360° Analysis

Timisoara Syndrome” Revisited: the Libyan Revolution and its Global Implications


March 21, 2011 01:55 EDT

“If we recognize that our beliefs are expressions of our choices, not of ultimate truth, we are more likely to tolerate other beliefs and to revise our own in the light of our experiences.” -George Soros

Just as the world observed the Eastern European revolutions of 1989 actuate a Post-Soviet world, it witnesses the revolutions in the Middle East and Africa as the actualization of another stage in human history. The most striking feature of these two revolutionary periods is that the participants, influenced by the media, instituted a “universal” struggle, one espousing the idea of human rights and democracy, against the dictatorial forces who sought to incorporate every aspect of quotidian life under the guise of their power. These two revolutionary periods even resemble one another in both the pattern of their evolution and the role of what Jean Baudrillard terms “Timisoara Syndrome,” which is [“simply the information’s truth, whose underpinning is not only to deceive us of reality, but also to disabuse us of the reality”]. Two nations in particular, Romania and Libya, have the most staggering societal and media similarities. As different as these two countries are, an understanding of their respective leaders as individuals and the analogous societal trends in both of their nations proves the predictability of the Libyan revolution and can help one to formulate a vision of that nation’s future, and by reassessing both the revolutionary group’s antagonistic forces and the nature of modern media, one may further understand the more pressing implications of the contemporaneous revolutions.

Both Ceausescu and Gaddafi attained power by completely different means, but their relationships with Western nations and aspects of their megalomania coincide. Ceausescu was immensely popular in the Western world and gained power in 1965 because of his amicable demeanor and anti-Soviet policies. However, post 1978, he completely isolated Romania from the rest of the world and regulated every aspect of Romanian life, yet the West did little to interfere because he maintained a strong position against the USSR and chose not to meddle in international affairs. Gaddafi, unlike Ceausescu, embodied the “Che chic” terrorist trend of the 1960s and 1970s and toppled the inefficient monarchy of post-colonial Libya in 1968. He attained immense popularity because of his anti-West fervor, but the relative freedom he provided during his first few years ended in the mid 1970s. A Colonial and Soviet zeitgeist, Gaddafi utilized his sovereignty to dominate and essentially colonize his own people in order to satiate his power lust, most notably initiating executions against the Warfalla tribe after members unsuccessfully attempted to incite a coup in 1993. Moreover, he participated in numerous terrorist attacks such as the Lockerbie Bombing and Munich Attack of 1972, yet he maintained his power because of his relationships with the West, including a strong tie to Italy and financial dependence upon Western oil companies. One perceives that his relationship with the West continued purely because of Libya’s oil, as it is one of the top exporters.

Moreover, the two leaders operated their nations in a similar, eccentric manner, inciting certain societal trends and rendering their nations susceptible to civil strife. They both decimated their national economies by turning the budgets into their personal bursars, and because of their prodigal, self-centered spending, unemployment rates reached nearly 30% and GDP per capita remained low, leaving the greater citizenry of both nations with little. Much of this economic discontent was further exacerbated by the need to feed the large families that both Ceausescu and Gaddafi emphasized as the foundation of their nations. The constitutions of both nations encouraged pro-natalist policies, and, because of this, at the time of both revolutions, the median age of the each nation hovered around 25. Ceausescu and Gaddafi endorsed massive industrial policies, and, thus, the majority of each population, approximately 60% in 1989 Romania and 78% in 2011 Libya, inhabited the urban areas.

The greatest similarity between both nations, however, was the role of Timisoara Syndrome in both societies. As is the case with most dictators, Ceausescu and Gaddafi both established panoptical, national discourses. Influenced by Maoist ideals and Mao’s Little Red Book, Ceausescu, in 1971, established his July Theses, and Gaddafi published his Green Book in 1975; both documents resemble one another in their solicitations and expectations of the citizenry. Moreover, for much of Ceausescu’s reign, Romania only had one television station airing only two hours per day, filling its airtime with fallacious broadcasts celebrating Ceausescu’s Romania. It is precisely for this abuse of media in the representation of the functioning of the Romanian government and especially the Timisoara protests that Baudrillard names his concept. Because of the dearth of media, Romanians listened to Western radio stations, from which they learned about both the “genocide” happening in Timisoara and the revolutions in Poland, Hungary, West Germany, and the Czech Republic. A similar trend is obvious in Libyan media. If one visits Jamahiriya Television’s website, the main television source in Libya, one only observes images and programs about the government, including videos of Gaddafi’s relations with such leaders as Ben-Ali and Mubarak. Moreover Gaddafi, interestingly, did allow access to the internet, something that never existed in Romania. While only 353,000 people of a population of 6 million have internet, these people have access to blogs and Western news media: two devices that have been incredibly influential in the recent revolutions. The media is particularly important because, in the virtual space, both revolutionary groups heard, saw, and read about the other revolutions. The repressed Romanians and Libyans, in a sort of hyperrealization, recognized themselves as the individuals struggling across the border. They juxtaposed the Timisoara-infected dictatorial media with the Western media. This juxtaposition enabled the citizenry, drawing on both sources, to formulate a frame of reference between themselves and non-Romanians and Non-Libyans. By objectively analyzing the media, these revolutionaries, actuating revolutions predicated on freedom and democracy, effectively established a gestalt for their respective regions. If one couples the advent of Western media within an isolated, Timisoara-infected nation with the large groups of young citizens living within confined urban centers, one understands the inevitability of these revolutions.

However, both Ceausescu and Gaddafi would not surrender their sovereignty, and thus enforced a [“blackmail with the threat of violence and death, all for a noble and revolutionary cause”]. When the revolts did not cease, these leaders actuated their threats and created bloodbaths, eventually resulting in revolutionary victory in Romania and immanent success in Libya.

With the recent Libyan Revolution, Gaddafi’s sovereignty appears essentially non-existent, but what will become of Libya and of the entire region? One should draw on Romania’s example to answer this question. The year and a half following Ceausescu’s execution saw much political and social chaos, for the Romanian population splintered into multiple political parties with no clear popular leader, but this chaos is understandable because they were a people finally understanding free will in a world of myriad choices. While the Libyan people stand united against Gaddafi, the country consists of 22 different, prominent tribes, something completely different from Romania. Like Romania’s ideological differences, the tribal and ideological differences, as Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the dictator’s son, asserts, will likely send Libya into a state of chaos because each group will believe they know what is best for the country. One, should, however, anticipate this chaos because these people, like those during the fall of the USSR, will be exercising their newly understood free will. With the onset of mass media, Libya will become a sea of information and the citizenry will have difficulty deciding which direction to guide its country.

This chaos can lead the nation in one of several directions: Libya’s citizenry may be unable to surmount their tribal differences and divide the nation, a dictator will emerge, or the people, like those of post-revolution Romania, will patiently endure the chaos in order to establish a functioning democratic government. While Libya does have ample crude oil resources, the first option seems completely unfeasible: a division will merely incite more chaos, as the various factions will struggle to control Libya’s resources. If chaos continues to pervade Libya, the former or middle scenarios could transpire. In the unlikely event that there is a national division, an even distribution of Libyan GDP after the division will render the individual nations impoverished and unable to sustain themselves, for the GDP is ranked 74th in the world at $77.91 billion. The middle option would occur if the citizenry cannot handle its free will and ultimately decides to return to a type of dictatorial rule, as was the case with Napoleon’s ascension. If this occurs, groups like Al Qaeda may become prominent. If the people choose the latter option, autocratic groups will most likely not factor into the new government because it is predicated upon cooperation and tolerance. The Libyans must look to Romania for historical guidance, as the citizens there surmounted their political differences and united to form a democratic electorate with Ion Iliescu serving as the popular leader. Like Romanians, the Libyan people must utilize and embrace this chaos to evolve dialectically as a nation.

This dialectical evolution in Romania resulted from an antagonistic, dictatorial zeitgeist who found his mirror image in the “communist” totalitizing mission. The governments that fell in 1989 served as microcosms of the greater USSR, as their revenues profited the USSR.[i]  However, because of the Revolutions of 1989, the US/USSR ideological duality no longer exists, and free market globalization now serves as the world’s indisputable economic system. Because conflict instigates history, the free market cannot maintain itself forever without creating opponents. Baudrillard, in his essay “The Violence of the Global,” asserts that the advent of globalization, the fetishization of universal values, has broken “the mirror of our modern universalization,” and “in the fragments of this broken mirror, all sorts of singularities reappear.” These aforementioned singularities are precisely the revolutionary movements we currently observe, and soon enough they will assert their universal values against the global system itself, which was borne of universal values. The US and other Western nations that propagate globalization have, in a sense, become their own enemy because they have actively endorsed Gaddafi, Mubarak, and Ben Ali’s dictatorial regimes. The world now finds these dictators’ mirror images in Western dominion.

By espousing global ideals that commoditize universal values, the West destroys the universal. Think of the American government in particular which has utilized the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as universal signifiers, direct viral representations, of their devotion to preserving the universal values of democracy and human rights. However, these wars signify nothing and serve only as hyperreal images, considering Western governments fail to regulate corporations (and governments that profit from said corporations) that serve only to oppress the Orient and ensure Occidental global hegemony. Governments like Gaddafi’s and Ceausescu’s remained because the leaders promised to not meddle in world affairs, and it is precisely because Western nations did not intervene that they are complicit in global, not universal, missions. On a 9 March Al-Jazeera interview with Riz Khan, former Nixon, Ford, and Reagan Presidential Advisor Pat Buchanan even stated that “America would never have benefited from Gaddafi losing power,” and, therefore, would have never intervened. This statement, coming from someone who worked closely with three influential presidents, implicates the United States in a mission to control the world economy regardless of allies violating universal values. On 19 March, the United Nations, with France, UK and US leading the way, declared a no-fly zone over Libya in order to help these revolutionaries. It is great that the West seeks to help the universal cause, but it must do much more to rehabilitate its image in the eyes of the Orient.

While Romania’s economy has not fared well since Ceausescu’s demise, this economic deprivation indicates nothing about the ability of the people to unite. Of course, political differences still occur in Romania and fascists frequently run for office, but Libya is different. It has the resources and geographic situation that can help it to become both politically and economically influential. However, we will not see a concrete conclusion from this revolution for years, but what we are witnessing now in the Middle East and Africa manifests to the world the human drive for freedom and the beautiful outcomes of people uniting under one cause. We are experiencing one of the most fascinating times in modern history, and Gaddafi’s fall, like Ceausescu’s, will only serve as a catalyst for many more currents of change.

These changes, as we will see in the coming years, will continue to be instigated via viral communication. During two such moments of virally-induced change, the citizens of both Romania and Libya recognized themselves in the revolts happening just across the border, and, thus, actuated a gestalt. In Romania and Libya, the media catalyzed the revolts and mediated international impressions of the events happening there, with its spatio-temporal omniscience enframing perceptions precisely by eliding spatio-temporal boundaries. Because so many forms of media exist, they are enframed in innumerable fashions, thus, collectively manifesting a hyperreal singularity of events. From this singularity, this amalgam of myriad singularities, the world decides how to perceive itself. The universal promotes the objective singularity of the media, whereas the global endorses only a few singularities infected with Timisoara Syndrome. Heidegger affirms that technology, and I assert media, “harbors” in itself both “the danger” and “the saving power.” It is because of this “danger” that the ever-perpetuating modern media, this gestalt and gestell, necessitates a tolerant, questioning universal citizenry. Occidentals must remember that the protesters worldwide, these people fighting so desperately for freedom, these few singularities amassing themselves from the shattered mirror of the West’s universal past, will also establish the West as an antagonistic force, and they will cast occidental their newly hyperrealized universal New World gaze.


[i]While Romania was part of the Warsaw pact and very Soviet-like, it’s political and economic structure was very Maoist. This is also like Libya in terms of its relations with both Western corporations and China.


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