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Memories in Dialogue: Transnational Stories About Socialist Childhoods


The chapter is an auto-duo-ethnographic exercise carried out by two scholars of life-writing, who grew up in the late 1970s and 1980s in Hungary and Romania. They draw on life-writing scholarship and memory studies in order to engage with the post-socialist representations of childhood, as well as the methodological challenges that accompany such narratives. Their personal narratives allow paradoxes to coexist, and cast into doubt the inherited paradigms of the “communist child” as an icon of socialist utopia, or a traumatized victim of the repressive regime. The chapter also investigates the role of autobiographical narratives in the process of witnessing and suggests that their co-construction of each other as witnesses can never be about confirmation, but only about the articulation of their mutual co-exposure.


  • Socialist Childhood
  • Communist Heroes
  • Adult Self
  • Powerful Resurgence
  • Socialist Realist Painting

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  1. 1.

    See, for instance, Dubravka Ugrešić, Slavenka Drakulić, Aleksander Hemon, and Gary Shteyngart.

  2. 2.

    Exceptions include Georgescu Ceauşescu’s Children (2015), Bădică & Popescu Remembering Childhood (2013), Alexandra Lloyd & Ute Wölfel Childhood in German Film after 1989 (2015). Publications in national languages also exist as evidenced in volumes such as Childhood under Socialism in Bulgarian edited by Ivan Elenkov and Daniela Koleva (Sofia: Centre for Advanced Study/Riva, 2010), In Search of the Lost World of Communism (2005) by Paul Cernat et al., or The Book of Childhoods (2016) edited by Dan Lungu and Amelia Gheorghitṃă in Romanian, but they tend to either “document” or judge the past rather than problematize the socialist times, and in so doing they look like a published extension of the online archives or blogs.

  3. 3.

    Impressive studies have been dedicated to the “impact of autobiography and subjectivity in the work of scholars across the disciplines” (Freedman & Frey, 2003, p. 1), and important work has been published on the autobiographies by scholars from various fields.

  4. 4.

    See Eakin’s (2004) edited collection about ethics in life-writing and Couser (2004) for different forms of vulnerability in collaborative life-writing.

  5. 5.

    Romania was a socialist state which promoted a communist ideology, and communism was perceived as an ideal stage our country should reach. The very name of the country was changed by Ceauseşcu from People’s Republic to the Socialist Republic of Romania; he also reversed the name of the party from Romanian Workers’ Party to Romanian Communist Party. In employing the terms “socialism” or “communism” throughout the autobiographical essay, I have this understanding in mind, and communism refers to specific ideological instances of my socialist upbringing.

  6. 6.

    The political propaganda which reached us in school was basically “wooden language” as it was called even then and just discourse. We all knew we had to put up with it: we listened patiently to the school director’s speeches, we recited poems, and so on, as part of school duties.

  7. 7.

    Due to the strong focus on communist nationalism and the nonaligned foreign policy in Ceauseşcu’s Romania, there was no Sovietization of literary and historical canons in the 1970s and 1980s; thus, the focus was on “national heroes,” with the communist pantheon alongside the early voivodes. The propaganda about the present was too blatant for us to believe, and earlier Romanian or world history was fascinating, irrespective of the wooden language and communist jargon.

  8. 8.

    The term––a semi-humorous reference to the Hungarian dish “goulash”––refers to a special variety of communism practiced in Hungary from 1962 to 1989, which was characterized by a unusual mix of Marxist ideology and elements of free market economy.

  9. 9.

    A special type of political beat music focusing on social and political issues.

  10. 10.

    Kosofsky Sedgwick cautions that our faith in knowledge as exposure may lead us down an epistemological tunnel where any conclusion that is not a rehearsal of the paranoia of oppression seems like a dangerous denial of the gravity of oppression. See “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or You are So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay is About You” in Touching, Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity.


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The authors are very grateful to the editors whose insightful suggestions have helped strengthen the current chapter. Ioana Luca acknowledges the support of the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan, research grant 104-2410-H-003-038-MY2.

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Lenart-Cheng, H., Luca, I. (2018). Memories in Dialogue: Transnational Stories About Socialist Childhoods. In: Silova, I., Piattoeva, N., Millei, Z. (eds) Childhood and Schooling in (Post)Socialist Societies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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