Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cultural Heritage and The House of the People in Bucharest: Opening cultural discourse and practice


This is the second part of a longer paper, Cultural Heritage and the House of the People, which you can begin reading here: http://mappingromanianart.blogspot.com/2011/02/cultural-heritage-and-house-of-people.html

Architecture and Power in Bucharest

Before the destruction, Bucharest had enjoyed a significant continuity in the urban fabric, even though its history witnessed a number of different state organizations and ideologies – from semi-autonomous principality to independent kingdom to conservative dictatorship. During the 19th and 20th centuries, many successive kings, mayors, bureaucrats, in collusion with engineers and architects shared goals of modernization and increased Europeanization, even though projects were oftentimes left unfinished or chaotic. These developments were always in tune with the latest urban trends in France and Italy, as Romanian national identity focused on the peoples’ Latin roots and historic links with Western Europe. During the period between the union of the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia in 1859 and WW2, Bucharest was increasingly emphasized as a model. It was transformed from an Ottoman medieval city-structure into a more deserving European capital, based on a network of Parisian-inspired boulevards with major intersections marked by key squares. [1] After a strong earthquake in 1977 that destroyed some nineteenth century buildings and left Bucharest’s inhabitants in rubble and fear,[2] Ceausescu began his plan for systematization, using the earthquake as a pretext to construct his own visions of socialist architecture. In four years, he managed to reshape the capital’s skyline into series of eight to twelve stories high blocks of flats, continuing the komunalki[3] projects of the Soviet Union . His repeated visits to North Korea more ambitiously defined his goals: as Pyongyang was ideologically and architecturally centered around the leadership of Kim II-sung, so Bucharest would be subordinated to Ceausescu’s new politico-administrative center, The House of the People.

After organizing a show-competition in 1978 for architects from all over Romania, the dictator named the young and inexperienced Anca Petrescu,[4] to direct his explicit orders. To glorify the focal point that became the new center of the city, the “Grand Architect” – as Ceausescu was proclaimed by the times’ propaganda- envisioned a three kilometer-long boulevard with high-rise apartments for the nomenclature. The Boulevard of Socialist Victory – as it was named to further the dictator’s pretense of wise social guidance -did not allow busses or trains; it was closed off for the public on a daily basis, except for members of the Nomenclature. The only way one could approach the Palace was parading under the dictator’s orders on official holidays, in an incredible display of power and hierarchy. The sublime image of hundreds of thousands directed by the same force towards the Palace was the human embodiment of ideological force of the “socialist tomorrow,” blocking the horizon to the future with the eternal image of Ceausescu and his power. Built on the cornice of Uranus hill, on the banks of the river Dambovita, Ceausescu’s own palace stood on the highest point of the Capital, commanding loyalty and obedience. At the same time, it was perceived as a symbol of national pride, a great achievement at great sacrifice, from a small country in Europe.

The location of the new Center also sought to erase three important landmarks, the Mitropolia – where the Head of the Orthodox Church lived - the 17th century Mihai Voda church and the State Archives. By the end of 1988, all these buildings, ideologically adverse to socialism would be either torn down or screened off by new blocs of high-rises. Cutting through the old city from East to West, the Boulevard – House of the Republic complex ran against and over the historic centers of the Capital. A total of more than eighty buildings, including seventeen churches were either destroyed or moved from their historical context, screened off behind the Boulevard. An area of five square kilometers and the lives of 40,000 people were altered.

To implement this grand design, the dictator further summoned over 300 architects and 20,000 workers, that would work almost non-stop between 1983 and 1989, making sure his directives were executed swiftly and efficiently. As Gheorghe Leahu, a Union Architect recalls:

In the Sports Hall Giulesti, a team of over 300 architects from all over the country build a 1:1000 model of Bucharest out of polystyrene, showing all the streets, squares, blocks, houses, monuments etc in the city. The 12 by 12 model was placed on a pedestal surrounded by an electric escalator. The Ceausescu’s would march back and forth on the escalator, armed with long pointing sticks, giving “precious indications” on what buildings to construct and which to demolish in the Capital. After each presidential visit, each set of indications, the model was transformed and updated to precisely reflect Ceausescus’ urban redevelopment plans.[5]

This account of how one fifth of the city was razed to the ground to make room for the new socialist high-rises and the Palace shows the dictator’s frame of mind: the team of designers and workers present had no influence on the plans, just as the inhabitants of Bucharest had no control over when their houses would be demolished. As Leahu observes, despite the propaganda that proclaimed humanity as its cause, “one is reduced to an anonymous slave, stripped of dignity and freedom, herded towards “the highest peaks” of…depersonalization, towards the collective living space, the communist bloc of flats.”[6] It is hard to accurately describe the general reaction to this enterprise – as collective and individual memories have not been preserved and are easily forgotten or constantly altered in response to shifting social realities after the Revolution. However, The Boulevard of Socialist Victory, with its heavily decorated fountains, towering bloc facades that obscured the impoverished slums, represented a bitter victory of the people but also Ceausescu’s triumph over Romania.

With a surface area of more than 64,000 square meters, an overwhelming volume of more than 2.5 billion cubic meters, the House dominated the landscape of the Capital. As in the case of the Boulevard of Socialist Victory, Ceausescu would make a lot of decisions regarding the facades on the ground, while he was relentlessly supervising his masterpiece. The result was also a heavy, incoherent style, a dissonant mixture of classical elements (ionic columns, freezes) that fail to induce the element of awe associated with Roman architecture and the Empire. These details, as the lavish bronze and steel windows, the marble staircases, crystal chandeliers, and velvet and brocade curtains were for the dictator and his entourage to admire in private, for the public was meant to never gaze upon the riches amassed at the cost of their lives.

For Romanians then, the House of the Republic- Boulevard of Socialist Victory represented a curse and a reason for pride at the same time. Its lasting legacy embodied both the grandeur of one of the most phenomenal architecture projects in history, the lasting trauma of the dictatorship and the metonymical signifier of a nationalist socialism understood as a mêlée between disparate ideologies from the Soviet Union, China and North Korea. When Ceausescu’s regime was toppled in December 1989, revolutionaries rushed to destroy the visual reminders of the terrors under the communist regime: Lenin’s statue outside the House of the Spark (the headquarters of the communist printing presses) was torn down by bulldozers and cheering demonstrators; propaganda posters, paintings glorifying Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were ripped off the walls and streets of Bucharest with rage. Even the Romanian flag suffered an amputation: the emblem of the Socialist Republic was cut off as millions shouted: “Down with the tyrants!” There was also talk of demolishing the House of the People among the ignited spirits of the Revolution. However, unlike the visual paraphernalia associated with the Ceausescus, their palace proved more lasting, harder to remove from memory. The government following Ceausescu, formed by the National Salvation Army (Frontul Salvării Naţionale, FSN) led by Ion Iliescu[7] decided to continue the construction and restoration of the formidable building. Even more, in 1993, they saw it fit to house the new leadership in the huge marble halls Ceausescu never got to use. Thus, Ceausescu’s Palace remained and was transformed into the Palace of the Parliament, a symbol of an order that took the guise of democracy but resembled neo-communism.

During the 1990s and 2000s, the building complex became an undeniable symbol of the capital and the country. However, its status as symbols of the Ceausescu period was systematically weakened by historical processes. Passing time and changing circumstances altered context. From political events that employed the actual space to personal memories, each time new meanings were ascribed to the structure. In this way, the communist creations slowly diverged away from their original significance in social consciousness, and were assimilated into the post-1989 socio-political framework of Romania. The shift that created the new interpretative environment culminated symbolically when Romania entered the European Union in 2007.

Within the context of modern Europe, the House of the People preserved its function as the locus of power; before 1989 it was Ceausescu’s domain; today the democratically elected Parliament sends directives from the top of Uranus hill. A small blue marker with twelve yellow stars stands in the foreground of the overgrown communist structure marking the state's membership in the European community. However, in the perspective of time the House of the People proved a strong signifier, kept closely within the net of its original associations - hostile to the public both in function and form. For example, as a military objective and the single most important administrative building in the capital, entrance is granted only after a thorough search for explosive and x-ray scans of personal belongings.

Tourism and Reception

During the mid 1990s and 2000s, The House of the People was welcomed by the international community as a site of tourism. As the second largest administrative building in the world (after the Pentagon), it fast become the capital’s main attraction for foreigners and locals alike. In 1993 the Romanian government initiated a series of legislations to bolster tourism development. With European Union Support, tourist promotional materials produced in the 1990s consistently engendered a new identity for the country, portraying it as “reborn” and “free”, shaken from its totalitarian past:

In December 1989 Romania was reborn as a free nation. Now this multi-faceted country is welcoming tourists to enjoy a wonderfully varied heritage of traditional culture, scenic splendors and leisure opportunities. Now that Romania has joined mainstream Europe, it is welcoming visitors to share and enjoy a civilized heritage, spiced with touches of Byzantine influence. [8] By presenting Romania as a country of “mainstream Europe,” the new centre-right government emphasized its discontinuity with the former regime, and a commitment to forging stronger economic, political and cultural ties with Western Europe, or more specifically NATO and the EU. Yet, efforts to project a civilized, post-communist identity were tangled by the irremovable past in Bucharest, where a monumental part of this complicated legacy is continually consumed as a tourist sight. Once visited by international officials, Ceausescu wanted to impress, today the House of the People is admired by foreigners that gape at the empty marble rooms in awe of the luxury and grandeur of the building. Because, unlike other East European countries, Bucharest lacks iconic or easily memorable sights, The Palace of Parliament fits the role of a monumental product image, through which Bucharest itself can be consumed. Indeed, the image of the building complex is widely used in travel brochures to Romania, and even the Ministry of Tourism features it in promotional materials for Bucharest.

When tours of the building were introduced in 1994, it attracted around 80.00 visitors, making it one of the three most seen attractions in Romania, after the ethnographic project the Village Museum (180.000 visitors) and Bran Castle ,also know in the West as Dracula’s Casle, with 160.000 visitors annually. Around 50% of visitors to the House of the People are Romanians, and in 2009 it was estimated that over 200.000 people had visited it. The price of admission is roughly that of a local magazine for Romanians and double for foreigners, thus a strong encouragement exists to visit the building. [9]

These official guided tours of the colossal structure are the only means of access for the general public. The discourse dictated by the powers of the state emphasizes the importance of the building based on the value and uniqueness of the materials used in its construction and decoration: different types of marble, gold-layered stuccos, crystal chandeliers, carpets hand-sewn by monks from Moldavia, mahogany furniture. Paintings commissioned by Ceausescu still adorn the walls of the marble hall rooms. Moreover, tour guides stress the utilitarian value of the immense congress halls that now function as reception spaces for foreign dignitaries, chiefs of state or high level public officials. Absent from this presentation are the crimes that were committed by Ceausescu. The dictator is not presented as a greedy bureaucrat that embezzled state funds to build an expensive mansion or a ruthless leader. Some tour guides simply refer to him as the President of Romania between 1965 and 1989. Thus, his victims are silenced and forgotten under the dazzle of the luxurious rooms. Moreover, any connection with communism is summarily repelled, as Romania is now presented as a full democracy, and a proud member of the European Union. Tourism erases and represses from memory what happened before 1989. Presented as a technological breakthrough, a monument raised with the efforts of all Romanians, the building now demands admiration and pride.

In this line of historical misrepresentation, the building is further justified ideologically by the situation of the Romanian Parliament inside its structure. This conflicting position of the Romanian Parliament has rarely been voiced in public. In 2005, the then Prime Minister, Calin Popescu Tariceanu, declared in an official press conference that the House of the Parliament is ill-fitted to coincide with Ceausescu’s ideology, which he considered a “monument to kitsch.” Even more, Tariceanu considered that the building should be demolished, as it only reminded viewers of the traumatic experience of communism. This radical statement was taken up by none other than the chief architect of the Palace, Anca Petrescu, who responded:

It is inadmissible that a Prime Minister should suggest the demolition of the establishment of the Palace of Parliament. In addition, it is inconceivable that he label the building in which Romanian Parliament stands as “a monument to kitsch,” without having the professional background to qualify it as such, when it is known that this building has been extremely popular in the media and appreciated internationally. Mr. Tariceanu adds to this that it is regrettable that this symbolic building is visited by foreign tourists. His way of thinking and expression proves that he is incapable of any objective assessment of this building.[10]

Disqualifying Tariceanu’s suggestion on aesthetic terms, Petrescu positioned it as a symbol of the Romanian nation, one that should invoke pride in the “great national effort” put into its construction. Moreover, the architect stressed the importance the House of the People has as an international icon of Romania, reinforcing the view expressed in the guided tours of the building; The crimes of the communist regime cast asunder, the Parliament officials, including Anca Petrescu, claim the wealth amassed by the perpetrators, continuing a tradition of exploitation and oppression. This narrative is supported by a special display presenting the history of Romanian parliamentary democracy originating from this site just a couple of years after the revolution.

In 2004 the leader of the Social-Democrat Party, Adrian Nastase [11](who was running for the Presidential seat) decided to establish a National Contemporary Art Museum in the northern wing; more than 2 million Euros were spent to adjust the House of the People for art purposes. Among many scholars, artists, architects and film-markers, Romanian artists Dan and Lia Perjovschi[12] challenged the proposal to found the first National Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC) in the Palace of the Parliament[13] declaring that:

Between the city and the building is about one mile of empty fields. That is exactly the distance between the leaders and the citizens. […] Absolutely no one was consulted: this is Romania where the process should be more transparent. The prime minister (an art collector) is quoted as saying about the location: “either here or nowhere…” […]The museum was established putting all the state spaces together (6 venues) under the same umbrella. This was the year, 2004, when things were supposed to go the other way, decentralizing state power…”[14]

The artists have also pointed out that the group of art managers in charge of the museum have the authority to marginalize artists, using similar censorship techniques as those of the repressive Artists Union before 1990. Another perspective is that of the Museum Co-director, Ruxandra Balaci,[15] who since her nomination in 2004 consistently argued in interviews that the establishment of the museum is an exercise of democracy inside a once totalitarian structure, introducing normality in one of the most abnormal places in Europe. In 2007, Balaci reported to the Guardian that young people in Romania are no longer interested in the past, while the palace with all its symbolic significance, generates attention for the museum, no matter if positive or negative. [16]

Given the summation of the building’s attributes which I have just described, local reception is complicated by the fascination and pride in what is becoming for Romanians “our House” – a building infamous within the country about which every Romanian knows something. For some, The House of the People is now “The Palace of Parliament,” the epicenter of the new democracy and an affirmation of Western values to which a significant part of Romanians aspire to. Others also see it as a testament to the abilities and potential of the Romanian building. Therefore, people coming from different generations appropriate or reject the building in various ways, although I argue that the permanence of the center of political power inside the House of the People impedes its traumatic affect to be resolved in the Romanian psyche.

For Westerners, The House of the People represents more than just a monumental building; it symbolizes totalitarianism as the political Other of Western Europe, the democratic order and the free-market economy. Its significance as a tourist site is produced by the antithesis with the structural values of Western Europe in the 20th century. To experience the building is to have a glimpse into the absurdity of absolute power and what it might have meant for Romania. The vivid discrepancy between this site in Bucharest and the organic development of the rest of the center of the capital, alert the viewer to its sensationalism in the aftermath of death and destruction. [17]

Chris Rojek argues that tourist sites are constructed through, myth, fantasy and distortion, a set of representations that interact and frame the gaze of the audience. Indeed, although the erection of the building is forever linked with Ceausescu, it was left unfinished when the dictator was overthrown and many additions to the structure were made in the post-communist building to accommodate Romania’s Parliament and the Museum of Contemporary Art.[18] However, due to myths constructed in tourists brochures (such as Balkan Holidays for example), foreigners come to Bucharest with the expectation of the shockingly exotic: that Ceausescu once lived in the building, that his bed can still be found in one of the chambers or that the dictator kept a torture room in the basement. [19]

The symbolic universe that communist projects were once part of, their connection with everyday rituals, all of this is quickly disappearing. Segregated into an entertainment park of sorts for foreigners, they become the peculiarity of an impenetrable system, whose only visible signifier is the obscenity of absolute power. In a world without alternatives, communism can only be recollected as kitsch, a House of horrors, at the opposite happy ending of global franchises. Framed in these terms, the House of the People becomes not a site of remembering but a cipher of active disregard. On a symbolic level, the ideology of a workers’ paradise has been replaced by a passion for consumption and self-colonization[20], as the locals begin to internalize the desires of the Other and become tourists of their own history.

Towards critical and transparent solutions

Cultural solutions to the House of the People should therefore take into account an ethical aspect, that goes beyond strictly architectural means of expression. In concrete terms, solutions should be communicable and debatable among the general public, articulate and logical, having an explicitly engaged political dimension instead of striving for an ideologically-free efficiency, associated with the democratic order. The latter, a general trend in the West building cannon, cannot be merely translated on the Romanian context, with its specific complexity and layers of repressed history. A more productive solution would allow for the possibilities of exchange with the rest of Europe, without sacrificing the fragmentation and contradictions embodied by the House of the People and its impact in Bucharest and as a symbol of the country.

In Istoria Literaturii Romane: Introducere Sintetica (The History of Romanian Literature: A Synthetic Approach), published in 1929, the historian, literary critic, poet and politician, Nicolae Iorga[21] formulated the concept of synthesis, a phenomenon he used to describe not only literature but the culture of Romania in the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Indeed, any Romanian cultural history has to take into account the country’s situatedness at the confluence of Empires (Austrian Hungarian, Ottoman, Byzantine, Russian) and superposed influences (French, Oriental, Italian, German). Such an approach can be extended to the post WW2 period, in which the communist reality was also constructed from syncretic elements . As the claim to Latin roots and the orientation towards Romance cultures had been in place from the de-facto formation of the Romanian nation in 1918[22], these elements were seamlessly adapted to suit Ceausescu’s political aims, and built upon – by introducing the ideological designs from North Korea.[23] Therefore, bearing in mind these entanglements - historically a constitutive part of Romanian identity, instead of an isolated totalitarian experiment- a solution to understand and engage the House of the People project is to situate it into a series of international influences embedded in the cultural vernacular. I am not advocating a formal return to tradition(s), but deploying it as a way of being and functioning in the world, in continuity with contemporary local contexts and transnational exchanges.

By suggesting this, I am accepting the challenge of a paradoxical position: to propose that the House of the People should not be seen as merely a freak experiment and dismissed as a bad joke, paradigmatic of a situation that was the life of millions for decades; but to accept its social, cultural and historical repercussions in a larger tradition of nationalistic projects, which not only asserted the country’s unique cultural identity, but its connections to both Eastern and Western projects. After all, the House of the People was the most monumental assertion of national identity in the history of Romania, albeit at a great humanitarian expense. By now, it would be impossible (and unproductive) to simply erase the monumental complex from the urban and social fabric. Even if it were demolished (which would be highly unlikely given the position of the Parliament on its premises), The House of the People is an irreversible modern project in social consciousness. Known to virtually every Romanian(whether through facts or mythologies), it is undeniable a part of local histories and identities. What I am concerned with then, are the attempts to erase and deny its psychological and cultural affect on the population. I see this as part of larger process of disavowal of the communist ethos and collective consciousness, quickly disappearing under the fresh paint of capitalist democracy and adoption of so-called superior Western values.

However irreversible the latter process may seem at the moment, alternatives have been put forth, largely by the younger generations of artists, architects and historians in Romania, for whom the past still matters. In the 2009 exhibition “Changing the Face of the House of the People,” organized by the Union of Architects in Bucharest, students from the “Ion Mincu” Architecture University in the capital were invited to enter a contest, imagining solutions for a more organic integration of the monumental complex into the urban fabric. The three winning solutions were then displayed in University Square in the center of the capital where thousands of passers-by were engaged to respond to these designs. Even if these projects have not been realized, I salute them as part of the first steps towards more sound resolutions concerning the building. As Dimitrie Ştefănescu, one architects involved in the competition observed:

First of all, we do not want to destroy the House of the People. Assuming our past is a mature and responsible gesture, which I hope we will be able to make one day. The symbolic polarization engendered by this edifice is more than evident, as it overlaps the recent past (the communist regime), old Bucharest (the historic neighborhood Uranus), the suffering of an entire people and politics (past and present).[24]

Thus, The House of the People could be projected into an enabling process of social and cultural reconstruction, as the building embodies an unfolding narrative, traces of which are always present in the making of Romanian identity : from the moment it was conceived and during its design - as part of the ethos of the communist dictatorship, to the actual use - by the Romanian Parliament, through its continuous reconstruction and changes to accommodate the first and only Museum of Contemporary Art in the country. One can only hope and continue to act so that Romania’s political leadership takes cue from its more mature scholars and artists: by examining its own problematic situatedness and questionable directives that should foremost embody transparency, fairness and empathy, given Romania’s new commitment to civil liberties and justice as part of the larger Europe.


[1] For more on the development of Bucharest see Maria Raluca Popa and Emily Gunzburger Makaš, “Bucharest,” in Capital Cities in the Aftermath of Empires – Planning in Central and Southeastern Europe, eds. Emily Gunzburger Makaš and Tanja Damljanović Conley, (New York: Routledge, 2009).

[2] For a vivid chronicle of the destruction of the historic centers of Bucharest to make way for the House of the People/ Boulevard of Socialist Victory see the film “Architecture and Power,” Ager-Film, Bucharest, 1993, 52’, directed by Nicolae Margineanu, with a screenplay by the architect Ioan Augustin.

[3] The komunalki (later developed into hruschovs) were designed to be occupied by the working class families which moved in the 1920s to the big cities in the Soviet Union, and were introduced in Bucharest in the 1950s. Several families lived in a common property, usually owned by the city or the state. Each of these families had its own room but the kitchen, restroom and bathroom were shared. Later they were modified so that each family could have its own tiny kitchen and bathroom. This form of living together also helped the former secret police to monitor citizens by sending in spies pretending to be workers.

[4] Anca Victoria Mărculeţ Petrescu (1949-) is a Romanian architect and a politician in Romania. She designed the House of the People in Bucharest, Romania on the orders of Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1986. She was involved in many of the Ceauşescu era systematisation redevelopment projects, which included the forced removal of residents to demolish old traditional neighborhoods to replace them with modern, communist buildings.

[5] Gheorghe Leahu, The Bucharest that Disappeared, (Bucharest: Meridiane, 2001), pg. 32.

[6] Gheorghe Leahu, The Bucharest that Disappeared, (Bucharest: Meridiane, 2001), pg. 30.

[7] Ion Iliescu (1930- ) served as President of Romania from 1990 until 1996, and from 2000 until 2004. From 1996 to 2000 and from 2004 until his retirement in 2008, Iliescu was a Senator for the Social Democratic Party (PSD), whose honorary president he remains. He joined the Communist Party in 1953 and became a member of its Central Committee in 1965, however beginning with 1971 he was gradually marginalized by Nicolae Ceauşescu. He had a leading role in the Revolution of 1989, being elected as Romania's first post-communist president in 1990. After a new Constitution was approved by popular referendum, he served a further two terms as president, 1992 to 1996, and 2000 to 2004. Iliescu is a predominant figure in the first fifteen years of post-1989 Romanian Revolution politics. During his terms Romanian politics stabilized, and Romania joined NATO.

[8] Duncan Light, “‘Facing the Future’: tourism and identity building in post-socialist Romania,” Political Geography, Vol. 20, 2001, pg. 1058.

[9] Duncan Light, “‘Facing the Future’: tourism and identity building in post-socialist Romania,” Political Geography, Vol. 20, 2001, pg. 1062.

[10] Anca Petrescu, Official Press Statement, Bucharest, November 15th 2005. Retrieved from http://www.monitoruloficial.ro/, December 10, 2010

[11] Adrian Nastase (1950- ) was the Prime Minister of Romania from December 2000 to December 2004. He competed as the Social Democratic Party (PSD) candidate in the 2004 presidential election, but was defeated by centre-right Justice and Truth (DA) Alliance candidate Traian Băsescu. He was the President of the Chamber of Deputies from December 21, 2004 until 15 March 2006, when he resigned due to corruption charges.

[12] Dan Perjovschi (1961-) and Lia Perjovschi (1961-) are artists, writers and educators living in Sibiu, Romania, working in drawing, sculpture, installation, performance and art-archives. He has played an active role in the development of the civil society in Romania, through his editorial activity with Revista 22, a cultural magazine in Bucharest, and has stimulated exchange between the Romanian and International contemporary artistic scenes. Dan Perjovschi has over the past decade created drawings in museum spaces, most recently in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City(2006) in which he created the drawing during business hours for visitors to see and react to. The drawings present a political commentary in response to current events, such as Romania's acceptance to the EU. Dan and Lia Perjovschi had their first retrospective exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in fall 2007.

[13] The artists have refused to participate in any exhibitions held at the MNAC or sell their artworks to the museum.

[14] Dan and Lia Perjovschi quoted in States of Mind, ed. Kristine Stiles, (Durham, NC: Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University), 2007, pg. 83-84.

[15] Ruxandra Balaci and Mihai Oroveanu are curators and co-directors of the MNAC since its inauguration on October 29th 2004.

[16] These statements were made on the occasion of the symposium “Regimes of Representation: Art & Politics Beyond the House of the People,” held in the House of People (Palace of the Parliament) in Bucharest on January 11, 2007.

[17] See Chris Rojek and John Urry, Touring cultures: transformations of travel and theory,(New York: Routledge), 1997, pg. 52-75.

[18] For example 2 million Euro were spent to adjust the building for the purposes of the MNAC from 2000 to 2004. See Chamber of Deputies (2004). The parliament of Romania. Bucharest: Monitorul Oficial.

[19] Chillingworth, N. Reading the post-communist city: Ceaușescu ’s Bucharest, dissertation, Department of Geography, University of Southampton, 2000.

[20] Walter Mignolo pioneered the term “self-colonization” and suggested a cultural alternative, “de-colonial thinking.” Mignolo has lectured and published widely on global coloniality and the history of capitalism. See Walter D. Mignolo, Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges and Border Thinking (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999)

[21] Iorga, Nicolae, Istoria Literaturii Romane: O Introducere Sincretica, (Chișinău: Litera, 1998), pg. 203-235.

[22] In 1859 the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were united by electing the same ruler, Alexandru Ioan Cuza. In 1878, Romania (led by Carol I Hohenzollern) was recognized as an independent kingdom in Europe after a war with the Ottoman Empire. After fighting on the side of the Triple Alliance (between the U.K., France and Russia) in WW1, Romania was awarded further territories (Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina) in 1918. After WW2, Bessarabia and Bukovina were integrated into the Soviet Union and are now part of Ukraine and Moldova respectively. Today, Romania considers the 1st of December 1918 as the birth of the United Romanian Nation, or Greater Romania, while the 1st of December is the official national holiday.

[23] John Jessup,” Romania Celebrates The Centennial of Its Independence,” in Military Affairs, Vol. 42, No. 3, 1978, pg. 147-149.

[24] Dimitrie Ştefănescu quoted in “The Exhibition Changing the Face of the House of the People,” Garbo Magazine, November 30th 2009. Retrieved from http://www.garbo.ro/articol/Entertainment/2794/Expozitia-Schimbarea-la-fata-a-Casei-Poporului.html, December 11, 2010.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cultural Heritage and The House of the People in Bucharest


Recently I've been invited to present at the conference "Why does the Past Matter?," at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. My topic of debate is how the ethos of communism has been negotiated in Romania in the last 20 years, using the infamous House of the People/ Palace of Parliament in Bucharest as a trope. For artists, scholars and curators at home, the topic of this building is a never-ending cause for debate, and some argue that it cannot lead us anywhere - since it's a fait-accompli that the only National Museum for Contemporary Art ended up inside a dictator's palace under the guise of democratization. But I beg to differ, arguing for a continual examination of how this building is involved in the marking and re-making of Romanian identity.

Following is the original paper (first part or Framing the Debates) through which I will burn and slash to fit into a 20 minute presentation at Amherst.

Framing the debates

In her article “Negative Heritage and Past Mastering in Archaeology,” Lynn Meskel introduced the term “negative heritage,” designating a site of violence engendered as “a repository of negative memory in the collective imaginary.” Emphasizing its dual role as either mobilized for educational or cultural purposes or resisting incorporation into social consciousness and becoming erased, Meskel also acquiesces that: “While seemingly uncontroversial, "heritage" occupies a positive and culturally elevated position within many cultures, yet we should recognize that not all individuals, groups or nations share those views, or have the luxury of affluence to indulge these desires.” [1] Building on Meskel, I suggest moreover, that my case study troubles seemingly straightforward, positive notions of heritage, values which I believe should be developed - to include for example in my case, the ethos of communist legacy, which despite its imperfections, abuses and violence, did not just mark the lives of the peoples of Eastern Europe , but it represented their existence and culture for decades, albeit engendering traumatized identities. Communism as the utopia of the proletariat held sway over millions of people for over 70 years – and as my more experienced colleagues in the field have argued, it was put into practice and made operative by the people it purportedly oppressed. This paradox cannot be simply dismissed but should be engaged directly, as communist culture is oftentimes reduced to an irrational dichotomy between kitsch and a haunted house of horrors. [2]

An engaged line of examination into communist countries of the former East during the period between WW2 and 1990 has been penned by scholars writing from this region such as Vasile Ernu (Romania)[3] and Alexei Yurchak (Russia)[4] as well as outside its borders – Stephen Kotkin (US).[5] Although diverse in methodologies, these socio-cultural and political analyses bring into focus the necessity to take the ideology of socialism seriously, as did the people who lived through them – the social basis on which ideology is built and sustains at the same time. Starting with the 1930s, the Soviet Union constructed a viable modernity which it exported to various degrees onto Eastern Europe, mustering both local resistance and voluntary participation. My analysis is informed by this approach, deploying the concept of participatory dictatorship to engage the communist modernity defined in the architecture of Bucharest. Although the authors I have mentioned above focus on the Soviet Union experience, I take their conclusions as definitive for my case study, framed by the period between 1965 and 1989 – the Era of Nationalist Socialism in Romania. For the project of socialism was mutated in this case as a local paradigm of modernity- running parallel and in competition to the Soviet Union, with points of contrast and connection. As Yurchak and Kotkin have pointed out, it is necessary to ask how people living in these systems were constructed and constructed themselves as subjects of the state. While it is beyond the scope and means of this paper to answer this question, I will use it as a trope to distinguish between individual quotidian perception, collective remembering and official memory. These processes are a germinal form of self-representation in the post 1989 period in Romania - as means of negotiating agency in the still unfolding process of identity formation. Thus, I want to investigate how communist rhetoric in my case study (in verbal and building form) has crossed over in what scholars refer to as the post-socialist period in the East and what is at stake in recent attempts to exorcize this rhetoric.

Indeed, for Romanians (and Eastern Europeans), the task of comprehensively describing the economic, political, historical and cultural contradictions that pervade our existence is still an arduous one. One important reason is that, this region is commonly understood through the normative story of the collapse of communism in 1989 and the subsequent triumph of liberal democracy and the free market economy - culminating into Romania’s integration into NATO (2004) and the European Union (2007).[6] Using cultural heritage values applied to the paradoxical case of the House of the People in Bucharest, my paper will mitigate between the claims of the post-communist order in Romania and alternative definitions of social reality that go beyond that order.

Despite the objective logic implied in my introduction - to somehow summarize the views on the state, cultural processes and social consciousness in a country- I cannot avoid relating to the topic from a very personal point of view; I am myself involved in many of the stakes that comprise the cultural scene in Romania, endeavoring to fill gaps in critical discourse, and in working and production conditions. I therefore take my own subjectivity into account, as a cultural insider living and working in Romania and the United States, as a lens for working through events that are oftentimes presented from a constructed objectivity. By contrast, my analysis foregrounds the experience of communism and post-communism as historically bound and intensely personal.

The difficulties for most outsiders in understanding the specificity of Romania and generally Eastern Europe, lie in the complexity of their context. With its many layers of repressed histories, interrupted narratives and syncretic influences, this context does not assimilate into the linear progression of history and culture in most Western countries.[7] Added to this, there is a common perception of the Eastern countries as still uncivilized - according to mainly Western cultural criteria. The reasoning behind this backwardness is constructed around the theory of over 50 year oppression that these peoples have suffered under the influence of the Soviet Union or local autocratic regimes. The latter represents the case of Romania, whose initially popular president, Nicolae Ceaușescu (1965-1989),[8] first broke the country’s alignment with the Sovit Union and then imposed an increasingly ruthless dictatorship under the guise of communist ideals. [9] Related to this perception, East-European countries have developed an inferiority complex, dominating their self-image and placing them in a constant struggle to fit in with Western cannons, despite obvious divergences. This process is intimately linked to national identity and nationalist ideology, a recurring trend in a region at the intersection of Empires (Austrian, Hungarian, Ottoman, Russian etc.), threatening to engulf its culture. Thus, the complex of inferiority can be understood in different ways, somewhere between current nationalist right-wing aesthetic and political trends in Romania to the glossing perspective of Western liberal democracy - which risks overlooking context and becoming a form of oppression in itself. Furthermore, even though both Eastern and Western countries exist under the sign of a united Europe (or the project of the EU), this identity can have conflicting meanings, given the unresolved legacies of the communist period, which affectively[10] inform social identity in the East. Under a fusing strategy which involves leveling differences to built a more homogenous community according to EU standards, Romania remains relegated to backwardness. Unable and unsupported in achieving a viable post-modernity on its own terms, the country is still struggling to enact a liberal democracy, which has no pre-1989 traditions in this region[11].

The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek goes further in arguing that the very concept of liberal democracy is based on implicit exclusion: “The split between democracy and non-democracy is the very form of universality of the liberal democracy: the liberal democratic “new world order” affirms its universal scope by way of imposing this split as the determining antagonism, the structuring principle[...] The very identity of the liberal-democratic “order” consists in the scissure which separates the inside from the outside.” [12] While I am not suggesting a global conspiracy of capitalist democracies against Eastern Europe, the fact remains that the pressure of Western standards over the past 20 years has resulted in Romania’s infantilization as a still-learning pupil of democracy . [13] This view is confirmed and exacerbated by still glaring economic differences between East and West.

Without abandoning the idea of a unified Europe, what I want to call into question are the methodologies of unification which collapse differences, as attempts to rationalize according to Western standards cultures of multiple origins like those of Eastern Europe deepen the split described by Zizek. Alternatively, the exchange with Western Europe should be transformed into a more bilateral process, while the European Union strategies for unification should be directed towards expanding the concept of being a European - as much as it is now focused towards imposing standards for belonging to this category. Given these frames, I am arguing for a more nuanced understanding of the complexity, fragmentation and contradictions of Romanian (and East-European) identity . I believe this comprehension can be achieved through cultural and civic models engaged with the politics of the present and extended to consequential alterations of the criteria for a unified Europe.

Part of a larger trend of cross-cultural encounters, the communist legacy in Eastern Europe, in the cultural, social, economical and political spheres, has recently emerged as a global concern . Almost two decades after the 1989 revolutions that ended the communist project, repressed traumatic symptoms, coupled with nostalgia, melancholy and confusion in the social sphere have become manifest in visual culture and public discourse. As I have emphasized, this moment coincides with the expansion of the European Union to the East, and the necessity of former Soviet satellites to adapt to a rampant consumer culture that commodfies the symbols of communist trauma.[14] Through my case-study, I will examine the negotiation of communist legacy in the language of Romanian architecture, in order to unfold the ideological history behind the building project that has come to symbolize the country in its capital city: the House of the People (now The Palace of Parliament) and the Boulevard of Socialist Victory (now The Boulevard of Unity) in Bucharest. First, I will trace the affect of communist ideology through its representations in architectural and the social fiber. My assumption is that the spatial and metonymical impact of this building project is actively involved in the process of negotiation with the traumatic past and the definition of a mêlée identity which seeks a dialogue with the West on even grounds.[15]

At its inception in the early 1980s, the building project was begun in an effort to establish the symbol of a new social order, its monumental presence in the capital’s center would serve to continually remind Romanians of their communal identity under the system and their subservience to the leader at the same time.[16] The building also became a symbol of the nation’s suffering under communism and the daily sacrifices people were in some cases forced to make to the regime and in others willingly adapted to . After 1989, a period of transition ensued in which the symbols of the past were renounced as the new leaders sought to legitimize a new order, while the House became the seat of the Romanian Parliament (the self-proclaimed democratic power in the country) in 1997 and then incorporated a Museum of Contemporary Art in 2004. However, I argue that the ideologies of communist project continued to influence this transition and ultimately transformed the building, ironically (or tragically), into a symbol of consumerism and signifier of Europeanism that nonetheless retained the affect of the pre-1989 period its structure.

Finally, from a heritage perspective, I suggest a cultural solution to the seemingly insurmountable binary between the abuses of communism and the hedonistic appeal of capitalism - by incorporating the House of the People into a frame for General Culture, open for examination, re-evaluation, a site for cultural memory. A tenor of the times, modern communist architecture in the Other Europe is in a state of uncertainty and self-deprecation – a mixture of national shame and pride, of conflicting and mythical narratives, a site of trauma[17]. Accepting the challenge and responsibility for political action in public space would, in my opinion, begin to restore a civic structure to Romanian society, in a state of confusion and degradation between the communist legacy and restructuring according to the free market economy. Instead of thinking in terms of forwards or backwards, I suggest changing the terms of the debate altogether, using the House of the People as an irreducible paradox to disrupt clear-cut, affirmative notions of cultural heritage and universality . My aim is two-fold: to criticize the limitations and consequences of the universal value criteria, inadequate when faced with cultural productions in liminal spaces that escape clear categorizations- spaces in-between the binaries.[18] Secondly, I want to imagine what a cultural examination of historicized trauma may resolve in social consciousness in Romania, inviting processes of remembrance, reconstruction and healing to absorb the site, the capital and the country as a whole.

Disillusionment and oppression: Nicolae Ceaușescu’s “Golden Era”

For over twenty years after World War II, and in accordance with the Yalta agreement, Romania remained under strict influence of the Soviet Union. The country became one of Joseph Stalin's puppet republics, its resources allocated to the Union, while its freedom of expression was stifled within a tight system implemented by a Soviet-Romanian Secret Police, which became inculcated into social consciousness. When Nicolae Ceausescu came to power after Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej[19] in 1965, the general feeling among the Romanian public was that of hope and expectation. A hope that the Soviet dominated nomenclature and intelligentsia would be removed from power, releasing the society from cultural, political and economic constrains it has been suffering. In the 20th century, two times in a row the country had been taken over, split geographically and socially – first by Nazi Germany and then by the Soviet Union - a trauma that was never given time to heal during the subsequent forty years. The moment Ceausescu declared that he would continue Gheorghiu-Dej’s disengagement with the political agenda of the Soviet Union,[20] establishing a “stronger Greater Romania,” he roused patriotic pride that ignited the masses of peasants, workers and intelligentsia alike . After the Soviet Union’s systematic attempts to stamp out national identity, paving the way for a smoother domination, Romania was enthusiastic to follow a leadership that redeemed national values, promising freedom and independence under the guidance of the Romanian Communist Party.

Thirty-five years later, the country would emerge crumbled, after the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu ended with his and his wife’s execution on Christmas morning 1989. What happened in between 1965 and 1989 was the escalation of Ceausescu’s inebriation with power, a gradual relapse into Stalinist practices of terror and control. Nonetheless, Romanians adapted to this neo-Stalinist model, sometimes through “hedging, ”[21] that is the ability to lead multiple lives – speaking in layered codes opaque to informers, and sometimes to friends and family, gesturing that what one said or did and what one meant were two very different things.

This unmentionable and unmentioned social schizophrenia existed at the same time with the official rhetoric, based on a controlled host of appropriate topics which excluded religion, poverty, sex, abortion, dissidents, prisons, forced labor, un-prescribed philosophy or political theory, etc. Under the guise of patriotism, the dictator established an ideological chain – Romania, The Party, Ceausescu – that equated disobedience with being an enemy of the nation. The Leader of the Party thus inflamed the masses, cultivating an identity of heroism and sacrifice :

Under the guidance of the Party, the proletariat was appointed with the grand mission to ensure the realization of the great aspirations of the people – freedom, independence, sovereignty. [22]

Indeed harsh legislation imposed shortages in all areas of public life: food, electricity, medical care became increasingly scarce, then agonizing towards the end of the 1980s. The Securiatate, the Romanian secret police, tightened the Nomenclature’s grip on the nation engendering a state of paranoia and fear that caused one in six Romanians to become informers. As bleak as this reality may seem, it was nonetheless the system in which over 20 million people willingly participated in, on various degrees.

Even when the utopia of socialism was exposed as a ruse to support something closer to the previously decried regimes, Romanians were complicit in maintaining the repression in place. Corruption, self-censorship, conformity and patriotic guilt were some of the focal parameters of Romanian reality. During the 1980s, the country resembled a ghetto that Ceausescu began decorating with his own vision of the perfect socialist state. From the outside Romania appeared to be a country on the path to recovery after the Soviet influence, an image fed to the West via the busy printing presses of the Communist newspaper, the Spark, which ran in English, French, German and Italian. [23] However, survivors of the time knew the harsh realities that led to impossible choices between immorality and survival, becoming an ally of the regime or facing starvation, imprisonment, and sometimes torture, being ostracized within the country that one was forbidden to leave. In visual culture, the most potent embodiment of these painful contradictions , Ceausescu’s self-proclaimed “Era of Light,” is the Palace and Boulevard he built in Bucharest.

The Palace was part of Ceausescu’s plan to reshape Bucharest after the monumental structures he had seen in North Korea and China on a trip in 1971, having witnessed the intense power these structures conveyed over the people, glorifying socialism and their ideological creators. It was also a response to the Soviet monumental projects, in particular the House of the Spark in Bucharest, modeled after the “Seven Sisters “ project in Moscow, the latter initiated by the Stalin leadership. The architecture of Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, and the command Kim II-Sung[24] held over his people were so compelling to Ceausescu and his wife that they visited the city on five different occasions: 1971, 1978, 1980, 1982 and 1985. [25] By contrast the Korean presidential couple only visited Bucharest in 1975 and 1980, and was not taken with the classical bourgeois city. But soon, the 19th century chic of the “Paris of Eastern Europe,” as Bucharest was popularly referred to by Europeans, would be replaced by something very different. As his Korean counterpart, Ceausescu’s politics included an ideology of nationalism and socialism reinforced with terror, politics which would be reflected in the colossal Palace he envisioned for himself.


[1] Lynn Meskell “Negative Heritage and Past Mastering in Archaeology”, Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 75, No. 3, 2002: pg. 557–74.

[2] For a critique of the representations of communist culture as a new form of consumption in Europe see the film produced by Joanne Richardson and David Rych, Red Tours, Berlin, Transient Spaces, 2010, 49’.

[3] Vasile Ernu, Born in the USSR, (Bucharest: Polirom, 2006).

[4] Alexei Yurchak, Everything was forever, until it was no more: The last Soviet generation, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).

[5] Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as Civilization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

[6] Romania joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on March 29, 2004 following the decision taken at the Prague Summit, in November 2002. On January 1st 2007, Romania (together with Bulgaria) joined the European Union (EU), having its original 1995 application for membership finally approved.

[7] The expression “interrupted histories” was introduced by Slovenian art historian Zdenka Badovinac in 2006. Badovinac curated an exhibition with the same name at Moderna Galerija in Ljubjliana, Slovenia. The exhibition presented works from Eastern European and Middle Eastern artists, representative of areas that have not been able to integrate fully the processes of modernity, for political and economic reasons. Interrupted Histories probed the implications of the absence of standardized historicization in regions on the margins of the Western World, while suggesting cultural models needed in the process of historicization.

[8] For a detailed description of the socio-political-economic and cultural aspects of Ceaușescu’s regime see Dennis Deletant,Romania Unider Communist Rule, (Oxford: The Center for Romanian Studies, 1999).

[9] Nicolae Ceaușescu (1918- 1989) joined the illegal Union of Communist Youth in 1933 and the Romanian Communist Party (RCP) in 1936. He was imprisoned for his political activities from 1936 to 1938 and from 1940 to 1944. After the Red Army entered Bucharest in 1944, he was made a secretary of the Central Committee of the Union of Communist Youth. In 1945 to 1948 and from 1952 to 1989 he was a member of the Central Committee of the RCP. From 1948 to 1950 he was Deputy Minister of Agriculture and from 1950 to 1954 he was Deputy Minister of the Armed Forces. He became a secretary of the Central Committee of the RCP in April 1954 and a member of the Politburo in 1955. From 1957 to 1965 he was effectively the second in command in Romania under Gheorghiu-Dej. When the latter died in 1965, Ceauşescu became General Secretary of the RCP. In 1967 he became head of state and in 1969 made himself President of the Defence Council and supreme commander of the armed forces. Ceauşescu followed a foreign policy partly independent of the Soviet Union. In 1968 Ceauşescu denounced the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia. At the beginning of the 1970s he played an important part in the re-establishment of relations between the USA and China. Throughout the 1970s he strove to increase trade with the West. In domestic policy Ceaușescu put great emphasis on Romanian nationalism and repressed the large Hungarian minority in Transylvania. His rule was marked by nepotism and the cult of personality. Opposition was ruthlessly suppressed by the secret police, the Securitate. At the beginning of the 1980s Ceauşescu introduced an austerity program in order to pay off Romania's foreign debt. The great hardship which this caused was increased by his program of "systematization", the uprooting of traditional villages at the end of the decade. In December 1989 the city of Timişoara revolted when human rights protests were brutally suppressed. The unrest spread to Bucharest, where the Soviet Union backed a coup against Ceauşescu by elements of the RCP and the army. He fled the capital with his wife Elena on 22 December, but was captured. The couple were tried by a military tribunal and shot on 25 December 1989.

[10] For the relationship between affect and context see Charles Altieri, The Particulars of Rapture: An Aesthetic of the Affect(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003).

[11] Most of present-day Romania (consisting of the regions of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia) was the Roman province of Dacia from about 100 to 271 C.E. Between the 3rd to the 12th century, migratory populations conquered the native Daco-Roman population. The Bulgarian Empire (8th–10th century) introduced Eastern Orthodox Christianity to the Romanians. In the 11th century, Transylvania was integrated into the Hungarian empire. By the 16th century, the principalities of Moldavia and Walachia had become annexes of the Ottoman Empire. In 1829, after the Russo-Turkish War, they became Russian protectorates. The Romanian Nation became a kingdom in 1881 after being internationally recognized at the Congress of Berlin. At the start of World War I, Romania joined the Allied side and in 1916 declared war on the Central Powers. The armistice of 1918 awarded Romania territories from Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire: Bessarabia, Transylvania, and Bukovina. Banat, a Hungarian area, was divided with Yugoslavia. King Carol II Hohenzollern was crowned in 1930 and imposed a royal dictatorship. In 1940, the country was reorganized around the Fascist Iron Guard, which became the nucleus of the new totalitarian party. In the same year the Soviet Union occupied Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. King Carol II dissolved the Parliament, granted the new prime minister, Ion Antonescu, full power and went into exile. Romania subsequently signed the Axis Pact and joined in Germany's attack on the Soviet Union, reoccupying Bessarabia. Following the invasion of Romania by the Red Army in 1944, King Michael led a coup that ousted the Antonescu government. Later that year, an armistice with the Soviet Union was signed in Moscow. A Communist-dominated government bloc won elections in 1946, King Michael abdicated on Dec. 30, 1947, and in 1955 Romania joined the Warsaw Treaty Organization and the United Nations. From 1967–1989, Nicolae Ceaușescu imposed a neo-Stalinist dictatorship, turning a moderately prosperous country into one at the brink of starvation. Allegedly to repay a $10 billion foreign debt in 1982, he pillaged the Romanian economy of everything that could be exported, leaving the country with desperate shortages of food, fuel, and other essentials. An army-supported coup d’état in December 1989 led to Ceaușescu 's overthrow, trial, and execution.

[12] Slavoj Žižek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel and the Critique of Ideology (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), Introduction.

[13] For a discussion on the crippling effects of similar designations applied to Eastern Europe in the post-communist transition (“children of democracy,” “education for democracy,” “democratic exams,” “growing and maturing democracy”) see Boris Burden, “Children of Postcommunism, Radical Philosophy, January/February 2010.

[14] See for example Marius Babias, ed., European Influenza (Venice: Romanian Pavillion, La Biennale de Venezia, 51. Espozitione Internazionale D’Arte, 2005).

[15] Eastern Europe is commonly described by the term hybrid, however, I argue that hybridization is a déjà-accompli term which fails to accurately describe the continuous process of cultural mixing in the region. Instead, I prefer the term “mêlée” - coined by the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, to describe the processual nature of cultural bricolage that leads to hybridization and heterogeneity in language, literature and culture. As Nancy argues “in a mêlée, there is opposition and encounter, there is what gathers itself and that which separates, that which makes contact and that which makes contract, that which concentrates and that which is spread out, that which identifies and that which alters.” Mêlée also presupposes that the entities involved are not pure in themselves, but also product of mixing- as a positive concept. See Jean-Luc Nancy, “In praise of the mêlée” in A finite thinking, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993): pg. 277-288.

[16] Bucharest had been moderately affected by Stalinist planning in 1965 when Ceaușescu came to power. Ceaușescu launched a transformation that lasted until his execution in December 1989. The first phase, 1965- 1980, altered the outskirts of Bucharest and surrounding villages, changing the administrative districts, enlarging certain boulevards, and intensifying apartment-block construction. During the second phase, 1980-1989, large areas of the center of Bucharest were razed to make way for monumental structures and routes, as well as the completion of the subway system. See also Darrick Danta, “ Ceaușescu ’s Bucharest,” Geographical Review, Vol 83, No. 2 (April 1993), pg. 170-182.

[17] For global perspective on trauma in commonly marginalized regions such as Eastern Europe, the Middle East or Latin America see eds. Bruce Lawrence and Aisha Karim, On Violence: A Reader, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).

[18] The anthropologist Victor Witter Turner coined the term “liminality” to describe a person, a group or a territory in-between existential places . See Victor Witter Turner, "Liminality and Communitas", in The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure(New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction Press, 2008).

[19] Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej (1901- 1965), was prime minister between 1952–1955 and president of Romania’s State Council between 1961–1965. Having become a revolutionary after World War I, Gheorghiu-Dej joined the then-outlawed Romanian Communist Party in 1930 and was sentenced to 12 years’ hard labour. Escaping prison in 1944, he had established himself as secretary general of the party by the time Romania changed sides and join the Allies against Germany. Between 1945 and 1965, Gheorghiu-Dej served as first secretary of the Communist Party while simultaneously holding key posts in government economic planning. Strictly adhering to the goals of socialization laid down by Moscow, he promoted the development of industry in Romania. In 1952, after purging the party of his rivals, Gheorghiu-Dej became prime minister. He adopted economic and foreign policies that served Romania’s national interests rather than those of international socialism. He resigned as prime minister in 1955 but assumed the position of president of the State Council in 1961. In the mid-1960s Gheorghiu-Dej also demonstrated Romania’s independence from Soviet domination by forming cordial relations with non-communist nations and with the People’s Republic of China, which had also become alienated from the Soviet Union. His foreign policy was accompanied by a relaxation of internal repression, but there was no democratization of political life.

[20] For the relationship between the Ceaușescu and Dej regimes see Johanna Granville, "Dej-a-Vu: Early Roots of Romania's Independence," East European Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Winter 2008), pg. 365-404.

[21] See Kristine Stiles, "Shaved Heads and Marked Bodies: Representations From Cultures of Trauma" (1993), in Bruce Lawrence and Aisha Karim, eds., On Violence: An Anthology (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press 2007), pg. 522-538.

[22] Dinu Sararu, Architect and Builder of the Nation, (Bucharest: Meridiane, 2003), pg. 22.

[23] For a review of Romania in the 1980s see Mark Almond, Decline Without Fall: Romania Under Ceaușescu, (London: Alliance Publishers, 1988) and Dennis Deletant, Ceausesu and the Securitate (London: Hurst and Company, 1995).

[24] Kim II Sung(1912 –1994) was a Korean communist politician who led North Korea from its founding in 1948 until his death in 1994. He held the posts of Prime Minister from 1948 to 1972 and President from 1972 to his death. He was also the General Secretary of the Workers Party of Korea. During leadership of North Korea, he imposed an autocratic rule and established a pervasive cult of personality.

[25] For a discussion of the profound effect the Asian experiences had on Ceaușescu ’s politics see Katherine Verdery,National Ideology Under Socialism, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), pg 107.