Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Where Have All Marxists Gone? the Intellectual Left, Ideological Debate and Public Space in Post-Communist Romania 1

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Where Have All Marxists Gone? the Intellectual Left, Ideological Debate and Public Space in Post-Communist Romania 1

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In the aftermath of communism collapse in 1989, the intellectual debate in Eastern Europe started with the examination of the role played by communist ideology for supporting the authoritarian communist regime. In this vein, some scholars viewed intellectuals as valuable actors of democratization by creating debate, cultivating the alternative, breaking down stereotypes, relentlessly challenging thinking patterns, and facilitating public deliberations2. As Tanasoiu argues, Romanian intellectuals successfully managed after 1989 to provide the background for the emergence of constructive discourse, which is pro-European and democratic3.

Despite the importance of those social roles and even despite their democratic and pro-European discourse, Romanians intellectuals endorsed very seriously their task of attacking dogma and orthodoxy, deconstructing communist and national-communist narratives and challenging the previous evidence and ideology. They took it so seriously that they largely inhibited responses from left wing intellectuals. This become especially true when their virulent and obstinate struggle was conceived not only to attack totalitarian style communism, but equally general left values. Consequently, the intellectual field is today ideologically largely dominated by ultra-liberalism, with no counterbalance from any left discourse. Therefore one might actually doubt about the role that intellectuals have effectively played in developing a democratic political culture and in educating both the public and the political elites in the values of dialogue, compromise and civility, as Tanasoiu argues4. Instead of consolidating the public space by engaging in a dialogue, Romanian neoliberal top intellectuals have rather symbolically appropriated public space and monopolized essential topics as democracy, civil society, reform and social justice5. Their unchallenged ideological dominance has important effects on societies in Central and Eastern Europe, both on short and long term. First of all and on short term, when they ideologically and sometimes politically back right-wing governing coalitions (by their direct involvement in executive positions), they do it unconditionally, fearing that all critics might affect their government's legitimacy. This total lack of criticism encouraged the ultraliberal government in Romania in 2010 to adopt harsh social and economic measures, including a severe 25% cut in all public salaries and an additional 16% tax on pensions, but also to massively reduce the social benefits of families with children, as well as of elderly and disabled people. In the same time, the right-wing government decided to raise the VAT with 25% and publicly defended this measure by opposing a catastrophic alternative that would have been to increase the 16% flat tax on revenues. This neoliberal move was made by the Liberal Democrat Party (PDL), which won the 2008 elections with very generous social and economic promises6. Due to the unconditional support of the right-wing intellectuals, the government faced no intellectual critique and had only to defend himself against contestation in the street, which he addressed by pure police force7.

On the long run, the ultra-dominance of neoliberalism might seriously affect the consolidation of a public space, a public sphere that serves as prerequisite for a functional democracy and for a cohesive society. According to Habermas8, the public sphere is an environment accepting the public political reasoning, an environment in which the individual can speak freely and where the arguments are not influenced by any political or social power. It makes possible for everyone to express itself, regardless of any constraints on time, resources, participation or themes. Finally, this is the space created by the discursive interactions between private people willing to let arguments, not status or authority of tradition, to be decisive9. Thus, public sphere is a medium for political justification, for putting the decision-makers to account, as well as for political initiative, the mobilizing of political support. …

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