Vladimir Tismăneanu (b. July 4, 1951) is a Romanian and American political scientist, sociologist, and professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. A specialist in political systems and compared politics, he is chair of the editorial committee (2004-2008) and editor (1998-2004) of the East European Politics and Societies academic review and director of the University of Maryland's Center for the Study of Post-Communist Societies. Tismăneanu is a contributor to several periodicals, including Journal of Democracy, Studia Politica, Sfera Politicii, 22 and Cotidianul.
Tismăneanu's background and work came under intense scrutiny after his 2006 appointment by Romanian President Traian Băsescu as head of the Presidential Commission for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania, which presented its report to the Romanian Parliament on December 18, 2006. There has been much controversy about the choice of Tismăneanu as commission president, about Tismăneanu's choices for commission members, and about the conclusions of the report.
Vladimir Tismăneanu grew up in the exclusive Primăverii quarter of Bucharest. During his years of study at the Lyceum No. 24, which was then largely attended by students belonging to the nomenklatura, he was in the same class as Nicu Ceauşescu, son of communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu, as well as the children of Leonte Răutu, Nicolae Doicaru and Silviu Brucan.
In his preface to the Romanian-language edition of his 2003 book Stalinism for All Seasons, Tismăneanu indicated that, starting in 1970, he became interested in critiques of Marxism-Leninism and the Romanian communist regime in particular, after reading banned works made available to him by various of his acquaintances (among others, writer Dumitru Ţepeneag and his wife, translator Mona Ţepeneag, as well as Ileana, the daughter of Communist Party dignitary Gheorghe Gaston Marin). He stated that, at the time, he was influenced by Ghiţă Ionescu's Communism in Romania, as well as by Marxist, Western Marxist, Democratic and Libertarian Socialist scholarship (among others, the ideas of Georg Lukács, Leszek Kołakowski, Leon Trotsky, Antonio Gramsci, and the Frankfurt School). According to Tismăneanu, his family background allowed him insight into the hidden aspects of Communist Party history, which was comparing with the ideological demands of the Ceauşescu regime, and especially with the latter's emphasis on nationalism.
He graduated as a valedictorian from the University of Bucharest's Faculty of Sociology in 1974, and received his Ph.D. from the same institution in 1980, presenting the thesis "The Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School and Contemporary Left-Wing Radicalism" (Teoria Critică a Şcolii de la Frankfurt şi radicalismul de stînga contemporan). During the period, he was received into the ranks of the Union of Communist Youth (UTC), authored several articles which displayed support for the regime, and, as vice-president of the UTC's Communist Student Association, took part in authoring and compiling propaganda aimed at students.
Between 1974 and 1981, Tismăneanu worked as a sociologist, employed by the Urban Sociology Department of the Institute for Designing Typified Buildings in Bucharest. He was not given approval to hold an academic position.
In September 1981, a short while after the death of his father, he accompanied his mother on a voyage to Spain, after she had been granted a request to visit the sites where she and her husband had fought as young people. Unlike Hermina Tismăneanu, he opted not to return, and soon after left for Venezuela, before ultimately settling in the United States in 1982.
He lived first in Philadelphia, where he was employed by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (1983-1990), while teaching at the University of Pennsylvania (1985-1990). At the time, he began contributing comments on local politics to Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, beginning with an analysis of the "dynastic socialism" in Romania, centered on the political career of Nicu Ceauşescu. In 1990, Tismăneanu received a professorship at the University of Maryland, College Park and moved to Washington, D.C. Since the Romanian Revolution of 1989, he has been visiting his native country on a regular basis. In 2006, Romanian President Traian Băsescu appointed him head of the Presidential Commission for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania, which presented its report to the Romanian Parliament in December of that year.
He is married to Mary Frances Sladek, and has fathered a son, Adam.
According to an article by Victor Gaetan, a Romanian-American businessman, originally published in the op-ed section of The Washington Post as a reply to the paper's earlier comments (which had been sympathetic towards the Commission's investigation), and hosted by Ziua newspaper, Tismăneanu's doctoral thesis is "a vitriolic sermon against Western values". The same work was nonetheless cited as evidence that Tismăneanu was "a liberal student of Euro-Marxism" by University of Bucharest professor Daniel Barbu (who contrasted Tismăneanu with the official ideological background, as one in a group of "outstanding authors", alongside Pavel Câmpeanu, Henri H. Stahl, Zigu Ornea, and Vlad Georgescu).
Among the critics of Tismăneanu's early activities stands the philosopher Gabriel Liiceanu, who stated that they were incompatible with the moral status required from a leader of the Commission. However, Liiceanu endorsed the incrimination of Communist regime and eventually the report itself, engaging in a public debate with Cristian Tudor Popescu and Octavian Paler over its implications. After the presentation of the Raport Final and the official condemnation of the communist regime by President Băsescu in a joint session of the Romanian parliament, Liiceanu openly expressed his support for Vladimir Tismăneanu and endorsed the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania. In November 2007, Liiceanu's publishing house, Humanitas, published in volume format the Raport Final. Furthermore, Liiceanu, in the laudatio for Tismăneanu, when the latter was granted the award of the Group for Social Dialogue (January 2008), openly retracted his initial statements about Tismăneanu's academic and moral stature:
Vladimir Tismăneanu was the perfect person for completing the task of coordinating the Commission, considering that those who spoke after being exposed to this ideology explained it best. Vladimir Tismăneanu, besides owning such insider knowledge on what is communism at multiple levels, he then had an ideal competence, acquired and validated within the American academic environment, in order to be able to study this subject with both familiarity and distance. He is the most qualified intellectual in the world for analyzing Romanian communism. His book Stalinism for all Seasons is the classical study in the field.
Beginning in 2004, Tom Gallagher, a Professor of Ethnic Conflict and Peace at the University of Bradford and author of influential works on Romanian politics, expressed criticism of Vladimir Tismăneanu on various grounds.
In this context, Gallagher authored a series of articles critical of Tismăneanu's involvement in local Romanian issues in the post-1989 era, and especially of his relations with former President Ion Iliescu (one of the leaders of the Social Democratic Party, PSD). According to Gallagher, Tismăneanu "was useful to Iliescu in 2004 because the then President recognised the type of figure he was beneath the western reformist image he has cultivated".
Gallagher writes that Tismăneanu's book of interviews with Iliescu, Marele Şoc, "was ready to depict Ion Iliescu as an enlightened leader who, despite some flaws, had been instrumental in consolidating Romanian democracy", and that the volume, which he called "one of the strangest books to emerge from the Romanian transition", did not include, to Iliescu's advantage, any mentions of the controversial aspects of his presidency ("any serious enquiries about the mineriade, the manipulation of nationalism, the denigration of the historic parties [the National Peasants' Party and the National Liberal Party], civic movements and the monarchy, the explosion of corruption, or indeed the continuing political influence and fabulous wealth of the heirs of the pre-1989 intelligence service"). In addition, he claimed that, in agreeing to interview Iliescu, Vladimir Tismăneanu had come to contradict his own assessment of the post-Revolution regime, which he had earlier defined as "of a populist, corporatist and semi-fascist type".
Gallagher expressed further criticism on Tismăneanu, writing that "he wishes to build up a vast patron-client network in contemporary history and political science not dissimilar to what the PSD did in those areas where it desired control". Referring to Tismăneanu's books, he also wrote: "But what about the role of [Communist Romania's secret police] the Securitate? In his books, [Tismăneanu] has never been especially interested in their role. Much of the time, he has seemed far more concerned with creating a psycho-biography of the life and times of his illegalist family in order to overcome the long lasting shock of having been cast into the wilderness for over twenty years when his family fell from grace under Gheorghiu-Dej."
In other pieces he authored, Gallagher questioned Tismăneanu's expertise, comparing him to the Romanian-French businessman Adrian Costea, a person close to Iliescu who stood accused of encouraging political corruption, and claiming that he was using the academic environment as a venue for lobbying. He also took a negative view of his colleague's earlier collaboration with Jurnalul Naţional, a newspaper owned by Conservative Party leader Dan Voiculescu (who is suspected of links with the Securitate). Additionally, Gallagher complained about the publicized visit Tismăneanu paid to Gigi Becali, leader of the nationalist New Generation Party – Christian Democratic, at his residence in Pipera.
Tismăneanu replied to some of Gallagher's accusations in a manner described by Cotidianul's Cristian Pătrăşconiu as "discreet". In an interview with Jurnalul Naţional, arguing that Marele Şoc largely reflected Iliescu's own beliefs, which he had wanted to render accurately, and stating that "all I could do was to obtain the maximum of what can be obtained through dialog with [Iliescu]". He depicted Gallagher's attitude as "an outbreak of resentments", and indicated that "the only praise I could offer [Iliescu]" was in regard to the latter's respect for pluralism in front of authoritarianism. In later statements on the issue, he argued that Gallagher concerns about a supposed change in political views had been unfounded, while expressing regret over the fact that "I had not highlighted [...] in those sections I authored, certain elements that would have made it clear for the reader where I stand". Elsewhere, he responded to claims made about his contacts with Becali by admitting that the visit was inappropriate.
By spring 2007, Gallagher and Tismăneanu reconciled, explaining that this was largely owed to their common support for Traian Băsescu, whose conflict with the Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu cabinet resulted in a temporary impeachment, voted by Parliament representatives of the National Liberal and Conservative parties, the PSD, the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania and the nationalist Greater Romania Party. Băsescu was to be reinstated through the referendum in April. Commenting on these developments, Vladimir Tismăneanu indicated that he and Gallagher, together with British historian Dennis Deletant, had decided to campaign against the Parliament's decision and in favor of Traian Băsescu, a measure which he equated with support for "pluralism and transparency". Gallagher himself noted that the initiative was motivated by "the need to display solidarity in order to prevent the replacement of democracy with the collective autocracy of economic barons and their political allies. That would destabilize the Balkans, would discredit the EU and would place the country on the Eastern trajectory."
Nervertheless, Gallagher's reasons appear to be more complex, for he published on September 14th, 2007, an article in Romania Liberawhere he fully explains his position and feelings toward Vladimir Tismăneanu and his role in the process of decommunization and democratization of Romania. Gallagher states the following:
Inevitably, I was among those who were initially skeptical about president Basescu’s nomination. Marele Soc, the volume of interviews by Tismăneanu with Iliescu was published in 2004 – a time when The Social Democratic Party were going through a lot of trouble to quiet international voices in order to cover the lack of significant reform of key state institutions. Tismăneanu argued at the time that because of agreeing to the NATO and EU accession, Iliescu [then president of the country] was signaling his wishes of reconciliation with the democratic quarters in the country. This statement obviously merits an evaluation across time. Both the author and others gradually became convinced that Iliescu’s intentions were far from targeting pluralism. He only aimed at legitimizing the elite whose leader he was and which he propelled out of communism to a new era essentially defined by violence, abuse and repression, as it was obvious already by 1990-’91. For purposes of revealing such interest groups, the political scientist risked both his name and life. Both his results ion the academic field and his unwavering determination must be appreciated and treasured, more so considering the insults and calumny showered upon him by the postcommunist clique and their followers in the mass-media. I wish to express to Vladimir Tismăneanu my gratitude and outmost appreciation for his and the Commission’s efforts, hoping that our initial disagreements are from now on belonging only to the past.
In 2006 and early 2007, Ziua newspaper repeatedly published accusatory claims that Tismăneanu had left with support from the the Securitate, that he had settled abroad with assistance from the Communist Party of Venezuela, and that, after escaping communist censorship, he continued to publish materials supporting official communist tenets. Tismăneanu has rejected all allegations, indicating that they contradicted data present in, among others, files kept on him by the Securitate and the official conclusion reached by the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS).
The article was also criticized by intellectuals such as Ovidiu Şimonca, Ioan T. Morar and Mircea Mihăieş. Writing for Observator Cultural, Şimonca argued that it was evidence of "defamation", that the information, which he deemed "horrific" and "hard to believe", was not substantiated by evidence, and that Ziua had vested interest in spreading rumors about Vladimir Tismăneanu. He also asked if Ziua 's campaign was not itself motivated by "Securitate structures". In an editorial for the local newspaper Monitorul de Suceava, titled Prietenul meu, Vladimir Tismăneanu ("My friend, Vladimir Tismăneanu"), Morar dismissed the article as "hogwash, egregious lies and let-ins", commenting that the claims made in regard to Tismăneanu's stay in Venezuela were "an aberration stemming from a rather obvious psychiatric diagnosis". He also made references to the fact that Ziua's editor in chief, Sorin Roşca-Stănescu, was himself a proven Securitate informant, arguing that the tactics employed by the newspaper in question were the equivalent of "blackmail".
Soon afterwards, Roşca-Stănescu issued a formal apology for those particular claims (while expressing further criticism of various aspects of Tismăneanu's biography).
Based on data which he indicated formed part of his CNSAS file, Tismăneanu also specified that he was the object of constant Securitate surveillance after his departure, that his mother was subject to pressures, and that derogatory comments on him, including a coded reference to his Jewish background (tunărean), were gathered from various informants and agents. He made mention of the fact that, according to the documents (the last of which were allegedly compiled in April 1990), the post-Revolution Foreign Intelligence Directorate had continued to monitor him. Tismăneanu also indicated his belief that the author of a denunciation note, who used the name Costin and recommended himself as a Faculty of Sociology professor, was the same person who, after 1989, had sent a letter to his University of Maryland employer, in which he had called attention to the communist activities of Leonte Tismăneanu (according to Vladimir Tismăneanu, the letter was dismissed as "abject" and irrelevant by its recipient).
In January 2007, Ziua published in facsimile a document presented as part of a separate file kept on Tismăneanu by the Counter-Espionage unit of the Securitate, dated 1987. According to this document, Tismăneanu was well appreciated for his professional and Romanian Communist Party work prior to 1981, and had held the position of lecturer on the Propaganda Commission of the Communist Party Municipal Committee for Bucharest. The same document also contradicts Tismăneanu's indication that he had not been allowed to travel to the West prior to 1981, by stating that he had been approved tourist visas for both the Eastern Bloc and "capitalist states". The facsimile was accompanied by an open letter containing similar accusatory claims made by Dan Mureşan, who recommended himself as the political consultant of a company working for the United States Republican Party, and relying on the assertion that Tismăneanu had settled in the United States only after 1985.
As leaders of anti-communist opinion inside the former Eastern Bloc, Lech Wałęsa and Vladimir Bukovsky had been requested by Ziua to comment on the Commission's activities. When asked if he knows Tismăneanu, Wałęsa replied "No, I don't know, I don't have such a good memory", while Bukovsky stated "I don't know Tismăneanu, I know nothing about him. I would like people to understand what they did in the past. He too should understand the part he played". In December 2007, Ziua also published comments made by the American researcher and political commentator Richard Hall, who claimed that Tismăneanu's defense tactic in the wake of the Report having been made public was to answer to "the most stupid calumnies" brought against him, but to ignore reasonable criticism. Regarding Tismăneanu's aproach to the Romanian Revolution of 1989, Hall considers it "amateuristic", arguing that Tismăneanu "must not have read too much on this subject.
Several commentators have argued that the negative reception in sections of the press and the politics was partly due to the investigation's implications, as the latter's overall condemnation of the Communist regime has opened the road for further debates regarding the links between various contemporary politicians and the former Communist structures (examples cited include the Social Democratic Party's Ion Iliescu, and Adrian Păunescu, as well as Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor and Conservative Party leader Dan Voiculescu). According to Cristian Pătrăşcănoiu, the conflict between Iliescu and Tismăneanu explained why, in the second edition of Marele Şoc, the latter's name was removed from the cover (a decision he attributed to Iliescu himself).
Writing for Evenimentul Zilei in May 2007, Vladimir Tismăneanu accused Ziua of "intoxication", and argued that the journal's stated anti-communism was meant to avert attention from its association with Traian Băsescu's critics, at a time when the president was impeached and reinstated by popular suffrage. Commenting that the anti-Băsescu group was setting itself against "popular sovereignty" and ruling through a "continuous parliamentary putsch", he also claimed that Ziua and other press venues, including Voiculescu's Jurnalul Naţional and Antena 1, were engaged in a campaign to discredit Băsescu. In his view, the coalition of political forces itself represented a "black quadrilateral" reuniting diverse left-wing forces and "camouflaged-green" groups inspired by the fascist Iron Guard, whose goal he alleged was in "establishing an oligarchic-neo-Securist dictatorship". Tismăneanu stated that this was connected with earlier criticism of the Commission, arguing that, despite its editors professing anti-communism, "Ziua has been doing nothing other than throw mud at the [Commission] members and at the very purpose of the Commission."
In July of the same year, he sued the Greater Romania Party journals Tricolorul and România Mare, on grounds of calumny, in reference to the series of articles they published in the wake of the Commission report. Tismăneanu, who demanded 100,000 Euro in compensation, indicated that he also contemplated suing the two magazines in front of a United States court, in case his case would be denied in Romania. He specified that the publications he cited were responsible for issuing "defamatory, xenophobic and antisemitic" articles targeting him personally. In particular, he referred to accusations that he had stolen archived documents from his native country and that had been enlisted by the Securitate. As he recalls in an interview with Jim Compton from the Washington Post, "A Greater Romania Party senator made a speech in Parliament, about 'five reasons why Tismăneanu should not head the commission,' and reason number three was that I was a Jew."
This was part of a common initiative: in parallel, Gabriel Liiceanu and journalist Dan Tapalagă sued Ziua newspaper on similar grounds, referring to various allegations made against them — Liiceanu claimed that, in his case, Ziua had organized a campaign of libel after he had decided to rally with supporters of the Report. According to Adevărul journal, the three argued that their initiative was an attempt "to purge the language of the Romanian press, and to put a stop to the publishing of articles that «poison» public opinion."
An extended polemic was sparked between the Tismăneanu Commission and the dissident writer Paul Goma. Goma, who initially accepted an invitation to become a Commission member, as issued by Tismăneanu himself, claims to have been excluded after a short while by "the self-styled 'eminent members of civil society'". According to Tismăneanu, this happened only after Goma engaged in and publicized personal attacks aimed at other Commission members, allegedly calling Tismăneanu "a Bolshevik offspring", based on his family history; Goma denied having said these exact words, but later confirmed that he supported such views. He also indicated that attacks on Tismăneanu had been prompted by rumors that the latter had sided with other intellectuals in condemning as "antisemitic" the views he had expressed on issues pertaining to the 1940 Soviet occupation of Bessarabia; Tismăneanu denied ever having made public his attitudes on this particular matter, and Goma consequently apologized for not having sufficiently verified the information. The Commission justified the exclusion based on Goma's implicit and later explicit refusal to recognize the board as a valid instrument; Goma maintains his view that personal issues played the bigger part in the final decision.
The fact that Sorin Antohi, who was a confirmed former collaborator of the Communist regime's Securitate, and known to have falsified his academic credentials, was selected for the Commission's panel, has prompted further criticism. Antohi resigned in September 2006.
Raport Final and the activity of the Presidential Commission did received a full endorsement by the American academic community. Georgetown professor, Charles King, stated the following in his review of the Commission's Raport:
the report is the most serious, in-depth, and far-reaching attempt to understand Romania’s communist experience ever produced. It was released only weeks before Romania’s accession to the European Union and marked the culmination of months of feverish research and writing. It is based on thousands of pages of archival documents, recent scholarship in several languages, and the comparative experience of other European countries, all refracted through the critical lenses provided by some of Romania’s most talented, and most abrasively honest, thinkers. It covers virtually every aspect of communism as a lived system, from the installation of Communist party officials during the postwar occupation, through the scope and structure of the instruments of coercion, to collectivization, the fate of religious institutions, the economy, national minorities, education, and other spheres. [...] The Tismăneanu commission’s chief tasks had to do with both morality and power: to push Romanian politicians and Romanian society into drawing a line between past and present, putting an end to nostalgia for an alleged period of greatness and independence, and embracing the country’s de facto cultural pluralism and European future.Other analyses of the Raport Final and Vladimir Tismăneanu's contribution to the condemnation of the communist regime in Romania appeared in Journal of Democracy, in Problems of Post-Communism, and are forthcoming in Eastern European Politics and Societies and Journal of Cold War Studies.
Adrian Marino, provided the following description to Vladimir Tismăneanu’s activity:
The works of the political scientist Vladimir Tismăneanu, who owns a double cultural identity, American and Romanian, indicate a full-scale research agenda. His books are first rate, both in Romanian and in English […] They are representative of what has effectively shaped up nowadays into the Romanian political science…When reading and studying Vladimir Tismăneanu, one enters a new realm, where, most importantly, one experiences a novel approach to writing. He rejects the usage of empty and inordinate formulae. He saves the characteristic Romanian creative writing, with its inconsistency and amorphousness, only for the literary trash bin. He sports a jaunty style, utterly lacking any inhibition or obsequiousness. Some label him as “Marxist anticommunist”. I’d rather say he used to be one. It seems remarkable to me the manner in which he achieves a freedom of spirit, lucidly and sharply applied to his present critique. His activity also fills a considerable void. It informs and it disseminates ideas. This is, undoubtedly, his fundamental virtue.
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