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October 22, 2021
EDITORIAL

The intellectuals in power

In the past, he used to go out for a beer with Mihail Neamtu and Adrian Papahagi, like between right-wing intellectuals. However, without rushing to join political ventures like the New Republic or the People’s Movement. A pragmatic prudence that eventually allowed him to be appointed by Victor Ponta, the leftist premier, at the top of IICCMER. This is the acronym of the ‘Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile,’ an institution reporting to the government, which brings together – as proven by its long name – two former structures that were merged at some moment. A research institute as well as one of the most politicised public institutions. The new director is Radu Preda, a theologian from Cluj. At an age under 20, the young man who came to the Capital from the marginal Galati becomes a small star, the author of a book launched at the most cherished publishing house of the intellectual elite.

This was a diary with Petre Tutea, an old philosopher who spent long years in political prison during the communist era, whose intellectual career was broken, like some sort of Socrates living in Bucharest, without work, but with a sparkling discourse. After coming from province, young Preda had moved to the old man’s studio near the Cismigiu Park, because although Tutea’s mind was still clear and brilliant, he was always worried because of its condition of vulnerable elder, depending on other people’s care. He begins theological studies, but his attitude of teenage rebel places him in conflict with his professors in Bucharest. However he has a prestigious protector: Bartolomeu Anania, who – appointed as Bishop of Cluj – takes him under his protection. The relationship was so close that, in those years, many thought he would be the successor of the old orthodox hierarch. But Radu Preda eventually chose the secular life. He does his apprenticeship in journalism with the local religious press, the `Renasterea` magazine and the radio channel founded with support from Lutheran Germans. He eventually makes himself a name through journalism and becomes the theologian that appeared most on TV (almost the only one, except for those aired on the official television of the Orthodox Patriarchy). The success of these public moments is an able dosage of criticism, irony and indignation, accompanied by a theatrical taste for the one-man show. As for his university career, Preda found himself a niche: social theology, a promising novelty for a Church that is traditionalist, while also wishing to find itself a new place in society. But a theme that has always interested him – the relation between Church and State, which also explains his permanent preoccupations as a chronicler of the actuality, on a blog promoted by a central daily. Critical with the Church hierarchs, even with Patriarch Daniel, critical with politicians, Radu Preda has not assumed any particular intellectual war, apart for a certain anticommunist rhetoric that is commonplace among theologians. In fact, this is the only thing that recommends him for the new assignment. Let’s remember that IICCMER was prey to a lengthy political conflict. It was initiated by Marius Oprea, a writer who dedicated his career to denouncing the crimes of communism, analysing the repressive structures of the era (beginning with the Securitate), while also searching mass graves, practising an archeology of victims. The political decision belonged to the liberal premier of that time, Calin Popescu Tariceanu. His successor Emil Boc replaced Marius Oprea with Vladimir Tismaneanu, who also brought at the institute the aforementioned Mihail Neamtu (both being among the supporters of President Basescu). Victor Ponta not only dismissed Tismaneanu, but also sent the Control Body to find possible irregularities in his activity at the Institute. And appointed Andrei Muraru, a Iasi-based liberal close to then influential Relu Fenechiu. Muraru brought Marius Oprea back as head of department with IICCMER (who accused his rival anticommunists Tismaneanu and Neamtu of making huge unjustified expenses). When PNL left the government, Muraru too was surprisingly replaced with Radu Preda, who thus dropped in the middle of a hornets’ nest, given the tension existing within the institution (Muraru tried to disband the trade union and some researchers have left). In fact, these are the inevitable results of excessive politicisation. Let’s remember the reason of this politicisation. In the politics of the last quarter of century, anticommunism was a rhetoric that served at winning elections. People suffered too long to forget that easy. Others felt guilty of being passive in the years of communism and found out that it is easier to revolt during democratic times. And some youths discovered that interwar culture, half-anticommunist (and nationalist and antidemocratic), preferring anachronistic identities. Even President Basescu, who did not fare too bad in communism, built himself (with help from Tismaneanu) a platform of political legitimacy as official denunciator of communism. In Romania, parties do not assume other themes of debate. Either they cannot (many politicians have a scarce political culture), or they do not want (they prefer smokescreens such as using the ‘communist peril’ as a scary alternative). The revenge against the communist past took grotesque shapes, because most politicians (and probably the majority of population) opposed, and results are insignificant (some snitches paid with their careers). Politically educated by Adrian Nastase (who also wanted to disband the CNSAS), Victor Ponta has little interest for the crimes of communism. This is probably why Radu Preda was not appointed as head of the institution in order to solve many problems. Especially as he lacks the abilities of historical researcher and his theological vision of communism risks only maintaining a supplementary historiographical mystification. Besides politicisation, History can also be laid on a different kind of ‘Procustes bed’: the theological interpretation (with all its prejudice).
If in communism there was the so-called ‘rotation of officials’ which meant that elite party activists were appointed to various offices for which they were not trained (and the main result was inefficiency), in the new democratic context there also exists, besides the new politruks, the category of the ‘public intellectual’ tempted by power, fit for being appointed by authorities to various prestigious offices. Some of them come from theology (or have theology-related preoccupations): Teodor Baconski, Theodor Paleologu, Mihail Neamtu, Bogdan Tataru-Cazaban, Radu Carp, with Radu Preda being added now to the lot. Is this a phase of an intellectual programme, or rather just simple sinecures meant to compensate spiritual nonperformance?

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