Cultural Imperialism on a smaller Scale: Dracula and Romania

Cultural Imperialism is described by Dal Yong Jin in his text A Critical Analysis of Cultural Imperialism (2011) as a cultural extension of power or authority over others with a view to domination, resulting from economic and technological gaps. In the text, he especially challenges the way in which the west is supposed to dominate the east culturally. To go against the cultural imperialism, he points out several developments such as the stronger local cultural industries, which make transnational regions more important than global ones (f.i. Bollywood, but also see The Daily Show which we talked about earlier), the arisal of pheripheral markets that have become independent of western dominance (f.i. South American telenovas) and active audiences that can show their resistance and have a different interpretation (f.i. fans of the series Firefly). In this short essay, we would like to point out that this might definitely be true in some cases, but that even within Europe the notion of ‘cultural dominance’ can take a whole other form on a smaller scale.

In his analysis of the commodification of the literary and cinematic figure of Count Dracula called The Dracula Dilemma: Tourism, Identity and the State in Romania (2012) Dracula specialist Duncan Light sketches the development of Dracula Tourism in Transylvania, Romania. As a starting point he considers the very well known novel Dracula (1847) by the English Bram Stoker. According to Light this novel is one of the best known but least read novels in contemporary western society. Throughout his research, this Dracula will be known as the ‘western’ Dracula, that is imposed upon the image of Romania as a country of superstition and backwardness. The identity of Romania derived in total from the representation of this literary figure.

At the same time, the Romanian state had its own ‘Dracula’ it rather wanted to be associated with. The cruel Vlad Tepeş, also known as Vlad the Impaler, wore the name Dracula as associated with the order of dragons and in the beginning did not have any bad connotations whatsoever. At first, confusion surrounded the Dracula’s. In the socialist era, the novel had been forbidden and little Romanians knew about this figure that the west associated them with. All efforts of the Romanian government to change the image of the west upon Romania, was in vain. The question remains whether the character of Count Dracula was modeled on Vlad the Impaler, but for this there is no clear evidence. Within the cultural discourse they are however considered the same.

The largest reason why the Romanian government wanted to get rid of the association with Count Dracula, was because of its last and most cruel socialist dictator Caecescu. By building a large palace in the heart of the city and not taking care of anything or anyone but himself, he got known to ‘suck the blood out of his own people quite literally’. He therefore unofficially got nicknamed ‘Dracula’. Untill this day, the association between Romania and Count Dracula is merely allowed and not commodified by the Romanian government. Tourists that visit Romania are therefore often disappointed as they want to see the country of Dracula, but get another one than they wished for.

This ‘dilemma’ of the Romanian state (not wanting economic gain ‘on expanse of history’) is part of a larger issue that you can see between south-eastern and western Europe. The parts in the southern east of Europe, often also referred to as the Balkans, are seen as backward, superstitious and immature. From Maria Tudorova until Andrew Hammond there has been a lot of research about the image western Europeans have about the southern east.

If we would consider Jin’s text, we can indeed see that his three arguments return here. The development of local industries has merely undermined the Romanian government. Local initiatives cater for western Dracula tourists anyway, merely allowed by the Romanian government. This is also a rising of the peripheral market, but then merely to cater for western tourists. The active audience Jin mentions can also be retrieved the west. In order to remain able to project their image of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and to view this country as backward, superstitious and, in short, Balkan.

In that case, it looks a bit like the American overtake of Manga as described in the text Did Manga Conquer America? (2014) by Casey Brienza. In this text, she describes the way Manga used to be seen as a cultural flow that offered Japan a way to have soft power over America. After the Second World War Japan aimed for a global production of cultural power to revitalize the national economy. She offers three different modes of production for Manga in America and finally concludes that Manga did not ‘conquer’ America, it is more likely to say America ‘conquered’ Manga and therefore Japanese soft power is not present whatsoever. The same could be said for the images of both Draculas in Romania. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, so frequently represented in literature and film, has not declined in popularity. On the contrary, it urged local Romanians to cater for the Dracula tourists.

As a side note we would briefly like to address the status of Sibiu as European Capital of Culture in 2007. Sibiu is situated at the eastern side of Romania and therefore gained European power to conduct soft power. On the website it states that

[t]o be named as Cultural Capital of Europe represents an unparalleled opportunity to assert the city’s identity on the European cultural map, as well as generating important media and tourism interest.

In another text Sibiu is considered very un-Romanian (un-Balkan), as it is clean, offers great sights and its people are Euro-optimists. One might wonder, the writer of the Wall Street article suggests, whether this is not the real Romania whereas the chaotic city of Bucharest and the poor villages in the Carpathian mountains are not. As it was known as ‘Hermannstadt’ for being in Saxon hands in the 11th century, it still has a Saxon (western) view upon it. The American writer takes a critical attitude against the notion of European Capital of Culture:

[f]or anyone unfamiliar with the European “Cultural Capital” designation, it’s one of those quaint bureaucratic honorifics for which Brussels is famous. Each year, the EU Council of Ministers chooses one or two cities to showcase its history as a way of parading Europe’s cultural diversity. Competition among the cities is keen, and the Council appears careful not to play favorites.

So even in the so said ‘integration’ of Romania in 2007, the feel of Europes’ most eastern nation should coincide with western European ideas.

For a more detailed report of the status of ‘European Cultural Capital’ we would refer you to this report: http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/22532/1/MPRA_paper_22532.pdf

Anouk, Sascha, Sjoerd, Laurie

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