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European City in Comparative Perspective: Seventh International Conference on Urban History  

Τίτλος:The role of oral history in understanding the past
Κύρια Υπευθυνότητα:Popa, Maria Raluca
Θέματα:City planning -- Romania -- Bucharest -- History -- 20th century
Urban renewal -- Romania -- Bucharest -- History -- 20th century
Πολεοδομία -- Ρουμανία -- Βουκουρέστι -- Ιστορία -- 20ός αιώνας
Αστική ανάπλαση -- Ρουμανία -- Βουκουρέστι -- Ιστορία -- 20ός αιώνας
Ημερομηνία Έκδοσης:2008-02-08
Abstract:During the 1980s, the southern part of Bucharest’s urban core had been radically altered. These events are known in most of the recent literature as “the socialist destruction of Bucharest’s city center.” The present study shows that, with the help of oral history, what is perceived as a traumatic recent past can be better comprehended and more easily accepted. In a way, oral history, as used during the research for this study, can be considered as a tool that helps the process of “coming to terms with the past,” as the process is known in post-socialist historical literature. During 2002 and 2003 I conducted a series of extended oral history interviews with 15 members of different professions connected with Bucharest’s restructuring during the 1980s. Most of the interviewees were architects and planners, but also historians of the city, curators and specialists involved with monuments’ protection. In doing these interviews, I consistently attempted to challenge the common wisdom that shows 1980s president Nicolae Ceausescu as the diabolical mind behind the project, the “real” author of Bucharest’s restructuring. My study shows that, although the political regime in Romania in the 1980s was no doubt an authoritarian one, there is more to the history of Bucharest’s restructuring than the supposedly insane drive for destruction of the socialist leader. My study attempts to challenge the mainstream interpretation of the socialist reconstruction of the Romanian capital as the result of a single historical agent: a mad dictator. The oral history interviews helped undermine this mainstream interpretation on at least two dimensions. First, from the story that architects and planners told, it became apparent that the restructuring of Bucharest was the result of a continuous negotiation between the specialists and the party leadership. Even when open negotiation failed, specialists found ways of deceiving the leadership by employing cunning maneuvers. Thus, more historical agents, previously hidden from the story told by the mainstream interpretation, could emerge. Second, several interviews with historians, art historians and people involved with monuments’ protection showed that local elites have most of the times had an ambiguous relationship with the inherited city. Many historical monuments that were destroyed were not enough known, not even by the specialists. The city as a whole, especially its center, had many times been considered problematic, too “Balkan,” too wide and too unusual for “European” standards. Finally, most of the interviews show that there has been a long history of restructuring attempts in Bucharest and that many specialists knew about these cases when they embarked upon the most recent and most disruptive attempt to change the inherited urban structure of Bucharest. This entire intellectual context surrounding the 1980s restructuring process shows that a thorough understanding of the recent past should go beyond inculpating the leader, the political system or the misfortunes of history.
Βιβλιογραφική Παραπομπή:Paper presented at Seventh International Conference on Urban History: European City in Comparative Perspective, Panteion University, Athens - Piraeus, Greece, 27-30 October 2004, Session: Constructing urban memories: the role of oral testimony
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