AFTER THE REVOLUTION – VHiStory in Romania

The Romanian Revolution from December 1989 is mostly discussed as the very end of the Warsaw Pact communist block, and also as the only violent Eastern anti-Communist revolution from 1989. The fact that all the eyes were set on the Romanian political unrest and The Fall of the Berlin Wall (and, lately, The Gulf War) made the media and political theorists remark a turning point in terms of television and in the Western-Eastern dynamic. Even if political protests were happening in all the big cities (Timișoara, Brașov, Arad, Sibiu, etc.), the core events from Bucharest were awaited by everybody via the TV screen. The last speech delivered by Nicolae Ceaușescu (21st December 1989) was nationally televised live. On 22st December a group of revolutionaries occupied the studio of the National Romanian Television and made the first post-communist (usually referred as free) broadcast. Nevertheless, the trial of Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu wasn’t live aired on television, a fact which, in the eyes of many, meant only one thing – fakery, especially since the material that was aired lately didn’t contain any proof of the execution (later, a photo was added).

25 December 1989, Christmas – the death of the Ceaușescu couple couldn’t wait any longer in the eyes of the Romanian people. What used to be the young man who marked a progressist turnover of Romania’s Communist Party as General Secretary from 1965 to 1970 (with ups and downs, from making abortion illegal and harshening the laws which incriminated homosexuality to condemning the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia) was now facing accusations of what followed after the July Theses (1971-1989) : genocide, lack of food, armed actions against the people, attempt to leave the country etc.

22 December 1989 – An unofficial power taking over what used to be the official TV channel of the party turned on every TV from every Romanian house. Besides television, a great amount of amateur footage recorded glimpses of the bloody revolution. Years later, filmmakers were working with three types of footage – official one made before the revolution, official one made after the occupation of the Romanian Television (officialized, of course, by the new power itself) and amateur footage. The footage was used by the Sahia Studio, the documentary studio of the communist regime since the fifties, in films such as The First Free Newsreel (directed by the Sahia Studio group) and, more widely known, by Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujică in their Videograms of a Revolution (1992).

Twenty years later, Laurentiu Calciu’s film AFTER THE REVOLUTION, presented at the last One World Romania depicts the general turmoil that was going on in the first six months after the revolution, when the country was torn between three political options – The National Salvation Front (FSN), which became the governing political organization right after the revolution, the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Christian Democratic National Peasants’ Party (PNȚCD). The protests were either pro- or against a party and were a democratic experiment which Calciu studies in depth. Strong, naive, inexperienced arguments regarding what Romania’s next step should be were heard on the streets – to have only one party, to have more, to have no opposition, to have no ex-communist leaders, etc.

In the beginning of the film we see Silviu Brucan (ex-member of the Romanian Communist Party, member of the Front, known as one of co-authors of The Letter of the Six (“Scrisoarea celor şase”), denouncing the fact that the new power of the Eastern block is ruled by intellectuals: Mikhail Gorbachev, Václav Havel, Jacek Kuroń and, last but not least, Ion Iliescu, while Elena and Ceaușescu had only four classes. This kind of classist anti-Ceaușism and anti-communism would become very common in the Romanian intellectual area. Following Brucan’s press conference, Laurențiu Calciu follows two protests – one pro-Ion Iliescu and one against it (the main reason invoked is the Communist career of Iliescu from the seventies and eighties). In these recordings there is much focus on what the people say (mostly glimpses of observational cinema, people talking one to another, many not remarking the presence of Calciu‘s camera; an exception is, nevertheless, the old lady from the anti-Iliescu protest, who talks directly to the camera, followed by another man who denounces Aurel Dragoș Munteanu’s Communist background). As an intermezzo between these two protests and the core of the film, Calciu introduces short sequences presenting foreign journalists Chris Walker from The Times, all eyes were on now-accessible Romania and its political unrest.

“For the first time in 45 years, the Romanian people are free to talk…”. That’s how the director introduces the core of the film, an observational, political peeping tom, which is character-oriented – the suspect, the lady, the engineer, etc. By following an observational tradition, Calciu can only address his spectators by the zooms (in and out), camera movements – even if rarely so (the camera goes down, for example, in order to look closely to the way in which the engineer is dressed, strikingly different from the workers and peasants from the street). The director’s VHS collection is a striking audiovisual reminiscence, justly contextualized historically and, moreover, an ambitious subjective method of depicting glimpses of the back then recently-born Romanian culture of protest. What’s also remarkable regarding the experience of watching Calciu’s own VHS collection from those times is the fact that the chances of seeing the material for the first time are very high.

While nowadays the audiovisual material recorded during the Romanian Revolution can be seen as possessing some of what Hito Steyerl calls “poor image”. With a few pixels and bad sound, Ceaușescu’s last speech, first trial and execution are now just a reminiscence of a conversion from one medium to another (analog-online), of an image with a continuously growing number of producers which resize, upload, subtitle, convert and share it and which gains a new political status once it’s “poor”, all related to its wide circulation. AFTER THE REVOLUTION sheds a new light on the flux of images that mediated the contact between the Revolution, its aftermath and those who did not participate.

Calciu’s material covers the not-so-covered, namely the days after the turmoil was supposed to stop and the cameras weren’t omnipresent anymore. As the film tells, Ion Iliescu won the elections in 1990 (85.07%), 1992 and 1996. Romania did not pass a law in order to stop ex-Communist politicians to hold office in the first “free” government. A press conference held by the international observers of the elections blamed the National Front for covering information from the public, illegal participation of unregistered citizens, fakie or pre-fabricated votes, improper counting, etc. Ion Rațiu also blamed the elections during a press conference by calling them a “massive fraud” and announcing his intention to fight the Front from inside the parliament.

AFTER THE REVOLUTION doesn’t seem to have a vox populi or anthropological ambition; what it tries and succeeds to depict is the general turmoil of the Romanian people in the first months of a fetus democracy.

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