Written by Raluca Țurcanașu
How can you write about the Revolution when only now,
like a baby,
30 y after
that you learn about it?
HoW DaRE yoU??
How can you tell it to boomers?
How can you tell it to folks double your age
who f-the-king lived it
Each on his own?
How can you approach GenXers,
With empathic criticism:
„Mum, Dad, why didn’t you tell me more?”
“Hey Auntie, how was it like to be a teenager then,
No Bravo, no Vogue, no games, nada?”
How can you go dig their stories,
Without exoticizing the very lives of your dear ones?
- I don't know,
From the "I don't know"
From acknowledging this "I don't know"
I beg, I beg your pardon
-- oh have you not taught me to always beg your pardon, Sir? *grrr*
I ask you from my vulnerability and
I question my "I don't know"
Shamelessly, yet full of shame
And I ask you to question it with me
- Why didn't you tell me so that I know?
-Why did you pretend to let them teach us at school?
- Why didn't you share your experience, person to person,
Parent to child, sister to sister, brother to brother,
Human to human.
- Why did you choose to rather forget and bury
This entire wound
And not heal it through talking, sharing
Building links and spaces and nets together?
- They destroyed the fabric of your society, of generations
but did you help rebuild it?
- How can I ask you these, so that you don't get mad?
With this in mind I started to write this article for Revista 22, here in English (my translation).
Yet, before I started to write - weeks before - I again thought.
I thought about writing about how I had written about the Revolution.
And one thought occurred: The way in which in "Balanta" -
this film made in, with action set in 92 by Lucian Pintilie
and just restored to 4K - the people kept saying:
- You're talking politics again.
- Don't turn this into politics.
I remember there was this thing in the nineties:
- Don't talk politics...
This is in itself a nice pill of ideology that was embedded into us long ago.
[note to self There’s also some anguish re-seeing this text.]
29/30: Whys, impostor syndrome, education as a privilege
The Revolution through the eyes of a millennial
[note to self: the publication made the subtitle into the main title]
I am a child of the Revolution. I mean that if the Revolution hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have existed, probably. I was born in October 1990 and my parents were married for a couple of years, so they waited for it. Today there are lots of us feeling that this world is not a place to bring a baby into, but another moment doesn’t seem to come.
I have always appreciated the times in which I was born. I practically grew up with technology, my childhood was offline, picking up chestnuts, playing around the only light bulb in the park. I went to a central school in which I was among the least privileged and it took me a while to deconstruct this idea, that “I’m not privileged”. Part of this deconstructive phase was also acknowledging the education “in my days”, when we had 3 Exams after the 8th grade and 6 after the 12th. I could see the degradation of the educational system as I observed my cousins, the youngest in the 8th grade. In our 8th grade history book, there’s only one page dedicated to the communist regime and only a couple of lines to the Revolution.
When I was little there was not much talk about the Revolution. There was about the Ceaușescu period, of the queues and the food, the lack of it. There were Almanachs with Ceaușescu’s photo. I was about 1 and… I would kiss that photo. On my own initiative. It’s strange what triggered in me-child that god-like representation of the leader. Thing is, I don’t really remember stories about the Revolution from my childhood. Only about Communism. In school, recent history was the last lesson, before the holiday. We would quickly go through it, nobody would come tell us stories, and the frame of the manual was never overlapped. I even did my first exam (Capacity, 8th grade) in History and I ended up at one of the best highschools in the country, according to the admission grade: Mihai Viteazu, Math-Info, Bucharest. That was it with the subject of Romanian History, we didn’t do that in highschool and history wasn’t one of the important subjects in our Mathematics department.
Fast forward in the present (NA: December 2019)
A friend invited me to collaborate on editing a catalogue titled “Memories of the Fortress”, a project initiated by Timisoara 2021 – European Capital of Culture, including around 40 memories from the Revolution, mainly from Timisoara (some of them can be read here).
As such, 30 years after the Revolution, aged 29, I began to learn authentically what happened then. To learn that we will never learn and that here – even more obviously than in other respects – cannot be an “objective” knowing.
I went to Timisoara to the launch of the catalogue and during the 5 days spent there, I learned more than 90% of what I now know about the Revolution. This came with self-blame: I should have researched it myself, I should have had the responsibility of understanding the events in the recent history of my community. Should I have?
Even more, it brought with it more why-s:
Why weren’t these things told to us when we were young when they were extremely recent?
Why don’t we learn history from audio-video sources, photographs of the Revolution?
Why don’t we use “Videograms from a Revolution”, of Andrei Ujica and Harun Farcoki, as teaching material, in the classroom?
I went to the exhibition organised at the Military Garrison in the Liberty Square, in Timisoara, a central building belonging to the army, loaded with historical events (and vibes) yet unused for years. It was the first time I saw such depicting photographs from those days, by Andrei Pandele, Constantin Duma, Ioan Radu, Mircea Radu, Cătălin Regea and Valentin Suta. If they mostly took aerial views of the people, Dobrivoie Kerpenisan has a different approach. He took closer frames, intimate stills of women and men (equally!) in villages and cities, during the Revolution. His real, lively photos were placed right next to the „People. Power. Romania. Revolution” series, by Cornel Brad, featuring the VIPs of the Revolution. Pardon my expression, but you had there from Doinea Cornea to Ioan Chiș and Ion Iliescu and Petre Roman, a series of mainly male portraits, lacking any kind of problematisation, a mere enumeration which I don’t know how much would honor the lives lost in the Revolution. If in Kerpenisan photos we see approximately an equal number of women and men, in Brad’s project we have 40 portraits out of which only 7 women. Why don’t we try to go deeper into a subject, to treat it with the delicacy and importance due, to have an intersectional problematising, to bring a new angle? What does this kinning (placement together) of septic, clean photos, which almost say “We’re similar copies, We’re almost like Platon’s photos” and the vivid, emotional ones of Kerpenisan mean?
Once installed, the why calls other why-s into help. Why don’t we compare what happened in 89 at the Revolution, 30 years ago, to other historic or contemporary revolutions?
The whys fraternize with other people’s whys. I was telling this friend that on the 16th of December I followed the Heroes’ March in Timisoara, from the Garrison to the Heroes’ Cemetery. I’ve never been in such a march and I have to admit I also did it from an anthropological curiosity. I did many things throughout my life by such curiosity. My friend noted that the Hooligans Hymn, which I knew long ago, from my folk period, was actually developed during the Mineriads (NA: miners were ushered from their workplaces to come protest violently in Bucharest, in 91-92). Mind-blowing. How come I didn’t know this? It’s easier to “whatever” and move on, than confront these whys, bringing the shame of not knowing. Why do they paste songs that don’t belong to the Revolution to the March? Maybe for the organizers, Peluza Sud Timisoara, football supporters, it was as clear as it was for me: not really. In the context in which knowing about such recent events is a privilege (not being passed on through word of mouth neither at home nor at school), how can we judge them?
Why don’t we tell each other more often what happened, our personal histories? 30 years ago and in general? Why didn’t you tell us more, why didn’t you invite people at our personal classes (1 class per week with the head teacher) or histories classes, that would talk from their subjectivities? Why do we keep this trauma so closed within and why don’t we know that only by releasing it through personal stories we can cure it?
Now I know it’s unclear what happened then. But it doesn’t help either that these few days we are drowned in sources about the Revolution. You don’t have time to thoroughly go through and then comes New Year’s Eve and you forget. As we forgot about Dinca, for example (recent alleged killer and trafficker and rapist). If understanding our history, the Big one and the many, small, personal ones, would really matter to us we’d challenge our close ones to empathic talks, in solidarity, which could become intergenerational bridges. If we’d try, maybe, to look from a completely novel angle, that of, say, non-white, non-European revolutions, such as the one in Haiti or the Blue Revolution of Kuwaiti women we could perhaps find new perspectives upon the Romanian one. Maybe we’d then understand that we were looking 1 cm away from the “painting”, too close to see the whole picture and to establish the necessary critical distance.
Otherwise, Revolutions, the big ones and the small ones, remain mere poor images (Hito Steyerl), phantoms of some images, memory-images, wandering ideas, strenuously inserted into conversations, comprised, reproduced, impoverished, digital. Those images risk to become instruments of the capital accumulation and, thus, become ridiculous, to be captive in galleries instead of playing out their educational mission (such as the documentary “Videogrames from a Revolution”, displayed at ISHO). They even risk fetishising the revolutionary act, as the case of the Yves Saint Laurent pictorial “State of Emergency”, in which the models take a prisoner or demonstrator-like poses.
If “before” you lived under the hegemony of the crippling lack (lack of food, lack of voices, lack of expression), today we live under the hegemony of the abundance, of the oversignified, in which education is not an equitable common, but a privilege. Privilege is to be able to filter through torrents of information; especially in the social context in which migration left thousands of children on their own.
“Those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it”. My mum would keep saying this from time to time. But this context of the oversaturation of information transform real historic knowledge into privilege and, at the same time, it invalidates it, as it’s not monetisable in the empire of the senses, that “based on shocks and attractions, on wish and disgust, on hatred and histeria, on sensation and fear. The power to provoke these emotions, to channel them, to transmit them further and make them commercial is a trait of power nowadays as such” (Steyerl, Beyond Representation).
Let’s talk more. Looking at each other in the eyes, not in a post.
[note to self 20.02. Well, I guess I did make some points and it wasn’t that bad after all].
All photos were taken by Raluca Țurcanașu
Multumesc, Raluca. Thank you for this article. I am your mother’s age, probably, and I have children a bit younger than you. We lived in a system of terror and silence, we were not used to talk much, we didn’t like to start difficult and in-depth conversations. It is something embedded in our nation, I am afraid, at least 2-3 generations before you, but I don’t want to generalise. This is my personal experience. I am saying this because sadly I don’t remember my parents and grandparents talking much about their lives, to us, children, not even the important matters. We were “only” children, and when we grew up they were gone, because of the hardships they endured in their lifetimes. Besides, the topic of the Revolution of 1989 is controversial. I have just recently discovered an amazing history of my family, because just now (or maybe a decade ago, when I left Romania with my family) I realise how important it is to know who you are and where you come from. For this reason, a while ago, I started writing stories too and talking to my sons. But I believe that my children, your generation, see the world differently and perhaps you are in a more advantageous position, because you are more detached from the actual event and more engaged in the aftermath at the same time. You are right: it’s a two-way relationship. So good on you for asking questions, never stop asking, write stories and take photos, so that the next generations know their history and live better lives. Thank you for your brave voice.
Hi, Mihaela! Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragements! I have also provoked my parents to share more stories from the times and plan/ hope to get round to documenting them in an audio/ video format.
I know it is deeply embedded within us to avoid difficult conversations and just the other day I actually confronted them directly to try to understand how this avoidance has been perpetuated in our family.
I am just trying to ask criticizing questions with, hopefully, a lot of empathy and to suggest we can also write/ talk from the position of the lack of knowledge/ gaped knowledge, because usually in our academic or somewhat intellectual texts we write from a very knowledgeable position, of the one who has researched a certain topic for a long time and now, when writing, knows. But, what if the focus in writing would be more on hybrid texts, those texts in which we claim our own lacks & gaps, in which we question our own hypothesis? Would this more humble approach be more `digestible`, would it be able to open up more conversations?
As for the younger ones… I sadly suspect such pieces would not reach them either and they still rotate within the same circle. I suspect one should go to their preferred platforms such as Instagram or TikTok, adapt the discourse for those (yes, oversimplify it and make it visually appealing) and, after catching their attention there, redirecting them to longer written or video pieces. Just my subjective two-cents, as I don’t have any background in pedagogy…
Do you publish anywhere the pieces you have been writing or the way your sons receive the stories? Would be interesting 🙂
Buna, Raluca. Yes, I agree, our written texts/messages should be adapted to the audience, which isn’t easy to do from an academic background. Poetry tends to distill words and encapsulate the essence. I participated in a workshop about poetry where we talked about brevity – how we make the words pop. Instagram and TikTok – very elliptic language for me. Like you, I love words, lots of them. In my autoethnographic writing I combine personal experience/stories with theoretical threads and create a historical/political context. It’s a critical feminine perspective. I believe that my writing is thus accessible to a wider audience, outside academia as well, family, friends and people in the communities I belong to. And I also believe that research based on personal experiences is more meaningful and powerful.
You can find my Master thesis here: https://researchspace.auckland.ac.nz/handle/2292/32669 Please let me know if you can’t access it. My email: firstname.lastname@example.org I am writing my PhD dissertation findings now about Romanian immigrant teacher identity and working on a couple of articles too. And here I wrote “From another planet”. Your blog looks great. Maybe I should make one too. Keep well!