Jahrelang hörte sie diese schonungs- losen Sätze ihres Vaters:Nichts taugst du.Nichts wird jemals aus dir.Und niemand wird dich heiraten. Lange hat sie ihm geglaubt,dem Vater,dem Parteifunktionär. Nun trifft sie ihn in ihrer ursprünglichen Heimat Rumänien wieder,nach sie- ben Jahren im Westen.In diesem Augenblick holt sie ihr vergangenes Lebenein, die unverarbeiteten Gefühle und Gedanken.
In »Vaterflucht« verarbeitet die Autorin ihre eigene Jugend und den Vater-Tochter-Konflikt,eine aufwüh-lende Geschichte vom Zusammen- prall der Generationen.Zwanzig Jahre nach Ende des Chaucesko-Regimes ein interessantes Zeitdokument über dieDiktatur,die die Menschen zu jener Zeit in Rumänien beherrschte.
»Der Roman entfaltet eine Kraft,die den Leser zu fesseln und zu erschütternvermag.« Der Tagesspiegel
Carmen-Francesca Banciu geboren 1955 im rumänischen Lipova,studierte Kirchenmalerei und Außenhandel in Bukarest.Die Verleihung des Internationalen Kurzgeschichtenpreises der Stadt Arnsberg hatte für sie 1985 ein Publikationsverbot in Rumänien zur Folge.Seit 1991 lebt sie als freie Autorin in Berlin und leitet Seminare für kreatives Schreiben. BeiRotbuch erschienen zuletzt der Roman »Das Lied der traurigen Mutter« (2007) undder Erzählband »Berlin ist mein Paris« (2007).
»Ich möchte mit meinen Romanen einen Beitrag zum besseren Verständnis unserer jüngsten europäi- schen Geschichte,und damit zwischen Ost und West leisten.« Carmen-Francesca Banciu
Neue Grünstraße 18· D-10179 Berlin
Tel. 030 – 23 80 91 13/-16/-25 · Fax 030 – 23 80 91 23
Translated from the German by Elena Mancini
My father is a small, old man with glass orbs in his eye sockets. Since I’ve seen him last—and that’s already a while ago, about seven years ago. Since then his eyes have gotten bluer and glassier and his mouth larger. The silver in his hair gleams brighter. And the color of his skin is healthier. My father believes in the future. My father lives in Romania and believes in the future of socialism. That gives him the strength to carry my heavy suitcases, fully packed with the goods I’ve brought him from the West.
My father doesn’t believe in the West. The West with its profligate prosperity is a fiction to him. A fiction that no one will admit to when it finally proves itself as such. So that no one will laugh at them when they fail and come back. For this reason my father carries the suitcases with enormous strength and refuses to take a taxi. I have to fall into line. Because I’ve just arrived and still have no Romanian money. It’s still too early in the day to exchange my Deutsch-Marks. I have to fall into line. After a twenty-four hour train ride, I follow my father like a drunken hound. I’m the kid again. The good one. The one who would soon rebel.
He’s standing in the station, wearing his old leather coat and his Kyrgysian astrakhan cap, waiting for me. His lips like the blades of a scissor.
His lips were always cutting. Unsparing. You are not worth anything. Nothing will ever come of you. And no one will marry you. For years I have heard these phrases. For years I have carried the scissor wounds within me. The deep scars of this unrelenting way of raising someone to perfection. You are not allowed to make any mistakes, my father would take great pains to tell me. And I have always grasped very soon what was expected of me.
We were an exemplary family. I was proud of that. I was proud of every burden that I could share with my parents. I had to be self-confident, self-critical and responsible. To be able to influence others. So that the world would become a better place.
La valeur n’attend pas le nombre des années. That it was never too soon to prove yourself, was inculcated upon me at a very early age.
We lived in one of the party’s residential settlements, the Partidul Comunist Român, or the “PCR Block”. That’s what our four story apartment house was called. It was the first high rise in our little city. A modern building with running water and a furnished bath for the most modern strata of the country. And we belonged to it.
All of the adult inhabitants of the PCR-Block were actively engaged in the well-being of the country. No, they fought for it. In the class struggle. They were also fighters for the well being of the Motherland and the growth of the Communist Party. All of the fathers and many of the mothers in the building were party functionaries. Propagandists. I had the unspeakable fortune to have two politically conscious fighters in my own family.
We were an exemplary family. And belonged to one of the largest. To one tribe. The tribe of the PCR people.
Even for the children of our tribe, I had to be a role model. Mother and Father expected it of me. And I could not disappoint them. Father, among other things, had taken it upon himself to produce the new human, the utopian being the party urged us to strive for, in his own family. For this reason, I had more duties than the other children. My consciousness. My sense of responsibility had to be greater than that of the others. No childish excuses. No tricks. No playfulness. I can’t remember ever being forgiven for a mistake.
I never had time. I always had to do something. Something useful. Something that would advance me. Something that would help others too. My time had already been strictly planned since my childhood. Rarely did I have time to play. I had to struggle for the permission to be able to be with people my age. Many a time crowds of children stood in front of my door, wanting to free me from my chores. They begged my parents insistently. Tried to convince my mother. Now and again she would give in. With a reproachful look. I knew exactly what it meant. And the lectures I would get afterwards. About the regrettably stupid way I would waste my time. About how regrettable my views on life were. Because you lie in the bed you make. And my parents would sacrifice for me. So that I would have a better life than they did. Because no one had sacrificed that way for them. They had to rely on their own strength to make something of themselves. And no one would have spent so much as a penny on them so that they could learn something. So they could have an education. My father always told me that. As far as mother was concerned, she had been to a boarding school. A private school for well bred daughters.
Piano. Violin. I even got ballet lessons. Even though ballet counted as the final relic of a bourgeois education. Gymnastic training was its Communist equivalent.
For this reason I hate gymnastics. And every form of athletic training.
Piano. Violin. Ballet. Gymnastics. Russian. French. English. Any type of lessons, I always had them. Whereas my friend Juliana was allowed to joyfully push her doll stroller here and there.
I always enjoyed playing the piano. At least in the beginning. The small, old, deaf, fat man with the flaming pink ears, who always tapped my fingers, drove it out of me. He was supposed to be my piano teacher. Mother knew him from before. She still took piano lessons. I don’t believe that this was Mother’s way of taking revenge on me. It was her stubborn way of conveying an image of life to me. I was supposed to learn to stand above things. In a certain sense, I succeeded in it. Because I still enjoy playing the piano today.
With the violin it went downhill pretty quickly. The final straw was when my teacher grabbed my sprouting breasts. And I came home trembling. Without my shoes. I’ll give you a lei•! He pleaded with me. I’ll give you more. Even more.
My parents had to see to it that an education was not achieved at any price. They believed that one had to be very careful that the remnants of the former regime did not poison the children of the new era. In our presence the reactionary forces kept themselves well hidden. And they had to be exposed immediately. Everyone had to contribute to that. We had to get better at being careful. And what good fortune that we had managed to succeed at it this time!
Piano. Violin. Ballet.
Mother wanted me to take small steps. To take small bites when I ate. To learn to move softly and elegantly. I also enjoyed the ballet lessons. But suddenly I was no longer allowed to go. I would have happily danced my whole life long. Expressed my happiness through dance. To express oneself. To dance. To lose oneself and forget. And to find oneself again. But that was not the point of it. Mother was accused of acting unpolitically. Father was furious. Horrified. Mother admitted to having made a mistake.
I was already writing back then. No one had to know. No one could take that away from me.
I always had some type of lessons. While Juliana played with her doll stroller. And the others played Ţări-oraşe-munţi-şi-ape or dodge ball. And we had made the rules so strict that with every ball switch we had to kiss each other. As a rule. And not for the sheer pleasure of it.
I had no time for kissing. I still had to take care of my pets. I always owned some sort of pet. So that I would not be so all alone. And so that I could also learn to be responsible for others. This responsibility could not kill my love for animals. I felt connected to their fate. I always owned a pet. And somehow it always turned out to be a disaster. My pigeon drowned in an oil tank in our courtyard. The rabbit wound up in the frying pan. The squirrels ate homemade soap. My tomcat got his testicles poked on a barbed wire fence. The fish. Their fat white bellies facing upwards. The smell of death lay over my childhood.
Piano. English. Violin.
Sometimes I managed to squeeze out some time for myself, furtively of course. Skipped the piano lesson. I went down the Marosch to go fishing with the other children. I knew the gravity of my sin and the consequences that would await me. The red swollen traces on the cheeks. The dark blue streaks on my bottom. I’d been able to guess Mother’s reaction for some time now. Nevertheless, I continued to take my chances over and over again.
Lies were always complicated. In truth, I couldn’t really afford to lie. Whenever mother asked what I had done the whole day long, I could leave some stuff out, simply not mention it. But when she asked expressly, if and when, then I had to admit to everything. And bring the strap. I would rebel in my own way. I brought the strap. Gave it to her without hesitation. Mother extended the strap. Struck with an ever-increasing fury. You will not shed a single tear. No. I didn’t cry. I knew that crying was a sign of weakness.
Sometimes I stole some time for myself. My parents worked hard and were seldom at home. Father, least of all. They gave me chores. One of them was to work very hard at school. Every one expected me to be the best and to receive the first prize at school every year.
You’re good for nothing. Nothing will come of you. And no one on this earth will ever marry you. My father intended to motivate me.
My parents worked very hard. Father’s life consisted exclusively of work. Mother often did overtime. As the director of the Communist Women’s Organization she had to run around to and from the different villages all day long. With dusty boots. A heroine of the Motherland, a real Natasha. For a short while we had domestic help. A rosy Swabian granny from Banat. I don’t know if father wanted to save again. Or if it was the Party that judged having a maid as human exploitation. In any case, I was already alone at age eight. I had to take care of myself. Clean the apartment. Keep things in order. Heat up my food. And cook for myself when need called for it. They left me a list of chores and a bunch of recipes. I had to finish my homework. And to go to my extracurricular activities. I was not allowed to have fears about being alone.
I was one of the first latch-key kids in our city. One of the first latch-key kids in our society. With the key on a string around my neck, I would be happy to spend some time at our neighbors. With their kids. While I was doing that I would listen intently to hear if my parents were returning and would quickly sneak into our apartment before they got back.
I wasn’t allowed to be afraid of being alone. I was afraid of being afraid. I hoped that people would not be able to see that about me.
Before my parents were due to come back home, I would always look out the window. I wanted to have everything ready. I would pose. I hated being surprised by them. Most of the time it wasn’t good. When they were late, I would always look at the clock over and over again and go over my list of chores. To check that everything had been done. I ran from the door to the window. And from the window to the balcony. Took something from here and set it there. Organized this or the other thing. Played the piano. I wanted them to catch me doing something useful. Each time, I never knew what they would find undone. I would check the kitchen. The bathroom. I would get increasingly nervous. I would start to shake. Sometimes they would return a day later than expected. There would be those times when they finally came and find that I’d forgotten to take out the garbage. I would go get the strap. Order had to prevail. As well as discipline. One had to be able to rely on his comrades in every situation.
I wanted my parents to like me. No. I was convinced of the importance of becoming a new human. All of the adults in our house were preoccupied with this. I was always considered to be a wonder child. My father liked to hear this. I was following in his footsteps. It wasn’t like having a son. But still, it was something.
In our tribe, no, in our whole city, all eyes were pointed toward me. Everyone took care to tell me so. I couldn’t afford to disappoint all of these people. I grew up accordingly. My opinions were childish, but “healthy.” I was even allowed to correspond with people in foreign countries. I had a friend in the Soviet Republic of Moldavia, Svetlana Vrabie. Her last name means sparrow in Romanian. Svetlana Sparrow. A Russian-Romanian name construction. She conformed to everything that Moldavia stood for. I wrote to her in Romanian but in Cyrillic script. I also wrote Moldavian. Moldavian was a Russian invention. The war had been over for some time now. In the meantime the Party allowed it. And the Motherland demanded it. Patriotism should shine brightly in us too now. Next to internationalism. And without failing to show respect to the big brother in all things, the New Generation should not forget that Moldavia is Romanian soil. Even if on a long term loan. They tried to drum this into us, without straining our relations to the Soviet Union.
I had no idea that it had been a political decision to allow me to correspond with people from foreign countries.
My other pen-pal was from France. The Party allowed the western enemy to have a look at our reality. To be exposed to a healthy image of it. And everyone had to contribute his or her efforts to this end. I wasn’t aware of my responsibility.
Our PCR-Block was the first high-rise on the Marosch. Over and over again we, the kids, would be told how the Marosch, the Mures, was the river that separated the seven forts from Banat. How even our city was separated by the Marosch. Maybe there was a reason for that. Everything had to have a possible reason. A political one.
Before, our neighborhood belonged to the multiethnic state of Kakanien. And today it is marked by borders. An area that borders with Hungary. A short distance from Voivodina, the Serbian Banat. A multicultural area with many “nationalitäti conlocuitoare.” A lively area neighborhood with mixed blood.
Shortly after our house got modernized, the residential block MFA next door got built, the “Ministerul Forţelor Armate.” An army settlement. A great rivalry existed between us kids from the PCR-Block and those from the MFA. Power struggles. We waged wars. Who’s stronger, we used to ask each other provokingly, The Party or the army? Fraternization between the two sides was seldom possible.
It wasn’t until later that I understood that the Communists had come to power during the war with the help of the king and removed the military dictatorship of Marshall Antonescu. The king called upon the patriotic duty of the Communists and brought them out of their illegal status and out of Soviet exile, in order to save Romania. These same Communists, not more than a handful of them, who had enjoyed the protection of the king, had later forced him to abdicate.
Then these comrades brought the Russians to Romania. They brought the powerful, indomitable Red Army with its tanks. They were supposed to free Romania. In the end there was war.
Romania was freed. And cleansed of Romanians. Everyone became Russian. They spoke Russian. Read Russian. The bookstores and the publishers were called “The Russian Book.” Overnight Romania became a Slavic country. With a Slavic past. History was written anew. One discovered that Romanian was a Slavic language. So that everything would have its proper order, new letters of the alphabet were invented and introduced into the language. The orthography was changed. The spelling of Romania’s name was changed. So that as little as possible would remind one of Romania’s Latin roots. The introduction of the Russian alphabet was successful only in the part of Moldavia that was annexed to the Soviet Union after the war.
Who was stronger. PCR or MFA. This question was difficult for us kids to answer. Because with time the settlement of the MFA people grew larger and changed its name. The city’s security forces that belonged to the internal ministry also moved into the city.
The security forces and the army were in the service of the Party. The Party served the ideology. And the ideology was supposed to serve the Motherland. The people. The coronation of a creation that supposedly was stronger than nature.
Or maybe it was otherwise. Because one cannot imagine what kind of fights this engendered between the kids of the two residential blocks. The army was in the service of the Motherland. And the security forces in the service of the Party. And the Party in the service of the ideology.
Or was it?
Man was in fact stronger than nature. Indestructible. And was supposed to outlive everything.
La valeur n’attend pas le nombre des anneés. That virtue did not depend on age was a known fact to all of us kids from the PCR-Block. We were aware of our duties. You are the new guard; everyone would take great care to tell us. You carry a great responsibility.
We had a great opportunity. We had every opportunity. Even one to have clean files. To erase the dark stains in our parents’ past. We, the generation of a new world.
I can still remember Father’s eyes lighting up whenever he spoke about our opportunities. Almost with envy. Envy and admiration. And much restraint. One had to earn this chance. Nothing comes from nothing, everything is tied to sweat. With sweat and sacrifice. Over and over again one has to sacrifice, when something important is at stake. And what could be more important than the new world, that we were going to build. Whose foundations our parents were laying down for us. No sacrifice was big enough to fulfill this duty. How privileged we were!
Oh well. That’s how it went. And father’s eyes shined. And they were moist. His voice. The new times, which he would not experience. The new human. And our children. And the happiness. And our duties fulfilled.
I believe I was nearly sixteen at the time.
No one could reproach father. His position was clearly “healthy.” He was loyal to the Party and wanted to climb high within it. I had the best future before me. No one doubted that they could rely on me. That it turned out to be otherwise is something for which Father has never forgiven me.
We, the children from the PCR-Block, were under the care of the Party and under the observation of the security agencies. They wanted to know how we were developing and to what extent we could be trusted. The experiment with the new humans, the new era could not fail. I came to experience the consequences of this fear manifestly. I felt watched. Followed. Shadowed. How much my parents know about this observation or wanted to know about it, I don’t know. At least they didn’t take me seriously. One could not speak of naiveté where they were concerned.
Father spoke of imagination and fits of hysteria. Mother always feared rape.
I was not yet sixteen as it all began.
By that time I had already completed my service as a pioneer scout and had interrupted my term as president of the “Uniunea Tineretului Comunist,” the Communist youth organization in my class, behind me. The war was over. The revolution was successful. Communism had established itself. And in spite of all that I talked at assemblies about the importance of all young Communists to remain vigilant. To organize properly. To behave critically. To make it in society by virtue of their own strengths. And not just by duly paying the monthly membership dues.
It hadn’t been so bad given the conditions of the time. In the end, the Party demanded criticism. Especially self-criticism. And demanded action up to a certain point. The word action excited us. It expelled the suffocating monotony. It was bound up with heroism and revolution. With violence. A form of violence of which we were not aware of at the time.
Back then the revolution was believed to be over. It was not until much later with Ceauşescu that the Communists would become professional revolutionaries. “Revolutionari de profesie,” he called it. The revolution continues. It is never complete. The class struggle never ends.
I wanted to apply everything that father and mother had taught me. I felt obligated to include the others. At best I would have changed something in the organization myself. The possibility was taken away from me. I was released from my duties. Unburdened. Freed. Was condemned to passivity.
I was not yet sixteen when it all began. My performance at school was still good at that time. My talents diverse. I was the wonder child and spoke several languages fluently. I was self-confident, had my own views and defended them when necessary.
I found that one didn’t have to necessarily thank the Party for the mechanization of agriculture. I said it out loud. One had to only look around at what was happening in the world. Then one knew that development and progress were the products of society. That was not received well.
Whether Father was informed of my pronouncements is unknown to me. Probably not. I was made to pay for all of that only later. All of that and much more would later be found in my files.
My correspondence with foreign pen-pals also contributed to the assumption that I was harboring ideas as to how Communism could be reformed. At the time I wrote a novel about it. It can also be found among my confiscated documents.
I possessed qualities, which were desirable in the opinion of the party. A sense of justice. Compassion toward the oppressed and a readiness to help them. They held me to be a fighting spirit and not open to compromises. They operated under the assumption that they could quickly banish all of the undesirable qualities from me.
Excellent psychologists developed behavioral profiles of us, the PCR-Block kids. Thus they found out soon enough that I would not go the middle way.
I feel like I’m being watched, I kept telling my parents over and over again, when I would come back home from boarding school during school recess or on the weekend. I went to a Romanian gymnasium in Arad, but I lived on the other side of the river in a German dormitory in New-Arad. It had its purpose.
I spoke German and was able to fit in quite well at the dormitory. The psychologists were of the opinion that I possessed all of the desired attributes. Furthermore, I was my father’s daughter. He was the governor of Săvîrşin, a small town near Arad, where as we were told in school, the king with his obsession for luxuries owned hunting lodges. We were also told that the king had left the country headlong. First he betrayed us. Then he fled. He took countless wagons laden with gold. Romanian’s gold. And it all sits in Swiss banks. Through his office, my father was brought into contact with the king and he had to oppose him.
However, I was also my mother’s daughter. An exemplary personality. Earnest and work conscious. An all-around reliable comrade.
Thus I was exceptionally poised to undertake a patriotic duty of great importance. Both pedagogues were present. The comrade female pedagogue, who assisted the young girls and the male comrade pedagogue. I still remember them very well. I remember their faces and their impassive way of dealing with us. They awaited me with two other people, whom I didn’t know. Before they explained to me what the meeting was all about, they elucidated my outstanding qualification due to my attributes. Then they spoke of what an honor it was to be allowed to be a patriot. Of what an honor it was to receive a duty. Of the responsibility, people like me and my father bore toward society. Great expectations would be placed on me.
The cause for the speech was an anonymous letter. A complaint. It was assumed that it came from the German citizens who lived in the area. Now I was supposed to find out from whom.
In the first instance I felt as though I was paralyzed. I can’t remember having given any type of a response.
The two strangers took leave of me with a strong handshake. You only need give us a signal and we’ll be here right away. Otherwise, they said, trust the comrade pedagogues. They represent us here and are ready at any time.
The expression “to spy on someone” was unknown to me and the activity itself was unfamiliar to me. In our family, loyalty was the greatest commandment. Decency. Honesty. Dignity. What I had always believed about my father was that he had always gauged himself against his own demands and expectations.
After the colloquy I felt the need to retreat the dormitory and to withdraw to our sleeping quarters, despite the fact that it was forbidden. For hours, I hid there. It reminded me of the time in my first boarding school. A girls’ boarding school in Temesvar. A type of jail, as we called it. In the boarding school some of the pedagogues were nuns from the former cloister. With the new leaders these women had adapted themselves into comrades. In this boarding school I met Melitta. She became my best friend. I dimly remember one of the many searches that took place in our corridor-like sleeping quarters. How they bore into our lives. Into our suitcases and into our closets. Into our satchels and the provisions sent to us from home. I can no longer remember what had actually prompted the search. It was highly likely that no one ever really knew what they were about. Because such things were state secrets and were treated as such. I can still remember how one of the female pedagogues came to the dormitory one evening with a couple of men in leather coats. They did not greet us. We girls stood there in pajamas and waited. Every possible rumor was in circulation. Was it about a cadaver that had been hidden in the wash rooms? About a new born baby that had been suffocated in a suitcase? And other such absurdities. We had to open our closets and our suitcases. Every corner of the wash rooms was checked. Then we went down to the dining room opened our food tins. I was ten or eleven back then.
Now alone in the dormitory everything came back to me and I felt a knot in my throat and my stomach was topsy-turvy. I began to shake. I can recall it exactly. Because this shaking would come over me later too and again and again and still attacks me today, when I am under great stress.
Back then I didn’t know what connected these two episodes. Subliminally though, I felt that they were related and that they had something dark and sticky about them. I felt disgust and the wish to run away from there. For hours I remained in hiding in the dormitory. I felt as if I was sinking in a well of unknown depth.
It was not about political consciousness. I don’t know what was going on in my head. Perhaps it wasn’t even my head. When I came out of hiding, I felt relieved. I summoned my classmates and told them about the colloquy. Protect yourselves and watch out, I told them. Even if I won’t do it, there will always be someone else who will.
In fact this person did exist. Because that episode was also included in my files.
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Logos 2.1 – winter 2003
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