The Revolution from Within
Revolutions are experiences of a purgatorial sort. They remake people’s lives and indeed rewrite not only their present and future but their past as well. The latter gets to be turned either into a memorial of avenged pain and suffering or into an archaeological site of bygone morality. And there, some find themselves scrapping feverishly through the debris for relics of a past “against the tide” righteousness, to be convertible into strategic assets in the “New Order” life. Alongside those who readily face tanks head-on, for whom ancien regimes are wounds that cry for cures, there are also those who struggle their own murky histories, trying to bury them so deep in the soil of blurry social memory with the very same zeal that they’d once professed from the outburst. Still what unites everyone in the revolution – its purveyors and those from the silent mass, its undisguised opponents and those confusedly undecided – is the impetus to survive in this freshly renovated “polis”. The ultimate political animal doesn’t enact revolutions. He simply weathers them, transcending any possible change with immunity and impunity. So, welcome to the Romanian December 1989 Revolution!
We can delineate two broad types of revolutions: those that replace people and those that change people. In other words, there are revolutions that replace people with other people, and revolutions that change people’s ideas. The Romanian “Revolution of 1989” bore witness to a convulsive cohabitation of these two categories, consequence of its inbuilt pathology. We speak of a movement that was worked in the streets, but was capitalized upon by the palaces, in the palaces and for the palaces. At the very top of the State pyramid, the Revolution replaced the old guard with a new one, assembled from the disgruntled layers of the Communist nomenklatura that were deeply dissatisfied with the dynastically-flavoured order of succession established in the socialist republic. Yet, the society’s ideas on how to revolutionize minds underwent an update, much later, in spite of and in fact against the new leadership. In the meanwhile, the Coup-Revolution had been played conservatively: it had initially decried the betrayal of the true socialist ideas, then it denounced the unbridled capitalism, ending up by preaching a politically comfortable pastiche of “Western egalitarianism”.
I was 10 years of age at the outbreak of the Revolution and, despite the feebleness of my comprehension of the more intimate details of those movements, I watched on TV, with great befuddlement, the obsessive utterance in the streets of some particular word. It was shouted loudly against various figureheads standing behind the microphones and filling the balconies (I later learned that those prominent figures were connected to the venerable public buildings they “occupied”, entering them somehow from… inside, in a weird political logic that defies Euclidian geometry). And that word was “Out”. I worriedly asked myself how it came to be that a regime that had at least established some sort of functional order – the inconsistence of which had not yet fully reached me, because I’d only superficially experienced it with my family in the long lines at the penury grocery stores – was being discarded violently for something that didn’t seem to leave any room for social rest. At that time, I’d become a little “socialist conservative”. Only later I understood that the “street” and the “balcony” were steeply at loggerheads, being irreconcilably severed by a lot of invisible barricades.
Sequel of the controlled mediatisation of the Revolution, Romanian mainstream media find itself captured by the “apostates”. It carefully sifted through topics of public interest, with a bias towards a leftwing, “statist” ideology. Some of those who’d found refuge in literature and unaffiliated press braced themselves and aligned with the political right. Post-December Romania didn’t managed to forge a modern leftwing political class as the rudimentary political left had taken charge. Mental inertia and a (wickedly cultivated) lack of understanding about the real roots of the past socio-economic evils transformed the largest portion of the “active” Romanian electorship in a pro-socialist fiefdom. Nevertheless, this allowed for still very scarce bouts of relevance for the centre-rightwing intelligentsia, the moral descendent of the “streets of December 1989”. That happened in moments when exasperation overtook resignation in the part of the population that was, at the very least, allergic to hypocrisy, whether not fully alert to the (lack of) logic of political verbiage. The remaining problem is the un-exigent education for the political “demand”, and not just for the political “supply".
What enduring gains did the Romanian Revolution yield, beyond the empty promises and disappointments of these last 27 years? “December 1989” is seen as the Romanian episode of a larger wave of reinvention, part of a “1989” touted as the world’s very first “revolution of the ideological centre”. The unrestrained violence and terror performed by the French Revolution (1789) and its poor epigone, the Russian Revolution (1917), gave way to an exercise in the rehabilitation and restoration of the classical values that keep society together, in its authentic, perennial sense: the right to private property, the state of law, rightful reason and its associate, rightful faith. So that is the deep-seated moral of the etymology of the term “revolution”: a miscellany of systematic, principled overturning, returning and upholding. Present Romania has yet to fully assimilate its 1989 basic lesson, and memory cannot be a too helpful ally in the absence of the active, critical, and sincere thinking. In fact, no revolution should begin with others’ flesh and blood, but with our own mind-set.