Embarking on the task to overview the economic, cultural and political intersections and developments in each of the countries that my research encompasses, I start with Romania. In this month’s blog, I would like to share a part of the overview I am currently compiling.
Romania is a distinctive country with complex circumstances for the establishment and sustenance of its artistic infrastructure, as its past appears to strongly affect contemporary social constructions and artistic practices.
The Romanian cultural policy evolved through different forms and functions, according to major political and social changes, the significant ones being the fall of the Communist regime in 1989 and Romania’s transition to a state functioning democratically in the European Union.
The foundations laid in the years 1948 until about 1960 for a Soviet-style regime in Romania included mainly the constitutional transformation of structures that support the authority of one party and the efficient carrying out its decisions. Subject to, and in service of, the Communist Party was the secret service police who dissolved private organisations of all kinds. These were replaced by mass activities that were planned and executed by the state and took over every sphere of life. (Ernest, 2021) Similarly, un-privatising the economy meant to re-order it under a rigid central organisation and the direction of the state. At the time, agriculture and heavy industries were prioritised and a collectivisation process was applied to force farmers to give up ownership of their land and to enjoy little returns from its yield, as prices of goods were pre-fixed by the state. (Ernest, 2021) Romania was part of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon, agreements which were set to counteract Western treaties and coordinate army and economic activities within the Soviet bloc. In addition, Romania was a member of the Kominform (the international structure of Communist parties for media and culture). Such agreements supported the implementation of the Zhdanov doctrine – also known as ‘socialist realism’. The doctrine dictated the alignment of all cultural actors and products with Soviet standards of funding and content. These were put under systematic censorship of specialised departments employed to monitor all forms of artistic and media content. Alongside were the political propaganda and the multiplying administrative entities such as the Propaganda Secretariat of the Communist Party Central Committee and the Council of Socialist Education and Culture (CSEC) that completed the grip on individual liberties and repressed any attempt to develop an underground culture. (Compendium cultural policies & trends, 2020)
From 1990, Romania started its transition from Communist rule towards democracy and liberal forms of living. Such transition included a process of change in political behaviours and social structures, changing collective mentalities, and social and national approaches to culture in relation to cultural policy. Hence at the end of the Communist rule, Romania reformed its economic support system for culture – a difficult task given the high rates of inflation in the country and the legacy of an old, heavy and expensive infrastructure of cultural institutions. (Suteu, 2002, p. 9) Indeed, underlying this transformation, frequent changes at the Ministry of Culture and the inconsistency of public servants hindered this process and the creation of stable and diverse institutional profiles. (Suteu, 2002, p. 8) Ultimately, the lack of political initiative, the adherence to old structures and habits and the progressive devaluation of culture in the national budget (Compendium cultural policies & trends, 2020) deprioritised culture and rendered the sector –without the full support of the old Communist state – very poor.
Despite, or rather alongside these difficulties, Romania in transition, like other post-Communist countries, is preoccupied with the desire for self-determination and differentiation within the geographic zone perceived homogenously as South-East Europe. (Suteu, 2002, p. 2) In this ‘raw’ situation – having recently been liberated and in a quest for new values and identity – Romania is opening up to the West, and in particular to Western Europe. In need of extensive assistance for its rehab, Romania holds high expectations and perceives European policies and systems as an innovative and a potential panacea for its economic, political and social hardships.
And so, from 1990 Romania started to remodel its cultural institutions according to European prototypes, but without taking the different administrations of European countries into account. Its cultural sector searched for pre-fixed European managerial models and know-how (Suteu, 2002, p. 5). Yet gradually it realised that there is no single Western solution to what is necessary to create a reliable institutional infrastructure, alongside the development of informed local and national cultural policies. (Suteu, 2002, p. 7) In practice, due to the rough financial situation in South-East European countries and lack of central European non-governmental funding, there are seldom any projects of East-East exchange. Instead, there is a heavy reliance on Western foundations. (Suteu, 2002, p. 10)
Till here for now. More to come next month!
Compendium cultural policies & trends. (2012). Financing and support Romania . Retrieved from https://www.culturalpolicies.net/database/search-by-country/country-profile/category/?id=32&g1=7
Compendium cultural policies & trends. (2020). Financing and support – Romania. Retrieved from https://www.culturalpolicies.net/database/search-by-country/country-profile/category/?id=32&g1=7
Ernest , L. (2021, June 19). Romania. Retrieved from Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/place/Romania
Ratiu, D.-E. (2009). Cultural policy and values: Intrinsic versus instrumental? The case of Romania. The Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society , 24-44.
Suteu, C. (2002). Cultural Institutions after 12 years of “New Democracy” in Central and Eastern Europe. Culturenet.