"Or we just put the village in a few blocks": Systematizing the countryside in Ceaușescu's Romania

Authors: Tamás Illés*, Eötvös Loránd University
Topics: Historical Geography, Rural Geography, East Europe
Keywords: national planning, systematization, socialism, homogenization, ethnicity, urban-rural dichotomies
Session Type: Paper
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On 3 March 1988, Nicolae Ceaușescu, General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party made a dramatic announcement, calling for a radical reduction of the number of villages from 13.000 to no more than 5.000. Thus, he succeeded in putting Romania into the focus of the Western gaze for the second time. But while condemning the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia provoked the admiration of the West, this time the image of an Orwellian world began to emerge. As the majority of Hungarian-populated Romanian villages did not reach the lower limit of "viability", the alarming news led to a mass demonstration in Budapest, resulting in a strained relationship between the two "friendly socialist countries". This paper aims to put an end to the barren debate that either places settlement systematizations in the context of chauvinistic policies or in the guise of technocratic urbanization endeavors. To this end, systematizations will be re-interpreted based on Romanian party documents, taking into account the agency of other actors involved in the planning process. I argue that systematizations’ ideological reasons hardly differed from the ones of other Eastern European countries, as Ceaușescu also took a stand on the Marxist prophecies of urban-rural convergence, where the only task is to accelerate this "natural process". On the other hand, it can also be claimed that the drafts were not directly aimed against ethnic minorities, however, indirect links between these two kinds of homogenization could have been existed due to the highly centralized state apparatus.

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