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Communism is gone. And with it, the whole programme of “climbing on the upper stairs of history” (by political, economic and cultural transformations) failed, too. Interestingly enough, it could be asserted that, during the 1989 changes, we have all witnessed the failure of, not one type of communism, but to that of more. By this statement, I am referring to the fact that these total transformations – as the main declaratory purpose of the communist regimes – have been pursued in societies with some of the most diverse historical and cultural traditions (leading to what can be labeled as the nationalizations of communism).
In his book, “Politics in Eastern Europe”(1), Schopflin argues in a very limitative way that “the pre[communism]-existing systems had been destroyed and nothing lasting was put in their place”. He however does not take into consideration the exact point mentioned earlier and the fact that, when talking about a political community, there can be no such discourse about a political culture vacuum.
No matter whether the exponents of a traditionalist-type political culture or a civic culture (2) one, people will always have some interiorized values, beliefs, emotions, representations about the political life in general and will always develop behavioral responses accordingly. Regime and society have a continuous and systematic impact on one another as structure and culture could and will be viewed as establishing mutual, though not necessarily equal limits for one another” (3).
This paper tries to answer (in a very modest way, both in what concerns its extent and its scientific instruments – mainly inferential) to one of Archie Brown’s challenges, namely the analysis of the relationship between political culture and political change (4) applied to the Romanian case.
More precisely, it is concerned to answer to a few questions related to one another: How did communism influence the political culture of Romanians? Did it succeed in its attempt of transforming the official political culture into a dominant (5) one, meaning the total changing of the society and its political culture? Are the present arguments that the main flaws of the Romanian society’s political culture are to be found in the communist rule legitimated?
This is, actually, the reason that explains the subject of the paper: the discourses, which sustain that Romanian political culture was perverted (exclusively) by the communist regime, are simple stereotypes and should be abandoned in favor of a more sensitive to a large diversity of arguments approach.
Political culture variables are subject to the continuity and change interpretation. This paper is trying to uncover mainly the continuities in Romanian political culture by an analysis at the community level, ignoring thus both the regime and the elite political cultures as conceptualized by Jowitt (6). However, an explanatory note is to be made – the legacy of backwardness, which will be detailed latter on, acted in the direction of reproaching the elites’ political culture to the one of the community. Especially during communism are these facts obvious. The political elites were exclusively selected from within the party that, in its turn, recruited its members from the peasant-working class. Because of this fact, there were great similarities between the previously mentioned political culture of the elite and the community
One central debate in post communist Romania is the lack of democratic experience and thus the lack of interiorized democratic values of the Romanian citizens(7). The main thesis of this paper is that communist political culture has not represented a break with a “glorious past” (and the implicit glorious political culture) of the Romanians but rather a variation of not such a “glorious” society after all.
The historical approach will be a circular one. Starting from a few empirical facts about the contemporary Romanian political culture, the paper will point to the interwar regimes (but not exclusively, since some references to further moments back in the past will be accounted) for the discovery of the roots of the post-communist political culture (8). It will analyze the reinforcing influence communism had on many of these variables, and then return to present and close the circle. Because of that, the analysis will focus on the discovery of some kind of general continuity, without paying much attention to the deviations, particularities or exceptions, but rather to something like a Romanian political culture trend. This over justification (9) is legitimized by the function of this paper, namely, to offer an example of alternative interpretation and not to represent a full-scale interpretation.
The instruments used are mainly inferential (although some empirical evidence was also available (10)). Starting from a more(11) or less (12) general bibliography, the paper is structured on analyzing two main Romanian political culture features both closely related to one another – the tendency towards an interpretation of the state in an authoritarian and paternalist register on the one hand and the people’s lack of self-awareness (as being citizens). These two features mirror the so debated Romanians’ “democratic deficit”.
The concept of political culture used was that of Kenneth Jowitt (13) in the Almond and Verba tradition (14) that focuses on both the values, beliefs, emotions and mutual representations and on the patterns of behavior of these individuals.
When thinking about the role of the state, Romanian people tend to have an authoritarian (15) and paternalistic (16) interpretation of its status and role that is to be searched for far back into the past; and the legacy of backwardness is quite susceptible of giving the right answers.
The paternalistic preference has deep roots in the Romanian traditional politics. The leader of the Romanians was the one guiding his (no “she” leader is identifiable) servants “like the shepherd his sheep”. Representing the materialization of Weber’s ideal-type of traditional rule, he was frequently perceived as being the father of the people, the one providing them with food and shelter, the one guarding their lives, because owner of everything. The great influence state had on society was preserved in the interwar period, the political elite being – under the circumstances of a lack of a strong middle class to assume such a role – the leader of the modernization process. Not surprising at all, modernization was achieved under communism (17). The industrialization and its complementary process of urbanization meant the transformation of a large part of the peasants into workers and their migration to cities. The result – the peasant-worker class – explains the paternalist interpretations, both by pointing at the peasant roots (and thus a traditional political culture) and by underlying another aspect. Because communist products, the party state proved to workers that it had something to offer – a flat (no matter whether peripheral or not), a working place, “a secure future”. The result was a community accustomed with being taken care of or at least being told what to do.
It is a well-known fact that ‘democracies are noisy’ because the guarantee (generate and allow) and organize conflict. This leads us to another important aspect in the Romanian political culture – the tendency to look up to the state as being authoritarian. The logical consequence of the traditional paternalistic view was that the prince was not only the protector but also the commander of its people. He was the sole owner of justice and law, which were, for that reason, organically linked to him: “for almost six centuries, in the Romanians’ view, the law had been personalized, alive and embodied in the image of the prince” (18). There was no external owner of the truth, fact reinforced by the coming to power of the communism. As general truths were the exclusive product of the ideology, they were organically linked to the party and its leaders. Any form of faction was banned and silence was deepened. Nowadays, Romanian political culture seems to make more and more appeal to the need for order and salience and their positive evaluation underlines the slip towards authoritarianism Romanians are prone to.
The leading role the state had on its citizens’ lives explains up to a point the passive attitude they adopted. Furthermore, this cleans the path to us considering the lack of self-awareness of the people as being the central subjects of politics.
Despite the passing of the years, Romanians still perceive themselves in a limited functional way – being simply an object of achieving different personal goals of the political elite. This perception and its historical roots are to be found far in the past since the mass of [Romanian] society has historically been excluded from political recognition and participation”(19). The authoritarian state of the ‘shepherd’ mentioned earlier and of the communist rule had a founding principle based on obedience (no matter whether conditioned or not).
The relation dominators-dominated has always been a strict one, underlying the hierarchical aspect of the society and the representations it implied. The only difference was the nature on the discriminatory variables. Initially, class-based hierarchy laid at the foundation of the society and one could hardly trespass it. The peasants and boyars represented the two major classes of the Romanian society. No important middle-class was to be identified, making the challenging of power merely impossible. In the interwar period, despite the “faade politics”(20), participation remained merely the privilege of the elite; the few areas of autonomy (political, economical, social and religious) have not succeeded in helping people to develop self-perceptions of active political actors. The communism, although egalitarian in speech, reinforced the rigid and hierarchical aspect of society and continued the interwar flow (royal dictatorship, extreme-right regime and that of Antonescu) towards the limiting (to almost annulment) of the political participation. The class cleavage was replaced, as Jowitt underlines, by the party/non-party members cleavage (21). Privileges were granted in exchange for a membership card (22) and loyalty (at least declaratory) towards the party and its policies. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that this was not the only existing cleavage, nor the most important. Considering that 14.6% of the total population (23) had joined the Romanian Communist Party (in 1983), it is obvious that a simple member card would not have been enough. Thus, a strong cleavage inside the Party between just simple members and elite elements was also detectable.
Looking back in time, it is easily visible that people perceived the state as overwhelmingly spoliator. This perception provoked the opening of a gap between state and society (the reduction to the minimum of the contacts with the state and its elite naturally followed), the public sphere being feared and looked at as being hostile (24). Resempt, fear, suspicion were the main ingredients of Romanian political culture in terms on political participation. Because of this, people developed a dissimulative attitude (25) in the inherent contacts of the individuals with the state. Unwrapping further on this reality, it comes as a consequence that, having the desire to limit to the maximum the contacts with the state, people tried to find means for a faster achievement of their goals on the public sphere. What resulted was a large-scale phenomenon of corruption through the means of “pile” and “bacsis”/”mita”.
It is largely (and wrongly) believed that these phenomena mentioned above were the results of the influence corrupted Romanian communism had on Romanian society as a whole. By the privileges it granted to important members of the Party, ignoring thus individual professionalism and responsibility, communism and its mechanisms of recruiting the political elite have corrupted the representations of ordinary people. This is true up to a point, as communism was not a break with the traditional political culture but rather a strong factor that reinforced the already existing values, beliefs, representations and so on. The phenomenon of mita, Barbu argues (26) has been the fundamental principle intervening in the interaction between authorities and communities in the Romanian Ancient Regime. It was not a peripheral aspect of these interactions but rather a central and natural (and perceive as such) one. The examples Barbu provides us are suggestive: the ordinary people looked at the rules who did not accept any kind of material “stimuli” as being very rare but also quite strange. “The corruption, abuse, traffic of influence, even publicly exposed, remained power producing instruments” and were not formally incriminated until the penal code of Alexandru Ipsilanti (27) from the end of the XVIII-th century. The Romanian interwar literature is full of examples that underline the generalization at the society level of these phenomena; the whole debate on the modernization of Romania and the means to achieve it was centered on the political culture of its people (28).
Kenneth Jowitt’s article analyzes the pile and mita/bacsis phenomena during the communist regime and underlines their functional importance: these attitudes and behaviors were supposed to first gain the public official’s attention, to recognize his or her social status and to stimulate his or her goodwill (29). It is obvious now that the nowadays corruption phenomenon is not as superficial as it seems, but rather a fundamental representation of the community political culture whose roots are to be searched for far back in the past.
The democratic deficit in the Romanian political culture has a very important consequence – the common belief has always been (and still is) that citizenship should be interpreted in terms of ethnicity and religion. These two features are inseparable not only from the historical point of view, but also from the political perspective. Nationalism has always been used in the political discourse: from the liberals to the interwar extreme-right movement and the communist state, it represented a very suitable way of legitimating a regime. However, it was communism the one to rediscover and emphasize the nationalistic sentiment, by the continuous use of historical myths. From Burebista and Decebal, to Mircea cel Batran, Stefan cel Mare and Mihai Viteazu, almost all historical personalities (30) were confiscated. The reinvented myth of Mihai Viteazu on 13 September 1968-balcony speech is exemplary. Under these circumstances, the present fame of Sergio Nicolaescu’s films (31) does notcome as a surprise as it underlines the impact communist ideology has had on the Romanian political culture.
The present paper tried to offer an example of alternative political culture approach to the present Romanian stereotypical discourse. It has shown how the principle of change cannot and should not be divided from the one of continuity when talking about political cultures in general and Romanian political culture in particular. The theories about political culture vacuums or those about fundamental unidirectional changes (from structure to culture) in political culture are flawed, as there is a continuous interaction and influence between culture and structure in any political community. This is the reason why, an analysis about the roots of the present Romanian political culture should be searched not in the communist influence but elsewhere, further back in time.
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