Soviet Cultural Colonialism: Culture and Political Domination in the Late 1940s-Early 1950s Romania

Article excerpt

1. Introduction: colonialism, cultural contact, transfer or cultural dependence?

The concept of colonialism is, together with imperialism, debatable and problematic when discussed at the cultural level and particularly in the context of analysing cultural inferences (and I would use here the concepts transfers and dependence which Even-Zohar has promoted, with respect to a different area, in a series of articles on cultural polysystem theory). That is why an attempt to connect the issue with the field of communist and post-communist studies (areas suggesting, at a first reading, no similitudes whatsoever) can appear even more problematic and maybe meaningless. However, such an attempt has been made more than once, several times during the Cold War (Kulski 1959, Kolarz 1964, Horvath 1972) and also, although in isolated cases, after the fall of the Iron Curtain (Katsenelinboigen 1990, Chioni Moore 2001, Kovacevic 2008). The topic was then approached within the post-communism, respectively in the context of post-colonialist academic debates. The general absence of a dialogue between the field of colonial and post-colonial studies and that of communism and post-communism (despite the mentioned cases, rather isolated and yet significant from the perspective of the present research), has been analysed by Moore, in his 2001 study "Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post- in Post-Soviet?" (1), while raising the question of what I consider the consequence of this lack of communication and that is, the approach towards communist and post- communist realities through the lenses of colonialism and respectively, post-colonialism.

In view of these postcolonial-post-Soviet parallels, two silences are striking. The first is the silence of postcolonial studies today on the subject of the former Soviet sphere. And the second, mirrored silence is the failure of scholars specializing in the formerly Soviet-controlled lands to think of their regions in the useful if by no means perfect postcolonial terms (Moore 2001:115).

Thus, the present analysis uses as a background for the argumentation precisely the series of theories developed during but also at the end of the Cold War, and restarted as a debate in 2001, with the post-communism, respectively postcolonialism dimensions (Moore 2001, Kovacevic 2008 and in Romania, by a special issue, in 2001, of the Echinox Journal on Postcolonialism and Postcommunism), approaching the generally ignored connection between the two areas and as a consequence of this connection, the reading through the colonial lenses of communism and in particular the process of cultural sovietisation of the Eastern European ('satellite') countries, Romania among them.

The main interrogation of this analysis is whether and if an approximation is possible at the conceptual level between the areas of colonialism and communism (focusing on the beginning of the Cold War period but discussing, in connection, the more recent theories on post-communism and post-colonialism) and if this approximation can be achieved, how could we approach in this context (and what motivates this approach) the case of the Romanian culture as subject to the sovietising process of culture (within the late 1940s ideological shift), read as a form of 'cultural colonialism'. The thesis I consider is that, despite consistent counterarguments (based mainly on the distinct historical and ideological contexts), there are several features, mechanisms and processes related to the areas of the colonial and, respectively, communism studies that allow the interpretation of the Eastern European Cold War realities on the basis of concepts emerging from the colonial and post-colonial discourse. Thus, the paper analyses a series of concepts in correlation with the main one (cultural colonialism), concepts such as cultural transfer, cultural dependence (using as a support Itamar Even-Zohar's theory on cultural interference, but applying them for the first time to the Eastern European space) as well as the perspective on sovietising process as a phenomenon of exporting culture. …

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