Anca-Maria Cernea Interview, Part Two

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I continue my interview with Anca-Maria Cernea, a citizen of Romania who knows what it means to live under Communism. Both Cernea’s parents were imprisoned by the Communists. Her father served 17 years as a political prisoner. After 1989, she was active in the National Peasant Christian Democratic Party. She and her friends left this party in 1995 when they realized it had been “colonized” by the post-Communists. Under the government of the Democratic Convention she served as head of the Foreign Affairs Division of the Department for Local Administration from 1998 to 2000. She also helped create the Ioan Bărbuș Foundation, which was named after her father and is dedicated to upholding liberty, traditional values and capitalism. She is a physician and currently works for a private clinic in Bucharest.

According to Cernea, there was no satisfactory justice for the victims of Communism in Romania. “Huge numbers of people have been killed, imprisoned, tortured, deported, deprived of their property, suffering all kinds of persecution,” she explained. “The number of people arrested or deported is estimated around 2 million, and the number of people killed by the Communists is around 200,000.” Particularly scandalous, she says, “is the fact that … former torturers still receive some of the highest pensions in Romania, as retired military servicemen, policemen, judges, etc. This is just one of the privileges they enjoy in post-1989 Romania as members of the post-Communist establishment. In other words, it is correct to say that the evil-doers are still being rewarded for the harm they have caused.”

The old Communist elite protect their privileged positions to this day. When threatened they strike back, even at the country’s president. According to Cernea, “The criminal networks that were once the institutions of the Communist state are the origin of all important networks of corruption, organized crime, political manipulation and influence from undemocratic and rather hostile foreign powers, like Russia. They constitute a serious threat … to the rule of law and to our country’s independence.” As it stands, the Romanian people need the moral support and protection of the West – of NATO and America. The same can be said of other former Communist countries.   

But how can the West provide moral support when it has been so profoundly demoralized in its own turn? Whether this demoralization is due to socially destructive aspects of market hedonism, or to the cultural warfare waged by Marxists in accordance with the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, I put the following question to Cernea:  Did Romania elude demoralization because it was not among the capitalist countries targeted for cultural sabotage by the Left, or simply because Communism insulated Romania from corrosive Western influences? And further, now that Romania is relatively free, does the country begin to show symptoms similar to those found in the West?

“My answer is yes to all of your three questions,” replied Cernea. She went on to explain the “incredible surprise we had in 1989 to see so many young people being ready to risk their lives to fight Communism. It was difficult to explain after 40 years of Communist rule. There is however an explanation. Apart from the private universe of family and close friends, which managed to secretly counteract in many cases the official communist education and propaganda, and to educate their youth according to real values, in spite of all risks, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Radio Free Europe … [which] has actually shaped generations of young people…. I am insisting on this, not only because it is a moral obligation we Romanians have to acknowledge what we owe to Radio Free Europe. It is important also for current-day issues. Once an American friend asked me how I saw the explanation for anti-American feelings spreading more and more in the whole world, if I thought the cause was something the Americans were doing wrong. I said that definitely it had nothing to do with anything you guys did or didn't do. It's the result of systematic propaganda. It’s not a spontaneous response of the world to American actions.”

According to Cernea, the West thinks of conflict in military terms. America has not realized that pro-U.S. propaganda is required to counter anti-U.S. propaganda. “The West is able to conceive war only in military terms,” Cernea explained; “for them, peace is the lack of military conflict. Now that they decided the Cold War is over, there is no way to make them understand that things like propaganda warfare and cultural war – which are quite familiar concepts for Marxists – really exist and are still, right now, efficiently working against them.”

Radio Free Europe, says Cernea, “could still be an inspiring model … [showing] that with a minimal investment, with some people’s talent and commitment, truth can be made to prevail against the most diabolical propaganda. Communist propaganda isn’t better or stronger than the truth – not even now, when it is more subtle and better disguised than it was before. It has no chance when confronted with reality. But somebody has to do something. At least to expose it, that would be enough.”

According to Cernea, the Romanian language broadcast of Radio Free Europe was put together by “a team of excellent and extraordinary brave journalists and cultural personalities” living in exile. Over the years, noted Cernea, “many of them were murdered or survived brutal attacks organized by the Securitate [Romanian secret police] to make them shut up.”

Radio Free Europe was important for all the Iron Curtain countries, noted Cernea, “but for Romania it was vital, as every other resource in our country was destroyed or controlled by the regime. Radio Free Europe was of course financially supported by the U.S. Congress, but the Americans didn't interfere with the content of the broadcasts - sometimes they even tried to moderate a little bit some anti-Communist accents, but weren't successful. Through decades, Radio Free Europe was for us the only source of trustworthy information about what was going on in Romania and in the rest of the world; it was also a kind of alternative school, we may even say university; their broadcasts about Romanian and world history, literature, cultural and political debates in the West managed to replace the total lack of access to those things in Romania. The people who were teaching us about cultural developments in the West were bright erudite intellectuals, who could discern the Communist infiltrations in Western culture … and were able to describe those things to us.”

In her last comments to me, Cernea said: “So far, the Communists have a plan, and they are acting. The West has no plan, no action, and no idea that the others have a plan. If nothing is done, there is of course a risk for the current pro-American mindset in Eastern Europe to be reversed….”

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