Public space and the material legacies of communism in Bucharest

Authors: Light, D. and Young, C.

Editors: Stan, L.

Volume: L. Stan and D. Vancea

Pages: 41-62

Publisher: Lexington Books

Place of Publication: Lanham, Maryland

ISBN: 978-1-4985-0109-5


Every political order shapes public space in its own image. Similarly, every period of radical or revolutionary political change involves a remaking of the ‘official public landscape’ to create something that expresses the political values of the new regime. This chapter examines how this process has unfolded in post-communist Romania and, in particular, Bucharest. It begins by examining the public landscape created during Ceausescu’s dictatorship. Communism saturated the public landscape with specific political meanings and symbols, intended to demonstrate the supremacy of the party and the authority of the president. After 1989, Romania’s new administration needed to address this public landscape. There was an intense but short-lived ‘de-communization’ of public space in which many of the most conspicuous symbols of the former regime were removed, demolished or reconfigured. But this process quickly ran out of steam since the new political elite had other priorities and notions of transitional justice failed to receive significant political support. Public space was characterized as much by continuity with the communist period as by rupture from it. The public arena created by communism haunted the post-communist period in many ways. From Ceausescu’s monumental but unfinished ‘Civic Centre’, through decaying ‘hunger circuses’, street names commemorating leading communists which remain in widespread daily use and a monumental mausoleum containing the bodies of leading party members, the urban arena of communism remained only partially changed. This situation contrasted to other former communist states which successfully reshaped public space in the capital city to assert and affirm the presence of a new political order with new political values. The gradualism which has characterized political reform in post-communist Romania can be seen in the incomplete and protracted efforts to remake and reshape the material and symbolic legacies of communism.

Source: Manual