The Archive of the Romanian Revolution of December 1989

A Catch-22 December 1989, Groundhog-Day Production. Presenting the Personal Research & Scholarship of Richard Andrew Hall, Ph.D.

Basescu (aka “Petrov”), the Securitate, and the Investigations of December 1989 (VIII: Intellectual Malpractice)

(purely personal views as always; not for reproduction or reuse without author’s permission)

Romanian intellectuals, at home and abroad, had a choice with the Presidency of Traian Basescu. They could admit to themselves and to their audiences, at home and abroad (especially Western academic and journalistic audiences), that Basescu was a tremendously compromised character with an incredible amount of baggage, not just from before 1989, but from 1990 to 2004. Frankly, they owed it to their audiences, especially for judging Basescu’s motives and behavior.

But no. Romania’s intellectuals, at home and abroad, led by a few key opinion leaders/influencers chose to construct a fantasy of salvation. Basescu became something of Saul on the road to Damascus, a born again anti-communist, anti-Securitate politician of the utmost sensitivity and even intellectual depth–…in their rendering.

Romania’s intellectuals then, but especially LATER, could have admitted cynically, but strategically…

OK, it’s true…he used us…but we used him…and look at what we got out of it? Was this Faustian bargain worth it?

Former presidential advisor Adriana Saftoiu relates what sounds a lot closer to the reality of Basescu’s involvement in the Final Report of the Presidential Commission to Analyze the Communist Dictatorship, when she wrote the following:

The commission to condemn communism was the proposal of Claudiu Saftoiu [note: her husband at the time and also a Cotroceni advisor]. The naming of Vladimir Tismaneanu was Claudiu’s idea. Traian Basescu accepted it with indifference. He didn’t oppose it, as had happened in the initial phase of the matter, BUT IT WOULD BE A WHOPPER OF A LIE TO ARGUE THAT TRAIAN BASESCU DID IT WITH A LOT OF ENTHUSIASM AND INVOLVEMENT IN ITS EVOLUTION [NOTE: EMPHASIS ADDED]. At the time, the meetings with Tismaneanu were short and without much emotion. When he was told that he had returned (Tismaneanu did not reside in Romania permanently), he asked Claudiu to manage the relationship.

Tismaneanu predictably could not permit Adriana Saftoiu’s revelation in passing…pass. To do so would undermine the whole highly-ideological fantasy of salvation that he had constructed around himself and Basescu. This is what happens when you try to argue that behavior is motivated primarily (even exclusively) by the values you proclaim, pure as the driven snow…when in fact, the personal and political were very much involved. Tismaneanu’s reaction was of course to say that Adriana Saftoiu was 100 percent wrong–although it should be clear, she had much less of a stake in misrepresenting matters, whereas he had a huge one of his own making–and that quite the contrary “Basescu had been DIRECTLY and COMPLETELY INVOLVED in the project to condemn communism (emphasis added).” He even went on to give an anecdote, as if by sharing a single anecdote, that would prove that Basescu had been directly and completely involved in every step of the process…

Vladimir Tismăneanu, la Timişoara: „Traian Băsescu a fost direct și total implicat în demersul de condamnare a crimelor comunismului”

I don’t know what the reality of this situation was, but I am inclined to believe Adriana Saftoiu, far more than Vladimir Tismaneanu. And it is abundantly clear that Tismaneanu’s seemingly endless airbrushing of Basescu’s past and present (while he was still president), has done a great disservice to especially foreign academics and journalists trying to make sense of contemporary Romania.

Saftoiu had another tidbit that would seem important for outsiders to know, because it gets to the issue of Romania’s “critical” intellectuals and their “moth to a lamp” proclivity to eventually find some high level state or political official who elevates their societal status:

At Cotroceni, sometimes Horia-Roman Patapievici, Mircea Mihaies, and Traian Ungureanu were invited. Sometimes, as if by accident Elena Udrea* would show up too. She wasn’t employed by the Administration anymore, but that was no obstacle. The President offered cheese, tomatoes, and meatballs, a la Cotroceni. The discussions were almost never political. To be sure, they weren’t about literature or philosophy. He [Basescu] liked to talk about how it had been in the Navy. He would conjure up the image of the captain confronting the waves. He didn’t gossip about politicians…Rarely did he ask questions or show any curiosity. He told stories.

*Udrea has been sentenced to jail for political corruption in 2009; so has Traian Basescu’s daughter, Ioana. These “critical” intellectuals, including Tismaneanu on at least one occasion, came to Udrea’s defense in the late 2000s, arguing that she was being unfairly picked upon by the opposition, after all, what had she done to deserve such criticism?!

That such happenings have not been translated into English is no surprise. Tismaneanu and his transatlantic patron-client network (discussed memorably by Tom Gallagher in 2006, for which he was then savaged in a typical proxy hit piece in EEPS…and which very much exists, even if some of its members are expelled from time to time for daring to challenge Tismaneanu’s ever changing views and vindictive behavior) strenuously promote and airbrush the narrative they want to see prevail outside of Romania. One can only wonder if the contributors of volumes such as Romania Under Basescu would have benefited from the broader context of some of the details that it took Adriana Saftoiu to reveal. It certainly would have prevented well-meaning, but misguided judgments of the variety expressed by Charles King in Slavic Review in 2008 in which he suggested that The Commission was a political project, but in the best sense of the word, or some such…No, it was political, but in other less noble senses of the word too…especially when one looks at Basescu’s Securitate past, the travesty of a chapter on December 1989 based on Dan Voinea’s lies, and Basescu’s mafiosi style political and economic behavior while in office…

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