Romania: Twilight of the intellectuals
29 March 2012
Writer Mircea Cărtărescu argues that since the fall of communism Romanian society has been characterised by bad taste, physical and verbal violence, sexism and racism. Worse still, at a time when populism is emerging in the country’s media, Romanian intellectuals are increasingly ignored.
I wonder why Romanian society produces such conflictual personalities... I have traveled here and there and lived for several years in Western countries, although I cannot say I am aware of all the ins and outs of those places as I am in Romania.
That said, I have no doubt that nowhere else could you find a society with so much negativity, where so many sick souls eager for revenge on anything and everything – on others, on themselves and on life itself – have risen to the surface.
That is not to say that Romanians in general do not want to live in harmony. I have always said that our nation is composed of a mass of good, intelligent and sensible people, but their voice is not sufficiently loud to make itself heard.
However, there is no escaping the din created by a small extremely vocal group of individuals who clearly have trouble relating to the rest of the world.
This fraction of our society is the one people find shocking: and it is shocking not only to Romanians, but also to people who come here to visit, or who come in contact with it abroad.
Power to the uncivilised and uneducated
Romanians of this sort give the impression that we are all alike. They are the ones whose disdain for the law is matched by their contempt for people in general, and a willingness to behave like selfish monsters.
These are the ones who, without batting an eyelid, will argue that black is white and white is black. And they are everywhere: in politics, in our cast of television "celebrities", in forums, stadiums, and in our neighbours homes.
One cannot help wondering how and why our society produces so much boorishness, so much physical and verbal violence, so much sexism and racism, and all the other evils that accompany such attitudes.
In the modern era, I believe that communism played an essential role in the development of these deep-rooted phenomena, because not only did it bring about a social revolution but it also ushered in a revolution in attitudes which propagated class hatred, destroyed the thin veneer of civilisation we had in this country, and gave power to the uncivilised and uneducated.
Today the inheritors of this culture have appropriated what is perhaps the greatest achievement of the post-Decembrist era [the revolution of 1989, which marked the end of the communist era], the establishment of freedom of speech, as a springboard to public life. And now that they have all decided to speak out, those who are the most obnoxious with the most strident voices are the ones who are heard above all the others.
The barbarous elimination of culture
Not only are they outspoken, but these people who have neither competence nor moral authority are also intent on harassing intellectuals, who are hunted down like deer by wolves, and forced to contend with the relentless hatred of individuals who do not read their books, but resent their popularity because it highlights their own human and professional shortcomings.
At the same time, we have seen a small group of individuals resort to intimidation and insults to exclude civilised people from public debate where they would have used freedom of expression for a calm exchange of ideas.
As it stands, Romania is about to be marked by the rise to power, not of the active and educated middle class, which we would all love to see in such a position, but of a new populism [a number of populist parties including the PPDD people’s Party have recently emerged in Romanian politics], which will make the populism of the last decade look like a movement of amateurs.
The twilight of the intellectuals can hardly be good news for anyone, because it will pave the way for the twilight of education and the barbarous elimination of culture. As we no longer read, we will not be capable of thought. We will allow the television channels to decide what do and do not like. And we will never succumb to bitterness. We will not feel that we have demeaned democracy or failed to take advantage of the opportunity it represented – as we felt about the opportunity for equality under communism.