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June 25, 2022

A cultural phenomenon of the Ceausescu age

Adrian Paunescu is remembered by most of the people who knew him as a poet. An extremely prolific poet, gifted with the skill of improvisation and tumultuous declamation, of a mordant verb and with a pamphleteer’s allusions, with sentimental pathos and pretence of being a symbol of national poetry. His preferred themes were social justice, the respect for ancestors and free love. All the activities associated with his main vocation were in tune with this triple theme. He was a feared journalist who developed a revealing and virulent kind of journalism at a time when, after a relative freedom, the communist censorship was back in force.

With just a feature published in ‘Flacara’ – the magazine he managed for over a decade, could have people dismissed from offices, a performance that would only be matched by the communist party’s mouthpiece.
Paunescu was a journalist who skilfully developed a kind of reportage that enjoyed massive public appreciation, combining the impetuousness of the uncomfortable journalist, the propensity to social themes exceeding ideology as well as an ego of public activism. He had turned into a voice with a tremendous impact on the masses, especially after the resounding success of the Flacara art movement – one of the most complex phenomena of the Ceausescu epoch. A combination of travelling Woodstock and propagandistic mass culture campaign, the space for a non-conformist performance and a phenomenon of collective hysteria, the Flacara circle was not only an alternative to the official communist culture, but also its complement.

On the one hand a response to the ‘subversive’ western culture, seeking liberation from the constraints of old repressive manners (an adaptation of the leftist movement in the capitalist countries for a socialist state), cultivating young people’s spirit of revolt in the name of peace, abrogation of social classes and conformist stagnation. On the other hand, it was one of the pillars of the cultural ideology of Ceausescu’s regime next to ‘Cantarea Romaniei’ and the protochronism.

The contribution he made to the nationalist mix served at the time and still alive in many people’s collective memory consisted of an exaggeratedly-patriotic spirit, worshiping heroes and nation’s artists. The Flacara movement re-launched at a larger scale a certain kind of folk music, much softer than the rock, with social and erotic lines very suitable for mass enthusiasm, but also extremely active on collective mindsets and people’s emotions. Poetry and music, folklore and history, as well as politics. The portraits of the ‘ruler’ and the chanting of his name gradually became a part of the shows unfolding on stadiums and performance halls. Paunescu’s grandomania – he had become one of the most influential people of his time – was only ended by the dictator’s concern about the hard to control phenomena he might set in motion. A special concern was over a specific component of the movement – the promotion of erotic ‘authenticity’, of liberated sexuality. ‘Love each other on canons’ (the title of one of his poetry volumes) was the local adaptation of the Western ‘make love, not war’.

Such a trend was bound to collide with the pseudo-Puritanism of the last ten years of Ceausescu regime. Looking back, we could say the Flacara artistic movement was both subversive and perversely seductive towards the nationalistic socialism.

This sort of ambiguity needs to be completed by the shadows of the personality of a poet hungry for power, dictatorial and unscrupulous. After 1989, Adrian Paunescu pursued his cultural career taking advantage of the nationalist re-birth in ex-Soviet Moldova and of the recurrence of the nationalist left-wing in Romanian politics. He ran for president, supported by the far-left (his party was more to the left than Ion Iliescu’s) and endorsed as a prospective interior minister in a future nationalist government by a little luckier candidate (running in the runoff presidential election in 2000), C. V. Tudor.

Many would now like to bring the poet to the forefront to the detriment of the politician with questionable views. It is, of course, an artificial operation, for his poetic pathos was much to close to his declamatory style and exaggerated patriotic sentimentalism. The accessibility of a rather superficial poetry, however, is able to secure his popular success, mainly among those who still have the nostalgia of the old Flacara circle that, above anything else, was, nevertheless, a stain of colour in the darkness of the Ceausescu regime.
As a poet, Adrian Paunescu will most certainly be remembered by Romanian literature textbooks. On the other hand, he will remain a controversial character from a political point of view and as a social phenomenon.

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