(An)other part of the Fall? Stories of anonymous women in (post-)communism
This is not a chapter on feminism because the feminist discussions especially in post-communist states have mostly been the privilege of some intellectual circles. To the extent that one may view the former Eastern bloc as a Cold War “colony,” we suggest here that writing about women’s experience of (post-) communism could beneﬁt from the theoretical lenses of indigenous politics; this can, for instance, mean using memory and story-telling to reconﬁgure (his)story and women’s personal narratives about land, homes, andcultural practices in an attempt to express the micro-politics of identification. The anonyms of peasant and worker households that we will focus on here, their communal, family, and kingship ties, have historically imagined tactics of survival in harsh circumstances of war, poverty, and/or unemployment. An indigenous standpoint is relevant here because one often “hears” rather than “reads” about these sorts of narratives. I will be moving back and forth on the memory labyrinth to situate my own perception of their stories and connect them intimately with what resonates in my heart as a post-communist subject. How do women’s experiences inform our perception of the transformational context of (post)socialism? Women’s narratives have been marginalized as emotional, “womanly” despite the, often obviously, violent regimes of power that have torn their lives. It is their micro-political marginality that mirrors macro-political hegemonies. While indigenous politics offers a window into these silenced languages, post-structuralism helps us see identities as performative rather than expressive. Why is it important to critique categories of (post-communist) identity? As in the many ambiguous, fragmentary, non-deﬁnitive, discontinuous, and unstable stories of women that I heard, humans exist only through everyday doing and undoing of life. There is nothing outside our constructed identities, nothing essential that we should/could return to, look for, or emancipate ourselves from.
Once upon a time …
The deconstruction of identity … establishes as political the very terms through which identity is articulated. (Butler 1999, 189)
Writing differently about women and post-communism is, for me, a statement: I am not here to make sense of issues but rather to sense them, to make an invitation to opening up sensibilities and hopefully subversive identity possibilities. At the time of my undergraduate studies in political science (1999–2003) I had never stopped to seriously consider my mother’s complaints about her long-lived double (or triple) burden of being a mother, a wife, a worker and a former peasant with responsibilities for the land she left behind in Dambovita, Romania. I was being educated in the new language of liberal meritocracy and, hence, her “ill-fate” only seemed a matter of personal bad choice, bad luck, or (un)education: she was one of the “deserving poor” for she could not manage to dream or reach higher. If sometimes the thought of poverty and identity—as a relational and contingent effect of power, to be historicized and problematized—came into my mind, there were plenty of people within my circle to advise me on how to avoid such an approach. Being exploited and in misery was causa sui, abject and ugly. It never occurred to me that I was being emotionally handicapped by a new dominant discourse that was aggressive and pervasive, winning the “hearts and minds” of numerous youngsters who needed to believe in the new utopia of growth and progress.
While I uncritically accepted the idea of a “generation of sacriﬁce” for the progress that was to “trickle down” in the 2000s, I was, however, wondering: How long are some people going to suffer? I am still asking this question, 10 years later, after being exposed to both an apparent prosperity boom and a harsh bust. The rising inequalities and corrupt practices have not been decreased by the “transition” to a so-called “free market” society. On the contrary: the streets of Bucharest have been recently occupied by more and more people of all ages and gender (including numerous mothers with their children) protesting one of the symbols of the corrupt partnership between corporate/ex-communist capital and political decision-makers, i.e. the Rosia Montana gold-mining project. This text is a way to go back to the historical roots of this type of emblematic conﬂict through the stories of anonymous women who have had the chance to live before, during, and after communism.
It is through their experience that I try to sense and accept my own ambivalences and ambiguities as a descendent, as if their fears, sorrows, emotions of all kinds, are still circulating through my veins. This is supposed to be an introduction about my “research,” with objectives or methodologies. I prefer to make it a story, with memories about family, friends, and other testimonies, and so will this chapter be also. I ﬁnd that indigenous politics, post-colonial studies, and critical theory speak to me the most for the purpose of my “native” way of writings. For academic reasons, if we are to “label,” I would position myself for “decolonization of methodologies” because “the term “research” is inextricably linked to European imperialism” (Tuhiwai Smith 1999, 1) while struggles of marginalized people all over the world are liberating a similar anger. That anger speaks not only about reclaiming a “right” (as a liberal trap) but indeed, about the actual validity of their/our existence, land, resources, languages. Indigenous research is for me the “humble and humbling activity” (Tuhiwai Smith 1999, 17) of gathering life-stories and biographies, which, in the case of this chapter, come from several women from Romania who are over 70 years old, who have lived the horrors of the Second World War as well as of (post-)communism and who accepted the presentation of their life as a “story” to their (now sociologist) nieces or friends in the latter’s attempt to ﬁll a gap in the (his)story of (post-)communism: a collection coordinated by Zoltan Rostas and Theodora-Eliza Vacarescu, The Other Half of History: Women Telling Stories (2008).
In addition, as I mentioned above, I will be moving back and forth on the memory labyrinth to situate my own perception of their stories and connect them intimately with what resonates in my heart as a post-communist subject. I also think that post-structuralism, without bringing an end to autobiographical writing, “does draw attention to the diffculty of the “I” to express itself through the language that is available to it” (Butler 1999, xxiv). And yes, I will jump from one time in (his)story to another on purpose, because I think time, as identity, is an illusion, which we have to repeatedly practice in order to naturalize and also because, when it comes to inheriting the ancestry of an “oppressed identity,” there are multiple temporalities to which we could relate critically. One is invited to feel and think of detemporalization so that we do not misleadingly distinguish between a colonial/communist/totalitarian past and a current liberal society of states:
To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it “the way it really was” (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it ﬂashes up at a moment of danger. (Benjamin 1968, 255)
How could I write about post-communism or about my experience of the Eastern bloc through the lenses of “indigenous politics”? It is this understanding that I offer for those who ask the question: “indigenous” means being the child (grandchild and so on) of a land. This land persists in the attachments to a homeland, which stay in a person’s heart no matter where one lives. The issue is about land with its special signiﬁcance of a certain way of life and which, in return, constructs the stage for one’s own identity (re)production. Indigenous also means being aware of a historical struggle of survival as distinct peoples, a struggle that may have shaped someone’s life even unconsciously. In line with indigenous politics, I also believe that, when dehumanizing becomes humanism, imperialism becomes liberalism and theft is seen as trade, research is not about neutral knowledge but about human life, control, and power struggles. The ruling elites still preserve and perpetuate their privileges, while the majority of the population feeds with an illusion of equality of opportunity to capital (Bourdieu 1984).
It is not surprising that people’s ontological anxieties are evoked in response to changes in the warrants for the value of money, not only because their wealth is at stake but also because they want their exchanges connected to a foundation with collective symbolic guarantees. (Shapiro 1999, 111)
Imperialism—as the pervasive totalitarian thought that hunts humanity— requires us to approach feminism or any other current movement (ecological or other) in a broader framework, where labour, class, race, or capital connect in (in)visible, fragmentary, and ﬂuid ways. One is invited to feel and think not only about the “male tyranny” but about the hegemonic culture that makes “male tyranny” possible and seductive, an order that manages to naturalize and habituate its own arbitrariness and which, eventually, produces an anti-equalitarian distribution of happiness. As Vacarescu mentions following the biographical interviewing process, “testimonies of these women conﬁrm their status not just as victims but also as active participants in diverse systems and movements which inﬂuence individuals’ capacity to shape their existence and negotiate with the system” (Rostas and Vacarescu 2008, 455).
Worlds of (post)-communisms
Trapped within worlds
Different but so alike
Alike but still so different
Wondering where to hide From traps to creativity
From conformity pressures
From personal compromises …
I have many vivid memories of my childhood: one is when I am 6 years old and I am waiting in bed for my father to bring a heated piece of brick so that I get warm and sleep. Winters were hard in the 1980s with less heat and less food. I also remember my father waking up at 4 in the morning just to make sure he is ﬁrst in line at the grocery shop and get some yogurt and tacamuri (chicken-organs) for ﬁve persons. My mother was always upset, but for a long time I could not understand why. Later on, I found out about the many abortions she had (illegally) because of the Decree of Ceausescu and no contraceptives were available especially for women with no “connections.” As an adolescent I realized I was also born as a remnant of the 770 Decree, I was a post-”decretel,” (child of the decree), one of those babies that Ceausescu’s “doctors” forced into being to produce a unified national-communist society of brave and bright people. For a long time I hated the hatred that my mom was feeling when talking about my birth as a violence to herself. Maybe she never received me “apart from the grammar” that established my availability to her, as a peasant forced to leave her village and family at a young age in search of wage-labor, and forced to marry in order to be accepted as an urban resident. I confused her pain with hatred for myself and for my father. Maybe she also preferred to hate me and my father for such pains; at least she could relate directly with someone to express herself because the power dynamics that produced all these were invisible. She became mother of three in the acts of corporeal performance whose meanings are still contingent, a body “whose permeability is politically regulated” (Butler 1999, 177).
A lot of women died because of that. I was in trouble as well, keep applying that “treatment” and the baby still keep growing. I was desperate. Women were hunted as war criminals when in ‘66 that decree was issued banning abortion. Only in the fourth month I could get an operation. I cried a lot, it was a horrible pain. Not only of my soul. (Rostas and Vacarescu 2008, 356)
Decretei’s mothers have been repeating those “illusions of substance—that bodies are compelled to approximate, but never can” (Butler 1999, 186). Not only would they have been socially punished if they did not “do her job” (work, be a wife, take care of children) but, moreover, it was her punishment to herself that could not let her enjoy her apparent “choice.” These “illusions” are part of histories which condition and limit our possibilities of identity and therefore, “as a strategy of survival within compulsory systems, gender is a performance with clear punitive consequences” (Butler 1999, 178).
For so it was at that time—girls did not have to study much. Even if wealthy, they have to take care of home. Boys have to study more. So was the time. (Rostas and Vacarescu 2008, 95)
And it was not normal for a girl to go to work, but if you did not make ends meet, you had to ﬁnd a job. (Rostas and Vacarescu 2008, 224)
A lot of babies were born during more than two decades of prohibition of abortion (1960–70 and even after). The fabrica (factory) was giving houses for families with more children. My parents were content to move into a big new apartment after I was born. In this apartment, we found (and kept as a treasure) one greetings card that was sent from Canada by the real owner of the house to his daughter (who probably lived there some time after he escaped). The card said: “For the most beautiful, the smartest and hopefully from now on, the healthiest girl in the world.” I always felt I was living in someone else’s house and that I’m temporarily occupying some space that I grew up to call home. I was fascinated by the coloured parrots on the card. It was my way to connect with the world out there, a world that I was eager to know. It was also a way to think of the joy and trust that the ex-owner-father seem to display: Where did he get his joy and trust from? How could he have expressed it so openly? Why did my parents never seem to exhibit such emotions?
The critical question is not how did that identity become internalized? as if internalization were a process or a mechanism that might be descriptively reconstructed. Rather, the question is: From what strategic position in public discourse and for what reasons has the trope of interiority and the disjunctive binary of inner/outer taken hold? (Butler 1999, 171)
As a child, I also remember a different house that was also a target of disputes within our family: “la tara” (the house/land from the countryside) where my mother still had to go as often as she could, to take care of her relatives left behind. It was always a painful, difficult back and forth, a feeling of life and death. Mom was torn and so were we because, while we were often loving the wealth of food we could bring from there to help us survive the city, we somehow anticipated the dying world of “la tara” and felt the effort to be futile. I remember our visits to the countryside also meant carrying lots of bags of bread and I could not understand: how is it that we bring bread to the place where it should come from? After my aunt died in 2011, “la tara” was, one more time, left behind by me and my generation. Our future seemed to belong to the city, the rented apartments, the wage-labor, and we repeated our new identities in such a new power dynamics.
The development of cities everywhere in the world has simultaneously been achieved at the expense of an impoverishment of rural areas, with “destitution” as an assault on traditional communal systems (Nandy 2002) and often with increased labour for women who had to travel farther or work harder to contribute to their family households (Robbins 2004). Thousands of peasants were taken out of their “misery” in this emancipator project, removed from their dependency on the land, prejudices and traditions. Building this enligh- tened society necessarily meant erasing these “natural” connections. During communism, the concept of wiping out the differences between rural and urban areas led to the destruction of hundreds of villages in Romania. Up to
20,000 villages disappeared, giving way to agricultural-industrial complexes. Some have accepted the new urban life as a social promotion. The Bolshevik revolution accomplished all the major goals of a bourgeois revolution: industrialism, secularism, education, infrastructure, and housing projects. Only after 1989 did the society based on classes and produced by the Bolsheviks germinate into the post-communist working class which is merely another subaltern.
Peasants never had a good time. It was bad before and it is bad now. Before, there was collectivism and we didn’t have all we needed. Now… Before, we were waking up in the morning wholeheartedly to work the land, because it was ours and we knew we eat from our labour. Now I am eighty years old, I cannot work the land. And everything is expensive. (Rostas and Vacarescu 2008, 26)
After the Revolution I started to go to courts and recover the land of my parent. … We thought we will get it back but these ones are stealing from us ever worse … (Rostas and Vacarescu 2008, 183)
Before you could, however, buy a pack of 30 eggs but now, we go buy three, four, ﬁve eggs because you simply cannot afford more … they make some laws now but if they would put themselves in the other’s shoes, of those who don’t have a part, they would be smarter. (Rostas and Vacarescu 2008, 63)
There was not too much talk in my house before, like a black and white movie with no sound. I remember a special proﬁterol that the Cofetaria in my neighbourhood sold. Every year when school was over, children who received special prizes were awarded such proﬁterol. But I could never enjoy that because usually these special prizes could not be afforded by my parents. My parents never went to the school-instructor to bring her the food which could not be found on the “market” and, hence, I found myself all the time at the back of the classroom, with some of the gypsies and the badly behaved pupils. Because of that, I always felt there was something wrong with my parents. I remember a lot of aversion and anger that the educated showed towards the uneducated families like mine and I could not explain it as a child. I developed an aversion for my parents, feeling ashamed of them, wanting to not be like them. Later on, the same school-instructors and intellectual neighbours still could not believe that I went to college. They would keep asking my mom: “Is your daughter cleaning dishes in the US?” Cleaning my own dishes (and my own shit) as a graduate student in Hawai’i, I have learnt that “I” am not fatally determined by my history nor can “I” live outside its story, as if its reality is less “real.”
Still, there is a lot of indiﬀerence and arrogance on the part of the ruling elites who have looked in disgust at the small farmers, peasants, or workers (what they generally call “the poor” because of their lack of money and edu- cation). I remember a sad episode that happened few days ago (September 2013): Eugen David, leader of the Alburnus Maior family association in Rosia Montana, was visited by some politicians who (supposedly) wanted to ﬁnd out more about the local anti-mining movement. The ﬁrst question one of them asked was: “Didn’t you know we are coming? Why aren’t you dressed and showered properly?” Eugen is taking care of cows. He publicly expressed that he is proudly and joyfully a farmer. He is currently an inspiration for many of the youngsters protesting on the streets of Romanian cities. He, as many others, are protesting so that our children will still enjoy the view of the Apuseni Mountains, those mountains where children often go on holidays. But as Polanyi predicted in 1957:
Trading classes had no organ to sense the dangers involved in the exploitation of the physical strength of the worker, the destruction of family life, the devastation of neighborhoods, the denudation of forests, the pollution of rivers, the deterioration of craft standards, the disruption of folkways, and the general degradation of existence (Polanyi 1957, 139)
Now when I hear politicians simply demonizing the “poor” as lazy, uneducated, alcoholic, etc. it makes me sick. I remember how I could not see beyond my parents’ own ill fate and how simple (and bitter) it was to blame them for the situation, being unable (or unwilling?) to historicize and contextualize. Now I may be tempted to glorify my mother as Burawoy and others do for her courage to invent all kinds of everyday survival tactics: “She understood what no man could. Indeed, when we tried to interview men about strategies of survival, we quickly landed in a cul-de-sac… In their depression, they had also become inarticulate” (Burawoy 2009, 59). But I also stop at the thought of her being a traumatized subject of ambiguous variables (rural/urban, woman/men, worker/peasant) that remind me of Foucault’s notion of the docile body, which assumes that the outcome of disciplinary power is an ultimately productive subjectivity (Foucault 1994). Neither anti-system, nor truly passive or self-defeating, my mother (as surely other mothers) was also productive of pain, fear, panic, anger, distrust.
The ﬁrst time I remember my father being thrilled was in 1990 when the fabrica gave him Western “ajutoare” (hand-outs) and when he bought our ﬁrst coloured TV. The smell of the shower-gel from ajutoare was amazing; I never found it again anywhere. Maybe it never existed. However, the search for the smell persisted as did the mental image of dead bodies on TV. It came as a shock when, many days after December 1989, TV continuously showed the bodies of the many “decretei” who bravely died for freedom. I am still scared to watch these videos now on YouTube. Somehow I was not convinced enough to be happy for something that required so much bloodshed. But me and some of my neighbours were hugging and smiling, as if we were celebrating the most important moment of our life. Nowadays on the streets of Romania there is still the same hope for “freedom.” Behind the “invisible hand” of the market that supposedly and eventually brings prosperity, there are years and years of human sacriﬁces, land stealing, and values impositions for a capitalist culture to gradually naturalize itself from the ashes if its own monsters.
Mother, when it’s about war, some are getting richer, some are becoming miserable, some are getting poorer, some are dying and some are getting in famine. And this is it. (Rostas and Vacarescu 2008, 87)
When you are experiencing some traumatic changes you can only sense these by going back to your past—it is not otherwise possible as you are an eﬀect of a multitude of past events, more or less harsh and joyful. One only has one knowledge reservoir to sense them and that is history; surely you can make sense of them (understand them) by appeal to external factors, but sensing them is not so much a matter of cognitive explanation but rather of self-empathetic acceptance. What keeps us out of shock is our history, a way of reconnecting to the collective struggles of our past (Klein 2007). On the contrary, imposition of individualism and representative liberal democracy has been accompanied also by an atomization and estrangement that makes people become not only a minority at home but imprisoned at home. It is an ongoing process of violencing, a violence in construction or in “progress.”
Shock became a trope in people’s lives that bound together the experience of political economic decline, the belief that one was facing the end of a way of life, the loss of status, livelihood and dignity of everyone around one, and the emotional numbness that ultimately—after the initial surprise and sense of righteous anger—washed over people in the face of this destruction. (Friedman 2007, 422)
My “post-communist self”/living became a dialectic experience, living at the border of two worlds, both abounding of contradictions: the city world of the younger generation, which is more tempting, while also periodically returning to their “peasant land” for subsistence goods. The young would sell their land more easily even for the short-term beneﬁt of paying their debts or buying electronics. The other world is the rural world of isolation and growing deprivation: the many mothers and grandmothers of the urban proletariat who are terriﬁed of the lack of means to crop their land, feeling useless because the country seemed to have minimized their value, both fascinated by the comfort of their children’s city-life and scared of its instability and lack of sustainability in terms of livelihood as wage-earners. Bikini Island is one of the places mentioned in the literature of indigenous politics, for it experienced nuclear testing for the “good of mankind” and in order to abolish war (Keju-Johnson 1998). Bikinians had to move to Rongerik where there were no resources and hence they were starving (not to mention the psychological problems).
The tragedy of this people is unimaginable since the consequences of nuclear testing are long term, exterminating not only current generations but making sure that the next generation is not likely to survive (cases like “jelly ﬁsh babies”). Nowadays, there are multiple other cases of experiments (of development) for the “good” of humanity: of course, I refer to the Rosia Montana case. Some 12,000 kilos of cyanide are proposed to cover the Apuseni Mountains for the projected future of economic devel- opment in Romania. The same projection is made about labour itself—a few hundred jobs will be created to help fulﬁl the dream of an extractive modern industrial economy of the future—as an internalized violence that we are to reproduce ourselves. How can we extract ourselves from the scientiﬁc rationality of Enlightenment and its obsession for growth and progress, which has usually meant an androcentric and nature-blind type of development that has devalued women, nature and non-Western cultures, with terrifying ecological and social destruction?
People are still trying to survive… People now live in a world which is fragmented with multiple and shifting identities, that the oppressed and the colonized are so deeply implicated in their own oppressions that they are no more no less authentic than anyone else. (Tuhiwai Smith 1999, 97)
Still barefoot: on the post-communist colony
The museum in Warsaw displays two left boots to infer that the communist system could only offer something absurd, irrational, and eventually impossible. Surely this would be viewed by many post-communist citizens as a blatant exaggeration or simpliﬁcation, the disavowed truth of which is that they could even “parade on the streets walking in those ‘left’ boots for hours” (Buden 2009, 64). In this stereotyped discourse, there is no room for inherited ambivalence and, therefore, an impossibility to accept the past as a constitutive part of our present. Beyond moralizing, one is to remember that the reproductive power of any power system also lies with its seduction, which is visible in its multiple micro- articulations. For many young people educated in the communist system, being part of the propaganda machine was a time for joy and play as well as a reason for pride at being part of the project whose universal goal was to promote peace and prosperity. But again, it is not even about mere mechanical internalization of attractive hegemonic discourses but rather about strategic operation of power, even for self-survival purposes. Personal life was almost exclusively “political” and, for a long time, there was something to believe in, giving a sense of meaning and value to the lives of many, and a sort of cultural and national dignity.
Yes there was terror in that time … but it was coming from one person to another. If I had something against you, I was going to tell the party about you, that you don’t respect something, that you have relatives abroad, that you listen to Free Europe radio. It was a terror that made you afraid about how you speak, who you speak to and especially what to say.
(Rostas and Vacarescu 2008, 67)
Our house was illegal because many people (communists) were hiding there. … I was married only six or seven months because after that they started to take the Jews in Transnistria. … and while my husband was deported, my uncle and all his family were deported from Timisoara. … Then the Soviets came, they freed us or … I don’t know how to say … . During that time we were many times doing voluntary work. We were staying there all night doing manifestos and decorating. We were all together, young people.
(Rostas and Vacarescu 2008, 249)
One could argue that post-communism as “after communism” is a fake situation: communism as a “classless society,” emancipating productivity and labour processes, was never a reality in the Eastern bloc: “We are still in full pre-communist age so to speak: a time before labour emancipation” (Tamas 2009, 43). Both regimes engage with modernization through marginalization and destitution of subaltern classes. We are prompted by the Rosia case to look at the striking similarities between the two power regimes with regard to their impact on the situation of subaltern classes: the actual situation of peasants and workers is not essentially improved in the capitalist regime. Surely there is freedom of movement: but is the migrant self an authentic choice? Rosieni lament their possible transformation into another group of wandering immigrants, “beggars” in the streets of France, “seasonal unqualiﬁed workers” harvesting strawberries in Spain or “ﬂexible maids” in Italy: “People here have been wearing the boots of communism on the road to capitalism, the hegemony of which they are still to confront barefoot” (Buden 2009, 75).
As some of the Rosieni declare, the context of hardship is understandable considering the nature of the capitalist system itself, as the “toughest stage of humanity”; the former communist elites are in a position to take advantage of this system while not deserving the “merit” of creating it alone. In other words, Rosieni do understand what the newly “anti-communist” capitalists wish to hide, “that what they are denouncing as perverted pseudo-capitalism simply is capitalism” (Žižec 2009). G.M. Tamas, for instance, talks about the similarities between the two regimes: the wage dependency, the inequalities, the exploitation, or the hierarchies. Surely private property and the invisible hand of the market are said to make the big difference; but the property of the State (apparatchiki) was also “private” in the sense of separate, privileged, protected. As for the market— while oﬀering an anonymous mechanism of resource allocation in contrast with the obvious hierarchical mechanism of the State—it also includes actors whose visible ﬁst rather than invisible hand have fundamentally modelled it. Many studies show the wrongs of communism as an experiment opposing capitalism, but much less is written about these wrongs of communism as experiments that reproduce capitalism. In fact this is, I believe, the most important and difficult paradigmatic shift to be made in the post-communist studies: the shift from Soviet communism and post-communism as a reality that is somehow external to capitalism to its perception as a reality that is profoundly embedded (as a reaction) in capitalism.
Hereby, one could ﬁnally escape an instrumental approach of this experiment for current ideological purposes. The drift of the fall has ﬁlled the gap (the “hole” in the national ﬂag) with all sorts of meaning-making machines—from consumerist fashions, to religious fervour, or other esoteric refuges. The ideological premises for commoditization suffused the public discourse that was hungry for such shifts. Happily consuming foreign valuables, post-communist citizens mostly ignored consuming their own valuables, which somehow became minor losses in the spheres of exchange economy. The “shame” of converting downwards “singular” values previously ruled by a speciﬁc kind of morality was covered with the mantra of the “invisible hand”: a frequent public feeling expressed as “we sold our country” was stigmatized as extremist or, at least, naïve, of the kind the “subaltern” uneducated masses produce, in their incapacity to understand how economy works. The post-socialist subject, as the Rosia case revealed, is “target to certain commercials, caught in the continuous present full of contradictory assertions, all the more confusing since today you do one thing and tomorrow another one without a connection or a logic other than buying” (Karnoouh 2009, 92).
The common practice of post-communist mainstream politics has been to repair, normalize, and heal the (post)-communist subject who is again a “lost” child of history. This child supposedly has to get away from past identity and wash away the “toxic dust” of communism. This habituation of Balkanism— and the overall anti-communist crusade can be seen as another form of ideological aﬃrmation (through negation) of the present (neo)liberal regime: the prevailing themes after 1989 (transition, structural adjustments, EU accession, economic development, etc.), mirror this aﬃrmation through negation. The ghost of communism is kept alive and resuscitated by elites, especially in moments of crisis to justify yet other ideological intervention of a capitalist nature.
Communism is closed in a totalizing absolute frame, one of darkness and failure, separated from the “good,” “civilized” and “eﬃcient” capitalist world through an ontological diﬀerence. This strange ideological ethical and economic line of thought hinders, fragments and makes impossible the development of an alternative to the passive acceptance of the global capitalist logic. (Tichindeleanu 2009, 137)
Both the West and Eastern Europe have celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall as liberation from some “foreign other.” This was the fetish and, therefore, a basis for self-identiﬁcation. It is through these “foreign” elements of domination as a fetish that blindness—to the dynamic of power as productive—is perpetuated. The illusory foundation of post-communist transformation is the internalization and widespread fashion of Balkanism—negation of the past as shameful, exterior, and essentially the (self-)perception of inferiority. In objectifying and essentializing “incapacities,” the communist experience became yet another conﬁrmation of the inferior status of this region, yet another “self” that must denied in the constant struggle to escape “otherness” and become the “one and only civilized” West. The stereotyped discourse of Balkanism still lingers in the cultural, social, and economic spheres of post-communist societies as a simpliﬁed form of representation and identiﬁcation for the subject; as Buden argues,
following Homi Bhabha’s similar interpretation of the post-colonial subject, This discord of the (the colonial) subject is ongoing and would settle, stabilize or normalize only by connecting the cultural difference lived as a trauma, with something stable: the fetish. Even the extreme different beliefs that are mutually excluding can hereby “peacefully” coexist in the disrupted subject. (Buden 2009, 62)
Balkanist interpretations conceal our identity as an event, a construction or a projection, a reaction—its contingent artiﬁcial “substance” is more than often forgotten given naturalization and habituation. There is nothing outside our constructed identities, nothing essential that we should/could return to, look for, or emancipate ourselves from. Maybe we can practice signiﬁcation that repeatedly disrupts our identity story. Maybe we can undertake constant “unlearning” of our modernity, transforming our world without asking for power over others, make eﬀorts of walking different roads into the inﬁnite forms of becoming into human existence, permanent self-rebellions and re-invention of multiple ways of life. All these because “The geometry of control is never complete; the pursuit of lines of ﬂight constitute a micropolitical reaction to the macropolitics of capture, a departure from “normalizing individualization” (Shapiro 2005, 29).
Why is it important to critique categories of (post-communist) identity? As the many ambiguous, fragmentary, non-deﬁnitive, discontinuous and unstable stories of women that I heard demonstrate, humans exist only through everyday doing and undoing of life. It is in their (our) ongoing performance of their lives that situations such as these appear—looking for “connections to the tyrant,” working “more than husbands,” risking lives to illegally provide abortion, etc. Why is it important to see ourselves as eﬀects of power? Not to lament some fatal determination (we are not “founded,” but repeatedly eﬀected and naturalized) or some incapable agency (we can perform variations and subvert repetition). On the contrary, doing otherwise would mean to place ourselves outside our own historicity as if we can even be “ontologically immunized from power relations” (Buden 2009, 121). It is with smiley faces that testimonies such as the ones in this chapter are generally received in Romania, tolerated as some minor insigniﬁcant ignorant voices that do not understand the entire picture of politics. One forgets that such an attitude is also an eﬀect of power and that those who display it are just as much a product as others. This is forgotten because one easily believes one’s own truth as “natural/normal,” and it takes detachment and historicity to challenge it:
The loss of the sense of “the normal,” however, can be its own occasion for laughter, especially when “the normal,” “the original” is revealed to be a copy, and an inevitable failed one, an ideal that no one can embody. (Buden 2009, 176)
I want to thank Florentina Andreescu and Michael Shapiro for their encour- agement and support in writing this text. I also want to acknowledge support from the Marie Curie ITN grant PITN-GA-2011-289374-ENTITLE, European Network of Political Ecology.
1 Rosia Montana is a semi-urban village in Transylvania where a Canadian corporation is planning to create the largest cyanide open cast mine in Europe. For the last 14 years, some of the Rosieni opposed the project, supported by social and environmental activists from Romania and abroad. The opposition has gradually inspired more activism, which has recently burst out in one of the largest mobilizations post-1989 in Romania. For more than 2 months (September–October 2013), thousands of Romanians have peacefully protested in the streets of main cities.
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