President of the Romanian Writers' Union, literary critic Nicolae Manolescu, Romania's Ambassador to UNESCO, in an interview to AGERPRES stated that an authentic intellectual should remain, up to a point, apolitical, while in a democratic society intellectuals must by all means say their opinion.
In the interview, Manolescu speaks about the problems facing the Romanian writers at present and about the necessity of a law on written culture.
The USR President is optimistic with respect to Romania's evolution, voicing belief that, regardless of how divided the Romanian society seems to be right now, there must adopted 'a strategy in the long run to focus on avoiding such appointments made on political criteria in high offices' and also on improving the education system and increase the level of education.
AGERPRES: You said recently that writers — who are like 'heritage monuments'—seem to have been left alone in the world right now. What did you mean precisely by this?
Nicolae Manolescu: I was referring to the fact that, among all the cultural fields, the written culture is the single one that does not benefit, at least not on a systematic or legalized manner, of state aids. All the other fields — like the theatre or the conservatory etc. — do benefit of state aids, more or less generous. We are the single exception. This doesn't mean that, especially in the recent years, the state, or the government, didn't help us at all. It's just that we would prefer this aid to become law. We need a law on the written culture or, at least, in the meanwhile, we need the Stamp Duty for Culture Law to be renewed, for the Writers' Union needs it very much. In other words, we need a new version of this Law, since the old Law was incomplete and it didn't serve us very well, to pass through Parliament.
AGERPRES: We know that the USR is currently making efforts to grant certain benefits to the older writers, including funeral aids. What can you tell us, Mr. Professor, about the situation of the Romanian writer nowadays?
Nicolae Manolescu: The situation is the same as always, rather precarious I could say. First of all because the writer cannot make a living out of his writing, no matter how many works he/she published or how trendy he/she is. It is very hard for one to make a living strictly as a writer. Or, in other words, the writer needs another job to pay his/hers bills. And, secondly: of course, if the writer is either a poet or a literary critic, he/she can afford to have another job too, since the critic can very well be a Professor and the poet can very well be anything else. However, for the novelists it's not that easy, since it is very hard to write a novel after being at work for eight or even six hours, after working for a number of hours in a mine for instance. One cannot do this. Novelists must dedicate themselves to writing. And that's why novels have more readers, at least for now, and the novelists are better paid.
AGERPRES: How are the Romanian intellectuals doing? Do they still have something to say with respect to everything that happens in the society? And, if not, what do you think it generated this state of affairs?
Nicolae Manolescu: Of course that they have and, if we speak about intellectuals in general, all the more. Of course they do. Especially if we think about the mass media, which, of course, it gives the first chance to speak to politicians, but, still, the intellectuals too, and the writers included, they can still make their voices be heard. Not necessarily on TV, but in the written media, in the weekly or monthly magazines, or on the radio. It is not true that their voice cannot be heard anymore. Maybe their presence on the political scene is not as consistent as it used to be, in the 1990s for instance. In fact, I realize now that if we are going to number the intellectuals existing in Parliament right now, we will find out that their number is even smaller than the number of representatives of the Civic Alliance only in the Senate in the 1990s. And this means a serious drop in what concerns the interest for politics among the intellectuals, while the political class became a professional class. Very many of the intellectuals who entered politics, the same as I did, twenty years ago, return to their own tools, to their own job. They aren't making a living out of this, but they lived for this. We only need to replace the preposition.
AGERPRES: But were there better times? What happened, for instance, immediately after the Revolution of December 1989?
Nicolae Manolescu: I wouldn't say better times. Only that, perhaps, immediately after the Revolution of 1989 we felt more optimistic and less determined to change the world. After which moment, of course, the enthusiasm dropped a little, while the vicious tricks remained the same or even got more powerful. But not the vicious tricks are the ones that really matter, but the way you react to them. And yes, seeing things from that perspective, things were better in the 1990s. Although the publishing houses still didn't pay us the money we deserved. Of course, during the communist regime, the writers lived a better life, in general, they were paid more frequently and with more correctitude, only that the price they paid in return for the money they received was unacceptable.
AGERPRES: But why are the intellectuals so divided, Mr. Professor?
Nicolae Manolescu: Artists have strong personalities. And I believe that is is a normal thing, in a world where everybody has such a strong personality, or at least they believe that they have such a strong personality, to appear dissension. This is nothing new, things were like that since forever. If there was indeed a certain solidarity among intellectuals during the communist regime, that was only because they shared a common enemy. But once with started to have a multiparty system the common enemy disappeared. This is just how things are.
AGERPRES: Which do you consider that it should be the role played by intellectuals in a normal society? Since we see that the young intellectuals prefer nowadays to leave abroad.
Nicolae Manolescu: First of all, intellectuals should be intellectuals, while the true intellectuals are, up to a point, apolitical. This doesn't mean that intellectuals should not be interested at all in the political issues. It only means that intellectuals should position themselves somewhere in the middle of the interests of the various political parties, factions, groups, that they should look at all this somehow from above, avoiding the trap of becoming allies with one side or the other. Secondly, intellectuals must say their opinion, by all means and without hesitation. Intellectuals have the obligation to speak. The problem is whether their word is heard or not. But this is what characterizes a democratic society. If the intellectuals are heard, then we can speak of democracy. If they are not, then we cannot speak of democracy.
AGERPRES: I know that no one can have miraculous solutions. But I would like to know what's your opinion with respect to the situation in Romania right now? Can we hope for a solution to come from the institutions?
Nicolae Manolescu: I said it before that I have always been an optimist. But it's also true that I did change a little, maybe because of the age, and now I say that I am optimistic in the long run and less optimistic in the short run. However, we know what we should do next, the problem is when we decide to actually do it and how long it will take for us to do what we are suppose to do.
For instance, I still believe that, no matter how divided the Romanian society will remain in political terms, no matter how big the various interests of the political parties in what concerns their clientele are, beyond all this, I believe that the normal thing will be to exist a strategy in the long term to avoid, to the extent that this is possible, appointments based on political criteria in such high offices. Placing the right person in the right job that will be, regardless of this person's choice in politics. When Mitterand received a proposal — while he was the President of France — to appoint an intellectual in a high position, he did it, even if the intellectual had right wing beliefs, and even if he was warned that "He is not one of ours. What he said in reply was: "What I'm interested in is that he is good, not that he is mine." Which is very fair to me.
And, secondly, it is very important that we improve, little by little, our education system. A big part of the sins of the Romanian politicians right now are the result of their poor education, of their diplomas that were obtained to easily from the private universities and of the low level of education existing in high schools, not to talk about the secondary school. AGERPRES