Romanian Diagnosis

There are quite a few "psychological complexes" which seem to shape nowadays the popular, maybe even intellectual mentalities and to badly distort people's behavior, as well as their political judgments. It won't hurt pointing our finger at them, speaking their names out loud, even if it were only a hasty enumeration, especially when these complexes reveal themselves easily to the cultural observer. First comes the crisis of the assumed identity. The middle-class Englishman or Frenchman does not seem to feel the urge of stridently repeating who and what he is, unlike the Romanian intellectual or citizen who, as regards this matter, acts with acute nervousness. The borders of the state, the borders of the ego seem always endangered, the doubt concerning his very own legitimacy, existence itself (personal or national) haunts the Romanian's mind and encourages him, for compensation, towards more and more pathetic tirades and noisy-oratorical assertions whose result is diametrically opposed to the followed purpose: they do not consolidate dignity, they do not strengthen the identity in an affirmative way, but they arouse the foreigner's irony, they make the people abroad think there is something peculiar going on, as long as the high tone and the authoritative voice is needed. Everything goes as if this mentality would count December 1918 for an "undeserved surprise," a gift that can easily be taken back if it is not confirmed again and again. The borders of the ego are as new and surprising as the state ones, in many cases this ego has been recently formed; hardly detached from the organic and communitarian magma, it needs to be protected with battle roars or Homeric cries. The second syndrome is that of the orphan, the unfortunate, and the wronged and abandoned offspring. The second comes from the first one, for one might ask himself: is this orphan a bastard? Is he adopted? Is he abandoned? Or is he just hanging around the house? Is it legitimacy or not? These possibilities and a few others are cross one another in disorder in the "national subconscious," giving birth to some sort of blurry anguish. (The scandal and the atrocity of the centers for institutionalized children, discovered at the end of the communist era are, after all, a symbol of the enormous power and emblematic plasticity of the interior ghosts that haunt the Romanians.) The easier way to deal with the situation is to put all the blame upon the shoulders of the supposed parent, who left you in the third century AD when there was the Aurelian situation, who refused to help when there was the Stefan [Stephen the Great] and Mihai [Michael the Brave] situation, who arrogantly mistreated you in the nineteenth century, who filled himself with horrible guilt at Yalta and who still refuses, at the end of the second millennium, to act and solve the issues inside and outside, the financial and the moral ones. (Of course, if he in some way tries to deal with the above issues, to give you a hand, he will be "welcomed" with violent yells: "we don't accept lectures from anyone, we won't sell out our country" – which are all an expression of the fear and uncertainty concerning our very legitimacy and existence.) A case of an unfair and unjust parent, who seems to love better and more carefully protect the Hungarian, the Jew, after all – everyone, but not the "poor Romanian," whose qualities and accomplishments are always denied. Would it not be better (as older generations say, in their hurried proposals, from Pârvan to Drăgan, from N. Ionescu to A. Băcescu) to question the question and to look somewhere else – in Neolithic Thrace, in some mythic paradise – for the justifying genealogies? But the issue is that you cannot so easily escape from this problem of illegitimacy. The proof consists of the amounts of alibis concerning historical efficiency, the success of the nation's practical misfortunes: the other is always to blame, everything happened because of Hungarians and Germans, it is the fault of Greeks and Bulgarians, the fault of Russians, of Turks, the fault of Jews (especially), and, nonetheless, it is the fault of the Americans. As for me, being Romanian, I am not guilty on principle, my purity is always heavenly, more than that, I can do no wrong, even if I tried, so I surely cannot gain any knowledge from an experience which does not exist or if it does it is reduced to a series of undeserved wounds and suffering brought by an unfriendly and unspecific socio-historical medium (the "incarnate evil"). All this can be supplemented with a few more layers that contribute to the thickness of the already formed complexes. One of them (and it is quite easy to find) is the apotheosis of the conspiratorial mentality (again, both popular and intellectual), the strong belief that world history is made up of vast and secret Cabbalas and plots, elaborated by interested and criminal minds and, of course, often cast upon the miserable Romanians. There is also a society's shocking lack of humanity, a society that keeps boasting its wise kindness, measure and sense of nuances. In fact, the individual, who – in his inner self – feels like a small, frightened and abandoned child, thinks he can prove his manhood through violence and imprecation, through cruelty and brutality as regards the women and children, as regards the prisoners and enemies, the old and the weak, the other. Many have seen in this sort of psycho-intellectual mechanisms a profane rough version of the Platonic-orthodox concepts, thousands of years old in Oriental Christianity. Undoubtedly, this dialectic of practically and directly transposing theological concepts would need more time and detail. Instead I consistently use another conceptual pattern (or maybe it is just a ruling metaphor) and that is the social psychology. Because of that I prefer talking about a certain "immaturity." Those who are more accustomed than I to the works of Jean Piaget, the great Swiss psychologist and philosopher, will detect some immediate analogies. When Piaget talks about stages of psychological development in human person, in the individual, about the hard growing up of children, one cannot avoid the parallels with the Romanian mentalities of the moment; the hard feelings, the love-hate contradictions of the care-taking adult, the hesitations in assuming responsibilities over his own activities, and many others. We know that Piaget always dynamically refused the extension of these theories from the individual to social groups, but even so, the analogy still stands on its feet. No objective observer could deny that the political imagery of Romanians does not render them alien to reality. "Immaturity" means, in fact, a great socialization disorder, an incapacity to behave maturely to other mature persons. This collapse can be seen very clearly with Romanians within our borders. It can also be seen, as a permanent presence, with the ones outside borders: even the better "adapted," "Westernized" of them show the same incapacity of entering civilized society. To put it another way, the doubtful fear of the "federal association" concept of decentralization does not seem to be much different from the internal blackouts of the Romanians in their social aggregation with their own kind. Only the punishing tasks and not free will should be the structure of human relationships (as this subconscious inveterate mentalities claim both of the relationships between individuals, groups and social entities). Standing at the border line – unfortunately too well populated these days –, we can say beyond any doubt that the most dangerous enemies of the Romanian people are nowadays the xenophobic, the chauvinistic, the anti-Semitic and anti-Hungarians with their mass organizations, with their fascist newspapers, with their own political parties, with the discrete or direct guidance of informational service which they still have by their side. A syndrome is an obstacle or handicap but when it gets politically solid, it turns into a deadly danger. I claim or I pretend I am a man with knowledge in many fields, but I have to tell you one thing: it is beyond me the knowledge of how strong these syndromes are. They exist, I know it very well, but it is impossible for me to measure the spreading surface or the depth of their roots. Sometimes I think it is almost impossible for anyone to do it. Let us suppose these syndromes are not as severe as they seem to be. Let us suppose, for the sake of conversation, that they are specific only to some Romanians, not all of them. (Reasonably speaking, things must be this way, because exceptions may be found everywhere in the real natural and especially social world.) In this case we can easily render another image of Romanians, not such an impossible one, and which seems to have in its turn a certain touch of reality, if we were to judge events that happened during the past two years. We could talk about a more complex multi-dimensional definition of the ethnical and historical Romanian identity. Indeed, for over 150 years the efforts of the intellectual and political elite, beyond their ideology (revolutionaries, liberals, nationalists, and communists) went on to shape a single, unifying concept of group identity. The focus was always on the continuity and correspondence (in language, ideas, beliefs, traditions, and so on). This process found its grotesque climax (and at the same time, its implicit denial, through exaggeration) in the eighties. The long communist winter with its ferocious and mad focus on national uniformity seemed to have facilitated (and this could be a theme for a future history of culture and mentality) an underground get-together of local identities. Underneath the hard, opaque and polished surface, there were growing up, as in an obstinate oxymoron, autonomies and unities, personalities hidden from a form of control which wanted itself to be so absolute as to shut everything out. We know it very well: when everything is forbidden everything is allowed. And suddenly in December 1989 we found ourselves surprised, facing the vigorous and autonomous groups and local circles, having their opinions and a strong will of recognition: in Cluj, Braşov, Iaşi, Sibiu, and of course especially in Timişoara. I name only the biggest and strongest. Everywhere the young generations were playing the leading role, but nobody could question that they spoke for a larger group and acted with offhandedness in its name. The centralizing forces reacted furiously – and I don not mean by that only the political formations but also larger socio-intellectual "tendencies," not specifically dependent or independent. As far as the future is concerned, we shall see. But, no question about it, the events of the eighties are amongst the most rewarding in modern Romanian history, such a joyless one, after all. A more abundant, more interesting definition of the national identity is about to appear, one that replaces the single stereotype image imposed by the educational system and by the compulsory military service, with a multiple image whose surfaces and lines involve as much the tolerant pragmatism and manly Illuminism from Banat, the central European administrative experience from Transylvania, the very Latinity of the Romanian provinces, the bittersweet idealizing purity on both shores of the Prut river, sub-Carpathian historical vocation, ironic Balkanism from Bucharest, as the sophisticated cosmopolitism Cernăuţi once had (why not) and many others. When we say pluralism we often have in mind tolerance and economical competition, political competition, emulation of ideas and rivalry. We have in mind misunderstandings and competition on the way to upgrading the social scale. But pluralism or plurality means something else as well: it means the complexity of a social community, its multiplicity, and its variety of nuances, ways and possibilities. There are two major accusations that I could bring to the definition of Romanians, as it was institutionalized after 1848 and 1866. (Of course, I do not deny it has some sort of a historical role, normal and inevitable.) The most important and basic shortcoming of the traditional ethnic pattern – imposed and self-imposed – used to be its own inconsistence. It proved it was unable to integrate the great potential human reality had, in the area between the Carpathians and Lower Danube. But more than that, these patterns tend to become a simple tool, to lose the weak life and subtleness they once had. Eminescu's case is a good example. The centralizing forces from 1990 up till now strongly reacted using revengefully the statuary image of the poet as a unifying source or a general name for a metaphysical identity which was transformed in a Platonic idea, escaping this way the commandments of history. But Eminescu himself had been one of the first to think of a federalizing image of the Romanians in their multiple regional aspects, one of the first to understand the regional diversity of the Romanians and to call the world's attention upon them with much love and pride. Can we hope that a new enriched and more positive image of the national identity will eliminate the psychosocial immaturities that I was talking about? Or, making an inversion, will it not be necessary to remove these syndromes in order to open the way to a new inner understanding? I do not know. The dialectic is getting too complicated in its reciprocities. Instead, a totally new definition of the national identity, a polymorphous one, with many angles and views, with living, organic turns, has some serious advantages. Not least the flexibility, the adaptability to a rapidly growing world, itself with so many angles and views. Not least the possibility of establishing more comfortably, more relaxed, more humanly, your relations with all the minorities and with all the neighbors. But above all these stands the wish of self-preservation: to better survive in this rapidly growing world, to make your own justice, to show off your qualities and fortunes as wonderfully and completely as possible. As you can see, we are talking about a "federalized" image of one's own personality, enhanced by the noble arrogance of an abundant multiplicity, totally persuaded that it will not and it cannot agree with the univocal simplicity of the bearded and sweaty Romanian, primitive and saint, hidden and silent pearl. Under these circumstances the federalizing problem in the way it appeared at the beginning of this analysis, loses its importance and turns into a technical question, enters the area of conscious judgments and bows to the opportunities dictated by political knowledge and its demands. As for me, I can undoubtedly say that more important than the political issue of federalization is the political intellectual issue. Extremely fast and without any surgical operations, the above-mentioned diseases would begin to melt down like ice.Visiting Romania in the spring of this year, I noticed that one of the most persistent questions, whether in public talks or in private ones was about the American Romanians, about their specifics, about their hard adaptation, their successes and misfortunes, about their attitude towards the country of origin and its inhabitants, and more of the same kind. I personally found this great fascination not only interesting, but really encouraging, as I was hoping that between borders Romanians are not only a separate group but, more importantly, they are the future itself, the stage of development that is about to be achieved by the entire nation, willingly or not. Later, even if I realized all this was just an illusion, the curiosity persisted. To briefly answer the question, I need, in the first place, to make a distinction between three main categories of American Romanians. (There are probably more than three, but this is not the right place for excessive complications.) The most important category is that of the generations who arrived before 1900 or by the time of World War II. These are more than 75% of the total number of American Romanians; they generally settled in the Midwest, in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, especially in the Great Lakes' area. They came from Transylvanian and Banat villages and their progress after emigration kept them on the same professions and social categories of a moderate influence: farmers, workers, shopkeepers or clerks. They sometimes forgot their language but they maintained a certain Romanian consciousness, bound to religion, customs and traditions, and even to some spirit of ethnic community. These people are very well integrated, real and determined Americans, not very different from, let's say, the Italian Americans or the Irish Americans, or other similar groups.The second category, much smaller and heterogeneous, appeared after World War II. The escape from communism, due to their rage against the political, social and economical persecution unleashed by the communist system after 1948, marked these people. Some of them were ex-diplomats, others were proud of their names bearing historical resonance, some were political or intellectual figures that understood the dangers of the new order and chose the "way of exile," as they say themselves. They were people with traditional views, who lived a great part of their lives hoping that they will sometime return, having anyway deep regrets for the Romania of old-times. Others, a little younger, arrived between the sixties and the seventies (some of them Romanians, others of Jewish origin), and adapted more rapidly and efficiently; they tended to maximize their own proficiency – their motivation was the very passionate desire for a normal life, for affirming their own potential of being earnest, for enjoying the results of their own competence. Men and women of this category can be found all over America, maybe a little more in Washington and California than in other states. The third category contains Romanians who arrived in America after 1979 and 1980, whose emigration was due to the most favored nation clause in Ceausescu's years; "runaway" citizens, who, one way or another, left the country illegally. These Romanians, some of them intellectuals, others workers or technicians, have been strongly marked by the social and historical atmosphere of the communist regime, to which they had belonged for almost all their adult years. Many of them are today gathered in the New York area. They had the greatest assimilation difficulties. Many of them had a real identity crisis. Their act of emigration had been a protest, the only one they thought they could afford. Once on American ground they felt lost, confused, they regretted that America was not a big Romania without Ceausescu and the food problems. But, even among them, the majority had found their ways, often psychologically helped by their own children, who easily felt at home and quite happy in the New World. What do these three categories have in common? In the first place, they have pride and self-confidence. No matter how much they suffered they knew in their hearts that they had constructed or reconstructed themselves, that they had proved their worth with own hands and no one's help, this way checking their strength and their right to be autonomous in this perpetual fight with a terribly cold or even hostile universe. The freedom, the fulfillment, the feeling of maturity this reality offers is hard to explain or to understand for those who have never experienced it. The attempts of various Romanian authorities to subordinate or attach the American Romanians are terribly hilarious in their very primitive naivety: these American Romanian cannot subordinate themselves even if they tried (you can be sure they don't!) as the adult cannot become a child, no matter how much he craves for his lost childhood. Instead, those from the Carpathians and the Danube would have a lot to learn (not instructions, not lectures, but observation, intuition, own judgments) from the American Romanians and that is because, as I have already said, they should have the same fate any time soon – that of the economic and political freedom with all its dangers and traumas of the painful separation from the protective shield of the tribal communion, of a new relation with the authority as well as with the people nearby. What happens with those who came (for a long or short time) after 1989? These ones are twice handicapped. First, because they can go back to their country. This a natural and welcomed right, of course, but it leaves the individual without a dramatic possibility of the irrevocable, irreversible decision, putting him away from the deadly task of the success imperative. The second is more severe and it is in fact a long-term psychological trauma, due to communism. I mean by that "the syndrome of the revolted slave"; a stereotype would be the young student or Ph.D. with an acute need of protective dependence. But, at the same time, with an acute need to defy the authority; he searches it, but he hates it at the same time, he begs for help, but he accepts it in a hostile manner. Without a hand that feeds him and which at the same time he bites with impotent fury, the newcomer cannot shape a coherent image of himself. This syndrome is not so very hard to understand. It comes from the communist regression to the state of childhood, intentionally made through manipulation and brainwashing. But no matter how well we understood it, it is still a very serious obstacle against adaptation and an appropriate behavior in a free world; it's still one of the biggest handicaps of all. It would not be so bad if only a few dozens, hundreds of thousands would suffer from this psychosocial disease; the bad thing is that "the syndrome of the revolted slave" shows its teeth all over the country. This syndrome is, I think, one of the actual government's most powerful weapons and it is used for its own dwelling. We, after all, are talking about a fear of freedom, about the absolute urge for preserving, by any means, even by those of hate and total frustration, our own dependence. In 1984, Orwell described the scene of the boot that crushes the face of the revolted, a scene that was constantly repeated as a necessity and supreme purpose in every dictatorial system. Orwell's revolted man is invented and encouraged and, when the time comes, he is completely crushed. The situation that I described is, however, an antithesis of the above: the rebels desperately seek their own defeat, their purpose is that of being defeated, the fear of victory invades them, they have nothing to do with triumph as the only thing they see is an empty future. This is a dark image, no question about it, but one that has within it a sparkle of hope. I am sure this is the last step on the hard way of emancipation and freedom acceptance. I strongly believe this is the last breath the "dark forces" will take. The syndrome "of the revolted slave" is a crisis that can easily be turned into convalescence, into a foreplay of this dramatic fight between the forces of the social and psychological heritage, and the agitated initiatives of globalization, a fight which the worthiest Romanian intellectuals and politicians of the past knew how to handle, in their time, in a satisfactory way. It seems that in this matter the case and the experience of the American Romanians deserve to be treated with care and attention by the Romanian citizens.
Paris and Washington, July 1991, Contrapunct; Bethesda, MD, June 1994, Romania literara

by Virgil Nemoianu