The Memorial of Pain – some thoughts about my Romania and colonialism

As a Romanian, the colonialism was never the main topic of interest for me, and neither was a subject taught in detail in school. It seemed pretty far from me, from my country’s problems, from anything I knew and felt confident talking about. This is one of the reasons I delayed so much this individual coursework, the other one is, of course, my laziness, but even in this laziness of mine, I still thought about this subject and how can I shape my short written work around it. It wasn’t easy, I must say this, but it made me change a little my perspective.

Romania is neither a colonized country nor are we the colonizers. Parts of our country were occupied by foreigners: Hungarians, Turks, we had greek rulers under the Phanariot regime, and our king was german, but we never talked about ourselves as a nation, as a country, in terms of colonizing or being colonized. But thinking, and thinking and trying to write this, and reading what my colleagues wrote, I just realized something. We were in fact colonized. No, we were not colonized by the Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, or the Great Britain, of course not. We didn’t need to be colonized by these countries. We were on the same continent as they were, and obviously, did not represent any kind of interest. No, our colonization came much later, when we were already “educated”, “civilized”, knew how to use a fork and knife, when we were Christians, and had been for a while, and from much closer, it came from a country border in border with Romania. A country which we ended being allied with at the end of the World War  2.

No, of course, I’m not using the term: colonization in the same way an African does, but after reading, as I already said, some of my colleagues’ posts on the same subject, I came to the conclusion that our “colonization”  had similar outcomes. The country I’m talking about, if it’s not already obvious, it’s Rusia, or more precisely The Soviet Union. No, The Soviet Union never really occupied Romania, but the fact that Romania was a part of the communist block is already more than acquainted, and it stripped Romania of a part of Moldavia, wich is now a different country (under Russian influence), but feeling Romanian. The effect? We still feel it deep inside our bones, our souls, it still haunts us, we still cannot accept and swallow our past whole, we don’t even completely understand it.

It was somehow instinctual for me to come to the conclusion that the soviet influence functioned more or less as a colonisation process. The idea regarding The Soviet Union acting as a colonizer force within the communist block did not pass undebated by scholars. In Introduction: Postcolonial studies and postsocialism in Eastern Europe, Jill Owczarzak, although states that:

the aim of this special section is not to assert that Central and Eastern European countries were colonized by Soviet Russia after World War II, as the edited volume From Sovietology to postcoloniality: Poland and Ukraine from a postcolonial perspective (Korek 2007) attempts to do. Rather, we suggest that “postsocialism” has been used as a geographic label, not an analytic category, in contrast to “postcolonialism,” which has a rich history as a theoretical paradigm. (Owczarzak)

The article then follows the way 4 prominent themes in the postcolonial discourse are present in the post-socialist area: orientalism, nation and identity, hybridity and voice. Even though the main topic of this article mainly regards gender and sexuality issues in eastern Europe, under and post the socialist regime, the use of themes deeply linked to colonialism and postcolonialism is a link in itself.

Due to its geographical position, Russia’s statute in Europe is problematic. It does not belong to the West and colonization came from the West, that being the civilized and privileged part of the “world”.  David Chioni Moore discusses in Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post- in Post-Soviet? Toward a Global Postcolonial Critique Russia’s uncertain statutes, its conquers previous to the socialist era, and its desire for recognition, of not being considered the European other due to its eastern position on the map. Even so:

Those who would argue that the Soviets were simply differently configured colonists could point, again inter ala, to the mass and arbitrary relocation of entire non-Russian peoples; ironic Soviet national fixing of countless formerly less defined identities and the related tortured intertwining of the Uzbek-Kyrgyz-Tajik border to guarantee an ethnic strife; the genocidal settling of the Kazakh nomad millions from 1929 to 1934; the forced monoculture across Central Asia and the consequent ecological disaster of the Aral Sea; The Soviet reconquest of the once independent Baltic states in 1941; the invariable Russian ethnicity of the number-two man in each republic; the inevitable direction of Russia’s Third World policy from its Moscow center, and tanks in 1956 and 1968 in Budapest and Prague. (Moore)

Following the Soviet domination, and the fall of the Iron Curtain upon the Eastern and Central Europian countries, these states, due to the title of being communists were regarded as a whole block, much like the colonized states. These states were, and in certain parameters still are considered the European other, hence the Russian, Ukranian mail-order brides, which as in the case of Asian mail-order brides, who are just, Asian with no actual nationality in the Western conscience, are classified as Russian speaker women. The lack of attention given to the actual position of geographical borders is reinforced by even the casual confusion between Budapest and Bucharest, and by the fact that countries which are geographically placed in Central Europe are labeled as Eastern countries. We may not all speak Russian today, but the language was mandatory studied in schools and universities and historical facts were altered according to the regime’s aims.

At the question about the colonizing nature of the Soviet Union, Moore, answers:

From an Uzbek, Lihuanian, or Hungarian perspective one would have to answer yes. (Moore)

From a Romanian perspective… well, I can only answer from the heart. I don’t feel like a colonized, but I can see the effects of communism every single day.

What communism did to Romania, to us Romanians, to my family, to me? It banished our king, it killed our intellectuals, our scholars, our philosophers, our artists, it kneeled our freedom, it cut our tongues, it took away our religion, it made us fight over a piece of bread and a handful of sugar, it kept us in the cold, in the dark, and it filled our hearts with fear. Fear of speaking, of shouting out loud, fear of being who we really are, fear of failure, of not being who we are supposed to be, and the most atrocious possible thing it did to us, it made our children sell their own parents for not approving in their own little homes with the Party’s ideals. It turned us into murderers, it made us kill our dictators on Christmas. It took our dignity away, our freedom, our humanity.

Yes, Russian was taught in schools, everyone was dressed in a uniform, we worshiped our dictators which were sustained by the Soviets, we lived in tiny, cold, and dark apartments in concrete blocks built over the corpses of our homes. No, the Russians never truly occupied us, even though their tanks were ready at out border, but they occupied our minds, they educated our leaders to be cruel, heartless, mindless. Our political prisons were tremendous, our Romanian “securisti” were trained by the Soviets and sent back to rule our prisons, to punish the ones who still had, in spite of everything, a voice… a shadowy remain of a voice, and the punishments they applied were so heinous that the Russians never used them in their prisons.

Yes, everybody had a job, yes everybody had a place made of walls and a ceiling to sleep in, yes the party made canteens for our workers to eat in, yes school was school, and the teacher was teacher, and yes, it ruthless suffocated our dreams, and our dreams shouted for a while… some longer than others, until they turned into ashes.

And when it was over, it was never over. Nowadays, we learn about the holocaust, about others’ sins, but we just mention our communist prisons, our silent martyrs who died building Casa Poporului or the canal Dunarea-Marea Neagra, whose bodies were lost forever in the mud, whose names only mattered for the ones who were hopelessly waiting for them to come back. We barely hear in schools about Nicolae Steinhardt, we scarcely talk about the fact that communists gave us money, but nothing to buy, gave us serious education, but censored our books, built us apartments, tiny apartments as we would’ve been rats, but demolished our homes, replaced our God with Lenin, Stalin, and Ceausescu. We learn about the nazi concentration camps, but only mention the Russian deportation to Siberia, the Russian famine. There are still nostalgics, there are young people saying they are fed up with all the post-communist discourse when communism it’s not even a post in our lives. Yes, we can travel freely. Yes, we can state our opinions now, but we still don’t, or we do, but it’s in vain. Yes, we have a visible freedom, but we don’t know what to do with it. We are egoistic, we can’t unite for a common goal,  we only care for our plate of food. We’re mean to each other, we’re bored, disgusted by our own country, with our own nation, we’re tired of being Romanians, we’re so tired that we leave, and never come back.

Leave a Reply