THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF THE BORDER – MOVING FIREPLACES AT THE FRONTIER

”She loses her parasol, but she keeps going towards Comloș and Lunga, with only one goal in mind: to experience the border condition. But especially to see it.” Traveled through in the summer of 2019, some of the villages found on the border area between Romania, Serbia and Hungary revealed themselves through filters to the researcher, filters set before the eye of the beholder by classic texts of literature and anthropological research in this part of the country. The villages of the deportees to the Bărăgan cannot be seen except through the research of the group The Third Europe, lead by Smaranda Vultur, Comloșu and Lunga can be seen through the Glasses of Mircea Nedelciu, Adriana Babeţi and Mircea Mihăieș, the village of Lenauheim is seen through the lens of Adam Müller-Guttenbrun. And if we remove the lenses, magnifying glasses, the glasses, frames and research, similar to the hitch-hikers in the above mentioned postmodern fiction, the onion layers of villages at the western limit of Romania, and try and understand how exactly one lives on the border, what stories in the rhythm with the people, how is the world seen on the brink of the steppe? Let us then proceed with peeling away the layers.

WHAT IS THE BORDER?

Without linguistic digression or historical contextualization, I am trying to talk about the meanings of a term. The border/ frontier/ confinia/ boundary marks the territorial limits of a state, but it also generates inter-liminal spaces in which people understand how to live together, a state of marginality or of re-centering of their own lives. The border generates stagnation, but, paradoxically, it also generates movement:

 “Smuggling, migration, cross-border shopping and other kinds of trans-border movement occurring within or outside the limits of the law may challenge and even undermine state efforts to define the identities of those who live at the border, a point touched upon by almost all our contributors. Such activities certainly offer an opportunity for exploring the strength or fragility with which state structures impose their definitions and exert their influence, for it is in the ease or difficulty with which exit and entry are exercised that state regulations are frequently made most apparent.”

The border generates movement, flux, the passing of individuals or communities. Or, in the vein of Wilson and Donnan: “Borders are spatial and temporal records of relationships between local communities and between states”. The border condition is a cultural manner through which people appropriate the border and integrate it into their own life narrative, transforming it into a known space. “Border peoples, because of their histories, and objectified and subjectified cultures, not only have to deal with the institutions of their own state, but with those institutions of the state or states across the border, entities of equal and sovereign power which overshadow all border relations. An anthropology of borders is simultaneously one of a nation’s history and of a state’s frontiers.”  Border people have a special standing, powerfully imprinted  by place and habitation, by a liminal state and a continuous identity negotiation, communication, both regional and national. The marginal area of the border is very fertile when it comes to stories which, perhaps, are missing from the central part of a nation. Nations bordering Romania have a special story, a melange of history, memory and fiction that deserve attention from time to time.

AS I SAID.
IT WAS A DREAM

From the Banat to America seems like quite the way to go, especially when travel was done on steam ships that left German harbors. Somewhere at the end of the 19th century, when borders shaped the Banat in a totally different way, a lot of people left for the United States, most of them in the search of economic resources. Certain particularities of the Romanian community in America have been studied as soon as it was established by two researchers, which I will now mention in chronological order: Şerban Drutzu and Christine Avghi Galitzi. The texts of the two authors connect, on the one hand, methods of classic ethnography (Drutzu’s text offers the description of communities in Canada as well as the United States), as well as a more scientific manner, starting from and quoting Şerban Drutzu’s volume, while offering extremely detailed statistics, and on the other hand, fragments of migrant testimonies.

Why this theme in the 21st century in a research about migration and implicit cultural movement? Because without it being sought for, the theme of leaving for America inserted itself into the conversations with the interviewees. Whether we conducted interviews in Lenauheim, Comloșu Mare or Comloșu Mic, in a more vague or pronounced manner, the theme of going to America survived, either if mentioned by the researchers or the interlocutors. Seen today as the center of the world’s Mcdonaldisation, America used to carry with it the symbolism of abundance, which in time, was attributed to western-european spaces of habitation. Built upon a superposition of imagery – from novels, from field narratives, from reality – America becomes the obscure object of desire which is minimally narrated but which exists still in collective discourse.

At the beginning of the Romanian community in America, Romanian immigrants came from two large regions: the Old Kingdom and Austria-Hungary (Transylvania and the Banat) respectively, represented in an overwhelming percentage by peasantry (89%)that were headed, surprisingly enough, towards the industrial centres of the United States where the need for workforce was greatest, compared to the agricultural sector where these people were more qualified to work in but where the need for manpower was reduced, mainly due to the mechanization of agriculture. Arriving in a new wave of migration (new migration), the Romanians joined the Greeks, Bulgarians, Italians, Poles or Portuguese; their number triples starting with 1890 (the community numbered 6359 people) in just a decade (when it reaches 19109 persons).The next decade brings with it a great flux of migrants and starting with the period of the First World War, population migration ceases. On average, over 86% of the 5498 Romanian migrants that arrived on Ellis Island came from Transylvania (which includes the Banat in its statistics). It is worth mentioning that we are dealing with reversible migration (two way movement – as Ch. Galitzi calls it): the ones that leave for the States return, after a time, to the places of their birth: “At times, it was economic success which fired the Romanins with a desire to take back to their native villages the savings for hard years of labour, and to show to their country men the result of persevering work.” The economic recession of 1907 and 1911 in the States force migrants to return to Europe in order to avoid unemployment and the depletion of their savings. Galitzi identifies other reasons for returning to Transylvania and the Banat as well, after a few years spent in America: old age and attachment to the birth place, family ties. After the agrarian reforms of 1919 and 1921 in Romania, the peasants bought land with the money they had saved and  gained a status exposed to the collective: they can afford to show their village co-inhabitants that they exist and they mark said existence by buying a house or land. Not much has changed in a century. Even today, Romanian migrants invest in houses (with regards to the swanky houses phenomenon) and cars, more often than not, which attest to a new affluence.

In the 1920s, the migrant community in America that had declared Romania as country of residence, reached 102823 persons, and by the end of the 20s,, this number grew by approximately 50000 people; out of this number 83% were men. We are dealing with a community of Romanian peasants about to become industrial workers, from which, initially, over 30% were illiterate. A vulnerable group that could only make its presence felt through the means of brute work and not with a special skill set that could be individualised. This vulnerability meant they were doing hard labor, tasks that were undesirable or unwanted by others, this in the end providing these individuals with a sort of financial independence that kept the desire to emigrate alive. One of the migrants relates: In the summer of 1906, while selling fruit in Brăila, I heard a Roumanian Jewish woman relate with great enthusiasm the rapid way in which a relative of hers made a fortune by keeping a restaurant in Philadelphia. From that day on the word Philadelphia kept ringing in my ears until I found myself walking in the streets of West Philadelphia searching for employment.59 Migration from the Old Kingdom is mainly done based on economic reasons, while in Transylvania was based on political reasons, in some cases. Nationalist discourse insisted on the heavy burden the administration imposed on the Romanian population which determined their departure. I. Drăghicescu writes, with pathos: This administration was so deprived of scruples and so abusive that the Romanians could stand it no longer and migrated in masses. Whole villages were turned into deserts. The population was forced to expatriate and went to the United States of America.” Without polemic and without going into the status of the Romanians inside the Austro-Hungarian Empire, I tend to think that, similar to other Europeans in the new wave of migration, Romanians were in search of a better economic standing. Ch. Galitzi remarks upon this, convinced that I. Drăghicescu had a biased discourse that took out the equation the economic arguments of the period 1899-1913.

It is interesting to note that Romanians practised seasonal migration (almost based on a biological rhythm): in the winter months they sold home-made products in America or they looked for work as servants, cooks, drivers, cart drivers or sheep-herders, while in the summer months, when there was work in agriculture to be found, they went back to tend to their land. They seemed to be commuting more than displacing in numbers, and their relationship with the space was much more accelerated, from this viewpoint. Going to New York, from this perspective, becomes quite feasible in a time that flowed much more slowly than today. Şerban Drutzu mentions, that a ticket to the United States purchased from Hamburg or Bremen cost 300 crowns (the equivalent of 100 dollars which, taking account inflation, would mean around 2500 dollars today): ”[…] for those sort of travelers, happy to cross the Ocean on the third class deck, the way across didn’t cost more than 300 crowns, not being required to present a passport or any other papers.”

”We took the train to Trieste, with my mother, father and my brothers. From there we got on the boat and kept on until we reached America. After 10 years we came back. I still remember we returned on the ship King of Italy. It took us a month to cross the ocean. On the 21st of February 1921 we left New York and arrived at the end of March. I was 15 back then. I remember the ship, how I watched through binoculars, the Gucker as we called it, and we saw them big rocks of Gibraltar, Africa, Turkey, Italy. When the ship was in the harbor we didn’t get off. We just used the Gucker to look. Oh man! It was so pretty!” relates a character in the novel ”The Woman in Red”, describing a decidedly literary situation that could quite possibly have been real. At the threshold between reality and fiction, the roads towards and from America turn into archetypal situations. It is not individuals leaving, but whole communities that take up the initial journey, that of crossing the Atlantic. The Ocean as a hill, in the vision of the writers, seen as well from the viewpoint of migrants from the steppe of the Banat. The telluric consistency of water gives an account of the fact that the migrants are taking the Banat with them. And in doing this can also ironically describe: how can a traveler from the steppe associate the ocean with a hill? A clear postmodern re-reading of landscape!

Before the First World War, the classic journey meant, as mentioned before, crossing Austria-Hungary into Germany, towards the ports of Bremen and Hamburg, and after the war the road changed together with the reorganisation of borders and the appearance of new states: the new direction was towards the Meditterranean.

In the border villages, in the summer of 2019, America is mentioned vaguely. Individual memory has kept, from the corpus of the collective narrative, the existence of certain individuals (usually relatives of neighbors) who crossed the ocean, similar to founding fathers who then returned either bringing money or nick-names (The American) which marked their belonging to a different space and the taking on of a new identity. Industrial workers returned and bought land; sophisticated aunts were sending pictures back to the home country where families appear exhibiting a bourgeois lifestyle, a healthy economic background, poney drawn carriages and children dressed up in the fashion of the times. Aunts that nobody knows anything about anymore, remembered with little enthusiasm, more interesting for the researchers than the ones telling the story. The new spaces of abundance are elsewhere now and America in the 20’s is no more than an insignificant puzzle piece. In the era of globalisation in which Romania imports the values of American consumerism, the industrialized America of the past is no longer representative.

In an important volume for those interested in the inner-workings of social memory, Paul Connerton analyses the case of the First World War in order to develop a theory about the way in which people remember apparently defining moments or refuse to remember them. The narrative of the 20th century, Connerton says, cannot exclude the Great War (meaning the First World War) because, compared to the Second World War that meant the dislocation of soldiers and trench warfare far from home, in the First World War many soldiers fought close to home. The archetypal narrative in this sense, the researcher claims, is that of the Battle of the Somme. Apparently, the remembering of this episode is iconic, but different for the participants. The manner in which the participants choose to relay their memory to their ancestors is revealing in regards to what the direct participants understood happened. The phenomenon of transmission has been analyzed by Carlo Levi, quoted by Connerton, starting with this significant historic event. While in exile, in the 30’s, in the village of Gagliano, in southern Italy, Levi discovered a monument dedicated to the heroes of the First World War. Around 50 names were inscribed on the monument, which seemed that almost all the families in the village had at least a relative who died in the war. More than that, veterans who participated in the fighting were still alive in the village, so Levi managed to speak to them.

None of the interviewees talked about the events of the war, although a small amount of time had passed since its conclusion, and the veterans were numerous. To the surprise of the doctor turned researcher, all the veterans spoke about another war. They spoke about the Brigand War that had taken place six decades before and that could be found in the stories of all villagers, including women and youth. Part of their collective memory, that war had taken on mythic proportions of an almost subconscious nature. Similar to the villagers in Cagliano’s story, the villagers from the border area of the Banat do not talk about leaving for the New World (a rare event, for the 20th century), about aunts or uncles who crossed the Atlantic (which, in itself, must have been an unforgettable experience) and who were sometimes their contemporaries and who, in some cases, returned to the community. On the other hand, they all talk about the migration to their villages which happened 300 years ago, the migration of the Swabians. A more recent event, and apparently a more impactful one is filtered through the relationship between memory and forgetting, passed into silence to make room for another, come from imemorial-mythic times, upon which there is little factual control but more freedom of mythic movement. The coming of the Swabians into the Banat written down in numerous Heimatbücher is re-told or at least mentioned as a defining moment for the community.

A BUILDER OF CIVILISATION IN THE BANAT, A MIGRANT IN ROMANIA

Romania has never been a colonial state in its entire history, a state that would wish to become a civilising factor or one that wished to transmit to others the values of the West. It did though annex regions that used to be the colonies of an Empire. A delicate subject, and put in perhaps terms that do not align to political correctness, the Banat is configured more like an el doradoof confinias, rather than one of colonisations. It seems the the Danube Swabians came to the Banat out of their own volition centuries before, drawn towards it like some promised land, an area devoid of conflict, a land of common ground. A land they took over, mapped, plowed and then left behind and to which they periodically return. The Banat, a space of Swabians without any Swabians had instead become a place holding their memory which is talked about but not experienced.

Accomplished in three waves separated by a few centuries, the colonisation meant organized migration, orchestrated by either the Empire or big land owners, the first example being that of the Banat and the second relating to the area of Satu Mare. The colonisation politics of Count Mercy, implemented after the establishment of the imperial administration in the Banat, meant bringing in craftsmen into the area, especially in the urban areas, writes R. Graf, the qualified workforce contributing to the economic evolution of the region.

Another perspective, compared to the unqualified peasants who would travel to America two centuries later. The one who wanted to settle in the Banat were exempt from paying taxes, and the new-comers were welcomed with reticence by the natives. It was the beginning of a sinuous relationship between what today the inhabitants of the Banat call natives and new-comers, two categories of otherness that had negotiated, for 300 years, their proximities, group self-images that they belonged to and the group self-images they were dissimilar from.

The colonising Swabian became the civilising Swabian that is being talked about in the border villages. ”The biggest problem of the colonisation of the Banat was constituted by the settling of peasantry that was supposed to turn fallow regions into productive farmland and apply modern cultivation methods. Consequently a recruitment and transport system of colonists was put into place […]”

The superior manner of relating to agriculture converted the Swabians into civilisation bringers; in that sense, the civilising process meant a superior technique in agricultural work that transformed the land into a means of production not just subsistence. In this sense, the bringer of civilisation is the one who has access to abundance, in contrast to the one just working for subsistence. I would dare write that the shift from an authentic and self-sufficient manner of working the land to having a surplus brought about the beginnings of capitalism in the region. And the surplus, once capitalized brings with it not only wealth but also the establishing of inter and intra-community relations.

The good Swabian is the liberating Swabian: ”One of the roles, observed by other authors as well, is that of bringers of civilisation when referring to the colonised German who came to the province. The respective role was highlighted by authors of different ethnicities, although, in german monographies, said role takes on the proportion of myth, as a close analyst of the phenomenon concludes (Bocșan 1996, p.265-283). Another stereotype is that of the liberation of the Banat by the Austrians in the year 1716. The conquering of the Banat from the Ottoman Empire, which had owned the territory until that time, is usually described in detail, taking on the proportions of a founding gesture undertaken by a progenitor.” The founding gestures associated with the Germans from the Banat through written texts, transforms them into mythical parents. Alin Gavreliuc writes about the relationships with the Germans: ”In spite of a reserved welcome in the first years, slowly, beginning with the 18thcentury, ”the German” becomes ”one of us” (Leu, 1996b, p. 242), taking on an identitary reference point for all the other inhabitants of the region (Dumistrăcel,, 1996; Leu, 1996b, 2000b; Chelcea, Lăţea, 2000, pp. 75-86), becoming a social pedagogue, a promoter of a viable economic model based on work and perseverance which has held up until today.”

Bringer of civilization, social pedagogue, these are some of the modalities one can relate to the Swabian community. Initially regarded with apprehension, the Swabians negotiated their local identity in such a way as to become an integral part of the Banat, even in absentia. Along three centuries of cohabitation, the Swabians transformed, alongside the other ethnicities, the image of the native of tha Banat into a melange, in the face of which any form of purism becomes null and void. It is important to mention that, in line with Gavreliuc: ”The unusual situation came up when subjects of a Romanian ethnic origin and considered themselves to be ”native”, became very critical of ”newcomers” – other subjects of Romanian ethnic origin with which they were in a relationship of potential rapport with – also relating to the aforementioned ”newcomers’s” regional origin, activating a mechanism of complex stimuli perception” (Doise, 1973; Tajfel, 1982; Sedikides, Scholper, Insko, 1998). The generic Swabian is perceived as being in keeping with the mixed identity of a native from the Banat, being of that place, while otherness is represented by newcomers from Oltenia, Moldova or the Ardeal, with different grades of strangeness and rejection. One of us is more indicative of the regional while the otherness is represented by the newcomers from the Kingdom (the successive waves of migrants arriving in the Banat starting with the 40’s in the 20th century, after the Swabians were deported to the Soviet Union and then to the Bărăgan; another wave is brought on by the process of collectivisation which meant the movement of populations from underdeveloped economic areas into the Banat). The newcomer is a pejorative manner of defining otherness which has still not been integrated as a term in the practice of discourse, especially when referring to the first half of the 20th century, when the time that had passed from the Grand Union had been insufficient for new identitary negotiations. Paradoxically, the German is the Other and yet ours, while the Romanian ( meaning the one from Oltenia, Moldova or the Ardeal) is of us, yet still the Other. Gavreliuc’s explanation elucidates: ”Whereas for the inhabitant of the Banat the in-group was inevitably formed by representatives of a diverse ethnic spectrum because of heterogeneous ethnicity and cultural pluralism that were historically defined from early on, the psycho-social pattern of interregional differentiation can be part of the explanation. Therefore, we can estimate in a hypothetical register that if the image of ”the German” or ”the Serb” is seen as more positive for the native of the Banat than that of ”the native of Oltenia” or ”the native of Moldova”, this is due in large part to a forced demographic dynamic and natural social mobility rather than politics.”

When the movement of populations becomes state politics, hence taking on an authoritarian dimension, in the sense that in certain time periods and in certain regions we are dealing with powerful states and vulnerable citizens, in which the state enacts violence upon its citizens, in the sense which Max Weber refers to, the images of otherness conform to state politics. One of the less discussed episoded linked with population displacement in the 20th century among Swabian communities is that of the refugee exodus during the Second World War, a massive migration from rural areas, an episode that is placed alongside successive deportations (either to the USSR or the Bărăgan). Lenauheim, for example, reveals the following data: ”Of the 2426 inhabitants of Lenauheim, 283 were drafted into the army, 1053 were refugees, 884 returned and 184 stayed in other countries, building a new home in Germany, Austria, France, England and America.”

The moment of refuge, that is still talked about in Lenauheim, is recounted in the following manner: ”In September 1944, some German units were haphazardly established in the Serbian Banat, occupied Jimbolia and headed for Timișoara. These German units were supplemented with the forced recruitment of all youngsters of 17 and upwards. The commanding element of these units, as well as the political leaders of the Popular Group that passed the border, urged the population on to seek refuge from the Russians as the war front was coming closer. In haste, long horse-drawn carts were loaded up with food, clothing and bed-clothes etc., protected by a roof against the weather. The best horses were harnessed and the population left on the 16th of September, whole families forming a long column, heading towards Jimbolia, Knićanin (Rudolfsgnad)  (over the Tisza river) through  Bácska until the Danube and at Baja, across the Danube, through Panonia, along Lake Balaton into Austria; St. Pölten, Krems until the Forest of Bohemia, in the area of Krumman up to Oberlin […] A few weeks later, the houses of the refugees were occupied by so called <<colonists>>. They were the ones that prepared for the penury that was so necessary in order for Communism to take root.” The moment of refuge, towards Bohemia, is similar to an exodus, an endless wagon train snaking its way through the steppe, over the Tisza and the Danube. From the recordings of the summer of 2019, we found out that somebody from the German Army coordinated this action that directed the inhabitants of Lenauheim towards the township of Krumau in Czechoslovakia.

One of the interlocutors left together with his parents, his sister, grandmother and small nephews, and upon arrival were taken in by families of inhabitants that housed them for several months, until the end of the war. They received ration books for clothing and food, the children went to school, they interacted with American troops that had reached Czechoslovakia. From these interactions there lingers the memory of oranges, American cigarettes and bowling. Coming back home meant retracing the whole route and closing the circle. As the monography of the village states, the Swabian houses were inhabited by Romanian colonists brought from different regions of the country. A new identity negotiation was about to begin. The Swabian communities continue their movement flux, imposed on them by a new political regime, one of repression. The final movement was leaving for Germany, which determined a re-definition of the Banat: ”Especially in the last years of the Ceaușescu regime, when the emigration of Swabians became state politics openly encouraged, or in the years of transition, when political liberalisation generated a veritable exodus of Germans, the identitary map of the Banat changing abruptly, beyond the critically acceptable point of natural social mobility.”

WHAT WAS I SAYING?
REFUGEES… REFUGEES. BETTER SAID, DEPORTEES.

On the night between the 18th and the 19th of June 1951, tens of thousands of people from the border area of Romania with Yugoslavia were taken from their homes and deported into the Romanian Plain.  Ever since they were called deportees or bărăganians, and they tell of the experience to whoever asks about life ”on the Bărăgan”. The bibliography dedicated to the deportation is consistent and in continuous publication. The one which opened the way was Smaranda Vultur’s volume, History lived, history recounted, published in 1996, after years of fieldwork in villages inhabited by both Romanians and Swabians. The direction set by S. Vultur cannot be changed, those who added to her work include – among others – Daniel Vighi and Viorel Marineasa, Romulus Rusan, Rafael Mirciov, along with testimonials like that of Elenei Spijavca, a deportee who kept an almost daily journal throughout the deportation in the Bărăgan.

The report on the condemnation of the crimes of Communism contains information about the population displacements from the period 1945-1964, that proceeded under the Soviet model: ”Inspired by Stalinism, they represented forms of violence based on political reasoning, against the fundamental rights of individuals (right to property, to a normal life, to freedom of movement etc.)”.

The social tissue was torn apart as well as family relationships, the structure of transmitting ”actual and symbolic goods”, state authority was not only enacted on an individual level, but also at the community level, through the enforcing of the politics of fear as an instrument of control. ”Documents attest the Decision of the Council of Ministers nr. 1554 from the 22nd of August 1952 and the decision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs from the 25th of August for the establishment of work colonies, of forced domicile and work battalions as being the legal framework of decisions regarding the sending into work colonies and fixing O.D. (obligatory domicile) as well as the meeting of these commissions that will take said decisions.” The reduction of individual and community capacity for movement meant a moment of coercition that was added on top of the struggle for survival. The testimonies of direct participants, interviewed decades after their return, attest to the struggles during deportation, sometimes depicted in lyrical form: ”And they left us near a pole/ Worse than an animal.” or ”We built houses here/ Out of beaten earth mixed with straw/ Covered with reeds/ Worse than cattle sheds.”

Departure is forced, they are loaded onto train cars used for the transportation of cattle, going from the steppe of the Banat towards the Bărăgan, a journey lasting several days throughout which the people are not informed where they are being taken. The thought of Siberia, where some had returned only to be displaced once more offers a possible explanation regarding the new destination. At the end of the journey into the unknown, the locals from the Banat are unloaded, given a plot of land for a house and now all that is left is for them to become founders. The freshly founded localities are numerous: “Viișora, Olaru, Dâlga, Fundata, Dropia, Pelican, Ezeru, in the region of Bucharest: Salcâmi, Răchitoasa, Movila Gâldăului, Valea Viilor, Lătești, în region of Constanţa; Măzăreni, Zagna, Bumbăcari, Schei, Frumușiţa, Rubla (Valley of the Călmăţui) in the region of Galaţi.”Over 44.000 families stayed in the new localities until 1956. The motives conjured up for the massive deportation had to do with class struggle, although officially the accusation was titoism (the support for the Tito regime in former Yugoslavia) and the securing of the state border: ”The comparison of categories deemed as deportable in 1951 with those indicated by documents written up as the leaving towards the Bărăgan took place, indicate the political shifts that occurred after the death of Stalin, but also the continuity of an age dominated by his tutelage. Therefore, although a report of the Ministry of Internal Affairs from the 10th of April 1956/70 explain the deportation measure on the grounds of securing the border, if we look into the accusations brought upon the heads of families on the lists that were used to set them free, we notice a diversity of indictments: exploitation, nationalism, smuggling, suspicion of espionage etc., the same that were stated under the directive that was used for deportation.”

An individual and communal decentering took place, through the loss of property and of a place in the world. Everyday life was heavily disrupted by an event that acted on entire villages, weakening and not strengthening the border area. It’s interesting to mention that the border area and its securing which speaks volumes about the relationship a state has about its own identity and that of its neighbors, became the cause and space for trauma, and the security of the border as stated in documents actually meant its vulnerabilisation through massive dislocation. On the other hand, relocation meant identitary fluidity as well as an inversion of the normal order of things. Life narratives were destroyed, everyday discourse becoming contaminated with the new status: an enemy element. A new type of language with some key elements was created in a time when the space of the Bărăgan was tamed. People become elements, the agents of the Security and of the Ministry of Internal Affairs are permanently and generically called ”them”. The people in the Bărăgan become ”bad, plague victims, thieves, gipsies, wrong doers, immoral, highway-men – and as a form of absolute otherness – Koreans”.  Although Post-trauma discourses are not the discourses of victims or those of revenge. They are, in a way of fairy-tale logic, discourse of the triumph of good over evil, of regaining balance, about the loss of land, family, place, but also about the gaining of a new identity, even if at first one that was very hard to take on.

In September 2019, one of my interlocutors told me, with tears in his eyes, that when returning from deportation, the other inhabitants of the village called them refugees, superimposing the much used term the media uses today, to describe their condition then. As my next questions denoted skepticism, the interlocutor cleared up the matter, declaring that actually they were called deportees.

The escape of deportation came with the recounting of deportation which brought with it the ”healing function of telling stories, catharsis that sustains remembering and storytelling.” Account obtained in the decades since the returning from deportation not only recount trauma, Smaranda Vultur writes.

”They are also an attempt at putting back personal biography, making it bearable, in a way an attempt at reporting upon a series of events that make up the story of a life.” Many times ”the accomplishment of the children was the way in which destiny was re-balanced” inside the life narrative, earned diplomas compensating for a hi-jacked life. Many times, the deportees make up for their loss and end up, in certain situations, after the Revolution, prospering or regaining that which had been taken away from them, or by other means. Many times, real goods take the place of symbolic losses. The ones that deported them, that made up the lists as well as handling dislocation, the generic ”them” have no place in the traumatizing narrative of the deported. What is missing from the fairy-tale situation is that of direct confrontation, but, as a narrative surrogate, a conflict still emerges.

While returning from deportation, new inhabitants occupy the houses of the deportees. Uncivilized, unbalanaced, unused to the spirit of the Banat, these substitutes for the natives of the Banat are responsible for the deplorable shape the houses in. Many times, one of the classic situations presented recounts that during winter, the new inhabitants of the Banat used the wooden parquet of Swabian houses as heating material in the winter. The episode is extremely controversial and causes instinctual responses because it sets together two manners of relating to the household: the house, a place of status in the village (for the natives of the Banat) versus the house as resource (a utilitarian manner of rapport, making the living space into a tool); for the natives of the Banat it is inconceivable that upon returning from a place where they struggled for survival, to return to a place where others are now doing the same. These are two alternative manners of relating to the meaning of getting through and overcoming certain contexts.


This study was originally published in the MOVING FIREPLACES.2019 book.

Photo credit: Diana Bilec

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