Against its original purposes, the Romanian Securitate Archive  is used now by regular citizens to access their family’s past.  Oana Lungescu published a documentary on BBC about  State Secrets with very good examples of  Romanian Securitate legacy.

Here is a short piece from the article about the terrible family history of Ioana Voicu Arnautoiu and the way she recovered it.

“A concert violinist, she was born in a cave in the Carpathian mountains. Her parents were partisans, part of a small desperate band that resisted the communist takeover in the 1950s.They held out for nine years – surviving sometimes on boiled bark – before the Securitate hunted them down.

Now it is the Securitate’s own records that are revealing Ioana’s family history, in 85 thick files and a collection of black-and-white photographs.

One shows her mother climbing out of the cave and going down a ladder, carrying baby Ioana under one arm like a doll.

Before her father was executed, the Securitate took a last photograph of his gaunt face, with dark, haunted eyes. Her mother died later in prison.

Ioana was spared. Aged two, she was taken to an orphanage and adopted by a loving family. She grew up without knowing who she really was – until Communism fell and the archives opened.

Her story might be unbelievable – if the Securitate had not archived everything so thoroughly.” (Oana Lungescu- Romania Securitate legacy 20 years after revolution)

Lungescu raises interesting questions about the role Securitatea had in documenting life during Communism. The State had to know everything and now, people have access, at least in part, to what the State knew of them.  Ioana Voicu Arnautoiu says in the documentary that she is thinking about putting her family history into a book. Working on such books is a needed exercise for Romanian society. Even though affecting individuals this drama was felt by the whole society and Securitate practices combined with the lack of information channels changed our information habits.

Many are still amazed by the way people chose to act even though they have freedom to be informed and access to information. People that worked on the case of  Ioana Voicu Arnautoiu parents could, presumably, be  successful business men nowadays (as is the case with the Securitate person that had Herta Muller, the Nobel prize winner in literature, under observation). One needs to take a step back and notice the destines that, even though shared the same geographical space,  were parallel  as long the State was not “in danger”.

What the evil library did was to document those intersections.  Looking back at these documents can help us figure out where and why deviations in behaviors took place. That would help understand the current “informed” decision Romanians make and how they can be helped to take part succesfuly in the global Information Society.

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Our Uruguayan friends came to study in US, were our neighbors for four years and recently returned to their country. They   saw this movie and insisted that I should see it too.  It is a video with  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s presentation at TED.

She is sharing her stories but manages, as good tellers do,  to tell the stories of many people. Among them, she is telling of  the lessons learned while being an international student in US, where “international” is mostly developing countries and where “learning” is not limited to what is thought in classes.

I’ve been living for some years now in the international community of Orchard Downs in Champaign-Urbana campus in US and her stories resonated so much with me. It is true that we, as outsiders, are often expected to fit the  given stereotype but is nonetheless true that we bring here our own single story version of the others. In time though, we get to share and live new stories together and the one story becomes many stories and many friends. As a proof for this I have my dear friends, who are getting ready for summer in Montevideo but long for the colorful fall of Illinois, that think of their Romanian friend when they hear Chimamanda Adichie speak.

There is  something else that, I suspect will get sooner or later into  Adichie’s work (if is not there already). Once you know multiple stories and connect in a meaningful way with the other … you cannot accept one story versions anymore. The hard part though is that people around you will continue to be happy with what they know: the single true story.

I often have problems when translating syntagmas related to community from English to Romanian.  My understanding of the complex work that needs to be done inside a community to support it and to allow its members to grow happened in an English speaking context.  This is how I came to naturally understand what “community building” means however I am still working to find a Romanian syntagma that would carry the same meaning (and not just merely be a lifeless word by word translation).

In the meanwhile,  I am happy to find that,  without giving it a meaningful name/title, people from different regions of Romania are doing community building work through dance and music!

For example people got together following the sad event of MJ’s death and put together  this dance.  It is the first time when such a response comes from an informal community from Romania in such an organized way.

Another community of more than one hundred children and youth from different backgrounds, schools and institutions was formed during five weeks of rehearsal for dancing the Stravinsky’s Firebird that was presented on the main scene of the Romanian National Theater early this month.  The participants with no previous dancing experience did not know that they were becoming a community and that through dance they were learning to trust themselves and each other. This has been the intention of  “Jungen Rumänen eine Chance!” charitable association and from what we can see in images and read on blogs it has been a real success for everybody involved in the project.

One winner of this community dancing project is eight years old Marian who had Firebird in his life after having a life in a cardboard box in Sibiu train station.

Last but not least I am happy to learn about an art and education project transformed by the Rahova community at the Community Center laBOMBA . As Maria Draghici puts it “they know how to express themselves in an artistic way, it’s just not in the way we have tried to teach them how to do it.”   Supporting the community’s voice is not an easy task (especially in such a challenged community) but the fact that, at the laBOMBA community center, common language was discovered is a huge step forward.

Congratulations to all that worked for and that took part in these projects! Hope that you all will have future projects where you will get to continue this kind of learning in and with communities!

Yesterday Madonna’s world tour  had a stop in Bucharest. 60,000 people were said to be present at her concert.  I like her music and I was curious to see how it was. Before the concert the journalist reported in great detail the preparation for this concert.

According to the news that surfaced the online media channels the night after the concert Madonna had “Romania at her feet” and it was a historical concert.  The organizational problems or fact that, unlike other artists that came to Bucharest, she did not say a word in Romanian were also mentioned.

In the concert a “gypsy moment” took place where Madonna sang  “La isla bonita” and Lela Pala Tute a song in Romani (The Madness Of Love).

Madonna added:

“Now, I’ve been paying attention to news reports and it’s been brought to my attention that there’s a lot of discrimination against Romanis and Gypsies in general in Eastern Europe. And I feel very sad, because I don’t believe in discrimination against anyone. We believe in freedom and equal rights for everyone. Gypsies, homosexuals, people who are different, everyone is equal and should be treated with respect, OK? Let’s not forget that!”

That evening  the moment was mentioned only tangentially in newspapers and the public’s reaction was noted by few (I found only one but I am not sure whether they also mentioned it in the printed version – I’ll have to check that). In the heart of Bucharest Madonna was booed when she asked people to respect the others.

Sky News found that this event deserves more than a line and published the “Madonna Booed Over ‘Sad’ Gypsy Abuse” article. The news spread on international media, Associated Press also mentioned it.  Then the Romanian online media started to talk about public’s reaction and how it was inappropriate. They questioned people’s reaction. From the readers’ comments I gather that the TV channels did not mention the “gypsy moment” at all. A number of hours after the news was out (half a day after the event took place) several discussions started online on this topic.

Romania seems surprised. The readers are asked:

Why do you think Madonna sent this message ?:

  • to teach Romanian a lesson about being tolerant
  • to build up her image
  • to make sure her concert will not be soon forget.

First the incident  is not important enough to be talked about in our media, until the international press underlines it. Then we start talking about it. (How we talk about it is another story!)

That is how the conversation about  tolerance takes place in  Romania. I feel like  Romanian leaders hope  we will become a truly democratic country  following the same pattern:  EU will notice our mistakes and will show them to us so that the people  can learn not to make them anymore.

In the “gypsy moment” with Madonna, the public could see (and be vocal about it) that foreigners  say Romanians are no tolerant but in the same time they don’t even know us.  People cannot understand why Madonna would touch or care about a wound that is not hers, a wound  that we don’t even know we have.

Similarly, people cannot understand most of the EU’s regulations and policies and why are those affecting their life. Why does Brussels think they  know us? We never talked with them, they never talked with us. EU will be booed in Romania as long as people will continue to see it as a group of foreigners telling them what to do…in a different language.

When will we learn to be tolerant with Romani people? Well, as you can see, we are in denial about this.

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