Controversy follows death of Romanian poet

by Sandra Juncu

Romania stands divided, following the death of Adrian Paunescu, politician and poet, wept by some and blasphemed by others, sending the impression of a country still troubled by its communist past.

Adrian Paunescu next to Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu

The media and prominent political figures turned this event into a national tragedy but many voices are urging history not to forget who this man really was. Unfortunately the appeal against amnesia is taking a backseat and receives little or no press coverage, raising the alarming question of the real progress Romania has made in twenty one years since the fall of communism and casting a shade of doubt upon the unbiased and neutral character of the fourth estate.

Adrian Nastase, leading member of the powerful social democrat party PSD, ( politician with a dubious past of his own, after being involved in corruption scandals) offered his deepest sympathies, commenting: “If the Gods of Olymp could live amongst humans and geniuses do the same from time to time – Adrian Paunescu came to stay with us for a while (…)”

To his admirers, Adrian Paunescu is a talented poet who should not be judged by his faults, but in the light of his good deeds. He  published countless volumes and went on to be a Senator after the fall of communism. His televised funeral attracted high ratings and a crowd of over a thousand people who came to pay their respects.

Train Basescu, the Romanian President, declared that hearing the news of his passing saddened him: “I received this news with sadness. Through his literary activity, the poet will remain in the memories of those who appreciated the craft of his creations, his constant plead for national values and the generosity with which he promoted generations of young poets and artists.”

Adrian Paunescu was not a simple artist that lived during the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, he was his poet laureate and became, through dedication to the cause and countless odes sang  to the communist leader, one of the most luminous artistic figures of this dark era in Romanian history. Infamous letters and lyrics dedicated to Ceausescu, his wife, family and the Party stand evidence of the extent of his political affiliation. One of these letters was discovered and published by Romanian newspaper “Cotidianul” in 2008; it contains, among other words of adulation, passages such as “Long live your Highness!”, “you have a divine spark within and you are being led forward by personal genius”, “i never doubted your great love for the truth” and “so young and so courageous, so lucid, such a realist”. All of this was happening at the same time as anti-communist dissidents who were fighting for their right to free speech and other basic human rights were jailed, tortured or assassinated by the regime.

Twenty one years ago people revolted against the system in a bloody revolution, even if this freedom came at a crippling price. Adrian Paunescu lived a privileged life during communist times and continued to do so after, denying his extreme praise of the regime and keeping close connections to other ex-communists. This is why a part of the country’s population is outraged at the fact that he was walked down the last path with military honors. Even if the journalists decided to keep quiet about this story, blogs and independent news forums ( such as counted high numbers of readers, posts and comments, speaking out against, as one headline reads, “the dead winner“.

In an attempt to raise awareness, Prof. Vladimir Tismaneanu, a Romanian and American political scientist, comments on his blog: “Adrian Paunescu was not just <a man on a ladder>. He was a man trying (and actually succeeding) to climb on the ladder of power and to obtain a unique status in the drab Romania of those years, to envelop a sordid and humiliating reality in the vestments of initially seductive metaphors, that proved later on to be gongoristic and pompous. His talent died out because he abandoned it. Anyway, Adrian Paunescu was not just a poet (good or bad, by personal preference), but an earnest publicist, magazine editor and animator of public shows in which he would praise the dictatorship. He was one of the architects of the Ceausescu-esque utopia, he himself was an institution in that dictatorship.”