The Museum in Sighet is one of the best-known memorials devoted to the communist repression
Opened in the former prison in Sighetu Marmatiei, the museum tells the story of the communist reign of terror between 1950 and 1960, when some 100,000 Romanians were killed.
The “Academia Civia” NGO run by writers Ana Blandiana and Romulus Rusan has managed to create the first museum devoted to these victims in the mid-1990s, which has since been a landmark of civic awareness.
Ana Blandiana spoke about the Memorial this year, when Romania marks 30 years free of communism. This is the opinion of a writer, not a researcher, whose heart-rending words echo the unimaginable abhorrence whose tragic effects linger to this day.
Ana Blandiana: “The Sighet Memorial is a book in itself. To me, it is an unwritten one. It very much resembles a medieval liturgical book that teaches by means of memory. It’s a book teaching you how to retrieve memory. The biggest achievement of communism, which became apparent in a dramatic way only after 1989, was that it created a man without memory, the new man, the brainwashed man, who didn’t need to remember who he was, what he had or what he did before communism. Memory is a form of truth and it needs to be destroyed in order to destroy or manipulate truth. Destroying memory, a crime against both reason and history, is the primordial work of communism”.
The two writers felt the need to turn Sighet into a place for memory, considering it is here that the Romanian elite of the 1950s perished. Their effort is but a small part in the wider project of retrieving the past, deformed by Marxist ideology.
Ana Blandiana: “To us, creating the Sighet Memorial was not an end, but a means. We didn’t set out to create the perfect museum, where the crimes of recent history should be artistically and scientifically laid out on shelves, gathering the dust of contemporary ignorance. What we wanted and desperately sought was a means to recuperate the definition of a generation that was brainwashed and lost all its bearings, a generation incapable of leaving anything to the coming generations. The Sighet Memorial Museum is the place where young people can learn things that neither school nor their families were able to teach them. Here they read documents, see pictures, listen to analyses and testimonies on the horrors of the second half of the 20th century perpetrated in the name of class hatred and the repression of the most basic of human rights, a hatred that fuels history itself”.
Hatred: this word was the cornerstone of Marxism, a regime that repressed the innocent. Everyone who’s experienced this regime has felt its force to the full. It is a feeling that continues to affect society today, which we would better be able to understand if we looked closer at our communist roots, Ana Blandiana argues.
Ana Blandiana: “In fact, hatred and fanaticism continue to exist beyond the disappearance of the institutions that proliferated them. Indeed, communism as a system is gone, but its methods and mindset have endured. Analyzing communism is as useful to the past as it is for the present. Suffice it to recall the members of terrorist cells in the 60s, 70s and the 80s trained in military encampments and shooting ranges in Eastern Europe. Then they put their training to the test in attacks carried out in Western Europe. They used Soviet and Czech weapons to understand that the study of communism and its methods can be used also as an intelligent means to understand and solve some of the world’s current issues”.
Is communism instrumental in understanding the post-communist reality? Ana Blandiana believes it is.
Ana Blandiana: “The main issue is to see to what extent communism can be relevant in post-communism, to the last 30 years. I’ve taken part in a wide survey conducted by the ‘Observatorul Cultural’ magazine, and there was a question whether the communist and anti-communist rhetoric will still be able to impact the next four rounds of elections in Romania. Most people answered no, and the topic of the rising prices will be infinitely more important to them. At the same time, I believe we need to answer this question, because, from the point of view of freedom and justice, of human rights, of economy, things have changed, we’re no longer under communist rule, of course. But if we look at how the diabolical methods of manipulation and obscuring the truth were used in communism, we cannot hide the fact that there are times in present-day Romania when things are disturbingly similar to what we’ve experienced before”.
The Sighet Memorial remains a meaningful place for understanding and relating to the past, which continues to live in the present.