“Anarchic” notes on anarchism in Romania and „Laolaltă” (2017)

*The present review was initially published in Bună – Zeitschrift für Befreiung & Emanzipation – nicht nur in Rumänien, a german anarchist magazine, in 2018. Edited by Martin Veith, a researcher who has already published two books dedicated to the history of Romania’s anarchist and syndicalist movements, one about Panait Mușoiu and the other about Ștefan Gheorghiu, the publication is  trying to give some insight into the current anarchist-inspired initiatives and publications in the country and to document current events from an anarchist and class-struggle point of view. Another important focus is the actual research inspired by the history of anarchism in Romania, a subject still quite unexplored.

„Laolaltă” is an annual series of informal events organized and supported by anarchists in Cluj (Romania), the review documenting only the first edition (2017). Another edition was organized in 2018.


“Anarchic” notes on anarchism in Romania and „Laolaltă” (2017)

After the fall of the communist dictatorship in 1989, anarchist ideas, suppressed and forgotten during the long five decades of totalitarian rule, could be rediscovered and circulated again in Romania. This initially happened through the D.I.Y., punk and hardcore musical scene that was slowly taking shape at that time in cities like Timișoara or Craiova. During the ’90s and the early 2000s, the two cities were the main centers for the various autonomous initiatives inspired by anarchist ideas and practices. Taking into consideration the particular social, political, and economical condition in Romania during that time, the relatively rapid development of the anarchist scene and its remarkable resourcefulness and endurance over the harsh years of transition is something worth acknowledging. First and foremost, the brutal communist rule had carefully tried to wipe off all the possible traces of the past anarchist “voices”, and mostly those of the Romanian anarchists. Besides being cut off from their own “legacy of freedom”, the anarchists, at least during the ’90s and the early 2000s, were still relatively isolated from Europe. That, in turn, translated into a scarcity of information and materials reaching anarchist collectives in the country and, also, into a sense of isolation from the wider anarchist “scene” at that time. Last but not least, the few anarchists had to equally confront a certain isolation at home and the constant repression from the state authorities. This is why, looking back, one could justifiably be astonished by the number and the diversity of zines that appeared at that time, by the numerous concerts and festivals organized with little or almost no resources, and by the various actions initiated by anarchists, such as May Day celebrations, “Food not Bombs” events, anti-war protests, anarcha-feminist and anti-fascist initiatives etc. For those who would like to become familiar with this recent, yet lesser known past of anarchism in Romania, the ‘zine Buruieni [en. Weeds] had a special edition dedicated to it some years ago. The issue included a series of selections from another publication that was documenting the eastern European anarchist initiatives, called Abolishing Borders from Below. The articles, interviews and reports, all related to the Romanian anarchist “scene” during the early 2000s, are in English. In addition to that, a quite impressive collection of Romanian punk and anarchist ‘zines came out in 2014 under the title Fanzinul Fanzinelor. While it only documents publications that appeared in Timișoara between the early ’90s and 2012, the selection covers a long period of time; moreover, it contains a lot of information regarding the anarchist groups that were active in other Romanian cities.

”Anarchy” in Cluj

Since the autumn of 2013 and the massive, countrywide protests against the mining project in Roșia Montană, there seems to have been an upturn in interest for anarchist ideas, events and anarchist-inspired styles of organization. While still linked to the punk and HC “scenes” to a certain extent, this “new wave of anarchism” seems, on the other hand, less dependent on it and more diversified in its approaches and expressions. A case in point is Cluj, a university city where anarchists have been quite active and visible over these last few years and, not surprisingly, during the Roșia Montană protests.

There are two anarchist groups currently active in Cluj, the A-casă group and Rizom, a small D.I.Y. punk collective. However, most of the activities are organized together by the two groups and are hosted either at A-casă, an autonomous and self-managed space, or at Rizom, a basement usually used for concerts. Unfortunately, the „basement” had to be relocated, as the building where it used to function was up for demolition, in order to make place for a new, more ”profitable” investment (fuck gentrification!). The two groups have nevertheless succeeded to put together, during these last few years, two well-supplied libraries, with mainly anarchist ‘zines and books (the punk DIY collective also used to publish a ‘zine in English). The interview published in the current issue of Bună, however, already presents a detailed overview of the various activities of the Cluj groups, as well as of the ideas that inspire them. Moreover, for those interested, the two collectives’ web-pages can offer more information about their general goals and the particular initiatives they support.

Laolaltă (2017)

Therefore, I’d rather focus on the last series of “informal events” that were organized and hosted by the anarchists in Cluj. Under the name of Laolaltă [„Come Together”], the events took place between September and October (2017). The small manifesto put out before the start of Laolaltă can give a short glimpse into the ideas and feelings behind the initiative and the general principles guiding it.

“We live under a constant assault from a system that exploits us, alienates us, and increasingly limits our freedom every day. We are forced to live our lives competing with each other, thus forgetting the strength that we can have when we come together. Faced with our own precarity and with the gentrification of the city, we realize how much we need, now more than ever, autonomous and self-organized spaces in which we can meet each other, exchange ideas and create together. We all have various knowledge, skills, and emotions that we can share with each other. Together we can create safer spaces for everyone, with no hierarchies and as independent from capitalism as possible. We invite you to Laolaltă, a series of events where we will have talks, presentations, workshops, and film projections. These events are exclusively the work and contribution of the participants, and therefore there will be no distinction between the organizers and the public. You are all welcome, regardless of your ethnicity, gender, race, education, or physical abilities. We will not tolerate behaviors that discriminate and create any kind of hierarchies.”

Having participated in some of the events, there are several things that I found particularly remarkable about Laolaltă and that I would like to point out.

First of all, the sheer number of activities presented and proposed is impressive, especially taking into consideration the relatively small number of people that ensured the smooth running of things during the events and the whole organization background. Also, while not all the activities referred directly to anarchist themes, the common framework put into place to sustain and accompany them was that of the basic anarchist principles: self-organization, autonomy, and mutual aid in a non-authoritarian and non-hierarchical environment. In addition to that, the main idea behind this “informal series of events” – that we could easily call “anarchist” – was rather that of inspiring the creation of new, autonomous, alternative spaces, of new ways of freely coming together. Many of the groups and individuals that participated in Laolaltă would probably not have self-identified as “anarchist”. Some were even quite unaware that they were hosted by and that they worked with anarchists. This sense of openness, a certain will to “bring down the borders” is precisely the kind of energy that, in my opinion, ensured the overall success of the initiative, both in terms of the direct involvement of people and attendance. Rather than only “preaching” some principles that people might find abstract and, thus, irrelevant, practicing them might just show that they are not only “beautiful” and “idealistic”, but functional and, in a sense, already commonplace. From this point of view, I think that the dedicated, discreet and hard work of our comrades in Cluj during the Laolaltă month was a remarkable example of “propaganda by the deed”, reaching and engaging overall a quite unexpected number of people. It seems that on this occasion “anarchy” worked just perfectly.

To offer a short glimpse of the activities proposed and of their variety, I could mention here the interesting discussions about veganism and animal rights, about the ways to deal with state repression (arrests, fines etc.), about gardening and seed exchanges, about the present situation in Roșia Montană or about the recent street movements in Romania and the current political context. The documentaries („The Antifascists” and „Class divide”), on the other hand, have attracted larger audiences, while the different workshops – on repairing bicycles, on how to brew your own beer, on making banners and stencils or on simultaneous interpretation – seem to have appealed to a rather more specific audience. The inauguration party, the two HC and metal concerts (with bands from Poland and Russia), and the DIY Hip-Hop evening, under the slogan “No DJs, no Masters” ensured, with the help of the home-made beer crafted by the A-casă crew, the cheerful and merry atmosphere, as well as the occasional hangover…

“Anarchism in Romania: a forgotten history?”

Another interesting event was the public presentation “Anarchism in Romania: a forgotten history?”, that tried to shed some light over the astonishingly diverse and, at the same time, completely forgotten history of anarchism in Romania. The focus was on the period before the Stalinist-inspired dictatorship, roughly between the end of the XIXth century and the end of the Second World War.

One of its apparent aims, aside the restitution of some extraordinary figures and anarchist “voices”, was precisely that of deconstructing some of the old “official” propaganda that sought to legitimize the ruthless party rule by presenting a partially mystified history (co-opting, for instance, figures like Panait Mușoiu or Ștefan Gheorghiu, while downplaying or omitting their consistent anti-authoritarian commitment). The presentation also tried shed some light on the mainly anarchist orientation of the ”old” Romanian socialist movement, discussing its subsequent marginalization and, later on, its total suppression by the communist regime.

The joyful, idealistic and rebellious energy that attracted the youth at the end of the nineteenth century towards anarchist ideas was also evoked, along with the life and the work of some of the anarchists of that period: Zamfir Arbure-Ralli, the anarchist ”aristocrat”, friend with Bakunin and Elisée Reclus, the “original” doctor Nicolae Russel, the socialist Zubcu-Codreanu, the young anarchist Mircea Rosetti, the nihilist student Constantin Mille, the symbolist poet Mircea Demetriade, the utopian writer and syndicalist Iuliu Neagu-Negulescu, the ”positivist” Panait Zosîn; or, later on, the “humanitarianist” Eugen Relgis, or the remarkable esperantist and advocate of veganism, Ion Ionescu-Căpățână. Another important part of the presentation was dedicated to the “anarchist press” and the significant anarchist editorial activity, mostly indebted to the life-long commitment of Panait Mușoiu.

A distinct and interesting chapter was that of the anarchists from Romania that emigrated at the beginning of the twentieth century in the U.S., like Joseph Ishill, the famous artist-typographer, or the small group in Leclaire, Illinois, that was publishing the hand-written ‘zine “The Wastebasket”.

Normally overlooked, the sometimes complicated relation between “anarchy” and the literary or artistic worlds was another aspect discussed. Panait Istrati, one of the most beloved writers by the anarchists, was also one of the literary figures close to “anarchy” not only in spirit, but also through his “affinities” and friendships. With a lot of articles published in the anarchist press, with his rebellious nature and his rejection of party-rule and of oppression, it is no wonder that this “vagabond writer” enjoyed and inspired the friendships of Ștefan Gheorghiu or Victor Serge. Another literary figure mentioned was George Bacovia, the melancholic poet who also seemed, at some point, attracted towards this anarchist “other flame” (to paraphrase Istrati).

This extensive, yet succinct presentation of the history of anarchism in Romania was, as far as I know, one of the very few occasions, if not the only one (at least recently) when the subject was approached and discussed directly in a public lecture in Romania. While I won’t insist on the reasons behind this astonishing scarcity, I would argue that the lack of interest towards the subject is definitely not one of them. The surprisingly numerous turnout, the enthusiastic support from various people and groups in organizing the lecture, were a clear indication that quite a lot of people were really looking forward to the presentation and that most of them eventually left with a vivid impression and the intention to learn more about this unknown “legacy of freedom”. Another exciting thing was that many of the participants were not necessarily people involved with or interested in anarchism, which only goes to show that the interest for the subject discussed might exceed the anticipated “usual” audience; and that, maybe, the long forgotten work of our “past accomplices” still has something valuable to say to people nowadays.

The recent project by the newly formed “Pagini Libere” collective to re-edit the 1923 anarchist utopia, Arimania, written by Neagu-Negulescu, will hopefully be a first step taken in the actual direction of recovering, popularizing and continuing the “lost work” and the lost stories of our predecessors. Also, as the people who are already researching or who are starting to get a particular interest in themes related to the history of anarchism in Romania, are more and more numerous, organizing the first forum dedicated to this “eccentric” topic might well be one of the next steps ahead.

The present report is, of course, far from a complete and detailed account of the diverse activities currently supported or organized by the anarchists in Cluj. It wasn’t intended as such anyway. Rather, it’s a small recognition of the work, perseverance and dedication that the anarchists and their friends in Cluj put into the creation of those rare and inspiring spaces of humanity and fraternity, which are such eloquent testimonies to the free, generous and creative spirit we sometimes like to call “anarchy”.