Online seminar #9: Repression, Resistance and Collaboration in Romania: Post-Communist Remembering

Monica Ciobanu in conversation with Roland Clark, Mihai-Stelian Rusu, and Joanna Wawrzyniak

PoSoCoMeS online seminar series: session #9

Friday, 11 March, 2022 5.30 pm CET

Zoom link:

Monica Ciobanu's examines how the process of remembering Stalinist repression in Romania has shifted from individual, family and group representations of lived and witnessed experiences characteristic of the 1990s to more recent and state-sponsored expressions of historical remembrance. A study of competing narratives concerning the meaning of the past, which adopts an interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of the ongoing struggle over the legitimacy of the post-communist state, Repression, Resistance and Collaboration in Stalinist Romania 1944-1964 combines memory studies with a transitional justice approach. As such, it draws on concepts from sociology, political science, legal studies, related to memory, justice, redress, identity, accountability and reconciliation.

The author and the three discussants will emphasise the significance of this study to post-communist and memory studies through the lenses of their respective disciplines: history (Roland Clark), historical sociology (Joanna Wawrzyniak) and sociology (Monica Ciobanu and Mihai-Stelian Rusu).

Monica Ciobanu will highlight the empirical and theoretical findings of her monograph by focusing on the lessons learnt from the Romanian case in understanding how lived experience of trauma and political suppression is transformed into remembered history. She argues that the memory of the Stalinist era has become the principal source of a mnemonic base for the reconstruction of a national identity over time in the context of the abrupt transition from communism and the inevitable political vacuum it left. But an oversimplified remembering of this history could easily result in an essentialised version of historical memory rooted in ethnocentrism, Christian Orthodoxy and a patriarchal masculinism that is fully incompatible with democratic values. From a theoretical perspective, given the focus on multiple and diverse memories of specific social groups and categories, the study can be described as a contribution to the sociology of memory. However, as the acts of remembering are examined in the context of democratic transition, it also refers to conceptual frameworks from the field of transitional justice. This interdisciplinary approach relies on a wide range of primary and secondary sources: memoirs, historical archives, interviews and ethnographic observation.

Roland Clark will show how Monica Ciobanu extends Jan Assmann's work on the development of cultural memory as well as interrogating the relationship between memory and identity in post-socialist Romania. Whereas Ciobanu analyses post-socialist memories of Communist repression between 1944 and 1964, his contribution will discuss how these acts of repression—the Piteşti experiment, the repression of armed resistance and the repression of women—were themselves part of a broad reinterpretation of Romanian cultural memory by the Romanian Communist Party. Analyzing repression as Communist memory-making helps to expand on Ciobanu's own analysis of these case studies and reminds us that memory and identity are in constant flux, changing particularly rapidly during moments of regime change. Examining memory-making and transitional justice during the period of early state socialism on its own terms, without reference to post-socialism, shows the potential of Ciobanu's methodology for further research in comparable contexts.

Mihai Stelian Rusu will point out Ciobanu’s methodical effort at deconstructing the deeply entrenched antagonistic binaries underpinning Romania’s historical memory of the communist period. After the regime change of 1989, Romanian politics of memory concerning the communist past has been built upon a series of structural dualities. One such major mnemonic duality was that between the anti-communist master narrative of national trauma (communism as a criminal regime) and the post-communist selective glorification of the national-communist past. Another one consisted of clear-cut distinctions between victims and perpetrators (heroic martyrs who achieved sainthood in prison and diabolical evil embodied in the regime’s torturers). Ciobanu dissolves the simplistic but morally charged lines separating the good from the bad and right from wrong. In highlighting the sociological reality of collusion, compromise and cooption as well as the conflicts and ambiguities intrinsic to living in harsh conditions, Ciobanu humanises the heroes of Stalinist Romania by showing their human weaknesses and sometimes questionable political commitments. More controversially, this approach also led her to humanise the villains themselves by providing a contextualised understanding of the perpetrators’ actions grounded in their family and socio-cultural background.

Joanna Wawrzyniak's contribution to the book panel discussion will be a comparison between the politics of memory in post-1989 Romania and Poland. After briefly sketching some key similarities and differences between the Polish and Romanian communist experiences, Joanna will discuss how they might have affected post-1990s patterns of transitional justice and memory debates in both countries. Moreover, she will argue that although the remembrance of the Stalinist repressions has been an important element of the post-1990s memory debates in Poland, it has been overshadowed by the politics of the Second World War. War memories have served the purposes of the reconstruction of a national identity and fuelled ethnocentrism after communism.

Monica Ciobanu is Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh, USA.


Roland Clark (University of Liverpool, United Kingdom) Mihai-Stelian Rusu (Lucian Blaga University, Sibiu, Romania). Joanna Wawrzyniak (Institute of Sociology, University of Warsaw, Poland)

The event will be chaired by Mihaela Şerban (Ramapo College, New Jersey, USA)