Why Jeanne Hersch Matters


Swiss political and moral thinker Jeanne Hersch was, like Hannah Arendt, a student of the great philosopher Karl Jaspers. Her book about the conflict between ideology and reality remains one of the most profound attempts to deconstruct the ideological follies of modern times. I first heard Jeanne Hersch’s name in Radio Free Europe broadcasts by Monica Lovinescu, the indomitable anti-totalitarian cultural critic. When she passed away in June 2010, Czeslaw Milosz wrote a tribute to Jeanne Hersch, his intellectual soulmate, in which he summed up what he learned from her. Among other truly important things, he found out “that in our lives we should not succumb to despair because of our errors and our sins, for the past is never dosed down and receives the meaning we give it by our subsequent acts.” Milosz died in Cracow four years later, in August 2004.

Simtul realitatii


Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997): “If there were a final solution, a final pattern in which society could be arranged, to rebel against which would be sinful, for it was ultimate salvation, liberty would become a sin. By refuting this sinister view, by furnishing perpetual examples of its falsity, philosophy serves the cause of liberty. (…) This is why all the enemies of freedom automatically round upon intellectuals, like the Communists and Fascists, and make them their first victims; rightly, for they are the great disseminators of those critical ideas which as a rule the great philosophers are the first to formulate. All others may be brought into conformity with the new despotism; only they, whether they want it or not, are in principle incapable of being assimilated into it. This is glory enough for human activity.” (“The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and Their History”, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996, pp. 75-76)



Tom Gallagher about Corneliu Vadim Tudor: Court poet to Nicolae Ceausescu who became an extreme nationalist figure after the fall of communism in Romania


In “The Independent” (London), political scientist Tom Gallagher wrote a most accurate and telltale obituary of the chief sycophant at Nicolae Ceausescu’s court. Vadim Tudor was also the main polluter of Romania’s recovered public space after 1990.

“In recent times, more politicians have been successfully prosecuted for corruption in Romania than in any other democracy. This is a tribute to the tenacity of reformers in the justice system but also a testimony to the scale of venality at the top of Romanian politics.

When the macabre and highly restrictive communist regime was toppled in 1989, Nicolae Ceausescu left a legion of ruthless and resourceful figures in the party and state apparatus determined to profit from new times. The demagogic politician Corneliu Vadim Tudor was instrumental in ensuring that they would shape the new democratic rules on a restricted agenda of change.

He went from being Ceausescu’s court poet in the 1980s to a serious contender for power in the election of 2000, when his Greater Romania Party won a quarter of parliamentary seats. In the 1990s he controlled a mass circulation newspaper in which politicians and intellectuals dedicated to genuine change were systematically defamed. Former and serving members of the intelligence services supplied him with information and resources to launch a movement in which minority groups, Jews and Hungarians especially, were singled out as enemies of the country.

Many poorly educated Romanians, traumatised by the abrupt switch from rigid egalitarianism to a chaotic form of capitalism that often benefited agile former communists, were taken in. But the ability of citizens to travel freely, especially after the arrival of EU membership in 2007, widened the horizons of many and Vadim’s power waned.

Born in 1949 to an ordinary family in Bucharest, he made his mark in journalism with writing that brought Ceausescu’s cult of personality to new depths of sycophancy. He was a mediocre literary critic but he enjoyed influence as a protégé of the talented nationalist writer Eugen Barbu. He dropped out of sight after the anti-communist uprising at the end of 1989, only to be swiftly rehabilitated by Ion Iliescu, President from 1990-96 and 2000-04, who had ordered the execution of Ceausescu. But Iliescu’s rule benefited many of the dictator’s supporters, who regrouped in the Social Democratic Party which rules today.

Vadim was given money, unlimited access to the media and immunity from prosecution to launch an ultra-nationalist movement. Nothing happened when his bodyguard beat up an opposition deputy in parliament in 1993, then on 18 December 2006 he took a mob to parliament, staging a riot as a report on the crimes of communism was formally presented (with the former Polish and Bulgarian presidents, Lech Walesa and Zhelyu Zhelev, in attendance).

Vadim’s defence of the communist regime struck a chord with lots of Romanians who failed to do well after 1989. He eventually felt strong enough to launch his own power bid, and in 1999 he called on the army to mutiny during a march on Bucharest by thousands of coal miners which almost overwhelmed the authorities, and in December 2000 he won a third of the votes in the presidential election. His staying power sprang from his talents as a polemicist and agitator, but a crucial element was undoubtedly the readiness of President Iliescu’s party to turn a blind eye to his excesses.

In December 2004, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Elie Wiesel, returned one of the country’s highest honours after Iliescu had bestowed the same one on Vadim. But by now, Vadim’s power was waning as his avarice and megalomania drove many followers from his movement. He lost his parliamentary seat in 2008, and though he was elected to the European Parliament the following year, a sign that his power was at last broken came in 2011 when a young female magistrate successfully evicted his party from the villa that had been its Bucharest headquarters, when a court restored ownership to the family from which it had been seized in the 1950s.

Once many Romanians ceased to be traumatised by the totalitarian past, Vadim’s brainwashing abilities faded and his intolerant views lost their appeal. Romania is now a European country in which anti-Semitism has dramatically fallen in intensity and relations between the large Hungarian minority and other Romanians are generally cordial. But Vadim lowered political standards in what should have been a time of democratic recovery, and provided cover for the looting of state resources by whipping up imaginary nationalist fears.

Some television stations (controlled by figures already influential before 1989), provided obituaries which described him as a showman, while overlooking his xenophobia and his anti-democratic record. But Vadim had become an embarrassment to most Romanians and the pressure of public opinion ensured that the request of his supporters for his body to lie in repose in the Senate was turned down.


Corneliu Vadim Tudor, writer and politician: born Bucharest 28 November 1949; married (two children); died Bucharest 14 September 2015.


The Godfather from the City Hall: Uber-mafiotul Oprescu si banda sa


Primesc in zori de zi, de la un amic, vestea halucinanta despre descoperirea mafiei lui Sorin Oprescu, the Lord Mayor of Bucharest. Credeam ca imaginea lui Arturo Ui, gangsterul din piesa lui Bertolt Brecht, se potrivea piromanilor politici Victor Ponta si Crin Antonescu. Ei bine, iata ca adevaratul Arturo Ui, cu privirea sa umed-cetoasa, cu talentul de a iesi de sub reflectoare oricand se iveste o situatie mai sensibila, cu tentaculele acaparatoare cotropind spatii vizibile si invizibile, este chiar placidul boss de la Hotel de Ville Bucarest.

Halucinanta aceasta stire pentru ca vorbeste despre un tupeu gargantuan si despre o nerusinare de proportii cosmice. Daca acuzatiile procurorilor se confirma cu probe irefutabile, nu cred ca mai poate exista vreun pesedist onest (ma rog, sintagma poate suna si ca un oximoron) care sa se indoiasca de natura criminal-cleptocratica a sistemului infiintat de Ion Iliescu, dezvoltat de Adrian Nastase si exacerbat de Victor Ponta. Sorin Oprescu si banda sa de gangsteri au devenit nababi calcand in picioare statul de drept. Rapacitatera acestor indivizi, ceea ce francezii numesc des crapules, este fara limita, enorma, gretoasa, scabroasa…

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Despre ospitalitatea politică: Dați-mi voie să nu uit!


Risc să-i dezamăgesc pe unii prieteni, dar nu pot să nu spun ceea ce cred. Eu am fost refugiat politic, am primit azil in Statele Unite, asemeni atâtor mii și mii de est europeni, de vietnamezi, etiopieni, cubanezi etc Stiu ce-a insemnat dezastrul anilor 30, când nimeni nu-i dorea pe refugiații evrei. Sunt sătul de cei care se spală, pilatic, pe maini. Ați văzut filmul “The Remains of the Day”? Ați auzit de Kindertransport? Stiu ce-a avut in vedere Hannah Arendt când a vorbit despre “superfluous populations”, am făcut parte din aceasta nefericită categorie. Ingăduiți-mi să nu uit!

The Historical Handshake: Jean-Paul Sartre and Raymond Aron Express Solidarity with the Boat People (1979). Human Rights Transcend Ideologies.

Dacă Occidentul a pierdut noțiunea de ospitalitate politică, atunci nu mai este Occident. Václav Havel a spus că NATO nu e doar o alianță politică și militară, ci una civilizațională. Imi pare teribil de rău, dar mi-e teamă că fostul președinte al Romaniei, Traian Băsescu, ignoră, alături de un Václav Klaus, acest adevăr. Tema e prea largă pentru a fi expediată in cateva randuri. Dar ceea ce știu este ca există o mare masă de oameni neprotejati de nimeni, azvarliti in neantul a ceea se cheama homelessness. Sunt solidar, instinctiv, cu apatrizii. Ca să preiau cuvintele lui Thomas Mann din anii 30, cand corabia se apleacă spre excluziune, eu mă aplec spre incluziune.

După semestrul viitor cand voi avea mult asteptatul sabatic, voi ține un curs despre drepturile omului in sec XXI. Această luare de poziție cred că spune clar cum si unde mă situez. Evident că este nevoie de strategii de incluziune pe termen lung, concepute atent, fără panica. Dar trăim un moment de urgență, e nevoie de reacții rapide. Prin urmare, nu ignor nuanțele, dar nici nu le fetisizez ca alibi pentru indiferență ori chiar mai rău…

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Dictaturi, justitie, memorie: Recomandare de carte


Strongly recommended to all those who want to understand the legal, moral, political, and cultural dilemmas of post-authoritarian and/or post-conflict regimes. Congrats to Raluca Grosescu and Agata Fijalkowski!

Transitional Criminal Justice in Post-Dictatorial and Post-Conflict Societies


Her Majesty, Queen Ingrid of the Movies,


born in Stockholm on August 29, 1915, as Maria, with Gary Cooper in “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1943)





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