Controversy indeed. A bronze bust of Adrian Paunescu sculpted by Ion Deac Bistriţa and Dragoş Neagoe was unveiled in Gradina Icoanei on Saturday by Nicolae Ontanu, mayor of sector 2. It has caused quite a stir - and, IMHO, rightly so.

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paunescu bustThe Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile (IICCMER) expressed ?disapproval of this initiative? in a communiqué on Friday and publically asked Ontanu to renounce what it termed as "an irresponsible gesture" - to no avail, it seems, as the unveiling went ahead as planned the following day.

The IICCMER stated: "According to Governmental Decree no. 1, 372/18.11.2009 and its further amendments,  the prerogatives of the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile include identifying the persons responsible for the ideology and propaganda of the totalitarian state, as well as emphasising the intellectual sources of the way that totalitarian thought and practices were formed. 

Before 1989, Adrian Păunescu (1943-2010) was one of the supporters of dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and, from this position, brought his contribution to the communist regime and ideology. Păunescu was the initiator and co-ordinator of a series of actions and artistic events by means of which far-fetched praise was brought to the regime and the leader of the Communist Party. Beyond his contribution in the field of literature ? which makes the object of literary experts? activity ? the public career of Adrian Păunescu before 1989 was made up of numerous moments marked by national-communism and immoderate acclaim of the leader.

From the IICCMER?s point of view, the cult for the persons who contributed to the strengthening and growing of the communist propaganda represent an act of contempt towards the victims  of the communist regime."

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 Paunescu is loved by many for his poetry (and trying to be objective, he did write some lovely poems - here's my favourite) and the memories he brings back of the flacari during the '70s and '80s. However, not everyone has such affectionate memories, attesting that these gatherings were pure manipulation and an attempt to brainwash.

For what it's worth, here's my opinion: Adrian Paunescu was an expert manipulator who hypnotised the young and impressionable masses. He was a guru, a pied piper of Hamlin ?-la-Romania. He beguiled a whole generation with a tiny window of 'freedom'. He and his fellow performers played them songs by Bob Dylan, Joan Boaz, gave them 'poetry', music and an opportunity to feel the thrill of rebellion in a party atmosphere. The real reason for Paunescu's Flacari didn't matter an iota to the crowds; that came second if indeed at all. They were children, most of them, allowed to be with friends, feel 'normal', stay up til 5am dancing and singing... Paunescu created an illusion and, as he said the lines and they sang them in relay, they did so with a shiver of doing what they thought wasn't really allowed. Of course, that was the whole point - it was indeed permitted, and Paunescu hauled them in like a fisherman catching sardines in a huge and inescapable net.

Today with things as they are, Romanians don't have a great deal to sing about. The constant gnawing of frustration or the empty pang of plain indifference since 'ce pot se fac' after all, fill the heart on awakening. Perhaps this is another valid explanation for the intensity of 'need' (on whatever level of authenticity) to remember Paunescu. Paunescu is almost like a word association for that national pride for those who attended the flacari back then. The rush of warmth and excitement, the splatter of colour on an otherwise grey canvas, the lost youth and mis-spent dreams. Paunescu's passing in 2010 brought back that nostalgia, memories of those evenings that were in support of a regime bent on crippling thought, creativity and intellect but for most of the young people there, it was simply a need to escape the every day robotic existence of getting from A-Z.

For those now aged 45-60 who were present at those gatherings, I understand this great desire to feel all that again - time numbs pain and sharpens happy memories on a general scale, we all know that. The guru-worship feels great, for at last there's something to cling to once again in a quagmire that today is the ruling government (whether it be PDL, USL or whoever - they are all the same) and political class.

For those who didn't live this period, however, it cannot be understood nor revisited. Not by stories ? vive voix, articles and not even by youtube. The magic of the pied piper does not work by procuration. You had to be there to feel the bewitching effect of a modern-day Mefistopheles. The fanatical hero-worship of a mediocre poet and servant to Ceausescu (so successful that even Ceausescu himself got worried and stopped the flacari using the disaster at Ploiesti as the perfect scapegoat) hangs on the association of a glint of what freedom was to an abused society - and how that thought made them feel.

Just as I wrote back in November 2010 after Paunescu's death (which caused such a circus of grief of overwhelming proportions - scenes I will never forget as long as I live) the more disappointing the present is, the more one tends to yearn for the past and Romania seems to be suffering from a very dangerous form of amnaesia. I do not understand this lack of memory pertaining to one of the main propagandists of the 70s and 80s who had no reservations whatsoever. Perhaps, as has been mentioned often, he gave gifts and showed kind gestures, but that was NOT the full picture. Apart from that, Paunescu continued to react violently to anyone critical of Ceausescu up until his death - one interview in November 2010 saw the poor television presenter (Turcescu) hardly able to get a word in against a tirade of 'yes, I loved Ceausescu!' and 'Ceausescu was greater than Basescu!'affirmations and diatribes.

This brings me to Paunescu's Mea Culpa episode back in '92 which sparked a (very) brief moment of sympathy within me. Paunescu poured ash on his head and performed Mea Culpa - but with two sentences: 'Sunt un porc. Sunt porcul dumneavoastra de Craciun liber.' These two sentences were not an apology. The words I'm sorry do not feature. Before anyone says, 'you aren't Romanian. You can't understand what 'porcul' means to a Romanian,' well, I do understand very well. It has been explained fully. And I stick to my original view: It was not an apology. Therefore, this form of 'mea culpa' could only have been for his own elevation and gain. Without an apology, 'mea culpa' does not work. It effectively cancels itself out.

It is strange, for when I lived in Bucharest and friends were suggesting poets I should read, literature to understand the Romanian soul better, I was advised Eminescu, Nichita Stanescu, Blaga, Bacovia, Cosbuc and a hoard of other wonderful, marvellous word-smiths. Never did anyone advise me to read Adrian Paunescu. Up until his death I had never heard of him. I was always quite proud of my knowledge of Romanian writers and literature as a foreigner... I didn't know Paunescu and no one ever mentioned his name.

Why a statue now and why him...? And who commissioned it anyway? Why not let the light shine for others who really do deserve it? And why wasn't Nichita Stanescu as revered - no such treatment at his death I understand, nor later either when times were easier to do so. Why? He was by far a better poet. There are so many marvellous, wonderful writers, poets, composers, artists who would have fit the bill so much better and without the controversy - more talented and without baggage... Why this all-encompassing desire to make this man an icon who does not deserve to be. As a poet yes, he will be immortalised in his books forever. But as a man he does not deserve the honour. HERE is an excellent article dating from November 2010 in Romania Libera which gives a few good insights as to why Adrian Paunescu suddenly made such a come-back.

At least, this is my opinion. I expect it will upset some and in which case I am sorry. But a man who wrote 'Sa traiti, Maria Voastra' at the end of a letter to the Ceausescus and created poems to them in praise and honour that I have since read in disbelief... no, I cannot think otherwise.

Adrian Paunescu was indeed a genius - but only in his manipulating capacity. He was not a patriot in any way as far as I can see. Perhaps he loved the country in his own manner, but to aid a dictator brainwash an entire generation is NOT an act of patriotism by any stretches of the imagination. A bust in his memory? To me, it is indeed an 'irresponsible gesture' and an insult to every victim who died at the hands of the regime.