The Great Misunderstanding

excerpts Fighting for an idea for forty years – the idea of liberating your country from communism; never yielding for one single moment, being consistent in this action and in this hate (constantly fuelled and substantiated); organizing your despair, turning it into a feature of your conscience; attempting – and managing – to "patch up" the Diaspora torn apart by so many coteries, rallying it around the idea that constitutes its very raison d'être (the inward escape from communism); lastly, fighting your entire life against the irresponsible left-wing trend inspired by Parisian salons, reiterating every day shocking truths and disclosing the tragedies of the East: this is, in a few sentences, what Virgil IERUNCA did after leaving Romania at 26 and arriving in "gay Paris." A lifetime dedicated and sacrificed (it is no use avoiding "big" words) to an idea: a noble, "clean" idea purified of the residue of personal ambition and pride. Because he defended it, Virgil Ierunca deserves the respect and appreciation of all those who, on this side of the Iron Curtain, continued to hope that, one day, the nightmare would be over.One day, the nightmare was over indeed: the bad dream of communism, of real, not utopian, communism came to an end. However, as it was fading out, the anticommunists emerged out of nowhere: they were many and angry, in their belated courage. Unmasking, accusations, moral liquidations, radical reconsiderations: the lifetime work of the exiles Virgil Ierunca and Monica Lovinescu, going in parallel – even if sometimes at odds – with the evolutions and involutions of the situation back home, is what these people are caricaturing now in a rush (as in a sui generis concentrate of applied morals) in order to catch up on wasted time. Wasted on what? Each of them knows better than I do. However, this haste hides, more often than not, an "inbuilt" retardation – in this case, a moral one. By repeated utilization and transformation of the ideas professed by Virgil Ierunca into clichés, these brave post-communist anticommunists have brought them into disrepute, because an idea defended for the sake of the advantages that come with it simply turns into its opposite. Understanding also becomes misunderstanding, especially as Virgil Ierunca (like Monica Lovinescu) was seduced by the sudden odes sung by their newfound admirers, uncovering, together with them, new "dangers", new communisms against which to fight. I definitely prefer and respect the pre-revolutionary Virgil Ierunca as mirrored in his own diary accurately, without any interpolations or revisions; more specifically, what was left from his diary (the rest being thrown to the wastebasket!): the years 1949, 1950, 1951, 1960 and a few later "scraps". It was published under the Eminescian title Years Have Elapsed…*, in a hefty volume.In the diary pages that were left, there are two "characters" named Virgil Ierunca: one is 30 (in 1950), the other one is 40 (in 1960). Certainly, they communicate with each other and have a lot in common, as they are one and the same person; nevertheless, something important is lost along the way, making it a significant difference after all: the inner tension, the agony that is almost physical, which makes the "first" Virgil Ierunca a person to which one feels very attached. The young man left Romania a short time ago, he escaped from there, from the inferno that was being cooked up, and arrived, still haunted by doubt and anguish, in a land of freedom where he is still confused. As a young man in Romania he had been left-wing, an anarchic left wing, as it happens, "intellectualized", Trotskyist, not Stalinist, whereas here and now, in France, after communism rose to power in Romania, he irreversibly "slides" to the right as toward a redeeming antithetical element. It can be easily seen that the young Virgil Ierunca's evolution is the reverse of the older Emil Cioran's. The latter had dreamt, in his youth, of Romania's "transfiguration", with extremist outbursts and even syllogisms that teamed up Lenin and Stalin, only to get to France later, completely healed (and ashamed) of his political errors, taking refuge in an estheticism in which there is no room whatsoever left for Romania. In contrast, Virgil Ierunca evolves from an estheticism with Trotskyist insertions toward intense participation, from France, in Romania's destiny and tragedy. Only now are his sentences "Cioranian" (the first Cioran!), except that the enemy is not the democratic capitalist regime, of course, but Soviet-inspired communism. "The esthetic sleep in which I adorned, in various styles, a few moral reserves, only came to an end following the terrible communist danger;" "I must simply admit that rediscovering myself meant going back to my roots: Romania;" "My deep sorrows, my existential grief found a window. A window that changed my view itself: Romania;" "I am only interested in the moment of the new transfiguration of Romania."The Romanian problem starts preoccupying him obsessively, overflowing shortly the entire scope of his conscience. The young intellectual's interest in his studies is diminishing (he reads a lot, but will never complete his doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne, entitled Le problème du mal dans la littérature moderne), and not even his personal, minimal well-being is of any concern to him. He constantly lives at the limit of subsistence, and sometimes beneath it (pages that touch a chord owing to the tranquil tone of the author); he goes through episodes of "total hunger", humiliating jobs (for a few hundred francs, he puts papers in envelopes, or pencil leads in tiny tubes; at some point, he hopes he will be working in a bakery), absurd conflicts for a ridiculous scholarship – but these repeated humiliations do not affect him, their importance and significance sliding into the background. The really important and significant thing for him is his love for Romania, from which he will soon derive the mainstay of his existence. Music (Virgil Ierunca is a devotee), books, a few friends (Eliade, Lucian Bădescu, Cioran, Iulian Petrescu) – but the foreground seems to be occupied by the country left behind, the Romanian problem, like an open wound. Now, as later, Virgil Ierunca is fighting on two fronts: the Eastern front, of institutionalized lies coming from communist ("PRRist", in his words – from People's Republic of Romania, translator's note) Romania; the other front is Western, one of institutionalized irresponsibility surrounding and choking him in Paris – namely the leftist sympathies, Marxist or not, of the press, the universities, the politicians, initially justified (for it is quite difficult to be a rightist soon after Hitler), but increasingly "blown up". Here is a note from 24 February 1949: "In the newspapers, excerpts from yesterday's (crucial) testimony of Mrs. Margaret Buber-Neumann in the Kravcenko trial. This time, the ill-willed intellectuals (I mean the leftist intellectuals) who, by sticking the 'fascist' label on situations and people, are solving everything in the 'sense of history', will no longer be able to overlook, in their notorious frivolity, the tragedy of the forced labor camps." Another one, more than a decade later, on 25 April 1960: "The Hungarian refugees may cry, may scream. Nobody has any time or envy to listen to them. Diplomatic chanceries, the UN, Versailles and the Vatican have a single obsession: the 'dialogue' with Nikita the Great, the blood shedder of the unforgettable 1956 in Budapest." Finally, a "synthetic" and explicative one from 19 May 1960: "I will never be able to understand why the 'free' and liberal press in France avoids mentioning the millions of prisoners of the East. Nobody asks this press to give anything but objective information, an account of facts. In vain. The French free and liberal press has turned amnesia and hypocrisy into their guilt-ridden guidebook. Hence no-one should wonder why we, the escapees from the East, are sliding to the 'right'. What can we do, if only the 'right' makes use of our language of revolt and dignity, when it comes to the countries in the East!"
* Virgil Ierunca, Years Have Elapsed… Diary excerpts. Contestations and Accents. Letters Not Lost, Humanitas, Bucharest, 2000.

by Daniel Cristea-Enache