Herta Müller is fighting in all earnest with Stalinism, Communism, the Securitate and all sorts of Eastern zombies that could contaminate the Western State of Law. Unlike that of Tismăneanu & comp – hers is not a mercantile and profitable fight. She probably really believes that it has a real meaning for today’s Romania. I suppose she wouldn’t mind hearing a vexed but honest critique of the dangerous platitudes in which she’s mired. A friendly gesture from a Nobody in the East; thinking that after you get a Nobel it’s even harder to receive a tap on the shoulder and a simple: “hey, mister, you’ve gone completely haywire!” That said, I step forward:
Esteemed Herta Müller,
I don’t know how to convey my feeling of disgust. I’ve also had it when I was reading the stupid foreign press reports, both German and French, about the Romanians seen as cavemen-Communists, brainwashed by the Securitate. I’ll try to do it through examples. The other day, a friend sent me an excellent article signed by Dani Rockhoff (here). We finally discover some less-known facts about Germany: huge rip-offs of workers and employees of all kinds, the squandering of pensions under the stolid gaze of the authorities. It almost sounds like a Romanian story. We have the same problems, but it may well be that the multinationals are gentler there than they are with second or third rate citizens like us.
Nowadays, this is every employee’s story. These are the things that truly crush us, making any fears we might have about our freedom of expression look like nothingh more than some lame rhetorical swirl. In Germany, after such a rip-off, they still have a social security network. In Romania, it is long gone. They’re selling it whole, be it SDP or DLP. That’s the problem, Herta Müller! You’ll say right away that I’m taking SLU’s side. But I’m just criticizing the politicians for the things that really matter. Some find it more useful to call them Stalinists. To me, it seems more useful to see how every consecutive power lets itself be bought by corporations, or spends every public penny on its clientele. Ponta was condemning Boc for one thing or another: now he’s doing them on his own, be it shale gas fracking or privatising the health system. How could I support the SLU when I really want genuine social measures and politics that could protect us from the international capital?
We pretend to be writers with a cause – but what cause is that? Do you feel that you have an imperative mission to clarify history? Then, please explain to our youth how a movement comprised of German writers from Banat, all very talented, has challenged the regime from a leftist, Marxist, perspective. Explain to them how these people, with beliefs that you today seem to despise, have been held under surveillance by the Securitate. Explain to them history itself, in all its complexity, and most importantly, notice when the stakes at hand and the oppression change in nature!
You had an argument with Cărtărescu because you raised the problem of passivity during Ceauşescu’s reign. When, in fact, you and the writers that you accuse of being passive are part of the same world. Do not be surprised when, in ten years time, there will be others who will demand, perhaps with even greater cruelty than yours: what the heck were these Müller and Cărtărescu doing in the 2000’s, when everything was falling apart? Ask a twenty or thirty year old what the hell does he do nowadays to find his place in the world. Or speak to one that has been laid off in his forties or fifties. And maybe you’ll succeed in seeming something other than the writer who howls at the moon to ward off dead dogs.
Because what you say is not new at all. It has been said over and over again by the most official of voices. You say that the problem is not that survival is getting more expensive, but also that, unlike 20 years ago, we can expect not only sordid hospitals, but ones that we will have to pay for. You say that the actual problem is that we are infected with a virus, we’re being Stalinized. SLU is nothing but a lobby group with a political façade. What’s the point of all this boloney about the Securitate? Why don’t you hit them where it hurts? Those Stalinist tales are a godsend for them, they revel in them. So does Traian Băsescu.
Herta Müller, you are a public person and you employ all of your symbolic capital for tales that at most raise some baffled eyebrows. Have you seen the tide of nationalism rising as a response to ruthless financial globalisation? Have you written a single syllable about the West exploiting the East under the counter, in collusion with local authorities, about the workers here that have obviously nothing else to do but accept the situation with a smile on their faces and thank politely afterwards? Have you written a sentence about what corporations do in the West or, even worse, in the East? Did you search for another answer than “communism” to the unravelling of the last social connections around you?
I’ve written some of those things to Andrei Ujică, I’m writing them also to you. Here, in Romania, the election finished long ago. As I hope I proved extensively on this site, the newcomers will do exactly the same as the incumbent. They’ll do what many politicians in the West do, but on a more unstable ground. They’ll trample their own citizens to the ground, they’ll promote the interests of various financial groups, boasting all the while that they are the greatest Germans or Romanians in existence. This nonsense is all the more painful for Romania (and I won’t list again the cultural, political, historical reasons) and, with a few undertones, for other European citizens, better insulated from their own past.
Writers such as yourself could finally make clear the global extent of the problem and how hollow are beginning to sound the explanations presented by the politicians and their intellectuals. But no, you prefer to find the “local colour” – to say that 60% of Romanians are voting for the “Stalinists”.
I am pretty well acquainted with the literary scene in this country, seeing that I myself am writing fiction here, and I’m telling you that you’re doing exactly the same as the writers in the 1960s and ’70s who were spitting on the “obsessive decade” because Ceauşescu gave them permission to. You’re doing even more wrong than Mo Yan, whom you accuse of keeping his mouth shut. You’re defending the freedom of expression so that you wouldn’t have to defend the freedom to have a house, a semi-steady job and a certain sense of purpose in the social matrix.
By the way, you were characterizing as a disaster the awarding of the Nobel for literature to Mo Yan, a writer that, as partial to the regime as he may be, has made statements ten times more inconvenient (about the economic conditions in China, about the social powder keg there, about the real class struggle, about corruption) than the aggressive conformity of the great Western freedom fighters. At least he learned the basic lesson: what kind of freedom is that in the absence of a minimal degree of economic justice, in the absence of equality?
You and many other writers and great artists like you, the present holders of symbolic power, don’t say anything to nobodies like me anymore. If, during the last five years, the European lower class (and yes, 80% of Romanians are to be found in this category) or the employees scraping to make a living (be they Eastern citizens or immigrants, or citizens of the Western states that still carry the immigrant stigma even after two generations, or even trueborn German employees that have just seen their pensions or insurances vanish into thin air) haven’t impressed you yet, it means that the powers that be have truly done a good job. Mo Yan, they might have bought by threatening his freedom, but you gave yourself to “the Man” without any threat or imposition. You ignore the big problems of today’s world out of conviction. And this is the saddest thing of all.
We’re on a ship full of holes, on a Titanic. It’s true, some get to the lifeboats, some do not. To preserve the metaphore, what would the whole wailing for the freedom of expression and the Bolschevik menace mean in this context? (I’m a journalist and I know how crucial freedom of expression is, but I also know how easily democracy’s watchdog can become just another pet of the ruling class.) Today’s circumstances remind me a lot of those musicians that played on the deck while the rich were getting in their boats. I’m sorry, but for what was before and for what’s happening now, the artist’s role can be only one: to dislodge, even minutely, the powers that be, the preconceptions of the majority and of the ruling elite.
And that, Herta Müller, bears no resemblance to anything that you’re doing.
Translated by Alexandru Macovei