American historian Larry L. Watts has opened an entirely new chapter in Romanian historiography. His two books (published in Romania and the United States) radically change the well-appropriated perspectives on relations between the Eastern Communist Bloc and the Socialist Republic of Romania. It significantly revises parts of Cold War history. The recently released second book “The first shall be last”, set as a continuation of the volume “With friend like these…The Soviet Bloc`s clandestine war against Romania” [“God, keep me away from friends”] (both published by RAO Publishing House) is a necessary approach to elucidate the recent history of Romania as an international actor. A charismatic speaker, historian Larry Watts kindly answered to the queries raised by the editors of Power & Politics World.
– In the previous book, “With friends like these…” you analyse the discrepancy (*in the last decade before the collapse of communism) between restrictive domestic politics and foreign liberal policy of Romania. Is not this kind of discrepancy the one that has generated and continues to generate such an mistrust and misperception of external partners (even if we admit the fact that the domestic politics has not decisively influence foreign policy)?
– I consider this the main cause that generates bad influence, further leading to a misperception from foreign partners. Moreover, in the above mentioned book, I emphasize that this is something abnormal. It is already known that, inspite of the differences in the human communities’ behavior all over the world, there are still some general expectations, regarding a particular/certain type of reaction, (admitting that at least one or more conditions may be unknown in a country policy). Here things have been totally different, meaning that Romania was part of an alliance which, in fact, was more hostile to itself than NATO. Dealing with such abnormal situations, it is very difficult to understand which are the reasons of a state policy. Any further explanation of experts which could provide clues in this respect, will bring more credibility to the state.
– Today, does Romania still have its own instruments of power projection, if we run out the membership in the Euro-Atlantic Club?
– Yes. When I say this, I refer to all those actions planned in very concrete meetings certified by historians, when Romania expressed its opinion from the first position. It can be compared to the difference between a nationalist and a patriot. The difference lies in the fact that when there is a common, regional, global interest, a patriot admits a compromise with all the non-supporters of his way of thinking, while for a nationalist – this approach seems unimportant, as long as he has a kind guidance which concerns only the people who live there with him. I think there were many difficult moments in your country’s history when people came off victorious from impossible situations. They knew how to realize those alliances and those necessary compromises among themselves, in order to reach a certain goal, this way proving that they were very powerful. They are much more stronger than they seem at first sight. They are very skillful in always choosing the third way…. this is what my brother-in-law concluded in a discussion.
– Let’s hope it is not the third way of Mr. Dugin …
– Oh, no … (he’s laughing)
– Do you think that the world history would have looked different if the Warsaw Pact had been reformed after 1980?
– Yes, I think so. At least for the time-line. “Gorbachev era” would have materialized much quicker due to the democratization, and it would have blocked the tensions generated by Kremlin in its efforts to gain total power and Eastern Alliance control. Although there were Romania’s merits at first, I assume that things would have looked different, meaning that the attitude of other members would have changed – and I refer to those who waited to see how things are going. The events would have performed in a different manner, most likely, on fast-forward.
– Has anything changed in approaching “Objective 24” after the collapse of the USSR? In fact, Russia is inheritor of the Soviet bloc. But, behold, we live in a century when strategic maps are written and rewritten with a different dynamic compared to the 70s and 80s. Or in other words: is still Romania “strategic nightmare” of Russia?
– It would be for me to have a certain opinion in such a case. Actually, I haven’t seen recent documents but, performing a short analysis of the events after ’89, I can consider that this obsession of Russians still blocks the relations between Romania and Moldova. We witnessed that the impact of Moldova‘s accommodation between Europe, Russia and Germany proved difficult to manage by the OSCE. We must try to solve this blockage, but it is not an easy target, if we take into account the perspective of international organizations.
– The titles of your books (in Romanian version, of course) use some proverbs pretty well rooted in the collective mentality of Romanians, as such, they are able to provoke some kind of reaction-reflex. Was it your option or the publisher’s?
– First, the title in English was my option (in fact also title – “With Friends Like These …” refers to a proverb, from American culture), but that through English translation would be lost some of substance. Or maybe it had not been exciting enough. So, the Romanian editor thought of some alternative, much more suitable to the spiritual heritage of your country.
To be honest, comparing with editions published in the United States, the Romanian language titles are more nuanced and more appropriate to what I wanted to express in books.
– Speaking about reactions, your first book was intensely appreciated on the one hand, but aggressively criticized, on the other. It seems that the second one will witness the same treatment. Are Romanian intellectuals divided between affiliation East / West? Or are they still just confused ?
– There is a part of things here related to the collective perception: many prefer to consider things in a negative way, others lay on the principle that Romanians are not able to be independent. Some believe that Romanians did nothing worthy in history, others think they were not allowed to do it, or they stood in front of the interests of the important states. There are numerous causes and reasons. In the academic environment, this dilemma was treated in huge volumes, placing its representatives in very difficult positions. There are some aggressive reactions that can be understood, one of those being Mr. Tismăneanu’s. In my book there are no references to my past, my friends, but I accept you may find philosophic tendencies and less rigorous approaches. I understand and I respect many of history researchers. I know it is difficult to accept an interpretation that does not fit in your own vision. In this respect, my book is a “brick stone” with hundreds of pages. It is necessary that these writings should be literally explained and argumented with documents which can be easily verified.
– Can we believe that excessive feed-back of some of your fellow historians comes from the fear of not being perceived suspiciously, and then they compensate in reactive Chapter ?
– It is difficult for me to answer what exactly determines such reactions. When a historian enrolls in such research projects, I consider that he should possess a certain degree of humanity (maturity and honesty) and when is facing with a different approach that is more powerful than commonly accepted interpretations, he needs to understand that if common opinion can be contradicted, then his thesis also can be contradicted, sometimes even more humiliating. I provide evidences that the Romania was considered by the Soviets not only a rebellious state. Romanians were considered the main enemy in the Eastern Bloc. But I can to accept a contrary view if it is supported by evidence and arguments. I did not mention it yet, but Romania’s transfer from the Department of relations with fraternal services to NATO countries group (the transfer was realized by KGB in the late ’70s), was mainly due to foreign and security policy of Romania. If the blockage caused by ideological differences hadn’t been produced, Romania would certainly have had other opportunities. In fact, Ceausescu has created opportunities, but he was not able to exploit them in the relationship with the West.