Wednesday, February 2, 2011

High hopes: Reform party flexes political muscle

Romania's national library is desperate for books - nonetheless, the complete works of Nicolae Ceausescu are headed for the pulping machine.
""Perhaps we'll keep one copy of each, somewhere," allowed Angela Popescu Bradiceni, director since 1955, with a slight sniff. ""After all, we are a library."
The dictator's numbing words were stacked in the window of every bookstore. At the national library, they filled six long rows.
Enthusiastic workmen have already carted off various translations of ""On the Way of Building Up the Multilaterally Developed Socialist Society," all 32 volumes, 700 pages each.
Had anyone ever checked out Volume 26, for example, he would have learned: ""The visit I have paid to Somalia at the invitation of President Mohammed Siad Barre has yielded highly good results." PUBLICITY PACKETS
The pile included leaflets of speeches, collected mental musings and 12-ounce publicity packets to the glory of a man who traveled the world ceaselessly to exchange fulsome toasts and pose for photos.
One collection had almost identical covers. At the left, there was Ceausescu with slicked down jet black hair and a debonair mien, a photo from 1957. At the right, there was someone else: Jimmy Carter of the United States, Brezhnev of the Soviet Union, Ethiopia's Mengistu or whichever leader he happened to be visiting.
But not all the purged books were his.
There was also ""Research in the Field of Systems and Characteristics of Macromolecules" by his wife, Elena.
""No one ever read this stuff, no one," said Virgil Tiberiu Spanu, director of acquisitions. ""Never."
The couple were ousted from power last Friday and were executed Monday. RESTRICTED ACCESS
For the librarians, destroying Ceausescu's books was sweet revenge for bibliophiles forced to hide away 10 percent of their collection under lock and key.
Ceausescu's strict laws forbade anyone without a special permit to see books about Romanian politics since World War I, or works of anyone suspected to be even a mild dissident. Books by foreigner ""radicals," such as U.S. economists, also were restricted.
Romanian and foreign researchers had to apply to a cultural council that decided whether to grant permission. Applications were referred to the secret police.
""When you applied to the council, a very secret, complex mechanism came into play," Spanu said. ""Most people did not bother, assuming they would be denied or afraid of calling attention to themselves."
Mostly, books were not bought because the library had no foreign currency. 10 TO 15 YEARS BEHIND
""We were 10 to 15 years behind the world in scientific material," Spanu said. The library's latest edition of the journal ""Chemical Abstracts" is from 1972.
Although the nearby university library lost 500,000 volumes in fires caused by fighting between Ceausescu loyalists and revolutionaries this week, all of the national library's 1.5 million books survived.
""We were lucky because we have no building of our own, and our books are in storage all over town," Bradiceni said. The offices and reading rooms are in the old stock exchange, never of much use in Communist Romania.
Now, Bradiceni said, it is time to catch up.
""Romania needs books for the spirit," she said. She looked around at at the shelves purged of Ceausescu's works. ""Now we have plenty of room."

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