BUCHAREST, ROMANIA. -- Eight months have passed since the revolution that overturned Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship in December 1989, and Romanian culture is now facing a crisis that can be summed up as follows: a lack of paper, old printing equipment, disorganization and chaos.
The revolution caused a true explosion of newspapers, journals and all kinds of publications. Before last December the published periodicals in Romania (pop. 23 million) consisted of three or four central political newspapers, about 30 others in the counties (mostly weeklies) and some 10 to 15 cultural reviews, most of them put out by the Writers' Union; today, the number of publications is getting pretty close to 1,500. The number of pages of each publication has also increased. A newspaper rarely had more than four pages in the past. Now many of them are 8 to 16 pages long. Circulation has also increased dramatically (a thousand times maybe) for all of them.
Under these conditions, a shortage of printing facilities has become apparent. Publishing houses do not have offset facilities or any other fast printing devices. The type is set on machines that are often half a century old. This enormous increase in printed material has two explanations and one consequence. The first explanation is that the revolution suddenly freed people's long suppressed need for public expression, and this need found its most effective channel through the printed media since television requires more time and money for a similar development to occur. The second cause is financial. Soon after December 1989, the profits made from the sales of newspapers and journals skyrocketed. The free market found here an ideal place to manifest itself. Circulations were established according to a demand that was practically unlimited. And so were the prices. The State had no control in these areas any longer. However, paper and printing equipment continued to belong to the state. Both the private publications and those owned by state institutions made use of them in equal proportion. Very soon a dead end was reached. Some attempts at protectionist measures led nowhere. The First Paradox The first paradox is precisely the consequence I mentioned above: the paper and the lead (for type) used in printing newspapers have had to be taken from somewhere else, i.e., from book printing. As a result, fewer books are now printed. Books take more time, money and labor, therefore books have grown unattractive for printers, eager to earn fast money. In 1989, the last year of Ceausescu's dictatorship and the poorest from the point of view of book printing in the whole last quarter of a century, about 1,600 titles were printed in Romania (against 3,200 titles a decade earlier). Only a little over 400 titles have been printed during the first six months of 1990.
All of a sudden the Romanian revolution has freed Romanian culture, but it has also drastically cut down the number of books available for cultural consumption. The Second Paradox THE FEELING of all of us -- the writers' to begin with -- soon after December 1989, was not only one of great inner liberation, but also a sense that we had reappropriated our own history. Most of those writing nowadays in Romania are people born during the communist regime (established here after August 1944). Only those now over 65 can claim to have consciously lived for a brief while under another political system. It is true that the ties with the past have never been completely severed. For a writer, the awareness of the tradition to which he or she belongs is as significant as the desire for novelty, for change.
As for our relationship with the cultural past, two distinct eras unfolded in the history of Romanian communism. Between 1944-1964 came the age of proletcult, which urged a separation from one's roots in the unrealistic hope of devising a brand-new culture of a proletarian type. But at that time many of the writers were people born before the Second World War, who had preserved intact both their personal recollections and their personal libraries. Consequently, the breaking away from the past could not have been, as the communist culturniks would have liked it, clear-cut and definitive.
After 1964, for political reasons, the Romanian Communist Party decided to renew ties with the national tradition. (The main reason for this was a breaking away from Soviet influence.) Both Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and his successor Nicolae Ceausescu wanted this to happen and managed to achieve it. Romanian national-communism, dominant after Ceausescu's "cultural revolution" of 1971, started long before when, in April 1964, Gheorghiu-Dej ordered an anti-Soviet campaign. Under these conditions, the connection with the Romanian national past was officially reinstated. Writers took advantage of it, in spite of the elements of ideological "fundamentalism" brought about by the 1971 cultural revolution, which distorted considerably the natural direction of the tradition.
So here is the second paradox: The moral liberation and the ability to rewrite the national history in a true-to-life manner have not yet found their expression because of a strange (though understandable) neurosis experienced by most Romanian cultural figures today. This neurosis consists of an inability to benefit from freedom: in short, of an inability to write. The Late Literary Boom NONE OF the very few books printed in the last eight months was written very recently. Poets and novelists are now publishing works conceived and written before the revolution. One exception is the essay, whether political, social, philosophical or literary. Essays are published nowadays in great numbers, in journals if not in books. The neurosis of the fiction writer is directly related to the unexpected change of rules in the cultural game.
In the past, Romania had no samizdat. Ceausescu's intolerant political regime was still somewhat tolerant culturally. Most books could be published officially, even some critical of the regime itself. The dominant literary genre in the '70s and '80s was mostly the social and political novel, rooted in contemporary history, and written in the style of a very tough, often grotesque, realism. Almost all the writers of that time published such novels, from Marin Preda to Alexandru Ivasiuc, from Augustin Buzura to Constantin Toiu. Several of the authors held high official positions within the communist party or state. Some of the darkest images of the regime can be found, for instance, in D.R. Popescu's novels (the ex-president of the Writers' Union and a member of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party). Poetry also had its glorious time then, when Ana Blandiana, Ileana Malancioiu, Mircea Dinescu (the president of the Writers' Union today), Dorin Tudoran (in exile in the USA since 1985) and others published politically courageous poems.
How could this have happened? The extra-literary cause of this phenomenon was the trap Ceausescu's regime set for itself: Against a background of nationalistic verbiage and the dictator's cult (which produced a kind of unpalatable "new national culture"), it was impossible to eliminate the novelists and poets who represented the true Romanian culture. Only during the last two or three years did such an elimination become possible, thanks to the general deterioration of the relationship between power and the people. The literary cause of the phenomenon was the development of an Aesop-like, allusive and highly refined literary language: Everybody in Romania took to reading between the lines; everything became subject to interpretation, a carrier of a hidden meaning. In 1989, Ana Blandiana was censored for having printed a volume of children's poems in which there was a piece about "A Tomcat Named Arpagic" that seemed to allude to Ceausescu himself. The enormity of the connection thus made testifies to the very bizarre manner in which literary subjects were judged by the censors.
It is certain that Romania had, under the most horrible dictatorship in Eastern Europe in this century, one of the most interesting and courageous of literatures. This literature was not even secretly printed, like that in the Soviet Union or Poland, but brought out openly, by the publishing houses run by the state and bearing the approval of the unaware censors. Freedom and Neurosis BUT HOW do we write nowadays? How will we write from now on? These questions are the source of much concern for most Romanian writers. The Writers' Union recently became a kind of trade union of the writing profession. Publishing houses have become, one after another, private enterprises. Anyone may write anything he or she likes. The new rulers, in power after the elections of May 20, 1990, seem interested only in political control, thus allowing an absolute freedom for culture. The dream of the writers of the previous decades has now come true: namely, the separation of art and politics.
Funny thing, though: This dream comes true at a time when writers no longer want to be separated from politics. The liberation of our moral energies brought about an unexpected consequence: the writer's involvement in politics. Newspapers are full of political articles. No governmental moves, no presidential gestures escape notice and comment. The Romanian writer today is a political animal, which he or she has not been willingly for over half a century. As a result, fictional literature suffers from neurosis. The imaginary is constantly overrun by reality. The repression of the demonstration from the University Square in Bucharest (June 13-15, 1990) by the police, aided by miners, offered more topics for meditation (and for worry!) than any other moral, political or cultural event.
The crisis of fiction is at the same time a crisis of reading. Everybody in today's Romania is dealing with politics and is reading the newspapers. Books are no longer being read, and literature is no longer made. Is it a disease of society in general? A chronic disease of Romania in particular? We Romanians cannot help seeing that the rebirth of our democracy (assuming it lasts!) resembles quite well its very birth, more than a century ago. The most famous Romanian playwright of the 19th century and of the beginning of the 20th, I.L. Caragiale, depicted in vivid colors and with a comical bent, an early version of our national democracy. And what do we find in his plays? We see all his characters politicking and reading newspapers, while nothing around them runs properly, and a moral and economic crisis is in full swing. We see, in other words, precisely what we have been seeing around us, during these eight months that have passed since December 1989.
Nicolae Manolescu, professor of Romanian literature at the University of Bucharest, has been since April 1990 the editor of Romania Literara, the journal of the Writers' Union of Romania.