Remembering Communism

Remembering Communism: Private and Public Recollections of Lived Experience in Southeast Europe

Maria Todorova
Augusta Dimou
Stefan Troebst
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Pages: 640
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  • Book Info
    Remembering Communism
    Book Description:

    Remembering Communism examines the formation and transformation of the memory of communism in the post-communist period. The majority of the articles focus on memory practices in the post-Stalinist era in Bulgaria and Romania, with occasional references to the cases of Poland and the GDR. Based on an interdisciplinary approach, including history, anthropology, cultural studies and sociology, the volume examines the mechanisms and processes that influence, determine and mint the private and public memory of communism in the post-1989 era. The common denominator to all essays is the emphasis on the process of remembering in the present, and the modalities by means of which the present perspective shapes processes of remembering, including practices of commemoration and representation of the past.

    eISBN: 978-963-386-032-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1. Introduction: Similar Trajectories, Different Memories
    (pp. 1-26)
    Maria Todorova

    The most remarkable thing about the spontaneous street demonstrations in different Bulgarian cities in February 2013 was not their surprising (and totally unexpected) success in toppling the center-right government of Boiko Borisov, but two features that made them unique: the demography of the protesters and their slogans. The crowd was mostly composed of young people, university and high-school students in their teens, and there was an almost complete avoidance of political sloganeering. The protests started over the high electricity bills, but were generally directed against the corruption of the political class, the arrogance of thenouveaux riches, and the abject...

    • 2. Experts with a Cause: A Future for GDR History beyond Memory Governance and Ostalgie in Unified Germany
      (pp. 29-42)
      Thomas Lindenberger

      The revolutions that swept Europe in 1989 were unexpected, not only for historians. Their commemoration twenty years later has prompted an enormous output of publications in all formats and genres: books, DVDs, TV features, and exhibitions covering all segments of culture, from highbrow to lowbrow, state-subsidized and commercial, in the capitals and in the provinces, from academic historiography to dilettante folk art. While the exact number is difficult to verify, up to 60,000 books dealing with the German division and East Germany’s past have been published in the last twenty years. The bulk of these publications is not scholarly literature,...

    • 3. The Canon of Remembering Romanian Communism: From Autobiographical Recollections to Collective Representations
      (pp. 43-70)
      Cristina Petrescu and Dragoş Petrescu

      According to the conventional knowledge developed in the West during the Cold War, Romania was more often than not an exception, at odds not only with the Soviet Union, but also with the other satellites. From a country envied by the “fraternal” states and applauded by the opposite camp because of its reorientation toward the West in the 1960s, Romania turned by the end of the 1980s into a discredited dictatorship with a rotten economy and the lowest living standards in Europe, with the possible exception of Albania. At the time when perestroika and glasnost stirred the winds of change...

    • 4. How Is Communism Remembered in Bulgaria? Research, Literature, Projects
      (pp. 71-96)
      Iskra Baeva and Petya Kabakchieva

      This chapter begins with a few words on the evolution of the historiographical interpretations of the socialist era in Bulgaria. The shift occurred almost immediately after 1989. Unlike some other socialist countries in Eastern Europe, in Bulgaria “the changes” were not the result of a “people’s revolution” but rather “a palace coup,” whereby the pro-Gorbachev group in the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party forced Todor Zhivkov to resign.¹ As a result, the transition process developed more slowly. Still, the reinterpretation of the recent past started on an absolutely negative note: all newspapers (even before...

    • 5. The Memory of Communism in Poland
      (pp. 97-118)
      Izabella Main

      Historical studies of the period of the Polish People’s Republic (PRL) flourished after 1989 as a result of the newly gained freedom of scholarship and better access to the archives, as well as growing individual, public, and political interest in this topic. A vast number of books, papers, and memoirs have been published. However, a few valuable books dealing with communist history were published before 1989, either as samizdat in Poland, or abroad. While the communist period (1945–1989) itself has a broad bibliography, the issue of remembering communism¹ is less explored. This chapter is a modest attempt to explore...

    • 6. Remembering Dictatorship: Eastern and Southern Europe Compared
      (pp. 119-152)
      Stefan Troebst

      The French political scientist Maurice Duverger, born in 1917, became known throughout Europe in 1954 for Duverger’s law, according to which a system of simple majority in single-representative districts tends to favor the development of a two-party system.¹ Ten years later, the social democrat published a book, entitledDe la Dictature, in which, instead of writing pragmatically about election statistics, he adopted an emotional, even dramatic tone:

      Dictatorship constantly threatens our generation: we are already used to it stalking us like a wild animal whose roars make us wake up at night, and sometimes comes so close that we feel...

    • 7. Communism Reloaded
      (pp. 155-174)
      Milla Mineva

      It is hard for someone born in 1975 to tell the story of her personal position before 1989. It is even harder for someone seduced by the life stories of others. Briefly, we are the children of socialism. It has faded away along with our childhood. I was fourteen when I stepped out on the square to celebrate the end of communism. My passion then was the passion of my parents and my teachers, their smiles made me smile, there zeal led me to the rallies.

      Today I know that I can narrate the story of my childhood in different...

    • 8. Daily Life and Constraints in Communist Romania in the Late 1980s: From the Semiotics of Food to the Semiotics of Power
      (pp. 175-200)
      Smaranda Vultur

      In 1974, when my daughter was born, I lived in Bucharest and soon I was to discover that basic food products that had not been a problem so far were becoming few and far between, being available only at the cost of endless queues. I could not predict, then, that things would get much worse, to such an extent that, between 1987 and 1989, when I was back in Timişoara, sugar, butter, oil, and flour were rationed, while milk, eggs, and meat implied the same endless queues, before they would disappear altogether from Romanian stores. Consequently, I experienced the notions...

    • 9. “Forbidden Images?” Visual Memories of Romanian Communism Before and After 1989
      (pp. 201-216)
      Simina Bădică

      I am a child of the 1980s. No matter how different my life is now from what could be imagined for a child born and raised in Ceauşescu’s last and craziest decade, I will always know I come from a different world. My academic research so far could be summarized as trying to explain and understand this different world and the people who inhabited it.

      One of these people was my father. Besides being a chemistry teacher and my father, he was also an amateur photographer with a Zenit camera and a basic kit for developing his films in the...

    • 10. Remembering the Private Display of Decorative Things under Communism
      (pp. 217-230)
      Andi Mihalache

      My study was triggered by both professional and personal motives. Firstly, I participated in a research project entitled “A New Perspective on the Idea of Patrimony: Object and Image in Twentieth-Century Romanian Autobiographical Literature,” and the keyword in this project was what the French callle petit patrimoine.The “little patrimony” is not a metaphor, but a concept that has been increasingly dealt with lately. Jocelyne Bonnet-Carbonell puts its emergence down to a real revolution that took place in patrimonial studies, wherein the focus moved away from the verb “to have” to the verb “to be.” “Little patrimonies” include objects...

    • 11. “Loan Memory”: Communism and the Youngest Generation
      (pp. 233-250)
      Albena Hranova

      It was my everyday practice as a university professor that made me face the problem discussed in this volume, and it was the first decade of our century that made the problem entirely evident. Students born toward the end of communism (mid- to late 1980s) knew practically nothing about it. I had to hear innumerable egregious mistakes in my classes, for example, a student once saying that communism was “a medieval event or regime” (it was not a metaphorical statement). About five years ago another student wrote in a paper the following sentence: “Nowadays, as we enter the era of...

    • 12. Talking Memories of the Socialist Age: School, Childhood, Regime
      (pp. 251-266)
      Cătălina Mihalache

      In the beginning was the student, and he has never entirely abandoned the adult who succeeded him. Childhood owes to school as much as it owes to family or neighbors, but this banal truth has not been registered in the archives and has not made history. Almost my entire existence has somehow been related to school, in so many ways: as a school student, university student, history teacher, research fellow in the history of education, university lecturer, and, more recently, mother of a future student. It seems to be more of a trap than a creed. The world is certainly...

    • 13. Within (and Without) the “Stem Cell” of Socialist Society
      (pp. 267-282)
      Anny Kirilova

      Adoption is a sore subject, much discussed and debated in present-day Bulgaria. Under socialism, it was a state policy, not subject to public deliberation. Until a decade ago, the ethnological interpretation of adoption was limited to traditional societal norms and perceptions. It was my personal involvement in this process, as well as the lack of serious sociological studies on the socialist period, that engaged my scholarly interest to the topic.

      Adoption is intrinsic to the Bulgarian cultural system both in memory and in its present form and represents a relatively autonomous module. Participants, enacting procedures, and consequences place adoption in...

    • 14. Remembering Communism: Field Studies in Pernik, 1960–1964
      (pp. 285-306)
      Tania Boneva

      In my study, I have tried to overcome the one-sided image of communism/socialism in Bulgaria. I hope that it answers some of the critical questions about the development of Bulgarian society in the twentieth century, and that it presents a complex picture of both peasants and workers in the region of Pernik at that time, in particular with regard to the problems of economic and social modernization of Bulgarian society in the period of communism/socialism. The social inequalities between peasants and workers, the focus on industrialization and massive migration to the town—a process typical for the whole communist period...

    • 15. “Remembering the Old City, Building a New One”: The Plural Memories of a Multiethnic City
      (pp. 307-324)
      Tamás Lönhárt and Virgiliu Ţârău

      In a city of East-Central Europe, where the inhabitants spoke Hungarian, Romanian, German, or Yiddish as their native language, prayed in churches of Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, Unitarian, or Jewish denominations for centuries, paradoxically (since communism is known for its official references to proletarian internationalism) ethnicity became the dominant frame for remembering communism, socialist industrialization, and the roles different groups played in social transformations. The language used by the local community’s old and new leaders, traditional and new members, as well as the metamorphosis of national and historical symbols in the urban public space are important elements of the interviewees’...

    • 16. Workers in the Workers’ State: Industrialization, Labor, and Everyday Life in the Industrial City of Rovinari
      (pp. 325-342)
      Corina Cimpoieru

      The proletariat never existed. It was artificially made by the communists and it disappeared once the communists were gone.

      Cristian Pârvulescu

      Following the above motto and photograph, the present study starts from an apparent paradox dealing with a subject that undergoes a dichotomic representation. While the motto contests a proletariat in re, the photograph affirms it blatantly through corpor(e)ality. The aim of presenting this paradox is to draw attention to the condition of industrial workers in socialism and its representation after the fall of the regime. The motto is frequently encountered in the postsocialist hegemonic discourse which reduces the proletariat...

    • 17. “We Build for Our Country!” Visual Memories about the Brigadier Movement
      (pp. 343-364)
      Tsvetana Manova

      My family—my ancestors and their ancestors—were all native inhabitants of the town of Pernik. Therefore, it is my place, a place I did not choose or want, but cannot change for another. My earliest childhood coincided with the construction of some important industrial plants—such as the steel foundry plant, the heavy metallurgy plant, the machine-building plant among others. All of them were built with the unpaid labor of thousands of young people who were deeply convinced that they were building the future of their town. My generation grew up with their enthusiasm and selflessness, which were widely...

    • 18. How Post-1989 Bulgarian Society Perceives the Role of the State Security Service
      (pp. 367-384)
      Iskra Baeva

      For good or bad, in the course of the last more than two decades Bulgarian society has been undergoing deep social and political transformations. These have not been the first transformations of this kind during the twentieth century but for the first time the historians of my generation could observe and analyze them by themselves. From the very beginning of the changes in Bulgaria—10 November 1989—it became quite clear to me that, apart from participating in political life (which I did throughout the first decade of the transition), I should view what was happening through the prism of...

    • 19. The Afterlife of the Securitate: On Moral Correctness in Postcommunist Romania
      (pp. 385-416)
      Cristina Petrescu

      The Securitate is one “thing past” that everyone over the age of thirty in Romania remembers with horror. An accidental conversation—still vivid in my memory after more than twenty years—left me with the idea that this institution was once rather ambiguously perceived. In the fall of 1989, I was talking to a colleague at my new job and to my surprise, she started suddenly to confess to me serenely that her husband-to-be, a high school graduate, was approached by a secret police officer, who praised him for his good school record. I remember, as it struck me then,...

    • 20. Daily Life and Surveillance in the 1970s and 1980s
      (pp. 417-436)
      Smaranda Vultur

      I took an interest in the theme of Securitate surveillance of our lives a short while after this institution’s archives were opened to the public, in 2001, I believe. I saw my own file, which was started in January 1989, and I realized that the frequent out-of-order telephone lines at the time made sense now, and that the technician who would come to repair the device most likely replaced one microphone with another. Although it was not very bulky—it had only thirty-nine pages—the file told me something about the practices of surveillance and about the omissions and limitations...

    • 21. From Memory to Canon: How Do Bulgarian Historians Remember Communism?
      (pp. 439-458)
      Liliana Deyanova

      Immediately after 1989, our past became more and more unpredictable. At the time, I did not realize how accurate this famous phrase would continue to be two decades later. Although I had been working on the problematic of collective memory for some time, I could not have imagined that the efforts of a group of politicians and historians (the European People’s Party, Stéphane Courtois, and others), who strove to legalize the formula “communism is a regime more perverse than Nazism” in the process of lobbying for Resolution 1481 of the PACE (January 2006), would not be discussed by Bulgarian historians,...

    • 22. Theater Artists and the Bulgarian Authorities in the 1960s: Memories of Conflicts, Conflict of Memories
      (pp. 459-476)
      Natalia Hristova

      For more than thirty years my research focus has been on Bulgarian culture in the second half of the twentieth century. In the last twenty years I branched out from the archive and literary works into the sprawling memoir literature, and I have been conducting interviews with Bulgarian intellectuals. I cannot recall whether my choice for interviews was based on the fact of my personal acquaintance with writers, or whether I was attracted to critical authors and their literature. Most likely, the two coincided.

      During the two postsocialist decades I also started looking more closely at theater artists and cineastes,...

    • 23. Bulgarian Intellectuals Remember Communist Culture
      (pp. 477-494)
      Vasil Markov

      My childhood went under the sign of socialism. A child perceives but does not rationalize. So my memories of socialism were later imported from family members’ stories. Most of these stories tended to repudiate the past; others were nostalgic, but there was always a before and an after. When my academic adviser, Prof. Natalia Hristova, approached me with a proposal to take part in the project, I responded from the position of someone who has both witnessed an event and is unable to recollect it. I decided to eschew the notion of collective memory in favor of subjective memories— multiple...

    • 24. “By Their Memoirs You Shall Know Them”: Ivan and Petko Venedikov about Themselves and about Communism
      (pp. 495-512)
      Iliana Marcheva

      The relationship “scholar-political regime” and the limits of the admissible compromises, which every intellectual sets according to his/her own ideas about morality, should be of considerable interest to any scholar, at the very least for the purposes of comparison with other fellow-workers. I was interested in those questions, being myself a student of socialism, and especially as a result of my participation in a project at the Institute of History at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in 2004–2005. The project dealt with how “the changes” reflected upon the discipline of history in the 1980s. The emphasis was on the...

    • 25. Cum Ira et Studio: Visualizing the Recent Past
      (pp. 513-530)
      Vania Stoyanova

      The idea to deal with cinema in this particular project came from Maria Todorova. My initial choice leaned toward another topic where I felt more confident and experienced. The proposal sprang up in a conversation at our common friend’s house and after thinking it through, I decided to take on the challenge (few Bulgarian historians are interested in this border field of investigation). In my first efforts one of Maria’s articles helped me see in a different light the various types of sources on the past

      I admit I am a historian who loves cinema. As an academic researcher who...

    • 26. The Revolution of 1989 and the Rashomon Effect: Recollections of the Collapse of Communism in Romania
      (pp. 533-548)
      Dragoş Petrescu

      I am one of the millions of witnesses to the Romanian Revolution of 1989, but not as a revolutionary. I involved myself in the turmoil only on 22 December, after I heard on TV that Ceauşescu had fled in a helicopter from the party headquarters in Bucharest. A fresh engineer in the city of Tîrgovişte, I remember that before this critical moment I merely anticipated that I was about to experience the worst face of the regime, which seemed to be preparing a large-scale repression. We knew that the revolt had already spread from Timişoara to Bucharest from a colleague,...

    • 27. Remembrance of Communism on the Former Day of Socialist Victory: The 9th of September in the Ritual Ceremonies of Post-1989 Bulgaria
      (pp. 549-566)
      Nikolai Vukov

      A glance back to one of the brightest holidays in the calendar of communist Bulgaria, the 9th of September, summons one of the most vivid memories of early childhood. This special state holiday would be appropriately marked by a rally and festive gatherings in central parts of cities and villages, and it also provided the occasion for guest visits between relatives living at distant locations. In the overall uniformity of lifestyles and consumption patterns, the holiday lunches and dinners hardly varied much and customarily involved meatballs and sausages, tomato salads or mashed potatoes, lemonade and homemade desserts. For a five-...

    • 28. Remembering the “Revival Process” in Post-1989 Bulgaria
      (pp. 567-594)
      Evgenia Kalinova

      The euphemistically called “revival process,” that is, the policy of the Bulgarian Communist Party aiming at ethnic assimilation of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria in the second half of the 1980s, has been in the scope of my research interests as an important part of contemporary Bulgarian history which I teach at the University of Sofia. At the same time, I have always been aware that the “revival process,” even though it ended in December 1989, is still present as a painful memory. When discussing the problem with my students, I observed that their reactions most often were purely emotional...

    • 29. Websites of Memory: In Search of the Forgotten Past
      (pp. 595-614)
      Cristina Petrescu

      This chapter was initially meant to illustrate the uniqueness of Romanian communism on the basis of memories of everyday life in the 1980s. As a survivor of those years, I remember a lot of “exotic” little things from our miserable existence that could have hardly happened somewhere else than in Romania. The image of a long queue of subdued individuals who were standing armed with bags in front of a shop or that of a jubilant man who carried victoriously several toilet paper rolls were familiar to all those who lived behind the Iron Curtain. Yet, I have never heard...

  13. List of Contributors
    (pp. 615-616)
  14. Index
    (pp. 617-626)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 627-627)