On Human Rights & Censorship, World Cultures, Wanderlust and Media Criticism
BUCHAREST | The siege is broken. The culture war in Romania is over. Politics won. The leaders of the cultural institution responsible for putting Romanian arts and culture on the world map are stepping down.
Horia-Roman Patapievici, president of the Romanian Cultural Institute (ICR), announced that he and the entire of the ICR leadership will resign. The reasons? The original mission of the ICR has been officially altered. It is now under the political control of the Senate, a decision that the country’s Constitutional Court officially ruled as constitutional on July 31 — to the dismay of the current leaders of ICR.
Moreover, Romania’s Finance Ministry announced that ICR’s budget will be slashed by some 3.1 million euros, more than a third — a drastic budget cut that left planned projects and contractually engaged initiatives in the lurch.
In the wake of this seismic shift, ICR management, which has been in place since 2005, is organizing a press conference Thursday, August 2, 2012, at 11:00 am at its premises in Alley Alexandru no. 38 in Bucharest. Journalists are requested to confirm participation by e-mail to biroul.presa @ icr.ro, or telephone, at no. 7100 031 624. It is expected that the current ICR leadership will make an effort to defend itself and lay out its position at this press conference.
With the regime change in Romania, newly elected government leaders passed on June 13 an emergency ordinance number 27/ 2012 which moves ICR under the Senate supervision and radically changes its mission. When the so-called “emergency” ordinance was issued, the leadership of ICR said it would step down if the ordinance was deemed constitutional. By law, the Senate will name the executive directors of ICR and its board within 15 days.
“The mission of the Romanian Cultural Institute will consist only in strengthening the national identity of Romanians from abroad, the preamble of the emergency ordinance which was declared constitutional today, and the statements of those who were at this change, i.e. the Minister of Culture, Haşotti,” Patapievici said on July 31, quoted by Agerpres.
Patapievici added that, in his opinion, although the name of ICR remains under the new dispensation, the institution that built it has “died.” “This change of status of ICR consists of transforming it into a sort of national propaganda agency,” Patapievici said, as quoted by Agerpres.
Patapievici said the current ICR leadership will step down soon after “solving some management issues” related to the budget cuts. The Romanian Ministry of Finance has asked ICR to stay within its budget of around 6.1 million euros this year, as approved at end 2011. However, ICR has spent or has committed to spend some 6.9 million euros this year. Patapievici said that the new budget cuts were “an ad-hoc action” that was issued with no previous warning and no explicitly stated reason.
All the 17th branches of ICR around the world are now unable to function, Patapievici explained in an interview for Romania Libera: “With the cuts in the budget, I got to have 28.5 million lei, while we, with ongoing projects, already spent 29 million lei. We have thus a deficit of 500,000 lei. This means that we can not even lead to an end what we started. ”
The resignation of the current ICR leaders puts an end to a culture war that has been waged in Romania and abroad. Rumors of corruption and accusations of plagiarism against political and cultural leaders in the country abound. Meanwhile, both Romanians in the diaspora and Romania’s leading intellectuals were deeply divided.
Victor Ponta, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) since 2010, became the Prime Minister of Romania in May 2012. This shift in political power resulted in Traian Băsescu, the President of Romania since 2004, being ousted; he was suspended from office on July 6, 2012.
The subordination of ICR to the new center-left government kicked up a debate within cultural diplomacy circles. The new ordinance, now effective in 15 days, changes the mission of the cultural institute from representing Romanian culture abroad to serving the Romanian communities abroad. ICR will no longer promote Romanian culture to both Romanian and foreign audiences anymore. Instead it will bring Romanian culture to the Romanian diaspora in Romanian language.
Campaigns to save the current structure and leadership of ICR were waged. In addition to letters of support from international advocates, curators and NGOs, a group of prominent Romanian artists who directly benefited from ICR’s promotion of the country’s arts and culture abroad worked hard to drum up support. These artists include film director Cristi Puiu, a leading member of a new wave of Romanian directors that emerged after the country’s communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu fell in 1989. Joining Cristi Puiu in defending RCI were Andrei Şerban, Alexandru and Ada Solomon, Grigore Leşe, Dan Dediu, Mihai Mihalcea, Ada Milea, Voicu Rădescu, Irina Margareta Nistor and Doina Jelea, among others.
In varying degrees, all these gestures of support argued that ICR’s cultural mission ought to be independent from the whims of politics.
In issuing the emergency ordinance, however, Prime Minister Ponta has criticized ICR, saying it was “politicized and lacked transparency.” What was the urgency behind the ordinance? Ponta supporters argue that the feeling of national belonging within Romanian communities abroad has been permanently threatened by the current organization of ICR.
Indeed, among the many reasons that Romanian abroad are politically divided over the fate of ICR under Ponta has been the rising sense that not everybody in the Romanian diaspora has been directly served or promoted or given adequate financial support. Ponta’s ordinance, therefore, stoked hidden or buried resentments among Romanians who live outside of Romania who felt they were being marginalized by their own institution.
This is a line of reasoning that Patapievici has argued is not true. “Our philosophy has always been to have the Romanian Cultural Institute not as an agency of nationalistic propaganda but as a flexible mediator between the Romanian cultural market in all its diversity and the cultural international markets, where the Romanian arts wish to be affirmed,” Patapievici said.
Ion Caramitru, the internationally acclaimed actor and general manager of the National Theatre of Bucharest, agrees: “I know ICR’s work. I’m now back from a second U.S. tour in Romanian communities, because the ICR has a department for the Romanians abroad. So the idea that ICR does not take charge of Romanians from abroad is false.” As an example, Caramitru offered his performance of the poetry of Mihai Eminescu, which went to the U.S. and Budapest. The show, he said, “was, more or less, a sort of ambassador of the Romanian language. So the ICR has been on the job. What was the problem? It was a kind of attempt to choke an activity that had all the data to be appreciated, not condemned ” –Randy Gener, in the theater of One World