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  • Constructing Spaces of Dissent in Communist Romania:Ruined Bodies and Clandestine Spaces in Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days and Gabriela Adamesteanu's "A Few Days in the Hospital"
  • Roxana Cazan (bio)

In Communist Romania, 9,452 women died between 1966 and 1989 from failed attempts to terminate pregnancies (Draghici 2004). In the early 1990s, Romania recorded the highest maternal death rates in Europe (Population Reference Bureau 2003, 2). Severing access to legal abortion was instrumental in opening up venues where women could terminate their pregnancies through illegal means: "Although the abortion rate fell to 78 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 by 1996, it remains by far the highest in Europe" (United Nations 2002). The legal prohibition against sexual and contraceptive rights at this time transformed abortions into de facto practices of active citizenship. In her essay, "Gendering Dissent: Of Bodies and Minds, Survival and Opposition Under Communism," Maria Bucur-Deckard argues that women's decisions to abort their fetuses constituted acts of dissidence, whether this decision stemmed from a refusal to engage in politics, from a disagreement with mainstream politics, from commitment to democracy, or from simply "acting while fully aware of the legal repressive consequences of one's actions" (Bucur-Deckard 2008, 12-22). Bucur-Deckard's analysis provides the means to understand abortion in the Romanian context in relation to Holloway Sparks's notion of dissident or democratic citizenship. Sparks defines dissident citizenship as "the practices of marginalized citizens who publicly contest prevailing arrangements of power by means of oppositional democratic practices that augment or replace institutionalized channels of democratic opposition when those channels are inadequate or unavailable" (Sparks 1997, 75). Building on Bucur-Deckard's and Spark's work, I am interested [End Page 93] in analyzing representations of abortion as dissident citizenship in Cristian Mungiu's movie 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007) and Gabriela Adamesteanu's story "A Few Days in the Hospital" (1989), both of which take place during the final years of Communist rule in Romania.1

I proceed from the premise that some pregnant women who considered abortion in Communist Romania defied, among others, the state's attempt to define their wombs as national spaces, that is, the site for the literal reproduction of future citizens.2 Their transgressing the law and risking their lives identified their wombs as the place of dissidence, and their bodies the first location where the clandestine space begins to take shape. Through such courageous abortive acts, these women reclaimed their ruined bodies and, in so doing, created what Sparks calls "channels of democratic opposition," starting with the very site of maternity as an individual choice that they regain. Although not all women who terminated their pregnancies engaged in conscious political acts, they were well aware of the possible consequences that could have ruined their freedom and their public and private lives and those of the individuals witnessing the felony. In this way, abortion requires a certain amount of courage, which itself is the motor for dissident citizenship that "[contests] prevailing arrangements of power" (Sparks 1997, 75) and implements itself through the creation of clandestine spaces. Central to my analysis of gendered dissident citizenship is therefore this particular concept of the clandestine space, a transient zone of movement that becomes the site where women resist the state's regulation of their bodies. Such a space is a conglomerate where one is both alone and simultaneously accompanied by all other women performing their dissent.

I begin this essay by contextualizing my readings of Mungiu's film and Adamesteanu's story as cultural texts and describing the background of the pronatalist policies imposed during the Romanian Communist regime prior to 1989. In order to underline "the arrangements of power" (Sparks 1997, 75) that refuse women primary rights over their own bodies, I also define the concept of citizenship prescribed by Communism. In the following section I explain my use of "clandestineness," the term for a category that highlights the patriarchal continuities of the private and public spheres, which are sometimes deemed as separate. I then turn to the cultural texts and illustrate how they articulate versions of dissident citizenship...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1520
Print ISSN
0732-1562
Pages
pp. 93-112
Launched on MUSE
2011-11-19
Open Access
No
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