Did you know that there is a National Christian Democratic Peasant’s party in Romania, and that its slogan is “Together for the Monarchy”? Neither did I, until yesterday morning, when I saw some bumper stickers up by the Piata Cipariu.
Even after the feel-good Jubilee last week, there can’t be too many peasants’ movements, anywhere in the world, promoting a return to monarchy.
Obviously, the PNTCD (which has no members in parliament) is a combination of several old parties, stuck together for their own obscure reasons. One of these parties, the “peasants,” actually held power for a while, in the 1920s and 30s. It is a reminder that, here in Central Europe as in so many other places, there are plenty of old ghosts running around.
I had another reminder of this last night, when a group from church went to see an open-air screening of the indie film Iron Sky, shown in the Piata Unirii. The movie, as you may know, is about Nazis on the moon, and their plan to conquer the earth. It’s a pretty good picture. The special effects are amazing, given its tight budget, and Julia Dietze‘s performance is the cutest darn thing you’ve ever seen. The tone veers wildly from slapstick to satire to almost-straight-up space action, often within the length of a scene. Some people may find that distracting, but those are the same people who get hung up on the Aristotelian unities.
Oh, and since this was part of the Transylvania International Film Festival, the director did a little Q&A afterward. He was … boisterous. And charming. His best line was something to the effect of, We made a sweet little movie about peace and love and understanding. A hippie movie. We made a hippie movie. With Nazis.
That satire I mentioned was mostly political, and mostly directed at the United States. It wasn’t anything especially biting, or especially original — Jon Stewart plays rougher on any given day of the week. Still, I fidgeted in my seat; it is a little weird seeing other people make fun of your own country. (Must have been tougher on the Germans in the audience.) The good news is that Romanians are generally pretty warm toward the United States, and their laughter seemed good-natured.
But let me get back to those ghosts. Because it is one thing for an American to watch a comic movie about Nazis, and another thing for a crowd of Europeans. Our experiences of that era were, to put it mildly, very different. I wondered if some of the trendy cosmopolitan young people around me, remembering a favorite great-uncle’s nostalgic stories about the Iron Guard, weren’t fidgeting in their seats as much as I was. Or more.
But even setting that aside, the movie made me think about some of the other ghosts that people here have to live with. Anybody in middle age, say forty or above, was raised to adulthood in the days of Communism and its the secret police. These were times of extreme privation, as well heavy-handed action by an authoritarian government and self-serving bureaucrats. Something like 10% of the population was compelled to spy on its neighbors, filling out endless little notebooks detailing who ate what for lunch or spoke to whom at the market. In triplicate. It was a time when nobody trusted anybody, or any institutions — and with good reason.
I will never know what it was like to grow up in that system. My adolescence and young adulthood could not have been more different. While a 20-something Romanian’s life is still not much like that of 20-something American, they now share innumerable points of reference: they can watch more or less the same television, read the same news articles, eat many of the same foods. They may not have the same beliefs or values, but they are closer than ever before. But for people my own age — the people who hold a lot of power in any society — things are different. Inevitably, they are prone to mistrust; to seeing conspirators everywhere, and then conspiring against them; to using their power the way they were taught by the world that formed them. Never mind the spaga; the real problem is the distrust.
It makes them hard for a foreigner to work with. Just ask the engineers at Bechtel. For people who are prone to speaking frankly and taking each other at their word, work in Romania can be confusing and frustrating. And for people who aren’t, I imagine that working with us foreigners can be just as confusing. What is it like to spend your life planning around hidden agendas that don’t really exist, or wondering why people get angry when you renegotiate a contract, or wait for the quid pro quo?
The good news is that it won’t always be this way. The world, as we have been told for decades, is getting smaller. International travel is easier and more common. Mass media make it easier for people to understand each other. The European Union, for all its obvious imperfections, is bound to have a levelling effect on the business cultures of its members nations. But it may take a while.
Until then, we are haunted by the ghosts of history, walking through the corridors of power. And a movie like Iron Sky is helpful, not just because it makes us fidget in our seats when we see ourselves stung onscreen, but because it calls those ghosts out and gives them what they deserve: the mockery of the living.