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Müller to Writers' Union of Romania: What?

Robert Schwartz
April 22, 2018

The Romania-born German novelist and Nobel laureate Herta Müller has been suspended from the Writers' Union of her native country. But she says she was unaware that she had ever joined it in the first place.

Herta Müller
Image: DW/S. Peschel

The novelist and Nobel laureate Herta Müller has been suspended from the Writers' Union of Romania (USR) — but she does not recall ever having joined it. Müller, who was born in the Banat region of western Romania and is an ethnic Banat Swabian, left for West Germany in 1987. Before she left, she was known well enough as a writer that her critical texts, published with colleagues from the Aktionsgruppe Banat literary society, had come to the attention of Romania's dreaded Securitate secret police.

Her first prose collection, a censored volume of short stories later translated into English as "Nadirs," was published in Bucharest in 1982. In Germany, an uncensored version was published by Rotbuch in 1984. As a result, Müller was spied on and harassed by Romania's secret police. She was defamed and threatened. In an interview, she once told Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that apparently "those defaming me were showing love for their homeland." Alas, that still appears to be true today.

Read more: German-language winners of the Nobel Literature Prize

Last week, Müller learned that she had been expelled from the USR for failing to pay her annual membership fee. Several other writers of Romanian origin, some of whom live in Germany, were also expelled, including her colleague William Totok, who also originally came from Banat. After the news broke, the USR suddenly announced that the memberships had merely been "suspended."

Herta Müller in Romania
Müller's first novel was published following heavy censorshipImage: privat

Müller initially wondered whether the news was a prank. "I was unaware I was a member of the Writers' Union of Romania," she told DW. "I was never asked to join. And nobody ever contacted me to say I had been — for whichever reason — accepted." She had never been asked to pay membership fees, either.

Like an absurd play

When Müller still lived in Romania she was recommended to the USR for membership. But she made her membership conditional on Totok's also being allowed to join. When he was rejected, she refused to join. And since then she has never again been in touch with the union — or expressed any desire to join, as Müller wrote in a statement. "This is like an absurd play," she said. "Reminiscent of the way things used to be. Someone makes a decision without consulting me and afterwards I receive the blame. Hardly a democratic process."

Totok told DW that "following the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the newly established union accepted several writers living in exile as a gesture of pluralism, but without ever officially informing them." He, too, was never asked to transfer an annual membership fee.

Read more: European intellectuals warn of EU's demise

The suspensions coincide with USR's 2018 leadership elections. Twenty-eight years after the fall of the Romanian Communist Party, members of the old clique surrounding the current boss, the writer and literary critic Nicolae Manolescu, are suddenly insisting that the union adhere to its statutes. Other writers have spoken out, calling this scandalous. They claim that Manolescu is trying to secure re-election by currying favor with "patriotic" novelists — some of whom have little recognition beyond Romania's literary scene. These critics argue that the union should be proud to have a Nobel laureate among its ranks.  

Online and in certain publications, however, a defamation campaign is attempting to drag Müller down by attacking her personally and the Nobel Prize in Literature generally. Apparently, her observation that those who defame her believe that they are doing so out of love for their homeland still holds true after all these years.

Arts.21 # Sudden Stardom – Herta Müller Wins the Nobel Prize in Literature # 12.12.2009

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