An interview with Matei Vișniec. Romania after more than 30 years form the revolution.

Matei Vișniec is the most appreciated contemporary Romanian playwright internationally, his plays being performed in theaters in over 30 countries and at the greatest festivals. He has recevied numerous literary distinctions, is living in Paris and is a journalist at Radio France Internationale.

He managed to leave Romania in 1987, going to Paris with a tourist visa, but, while he was there, his play “Horses at the window” was banned by the communist regime in Bucharest, right before the show’s premiere, so the playwright gets political asylum and settles in France.

He is o collaborator of the British radio station BBC from 1988 to 1989, but returns to Paris where he receives a scholarship to write about “Cultural resistance in Eastern Europe under communist regimes”.

30 years later, we met him in Bucharest and asked him how he regarded the country he was forced to leave.

Mr. Vișniec, there are 30 years since the Revolution in 1989, how does Romania look like today, what is the difference between what people wanted Romania to become and what it became?

There are many contrasts and many disappointments 30 years after the fall of communism, but we mustn’t throw everything in the bin of despair, because we’re living in a totally different Romania that the one in which some of us have waisted our youths.

Let us not forget that, still, it is a time of peace in this part of Europe, it’s a democracy that, for better or worse, works, there is a freedom on circulation, of leaving, of coming back, nobody is getting arrested coming out of a restaurant or in his apartment for criticizing the president or the government. I haven’t heard of people getting arrested at 4 a.m. and taken for questioning for criticizing the government. So, let us not forget the truly dark times of Romania’s recent history.

Of course, we can try to sum up our achievements, which are full of contrasts.

Perhaps Romania could have walked faster on the path to prosperity, perhaps Romania, if it have had a political class more attached to the people’s interests than their own interests, it would have had the chance of getting closer to the West, to get closet to those living standards. Perhaps it would have had more opportunities and would have attracted more investors if there were less corruption.

So, there are many of these perhaps and if‘s.

I don’t find it a pretty picture that 3-4 millions of Romanians are working abroad, which means a thinning of the intellect, of the work force and of the living forces of nature.

Politicians today should imagine a plan of attracting the diaspora back home, of creating opportunities, because Romanians have had important experiences in the West, let them come back with that experience to Romania.

So, not all is lost, nu we haven’t been 100% winners either.

In regards to the dreams and illusions of December 1989, of course we could say that there are many disappointments. But even then, people were in an equation of enthusiasm, and, often, those dreams were made out or poor knowledge of economical mechanisms and the way democracy works.

Everyone thought that there was a cause/effect relationship between democracy and prosperity, but there isn’t. Prosperity comes with different rules, other laws than freedom and democracy.

That’s the portrait of Romania, 30 years later.

“The western and French hands have always reached out to Romania. Not always did Romanians know how to grab those hands.”

How is Romania regarded in France, where you live?

Romania continues to gather some sympathy in France and to gain appreciation for what it does and often critiqued for what it doesn’t do, it’s an objective view. Every time there were cases of grave corruption in Romania, the foreign press spoke of it.

In the first 15 years, Romania’s image was a negative one, in the last 10 years it started getting better because Romanians gave themselves some chances. Romania had the presidency of the European Union, there was a France-Romania cultural season, there is currently a sort of emblematic exposition for Romania, in Bruxelles, a Brâncuși exposition, in the Europalia festival.

I would say that the western and French hands have always reached out to Romania. Not always did Romanians know how to grab those hands, the same way as they didn’t know how to use European funds in order to create what I would have called unity through economy, through infrastructure.

Romanian unity through infrastructure would have been a wonderful thing, that didn’t happen.

Romanian unity exists through language, culture, religion, free circulation, but the fact that in all these years there haven’t been built freeways between historical regions, that you can’t drive on a highway form Bucharest to Suceava or to Timișoara – that’s a historical fault of all the politicians that have had some power.

I have travelled to Portugal, Spain, Greece, at a time that these countries were fully European Union funds and construction sites were everywhere. Romanians were left out of those chances and are still divided, because it’s easier for someone in Timișoara to go to Budapest than to go to Bucharest.

That’s an example of grave error in judgement and action.

In the same time, Romania has a great cultural capital, there are many wonderful things happening in Romania regarding festivals, creativity.

“Today, the minister of sports in France is Romanian and there are some who say: Oh, you’re a Romanian like Roxana Mărăcineanu! Now, I often speak to people, artists and they say: oh, the girl who has been taking care of my mother for three years, and is doing a great job, she’s also a Romanian.

Romanians are serving Europe, they clean, they wipe the asses of the elderly, they are working hard… and that is an image of Romania.”

Matei Vișniec

You were speaking about the Brancusi exposition in Europalia. It seems like a form of hypocrisy from the authorities, because they take pride in Brancusi overseas, but in Romania they have done very little to preserve his legacy. One example is “Cumințenia Pământului”, that the state refused to purchase, and now is exposed in Bruxelles.

Let’s not forget, though, that Brancusi made a name for himself abroad, in France, that the French have preserved his workshop next to Georges Pompidou and if he hadn’t left Romania, he wouldn’t have achieved what he has achieved, he hadn’t become the father of modern art.

It pains me as well that some of the artists that have left Romania and represent the image if Romania overseas, aren’t as appreciated back home. There is still this complex that you first must make it abroad in order to be recognized in Romania.

But, in the same time, Brancusi represent an image of Romania.

In the same sense that, I often meet people in other countries, they each say something else: oh, you’re Romanian! Cioran! others say: oh, you’re Romanian, Hagi, other say Năstase or Nadia, other Tristan Tzara.

For each socio-professional category, Romania has got a different image.

The image is full of contrasts. The advantages are peace, democracy, the fact that Romania is part of the European Union is a giant leap, nobody would have imagined that this was possible back in 1989.

In the same time, Romania has been mistreated by the political classes’ personal interests. They are to blame for the fact that time was not made into civilization faster.


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