Stalinism for All Seasons. A Political History of Romanian Communism
Oct. 20, 2003
Vladimir Tismaneanu, University of Maryland – College Park
Comments by Charles King, Georgetown University
Charles Gati, SAIS
Remarks by Stelian Stoian, DCM Romanian Embassy
In coordination with the East European Studies Project, the Cold War International History Project presented Vladimir Tismaneanu's new book, Stalinism for All Seasons, on October 20 2003. Charles Gati, Senior Adjunct Professor at the Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, along with Charles King, Assistant Professor at Georgetown University and Ion Ratiu Chair, commented on the book's findings. East European Studies (EES) Director Martin Sletzsinger chaired the session. Substituting for the Romanian Ambassador, Stelian Stoian, Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the Romanian Embassy, offered some introductory remarks.
The meeting started with Christian Ostermann, Director of the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) announcement regarding the launching of the Romania Initiative at the Cold War Project. Mr. Ostermann congratulated Vladimir Tismaneanu on the publication of his book and thanked him for his extra efforts in unlocking the Romanian archives. DCM Stelian Stoian, also praised Tismaneanu. A historian himself, Mr. Stoian stressed the importance of Tismaneanu's book as a tool for Romanians in their search to come to terms and clarify their past.
Vladimir Tismaneanu began his presentation by thanking Christian Ostermann and Martin Sletzsinger for their help and support during his time as a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Tismaneanu chronicled the extensive research activities he undertook in order to unlock the wealth of information in the Romanian archives. Since 1993, Vladimir Tismaneanu recalled, he made numerous attempts to locate the whereabouts of important archival documents from the Romanian Communist Party Central Committee (CC RCP) archives, specifically the transcripts of the Politburo sessions dealing with important events in party history. After unsuccessful searches of the State Archive's deposit in Pitesti, he was forced to contact then Romanian President Ion Iliescu. Pressure from the highest levels of government in Romania slowly translated in limited access to copies of CC RCP documents found in the Military Archives.
Upon research of the archives and in the process of writing his book, Tismaneanu arrived at several major conclusions. Stating that his book was not simply a history, but a political history of the Romanian Communist Party, Tismaneanu drew serious connections between Romania and Communist parties in other countries, such as North Korea and Cuba. Characterizing these Communist parties as "idiosyncratic and dynastic," Tismaneanu saw the intensification of Stalinism as the key to their survival. The title of the book, he explained, was meant to convey just this ability of the Romanian Communist leadership to survive the changing seasons in the communist movement. He went further on to say that what on the outside appeared as Ceausescu's stand against the Soviets in the Summer of 1968, was the re-emergence of Ceausescu's personal Stalinism. Drawing parallels between their mistreatment by the Soviets in the early days of Cominform and the development of later problems of legitimacy and schizophrenic personalities, Tismaneanu labeled them as "pariah communist." Seeking legitimacy, and unable to find it in ideology, the Romanian party adopted a strong nationalist tent. Its position led to the incorporation of radical elements of the intelligentsia, co-opted not by leftist ideology but by rightist nationalism. It was, Tismaneanu suggested, a accident of opportunity that Ceausescu ended up in the Communist Party rather than the Fascist Iron Guard, whose nationalist ideology was closer to his own understanding of Romania's role and mission. Professor Tismaneanu ended his remarks suggesting that Communism in Romania took its very rigid, Stalinist form, by citing Ceausescu's last interview with a western journalist. When asked what is his hobby, Ceausescu answered that his hobby is "the construction of Socialism in Romania."
Charles Gati, a former Senior Adviser on European and Russian affairs at the Department of State's Policy Planning Staff and currently a professor at SAIS in Washington DC, suggested that Tismaneanu's book makes an important point about the nature of Romanian Communism. Dr. Gati suggested that debates within the communist camp were, generally, ideological debates about the end goal of Communism—as an attempt to modernize without Westernization. Tismaneanu's book, Gati suggested, makes the point that the struggle within the Romanian Communist Party was characterized by factional infighting to gain power rather than an ideological debate. While in other countries the struggle entailed ideological or methodological differences, in Romania it is difficult to make such distinctions between the political factions within the party. Dr. Gati also pointed out that the difference between Romania's party and other European Communist parties its very nationalist brand of socialism. The Communist leadership's nationalism was, Gati argued, a major influence on Romanian foreign policy. Seeking to soothe international crises, the RCP leadership managed to fend off international criticism concerning Romania's domestic policies. Dr. Gati concluded by stating that current Romanian politics leave much to be desired, their current domestic system being less democratic and reformist than Poland or Slovakia. Praising Tismaneanu, Dr. Gati called Stalinism for All Seasons a good successor to Tismaneanu's previous works.
Charles King, who holds Georgetown's Ion Ratiu Chair of Romanian Studies, agreed with Dr. Gati about the role of nationalism in the Romanian Communist Party. The way in which the regime wrapped itself in national myths had a profound lasting legacy in Romania, especially in the interpretation of Romanian history. Not having a proto-communist or social-democratic past on which to anchor its history, the Romanian Communist Party survived de-Stalinization by Stalinizing itself further. Charles King pointed out irony and paradox of Romanian Communism in that unlike the revolutions in 1989 in Poland, Czechoslovakia, or Hungary, revolution which were directed at a system imposed from the outside, the Romanian revolution was directed against the personal dictatorship of Ceausescu. King concluded by commending Tismaneanu's efforts in releasing Romanian archival documents for future scholars, as well as to the benefit of the Romanian people. He went on to suggest new research possibilities, especially concerning the grassroots functions of Romanian Communism. The release of documents from the RCP archives will have a benefic effect for the Romanian people in their desire to come to term with their past, as well as add an important understanding to a subject only seldom studied in Cold War historiography.
The presentation was followed by a short question and answer session and a reception sponsored by EES and the Romanian Embassy. For more information on the event, contact the Cold War Project.
Christian Ostermann, Director, CWIHP
Drafted by Carmina Sicangco, Mircea Munteanu
Stalinism for All Seasons. The History of the Romanian Communist Party
Stalinism for All Seasons. A Political History of Romanian Communism