An interview with four of the founding members of The Group for Social Action (GSA), an intellectual, activist, left-wing platform, launched in Cluj (Romania) at the beginning of 2011. The group brings together young intellectuals, activists and artists.
Diana Prisacariu (European Alternatives): What is the reason behind the coming to life of the GSA platform and what means have you used to reach it?
Ciprian Bogdan: Lately, we have noticed the existence of a significant number of people affiliated with the left-wing, yet they were not visible, nor organised enough in terms of numbers. The initiative of the GSA intended to correct this slip by founding a platform for this mass of critical voices, a mass which is both ‘heterogeneous’ (in terms of background and opinions) and open to dialogue at the same time. We actually tried to keep to one of the fundamental left-wing principles, a type of solidarity able to foster different opinions and visions.
Adi Dohotaru: GSA was created to be a space of encounter for various left wing ideological options. Still, in the long run, we intend to contribute to the ignition of political debates and generate solutions for a “more democratic and more equitable society at the dawn of a post-capitalist world”, just like we mentioned in our declaration of principles.
Lucian Butaru: We are mostly interested in contributing to the description of the problems. Nowadays, we deal with a kind of monopoly of the right-wing, which excludes alternative solutions from the very start. This process is meant to offer the necessary instruments to the “indignant” protesters.
Norbert Petrovici: Cluj (Romania) is the place that has lately witnessed the birth of an important intellectual, left-wing movement and we needed a way to come up with a debate and social activism platform. Thus, GSA became a left-wing network among others, yet with a clearly stated aim to create meeting places or participate in any other solidarity proposals.
Diana Prisacariu (EA): What are the main causes hindering a recognition of the left-wing legacy already in place in Romania? Which are the mechanisms that make right-wing monopoly prevail in the Romanian cultural environment?
Ciprian Bogdan: It is not the nostalgic “return” of the left-wing tradition that matters, but rather the search for answers to the structural problems of contemporary society. Yet, if the relationship to the past is to be taken into consideration, it can be said that one of the impediments against taking on various elements of the left-wing heritage is their often conflictual intrinsic plurality. There exist different left-wing traditions that are often not compatible with each other, even on a fundamental level. Furthermore, some of these traditions were compromised because they protected, or, at least, they did not dare to be critical enough of the post-war societies of Eastern Europe. With regards to the present perception across Romania, the big public associates left-wing principles to the national-communist experiment, and, recently, with the unpredictable, sometimes almost conservative attempts, of the Social Democratic Party.
Lucian Butaru: Therefore, the Romanian left-wing intellectuals find themselves in the awful situation of fighting a multiple war: first, against the comical representations of the left-wing parties widely spread among the population via various media channels controlled or influenced by the right-wing intellectuals; second, against the present left-wing orientations that, due to the nationalistic, conservative and, sometimes, non-democratic appearance, partially stick to the comic representations presented by the right-wing orientation; third, against the inequalities inherent to capitalism.
Adi Dohotaru: Yet, if we are really keen on “bringing back” Romanian left-wing traditions, we can always refer to the XIXth century – first half of the XXth century movements. There used to exist a variety of movements like progressive anarchist, social-democratic, Marxist, feminist, etc. worth being analysed and looked at closely. There aren’t too many Romanians who remember our socialists (as opposed to the liberal and conservative movements) fiercely demonstrating for universal voting right, workers’ rights, rights of the farmers associated in agricultural cooperatives to receive land, women’s rights to be hired in the public sector, freedom of expression, or minorities’ rights. These ideas led to the appearance of numerous socialist magazines, hundreds of unions, protests, public campaigns, strikes, etc. This heritage, even if less important than in other European countries, remains unclaimed for two main reasons. On one hand, the quality of the historiography before 1989 is rather doubtful, since instead of critically analysing and filtering this heritage, it presents it in a declamatory, triumphalist and propagandistic manner, spoiling it of any real content. On the other hand, Romanian right-wing intellectuals and citizens reject this heritage because a major confusion between the democratic socialist left-wing and authoritarian Bolshevism is still perceived. This confusion is most often a type of manipulation technique used by the post-revolutionary right-wing discourse in order to articulate its cultural and ideological hegemony. To be straightforward, according to the discourse of this historiographical vulgate, any movement questioning capitalism (or rather “the free market” in their opinion) is anti-democratic and of an authoritarian persuasion.
Norbert Petrovici: I cannot see an explicit stake in regaining a local or even national left-wing tradition, even if many ideas of the end of 19thcentury-beginning of the 20th century represent important theoretical ideas. I find the centre-peripheral type analyses extremely interesting, as well as the particular way of theorising the peripherisation of the Romanian countries. In my opinion, it is much more important to build regional and global networks that activate and produce alternative knowledge, allowing for a post-capitalist order to be taken into consideration.
Diana Prisacariu (EA): The effects of the financial speculations in Southern European economies are much more discussed than the present situation in Eastern Europe. What are the defining aspects of the economic crisis in Romania? What was the response of the government to the blackmail of the financial markets?
Ciprian Bogdan: The Romanian ruling class settled the issue of the financial crisis using a neoliberal logic: the one who pays for the crisis is the state itself, including the state employees and retired people. Another issue is the fact that the right-wing ruling politicians used the global financial crisis into a pretext for the “reformation” of the Romanian society, which is turning into an aggressive attack against the principles of the social state taken for a ghost of the communist heritage and, at the same time, of the lack of competitiveness of the Romanian society.
Lucian Butaru: It is hard to say if the actions of the present ruling class were governed by financial blackmail of or by their own lack of competence. It is nonetheless possible that the truth be right in the middle, due to the fact that, once the regional differences are surpassed, most of the governments keep repeating the mistakes of the inter-war crisis of austerity during a consumption crisis. The answer can only be one, no matter the point of view that we have on the situation: and that is ideological-political mobilisation. The “post-ideological” monologue following 1989 is not only boring, and the cluster of parties towards the center is not only a token of “maturity”, both situations set the alarm bells ringing. Democracy itself is in danger, not only welfare and calm of everyday life.
Norbert Petrovici: The Romania of the beginning of the ‘90s used coherent neoliberal policies of austerity and minimization of the investments in welfare. This is also due to the constant application of consensual politics coming directly from Washington, as well as to the fact that our theoretical imaginary assimilates neoliberalism to capitalism. The new IMF agreements for surpassing the present capitalist crisis have left the main austerity politics unchanged so far. Yet, we are definitely dealing with a radicalisation of the neoliberal programme in terms of public policies due to the non-governance of the labour market, privatisation of the academic, health and public order systems, and new politics of spatial competition that only deepen the spatial gap.
Diana Prisacariu (EA): What does being a left-wing activist mean in a place like present day Romania?
Lucian Butaru: Most of us are novices in the field so we’re experimenting and trying to learn from the mistakes, both ours and those of others.
Adi Dohotaru: To us, activism is an intense form of promoting values, social campaigns, truths, etc. Why should we challenge anything? We chose challenge and activism because in Romania, and not only, citizens are not deemed competent enough to make decisions, as opposed to elites who, based on presupposed natural aptitudes and qualities, hold a pre-eminent right to access them. Our activism is intended to change this perception, and, if possible, contribute to solving specific problems. For example, GSA together with the Civil Organization Workgroup – Grupul de Lucru al Organizațiilor Civice (www.gloc.ro) – has lately participated in various social protests that had a real impact, from blocking illegal construction sites to demanding access to housing for roma communities.
Norbert Petrovici: Being an activist has so far come down to putting big efforts on justification, creating equivalences, demonstrating communality, showing capability of creating goods that are commonly managed, testifying to the other’s humanity and to the fact that no human being can be commoditised and assimilated to a profit resource.
Diana Prisacariu (EA) : What do you think of the movement of the indignados, recently sweeping Europe? What do you think are the main reasons behind the poor participation in Romania?
Adi Dohotaru: The “indignants”’ protests, most of them young, coming from the EU countries was wrongly and emphatically entitled “European Revolution” because neither major speeches, nor destructuralization of the system were uttered. Despite all this, we took part in the demonstrations in Cluj, Romania, which barely counted 100 people, because we primarily wanted to sympathise with the Spanish youth whose chances of a decent future are threatened by the increased lack of opportunity in the labour market, due to the inequalities of Spanish society, etc. Secondly, we participated in the movement “Real Democracy Now” (the phrase that pushed GSA to sympathise rather than the pompous one “revolution”) to socialize with other young people that experienced hardships in accommodating to our extremely mercantile society. At this moment, the best framework that we can come up with is provided by GSA lectures and workgroups on the creative techniques of citizens’ implication in public affairs. The idea behind these techniques is to present and imagine a deliberative democratic framework to the nowadays capitalism and parliamentary democracy. This GSA seminar will start this fall and aims at a public made up of students, young intellectuals, NGOs, representatives of some associations of landowners, union members, journalists, etc.