I. Regardless of the political orientation of the governing groups, postsocialist transition had a Eurocentric structural character. The imperative of Westernisation imposed itself quickly as a precondition for democratisation, in terms acknowledged by both anticommunist dissidents and the “former communist” authorities after 1989: “the end of history,” the imperative of Western “liberal democracy” “at the end of modernity,” against the undeniable background of the “free market,” whose liberalisation required the “sacrifices” of the people, a process of “civilising” in order for them to reach “the glim at the end of the tunnel.” Thus, alongside anticommunism and capital-centrism, Eurocentrism has been a dominant cultural ideology of transition times in Eastern Europe, with a decisive role in locally imposing the neo-liberal economic model and in establishing the new social divisions. As a result, I define non-metaphorically the general process of transition as postcommunist colonisation, which means the structural return of the region to the capitalist-colonial world, having a self-colonisation dimension.
The intense Westernisation of transition had, however, specific effects both at the level of institutions and at the level of subjectivities and sensitivities. The Eurocentrism involves a limitation of knowledge and perception. Thus, in the period that culminated with the accession of Romania into NATO and into the European Union, a profound failure to comprehend or a partial understanding of the realities and the “corners” of the world occurred both at the popular level and at the level of the specialised and intellectual knowledge. Once Romania acceded into NATO and the European Union, not only that it was forgotten the fact that Romania was still member of the Group of the 77, but its meaning was also forgotten. Ignorance has taken—and it is still taking—the form of racist and Orientalist predictions of the Western modern tradition or, at least, of what was called by Latin-American thinkers such as Walter Mignolo and Anibal Quijano “the coloniality of knowledge.” This concept can be correlated with the systematic refusal of democratic learning from non-Westerners and the import of the Western terms and systems of argumentation and classification. Moreover, for the intellectual and governing elites of postcommunism, the entire global South simply did not exist as a reference during the times of transition (other than as a denying galaxy) and was certainly not considered to be a blend of differences and similarities. In the course of transition, the past history of relations with the non-Western world—including the contingent ground of other semi-peripheral areas of the world—was irresponsibly cast into oblivion and epistemic irrelevance. Again, this is not valid only for Romania, but for the entire region of the former Socialist bloc.
Currently, in Eastern Europe a deflation or even disenchantment from the Eurocentrism of transition can be noticed, whose directions depend on the existing cultural background, which is hosting or encountering new utterances. Throughout the region, two prevailing—and predictable—trends of the disengagement from the Eurocentric dream can be noted:
a) Ethnic and nationalist internalisation. A part of those who came to understand transition as a process of diminishing State sovereignty and alienating the centralised wealth of Socialist countries resorts to the ideology of ethnic nationalism in order to impose a defence of state apparatuses and of some local political and/or capitalist elites. We are dealing, therefore, in countries such as Poland, Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria, with new attempts of internal growth, which are abusively appropriating the principle of popular sovereignty. The ethnic-nationalist response comes with an agenda of purifying the local society and affirming the new “native” elite, which can only project neoliberal economic inequities at the cultural level. It must be remarked that such a form of apparent dissociation from the Occidentalism of transition corresponds, in fact, to the similar tendency existing in the Western Europe countries (especially England and Scandinavian countries, Austria and France), where the unsolved effects of the 2008 crisis of capitalism in its centres, and the refugee crisis have favoured the enhancement of the protectionist and racist discourse in defence of the “native” privileges and restricting the influence of “allogenes.” The peculiar thing about this return of ethnic nationalism is that it is taking place against the already well-established background of racism in postcommunism, which first appeared among the members of the middle class, in the period of transition, by mirroring Western racism, and which is nowadays rearticulated by passing it to the next generations, including to social categories which are in course of formation. In this respect, the fascistoid internationalisms reunited in the Azov Battalion from Ukraine and the march of the 60,000 from Warsaw on 11 November 2017 are projecting a plausible ill-fated future.
b) Liberal colonial enlargement. A privileged segment of the middle class, used to embrace the Western perspectives and certainties, considers that transition is an imperfect but essentially positive process, which required sacrifices and focused on restoring the relationships with Western Europe and North America, currently claiming an extent in “the rest of the world,” attuned to Western globalisation. In this case, the limit of Eurocentrism is simply its seeming non-completeness: the accession to Europe is promptly followed by the “integration” of colonial relationships on an international level, necessary to continue the infinite process of growth, both at the level of the capital and at the level of subjectivity. During this process, local perceptions regarding China and the Middle East were influenced by the perspective of the global North-American hegemon and by the Western prevailing perspectives in EU, placing their own histories and experiences in the background, while the gaze on Africa is filtered by condescendingly racist and structurally exploiting perspectives of the Western Europe. Just like ethnic nationalism, the colonial liberal perspective applies both within the local society, taking profit from the structural isolation of the social categories of the transition insolvents, the vulgar lower people who would hold back the development of the middle class.
Both directions of the current disenchantment from the borders of Eurocentrism are ethically flawed and only continue, in fact, the destructive directions of the postsocialist transition, legitimising and intensifying the social divisions and the antisocial and exploiting tendencies. They offer no future to the community. The dichotomy between the ethnic-nationalists and the liberal racists is a new deceitful option, a political and cultural dead-end. Against such a misleading alternative, I think it is urgently necessary a decolonial understanding of the world, a restoration of the intercultural sensitivities and a rewriting of the international positions in a world of possible polycentric transition. The decolonial esthesis starts from the very resistance against the dissipation of experiences that diverge from the paths of the Western modernity, by granting an epistemic dignity to historical experiences and gestures which go beyond the entanglements of capitalism and coloniality.
During the process of transition, the Eastern Europe would have already found useful the experience and knowledge accumulated by the people and scholars from the countries of the West Africa (and their migrants to Europe), which faced the impositions of the World Bank and the FMI in the 1980s, but also the paralegal effects of the relentless anticorruption campaigns, against the contradictory background of an unfailing external support of some local elites; in the 1990s–2000s, it would have been also useful the immediate connection with the experiences of other semi-peripheral regions of the world, with Latin American countries which started the processes of severance from the capitalist monoculture and autonomous elaboration of alternative options for communitarian and constitutional development based on democratic lessons learnt from the culture and philosophy of indigenous peoples; not least, throughout the entire transition period, it would have been maybe helpful to elaborate regional policies against the division of the Eastern Europe into countries competing with each other in front of Western political and capitalist institutions and powers. Today, for the elaboration of a decolonial, democratic understanding of the international space, it is first of all necessary a re-alphabetisation with the extended comprehension of the world, starting from non-Western histories and experiences, linked with the already existing local histories of the regional East-European internationalism and with the direct socialist experience with the non-Western world.
II. The singular film of Andrei Ujică, Autobiografia lui Nicolae Ceauşescu [The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu] (2010) has generated a certain type of rumour among the Romanian audience, especially among that generation who is not connected with the socialist experience through its own memory. In this way, Florin Poenaru made the following observations: “The subtle dosage between sound and silence which existed in the film strongly contrasted with the noise of the movie theatre, primarily caused by waves of collective laughter and by roars of applauds…” Hence, Poenaru interpreted the public reception: “We are dealing with the most profound, the most intimate form of ‘self-colonisation,’ where laughter plays the part of (pseudo) emancipation. […] This passing from the colonial effects of the fall of the Communism (everything that is entailed by the bureaucracy of ‘transition’) to self-colonial perceptions (laughter, derision) has been facilitated by the fact that all the possible sources of local alternative were completely discredited by the fall of the communism: the West European model became the norm par excellence, the only path to follow, the East being on the verge of starting a ‘new (blank) page’ of its history. Thus, self-colonisation is working on two levels: on the one hand, the integration of the Western ‘civilising’ perspective, on the other hand, but concomitantly, a total memory erase, the performance of a ‘tabula rasa’ in relation to the past, because everything that comes from there is inevitably perverted or unusable.” The same type of experience had caused a similar interpretation to me too: the laughter of self-colonisation was obviously a reaction to compensate another deeper emotion, the embarrassment caused by the obvious facts displayed on screen. Especially Ceauşescu’s visits to China and North Korea, his pompous reception, after his meetings with the leaders of France and of the United States, generated moments of stupefied silence and compensating laughter. The bare evidence, in the absence of any voice-over comment, of the man’s own history which was at the same time irrevocably alien from the “European” present was displayed on screen. In fact, as I suggested here, this was also the place where a comment of the film’s author had been, however, insinuated, because no images of Ceauşescu’s visits to Africa were selected from the reviewed archive materials; nor were his significant relationships with the Middle East included—for instance, his friendship with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. To a certain extent, the author had used Asia in an Orientalist manner, and this exotising contrast hosted and mediated the Romanian audience alienation from its own recent historical experience. Nonetheless, as revealed also by the critics’ reactions, laughter did not manage to erase embarrassment. I would suggest that it is due to the fact that, objectively speaking, the international position of Europeanised Romania at the end of the 2000s was incomparably less dignified, less prominent and less multidirectional than Romania’s position during the “Golden Age.” The film reminded that the Socialist experience gave birth to a significant appeal against the peripheral status—with mixed results, but which presented a strong contrast to the normalisation of peripheralisation in postsocialist transition. Moreover, the allegedly universal Westernised gaze was confronted with the embarrassing evidence of its own acts of erasure and rendering invisible, of blinding. On an affective level, the archive status of the film invites, therefore, to take seriously certain historical facts that the general audience did not know how to appropriate.
The structural background of the multidirectional localisation of the socialist Romania in the world is contoured by several benchmarks whose reality opposed to the general prediction of anticommunism, on communist history as a homogenous reality which unavoidably moves towards the essence of totalitarianism: 0) the basic orientation toward an antifascist and anti-imperialist purpose of the world, under the hegemony of the communist idea; even if it remained only declarative sometimes, this orientation enabled the occurrence on the ground of certain phenomena specific to State socialism; 1) the regional disagreement with the Soviet idea on the international division of labour inside the socialist bloc, which involved a new peripheral role for the Eastern Europe in relation to Moscow and the adoption of the idea of the socialist progress “in every country” (with clear anarchic trends contradicted by the international reality); 2) the regional influence of the pioneering role assumed by Josip Broz Tito and Yugoslavia in the Non-Aligned Movement (alongside Jawaharlal Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Ahmed Sukarno), based on the close cooperation between Romania and Yugoslavia (for instance, at the Iron Gates project, in 1963) and on Romania’s position alongside the non-aligned pole as early as the time when Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej was in power—a tendency confirmed by the latter’s visit to India, Burma and Indonesia from 1962; 3) the anti-Soviet position adopted by Romania in 1968—and alongside Tito in the final split from USSR in the same year; 4) the Sino-Soviet split and Romania’s special role as China’s ally in Europe and in the socialist bloc, especially after 1965 and in the 1980s; 5) the actual solidarity and engagement of Romania in the anti-colonial and liberation struggles from Africa (especially through its relationships with Angola, Zambia, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Capo Verde, Burkina Faso) and the abolition of Apartheid; 6) Romania’s involvement in the peace process from the Middle East and in the bilateral economic relationships from the region (particularly with Libya); 7) the association with the international movement for disarmament and peace (for instance, both against NATO’s movements for placing the Pershing 2 nuclear missiles in Europe, and against Soviet Union’s requests for increasing military expenditures). Taking into account the importance granted to the Non-Aligned Movement by thinkers from Latin America, North America, African Diasporas and South-East Asia, as well as socialist Romania’s constant responsiveness in this direction—at the official level—, the history of these relationships and of their potential still remains to be studied in depth.
The multidirectional orientation of socialist Romania bumped into several essential limits. First of all, the isolationist, sectarian and authoritarian politics of the Romanian Communist Party inside its own society limited, if not destroyed, the productive potential of these multiple internal differences from the socialist bloc and the global South, their chance to mature into several alternative options to Western modernity. The underpinning internationalism has been contradicted by the isolation and by the surrounding of citizens with barriers and checkpoints. Also, there is no doubt that, despite real gestures of international solidarity and messages launched by Ceauşescu as “black Africa’s friend,” and even despite a certain intellectual influence of Nkrumah, Cabral and Senghor, the socialist Romania pursued an extractivist politics, entering the global competition for searching cheap resources of raw matters, and thus inserting itself in the chain of global inequity and injustice (what China called the “social imperialism,” referring—however—only to USSR politics). Moreover, local East European cultural spheres have never raised a significant argument against the Western triumphalist perspective of the one-way unfolding of history (feudalism, capitalism, socialism), embracing with enthusiasm especially the story of the “heroic age of explorers” as foundation of modernity, the degrading perspective on the indigenous peoples of the world and the phantasm of limitless technological progress. One of the consequences was the reinforcement of a set of structural relationships and of a sensitivity that we called the communist racism, detactable both in the second-hand arrogance of “the emerging world” as compared to “the Third World,” and in the degrading comparisons within the socialist bloc (who is “ten years ahead,” who is more up-to-date with the latest Western tendencies). The actual relations with the non-Western world have been also affected by the boundaries of finitude: for instance, the 1970 cooperation agreement with Burundi provided the dispatch of several tens of trucks, buses, machines and tractors, in exchange for nickel; and, in 1978, in spite of the fuss that both parties made, Romania sent in total only two specialists in geological and oil explorations in North Korea.
Despite all these limits, the official non-aligned orientation under the hegemony of the communist idea has placed so far the communist racism under the ideal sky of the “friendship between peoples”—limit unknown to postcommunist racism, which adopted the boundless supremacy of whiteness. Thus, the internationalist magazine Orizonturi [Horizons], edited in Romania by philosopher Mihai Şora, published in 1957 a special issue in collaboration with the Présence Africaine magazine, with articles written by Afrocentrist Cheick Anta Diop and by the founders of the Negritude (black consciousness movement)—term introduced as such in the Romanian language, meaning “the awakening the conscience of the exploited black man, with respect to the colonial oppression” and “the consciousness of the originality of black African cultures.” The selection of articles placed the emphasis on the epistemic overturn of perspective, siding with its own resistance culture, also resorting to subversive resources, found beyond any official ideology. Hence, Lamine Diakhalé underlined: “The alienation process is always clashing with the profound will of the people in question […] and the oral literature is, however, a perpetual protest against imposture, violence and all of the attempts at impairing the human being.” The editors proposed as an illustration a series of African poems, songs and popular proverbs, including the Malagasy saying: “God’s [sic] commands are like the setting sun: they are coming through all the doors,” as well as examples of “corrosive realism” from the contemporary African classical literature and theatre, such as Ferdinant Oyono or Keita Fodeba. The a priori empathy with the “cause” of liberation and emancipation of peoples maintained the possibility of locally appropriating, in the socialist Romania, of a non-Western and feminine perspective, as demonstrated, for instance, by Veronica Porumbacu, in a poem of an innate power:
“I cradled you in my blue cradle of waves, I nursed you with the sweet juice of cane, I covered you with stardust in the cold, the enemies raised you barefooted, my gentle slave! What are you wearing around your slender neck? A string of rubies? What are the red butterflies on your white shirt? The liquid shell of the sea is holding your land in its palm, the fluid shell of the sky is wrapping you in blue, you are shining among them, you, pearl of pain, my bitter-sweet girl, face scarred by whip, o, my rebel lady!”
It also maintained, even in the form of a continuous reserved, intermittently declared, the ethical resource of the struggle for social emancipation and justice, which was reduced to zero or completely abandoned after 1989. As a result, the close contact with non-Western cultures and civilisations, even with the assertion of non-modern worlds of life and society, could open itself to a truly decolonial, deeply intercultural understanding, as early as 1975: “One of the essential historical processes of our time [is] that of the struggle of enslaved peoples to take responsibility for their own way in the world, for building their own life. […] But, [for Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier], history is not the monorhythmical performance of an ascending spiral, but the intertwining, colliding or parallel performance of distinct cycles of existence in time, [of] deeply distinct modalities for the realisation of human destiny, for understanding the meaning of human existence and ontological situation. This examination is not, according to Carpentier, extremely favourable to the society of the 20th century, to the forms of life which usually fall under the generic name of ‘civilised’ as compared to those called ‘primitive.’ On the contrary, the world of folklore cultures, more deeply connected with human fundamental condition in cosmos, translating a presence of organic wholeness into nature, provides valences that modern civilisation lost and the importance of which justifies the effort of ‘symbioses of cultures.’” It should be noted that Francisc Păcurariu ultimately introduced in Romanian language, in his series of studies on “the Latin-American literature” from the 1970s, the term of “cosmovision,” used by native writers and theoreticians—a term that would become central to the demands of the native social movements from the 1990s–2000s, particularly in Mexico, Bolivia and Ecuador, inspiring the international movement for global solidarity and justice.
In fact, the acknowledgment of socialism internal contradictions, as a part of the living process of emancipation, allowed as well the release of some radically anticommunist, cynical messages, like this one from 1979 (republished in 1987 without any problems):
“In the civilised life, things are only formally considered; this is what matters! proclaims cynically Codruşan, knowing where he was hitting at. […] Alexe, you are a clever and cultivated man, so I can tell you: the communist theory is an obsolete idea, which has been outdated for a long time… You may not be up-to-date with the latest ideas in philosophy and in social life! The West, however, mourned the death of such utopian ideas a long-long time ago. Communism was a utopia—beautiful, but utopia nonetheless—which has proven its lack of viability; humanity is now in search for more realistic solutions; they should not be blamed for being too pragmatic, this is its evolution.”
If the immanent process of socialism, beyond the official ideology, accepted and rendered importance to contradictions, perceiving them as a sort of organic sea of a dynamic reality in the process of transformation, the transition has tended to reduce any dialectics to the hierarchical differentiation between the West and the rest of the world, to the inscription on single path towards “the civilised world.” Along the way, the cynical perspective expressed by the character of Codruşan otherwise has become the sole foundation of a static reality.
III. I would suggest that the seeds planted by the non-aligned orientation and the democratic contact with non-European philosophies did not remain at the level of unrealised potentialities. The perspective needs to remain international-regional, nonetheless. As a matter of fact, the primary autonomous theoretical debate inside the East-European bloc, from the beginning of the 1960s until the events of 1989, was that referring to the transfer from one model of economy based on the extensive growth (the quantitative maximisation of State investments, agricultural lands and labour force) to a model based on intensive growth. The rationale was the fact that precisely the most developed socialist countries (Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Poland, USSR) had reached certain limits of the exploitation of natural and human resources and faced with stagnation and loss and the generalisation of a system of deceitful reporting between local and central authorities, while the socialist theoreticians and planners saw the intensive growth, which had an important ecological and democratic component (decentralisation, self-administration, trading), as an “indispensable” tool for the communism of the future, possible to attain, as a Bulgarian economist claimed in an optimistic manner, until 1995, i.e. before 2000, the magic year of the Communist cosmology. The much cursed “multilateral development” was in fact rooted precisely in the double international consensus among socialist countries, referring to the necessity of another road for development, thus learning from the non-aligned movement, respectively, in the socialist context, of going to intensive growth and an ecological and non-militarist communism. In 1977, Rudolf Bahro, a philosopher from East Germany, explicitly proposed what was at the same time the most aggressive criticism of the real condition of State socialism and an “alternative” option, which presupposed, in tune with native cosmovisions, the “cultural revolution” of the relationship between the human being and nature, i.e. the exit from the extractivist paradigm of “infinite development of production forces” and the relocation of the communist ideal of social justice within the fundamental relationship between human society and nature. The latter entailed the acceptance of the radical differences between various ideals and coexisting ways of emancipation and liberation, according to the various areas of life.
As we have been able to notice also during the research process for the Veil of Peace exhibition, in which we took seriously the iconography of peace, as the central symbol for the aspirations specific to the East-European socialism, even the most ranting slogans of this environment gained their own life in very fabric of reality, opening the practices of an immanent esthesis and sensitivity which are still to be continued, if the avatars of postcommunist transition are likely to leave room for a new principle of hope.
Ovidiu Țichindeleanu is a philosopher and theoretician of culture based in Kishinev.