Cristina Văţulescu, Cultură şi poliţie secretă în comunism, Iasi: Polirom, 2018.
The documents emerging from the secret police archives of the former Soviet bloc have caused scandal after scandal, compromising revered cultural figures and abruptly ending political careers. Police Aesthetics offers a revealing and responsible approach to such materials. Taking advantage of the partial opening of the secret police archives in Russia and Romania, Vătulescu focuses on their most infamous holdings—the personal files—as well as on movies the police sponsored, scripted, or authored. Through the archives, she gains new insights into the writing of literature and raises new questions about the ethics of reading. She shows how police files and films influenced literature and cinema, from autobiographies to novels, from high-culture classics to avant-garde experiments and popular blockbusters. In so doing, she opens a fresh chapter in the heated debate about the relationship between culture and politics in twentieth-century police states.
What people are saying about it:
“Vatulescu insightfully draws upon archival material from both Russia and Romania to shed valuable light on the way the secret police informed—or in formed on, as the case may be—artists of the era . . . Although her subject matter lies in a shadowy, politicized realm located somewhere between ‘subversion and complicity,’ Vatulescu provides her readers with much needed illumination of that murky penumbral realm.” (Tim Harte, Slavic Review)
“In this fascinating and ambitious study, Cristina Vatulescu examines secret-police files, surveillance methods, and interrogation techniques in the Soviet era, and the impact of resulting ”police aesthetics” on writers and films directors. Like a good mystery novelist, Vatulescu draws us into rooms forbidden to the average reader – courtrooms, interrogation rooms, and secret police archives – creating and image of Soviet culture that is at odds, as herself asserts, with easy binary oppositions. Instead, she presents us with a complex network of imagery and associations that underlies texts from the Soviet period, ranging from police files to underground novels.” (Eric Laursen, Slavic and East European Journal)
“Police Aesthetics most deservedly received the Barbara Heldt Prize in 2011: Vatulescu opens up new lines of investigation (to stay within the police jargon) for a reading of the relationship between fact and fiction in Stalinist culture.” (Birgit Beumers, Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema)
“Vatulescu’s outstanding book focuses on the fate of the unregimented creative intelligentsia in Stalin’s Russia and Stalinized Romania, the interplay between artistic creation and police supervision, coercion, and persecution. Drawing from secret police archives in Russia and Romania, this superbly researched and original book captures the tragic destinies of major artists caught at what Lionel Trilling called the bloody crossroads where politics and literature meet.” (Vladimir Tismăneanu, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History)
“This is a very important, groundbreaking book, one of the most original and illuminating works I have seen in recent years in comparative Slavic studies. Police Aesthetics will unquestionably position Cristina Vatulescu as one of the foremost scholars of Soviet culture.” (Catharine Nepomnyashchy, Columbia University)
“Rarely have I encountered a book that managed to incorporate original archival research (and what findings!), new work in history, literary, and film theory, and close analysis in such a clear and compelling way.” (John MacKay, Yale University)
“Sunt trei domenii, deci, convocate, pentru a intra, în sumă, cumva „prin lateral“ într-o tematică deloc demodată (chiar dacă, aparent, ea aparține, istoric, mai degrabă de secolul trecut): literatura, filmul și narațiunile despre poliția secretă. Urmarea acestei atât de fecunde intersecții e un studiu și o carte așa cum, pentru mine, nu e niciun dubiu, nu avem în românește. Mai precis: nu aveam până la acest volum.” (Cristian Patrasconiu, 22)
“Volumul – impresionat și ca efort de documentare, și în privința liniilor de discurs atins, și ca ipoteze de cercetare propuse (și foarte bine argumentate) – sta la umbra unui citat oarecum misterios și, în orice caz, intrigant din ”Vorbește, memorie” a lui Vl. Nabokov … Foarte pe scurt: nu aveam un studiu pe această tematică de asemenea finețe, anvergură și cuprindeere. De acum îl avem – și este foarte bine că e așa. (Cristian Patrasconiu, Banatul Azi)
Lavinia Stan și Diane Vancea, coord., România postcomunistă: trecut, prezent, viitor, Iasi: Polirom, 2017.
What people are saying about it:
“This new book… brings together timely contributions from younger and more established scholars from two continents that shed fresh light on the evolution of the fledgling Romanian democracy after 1989. It reminds us that Romania’s image and transition to democracy must be linked to the absence of market reforms and the lack of a vibrant civil society under communism. The book also demonstrates that the rapid proliferation of political parties after December 1989 brought about a weak form of pluralism that was not conducive to genuine political competition. The new political parties had weak constituencies, little grass-roots support, and lacked well-defined doctrines and internal discipline. The volume also points out several directions in which Romania must still make progress in order to catch up with its neighbors in the West. It will be of interest to political scientists, sociologists, and historians as well as to those studying Eastern Europe and transitions to democracy.” (Aurelian Crăiuţu, Indiana University, Bloomington)
“This timely volume marks the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the communist regime in Romania and explores the evolution of Romanian democracy by addressing the social and institutional development of the country since 1989. The editors have selected key themes which guide us on Romania’s democratic journey, and the contributors to the volume are some of the best scholars on Romania, providing important insights to the country’s political transformation. For anyone interested in understanding Romania’s democratic transition and the role that state, non-state and international actors have played, this is a must read.” (Steven D. Roper, Nazarbayev University, Astana, Kazakhstan)
“Scholars in transition and Europeanization will find plenty of useful data, and the book is highly informative, yet accessible enough for a wider readership. At the same time, for all its ambition of a symbolic (self-)assessment and critical reflection, I cannot imagine a potentially more interested audience than the Romanian public itself—for this book raises fundamental questions of interest to anyone who cares about democracy. “(Nicolae–Emanuel Dobrei, National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, Bucharest, Romania)
“A comprehensive view of Romania 25 years after the collapse of Ceausescu’s regime…The chapters present first-rate scholarship from some of the experts in this area and a great deal of methodological diversity as well. The diversity in methods and content is a definitive strength of the book…Though the focus of the book is on Romania, much is applicable to the other post-Communist countries in the region.” (J. R. Clardie, Northwest Nazarene University)
“Several of these chapters provide an original extension of the existing academic literature, and the volume itself yields probably the fullest picture of Romania’s post-communist evolution. It is an instructive read for anyone interested in the country’s recent past.” (Endre Borbath, European University Institute, Italy)
“O singură observație, sumară și în registru pozitiv, despre această carte care ar merita multe serii și tipuri de dezbateri: alături de alte titluri cu tematică similară (dar nu foarte multe – și, semnificativ, bună parte dintre ele realizate de autori care sunt în SRS sau care gravitează în jurul acestei organizații), România postcomunistă – prezent, trecut și viitor e un redutabil, rafinat, remarcabil și, cred, de neocolit manual de istorie contemporană a României.” (Cristian Patrasconiu, 22)
“The book gathers an impressive list of well-known scholars of Romanian studies, mostly from universities and research centers in the USA, the United Kingdom, and Canada … The present volume exceeds the value of many other previous contributions from Romania.” (Florin Anghel, Analele Universitatii Ovidius din Constanta – Seria Stiinte Politice)
Alex Drace-Francis, Geneza culturii române moderne. Instituțiile scrisului și dezvoltarea identității naționale, 1700-1900. Iaşi: Polirom, 2016.
How do literacy and the development of literary culture promote the development of a national identity? This well-researched and readable book explores the rise of Romanian-language literary, educational and printing institutions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, bringing out a story that has not been fully explored in English. He builds on and engages with current knowledge about print culture, modernization, national identity and state formation, to make an original contribution to ongoing debates in these areas. Alex Drace-Francis is an Associate Professor of Literary and Cultural History of Modern Europe at the University of Amsterdam.
What people are saying about it:
“An enormously erudite study… [F]or anyone interested in the origins of modern Romanian literary production and education in the context of the Enlightenment, modernization, and state-formation this is an indispensable book.” (Irina Livezeanu, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies)
“Alex Drace-Francis has produced a highly accurate and often outstandingly subtle piece of research. This British scholar observes things that his Romanian colleagues, being too familiar with them, have tended to gloss over.” (Ovidiu Pecican, Observator Cultural)
“Solid and extremely well informed, Alex Drace-Francis’s book not only brings together a great mass of information and hypotheses, but also asks important questions about a cultural legacy whose investigation is still plagued by stereotypes.” (Mircea Anghelescu, Romanian Review of Book History)
“Admirably balanced in its critical use of sources, perfectly mature in discussing a difficult topic, Drace-Francis’s book is an exceptionally insightful and stimulating analysis of emergent Romanian modernity and a model for future approaches.” (Doris Mironescu, Slavonic and East European Review)
“Drace-Francis has a knack of raising your intellectual game without leaving you fumbling for the ball. His occasional wit is dry but playful. If you know anyone who loves Romania enough to dig deep into its intellectual soil, the roots are here.” (Mike Ormsby, author of Never Mind the Balkans – Here’s Romania)
Roland Clark. Sfântă tinereţe legionară. Activismul fascist în România interbelic. Iaşi: Polirom, 2015.
Founded in 1927, Romania’s Legion of the Archangel Michael was one of Europe’s largest and longest-lived fascist social movements. In Holy Legionary Youth, Clark draws on oral histories, memoirs, and substantial research in the archives of the Romanian secret police to provide the most comprehensive account of the Legion in English to date. Clark approaches Romanian fascism by asking what membership in the Legion meant to young Romanians. Viewing fascism “from below,” as a social category with practical consequences for those who embraced it, he shows how the personal significance of fascism emerged out of Legionaries’ interactions with each other, the state, other political parties, families, friends, and fascist groups abroad. Official repression, fascist spectacle, and the frequency and nature of legionary activities changed a person’s everyday activities and relationships in profound ways. Clark’s sweeping history traces fascist organizing in interwar Romania to nineteenth-century grassroots nationalist movements that demanded political independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It also shows how closely the movement was associated with the Romanian Orthodox Church and how the uniforms, marches, and rituals were inspired by the muscular, martial aesthetic of fascism elsewhere in Europe. Although antisemitism was a key feature of official fascist ideology, state violence against Legionaries rather than the extensive fascist violence against Jews had a far greater impact on how Romanians viewed the movement and their role in it. Approaching fascism in interwar Romania as an everyday practice, Holy Legionary Youth offers a new perspective on European fascism, highlighting how ordinary people “performed” fascism by working together to promote a unique and totalizing social identity.
“Roland Clark’s Sfântă tinereţe legionară is a truly remarkable book. … Without detracting from the movement’s criminal nature, Clark’s book brings to our attention their sincere idealism and thirst for spiritual fulfillment. In this way, he helps us better understand not only this movement’s appeal in the interwar and World War II periods but also the endurance of Legionaries’ myth in Romania today.” (Vladimir Solonari, H-Net, 3 March 2016 )
“Clark tries to immerse himself in the lives of the legionaries. He is interested in the Legionary “everyday,” in the experiences of Codreanu’s followers. The everyday is defined in such a way that the “willingness to make sacrifices for the national battle” against the “Jews” and the “system” lifts up the everyday and permanently exults it. If my reading is correct, one must affiliate oneself with the Legion as if it was a “drug”: activity replaces helplessness; building activities; demonstrations; only the unutterable can be uttered; music; lyrics; parades; discussions. Whoever wants to join the Legion cannot complain about lacking employment, excitement, or appreciation.” (Armin Heinen, H/Soz/Kult, 15 August 2015)
“Holy Legionary Youth is more than just a book about the meaning of fascism for rank-and-file activists in the legionary movement; its achievement is a social history of the Iron Guard, an organization that is considered to be among “the biggest fascist movements in Europe (p. 15) in terms of the number of members per capita. Roland Clark is interested in how fascism transformed the lives of ordinary people, and it is no accident that the book begins with the funeral of a young girl from Craiova, Maria Cristescu, a teenage sympathizer of the legionary movement: her funeral mobilized hundreds of people in a ceremony with specifically legionary motifs, including political ones.” (Cristian Vasile, Contributors.ro, 13 September 2015)
“Clark quickly and distinctively differentiates his book from other histories of the Legion. For the first time we have a study that analyzes the legionary movement not just, or even primarily, in terms of its leaders or in terms of the major events that punctuated its birth, rise, and fall. We have in this book one of the most ‘colorful,’ nuanced, and dense works on the subject.” (Cristian Patrasconiu, Revista 22, 1 September 2015).
“Highly interdisciplinary, analytically comprehensive, and informed by a prodigious array of both primary sources and secondary literature, Clark’s book is a much-awaited reading for researchers, university professors, and students alike.” (Ionut Biliuta, Hungarian Historical Review, 5/1 (2015): 194-196).
“Clark’s book offers a comprehensive reinterpretation of the interwar Legionary movement from the perspective of the history of everyday social life. Moving away from abstract paradigms of ‘the nature of Romanian fascism’, Clark tells us more about what the Legionaries actually did (and did not) do, using a large number of new archival sources…Especially impressive is the way Clark situates interwar Romanian political phenomena in the context of broader paradigms of international social, cultural, political and religious history; and brings the topic up to date with a closing reflection on the memory of Legionary activity in post-war and present-day Romanian society. For the breadth and depth of its analysis, its rich documentation and clear writing style, Clark’s work stands out against a very strong field.” (The 2017 SRS Book Award Committee)
Vladimir Solonari. Purificarea națiunii: dislocări forțate de populație și epurări etnice în România lui Ion Antonescu, 1940-1944. Iaşi: Polirom, 2015.
“Solonari shows how in the southern border zone with Bulgaria, Bessarabia, and above all in the occupied southern Ukraine, the Romanian leadership shunted people around and massacred them with an energy that left even Germans astonished.” (Mark Mazower, Times Literary Supplement)
“Purifying the Nation makes a major contribution to the literature on ethnic cleansing during World War II. … The Antonescu government consisted of personalities from a range of parties, not just the military. Antonescu himself and the number two man in his government, Mihai Antonescu, had been pro-western before becoming “realists” and seizing the Hitlerian moment in order to purify Romania and reclaim territories taken by the Soviets in 1940. Solonari’s argument is thus aimed at the Romanian right and public opinion more broadly, and not just at “Marshall Antonescu.” (Irina Livezeanu, Slavic Review)
“Carefully researched and exhaustively documented, Purifying the Nation is a fine piece of scholarship and an invaluable contribution to our knowledge of this dark period.” (Peter Sherwood, Holocaust and Genocide Studies)
“Vladimir Solonari’s book about Romania from the late 1930s to 1944 is a very major addition to the scholarship on the subject.” (Daniel Chirot, Journal of Modern History)
Solonari’s book “is by far the best account of genocide and ethnic cleansing under the Antonescu regime.” (Stanley G. Payne, The International History Review)
“Solonari’s work is exciting to read and his thesis is vigorously argued. The material is well organized into chapters, with a good narrative and excellent illustrations…” (Alex Drace-Francis, European History Quarterly)
“The conclusion of this book [that the Romanian program of ethnic purification had its roots in Romania’s own interwar radical nationalist thought rather than in Nazi doctrine] is memorable and worth our careful and honest reflection.” (Cristian Pătrășconiu, Revista 22, 1 September 2015).
“Vladimir Solonari’s book is more than a history of the Holocaust in Romania. This book makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of the way the modern Romanian nation was built in relation to its ethnic minorities…. It is a call to remember, and it is addressed not only to erudite professional historians but to all of us. Let’s listen to it with the attention and seriousness it deserves.” (Petru Negură, Observator cultural, May 13, 2016)