Romanian SF Fandom Flunked – Again


I have acted in a strategic-advisory capacity to the Romanian 2021 Eurocon bid. I will continue to do so for as long as my service is requested. Because time and energy invested, I share my outrage over the cancellation of the bid with the Romanian sf movement. If it is any consolation; for once an overwhelming majority of you are on the same side. Over my more than 42 years in sf-fandom I have been a spectator in countless feuds. My experience with fandom wars and feuds is this. There are no winners. Everyone loses.

Romania is barely 30 years after the revolution. The objective power used to reside with men who had their say for so long, they can’t get used to have it any other way. But to quote a character from a famous story, written by a good friend of a good friend of mine; Lord Varys said: “The power resides with who you believe the power to reside.” Money and power are fictional values, enforced by our conviction that they are real. A family in Romania who could afford to buy five new cars, had after the revolution the same amount of money, but it was then only enough for half a new car. We learn from history, only that we do not learn from history. And power play? Really? In the duck pond that the sf movement is? Grow up! Even if we only support each other and are good to each other. Even then we will only, now and then, maybe, be noticed in society as a whole.

This far and no further. A line must be drawn here! (Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek:First Contact)

When I began interesting myself for internal Romanian fandom affairs, I was informally briefed by former ESFS board members. Trouble was to be expected ahead. I was pleased to find, that I have met only fans and professionals whose acquaintance was a pleasure to make. I noticed only some odd terminology. I was presented as an influencer. I didn’t comment on it, but I thought about it. Okay… I never looked at it from such angle. It is not entirely incorrect. But as one fan was brutally described to me as a dictator and another as his lapdog, then I realize that there is something seriously wrong. Many people I talked to do not wish to be quoted and I respect such  wish. But no one should need to worry about reprisals for talking.

The SF Cenacle, later renamed to Solaris was founded on 25 July 1969 in Bucharest and the first Romanian sf-club devoted to H.G.Wells, was founded in Timisoara on 9th November 1969 at the Students Culture House. Helion came into existence at the University of Timisoara on 18th March 1980. When science fiction became more popular, Securitate began to take interest and infiltrated most Romanian sf-clubs. Securitate was the Romanian equivalent of Stasi and NSA. The 1970 TAFF-delegate Elliott K Shorter mentions two Romanian sf-fans who attended the sf-worldconvention in Heidelberg 1970. They were present when Jacqueline Osterath (France) laid the motion at the worldcon business meeting for the current run of Eurocons which began with the 1972 Trieste SF-Film Festival. They were also present and participated in signing the protocol of the business meeting. It was signed Ion Hobana (whose real name was Aurelian Manta Rosie) and Vladimir Colin (the latter originated from the communist bureau of censorship and propaganda). Both of them sanctioned by Securitate. In 1977 Hobana arranged for Paul Goma to be excluded from the writer’s association for not liking socialism. Evidently Hobana was working with the political police. Yet, the 70’s are described as a time of freedom, compared to the 80’s.

At home their worldcon attendance was stated as “they participated in the initiation of the Eurocon” which Mircea Oprita (current chair of ARCA SF) blogs about in Fantastica#18 as late as 2018: Unaware that even if written in Romanian, google translate reveals the false statement in seconds: “Launched by Ion Hobana, the idea really had the effect of a bomb. All the European delegations were in solidarity, a motion was drafted that picked up countless signatures and, after thorough discussions in which the Americans participated, to fully agree, the European Congress will be organized . It was proposed that the first European Congress of anticipation be held in Triest, in 1972, in the last days of the Film Festival, which has entered the tradition.” Nope, Mr Oprita. It was not Hobana’s idea. History recorded another version outside Romania.

This is all past water under bridges. Fandom wars have been going on in Romania since the early 90’s. Basically, since the revolution. Now as a parallel, imagine Carolina Gomez-Lagerlöf as the dictator of SFSF (Scandinavian SF-Society) and Tomas Cronholm as her lapdog. This is the point where Swedish sf-fans would burst into hysterical laughter. Or imagine Johan Anglemark as an “influencer”. Yeah, well… He is an influencer, because I never ever heard him say anything which was not true or well phrased. Sweden and Europe could not have had a better TAFF-ambassador. We just don’t think in this kind of terminology.

And yes, we’re all good friends, Anglemark, Gomez many more and I. We are friends because we witnessed the Swedish fandom wars and its worst aftermath in 1994, when both planned conventions were cancelled because no one had any fun. We know, it can take only one person to ruin the fun for everyone else. Because of the endurance of more sf-fans in Sweden, like Anglemark and Gomez, Swedish fandom came back from the brink of destruction. The Eurocon 2011 in Stockholm was the ultimate triumph and redemption. Today, it would not enter the mind of a Swedish fan to do other than to salute those who work idealistically in forwarding their hobby.

Cristian-Mihail Teodorescu wrote home to Romania from Stockholm in 2011:“ Our participation in Eurocon 2011 was quite fruitful. If not in awards, at least in the lessons. Perhaps the main education was that European SF fandom is far from a mature society. The most vocal groups win. Not necessarily the best. Plus you don’t get along with the British when they ally with the Soviets (there was another little guy with a mustache who tried). ESFS is a society full of strict rules, but without money. Compared to ESFS, each of the four Romanian poles in SF (we named the group around Helion, the SRSFF group, the group around Millenium Books and the group around Quasar) is financially more safe and can even do more (see awards). These organizations are often associated with amounts that are not even symbolic.

What Mr Teodorescu didn’t understand, is that outside Romania, there is a most definite distinction between prodom (the sf professionals) and fandom. Money is handed around in prodom, authors, publishers and translators get paid. In fandom exist chiefly non-profit organizations. No idealistically working association is making profit. In fandom, money is often considered dirty and the cause for corruption. No one on the board of the ESFS, neither the current nor the previous board, has received a cent, nor any particular privilege, for their work.

The most prestigious sf award in Sweden goes to work done idealistically to the sf-fans and professionals who did work for free as fans. It was already so with the first prestigious award handed out by the Swedish SF Academy until 1976. Running a Eurocon is not a money-making opportunity, nor is any fandom-organized convention in the west. They are all non-profit, including ComicCon, which gives more of the impression of a commercial spectacle.

Separate fandom and prodom. A writer or an illustrator is supposed to get paid for his work. A convention-runner, can at best hope to participate at the convention where he is working, free of charge. Fanzines, when they were printed on paper once upon a time, were largely distributed for free among friends, or in trade (one fanzine for another fanzine, regardless of quality of print or number of pages). Money was rarely passed around, other than in Gerfany where elaborate and costly prints required the editor to charge a minimum fee for his fanzine. But it was considered unethical to charge more than the cost for printing one copy. Therefore it was imperative that the editor didn’t print more copies, than what he could hope to sell.

Mircea Oprita offered one profound truth in his article: “As the European Science Fiction Society must evolve to successfully meet the challenges it faces today and in the future, our fandom, to the extent it wants to impose itself on a European level, must also evolve, finding the intelligence and the strength to reach its goals. Here is where I wholeheartedly can agree with Mr Oprita. You have freedom of speech and you MUST have associations based on democratic principles. The chair is chiefly supposed to decide in which order the members get to speak. He can also decide if a free discussion can be held, but every decision taken, is written down in a protocol. The treasurer is supposed to keep a balance sheet and warn if income or expenses stampede. Ideally by the end of a year, the association should have a perfect balance or a small plus below the taxable barrier. So, good for you Romanians, that your organizations have money, but it has little to do with sf-fandom. And if you have rules and regulations, which support dictatorial behaviour, then you do not have democratic principles and do not belong in the European Union. It’s that simple. Article 31 in ARCA SF’s regulations is dubious. One person, one vote – is a democratic principle. Not 3 because you are a professional, or 5 votes because you represent a club. And yes, it is okay to have friends and support each other. It is okay to influence each other by well chosen arguments.

“Stupidity flourishes within our borders. It is not a Romanian monopoly. We can be proud of ours, but we must know that we have relentless rivals.” (Traian Ungureanu, Adevarul Ro)

You do not have a bad starting point. The failing of this one bid is not the end of the world. But do nothing. Choose to go on, like before, and your sf-movement will experience dwindling numbers, continued internal conflict and adios muchachos!

I had a rather uncontroversial dialogue with Alexandru Lamba of Gazeta SF. We were both astonished to find that a Romanian sf-writer generally sells better than a German. Why is this? After careful contemplation I’ve come to three equally responsible factors. 1) Romanians read more than Germans. 2) Fewer titles are published in Romania than in Germany and 3) The Perry Rhodan-series is still running. With 52 novellas every year, they occupy their solid share of the market. The world around you is not always better. On the contrary. Your sf movement more vital and stronger than the one in the Netherlands (a country similar in size of population).

Look at the good examples. Look at Croatia, the sheer enthusiasm and joy they have! And so many young sf-fans. Where from? How come they are having so much fun? Look at Sweden today, Finland or Poland. In the west, some countries live on their past reputation. See what the situation is today, before you assume the grass to be greener on the other side.

Some things are wise and true, even though you find it written in old fantasy-literature. The Bible, names all the cardinal sins. Greed, envy, jealousy, pride, hate, etc. I do not accept the notion of sin. I call them cardinal stupidity instead. Cardinal stupidity leads into vicious circles in the range from bad to worse. The opposite, wise and good acts spawn good reactions.

Crashing Darius Hupov’s Eurocon bid was an act of cardinal stupidity. Allowing people like Darius (with a vision) to go ahead strengthens your cause. Imagine he would have been successful and Distopicon would have had the size and impact he envisioned. You would have had an equivalent of Stockholm in 2011. A collective triumph. Nobody in Sweden truly thinks Carolina Gomez did all that by herself. She was the head of a competent team.

In my bid evaluation I was down-playing Hupov’s vision to a level sufficient to win the bid. In reality, he might have repeated the success of the 1994 Timisoara-Eurocon. All form of stupidity is self-defeating. You will never know what a great opportunity you missed. If Hupov is not disencouraged, he may give it another go. And instead of envy, everyone who can, should give him their support. A Romanian sf-fandom where everyone is supporting each other can go much further than what you can imagine today. Compete only with yourselves. The sky is the limit.

An article presenting the Romanian sf-movement and its fandom will follow in the next issue of CounterClock (#37) in which more of the interview’s I conducted will be quoted). Apparently facts need to be double and triple checked, since they are distorted even on Wikipedia.

COPYRIGHT@Wolf von Witting


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