In Romania, public television is represented institutionally by Televiziunea Română (Romanian Television, TVR) with a history of a little more than 50 years and which broadcasts, at this moment, on six channels. The first things to mention, when talking about the past of Romanian Television TVR, would be that, beyond its institutional history1 (related to technological progress, multiplying its channels, etc.), there is a critical point of reference, towards which we have the before and the after: that point is the Romanian Revolution of 1989. Although on TVR’s site, www.tvr.ro, this divide seem not to exist (in texts related to TVR’s history), the turning point is essential due to harsh censorship existent before 1989 in television, censorship applied not only in news, as in Orwell’s 1984, but also on past and history issues, a past that, if not consistent with Romanian Communist Party’s vision, was at best silenced (such as a large part of the period before WWII) or re-written and, if remote enough to exclude possible comparison with the current situation, was glorified (we’ll come back to this idea below).
TVR – a brief institutional history
In 1956 TVR, Romanian public television channel was inaugurated, with a total of 21 hours per month of emission. Later, it became TVR1, with the launching of the second channel of public television, TVR2, in 1972. Yet, TVR2’s broadcast is interrupted in January 1985 and was resumed only after the Revolution, in 23rd of May 1990. Regional studios of TVR are created also in 1990, the first being TVR Cluj, followed by TVR Iaşi (1991), TVR Timişoara (1994), TVR Craiova (1998) and TVR Târgu Mures (2008).
In 1995 was launched TVR Internaţional, TVRi, which broadcasted a program of approximately 3.5 hrs using Eutelsat II – W2 (in 2000 broadcasts daily 12hrs/24 and in 2002 gets to 24/24).
The fourth channel of Romanian public television is TVR Cultural, launched in 2000, destined “exclusively to promoting Romanian and international culture”.
The latest channels of the public television were opened in 2008 and are called TVR 3, dedicated to “regional communities”, that reunites broadcasted shows and news of all the regional studios and TVR Info, centered on useful information and live broadcasts from traffic.
As an anecdote, but with relevance to our subject, we should mention that, in 2006, TVR aired the campaign „Great Romanians”, a contests who aimed to select the best figure to represent Romanians – and the winner was Ştefan cel Mare, Stefan the Great, who ruled in Moldova among 1457 and 1504 (Moldova being a Romanian province and different from what is called now Republica Moldova, former part of Soviet Union). Stefan the Great was later on sanctified by the Orthodox Church, in 1992 and was elected “the biggest Romanian of all times”. The event was heavily covered (anyways, the PR campaign for “Great Romanians” was awarded Golden Award for Excellence, for the “Non-Commercial Campaigns”, at the “Gala Excelenţei în Relaţii Publice 2006”, according to the site www.tvr.ro) and represented a re-legitimization of the founding history2 of Romanian people, on public television.
The historic broadcast during communist time
During this rather limited history of the Romanian public television before 1989, the space granted to the shows on historical topics was reduced to minimum. This topic could not find a permanent place in the grid as a documentary or talk-show/debate, but only for an encyclopedic/informative show (« Teleenciclopedia »), for the rest making its presence especially in connection with anniversary moments or incidentally/episodically in some general topic shows. Nevertheless, fiction movies with historical themes were produced (sometimes mega-productions for the respective period, with huge budgets) approaching different moments, from founding moments in history to recent day history (the WWII, crowned with the establishment of the communism in Romania) The stress was set on the heroism of certain historical figures, realizing an idealization of the Romanian people according to the nationalist-communist ideology of the ruling party (« brave », spirit of sacrifice spirit, « fighter » etc.). Anticipatory, we can say that the post-1989 television is characterised by an opposition to that period, as only one historical fiction movie was shot (Carol, 2009, directing Sergiu Nicolaescu, who was also a director of many historical movies during communist times), but compensating with documentaries and especially with debates/talk-shows on historical topics.
Romanian media landscape virtually “blew up” after 2000, so that today we have, alongside the six channels of the public television, at least 18 private channels, (we excluded the very niched channels as the music and sports ones). In most of the cases, a certain media group has many TV channels (the most visible being Media Pro Group, with four television channels, several radio stations, newspapers, magazines, a film production branch, video content and others). Thus, an overall picture of the Romanian TV market looks like that:
Public Romanian TV stations (under the “Romanian Television” umbrella):
TVR1: launched in 1956; general content
TVR2 : launched in 1972; general content. In the beginnings, it was meant to be a youth channel
TVR Internaţional: launched in 1995; general content. Usually, it broadcasts the programs from TVR1, but it also has some shows made especially for the Diaspora.
TVR Cultural: launched in 2000. Niched on culture.
TVR Info: launched in 2008. News and useful information channel.
TVR3: launched in 2008. Regional channel, takes over shows from the regional studios in Cluj, Iasi, Timisoara.
Private Romanian channels:
Channels owned by Media Pro group:
Pro TV, launched in 1995, general content
Acasă TV, destined to women, specialized on telenovelas; later became a family station.
PRO Cinema: niched on films, series and feature films.
Channels belonging to Intact trust
RealitateaTV: news channel
The Money Channel: financial channel
Centrul National Media (CNM) group
Naţional TV: general content
N24: news (redirecting towards “national” content)
Prima TV: General content
Kanal D: General content (a subsidiary of Dogan Group)
B1TV: General content
Romantica TV: feminine-oriented channel
Trinitas TV, Orthodox TV channel, belonging to Romanian Patriarchy, launched in October 2007.
Televiziunea Romania de Maine (TVRM): educational television belonging to Spiru Haret University – private university, highly controversial nowadays, for its mass education figures and its curricula. Also, its rector, a former high profile member of the Romanian Communist Party, is controversial – and the information is relevant to our subject only because other professors at the University, who also make educational programs broadcasted by TVRM, are loaded with the same ideological charge, especially regarding 20th century history, a hot subject these days. The title of the history program at TVRM is a reference to the same issue of uniqueness versus multiplicity of the history: the program is called “Istorie si istorii”, “History and Histories”.
Note: OglindaTV (OTV3) station is a special case in our audio-visual landscape. Launched by the journalist Dan Diaconescu with very few money and being known as an “apartment television” (due to the fact that its actual set was an apartment), OTV won its notoriety through the marathon program “Dan Diaconescu in direct” (DDD, Dan Diaconescu Live), a talk-show based on “sensational stuff revealed live”4, which started every day on a fixed hour (19.30) and stopped “late in the night” (after one a.m.), actually, until guests and host get tired. At this talk-show (that obtained relatively high audiences during 20075 most of the times controversial history is under debate, but it’s either seen from a certain conspiracy perspective, or the guests are disputable6 public figures, whose appearing is refused by other television channels. etc.).
Another issue is that of local television stations. Each county has between one and six local stations, private ownership. The programming strategies of these channels are so different and the ways of putting a program together so varied, no rule or inference could be established. Most of these channels use free documentaries produced outside Romania, religious materials and survive on talk shows (the cheapest form of televisions).
Although, as one may have noticed, the specialized channels (the so-called niche channels entered the Romanian television market, still none of the Romanian TV channels is specialized in history. The only channels covering history being the foreign, international ones Romanians can watch whether they pay a subscription at a local cable or digital distributor (cable: RDS and UPC as the major, almost oligopolistic players and digital distributor: Boom TV and Dolce TV). Thus:
Main TV providers
Channels specialized in history
Type of subscription “package”
Optional package: Adventure
As it can be seen, the specialized foreign programs Romanians have access to, via digital platforms or cable TV, are in over-charged packages of programs. Except for Boom TV, one of the digital platform, the others have program packages that include History Viasat and History Channel in various price ranges, optional and, of course, more expensive than the basic packages. A higher price package would comprise HBO packages and adult-oriented programs.
So, the foreign channels are: History Viasat and History Channel. In Romania, television, much for our benefit, the foreign channels, as well as foreign programs broadcasted by our stations are not dubbed, as in the rest of Europe, but subtitled. Thus, the Romanian viewer has access to all the original sound (all the richness of nuances of the original language and the original sound).
Although history did not find its place in a Romanian specialized channel, it appears frequently in our programs, both as fiction, as well as documentary and talk shows. History occurs on television mostly at the public stations. But some of the news channels cover history, in various formats, during historical moments’ anniversaries (August the 23rd8, December the 1st9, January the 24th, May the 10th10etc.) or controversial moments’ anniversaries.
Also, certain subject matter that are related to history (masonry, conspiracies to global ruling of the world, etc) are, from time to time, being revived in various talk shows, as mere “crisis solutions” for low rating periods, as opposed to crowded times of major political or social crisis (“In Miezul problemei”, National TV, “Codul lui Oreste”, B1TV, “Dan Diaconescu in direct” when there’s no other mysterious suicide case to stage as a detective story, OTV etc.). They work as a kind of “maintenance” television pool of themes and subjects and are as popular as Home Alone or Die Hard series (you can watch them as many times without getting bored, provided you’re a fan of).
As we were saying, there are three ways history can occur in TV programs, other than fiction, in our television:
Inside periodical programs dedicated to history or inside a series of historical documentaries. This kind of programs appears mostly at the public stations (Istoria aproape – History by Close, Istoria polemica – Polemical History, Dialoguri despre altadata – Dialogues on Past Times or the Memorialul durerii series), but they can also get, yet seldom, on commercial channels – they could never get on some of the general content ones, but rather on the niched ones. That was the case with the series Bucuresti, strict secret (Bucharest, Strictly Secret), broadcasted by Realitatea TV, a Romanian production (we shall get back to it), with the series A Biography of America11 – documentary produced by WGBH Boston and broadcasted by N24, on and off between 2005 and 2009 -, Nasterea unei naţiuni (Birth of a Nation)12 – a series of feature-documentary, broadcasted by Realitatea TV in 2005 and made by Alex Mihai Stoenescu, “a documentary that intends to inform the public on the truth that is not in the books etc. We can put here also the history programs of Trinitas TV – Pagini de istorie (History Pages), a documentary program – and Istorie şi istorii (History and Histories) on TVRM – a set talk show with an anchorman and guests that are historians. Another example would be Antena 2, who reserves an hour, on Sunday at 22 p.m., for foreign documentaries, many of them on historical subjects. In January 2010, these documentaries will be reunited under the name: Decoding the Past, as they treat very distant histories, but there were some occasions when the documentaries were related to the history of the XX century. But they are a mixture of portraits of important figures in finances, business, show biz (music, cinema, arts, etc.), features on important moments of the XX century, documentaries on innovations and inventions and are, all, produced abroad (Canadian and British production are favorite when it comes to history, American productions are related mostly to showbiz).
Inside permanent programs, with a fixed position inside the grid, but who aren’t dedicated to history; here are two other possibilities:
The historical subject is enforced by its timeliness (be it an anniversary moment, a major political event based on historical considerations or a book launch13 etc.). We can give as an example almost all the talk shows or debates centered on the moderator, especially those found on the commercial channels, which had at least one edition on historical subject matters. The debate kind of programs on public television is highly specialized; thus, unless they are specialized on history, they rarely approach the theme.
The history subject matter as a “filling” into a void of events within public actuality (we mentioned above this situation, characterized by “unprepared” programs, focused rather on the personal memories of some important figure of the past. OTV, B1 TV, National TV are just a few of the televisions who used this recipe. As far as we know, on public television history was never covered this way.
As a disparate, self-sufficient program, no series attached – and we have here two situations:
Some of them, although not part of a series, are justified by a moment of historical prominence, such as the National Day of Romania and the commemoration of 20 years from the 1989 Revolution.
These shows are disparate, with no apparent justification, mostly as a “filling” program.
Mostly represented, inside history programs, is the Romanian Revolution14 in 1989 and the moments of the WWII that led to the rise and consolidation of communism.
Also, when The Union of Romanian Regions15 is feasted, it comes to discussion the role of one or another political leader or party (ruler Alexandru Ioan Cuza, King Carol the First, etc.). Furthermore, The Great Union in 1918 represents, as we shall see, a subject matter that is still on TV.
During festivities related to most of the historical significant data, most televisions broadcast debates or documentaries, new or old. Usually, the set is the same as in a casual TV day, but the screen displays more information than a usual talk show, new crawls and, usually, new colors. Many times, the talk-shows are not illustrated by reels of actual footage. The access to the historical archives of images is not handy for every station, so most of them re-play time and again the same images and fill in the rest of the time allocated for the event with talk-shows (the cheapest form of television). http://video.woow.ro/adevarul-despre-revolutia-din-decembrie-89-video369.html Most of the shows are Dossiers, due to the special moment they appear.
Communist times: re-valued in fiction, re-discussed in TV features/debates
A mere set of circumstances (the fact that this year it’s the anniversary of 20 years since the fall of communism and they were, all along Europe, a series of manifestations; the fact that we have a whole new generation of young people knowing nothing about communism except from indirect sources; the fact that a hole series of feature films presenting a slice of communism won important prizes in important international film festivals; the domestic political events that put under scrutiny the issue of “condemning communism”) led “communist times” being all to present on the television screen, during 2009. We shall not recall the anniversary documentaries and talk-shows we already mentioned; instead, we shall focus on the way communism appears in fiction and in news.
Thus, on one hand, we have the fiction feature, made during communism about communist times, which glorified communism within a cheerful manner, which can be seen as an exotic view of society today.
B1 TV was the first channel to reduce its costs by broadcasting Romanian movies made during communism (criticized heavily, at the time, for this decision, but later followed by Pro Cinema, for instance, in the same policy of programming). Still, B1 TV is not a movie-oriented channel, but, on certain television seasons, for four nights a week, it broadcasts two Romanian movies, one around 20.00 and the other around 22.00.
On the other hand, there’s the fiction feature produced today by the New Wave of Cinematography, which replays the major themes of communism, in a minimalism manner, in a key sometimes tragic (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) or amusing, as in Memories from the Golden Age, the omnibus-movie.
The novelty this year brought along is that, alongside with the classical TV shows where communism was under scrutiny, communism became news subject, not as a political reality, but questioning the daily lives of Romanians, back then. Thus, in December, Antena 1 had, during the main newscast of the day („Observatorul de la ora 19.00”) a special column, „A fost odata in Romania” („Once Upon a Time in Romania”). In it, there were talks of communism, on themes (The Car for Romanians, Propaganda and the Print, Made in Romania – on Romanian Brands, etc.), mirroring the theme/subject in the past and present. The series ended on December, 21st (considered as the last day of communism, back in 1989) and, as it was said in the last edition, where the producer of the series and the reporters were invited in the studio (some of these were five years old at the Revolution), the series proved „the best history lesson ever”. In what concerns the techniques, it was a montage of archive footage and current/new footage, interrupted by witness stories by personalities or experts on each subject/theme.
Although not within news programs, but with the same intent of mirroring the two periods of time, in December also, the public television broadcasted a 10 minute program of 10 minutes each edition, called „Before and After”, who was meant to be a sort of „illustrated account of the things Romanians thought and felt, before and after the December Revolution in 1989” (www.tvr.ro). The show had a waggish tone, being no more than a montage of footage taken before 1989; most of these were excerpts of other TV shows from before, and recognizable from the technical code/properties; most of them were in b/w and were edited against a background of silent movie-like music. Sometimes, the original scores/sounds were kept, other times, the images were edited with voice over or an off voice of the anchorman, that makes numerous referrals to common places of both periods (Bula as the representative of Romanian jokes in communism, maneaua as a lifestyle, excessively valued nowadays. The discourse of this program is not the classical history discourse, but a jolly one, based on intertextuality.
The 1989 Revolution: between “icon” and unpublished images. History searched through film
A special place is reserved to films and documentaries covering the 1989 Revolution, as a threshold, a transition between dictatorship and democracy. Since 20 years have passed since then, the discussions on the 1989 events were allocated a lot more antenna time.
Thus, during October, November and December, B1 TV broadcasted, inside Naşu’ talk-show, the first half (approx. one hour) allocated to a series called „The End of Ceausescu – The series that will change history”, made in collaboration with a print journalist, Grigore Cartianu from Adevarul. The talks and disclosures within the show were printed, the next day, as an investigative feature, in Adevarul newspaper („quality” newspaper, with the biggest circulation numbers, according to BRAT16), its online edition being accompanied also by the video files presented during the TV show. For most if its editions, the show featured Radu Morar, „Naşu’” (The Godfather, the name of the show and the nickname of its moderator), Grigore Cartianu (Adevarul), playing the role of the investigative journalist and Alex Mihai Stoenescu, historian, often invited as the „expert voice”. The concept of these series was “to uncover the truth on those events who are still questionnable”. The presentation, yet, was not necessarily a chronological one, nor did existed a certain periodicity of the editions of the show (Naşu’ show was broadcasted live, Monday to Thursday, from 20:00 to midnight, but not all editions from October to December contained the half dedicated to the end of Ceausescu. The last edition of 2009, broadcasted on December the 21st, 2009, was different: the first part it has been the on set discussions between Radu Morar and Alex Mihai Stoenescu (Grigore Cartianu was not there) and, the second part presented a much promoted (the whole evening, both by Radu Morar, and on a crawl: “in a few moments, the Re-enactment of Ceausescu’s execution” 17) journalistic feature, “The Re-enactment ”, done by Cartianu in the military barracks where they were taken after being apprehended – and where both the process and the execution took place. The technique used for this film was a poor one, there was no actual re-enactment, but a mere verbal story telling by witnesses of that time, some of them taken at the site – the very room Ceausescu slept in, the wall against which they were shot and so on.
Also, these moments were presented by almost every TV station, either public or private, inside their news programs, during the so-called “Revolution Days”, in 15th and 16th of December to match the “Timisoara Events” and 21st and 22nd of December, matching the Bucharest events. These news are, usually, illustrated with archive footage, but not with any kind of new or unpublished images, but quite the opposite, with rather “familiar” images, who entered the collective mind as representative for what was called the “live Romanian revolution”.
Quite contrary, the unpublished images on Revolution do appear inside programs dedicated to the event, elaborate documentary programs – which were broadcasted during the same anniversary days. We’ll describe three of these unprecedented programs who premiered in 2009, on public channels, documentaries that brought something new in the way history is being covered in general, on TVR channels.
Videogram of a Revolution18
Videogramme einer Revolution (Videograme dintr-o Revoluţie), made in 1992 by Andrei Ujica and Harun Farocki has been broadcasted in premiere on TVR1, on December the 21st, 2009, at precisely 21.00.
The main characters of this documentary are the “cameras” capturing images during the Revolution19. Thus, alongside the consecrated images/footage broadcasted by the public television, amateur footage of that period20, footage by professionals, but taken unofficially and not destined to being broadcasted, sometimes even taken against expressed orders by superiors or by foreign journalists. All these cameras represent some “privileged eyes21” through which the Revolution was seen, eyes composing and re-composing permanently the picture of the Revolution.
The idea of “character-cameras” is underpinned also by the end credits where, on a black background, with no other sound but the raw sounds of a film roll rolling, the characters credited are, in white, the “cameras”, identified by the moment they come into play.
The image of cameras “filming each other” pops up frequently – or cameras filming the screen (or even cameras filming other cameras that film the screen (see the News Release chapter of the documentary).
At 1 hour: 34 min: 10 sec, there’s a meta-discourse on the role of the media on history: “the cameras and the event… Ever since it was invented, film seems to be destined, first, to immortalize the history. It can also re-construct the past, and reproduce the present.” The dialectics of this monologue is that the perspective over the film-history relationship has changed; if before we could have asserted that “film is possible only because history exists”, now we can say that “if film is possible, then history is possible”. (1:34:49)
The voice over is in German, in original. The voice analyzes what we can see through camera’s lens, sometimes in a manner specific to semiotic analysis, instead of historiography; some images are put on still and they are analyzed, cropped, zoomed at (25:14), replayed etc. (“The bluish image is due to the winter light”, “the foreground and the background are marking two separate time slots”).
The voice over not only gives an account of what happens on the screen, but dictates to the viewer how to look at the images: “The foreground, to which we lend no attention…”
The difficulties in understanding history are due, within this unprecedented interpretation, to the cutting the technical means allow for: “The camera gets as close to the events as its lens allows it for”.
Inside it, there are analyzed and considered as important, the cameras filming, but also the interruptions of emission, the technical malfunctions such as jamming (51:37); all idle time or dead angles of a camera are attempted to be reconstituted with the help of other cameras. Many times, the same events are presented in footage by different cameras (one on the whole screen and the other in PIP, a smaller square on top of the other) (min. 45 : sec. 30: the government resignation seen by three cameras) or the same place in two different moments (min. 22 : sec. 51). Another instance of parallel broadcasting (still with the big screen – small PIP screen) is that of people talking of an event that takes place somewhere else, at the same moment. The parallel shooting usually ends when the secondary camera overlaps with the primary one (for example, the arrest of Nicusor Ceausescu, the son).
Another dialogue between cameras – another parallelism: an amateur camera is filming the TV screen in one room, as an official discourse over the events. The TV set shows us the very same images the camera, moving towards the window, is going to shoot at first hand, un-mediated by the TV screen.
As a particular feature of this documentary, there are no testimonies by eye witnesses. The eye witness, in this case, is the camera and what it captured – be it sound, image or both.
Furthermore, cameras have a performative role in this documentary. Thus, at min. 45 : sec. 50, chapter “The Resignation is Done Again for the Camera”, the prime minister of the moment is made to repeat the resignation of the government just because it wasn’t being transmitted live (although having been filmed and heard by all the people in the square).
The film segmenting was done by black frames of three seconds on which the chapters’ headlines were written in white, no sound attached. Actually, it is a manner of emphasizing on the key moments, yet offering us a key for decoding it; the criteria used are multiple (temporal, spatial, “main characters” and the segments differ in length, from one to two minutes, to 10 to 15 minutes):
Live for the first time
A camera gets the situation right
The central committee
The cameras go down in the street
More and more cameras are filming
At the television building
The man in the elevator
Television gets to the Central Committee
The resignation is done again for the camera
Attempt of relay
At the television site
Where from do they shoot?
The last camera
Bodies on the screen
The film ending is symbolical; as a historical moment, it coincides with the execution and then the bodies being showed on TV – and we should notice that the broadcasting of these makes them real. In the end, the camera gets away from the scenes depicted, and away from the TV screen it filmed, on and off.
1989. Blood on Velvet (Sânge pe catifea)
Directed by Cornel Mihalache, Blood on Velvet it’s a three episode documentary, 45 minutes long each. It was broadcasted many time during the fall and winter of 2009, last time during the festivities around the Revolution days.
The documentary puts under scrutiny the Revolution, but starts from its very first buds, the very first explicit moments of dissidence from communism (in 1979, at the 13th Congress of the Romanian Communist Party, when Ceausescu was for the first time contested publicly and overtly, by a single person, though. A significant part of the documentary – related to the 20 years that passed since the Revolution – practices a sort of meta-discourse, analyzing not the facts, but what it was said, thought, intended to be enforced as the official view on things or at least the right view. In other words, the new wave of historical documents this documentary is part of, is not so much focused on the events (hard facts, first hand), but on the discourses on the events, on the way history is made up as a story. The discourses on the revolution are analyzed; the documentary presents footage from previous TV shows covering the Revolution; books on the same event were presented and analyzed – including the Dictionary on Communism (2007). It was a probe into the ordinary people’s minds, especially of the generations born after the Revolution.
From the narrative point of view, the meta-discourse appears to be endemic to this documentary. Technically, they made use of various archive footage, retrieved and re-interpreted – and filmed another set of materials, most of them, interviews with unknown participants in the Revolution. All too seldom does the voice of C. Mihalache, who was also the interviewer and the anchorman, edited over the images. Most of the times, he comments the images or opinions expressed by others, being placed in a familiar set – in an armchair situated in a cozy office, a large bookshelf in the back and a cozy pilot light, suggesting warmth and calm in a documentary full of “hot debates”. He conveys the sense of a “wise man who’s there to clarify things”, the sense of competence and neutrality in judgments.
After Twenty Years (După 20 de ani)
The feature-documentary presented by Cristina Liberis and made by Cristina Liberis and Radu Danila (both from TVR) was broadcasted on TVR Cultural the evening of December the 21st, 2009.
The subjects and the narrative approach were somewhat classical to this kind of documentary, and the footage used, well known. New to it were only a couple of techniques used: the chrome key – usually used by the Discovery-type documentaries and, in Romania, in showbiz and paparazzi-like shows on stars and their love life (Antena 2, Euforia). Another “first” is that the voice of the two makers is virtually inaudible. Except for the first sentence, at the beginning of the documentary: “We earn our right to freedom twenty years ago”, and the end one, as an account of “duty fulfilled”/mission accomplished: “They died here, shot, on the stairs of the Cathedral in front of the Opera. We have the moral duty of never forgetting them!”
Thus, the documentary is led, somehow invisible, by its makers, through the persons invited to testify, through the cuts operated, etc. – and the explanatory or informative (bringing supplementary information to the pictures shown – such as The Memorial of Pain did) speech is missing. This speech would have dictated a certain interpretation of the events.
The National Day: between consecrating and re-discussing history
The National Day, one of the state symbols, is, by its very festive nature, a good chance of covering history seen as a characteristic of the building of the nation. That is why I chose to analyze the way this event is broadcasted and covered, at the public television as well at some private stations, with the overt purpose of seeing the extent of and the ways history is being called down (be it „the great History” or various „small histories”) on this occasion.
In order to draw the empirical background, we must remind that December the First has been Romanian’s National Day only since 1990 (before, it was August the 23rd – on this day, in 1944, Romania broke the alliance with Germany and allied with USSR). On the other hand, December the First is a date important also in the media context/landscape, as, since 1995 was „confiscated” by ProTV (one of the most important private stations, considered for a long time the symbol of commercial television) who was launched on that day22.
Thus, by tradition, the big players on the television market were, for December, 1st, the public television, who presided and made official all the official feasts (by broadcasting the parade, by its anniversary shows and concerts) and ProTV – who launched, for that occasion, an „anthem”23 and usually organizes „popular shows”, concerts, special edition for the station’s shows. But, in time, the way the two stations appeals to history is becoming more and more different. For Pro TV, December the First relates more and more to its own history as a TV channel („For ten years we’ve been this way, my story’s here to stay… ProTV taught me to live for real” said the „Pro TV anthem” launched in 200524), while public television is relating, on this occasion, to the „great founding history”, seen as sacrosanct, inviolable and indisputable.
The year 2009 represented a clear delimitation of the public television against the private ones, regarding the broadcasting of the National Day and, in correlation, the broadcasting of history.
Thus, TVR1 is starting with the documentary „Istoria imnului” (“The History of the Anthem” (7:30-8:00), a TVR production, typical for the public television. It is a sequence of pictures of places, personalities of our history in still pictures, written pages of music scores or simply still pictures of the print media of once. Over all these, on and off, the voice over, who gives us the story, leaves the floor to the music, which has an important role for setting the pace – either slow or rocking – and the tone – serious or jolly of the show. This kind of documentaries, typical for TVR, is placed somewhat between documentary and journalistic features. They are informative, but on an emotional note and do not lead to debates, deliberation or search of an “alternative” view. Thus, History of the Anthem is quite the opposite of the Videograms of a Revolution or Blood on Velvet, described above, which are attempting to offer the truth of some events already known differently. Such documentaries, as the History of the Anthem, take on the assumption that things are not known and the role of the documentary is to make them known to the public. The two kinds of documentaries are, thus, representative for two ways of seeing history: on one hand, History, singular, which should be known, as it is presented, without questioning it (History of the Anthem); on the other hand, “histories”, plural, are rather different points of view over history, thus, tributary to the reference point and partial (as in subjective). These “histories” get in the new documentaries, in a Popperian manner of starting from the idea that all you can do is to advance an image on history by showing the falsity of another image – instead of discovering the “Truth” of the history. Thus, we get to a fallible view of the history (we shall get back to this idea later on).
Another show, another way of using history as a legitimating tool: „Atunci si acum” (“Then and now”), a show joining the talk-show with the journalistic feature, had an anniversary edition – a historian invited on the set, Academy member Dinu C. Giurescu, descendant of a historian family, his father being a well known history author in communist times. The talks on the set were asymmetrical: the historian was allowed to narrate what happened one time or another, more like lecturing that really “discussing”. The talks alternated with live broadcasts of the anniversary events taking place in Bucharest (the military parade at the Triumph Ark, the Te Deum service in Alba Iulia, the iconic location of the 1918 Union). The program is a mixture of a classical history discourse (see above), in a modern to futuristic set (see min. 1: sec. 22): the set is a giant clock, black on a white background; the two desks are like the clocks’ hands. The filming techniques, also, unusual for a talk show (the cheapest TV production) – sometimes they are being filmed from above, to see the clock, which otherwise looks like a mere minimalist black and white set; when live broadcasts are introduced, the screen is divided in four.
On TVR2, anniversary shows ended with a feature-documentary produced by TVR: “1 Decembrie la români” (December the First for Romanians), which, although seemed to maintain the eulogizing tone predominant all day long at the public stations, let us see the desuetude into which the symbols of our national history fall, the rest of the year (the triumph ark, the mausoleum for the heroes in Marasesti, etc.). Thus, the festive approach of that day is paralleled with the behavior of common times; the declaimed values (heroes, history), with the current values (money, having fun). It seemed interesting especially because this show closes the circle opened by the military parade down the Triumph Ark, an iconic place for our history, a place which is shown, in this documentary, integrated in the night life of Bucharest, as a place where brides go to get photographed on manele rhythms. The technique used is the same (war time footage, prints from 1918 with the king, voice over, interviews with participants in the war, footage of Bucharest’s night life. The high speed filming of the Ark (min. 1: sec. 49), is an innovative technique, for a history program, conveying the feeling of steadiness compared to the agitated daily life. Other than that, the documentary is special by the way it mixes the archive footage to very fresh one; the silent film and very loud manele-like sound; the black and white and color and not last, very harsh stories (of Russian camp life and war exploits) and cheerful stories of the nightly parties around the Triumph Ark.
Benchmark 789: The Last Redoubt
Meant to close the day, The Last Redoubt is an unprecedented show (not a special edition of a current show) broadcasted by the main public station, TVR1, on the occasion of the National Day.
The synopsis of the show presented on the www.tvr.ro site says, „debate followed by the broadcasting of the documentary on Romania during the WWI, made by two Americans of Romanian origins: Dan Dimăncescu (producer) and Nicholas Dimăncescu (director). The hero of this documentary is Dimitri Dimăncescu, who went to war in August 1916, and who was followed, a while later, by its brother, Ion. The movie25 follows the dramatic experiences of the two brothers and the encounter they had with the British Colonel Norton Griffiths, whose mission was to sabotage the Romanian oil digging equipments.” (http://www2.tvr.ro/1decembrie/index.php).
The debate on set was between Radu Grozea (moderator, program maker for the Education – Sciences division of TVR), Nicolas Dimăncescu (director of the movie, the grandson of the main character of the movie) and Cristian Lascu, editor in chief of National Geographic România. The set was relatively poor, the only feature has been the screen in the background, screen used to cast pieces of the film during the debate.
The talks started on “heroism”; Radu Grozea declared, in his opening words, that “Tradition is demanding for this day to be dedicated to heroes”, and foretelling that we shall get to know, by the end of the show, “another hero” (Dimitri Dimăncescu), “we might say, a national hero”.
Other values brought in foreground, during the show, were patriotism and the identity (the belonging sentiment one get when one finds one’s roots).
There’s an interesting threesome, by the way it is set during the show – threesome which is visible, institutionally, by the very disposition of the participants on the set.
The novelty of the situation is that, within this format of a TV program, between the three poles there are bidirectional relationships. Thus, not only that Dimitri Dimăncescu enters the history by the fact that he’s Romanian and that he participates to the war in this quality, but Romania enters History through the Dimăncescu family. Not last, as a personal history, the young Dimăncescu re-gains his “Romanianity” via the knowledge of “history” (Nicolas Dimăncescu: “I made this film for patriotic reasons, but also with the desire of retrieving our roots… and I also wanted to find out what does it mean to be Romanian” ).
In the introductory part, there’s talk of the relationship between the Dimăncescu family had with National Geographic, a three generation relationship, which resulted in three articles26 on Romania inside the famous magazine pages and in the film, Benchmark 789: The Last Redoubt.
The moderator is advances the idea of re-discussing history27 and the statute of history starting from this “family” film who represents “an extremely important and necessary correction of Romanian history”. The idea is took over by the National Geographic Romania editor-in-chief, who talked about the state of confusion regarding the “history”, confusion generated by two antagonistic images28 over the same event (World Was I), both images taught in school. In contrast with these, the film represents “an ever so lively, human event, who is so telling of so many events of history”. Furthermore, Nicholas Dimăncescu accentuates on the same a-typicality of the movie when he’s to say why the movie is worth watching: “This is not the typical war documentary. It’s a film about transformation, a metaphoric film that uses snapshots in a new way”.
As far as the technical means of production is concerned, they used, from the director’s confessions: standard software for post-production and image enhancement (Photoshop, Final Cut, animation effects) and a series of media (snapshots from Dimitri Dimăncescu’s personal archive and not only, drawings and sketches of the same author, modern images and images from television’s archive).
As a matter of narrative techniques, it was used, for the first time, said the author, (minute 21:36) “a Japanese narrative patterns, called Genji… it’s a sort of Japanese scroll… a kind of art that implies parchment drawings. It’s a series of drawings that germinated into a continuous story. The spectators will see for the first time a modern interpretation based on the Genji technique.”
As a novelty, and as well as a difficult task for the author who recognizes he belongs to the American culture, the difference of vision of this movie towards the all too dynamic American films, (minute 26:00): „So that making a documentary based on drawings and snapshots, about a period of time so undocumented on the video level, proved to be a big issue”.
The film, which interwove the personal history to the Great History (the war is seen globally and not only nationally) used in an unprecedented manner the re-enactment, which made it look “strange” in our media landscape.
Covering the National Day on private TV stations
We were saying, above, that there was a clear demarcation between public and commercial stations on that occasion. Thus, if the first had in their programs a load of special programs or special editions of current programs, the general content private stations mentioned the event only in passing. More precisely, the current programs mentions were made of the “special day today”, without any other emphasis on the signification of the day – and thus, on history. Even Pro TV, the traditional competitor of TVR for the first day of December, was, in 2009, rather inconspicuous.
The private news channels, RealitateaTV and Antena 3, were somewhat more active in this direction, introducing history as subjects for their ongoing talk shows. But the talks were different than those on public television – first, because of the guests invited (at RealitateaTV, for instance, alongside with the historians there were journalists and politicians), and then by the critical approach of history. Also, the quality of the talks made the difference, the logic of the talk-show being much more present on RealitateaTV than at TVR’s Then and Now, where Academy member Giurăscu rather lectured in front of Marian Voicu, the anchorman. The approach, on the two private news channels was heavily loaded with politics (as the show was in the midst of the election campaigns) and the approach was rather pragmatic than scientific. Thus, the issue of the significance of the day and the appropriateness of this particular day as National Day occurred. At this point, the judgments were leaving the historical sphere only to enter the pragmatic and commercial logic, arguments as “it’s too cold outside” and “the national day should be in spring or summer and not in the midst of winter”. Other subjects under scrutiny, equally controversial, were: the “educational” role of the media (sic!) in what concerns history, the ability of knowing a nation by watching these “privileged moments” etc.
Anyhow, whatever the subject, historical or not, RealitateaTV is “killing” it by suffocating it with politics – this time, with the political actuality of the December the First, 2009.
We mentioned above that there are history programs on TV even in neutral times, when nothing important is being feasted or commemorated. Some of them are semi-permanent programs in the TV grid, especially for the public television, but also for niched commercial stations (educational, religious, news). These shows are mostly low budget productions and are either talk shows, or documentaries, or a mixture of the two. Most of the time, the subjects are related mostly to 19th and 20th Century; they are centered on the “expert” voice, the tone being rather informative than interpretive (usually, it’s only one guest, besides the anchorman/maker).
Two documentary series, produced in Romania and broadcasted one by the public television and the other by the news television Realitatea TV (private station) are different, among others, in the Romanian media landscape: The Memorial of Pain (Memorialul Durerii, MoP), produced by TVR (made by Lucia Hossu Longin) and Bucharest Strictly Secret (Bucureşti Strict Secret, BSS), written and directed by Stelian Tanase. Both, after being broadcasted on TV were turned into DVDs and sold on the market, MoP in a series of 10 DVDs with 36 of the episodes and BSS into 7 DVDs). The Memorial of Pain was also turned into a book.
We set ourselves to analyze these two series in parallel, as two good examples, although almost antagonistic, of the way history is approached by the television, in Romanian documentaries; on the other hand, they are both representative for the new way history can be seen, nowadays, in the media.
The unifying element of the MoP period is the communist times and what was called “the crimes of communism” (crimes as in murders), whereas BSS’s unity is rather a concept/narrative one. Its “formal” unity is given by the date and place (Bucharest) where its various stories happen (very different times and subjects: theatre, politics, military, literature, horse racing, earthquakes, etc.). We are using the term “formal” only because Bucharest was one of the few political and cultural centers of the country, so, inevitably, most of the history took place here. Both documentaries are built on the “disclosure” pattern, but if one of them discloses the atrocities of a political regime, with the overt purpose of making us assume a history we would like to forget as soon as possible (thus the term “memorial”), the other is the kind of bringing to light the “skeletons in the closet” type of documentary, revealing the backstage of history.
They both relate to people which are not “front stage” in history – not the common man in the street, but still not the great historical figures (it’s about professors, writers, etc.). But, if in MoP the purpose is that of revealing the crimes of communism at the society level, exemplifying them through these virtually unknown characters, in BSS, the individual person’s role in the big picture of history is rather fragmented, as history itself.
We continue to compare: on one hand, a classical, simple cut documentary series, where all elements are saying the same thing, in a redundancy of message (MoP); on the other hand, a sophisticated series, a real waste of creative imagination (with frequent cuts, many narrative times, many approach angles, many levels of reading the history).
Furthermore, on the similarities slope: they both use archive materials juxtaposed with new footage, they both use the testimonials; BSS uses a lot the “expert” voice; they both use the voice over. As a distinctive feature, while MoP the maker (Lucia Hossu Longin) is almost never seen on screen; in BSS, Stelian Tanase is a frequent appearance. They both play a lot on the atmosphere, but, while the MoP is intended to be most authentic, the BSS features a renewed atmosphere, much in the spirit of contemporary society (if an earthquake is presented, the style of the coverage is similar to the Five O’Clock news.
In BSS, the Great History, the one they teach in school, the official, heroic history, is a mere set or scenery for the “real” history, which is made up, in fact, by the small histories. An example would be the reconsideration of August, 23rd, 1944 (for 45 years, Romanian National Day – its significance was the turn of arms against Germany and the alliance with the Soviet Union) – from another perspective: that day, the identity of a play writer, who wrote Steaua fara nume, successful on Bucharest stages without being known the fact that the author was Mihail Sebastian – a Jew.
One of the episodes in BSS is The Old Court Philanderers. The documentary is about the novel with the same title by Mateiu Caragiale. The characters in the novel were a group of decadent aristocrats, placing themselves, by wealth, experience and knowledge, above good and evil. The documentary is treating, altogether, the historical characters thus names (who lived before the time of Caragiale’s novel), who were people living on the fringes of society and the inspiration for the author, and the personal history of Mateiu Caragiale. Three different stories, three different times and a discourse, that of the documentary, which is based on intertextuality. The novelty of this documentary is the fact it brings the past into the actuality through narration and settings specific to the television news. Thus, a “reporter” hanging on to his microphone is reporting of the events in the distant past as if they were current events transmitted by the news programs; the feeling of the “live transmission”, of the imminence of things presented is also conveyed by the reporter’s tone; also, the sensationalism is there.
Time slots of the narration:
The historical time when the “philanderers” lived
The history of the “Old Court” and its significance in the history of Bucharest and Romania
Mateiu Caragiale’s life and the “history” of his book („Craii de Curtea Veche”)
The present (what the Old Court Philanderers means in the present, what do people think now of the book, scenes not yet discussed from the lives of current “philanderers”, the night life of Bucharest)
The future: something that carries over the past (the end line: “The philanderers will exist as long as Bucharest shall exist”)
It is a very complicated narrative where we can find: the story telling of rough historical facts (by the documentary’s director or by experts), the story telling of “histories” regarding rough historical facts (found either in that period’s documents, or in personal diaries).
All these slots and characters do meet in a single place, and that is Stelian Tanase’s story (for he’s also the writer and director). Contrary to this, in Memorial of Pain, everything converges towards creating the holistic picture of the communist history.
As a conclusion of the analysis of these two series, we would say that history documentaries are becoming more and more “author films”. And this is an obvious exceeding of the “communist” type of documentaries from Teleenciclopedia, identified on a scroll by two elements: the voice over reading the text and the “expert” who had documented the whole thing, as images were merely illustrative. With both these series presented here, we have real narrative constructs where the director or the maker hallmark the work through the cut on the facts, for example; through the voices called to witness, etc. And, moreover and most important, the films’ authors are undertaking this personal hallmark!
Still on the common ground for the two series: the history documentaries are exceeding the knowledge sphere, to address also the emotional, esthetical, moral and even epistemological registry, the identity issue etc.).
They are not objective/neutral anymore; moreover, they don’t even pretend to be neutral anymore. They contain value judgments; people express the hope that history should or should not repeat, etc.
But what makes them differ fundamentally is the ending: if, in the Memorial of Pain, the history presented is thought forever gone29 – and is hoped never to repeat – in Bucharest Strictly Secret is induced the feeling of a history that may repeat at any moment, and the idea that things like that can occur even at this moment.
Foreign countries’ history is present seldom on Romanian television: the elections or special times when dossiers within news programs present key moments in that country’s history. USA’s history was present outside news, when Obama was elected and sworn in. As we have seen, some of the private stations, especially the niched ones, do broadcasts series of history documentaries produced abroad – of course, covering foreign countries’ history (such is Antena 2). B1 TV broadcasts, in weekends, various documentaries produced by a Romanian film production house, Cinethronix: Balcic, Carol the First, but also Eiffel Tower history were subjects for this one man show production house. The public television also broadcasts, on some of its channels (especially TVR Cultural), series of documentaries, some of them covering history, other on art history or culture.
The same public television, on its main channel, TVR1, programs, inside its most long lasting show, Teleenciclopedia (weekly program broadcasted on Saturday evenings, who was not interrupted not even when TVR’s emission was cut to two hours a day) is showing documentaries and TV features, most of them, with foreign footage and dubbed sound (the items being bought), on history among other things, alongside with geography, biology, religion or art. In this context, foreign history appears at the public station, on TVR1. Sometimes, Romanian history is also present, in features produced by TVR. This is the only history program being dubbed, the Romanian voices being, besides the most recognizable beginning, the “trademark” of this program (Florian Pitiş, Sanda Ţăranu are some of the persons whose voices are known “from Teleenciclopedia”). Teleenciclopedia represented, thus, the only permanent show covering history, during the last years of communism. In festive times, it was added documentaries – and never debates – on historical issues related to the event.
In the beginning of television, the sixties and seventies, there were programs with fixed place in the grid, dedicated to history, one of them being “Documents in Stone”.
As we mentioned when talking about the evolution of public television, the significant change in approaching history took place with the regime change in 1989, meaning the Revolution in 1989 (event which is integrated to the series of historical events that ended communism in Europe, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of Soviet Union, etc.). Until that moment, in Romania history was intangible, a science not to be contested or re-written or tampered with and comprised the indisputable, official history of Romania. It was taught in schools as such and, the rare moments it mingled in the media it was as documentaries or feature films on “our glorious past”30, respecting totally the official version. During communism and especially under Ceausescu, a heroic history of Romanian people – heroically resisting for ages to foreign threats and invasions – was established and, in some points, invented, with a strong nationalistic feel to it (especially after the Prague Spring and the moment Ceausescu responded unfavorably to Russian tanks invasion and thus set himself and Romania outside the communist internationalism). It was, above all, a profound history filled with ideological messages, where the between the wars period of economic development in Romania was stigmatized as a bourgeois time of exploitation of workers and peasants.
The big change, after 1989, it was precisely in the way of seeing history, a fallible31 science that allows for alternative views. Thus is set the way for a shift from the big History to histories. The small histories, most of the times approached in a telenovelistic manner, according to Ion Cristoiu, Romanian journalist, boudoir histories, get the “big History” 32 de-mystified, most of the times by exposing the small reasons of facts and events considered, before as great, based on ideals and important values and revealing the plots and affairs through which history was in fact created. To some extent, this shift is responsible for the current tendency in representing history at television.
This approach of history is part of a more general phenomenon encountered in the current Romanian society. Thus, the tone and pace were set, among scholars and academics, by Prof. Lucian Boia33, historian, Professor at History Department, University of Bucharest, who published many history books as a mixture of national mythology, current days’ ideology and historical facts. In the same time, other reputed historians are trying to re-compose the history of the beginning of the 20th Century, a somewhat taboo-ish part of our history during communist times.
Another event that led to this situation was the publishing of the “alternative” school books, in 1999. Up until then, for each school discipline there was only one hand book on the market, for each year of study. Usually, the same handbook was used, with insignificant revisions, for decades – after being approved by the Education Ministry, it was republished year after year. The alternative handbooks phenomenon, which gave rise to many debates in the media – and still does – shook mostly the “history” discipline. Not only that history was demoted from the lives of the “great rulers” (who occupied the most part of the old handbooks) to describing daily life of remote times; not only that the rulers were sharing the same space with semi-contemporary figures who hadn’t passed the time test, but in the beginning, especially, provided different explanation for the same historic event. This “exercise” of getting familiar with and accepting the alternative handbooks was, in my opinion, one of the key elements in forging the new way of regarding the history.
Not last, the abundance of conspiratorial literature, both in its fictional (see Dan Brown phenomenon), and “scientific” versions (in books that pretend to be about the “real” history), do contributed – but to a smaller extent, because it brought along a big load of ideology and to the official history it opposes it own history, its own “truth”, equally “unique and irrefutable” – to the acceptance of the fallible character of the previous history.
Thus, as a reaction to the way of seeing history as “unique, official and for the use of everybody”, as it was actually seen before 1989, was the opening towards conspiratorial views or the “history for the connaisseurs”, history beyond history. If, in communist times, masonry was taboo (practically, there was no such discourse, neither in the media nor in history handbooks), now it is a subject of high TV ratings, either in debates and talk shows or in documentaries (for example, the role of masonry during the 1848 Revolution).
As a speculative fact, I think that a major change in the way of conceiving history at least in its televised version is the major change in its evaluation criteria: from fact correspondence with the facts (“story X is true because that’s the way it happened”) to the coherence of description (“story X is true because all the proves we have on it hold water”).
Actually, the tendency is to switch from the GREAT History, the national history, towards micro-history and living history. To turn the attention from the wider problems related to nation and nationality, to turn away from ethnic conflicts and the ongoing issue of “why communism”, towards the little history of common people. Recovering the small history from design, objects, myths and drawing from the lives of people that witnessed many ages (pre-war, war, communism, post-Revolution) is the new trend in television history.
It is rather unlikely that history programs on television would have a considerable impact on the audiences. They do not yield nation wide debates; rarely, the “real historians” or the descendants of the actors of some historic moment are denouncing the dilettantism of pseudo-historians of post-Revolution era” (with direct mention to historian Alex Mihai Stoenescu) that risked creating a false history, a thing that even the communist historiography failed doing it, although it had the apparatus of an oppressive ideology with a vested interest in forging an inexistent truth”34.
Thus, in a protesting letter signed by the Christian Democratic Popular Party (PPCD), the successor of the Christian-Democratic National Peasants’ Party (PNTCD), protesting against a TV program by Alex Mihai Stoenescu, PNTCD alleged that at least four of the statements made by AMS during the show were totally false. Among the history “mystifying” assertions, one was related to the birth of the Romanian National Party in Transilvania, from which PNTCD rose – which later became PPCD. A.M.S. explains this chain as a hidden strategy of yet another party, who was in power at that time in Romania (Transilvania belonged, at that time, to Austro-Hungary and not to Romania). The second assertion is that Iuliu Maniu, founder of PNTCD, who was seen as a hero of the anti-bolshevism, did not defended Romanian interest in the Budapest Parliament. The accusation of dilettantism and “mystification” appear in tough words in the letter when heroism of a person or a party is questioned. As long as this “rewriting” of history does not affect somebody in particular, that sort of public outbursts towards a possible “mystification” of history are missing. In the above case, the protesters assign the guilt for re-writing history to the desire of saying something new, of giving its own version of history, briefly, of being original at any cost, which, in television, translates by getting a good rating. For this reason, the freshly created freedom of speech, which is most of the times equal to absence of rules of any kind, be it deontological, is the best background against which to play.
If we can speak of an impact on the audiences, that must be at individual level, manifesting at least in the talks the next day, at work or in discussions with friends (the so-called “secondary reception”). Although there aren’t such studies, our observation is going towards this interpretation.
The issues/matters that continue having the most impact (at the individual level – and not that big as we already mentioned), are still related to the communist time and the Revolution in 1989. Among these, especially within the current opening towards conspiratorial scenarios, a special place is being reserved to the “Romania being sold at Yalta”, when it was decided, by the great powers of the moment, that Romania should remain under the influence of Soviet Union. But, again, this is a subject of impact more on the psychological level, placing us in a “victim” position that brings along the alleviation of the “responsibility” in front of history.
The 100,000 Romanians Campaign35
We should mention here this social campaign that, although has nothing to do with covering history in the present times, has everything to do with media and with what became history. The „100,000 Romanians Campaign”, destined to raise funds for bringing into Romania and digitizing the radio programs archives of Free Europe radio station, was on promoted through all the media (radio, TV, newspapers, the Internet) and used two main approaches. The testimonial strain used personalities of the moment (historians, politicians, singers or civil society prominent figures) who testified of the importance for him/her of Radio Free Europe. All the copies were ending on an inclusive note: I am X, one of the 100,000 Romanians that are bringing their history at home. Be one of them yourself!”. Then, a voice over says: Donate two Euros via SMS at *** in order for you to be able to say: “Free Europe is here36!””. The second approach is present especially in print and on the Internet and it has the shape of some fliers with the message: “A hundred thousand Romanians that ever listened to Free Europe are wanted! We shall bring home the radio archives of the Free Europe. Be one of the 100,000 Romanians that are bringing home their history!” – or: „Wanted: 100,000 young persons who want to find out what Free Europe meant! We shall bring home the radio archives. Be one of the 100,000 Romanians bringing home their history!”.
This campaign seems important to us because the media (in this case, Radio Free Europe) are seen not only as the conveyor of the history (post factum), but as a history maker – as in Videograms of a Revolution.
Unfortunately, the campaign didn’t reach its goal (when it ended only the amount of 65000 euro was donated, and this after two more “teledon” shows were organized by the public television. This obvious failure of the media to provoke a movement in the public space, as linked to a historical problem, made the written media talk about the relationship between media and history before and after 1989 (the article “Where are our anti-communist people?” in Dilema Veche, nr. 319, 25-31 March 2010).
Use of history theme in advertising
Talking about the influence of covering history over the audience, we find interesting to see in what measure „the history sells”, in other words if and in which measure historical themes connected with history are seen in advertising.
As a first remark, we shall notice that this theme appears only in the Romanian publicity after 1989, a fact which should not puzzle us though, as the advertising during communist times was almost absent form different reasons (censorship, associating advertising with the consumerist society, state monopoly for most products and services, which made the advertising useless etc).
Surprisingly enough, during the last years also, historical themes are not very much present in advertising. In the table below we synthesized the manners of using history in Romanian advertising.
Type of pro-duct
History is employed as…
Past and present report
Historical moment put in value /historical theme
The brand pays off/makes up for, from the very first glass (1716) offered to the Emperor of the Time, the savior water given under siege conditions, war, drought. The slogan is „Timişoreana – the story goes on”.
Founding moment for the product, identitary moment.
Beginning of the 18th Century, war.
Under the slogan „Bucegi – together for good and worth” there are exemplified in a minimalist manner (white and black shooting, no distinct characters, the situations being recomposed only of „voices” different frustrating situations from communist times (lack of TV shows, the night queue for an uncertain meat supply). The final line, the only one uttered clearly, being „to our good health!”
Exemplifying of a situation of product use.
Ambivalent: discontinuity – connected to the idea that „then” it was bad, „now” it is good; but also continuity, offered by a brand that offers stability, with identity values.
Recent history, communist times.
The beer presented (falsely) as an alternative to a legendary gesture of Burebista, the first ruler of the Dacian people (sec. I b.Ch.), to burn the vineyards in order to limit the wine consume.
Founding moment for the Romanians, who puts a „label” on them as „bear drinkers”/the history justifies the product.
Very far history in time, practically the beginning of the history in nowadays space of Romania, the Burebista moment, sec. I b.Ch.
Common aspects from everyday reality of the nowadays youngsters are taken and „translated” under communist reality37 with the slogan “Rom tricolor. Hardcore sensations from 1964”
A founding moment for the product, exotic context.
Recent history, communist period of time.
There are employed legendary characters of the Romanian history in problematical current day situations (lack of heating or excessive heating, bathroom etc.) that are improved by the modern techniques (in a time cut) The slogan used „modern solutions offered by professionals to old time problems.”
Exemplifying a situation of possible use of the product/the history is mocked at/the historical figures are „taken down” from their legendary pedestal to the comic portrayal of the everyday life.
Ambivalence: continuity of problems, discontinuity in solutions.
Different moments clearly announced at the beginning of the spot (1459, Vlad Ţepeş period; 1709 Brâncoveanu; 1475 Ştefan Cel Mare)
As a conclusion of the analyses of the presence of historical themes in advertising, we can say that preferred products are alcoholic beverages (especially the beer), a favoring of everyday situations over „great events” of history and also that the recalling of history is put under the sign of historical continuity.
Though, at the question from the beginning of this section, we have to answer negatively. The history does not sell, being used very few times in publicity, and when it is recalled, it is reinterpreted, minimized, descended from the „pedestal” where the collective imaginary put it (a pedestal we learnt to appreciate in school, as we were students, regardless of the sincerity of the admiration each of us felt for the nations’ heroes and history), the presentation tendency being similar to that met in the „new wave” movies, both fiction and documentary. The question remains open: to what degree this manner of seeing history is conform with the public expectations or, on the contrary, it gives to the audience a feeling of discomfort, thus explaining the reduced quantity of advertising using historical themes.
Annex: TV shows with history content:
Istoria aproape38, History Close
Format: documentary followed by and/or preceded by studio talk
Host : Neagu Djuvara, historian, PhD with Raymond Aron
Period :October 2007- present
Istoria polemica, Polemic History
TVR1 and TVR International (2002), then on TVRCultural (still there in 2005)
Host : Neagu Djuvara
Dialoguri despre altadata, Talks on Old Times
Host : Constantin Balaceanu-Stolnici
Memorialul durerii, The Memorial of Pain
TVR1, and then sold as DVD series of 10 and as a book: Lucia Hossu Longhin, The Memorial of Pain. A History Not Taught in School, Ed. Humanitas, Bucuresti, 2007
Format : series of documentaries on communist history within the perspective of “small histories” of victims of communism: “The only documentary film in Romania that interweaved individual stories with the national history39 », based mostly on footage of witnessed things, footage taken within communist political prisons, in the dark atmosphere specific to this kind of places40 (shares a common feeling to Gulag Archipelago of Soljenitin).
Creator and director : Lucia Hossu Longhin
Realized during a period of 16 years.
Bucuresti strict secret41, Bucharest Strictly Secret
RealitateaTV (sold afterwards on DVD)
Format : series of documentaries (32 episods)
Director and host: Stelian Tanase
Nasterea unei natiuni, Birth of A Nation
Format : series of documentaries42 on a tight budget (a “counting of history” by historian AM Stoenescu, coupled with cine verite pieces of footage)
Director: Alex Mihai Stoenescu
Istorie si istorii, History and Histories
Director Mircea Dogaru
Format: Lectures or talk show in the studio
Pagini de istorie, Pages of History
Zig zag cu Ion Cristoiu, Zig Zag with Ion Cristoiu
From 2005 to 2009
Initial format: show with an audience present, then – debate or talk show in the studio, no audience in the studio. Inside the show there were many sub-sections, among which History as Telenovela (this is also the name of a column Ion Cristoiu writes in Jurnalul National, whose articles were then gathered in a volume43).
2 This ruler is an almost mythical figure in Romanian history, even though not in its founding history. Yet, he’s considered to have been one of the keepers and guards of Romanian identity, through the wars he fought with the Turks (Ottoman Empire) that resulted in keeping our Christian faith. The usual discourse is: “During Middle Ages, Europe’s main problem was the Turk threat. In the face of those, the old continent was identified with the Christian Republic, making Christianity as a basis of its unity. Stefan the Great not only participated in these wars, but was one of their promoters. In 1499, Lithuanian envoy of the Great Duke Alexander tells Ivan the Third: „Stefan the Great’s country is the gateway to all Christian countries around here: if his country goes down (…), then our countries won’t be at peace with that mighty enemy”. http://www.nordlitera.ro/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=2396
3 Surnamed, the last few years, but rather ironically, “the people’s television”, in reference both to its audience standards (common people) and to the audience’s great numbers (see the references to its audiences growth).
4 The motto being: “Because you don’t know what you are missing!”
5 According to AGB-TNS International (the company in charge with studying audiences and the market) at the end of 2007, a few months in a row, OTV was in top five for audience, at urban level and nationwide, to an average rating of 1.1%, meaning 106.000 viewers per minute. http://www.adevarul.ro/articole/2007/cazul-elodia-ridica-puternic-audienta-otv.html
6 For example, former Securitate General Nicolae Plesita was invited many times as a guest of the show. He used to unravel saucy things from recent history backstage that were challenging.
7 Clients of the digital platform Dolce TV made numerous demands of getting History Channel and History Viasat in their package of stations received (http://oppinio.ro/petitie/introducere-canale-tv-noi-in-grila-operatorului-digital-dolce/page3.html)
8 Who was Romanian National Day during communism and who was celebrating the famous turn of arms towards Nazi Germany and the alliance with the USSR.
9 The current National Day, celebrating the Union took place at December the 1st, 1918, when Transilvania (Romanian province) united to Romania, who comprised, back then, Moldova and Muntenia (Tara Romaneasca).
10 King’s Day, marking the beginning of the reign of king Carol I – May the 10th, 1866
12 Although this show was called just like its famous predecessor, made in 1915, it doesn’t keep from it but the name and the idea of presenting a significant moment in time, considered a founding moment, of the history of one nation (Romanian, in our case). The program was presented by its maker, in an interview, as a low budget production, being rather a monologue of Alex Mihai Stoenescu, taped in various locations, sometimes signinficant in themselves (near the Royal Palace, the current National Museum of Art of Romania), and sometimes not (like parks, Cismigiu Park being one of the locations). „The result is a hybrid, situated between a filmed monologue and a spectacular and logic chain of images, characteristic to high budget documentaries. The footage of the maker in various locations or the archive footage with voice over are part of a rather rudimentary recipee, but one of a certain success.” (http://www.9am.ro/stiri-revista-presei/LifeStar/9252/Televiziunile-din-Romania-descopera-documentarele.html)
13 See, for example, the “100%” program, moderated by Robert Turcescu, broadcasted by RealitateaTV, the edition where they invited Neagu Djuvara as the guest, with the occasion of him releasing his book on the history of Negru Voivod, Thocomerius – Negru Voda. Un voivod de origine cumana la inceputurile Tarii Romanesti, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDe8be6If34&feature=PlayList&p=BEE11EB895487803&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=6
14 Yet, TVR has, on its own site, under Archive, a special section dedicated to the Revolution in 89.
15 The first of the two Unions, in 1859.
17 This continuous announcement was not merely informative, but, in some sense, it recreated the context of 20 years ago: in December the 25th 1989, when the two Ceausescu were executed, the convering of this event was preceded by a long (five to six hours) of waiting, during which the sentence, „in a few moments, we’ll present the footage of the execution of Ceausescu spouses” was heavily announced, verbally and written on screen, at the only TV channel or that time, TVR.
18 It won the big prize at the The Art of the Document Festival, who took place in Warsaw, 17th to 30 November. This year’s edition celebrated 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall: „The Year 1989 in Europe. Image-Memory-Record”.
19 Camera being identified with the characters of the film is visible also from lines like: „Camera is in danger”, „That day, all the cameras were gathered into one of the „Actualităţi” studios, all focused on a TV screen” (1:33:49).
20 Such unpublished footage do surface – taken by amateurs, shaky footage, the „hidden camera” sort, which, in most of the times, we can hear free talk or explanatory talk of the people present around the camera.
21 On the privileged statute of the camera: „Everybody is staring at the screen with the hope they will see the images that only cameras have the right to record” (1:34:06)
22 The irony is that Pro TV was launched and perceived, at least at the beginning, as “American”, not only because of the financial investment, but also for the kind of television it meant to be (for a long time, it broadcasted exclusively American movies; the news were spectacularized on the same recipe; the shows were following the patented formats famous in America, etc.). Under these circumstances, Romanian National Day was celebrated, at Pro TV, in an American manner – actually, constantly re-interpreted.
23 Each year, a new anthem. In 2004, celebrating its 9th year of existence, it was orchestrated and re-interpreted the official National Anthem of Romania, Desteapta-te romane!: http://www.protv.ro/emisiuni/shows/best-of-pro-tv/video/31079
25 The film also has a dedicated website, http://kogainonfilms.com/Pages/Hill789/Hill789.html
26 An article from 1934 to which Dimitri (the grandfather) also contributed, by the photos it is illustrated; an article written by Dan D (the father) in 1968 („America Steps Again in România”) and an article written by Dan Dimăncescu starting from his grandfather war journal, published in December 2008 („Proba de foc”, http://www.natgeo.ro/istorie/personalitati-si-evenimente/proba-de-foc/toate-paginile).
27 Of that who was taught in school and who’s now disavowed as being imbued with communist ideology, but replaced quite illogically by a „stardom” ideology.
28 On one hand, from the „scientific” (glorifying historical) literature, who used to heroify excessively conflict and war and, on the other hand, by the fiction literature, where conflict was presented more realistic but less heroic: “a lucid mind such as Camil Petrescu (writer) is presenting to us, in his novel Ultima noapte de dragoste, întâia noapte de război (Last Love Night, First War Night) very convincingly, the real situation and I tell you honestly, to me it seemed much closer to the truth when he’s saying, for example, of the way Romanian entered the war totally unprepared”
29 The film has the role of making history known, but also of making us “learn” from it (as learning from history means to assume its teachings, not only to „know”).
30 That was the stereotypical sintagm used most of the times by the communist media.
31 Although communism falsified history by re-writing it, as in Orwell’s work, this idea was not accepted.
32 In this respect, an important role in legitimizing this position also had Professor Lucian Boia in his work, History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness, Humanitas, 1997, book considered to be “the best known book by Boia, at least among Romanians, [which] constituted a true cultural shock and opened the way to vast revising from the historical perspective. Lucian Boia makes a clear divide between history that has been and its various representations, unavoidably adapted, deformed and often mystified, according to the changing perspectives of present day and most often by the ideologies at play.” www.humanitas.ro
33 Two Centuries of National Mythology (2002), Myth of Democracy (2007), The Game with the Past (2008). He also published books which attempt to “demystify” some other subjects, as “Jules Verne. Les paradoxes d’un mythe” (2005, Societes d’edition Les Belles Lettres).
36 Pun remembering the opening line of the radio program in Romanian of Radio Free Europee, « Here Is Free Europe » (on Ciprian Porumbescu’s music).
37 If we’d set ourselves to reccur to fiction movies as a parallel, the most adequate term of comparison for the Rom chocolate bar wuld be the much acclaimed ““Tales from the Golden Age” (an omnibus film consisting in everyday life situations from that period).
38 At this moment, the show continues at one of the public stations, but without anchorman, and it consists in Romanian documentaries.
43 Author Ion Cristoiu, Istoria ca telenovela, (The History as telenovela), 2005, Ed. Evenimentul Romanesc, ISBN: 973-86704-3-8