The House of Change: high time for a new Romania

, by Ana Alexandrescu

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The House of Change: high time for a new Romania

Friday, 2nd August 2007, ‘’The Biggest Exhibition about Romanian Communism, at the National History Museum’’: museums begin to react, society seems to awaken. Is this the beginning of a long trial of memorial and judgment, or are we just in the middle of a general confusion?

The European Union seemed to expect a country that has conciliated with its past and is ready to look forward, when, instead, it found a country with its unhealed wounds, that still remembers its recent past with a sort of nostalgic or angry involvement. It is difficult to tell if people definitely feel it was worse before, and it is curious to see that, when asked, people after the age of 50 tend to hesitate in answering whether capitalism is better. For us, the post-Revolution generation, the truth came in a sheer black and white dichotomy. All we know is from stories: we were told about a revolution where about 1000 young men and women, most of them students and intellectuals, died for a free country.

The House of the People

While some might say it is a beautiful symbol, and while tourists gather every day in hundreds to visit it, others might just pass towards it without paying any attention to its grandeur. Others just have the taste to dislike it.

Like taste, history is split too, into skeptics and believers, into those who perceive the past as bleak, or at least unfortunate, and those who see it as glorious, and have not even adapted yet to the changes. This is the story of the House of the People (Casa Poporului), the second largest building in the world, after the Pentagon, a remainder of our dictator and dictatorship.

The House of the People stands for an opulence that had never existed in Romania for the people. It expresses the facade of the communism that was showing the well being, mass productivity, and high living standard and contempt that had de facto never existed.

The House of the People reflects all but reality and this is why we, the post- revolution generation, dare not like it. It is the symbol of something that we have been long trying to leave behind.

Romania is a country of contrasts, a country that during its history learned to adapt itself and to step over some stages of development. It adopted a Balkan personality of its own. This is the reason why it now holds a unique mix between the Oriental, Western and Slavic cultures, with a touch of authentic folklore and traditions.

Communist legacy

Communism tried to bring folklore and traditions on its own side, for its own propaganda benefit, denying any forms of spirituality and religion. Now, us, the ones who dislike the House of the People and the Communist symbols, are trying to bring back to life our real traditions and spirit. We are doing this by re-exploring what was left of authentic Romania, because there is still plenty of it.

These being said, one can imagine that The House of the People represents merely the premises of the Parliament and the offices it holds. It is hard to imagine that less than two decades ago, ordinary people were not allowed inside to visit it. It is even harder to imagine that the marble stairs have been built and rebuilt 7 or 8 times, to cater for the taste of Ceausescu, while small match-boxes blocks were built for the people.

It was a regime that was banning free expression, along with all its connections to the free Europe. It was a closed system in the middle of the Cold War, where Romania was caught somewhere in the middle. And ‘’democracy’’ was just on paper.

What is left of it now is an 85% finished square-sized immense building, which we did not know what to do with, but in the end transformed it into museum- parliament-office premises. Hectares of unfriendly, grey, noisy, crowded neighborhoods of Bucharest, are lying on what used to be the ‘’Petit Paris’’ (the nickname of Bucharest before Communism).

All what we are left with from the former regime are the constructions that took away our country’s personality. Plus 45 years of drawback.

The aim of this article was not to cry over the past, nor was it to find historical and contextual excuses for a Romania that offers less than expected, at least for the moment. But to show that appearance is not always as it shows, and that a wounded people cannot recover out of the sudden. It takes time. For only time can make the progress be seen. And it also takes time to prove an active member in the EU and to begin to play the role we deserve, and also the role Europe needs.


 Casa Poporului by night (cc) Ana Alexandrescu
 croped image of the Palace of the Parliament, Bucharest, Romania; photographer: Simon Laird, source: Wikimedia Commons

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