Exporting Socialist Theatre to the World: A Romanian Case Study

by Viviana Iacob at the IFTR Conference 2017Unstable Geographies, Multiple Theatricalities, Universidade de São Paulo, 10-14 July, 2017.

In 1961 The Lost Letter, a play by Romanian classic Ion Luca Caragiale opened in Tokyo. This was the height of Cold War, thus making connections between a socialist country and Imperial Japan an interesting case in trans-ideological spatiality and performance. The event was not an isolated one. This play held a center role in the Romanian socialist cultural policy program which internationalized itself through theatre.  Its production history outside the Iron Curtain begins in 1955 and by 1962 the play was performed by theatre troupes and companies in Finland, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay and Japan.

The 1962 Caragiale celebration is in fact the end point of a theatre diplomacy project that started in the early 1950s and entailed translating The Lost Letter in 15 languages, touring with it and staging it in 12 countries.

The production history of this play beyond national borders shows a network of people that strived for cross-cultural communication even when there were no official diplomatic ties to speak of. It reveals the difficulties entailed by the process of exporting a socialist cultural product and by extension of a different understanding of theatricality to dissimilar cultural milieus.

The paper focuses on the routes and connections found by Romanian cultural officials and theatre artists into different national contexts and the instruments they used in order to promote the idea of Romanian theatre as the expression of a socialist culture worldwide.

 

Global Advocacy or Self-Interested Relativism? Socialist Romania, International Organizations, and the Quest for Economic Development (1960s-1980s)

by Vlad Pașca, at the conference The Other Globalisers: How the Socialist and the Non-Aligned World Shaped the Rise of Post-War Economic Globalisation, University of Exeter, 6-7 July 2017

Since early 1960s, socialist Romania insulated itself within the Comecon due to its nationalist and anti-hegemonic perspectives, which translated into fending away of cooperation projects with other member states. This position though was accompanied by a renewed readiness towards trans-systemic cooperation on the European and the global scene. In order to satisfy its developmental drive, two strategies were designed by the party leadership in tandem with economic experts. First, they emphasized Romania’s European affiliation as a common denominator in negotiating trade relations and economic cooperation before and during the negotiation at the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Second, the country’s representatives, both in international organizations and in bilateral relations, made efforts towards the recognition of Romania’s status as developing socialist country. Simultaneously, Romania’s multiple initiatives in both the European (UN Economic Commission for Europe, CSCE) and global organizations or agencies (UNCTAD or the group of 77) shaped its image of world-peace promoter and advocate of a new international economic order. Continue reading Global Advocacy or Self-Interested Relativism? Socialist Romania, International Organizations, and the Quest for Economic Development (1960s-1980s)

Together but Apart: Balkan Historians, the Global South, and UNESCO’s “History of Humanity”

by Bogdan C. Iacob

at New Europe College, Bucharest, 3 May, 2017.

The presentation showed how AIESEE (International Association for Southeast European Studies) and pressures from local political regimes propelled Balkan scholars into high profile positions within UNESCO’s project for a new world history entitled History of Humanity. I focused on the Cold War time frame of implementation of this global initiative: 1978 to 1989. History of Humanity aimed to create a universal narrative that reflected the radical transformations which had taken place since mid-1950s: de-colonization, the rise of the Global South in the UN-system, the critique of Eurocentrism/Westerncentrism, and, most importantly, the ever-growing emphasis on the originality of national cultures. This was UNESCO’s second attempt at a world history. The first was History of Mankind, which had been published from 1963 to 1976. I argued that the new edition created two horizons of opportunity for Southeast European scholars. First, the visibility they acquired within AIESEE consolidated their international academic status. Second and more importantly, many of the general issues debated within AIESEE were exported into the preparatory meetings for History of Humanity and later in its published volumes. Taking advantage of UNESCO and Romanian archives, the presentation discussed multiple levels of political and intellectual interaction – national-regional-global. History of Humanity was a context of epistemic internationalization within which Balkan historians could affirm regional and national identity on the basis of pre-existent conceptual, institutional, and personnel alignments. However, this cross-fertilization between local and international contexts cannot be detached from the tumultuous years of the late Cold War. By 1989, both Southeast Europe and UNESCO had suffered shocks that radically affected Balkan historians’ patterns of self-representation, both at home and abroad.

Socialist Experts and Trans-Systemic Networks of Economic Knowledge during the Cold War

by Vlad Pașca

at New Europe College, Bucharest, 26 April, 2017.

The presentation explores the main features of cooperation between economic experts during the pre-CSCE (Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe) era (1947-1975) under the aegis of the most comprehensive all-European organization of the period, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). At scientific and policy levels, contacts and exchanges between socialist and capitalist economic experts were circumscribed by common priorities and challenges faced by the UNECE staff and governments from both sides of the Iron Curtain. Continue reading Socialist Experts and Trans-Systemic Networks of Economic Knowledge during the Cold War

Theatricality and Socialist Realism in Romanian Theatre, 1946-1963

by Viviana Iacob

Originally published in Romanian > “Teatralitate şi realism socialist în teatrul românesc, 1946-1963”,  Studii şi Materiale de Istorie Contemporană, vol. 15/2016.

The article aims to show that when theatricality resurfaced in Romanian theatre debates after 1956, it did not replace the tenets of socialist realism altogether. It was rather a catalyst for the later to evolve into a more sustainable ideological construct in the context of de-Stalinization. The years after Stalin’s death produce in Eastern Europe tremendous changes culminating with the explosive ideological situation of 1956. At a cultural level, these changes unleashed important transformations without displacing however the socialist bedrock. The interwar debates dedicated to the burgeoning issue of theatricality and the western theatre tradition were still filtered through aesthetic coordinates that were put in place during the Stalinist period. The article focuses on debates generated around specific performances which premiered between 1946 and 1963. These events reshaped the socialist realist aesthetic by way of theatricality resulting in a reciprocally corrosive relationship in the following years. The article concludes that the recalibration of the socialist realist formula amounted to a selective process of appropriation that was done both laterally and diachronically. This approach engendered a new form of theatricality. Not a replacement of old socialist realist theatre aestetic but its refashioning.

Shakespeare as Détente: Cultural Diplomacy During the Cold War (1955–1964)

by Viviana Iacob, in Revista istorică, tom XXVI, 2015, nr. 3–4.

The article argues that events such as the visit of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Bucharest and the Romanian delegation at Stratford in 1964 were not singular and momentous achievements of détente cultural diplomacy. They were the most visible results of an exchange program with Great Britain that began in earnest in the mid-1950s. With the start of Khrushchev’s détente in Europe, the countries behind the Iron Curtain capitalized on points of contact that would speed up the cultural rapprochement. Consequently, when it came to engaging with a Western theatre tradition such as the UK’s, Shakespeare was always the starting point for transnational exchanges. From the mid-fifties onward, Romanian theatre practitioners and Shakespeare scholars pursued such interactions not only as a means to strengthen diplomatic ties between the two countries, but also as a medium for mutual cultural transfers with tremendous impact by the 1960s.