Nicolau, “L’installation. Exposer des objets au Musée du Paysan Roumain,” Martor: The Romanian Peasant Museum Anthropology Review 3 (1998): 226.

69 Bernea and Nicolau, “L’installation,” 225.

70 Ibid., 225.

71 Popescu, interview.

72 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 58.

73 Bernea, “L’installation,” 224–5. The idea of keeping the visitor “prisoner” for a while, in order to make him not only understand but feel, occurred to other museum curators as well. The House of Terror in Budapest keeps visitors for three long minutes in a slowly descending elevator, watching and listening to stories about how people were hanged in that very building.

74 Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 140.

75 Horia Bernea quoted in Nicolau, Sentimental dossier, 140.

76 Vladislav Todorov, Red Square, Black Square: Organon for Revolutionary Imagination (New York: State University of New York, 1995), 2.

77 Speech by Romania’s President, Traian Băsescu. Official museum site: http://www.memorialsighet.ro/.

78 An English businessman of Romanian origin, Mr. Misu Carciog, paid all the costs of the restoration and the architectural plans.

79 On 14 January 2007, one month after Traian Băsescu made his speech in the Parliament on the crimes of the Romanian Communist regime, he visited for the first time the Sighet Memorial Museum. He declared on television that, having visited this Memorial, he was even more convinced that he had been right in sustaining the efforts for an encyclopedia and a manual of Communism to be published in Romania. Retrieved from Realitatea TV, 14 January, 2007.

80 The Space of Meditation and Prayer was built by the architect Radu Mihailescu, in a modernized antique style (referring to the Greek tholos and the Christian catacomb). On the walls there were engraved in smoky andesite the names of almost 8,000 people who died in prisons, camps and deportation places throughout Romania. Extremely meticulous, the operation of gathering the names of the dead took ten years of work within the International Center for the Study of Communism, yet the figure is far lower than the total number of victims of communist repression. Most of the names were established by Cicerone Ionitoiu and the late Eugen Sahan, both historians by vocation and former political prisoners.

81 The curators of the exhibitions are also the members of the Center of Research, headed by Romulus Rusan. Since 2001, the director of the museum is Gheorghe Mihai Barlea.

82 The executive scientific board of the International Center for the Study of Communism includes Thomas Blanton (N.S. Archives, George Washington University), Vladimir Bukovsky (Cambridge University), Stephane Courtois (C.N.R.S., Paris), Dennis Deletant (London University), Helmut Muller-Enbergs (The Federal Office for the Study of STASI Archive, Berlin), Pierre Hassner, Acad. Serban Papacostea and Acad. Alexandru Zub.

83 http://www.memorialsighet.ro/en/sala.asp?id=9 (accessed 10 January, 2007).

84 We do not know if the voices were authentic or just “mise en scene.”

85 The current rooms of the memorial museum are (numbers refer to the former cell numbers):

Ground Floor: Room 5: The maps room; Room 8: Elections of 1946; Room 9: The Room where Iuliu Maniu (1873–1953) died; Room 10: Ilie Lazar, a hero of Maramures; Room 11: Destruction of the political parties; Room 12: The year 1945 from Yalta to Moscow; Room 13: Repression against the church; Room 14: Securitate between1948 and 1989; Room 17: Forced labour; Room 18: Collectivization. Resistance and repression; Room 19: The year 1948—Romania’s sovietization; Room 20: Communism versus the Monarchy; Room 21: “Bessarabians in the Gulag”; Room 22: Bessarabia in the Gulag; Room 23: The countries of Eastern Europe (1945–1989); Rooms 25–26: The Exhibition “A Cold War Chronology.”
First floor: Room 37: “Black”; Room 38: Dignitaries’ Room; Room 39: The Penitentiary regime; Room 40: Destruction of the Academy; Room 41: Ethnic and religious repression; Room 43: Repression against culture; Room 44: Solidarity, 18 days that shook the world; Room 47: Deportations in Baragan; Room 48: Anti-communist resistance in the mountains; Room 49: 1956—Student movements in Romania; Room 50: Pitesti phenomenon; Room 51: Poetry in prison; Room 52: Women in prison; Room 53: Daily life in prison; Rooms 54–58: “Gheorghe I. Bratianu (1898–1953).”
Second floor: Room 73: Cell where Gheorghe I. Bratianu died; Room 74: The Visovan Group; Room 75: Demolitions in the 1980s; Room 77: Opponents and dissidents in the 1980s–1990s; Room 78: “The Golden Era” or communist kitsch; Room 79: Workers movements in the Jiu Valley and Brasov; Room 82: Prague Spring (1968)—Charta 77 (1977)—The Velvet Revolution (1989); Room 83: Revolution in Hungary (1956); Rooms 84–87: “Iuliu Maniu (1873–1953) the father of democracy.”

86 Pierre Nora (ed.), Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 3–5.

87 Armand Gosu, “A Memorial about the Past for the Future,” Revista 22 (July 2002): 645. Ana Blandiana (literary pseudonym of Otilia Valeria Coman), born in 1942, winner of the Herder Prize for poetry in 1969, Romanian dissident during the last years of communist dictatorship, today executive manager of the Civic Academy Foundation and director of the Sighet Memorial Museum. Revista 22, an independent weekly magazine of political and cultural analysis. The first number was issued on 20 of January 1990, edited by the Group for Social Dialogue (GDS). “The members of GDS are main figures of public and cultural life in Romania, most of them ex-dissidents of the Communist Party.” Available at http://gds.ong.ro/, (accessed 1 October, 2006).

88 http://www.memorialsighet.ro/en/istoric_muzeu_memorial.asp (accessed 20 December, 2006).

89 Chris Rojek, “Fatal Attractions” in his Ways of Escape: Modern Transformations in Leisure and Travel (London: Macmillan, 1993), 136–72, reprinted in David Boswell, Jessica Evans (eds.), Representing the Nation: A Reader. Histories, Heritage and Museums (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), 185–207.

90 Leon Wieseltier, “After Memory,” New Republic 208 (1993): 7.

91 Quoted in Ibid., 5.

92 Wieseltier, “After Memory,” 5.

93 Fehr, “A Museum and Its Memory,” 75.

94 Speech by Romania’s President, Traian Băsescu.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1 Inscription on the monument in Brăila, “The Horrors of the Communist Regime”
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/683/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 615k
Légende Fig. 2 The permanent exhibition The Plague—Political Installation (© Roald Aron and the Romanian Peasant Museum)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/683/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 536k
Légende Fig. 3 Detail with Lenin painted red from the exhibitionThe Plague—Political Installation(© Roald Aron and the Romanian Peasant Museum)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/683/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 446k
Légende Fig. 4 Detail with two identical Lenin statues from the exhibitionThe Plague—Political Installation(© Roald Aron and the Romanian Peasant Museum)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/683/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 444k
Légende Fig. 5 The façade of The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of Resistance (© The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of Resistance)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/683/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 569k

Auteurs

Gabriela Cristea (b. 1980) is a research assistant at the Romanian Peasant Museum, Bucharest. She received her MA degree in Sociology and Social Anthropology from the Central European University. She is editor and host of the Realitatea TV programs “Old customs of Romania” and “Euro-patches in Central and Eastern Europe.” Her research interests are ethnography, urban studies, museography, and the representations of Communism.

Simina Radu-Bucurenci (b. 1980) is a doctoral candidate in history at the Central European University, Budapest and research assistant at the Romanian Peasant Museum, Bucharest. Her research interests include the status of documentary images under the Communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe and the reassessment of the Communist past in these countries.

© Central European University Press, 2008

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540