Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe

By Neil Leach | Go to book overview

7

The state as a work of art

The trauma of Ceausescu's Disneyland

Renata Salecl

The well known communist joke inquires: 'What is the difference between an optimist and a pessimist in the Soviet Union?' The reply is, 'A pessimist thinks that everything is so bad that it can't get worse, while an optimist thinks that it can.' Today, many Russians and other East Europeans still hold such an 'optimistic' view, since they are confronted with the economic chaos of early capitalism, which makes their lives even more difficult than under the communist regime. Some people thus feel deep despair and are daydreaming about those lost times of less freedom but more social security. 1 For such nostalgic people, the fall of the communist regime was the event that caused the disarray of their lives. Clinging to this perception, they act like the hysterics who always find a point in their symbolic economy, a particular event, that instigated their suffering. Such a hysteric usually concludes: 'If only my mother hadn't done this in my youth…if only that encounter had never occurred…if only I could turn the clock backwards and arrange things to develop differently.' The belief in such an 'if only' is a necessary fantasy that enables the hysteric to sustain the position of a suffering innocent victim. Since the clock cannot be turned back, the hysterics can do nothing to change the situation.

Those who are nostalgic about the communist past act in a similar fashion when they grumble and pine for the former times. Since these times are forever gone, they do not need to act to improve their current situation. That is why the vast majority of these people do not engage in a serious political struggle; they do not organize political parties which would, for example, fight for the return of communism. Instead, they persist in the comfortable position of the lamenting victim. 2 The paradox is that in the past they wished communism to end, but they did not truly believe that their wish could be fulfilled. Today they act in a similar fashion when they dream about returning to the safe shelter of the communist institutions, while knowing that this cannot happen. Contemporary Romania presents a model case in this regard, since it is governed by those excommunists who now form the new capitalist elite, but whose ideology promises the re-establishment of communist welfare. However, as I will try to demonstrate, this longed-for communist past bears the marks of trauma: Ceausescu and the architectural monuments of his regime.

The effort to reinstall a former past opens a variety of theoretical questions.

-92-

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