Cristian Capotescu

Doctoral CandidateUniversity of Michigan

Award Information

2015 IDRF Program

HistoryUniversity of Michigan

“From Person to Person”: Humanitarian Aid for Communist Romania, 1970-1990

The 1970s were a decade of global economic crises and of novel ways in which "ordinary people" responded to these challenges. My project studies the history of a humanitarian bridge during the Cold War in Europe that emerged in response to the decline of state welfarism in Eastern Europe. Drawing from the case study of communist Romania, I scrutinize private humanitarian networks in the 1970s and 1980s as transmission belts for transnational solidarity "from person to person." For ordinary people engaged in these humanitarian aid practices, care packages and private aid deliveries were the most common ways to render help to austerity-ridden Romania. My study revolves around two central case studies: I first reconstruct the circulation and appropriation of private aid practices between the ethnic German community of Transylvanian Saxons in West Germany and Romania. Second, as a decade later the economic shortages in Ceausescu's Romania rose to critical levels, my study traces the remarkable duplication effect of these humanitarian practices within the Soviet bloc, in particular, among civil rights groups in East Germany. As newer scholarship on humanitarianism has focused on the work of inter-governmental bodies, NGOs, and states, the humanitarian lay practices I explore have remained virtually unstudied. Research into this topic enables historians to recover the contestations of political legitimacies of authoritarian regimes that occurred with the rise of private humanitarian practices in the 1970s. This project further illuminates how private aid was mobilized, delivered, and appropriated in daily contexts. It thus provides new insights into the subterranean networks of humanitarian solidarity that ordinary people forged across the Cold War divide. As such, my project is a contribution to the literature on humanitarianism, the ethics of aid, and the sparsely studied period of late communism in Eastern Europe.