Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

The Socialist Artistic Identity and the Bilateral Agreements in the Balkans (1945-1949)

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

The Socialist Artistic Identity and the Bilateral Agreements in the Balkans (1945-1949)

Article excerpt


Creating the Eastern Bloc in the postwar era entailed an intricate process which included the transformation and adjustment of Soviet institutions and politics in the countries with new communist regimes, as well as a system of interstate political alliances. Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, general secretary of the Romanian Workers' Party (RWP), tackled the issue at the party's first congress in 1948:

"It is easy to understand the significance of the fact of having lengthwise our borders, all around our country, only befriended states. In the past, when our country was ruled by regimes that served foreign imperialists, the latter were able to trigger conflicts and tensions between Romania and its neighbors. The purpose of this policy run by the imperialist powers was clear: we were supposed to be weak and isolated in order to be controlled. Concluding treaties of cooperation and mutual assistance between Romania and Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary and, recently, between Romania and USSR, proved that this state of affairs has ended forever1".

In spite of the fraternal ties and close cooperation between the communist states claimed recurrently in the political discourse of the Cold War, the system of political, economic, and cultural agreements did not bring about instant unity to the Bloc. On the contrary, cooperation was not only time dependent, but also sensitive to political turnovers and to institutional or personal relationships. Cultural exchanges that came along the political treaties shared a similar discourse about solidarity and common goals within the Bloc. Nonetheless, in certain cases, they were not mere accessories of political decision, as they constituted a kind of soft diplomacy being able to make negotiations, or common interests more apparent than the official political discourse did.

I propose to look at the very first artistic exchanges between Romania and Bulgaria, and subsidiarily, between Romania and Yugoslavia, that took place almost immediately after the Second World War on the backdrop of the reassessment of Balkan politics, in order to reveal how art exhibitions and artistic meetings participated into the making and unmaking of regional politics. To this end, a survey of the institutions assigned to initiate and support cultural diplomacy will precede the core discussion about types of artistic exchanges in the wider context of political tensions in the region. One major cause was the prospect of a Balkan federation, which was advocated by Marshal Josip Tito as a counterbalance to the growing Soviet power, and for which Romania showed only a vacillating interest, but which was rich in artistic outcomes. The final part recomposes with the aid of archives, publications and artworks forgotten in museums' storage rooms the Romanian-Bulgarian exchanges next to their political triggers and political mission, which were closely interwoven with the organization of a joint exhibition in 1947.

Whereas the artistic exchanges within the Bloc after the Thaw, when the neo-avant-garde began to flourish, have attracted equally scholars and curators, those initiated in the first decade of the communist regimes have been largely under-researched. Even less have come under scholarly consideration the art, the artistic institutions or the international exchanges of the first years after the Second World War due to their rapid changes difficult to retrace and integrate into the longer history of art under communism. Although, in the case of Romania, studies dedicated to artistic exchanges in the above-mentioned period are totally missing, the present research can be situated in the theoretical framework suggested by recent publications that have challenged the centrality of the Soviet model in Socialist Realist art of the Eastern Bloc. They argued for more permeability between East and West but only touched on the role of artistic connections from within the Bloc2. However, they called for more attention towards artistic practices and less to ideology, which can shape a different view on Socialist Realism. …

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