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Vol 2, No 35
16 October 2000
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News from Romania Emerging from the Shadows
Ceauşescu's Court Poet Makes a Comeback
Tom Gallagher

Slobodan Milošević is still in Serbia brazenly trying to ride out the storm. He hopes to make a comeback without having to account for his terrible wrongs at the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

He and his henchmen, who have dropped out of sight in the hope that the people's rage will quickly subside, can only obtain comfort from an event which occurred in the Scottish university town of St Andrews on 7 October, the day after the dictator's fall.

In the teeth of protests, the organizers of the week-long St Andrews Poetry Festival allowed the court poet of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu to deliver a reading of his works in the Senior Common Room of the town's university on Saturday.

In Ceauşescu's pocket?

During some of the worst years of his regime in the 1970s and 1980s, Adrian Paunescu orchestrated a propaganda cult on behalf of the dictator that was grotesque even by Communist standards. He has never criticised the Ceauşescu regime nor the part he played in it, even claiming that he was at one stage "a dissident."

But he has tried to remove from public circulation some of his most egregious works written in praise of the dictator, such as Romania's Future, dating from 1983. The following excerpts are suggestive of Paunescu's style during Ceauşescu's "Era of Light":

It is Ceauşescu himself that introduced honour within the Communist Party and the Country.
He rediscovered our history unadulterated
To make us reach for the future in our dreams, as well as
In our daily deeds, full of new meanings...

As we follow our Hero, we overcome disasters
As we follow our Hero, we shall be able to
Make everything to the measure of our enthusiasm
You People with a noble spirit, People with a pure soul[1]

Ex-Communists unite

Today, Paunescu earns a comfortable living declaiming his verse on Tele 7 abc as well as Antena 1, a Romanian private television channel owned by Dan Voiculescu who before 1989 was a prominent member of Ceauşescu's intelligence service.[2]

Antena 1 is throwing its weight behind the campaign of Ion Iliescu, a leading communist party activist before 1989, to win re-election next month for a third term as Romania's President. Iliescu has given both Voiculescu and Paunescu prominent places on the electoral lists of his political vehicle, the Party of Romanian Social Democracy (PDSR).

Iliescu is walking a tightrope, seeking to reassure the West that under him Romania will continue its bid to join mainstream Europe while throwing his political mantle behind figures whose political philosophy can be summed up as "Romania for the Romanians."

Negligent attitudes

When the depth of Adrian Paunescu's involvement with the Ceauşescu regime was pointed out to Dr Gavin Bowd of St Andrews University's French Department, and organiser of the festival, he was quoted as saying: "Paunescu had an ambivalent relationship with the regime, but so did most intellectuals and this is now ten years ago."[3]

Dr Bowd appears to believe that after a decent interval of "ten years" has elapsed, a dictator's henchmen can emerge from the shadows and resume a normal life. It is exactly because of such negligent attitudes on the part of leading Westerners that Milošević and his accomplices feel that it will be business as usual for them once the hue and cry dies down.

Furthermore, in claiming that Paunescu's relationship with the Ceauşescu regime was like that of "most intellectuals" in Romania, Dr Bowd is casting terrible aspersions on brave writers and artists who defied Ceauşescu's tyranny at no small cost to themselves.

It is a slur, even on those who made compromises with the system to ensure their survival. Very few others were prepared to glorify the Ceauşescu regime in the way that Paunescu did with his mass propaganda rallies which were not a million miles removed from those that were a feature of life in Nazi Germany during the 1930s.

Eugen Negrici, a Romanian literary historian, has described the nature and impact of Paunescu's Flacara (Flame) Festivals in a recent book:

...the young audience who came to his shows in meeting halls, squares or stadiums would go into some strange sort of frenzy. Coming out of the bleak daily environment they were forced to live in, they thought they were taking part in an epoch-making, magical event.

...Special light effects were... used, alongside group suggestion exercises (choruses and smoke effects) producing a fake total freedom during the rite, signs and symbols (such as the triad: Light, Fight, Freedom).

In his capacity of great Priest and Prophet, Adrian Paunescu never forgot to remind the aroused audience that they owed the Supreme Leader (whose message he carried) their love and submission...

Negrici argues that:

Nobody else served Ceauşescu's regime and propaganda in a better way. Using his fascinating and disturbing personality, this writer breathed life into Ceauşescu's national communism, he crystallised and embodied his doctrine.

In exchange for his services, Adrian Paunescu, a name on everyone's lips, became indispensable and powerful in the Propaganda hierarchy... However, one cannot forget that he pushed the youths' innocent souls into the trap of propaganda, and thus managed to misuse their explosive energy for the survival of a hideous regime.

From this perspective, one may argue that the ban on the Flacara Tour after several young people died during a 'performance' was one of the greatest mistakes the propaganda division of the Communist Party ever made.[4]

Paunescu applied the chloroform to blunt the consciousness of a generation while his patron looted the country. It is difficult to imagine that public money and private funding from a top Scottish legal firm and daily newspaper was used to allow such a man to travel to the UK, enjoy a week of hospitality in St Andrews, and then mount a podium to say in effect: "here I am, what's all the fuss about."

British citizens, like those of many other West European countries, gladly supported their local councils in the 1990s when they funded efforts to repair some of the damage left by the dictatorship in Romania and many gave generously to private charities engaged in the same task. Indeed, thousands of British people travelled to Romania on mercy missions once it was possible to enter the country in the 1990s.

Many of these people are bound to be dismayed that the renegade poet who helped Ceauşescu to dig the black hole into which Romania fell during the 1980s should have enjoyed such a welcome.

Unapologetic defender of dictatorship

If Adrian Paunescu had admitted that he had made a shocking mistake in being of such service to Ceauşescu, then his visit should have occasioned no controversy. However, he remains an unapologetic defender of the dictatorship, arguing in print that Ceauşescu has been misunderstood and unfairly maligned.

The festival organizers have made comparisons between the poets Ezra Pound, TS Eliot and Paunescu, saying that the anti-Semitic or pro-fascist views of these eminent writers did not deny them a right to a public hearing.

This is indeed the case and it would have been wrong for such poets to have been driven from public view because of their unpleasant views.

But the difference between Pound and Eliot on the one hand, and Paunescu on the other (besides that of talent) is that the former were private individuals who never actively served, or profited, from a violent dictatorship.

Mr Paunescu was a leading figure in the Communist regime during some of its most terrible years. He earned a comfortable living from it when most Romanians suffered acute want. If he fell out briefly with his protector in 1985, it was because he became too greedy in his expectations of reward for services rendered to the dictatorship.


Back in Romania Paunescu complained in his weekly television programme of being harassed by supporters of Romania's liberal President, Emil Constantinescu while in Scotland. He has been given a place on the electoral lists of the Party of Romanian Social Democracy in next month's elections. This came as a surprise since in 1996 he wrote an impassioned article claiming that victory for Ion Iliescu would be a disaster for Romania. Indeed, he mounted a rival presidential bid but received only 0.69 per cent of the vote.

In one poem, written after 1989, Paunescu points the finger at Iliescu and other second-ranking communists who took power in that year after swiftly executing the dictator in a drum-head court-martial.

In an imaginary conversation with a Ceauşescu returned to life he writes:

But I beg thee, glorious spectre,
To be a moment supreme commander,
To forgive those who weigh heavily on your grave
And exorcise your people of their curse.[5]

Adrian Nastase, the number two figure in Iliescu's PDSR, said in a recent interview that it would be less of an inconvenience to have Paunescu inside the party ranks rather than creating disruption outside, presumably when it emerges that Iliescu has no better ideas for salvaging the economy than those who replaced him in 1996.

Iliescu is now 70 and if he wins this is likely to be his last term. But the industrialist Dan Voiculescu and his ally Paunescu are likely to remain influential figures in Romanian public life. There is a distinct possibility that Voiculescu will acquire a dominant hold over private television and will seek to build up audience figures by a mix of nationalist nostalgia supplied by Paunescu, along with the usual diet of games shows and variety shows featuring scantily clad models.

Casual attitudes

It is unclear whether the European Union and NATO are paying much attention to the quiet rapprochement between Iliescu and former nationalist detractors like Paunescu. It is too easy to dismiss him as an oversized buffoon who boasts about an entry in the Guinness Book of Records on account of his volume of poetry sales that were published by his own editorial imprint.

Through television Paunescu enjoys a significant following among the rural, elderly, and poorly-educated sections of the population many of whom are nostalgic for the pre-1989 era because they feel they lived better then.

The tragedy that tore apart Yugoslavia in the 1990s can, in part, be traced back to the myopia and neglect of senior policy-makers in the West who failed to stand up to Milošević until it was too late.

The attitude of some movers and shakers of the Scottish arts world to the appearance in their midst of Mr Paunescu shows that a casual attitude of mind which brought disaster to the Balkans is still very much alive.

Dr Gavin Bowd, Paunescu's host, has not bothered to hide his political sympathies, arguing in the Scottish daily newspaper, The Herald, on 12 October that the removal of Milošević has been greeted with "liberal humbug and the reheating of Cold War stereotypes." He has accused his critics of being "liberal fascists" for daring to claim that there are "moral limits to the activity of poets."

Good may still come from this disquieting episode if maximum vigilance is now shown to ensure that supporters of the Milošević regime in cultural and media spheres never ever get the helping hand in Britain which Adrian Paunescu received earlier this month.

Tom Gallagher, 14 October 2000

Tom Gallagher is Professor of East European Politics at Bradford University, UK. He is the author of Romania After Ceausescu: The Politics of Intolerance (Edinburgh University Press, 1995) and of Outcast Europe: The Balkans From the Ottomans to Milosevic, which will be published in January 2001 by Harwood Academic Publishers.

Moving on:


1. Translated by Constantin Roman.

2. Dan Voiculescu was a general in Ceauşescu's intelligence service, a fact which is well documented.

3. Online version of The Guardian, 7 October 2000.

4. Eugen Negrici, Literature and Propaganda in Communist Romania, The Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, Bucharest 1999, pp 77-9.

5. Translated into English by Alex Drace-Francis.


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