„Do what the priest says, not what the priest does!”
Interview with Prof, took place in his university office on 25/7 2006
„Do what the priest says, not what the priest does!”
Chung: Would you tell me your name please?
My name is Cristian Parvulescu, I am a professor of Political Science, Dean of the Faculty of Political Science from the National School of Political and Administrative Studies and president of Pro-democratia .
Chung: How would you analyze contemporary Romanian society?
Romania is a fractured society, with many levels of fracture. Many divisions characterize this society. Some of them have an historical explanation, others are a result of transition, but Romania has never been a cohesive society. The society’s cohesion was forced on it by the building of the state, which started at the beginning of the 19th century. We are dealing with a rural society, on the one hand, and the power of transition is based on the values of the past with an emergent urban society that is unable to impose itself on the other.
Besides these disparities there are regional divisions. Traditionally, Romania is divided into many regions, and each region has its own culture (Transylvania, Muntenia, Dobrogea). The union of these regions happened in the 19th and the 20th centuries, but the cohesion of society never happened, and this is the reason why the state became the main instrument of an artificial cohesion. We live at such a moment. Additionally, social divisions were also generated by Communism and post- Communism. And there is another division to join the traditional, urban and regional ones, and this is a fracture between those committing post-Communist transition frauds and the majority of the population, who remained dependent on Communism. This separation happened between the party’s hierarchy and the rest of the population.
If we consider the role of security, also, we’ll see why Romanian society is “atomized”. It is impossible to coagulate coherent social actions. Neither trade unions nor charitable societies, nor the Church, especially the Orthodox Church, can do this.
Solidarity movements and collective protest are unfamiliar to Romanians. There are exceptions. Most of the time as in 1990-1991 and 1999 with the Miners’ Strikes, these movements were manipulated by political factors, they were not real protests by the people.
In consequence, Romania needs a social model that couldn’t be put into practice here, a social model which must be the result of a rational and consensual mixture, not the result of divergent visions of different political, social or confessional groups.
In Romania there is a confrontation between projects, without any room for consensus.
We have to add to the Romanian experience the existence of some important minorities, the Gypsy population which represents 3.000.000, over 10 % from the Romanian population and the Hungarian minority, which is 1.200.000 people. The divisions are multiple and without any consensual model, so Romania cannot establish stability right now. Unfortunately, this model can’t be imposed upon Romania and maybe only European integration will succeed in facilitating the change, at least we hope for negotiations, because in Romania people make monologues, not dialogues, the „dialogue” culture is unknown.
Chung: How do we explain the lack of solidarity in Romanian society?
I have already given a part of the explanation, the lack of solidarity comes from fear, fear which followed the building of the state. Communism didn’t invent fear, Communism brought fear to a state level, but the rural environments had always been balanced by the repressive tools of the state. I would bring to your attention the Insurrection of 1907, for example, its results and the dissatisfaction of the peasants, who didn’t get any backing from the Romanian political class. On the other hand, Orthodoxy explains paradoxically the lack of solidarity, because Orthodoxy is a contemplative religion, it had never brought social solidarity mechanisms into the discussion.
When we discuss Romania as a social model, which makes Romanians free of any confessional point of view, without any encouragement to protest, to associate, to work paradoxically, even if we talk about a rural society, theoretically cohesive.
In the process of modernization, of industrialization, Communism and post-Communism emphasized individualization and the changes required in society, and, afterwards, since 1990, nothing important has happened to change the situation.Even in moments of deep crisis or natural disasters, the cohesion is artificial, there is an inner spring which makes the people come together spontaneously.
Any associations are usually forced and they are the result of a communication policy rather than a genuine feeling, mostly due to the absence of social government, and the absence of a consensus in what constitutes the correct social model. In Romania, the new thinking is that the people who suddenly got rich after the Revolution do not carry a social message, they are nothing else but cheats, and the population is poor or it lives with an accentuated perception of poverty. This creates a tacit conflict and harsh individual competition between the people and various social groups.
Chung: How did it happen that in Romania corruption exists, although Romanians declare themselves Christians?
It is a very interesting question and the answer is very simple: in Romania, Christianity is a facade, a mask. In other words, it is considered to be part of people’s identity, but nobody practises it.
On the one hand, the Orthodox religion is very tolerant concerning less orthodox actions, and the Orthodox Church has tolerated corruption for a long time, not only in the Communist era. A very good example occurred at the beginning of the 19th century, when one of the contributors to the Romanian language, Gheoghe Lazar, who was a teacher at the Sibiu’s Normal School, where future Romanian teachers and priests studied, was beaten up by the students because he obliged them to study.
The teachers went to Muntenia afterwards. They wanted to become priests because it had been a way to gain symbolically important positions and material possessions. They didn’t understand that they should also preach their religion, and if this happened in 1810, nothing important seems to have changed in the meantime.
Practically, there is structural corruption in the Orthodox Church, and this corruption is expressed by an old Romanian proverb: „do what the priest says, not what the priest does!”.
In other words, one should respect the Church’s lore and the Holy Bible and not follow the priest’s behaviour. Unfortunately, the tolerance of corruption in an organization became transformed into corruption in society. The Church doesn’t have weapons to fight against corruption. Additionally the Orthodox Church considered the bourgeois class as an unacceptable social category. The same Church declared hostility towards Capitalism, even if this was a way that it could develop its financial resources, but it was not accepted. The Orthodox Church couldn’t reconcile itself either with the economy, or with democracy, in any way.
The only difference between the Orthodox Church and Catholicism or the Protestant Churches is that the first could be an adherent of democracy. However history has shown that the Orthodox Church has been extremely authoritarian, and the connection between Legionarism and the Church cannot be hidden, nationalist tendencies exist even today. They are bound by the betrayal of the universalism of the church from the moment they adopted the status of being self- administered. There is a Church of Romanians and a Church of Christians, this is proved by the interest shown by the Orthodox Church in building a Cathedral of Salvation of the People. It sounds as if Romanians would be the only ones to be saved.
This nationalist vision cannot lead to the development of democracy either, or to the acceptance of Capitalism. Neither can it lead to multiculturalism, because it doesn’t admit other communities. What can we do in the interests of the Orthodox Church? If we consider only this, there are a few deformed ideas. It is true that those ideas have existed for over 100 years and they never succeeded in being imposed. It would be necessary to make reforms from the top to the bottom and, even so, it would be very difficult for the changes to be accepted by the better priests or friars. Unfortunately, reform is difficult, but, on the other hand, the Orthodox Church has only formal believers, it doesn’t have any real believers.
There are a lot of Neo-Protestant cults and even sects which have gained followers in Romania, and this shows the weakness of the Orthodox Church, a church supported by the state. The main characteristic of the Orthodox Church is the very special relationship with the state and this is a reason why it is self-administrated. If we think more, there have been other cults officially sanctioned in Romania for over 18 years. The Orthodox Church has complained about the lack of support from the state, but the state really supports the Church and there is a lot of money invested in Orthodoxy, as compared to other confessions, which are more active in what concerns the solutions for general social problems. What is needed is a model for all the ethnic, social and political groups in Romania. We need a consensus which wasn’t established 16 years ago.
Chung: Let’s change the subject a little and let’s talk about Protestantism. Somebody once said the Orthodox Church doesn’t tolerate the Neo- Protestant sectarians, but it tolerates sin. The Orthodox Church doesn’t have the Word of God and they lack Jesus Christ, which is the essence of Christianity. How do you see this?
The Orthodox Church has always been hostile to Protestantism, and let’s not forget that the history of the Romanian language is mostly hidden, because the Romanian language was supported first by the Protestants (the Calvinists). The first Romanian writings which appeared in the 16th century were translations from the Bible, made by Calvinists from Brasov. The writings of Coresi from Brasov existed due to the Protestants.
As far as Romanians are concerned, in the past centuries they were practically illiterate and so they were not attracted to the Protestant missionaries, as happened to the Germans and Hungarians. This is the reason why the first wave of Protestantism didn’t have many converts in Romania, and, for that, the Orthodox Church established its main goal, to protect itself from the Protestant cults. This hostile relationship with the Protestantism was also propagated by the Communist state. Protestantism was automatically associated with Capitalism, let’s not forget, Calvinism had a particular relationship to Capitalism then. They rejected Capitalism, the element of building Capitalism, the religious ideology, the Protestant cult, even democracy, and they were absolutely intolerant. The sects are still considered hostile by the Church and by a part of the Romanian society, influenced by the Church.
The word „sectarian” has a pejorative meaning in the Romanian language and that’s why some people, for example myself, prefer to talk about religious cults, a neutral term, because „sect” suggests an action against the whole. There is a strong nationalist element here, true Romanians are the only Orthodox, as the legionary doctrine also said.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Nae Ionescu, a legionary theologian, said that there are Romanians and Good Romanians. A Good Romanian is a good citizen, he can have any religion, even Greek-Catholic, like the Transylvanian Peasantry Party’s followers, but they can’t be Romanians, because they are not Orthodox and it’s better to be a Romanian than a Good Romanian. This has been said by the ones who are organically connected to the Romanian nation, not by the citizens. On the other hand, I believe that Protestantism and Neo-Protestantism could be attractive to Romanians, mostly Neo-Protestantism, because it uses simple messages, matched with the target audience, especially in the rural regions of Romania.
Romania would have been somewhere else if it were Protestant, but it isn’t, because it took a traditionalist, dogmatic and past- oriented stance, and it has a lot of problems to solve. I am one of those who thinks that religion could accelerate or slow down some economic and political mechanisms, but it can’t stop them. Sooner or later, Romania will reach a point of being self- assured, and follow some modernization objectives. The Orthodox Church will be obliged to adapt to the new situation, or it will disappear. Not entirely, but it will lose its importance. Anyway, one cannot compare the Romanian Orthodox Church to the Greek or Russian Churches, because it is less influential than those two.
Chung: Is it possible that Protestantism, if it becomes a subject at the University, like a Theology Department, could be introduced in Romania?
I don’t think the answer is the creation of some new faculties, because they already exist, at least as regards the Hungarian Calvinists; they became Calvinists a few centuries ago because they were motivated to do so. So, motivation is needed, missionary activity is needed to attract people and I believe that Romanian society will still be anti-Capitalist. Maybe only in an environment favourable to Capitalism, open to independent economic initiative, could Calvinism succeed, not in a rural environment. Still, Romania is mostly a rural country and it is very difficult to impose such things.
For the Romanians, European integration means prosperity, and this is the reason why they are one of the most fervent supporters of the E.U. On the other hand, the E.U. remains the unknown sea. What would European integration mean for the Romanian people? Romania could improve her administrative and institutional performance, a greater complexity would ensure better self-expression than now; so, E.U. integration would offer a few possibilities, but Romanians should know how to use them well. These possibilities are latent, they are not automatically achievable. If they don’t realize the need for free expression, of using the market potential,of taking advantage of the European multiculturalism, Romanians won’t gain anything important from the E.U. integration. To use a parable, the Romanians dream that the E.U. integration means a Mercedes in front of each house. But this isn’t possible without any effort.
Chung: Who makes democracy work in Romania?
I believe that democracy mostly depends on family life. You cannot build democracy at a political level without a strong basis. The Romanian family institution, supported by the Orthodox Church, has never been a democratic family, it has been a traditional family in which the father had a predefined role, so all the approaches to democratize the family institution were futile. Even more, during the transition, the situation became aggravated. The condition of women is very bad nowadays, either we talk about mature women or young women, we do not even think about older women.
It is very difficult to talk about rural democracy, because the equality principle between people has not been kept, even if they were called Christian and democratic.
Democracy in Romania is supported by the political class and also by the mass-media and a few groups from the Civil Society , which have adopted a formal attitude. The wider public hasn’t shown it’s democratic qualities yet, because they tend to associate democracy with corruption. But for Romania, there isn’t democracy, government is a form of oligarchy, because the Romanian citizen thinks that democracy is the same as corruption, which merely compromises any democratic mechanism. The permanent crisis that exists in Romania makes a lot of prople think that there are democratic possibilities at least in what concerns freedom of speech and the freedom of association. Once those two are respected, things will still be possible.
Chung: Are there any groups that stand in the way of democracy?
There are groups who could act against democracy, who are afraid of the freedom of speech, they are former party members, former political policemen (securisti), and business groups that expanded their business functions due to political protection, not to open competition. They don’t wish for the development of a democratic society, and, incidentally, they have control of the mass-media, so, in this case, mass-media isn’t a democratization tool anymore, because they only look for profit, and it isn’t an education factor , it is an information factor and information can be easily manipulated.
Most of the time, students from the Journalism and Communication Faculties can’t work in the mass-media, because the owners prefer unqualified people who can be manipulated easier. There aren’t any trade unions for journalists in Romania to fight against the owners, and the representative organizations of journalists are controlled by the ownership. The great opinion- leaders on the Romanian media market are also press trust owners.
I notice that every human being, no matter who he is, needs the same thing, God.