Defining Culture – Impacting Our World


March 2024

Edited by Huib Wursten


Huib Wursten,

Eric Alexander DeGroot,

Table of content

Editorial: Huib Wursten

Culture, geopolitics, and captive thinking in Romanian society.

Reflections of an involved observer


Anton CARPINSCHI, Professor Emeritus

“Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University of Iași (Romania)


Synopsis: Using autobiographical narrative and participatory observation, this essay explores the symptoms of thinking enslaved by errors, illusions, and prejudices under and after communism. Also, from a comprehensive reflexive perspective, the connections between geopolitical developments, the psycho-cultural profile of Romanian society, and the phenomenon of captive thinking are explored. Thus, at the meeting of the participatory observation with the comprehensive reflection, the reflections of the participant observer were born, an observer always aware of the precarious condition of the prisoner of captive thinking.

Keywords: culture, geopolitics, captive thinking, Romanian society, involved observer


The communist regime collapsed in Romania, but our thinking seems to have sometimes remained captive to the myths and prejudices of the communist era. At the same time, maintained by large sections of the population, the new syndrome of captive thinking poisons communication networks with its subcultural skids. Of course, the reactions to the old and the unique syndrome of captive review depend on each person’s life experience, cultural background, and family environment. Still, in this complicated puzzle, there are always factors, variables, and imponderables that human judgment cannot discern and evaluate. Perceived as a syndrome, captive thinking hides in us and among us, its symptoms betraying its presence in our limits and errors, in illusions and prejudices, gestures and preferences. More current than ever, Captive Thinking, the book dedicated by Czesław Miłosz to the perversion of thinking under the dictatorship of the communist ideocracy, deserves to be (re)read carefully even today.



“Czesław Miłosz in Bucharest” or how an involved observer perceives    the phenomenon of captive thinking 


Invited by the distinguished professor Constantin Geambașu, the Romanian translater of Captive Thinking, I was honored to give a speech at the International Colloquium dedicated to the centenary of the birth of the great Polish poet, prose writer, and essayist. The materials of this colloquium were published in 2012 by the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures in Bucharest and the Association of Slavists in Romania in the volume:  “Czesław Miłosz in Bucharest “(Carpinschi, 2012, pp. 49-61). On those sunny October days, I had the opportunity to talk with renowned researchers of the life and work of Czesław Miłosz about the phenomenon of captive thinking in today’s world and, above all, about the experiences of each of us in its vicinity. This all the more so that the avatars of captive thinking transcend age differences, gender, ethnicity, religion, or race, and the symptoms of captive thought appear in various forms, more serious or less serious, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes untimely, not only in non-democratic political regimes and conservative societies. Reflecting on my experiences in the difficult and frustrating circumstances of captive thinking, my attention gradually shifted its center of interest from the theoretical and bookish research of the phenomenon of captive thought to the exploration of its symptoms on a personal level and in the society to which I belong.


The decades I have lived under communism and after communism sums up numerous life experiences and the tribulations of thinking in a society with a composite psycho-cultural profile and a complicated history in an unfavorable geopolitical framework. In front of the mind’s eye, all this is projected in a sequence of images that make up a narrative course sprinkled with numerous happenings and personal experiences. I realized, thus, that the best position for researching the phenomenon of captive thinking is that of the involved observer, who can combine the observations of the objective researcher with the participant’s experiences. Thinking about my own experiences in such difficult and frustrating circumstances, I wondered how I refind myself — as an observer involved with a composite personal psycho-cultural profile (Polish-Catholic in paternal lineage, Greek-Orthodox in maternal lineage) — in the psycho-cultural matrix of the Romanian people in the midst of which I was born, grew up and I lived. Far from solving the problems of this composite psycho-cultural identity, I believe that psycho-sociological researches and empirical observations of an honest and well-intentioned citizen reveal: 1) the emotional, educational, and moral links between the personal/family psycho-cultural profile and the national psycho-cultural profile; 2) the emotional, educational, moral links between the surface psycho-cultural profile (how we are), the deep psycho-cultural profile (how we could be) and the institutional culture in which we were formed and evolved (socio-institutional environment).


But to explore the symptoms of personal and collective thinking that have fallen over time into the captivity of errors and manipulations, I should resort to an exercise of bringing into the horizon of memories many scenes and events that happened long ago. Just as in cinematography and television, we can achieve the effect of proximity or distancing with the help of a transfocator tool. In real life, we can achieve the same effect of proximity or distancing through the variable focus of perception and attention. I call the ability to variable focus of perception and attention mental transfocating. The transfocating effect facilitates the involved observer’s transposition into various captive thinking manifestation situations. Thus, captive thinking can be personalized and felt through its symptoms. And that’s how it all started for me! Doing the mental exercise of transfocating, of bringing memories from a distant past into the horizon of consciousness, many images from my childhood years under Soviet occupation began to cross my mind because the terrible times of the Sovietization of Eastern Europe had begun to encompass these lands.


  Terrible times had arrived over Romanian society…


Terrible times had arrived over Romanian society, and the veil of captive thinking darkened the minds of many of us. Fragments of memories flash before my mind’s eye: Govorit Moskva! (Speak Moscow !), the solemn announcement in Russian, several times a day, when the news bulletins from Radio Moscow were broadcast in Romanian; the atmosphere strongly charged with emotion against the grave background of symphonic music at the funeral of the supreme leader of the Soviet Union, Generalissimo Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin; the menacing raids of the militia in the bright light of the searchlights that furrowed the night sky on the Danube’s shore; the imposing image of the Soviet officer who together with his family was living on the street of my childhood; the acronyms TARS — the Romanian-Soviet Air Transport – written on the bus that regularly made the race between the city center and the airport and ARLUS, the Romanian Association for strengthening ties with the Soviet Union. As for the news bulletins, the first information always referred to the activity and important political meetings of the Soviet leaders, to the superiority of Soviet communism compared to the decadence of American imperialism and the crisis of the capitalist countries, to the successes of the working people in the big factories and collective farms, to the achievements of science, art, sports in the Soviet Union. I remember watching the films and reading the war novels in which the victories of the Red Army in the great war for the defense of the homeland were glorified. 


I also remember Tamara’s Station lesson from the first-grade Reading textbook. My colleagues and I couldn’t help but be impressed by the kindness of Comrade Stalin who, although so busy with state affairs,  was reading late at night in his office in the Kremlin the letter of little Tamara, a little girl about our age, who asked him to stop the train in her village to get to school more easily. Of course, my colleagues and I were overjoyed when, at the end of the reading, we found out that, thanks to the intervention of Comrade Stalin, the train now stops at Tamara station. I also remember that at special communist education classes in the Pioneers organization, readings were organized from the works of the “classic” of Stalinist pedagogy, Anton Semyonovich Makarenko. Next, we watched propaganda films in which we saw Soviet youth re-educated in labor camps, lined up, and enthusiastically singing hymns of praise to the great leader, Generalissimo Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin.


Thus, through repetition and stereotyping, the image of the Soviet man and his world, the best man in the best world of all worlds, began to take shape in our childish minds. Educated according to the principles of Soviet pedagogy, we – the generations born immediately after the establishment of the communist regime in Romania – lived the innocence of childhood and the first years of school in the whirlwind of an ideologically propagandistic directed cognitive war to conquer and enslave our minds in formation through specific means. Impressed by the pioneer ritual, in the piercing sound of trumpets and the rhythmic beating of drums, organized in ideological-political training camps, lined up to go to patriotic work, constantly monitored, we were thus deprived of free time for the formation of personality and the cultivation of the autonomous spirit. Systematically applied, this political-pedagogical strategy of “brainwashing” in training had no other purpose, as I would realize later, than the ideologizing of the young generation, the atomization of the person into an amorphous mass of dogmatic executors of communist party policy. But, I perceived the first signs of captive thinking towards the end of high school and the beginning of college, especially in the classes on Scientific Socialism, when I faced the fears and impotence of expressing my own opinions in public.


        From the memories of a philosophy student during communism


My first physical encounter with captive thinking took place in the restrictive atmosphere of the scientific socialism course and seminars, where there prevailed citation and mechanical repetition of stereotyped phrases from party documents and the endless speeches of the general secretary. I cannot forget the teacher’s surprise and concern when, in a seminar, I referenced the Western bibliography in the field of political science. The systemic analysis of political life in the vision of David Easton, the comparative politics configured by Gabriel Almond, and the models of political communication and cyber control foreshadowed by Karl Deutsch, for example, were considered by some lecturers of the scientific socialism course as something strange and dangerous. And yet, the countering of the Marxist-Leninist ideology, on a personal level, was possible through a critical examination favored in our faculty by the courses and seminars of formal logic and mathematical logic, epistemology and the history of philosophy. Or, as a slightly older colleague from Constanța bitterly was joking — a former sailor who had made several cruises through Mediterranean ports — “at least we, after swallowing the expired cans of communist propaganda, can detoxify with a sip of the rum on which it says: Libertas philosophiae !”.


In this order of ideas, a significant episode from one of the scientific socialism seminars comes to mind. I still remember today the silence that fell in the seminar room when an older colleague asked if the withdrawal of Soviet troops from our country in 1958 was a reward given to the Romanian party and state leadership for their collaboration during the Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolution of 1956. We looked down; the assistant appreciated the question as a challenge and a departure from the seminar topic. Obviously, at that time, we did not have the correct and complete information about the Hungarian anti-communist revolution in the fall of 1956 and about the complicity of the Romanian political leadership in the arrest of the Hungarian reformist communist leader Imre Nagy, who would later be summarily tried in Budapest and executed. I also had no way of knowing whether our older colleague’s question was spontaneous or, as the assistant believed, a challenge. However, neither I nor my colleagues subsequently heard that anything significant had happened concerning taking some disciplinary measures after the episode at the seminar. But I was left, again, with a bitter taste generated by the fear and mistrust that crept into my soul through the courses and texts strongly ideologized by scientific socialism.


What could we be feeling, for example, reading the first lines of the book’s Preface, Materialism and empiriocriticism? Critical notes on a reactionary philosophy? “‘Materialism and empiriocriticism’ is the main philosophical work of V. I. Lenin. Its historical significance lies in the fact that in its content, V. I. Lenin further developed Marxist philosophy, answered the party’s fundamental philosophical problems at that time, and philosophically generalized the new conquests of the natural sciences. In this work, Lenin subjected reactionary bourgeois idealist philosophy and philosophical revisionism to a comprehensive critique. The work ‘Materialism and empiriocriticism’ is a model of Bolshevik partisanship in the fight against the enemies of Marxism, a fight in which revolutionary passion organically combines with scientific rigor. Creatively developing the teaching of K. Marx and F. Engels, V. I. Lenin elaborated in all aspects, according to the new historical conditions, all the constituent parts of Marxism, including dialectical and historical materialism. Every work of Lenin, even if it is not devoted to strictly philosophical problems, represents a model of applying the materialist dialectic — the most profound and multilateral theory of development — to the analysis of the historical situation and the economic and political phenomena of social life” (Lenin, 1963, p. VII).


  Mechanically repeated in the courses of Marxist philosophy and scientific socialism, formulations like the above could not provide an understanding of the world from the perspective of personal reflexive experience. Received as a given, something that had to be taken up and repeated as such, the Marxist-Leninist ‘catechism’ could not make us relive the reflexive experience of the researcher in the act of thinking. Piled in dogmatic texts permeated by a strong cult of personality and a virulent anti-democratic and anti-Western message, the courses on scientific socialism had no way of encouraging critical exegesis nor reflexive experiences within the horizon of self-awareness. Worse, forced to reproduce such stereotyped formulations and postcard clichés mechanically, a good part of the students, not only from philosophy but also from other faculties, as well as numerous party members and trade unionists regimented in the system of ideological education, risked becoming passive listeners and docile performers, or often duplicitous and opportunistic characters.


Subject to such rigors of forced ideologization, some philosophy students were looking for ways out. But how to get out of the dogmatic captivity of the Marxist-Leninist propagandistic discourse? Some of us sought little refuges in less ideologically controllable cultural spaces: the history of philosophy, logic and epistemology, and psychology. Fortunately, I had the chance to listen at the University of Iași, a few professors trained during the interwar period. I cannot forget the elegance and sophistication of Professor Ernest Stere’s lectures in the History of Ancient Philosophy course, the depth and clarity of Professor Petre Botezatu’s presentations in the Logic course, or the moving forays into great literature by Professor Vasile Pavelcu in the Psychology course. Survivors of the communist terror, these were the teachers who, for me and some of my colleagues, opened our horizons of philosophy, taught us the principles of logic and correct thinking, familiarized us with the universe of foreign languages, guided us to the professional realms I aspired to. But above all, they taught us to value the value of dialogue in the flow of free and critical thought. To all this something important should be added. The reintroduction of sociology, against the background of a relative and brief ideological relaxation initiated for tactical-pragmatic reasons by the communist party, opened to students from the universities of Bucharest, Iași and Cluj in the second half of the 1960s a theoretical possibility of countering the Marxist-Leninist ideology.


            “An oxygen balloon”! The reintroduction of sociology in communist  Romanian universities


After two decades since its brutal elimination from university programs, sociology — decreed along with cybernetics and genetics during the Stalinist period as “reactionary bourgeois pseudoscience”–, was returning to Romanian universities. The tradition of sociological education at the University of Iasi was illustrious. Starting from 1897, the year of the first sociology course taught by Professor Constantin Leonardescu, prominent personalities of Romanian culture followed each other here: Dimitrie Gusti, Petre Andrei, Ștefan Zeletin, and Alexandru Claudian. Our expectations as philosophy students were high. After the mainly ideological courses on scientific socialism, we were curious and impatient to hear a sociology course. The idea was forming in our minds that such a course should open up a new perspective on social life. In the meantime, we found out that Professor Iosif Natansohn would give the lectures of the General Sociology course.


And here, the long-awaited day of the first lecture has arrived. In the amphitheater where we would listen to the General Sociology course, a distinguished gentleman appeared, small in stature, with glasses and a beard. It was Professor Iosif Natansohn. He began to speak to us in a low tone that gradually grew stronger and more passionate about the constitution and evolution of sociology as a science; the object and method of sociology in relation to philosophy, psychology, history, ethnology, anthropology; the development of sociology in the context of the capitalist modernization of Romania. At the same time, we were beginning to familiarize ourselves with the names of great personalities of sociology, from A. Comte, E. Durkheim, M. Mauss, M. Weber, G. Simmel to H. Spencer, G. H. Mead, T. Parsons or R. Merton. For the first time, I heard a discourse on social thinking different from the canonical, declarative and repetitive verbiage we were used to. I listened increasingly enthralled to the inaugural lecture, aware of Professor Natansohn’s effort to familiarize us with the distinction between partisan-ideological discourse and objective-scientific endeavor. I realized then that we experienced an important moment: the reappearance of sociology in the Romanian university environment as a chance for the Emancipation of social thinking from the dogmatic captivity of scientific socialism.


Later, during the semester, Professor Natansohn introduced us to the mysteries of social reality by talking about the specifics, criteria and signs of the social; the social fact; forms of sociability; status, role and social integration; social structures and stratifications; classes and social groups. To all these were added lectures on social morphology, urban-rural geographic sociology, social demography, sociology of underdeveloped regions, politics in social life, typology of political regimes, sociology of human action, the system of social controls, culture and civilization. Thus, at the end of the semester, I realized that Professor Iosif Natansohn was teaching us to direct our attention to the research of the social universe with the help of a new conceptual apparatus for us, but so operational and efficient. He also taught us to see society differently than through the prism of the theses and slogans of the Marxist-Leninist ideology and, moreover, to relate to social reality through the free act of critical and constructive thinking.


I also auditioned for another course by Professor Natansohn, which — at the time, I had no way of knowing — was going to prepare me for my future specialization. It is about the history of political doctrines. In that course, I approached some classical works of ancient and modern political philosophy, from Plato and Aristotle through Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Burke and Constant. I was then concerned with several major themes: the human condition and the constitution of the polis; the mixed constitution as a synthesis of the monarchy (consulate), aristocracy (senate), democracy (people’s assembly/vox populi) in the age of the Republic in ancient Rome; the cyclical theory of political evolution (anacyclosis); freedom, equality and social justice; political order and the meaning of history, etc. My choice to make a bachelor’s thesis in political philosophy was not accidental in these formative circumstances. Thus, under the guidance of Professor Iosif Natansohn, I developed a work on Polybios, a political philosopher. After a few more years, at the meeting of the paradigm of functionalist structuralism with the informational-cybernetic dynamics of political systems, I completed a doctoral thesis focused on sociology and political leadership. After so many years, I remember with emotion that period of postgraduate specialization. Consistent, open, intellectually and humanly engaging, the conversations with the professor and the man Iosif Natansohn proved to be of great help throughout my professional development before and after the fall of the communist regime.


But, then, when I think about the intellectual legacy that Professor Iosif Natansohn left us, I mean that controversial book, meaningfully titled, The Sociology in Impasse? (Natasohn, 1972). Dense, written in the first person in a conversational, sometimes polemical tone, this book is a testimony of the searches of a democratic intellectual who lived the experience of the horrors of dictatorship, and not only of the communist dictatorship but also of the Legionary-Antonescien dictatorship in Romania in the 1940s-1944s. I remember that, from the first reading, I was struck by the title. The query in the title regarding the situation of sociology, a science with such a problematic and tumultuous destiny in the communist regime, led me to think, even then, of a charade with a subliminal message. What can you think, basically, when from the first lines of the Preface, we read the following: “If decades ago the sociological book was a rare event in vast regions of the globe, today its presence is as natural as possible on all meridians and at all parallels. The word ‘magic’ of sociology is often associated with other words in various combinations, such as nouns and adjectives, enriching the dictionaries and ‘level’ discussions. Let’s take, for example, the word contestation. By association with sociology, either a sociology of contestation, a contestatory sociology, a sociological contestation, or finally, even the contestation of sociology, can appear. Such combinations may not impress those who hear them for the first time. Still, we are sure that the sociology of error, the sociology of failure, the sociology of deviance, or the sociology of imposture shocked and scandalized those who heard them for the first time. A similar reaction caused the title of this attempt !” (Ibidem, p. 5). Indeed, only one year after the publication of the July Theses — the document of the Executive Committee of the Romanian Communist Party through which Nicolae Ceaușescu launched the 17 “proposals for measures to improve the political-ideological activity, Marxist-Leninist education of party members, of all working people” — the appearance of a book interrogatively titled, The Sociology in Impasse? could shock and scandalize.


Maoist in orientation, the Theses of July (1971) marked the end of the short and relative ideological relaxation initiated by the Declaration of April (1964) of the Central Committee of the Romanian Workers’ Party and, at the same time, the beginning of the harsh attack against cultural autonomy by returning to the restrictions of socialist realism. This was the beginning of the mini-cultural revolution in communist Romania that would culminate in the dictate of ideology in the social and human sciences, respectively, the abolition in 1977 of the sociology departments at the Universities of Bucharest, Iași and Cluj that had been established only a few years before. Professional and aesthetic competence were to be replaced by ideological restrictions, professionals were to be replaced by activists and agitators, and culture was again to become a tool of political propaganda. When, in these ideological-political circumstances, Professor Iosif Natansohn combined the words sociology and contestation, enumerating in a dizzying sequence a series of emergencies such as sociology of contestation, contestatory sociology, sociological contestation, sociology contestation, alongside the sociology of error, the sociology of failure, the sociology of deviance, the sociology of imposture, he knew very well what was at stake in what he said.

The conflict between the researcher’s objectivity and the ideological partiality imposed by the propaganda and repression of the dictatorial regime fed the drama of thinking in the fight against his own captivity, not only in the case of Professor Natansohn but also in the case of other honest representatives of social thinking from all totalitarian regimes. This was the “drama of sociology” experienced by the generation of our teachers, our generation and that of our students. For me, that of half a century ago and today, Professor Natansohn’s attitude was calculated precisely because the critical, contesting potential of sociology had been announced. On the horizon of a sociology of contestation, the imminent interventions of the sociology of error, the sociology of failure, the sociology of deviance, and the sociology of imposture were already visible. Against the background of the dysfunctions of the dictatorial regime and the social crisis of communism that we were witnessing, the bomb of contestation had already been detonated. And, as if to confirm the impact of the sociology of contestation, Professor Iosif Natansohn made the gesture of publicly contesting Ceausist national communism when he chose, together with his distinguished family, freedom of thinking and expression in other lands. As for me, I stayed here, continuing my journey on the never-ending path of clearing my thinking.


  Captive Thinking is not only a book, “captive thinking” is a



    In the mid-1970s, the philosophy and sociology departments of the University of Iași benefited from the visit of Professor Jean-William Lapierre, a renowned researcher in political philosophy and sociology of power. Distinguished intellectual, and progressive spirit, the French professor then had the generosity to share his rich professional and life experience with us. Of course, we were impressed by his erudite and profound lectures on the systemic analysis of political life, the subtle dynamics of pre-state forms of power and social innovation in the tribal communities of the Nile Valley, and the maladies and contractions of Western democracies. Among the works of the French professor, I was familiar with “L’analyse des systèmes politiques“, which I had used in elaborating my doctoral thesis. But, more important is the fact that in several private meetings, in addition to the invaluable suggestions regarding my doctoral thesis, Professor Jean-William Lapierre — the combatant in the anti-Nazi resistance, the personality invested with responsibilities in the democratic construction of the Fifth French Republic  — talked about civic resistance during the dictatorship. As a “case study”, Professor Lapierre presented Czesław Miłosz, the dissident Polish writer who had published in the early 1950s at the Parisian publishing house Gallimard a book with a title as attractive as it was strange: La pensée captive. Essai sur les logocraties populaires. Professor Lapierre’s words sounded, then, somehow from a distance and yet close to a young Ph.D. student living in the communist age of the captive mind. In fact, the name of Czesław Miłosz would be known in Romania only after receiving the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980.



A disturbing testimony of an intellectual who, trying to defend his moral identity, refuses to abdicate and serve the “New Faith” coming from Moscow, The Captive Thinking is also a superb lesson in awareness and decoding of the mechanisms of capturing thinking and “enslavement of the intellect”. Appreciated by Karl Jaspers in the Preface to the original edition as “a document and at the same time a first-rate interpretation”, proving “a sense of justice refusing any alibi”, Captive Thinking appeared to the German philosopher as the authentic revelation of the Polish variant of enslavement of the spirit through the instruments of communist totalitarianism and, at the same time, a warning to the sophistry and subterfuges of thinking that has abandoned its moral condition. (Jaspers / Miłosz, 1953/1988, p. 9, p. 13). However, I realized since then that the Polish writer’s essay, rich in reflections and autobiographical references, should be seen not only as a superb lesson in awareness and decoding of the mechanisms of domination and insecurity, disinformation and manipulation from the period of Stalinist communism. Moreover, The Captive Thinking is not only a book! “Captive thinking” is a metaphor warning, and “beyond the  thinking” is a call to all those who, feeling the gravity of this phenomenon, realize the risks of (in)voluntary enslavement and the increase of (inter)personal insecurity.


             The testimonies of intellectuals who were once captivated by the idealized and anti-plutocratic message of a romantic and cosmopolitan political left but who, disappointed by the distortion of principles and moral values during the Stalinist dictatorship, dared to recognize their own mistakes publicly and disillusionments began to become then, in the early 1970s, a theme familiar to some of us. The political adventure of intellectuals, artists, poets, and musicians, sincere and valuable, well-intentioned but often naive, captivated by deceptive and insecure ideological-political myths, was painfully felt in the souls of some of us. The confession of Czesław Miłosz was included — along with those of André Gide, Leszek Kołakovski, Arthur Koestler or the Romanian Panait Istrate — in the spiritual family of those idealists who, sympathizing or adhering to an ideal of justice in their youth, experienced the disappointment caused of the distortion of principles and moral values through Stalinist ideological and propagandistic manipulation.


Under these circumstances, the theme of captive thinking accompanied me for a long time, shaping the leitmotif of my thoughts during the late communism era and long after. Not coincidentally, many years later, I wrote the following in a probably too optimistic essay titled, Emancipation of “captive thinking” or the exit from totalitarianism: “Czesław Miłosz opted. After delusions and hesitations at the beginning of the consolidation of communism in his country, when the realities brutally belied the propaganda, but above all his own values and principles, Miłosz chose freedom. He self-analyzed the meanderings of his thinking, and with exemplary intellectual and moral power, he publicly confessed his mistake and thus saved his soul” (Carpinschi, 1995, p. 131). More sad and burdensome seems to me, however, the fate of those who, indoctrinated in the spirit of Marxist ideology but cultivated, at the same time, at the great sources of universal thinking, aware of the aberrations of communism, we did not have the courage and strength to publicly denouncing the errors and horrors of communism thus freeing our souls from the burden of cowardice. The numerous paths of individual evolutions, from duplicity more or less guilty to marginalization more or less assumed, only certify, once more, the precarious condition of the prisoner of captive thinking. 


The communist regime has collapsed for over three decades in Romania. Still, we are witnessing the persistence of some symptoms of captive thinking with ideological roots and stereotypes coming from communism and, at the same time, we are witnessing what I would call the new syndrome of captive thinking. We experience the feeling that history is repeating itself and that certain customs, preoccupations and habits reminiscent of communist-era practices persist, more or less disguised, in the language and behavior of some of us today. At the same time, maintained in broad categories of the population, the new syndrome of captive thinking extends beyond the natural limits of each of us to the subcultural slippages of some social communication networks. Felt as a syndrome, captive thinking lurks within us and among us, its individual and collective symptoms accompanying us from youth to old age in various guises and tendencies. This is, in fact, the permanent warning of the concept metaphor “captive thinking”!


Since we are talking about a permanent warning, a series of questions return to my mind: how does the phenomenon of captive thinking manifest itself in the Romanian sociocultural environment? What links exist between geopolitical developments, the Romanian sociocultural environment and the phenomenon of captive thought? But, above all, how do I, as an involved observer, perceive the tribulations of my own thinking and the psycho-cultural profile of my compatriots against the historical background of the geopolitical transformations in the Carpathian-Danubian-Pontic space? In these circumstances, from the need to protect myself from the propaganda bombardment, the avalanche of fake news and my own mistakes and naiveties, I felt the need to activate the sensors of critical thinking and intuitive perception, but also that one to turn to the psycho-sociological researches. The verification of personal experiences lived throughout life in Romanian society with the help of psycho-socio-cognitive intercultural research could prove a way forward because the psychological traits of individuals and communities can be refound in their sociocultural environment, i.e., in language, values, ideas, norms, institutions, beliefs, customs, thus configuring the psycho-cultural profile of the society. At the same time, a series of features of the psycho-cultural profile of a society can be refound in the psychological features of its individuals and collectivities.


The drama of captive thinking and the Carpatho-Danubian-Pontic

space. A historical-geopolitical sketch



              The following historical-geopolitical sketch could be configured in the mental horizon of an observer involved in today’s Romania. The late appearance, only in the middle of the 14th century, of the first state formations in the Carpatho-Danubian-Pontic space put these small and fragile political formations led by the voivodes or the reigns in a situation of confrontation with the stronger medieval monarchies from Hungary and Poland that appeared hundreds of years ago before. These historical-geopolitical circumstances explain the fall over the following centuries of the newly established medieval states of Moldova and Wallachia (Muntenia) under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, the entry of Transylvania under the occupation and administration of the Austrian Empire and then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the occupation by the Russian Empire of Moldova beyond the Prut. As a consequence, the multi-secular absence in the Carpatho-Danubian-Pontic space of a consolidated and unitary medieval state led to the late coagulation of the modern Romanian national state (1859/1918) and a modest industrial-technological and economic development of Romanian society. Despite social discrepancies, corruption and politicization, the state consolidation and relative economic progress of 1880-1914 (la Belle Époque) and the short interwar period (1918-1939) are probably the most successful periods in modern Romania. And because the Romanians of the interwar era began to dream too beautifully after the disaster caused by the Second World War, terrible other waves in a sinister succession followed: the Soviet occupation and the communist dictatorship for almost half a century; the difficult and confusing post-communist transition; finally, the institutionally fragile and behaviorally ambiguous democracy over which the Covid-19 pandemic crisis and the Russian-Ukrainian war in Romania’s immediate neighborhood have overlapped. Unfolded at high speed, this historical course shows us that the unfavorable geopolitical developments in the Carpathian-Danubian-Pontic space favored historical retardation, the composite and vulnerable psycho-cultural profile of the population, the permanent deficit of institutional culture and, implicitly, the phenomenon of captive thinking in modern Romanian society.


The contemplation of this historical-geopolitical sketch leads me to the following observations: 

1) Placed geopolitically at the crossroads of the winds, the Carpathian-Danubian-Pontic space is the matrix of some contradictory sociocultural processes: Romanian language, the folklore and modern culture, on the one hand, the deficit of institutional culture and the phenomenon of captive thinking, on the other. 

2) At the same time, the Carpatho-Danubian-Pontic space has been a ground for fertile ethnocultural encounters. Craftsmen, merchants, scholars, Germans, Austrians, Hungarians, Italians, Poles, Ukrainians, Turks, Tatars, Jews, Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians, and Macedonians contributed throughout history to the organization and enrichment of the sociocultural life of the native Romanian population. Unfortunately, the communist regime and the last decades of socioeconomic stagnation have led to a massive decrease of the Romanian population and all cohabiting ethnic groups (Ghețău, Contributors. ro 04/03/2023). 

3) Felt today through a number of characteristic features — the illusion of sovereignty in a world of increasing global interdependencies; the propaganda of extremist and xenophobic nationalism serving foreign interests to one’s nation; the temptation of conspiration and forced scenarios; vulnerability to fake news, etc. — the phenomenon of captive thinking on an individual and collective level is the result of historical “retarde”, a deficit of institutional culture, depopulation through emigration, reduction of intercultural contributions in the current Romanian society. 


The diversity of manifestations of captive thinking reveals the harmful impact of this phenomenon on the cultural-institutional environment in Romania. A closer look at the transition from the belief in the Marxist-Leninist utopia, more or less rigged during communism, to the routine of indifference, incompetence and disengagement today shows us that the phenomenon of captive thinking occurred against the psycho-cultural background of Romanian society dominated by generalized mistrust, the lack of tolerance and cooperation. Referring in a cognitive-experimental monograph to the psychology of Romanians, Professor Daniel David pointed out in this vein: “I think that the psycho-cultural profile of Romanians is dominated by mistrust of people, which makes us less tolerant and cooperative with others for the common good (our cooperation is mostly one of survival, not success). The lack of cooperation prevents us from using our intellectual and creative potential, which generates performances below its level. This leads to the exaggeration of the positive (…) as well as the exaggeration of the negative (…). Probably this psycho-cultural profile was born against the backdrop of chronic insecurity/insecurity throughout history” (David, 2015, p. 319). Coming from the depths of the ethnogenesis of the Romanian people, mistrust and duplicity have left deep traces in the psycho-cultural profile of the current population of Romania.


In fact, a similar conclusion was reached through research carried out in 2001-2002 by specialists from the Universities of Bucharest, Iași and Cluj under the coordination of professor Adrian-Paul Iliescu. Verified through field research and case studies, the project’s hypothesis supported the following: “Romania’s main handicap is not technological or cognitive backwardness, but institutional backwardness (…). Compared to other post-communist societies, Romania has a tradition of institutional ineffectiveness and institutional “retarde”. In many aspects, the local political culture is unfavorable to the institutional solution of problems (it encourages personalized solutions, the recourse to deviant solutions, short-circuiting institutional routes, etc.). The resulting social context is, paradoxically, favorable to perpetuating behavioral deviance (…). Institutional backwardness encourages conic mindset deficiencies, and mindset deficiencies exacerbate institutional dysfunctions” (Iliescu, 2002, p. 7). We move, therefore, in a vicious circle with deep geopolitical and ethnocultural roots and haunting historical reverberations. The fact that for over a century and a half, we, as a people of modern Romania, have not been able to capitalize on the potential of the deep psychological profile – although the intellectual potential of the Romanians is at the level of any developed people in the Western World – remains a challenge not honored by the policies of the Romanian socio-institutional environment and after the fall of the communist regime. But why does the socio-institutional environment fail to value the deep psycho-cultural profile of Romanians?


Why does politics fail to value the psycho-cultural foundation of Romanians?


To answer this question, I should outline a mental image as truthful as possible of the psycho-cultural profile of Romanians and to understand why the socio-institutional environment has so far failed to put a value on the deep psycho-cultural profile of the Romanian population. In this cognitive adventure, I feel the need for some stronger and more operational methodological tools. I think The Dutch School of Cognitive Psychology and Intercultural Management could give me a helping hand (; › Wursten). More precisely, I have in mind the model of the cultural dimensions of a society designed by Professor Geert Hofstede and his collaborators ( Hofstede, 2001; G. Hofstede, GJ Hofstede, M. Minkov, 2010;;) and the model of the seven mental images of national culture elaborated by Professor Huib Wursten (Wursten, 2019; Wursten, 2022; sergiocaredda. eu › Inspiration › Books; › Interviews). 


Using a globally representative database and well-calibrated samples on countries and national cultures, Geert Hofstede has identified, with the help of statistical techniques and factor analysis, a set of referential value dimensions that allowed understanding cultural diversity and performing the optimization of cultural management in a number of states, companies, organizations and international institutions. The standard model of the cultural dimensions provides us through its set of referential value dimensions — Distance from Power, Individualism versus Collectivism, Masculinity versus Femininity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long-Term versus Short-Term Orientation, Indulgence versus Restraint — a series of useful pieces of information for a framework-explanation regarding the existence of certain cultural traits in a country. Synthesizing the findings, data and scores obtained through a series of replications of the Hofstede model in Romania, we could configure a research framework able to offer us a picture of the psycho-cultural profile of the current Romanian society ( › 2018/01/05 › geert-hofstede.; › document › Adina-Luca-Where-Do-We-Stand-A-Study; › doc › Romania-Din-Perspectiva-Dime..; › pdf › article ›). 


According to this research framework, we can say that a high score on the indicator of power distance characterizes the Romanian population. This means that, in the absence of a developed civic sense and an organized civil society, the Romanian population is inclined towards centralization of power, acceptance of inequities and preference for populist autocrats seemingly benevolent. We live in a society that favors the concentration of power and the (re)allocation of resources through informal, unprincipled relationships and not through the functional distribution and territorial decentralization of the institutions of political power and administration; a society that does not encourage the control of social behavior by meritorious awarding of rewards; a society in which the unwritten rules of the group are more important than the laws and legal norms of society; a society with a high degree of gender and age discrimination, with prejudices and bad treatments of the elderly and women. In such a type of society, with an increased level of collectivism, autonomous and creative individual initiatives are perceived as threatening collective peace and security. In terms of avoiding uncertainties, the Romanian population presents a high level of avoidance of changes perceived most often not as opportunities for development but as uncertainties full of dangers. 


Capitalizing on the contributions of Geert Hofstede and his collaborators, Professor Huib Wursten proposed, in turn, the model of the seven mental images of national culture, perceived as a guide to leadership and management in a globalized world. This model shows that a comprehensive and meaningful understanding of national cultures cannot be achieved simply by comparing the six cultural dimensions separately, country by country. “The whole is more than the sum of parts !” reminds us the Dutch teacher. A comprehensive understanding of one national culture or another can be achieved by grouping countries based on the combination of their value-quantified cultural dimensions. Combining the cultural dimensions of Power Distance (PDI), Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV), Masculinity versus Femininity, (MAS), and Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI), Professor Huib Wursten identified seven groups of behavioral patterns that he called “7 mental images” because each group provides a “picture” of how organizational modes that polarize nation building appear in people’s minds.


Each mental image represents a group of countries with certain common characteristics by which people manage their actions in their cultural environment. Leadership and decision-making, meeting behavior, delegation of duties, control, conflict resolution, etc., are among the characteristics that outline the seven modes of political behavior. 

They are described as follows:

1) Contest (‘winner takes all’). Competitive cultures with a small Power Distance (PDI), high Individualism (IDV), high Masculinity (MAS), and fairly weak Uncertainty Avoidance. Examples include Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US;

2) Network (consensus). Highly Individualist (IDV) and feminine cultures with a small Power Distance (PDI), where everyone is involved in the decision-making process. Examples are Scandinavia and the Netherlands; 3) Well-Oiled Machine (order). Individualistic societies with a small Power Distance (PDI) and strong Uncertainty Avoidance have carefully balanced procedures and rules but not much hierarchy. Examples are Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary and German-speaking Switzerland; 

4) Pyramid (loyalty, hierarchy and implicit order)

Collectivist (low IDV) cultures with a large Power Distance (PDI) and strong Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI). Examples are Brazil, Colombia, Greece, Portugal, Arabian countries, Russia, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand: 

5) Solar System (hierarchy and standardized job descriptions). This culture cluster is like the Pyramid but more individualistic (IDV). Examples are Belgium, France, Northern Italy, Spain and French-speaking Switzerland; 

6) Family (loyalty and hierarchy). Collectivist (low IDV) cultures with a large Power Distance (PDI), where we can observe powerful in-groups and paternalistic leaders. Examples are China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore;

 7) Japan is the Seventh Mental Image (dynamic equilibrium). Japan is the only country in this cluster due to the unique combination of dimensions not found in any of the previously mentioned Six Mental Images. Japan has a mid-Power Distance (PDI), a mid-Individualism (IDV), a very strong Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) and a high Masculinity (MAS) score” (Wursten, 2019, p. 24). 

Referring now to the application of the model of the seven mental images in the case of Romania, I would say that, with a low level at a series of indices such as – power distance, individual autonomy, pragmatic confrontation of uncertainty, functional distribution of power, meritorious awarding of rewards – the psycho-cultural profile of Romanian society could be configured in the mental image of a bureaucratic pyramid in an insufficiently developed society.


It is particularly serious that some negative features of the psycho-cultural profile, including the phenomenon of captive thinking, maintain numerous dysfunctions in the cultural-institutional environment, thus diminishing the chances of capitalizing on the intellectual potential of the Romanian people. The deep psycho-cultural profile and the intellectual potential of the Romanian people remain, to a large extent, insufficiently exploited due to the harmful impact of captive thinking on the cultural-institutional environment in legislative, organizational, administrative, and educational terms. More precisely, the harmful impact of captive thinking is manifested by the increased share of counterselection of cadres and low professional expertise at all levels of the political system — parliamentary, governmental, central administrative and local — and, implicitly, in many sectors of social life. Over such a long period, the overlap and accumulation of these factors have left deep traces in people’s behavior over generations and in the functioning of society and institutions. Pretending to be something else or presenting yourself as someone else than you really are, claiming non-existent merits, and hiding or embellishing your political past, such as communist servitude, marks many personal destinies and political careers in post-communist Romania. Driven by duplicitous behavior, numerous deputies, senators, mayors, county, municipal and communal councilors switched over the last thirty years to all parties, whether they were crypto-communist, pseudo-socialist, nationalist-populist, vaguely liberal, or allegedly ecological. In these circumstances, ideological-political affiliation has become only a false label today, obviously duplicitous. Hence, the low trust in people and institutions, the deficiencies of cooperation for the common benefit and in civic solidarity, the tendency to distort reality by exaggerating the positive features (the high emotionality typical of the superiority complex), but also the negative features (the skepticism and cynicism characteristic of the inferiority complex). In our daily discourse, we often oscillate from displaying an exaggerated national pride (Romanian “protochronism”, an expression of a superiority complex) to attributing all the faults of Romanians (the inferiority complex). Moreover, I could say that displaying a superiority complex is the reverse expression of an inferiority complex. How could we get out of this vicious circle of inferiority complexes transformed into superiority complexes?


Instead of conclusions


We live in a world of copy-paste and generalized propagandistic spectacle. To escape the vicious circle of captive thinking and institutional backwardness, a guiding rule would be, let’s not mechanically copy cultural forms from outside. “Thinking that you can transfer best practices from one culture to another culture blindly is naive”, Huib Wursten warned us. Forcing people to do things against the basic values of their culture is counterproductive” (Wursten, 2019, p.79). “Bottomless forms” are an old disease of Romanian society, so drilling into the deep layers of its psycho-cultural profile remains the way to discover and capitalize on its cultural identity. But to succeed in such an enterprise, we should first identify the faces and explore the symptoms of captive thinking in the spectacle society of which we are consumers. Passers-by hurrying through life, do we still have the time to reflect on the phenomenon of captive thinking in its various manifestations? And if we allow ourselves this respite, how could we transform the phenomenon of captive thinking perceived as information about certain cognitive, emotional, and volitional dysfunctions at an individual or collective level into a syndrome felt through its symptoms as a traumatic personal experience? More precisely, how did the phenomenon of captive thinking that I began to be aware of during my high school and student years become internalized into a frustrating personal syndrome, aggravated by the lack of courage to counter him publicly during the communist dictatorship? Here are some questions that will guide my next steps on the never-ending path of clearing my mind.




– Bogatu, A. (no year). Romania din perspectiva dimensiunilor culturale după metoda lui 

                Geert Hofstede (Romania from the perspective of cultural dimensions according to     Geert Hofstede’s method) › doc › Romania-Din-Perspectiva-Dime…


– Carpinschi, A. (1995). Deschidere și sens în gândirea politică (Openness and meaning in 

                     political thinking). Iași: European Institute Publishing House. p. 131.


– Carpinschi, A. (2012). „Mintea captivă” și failibilitatea umană (”Captive mind” and human 

                     fallibility in the volume: Czesław Miłosz la București (Czesław Miłosz in 

        Bucharest). Publishing House of the University of Bucharest. pp. 49-61.

– David, D. (2015). Psihologia poporului român. Profilul psihologic al românilor într-o 


    monografie cognitiv-experimentală (The psychology of the Romanian people.


             The psychological profile of Romanians in a cognitive-experimental monograph).


  Iași: Polirom.


– Ghețău, V. (2023). Ultimele rezultate provizorii ale recensământului. Structura etnică a    

      populației (Latest provisional census results. The ethnic structure of the population). 04/03/2023.


– Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture′s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and 

                   Organizations Across Nations. 2 nd Edition. Sage Publications.

– Hofstede, G, Hofstede, G.J., Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organizations. Software of the         Mind. Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival. 3 rd Edition.

    Mc Graw Hill.

– Iliescu, A.-P. (coord., 2002). Mentalități și instituții. Carențe de mentalitate și înapoiere         instituțională în România modernă. (Mentalities and Institutions. Deficiencies of        mentality and institutional backwardness in modern Romania). București: 

                   Ars Docendi Publishing House.

– Lenin, V. I. (1963). Materialism și empiriocriticism. Însemnări critice despre o filozofie        reacționară (Materialism and empiriocriticism. Critical Notes on a Reactionary 

              Philosophy). In Lenin, Opere Complete (Complete works), vol.18. Bucharest: Political       Publishing House, p. VII.

– Luca, A. (2005). Where Do We Stand ? A Study on the Position of Romania on Hofstede’s 

                 Cultural Dimensions. › document › Adina-Luca-Where-Do-We-Stand-A-Study.

– Mihuț, I., Lungescu, D. (2006). Dimensiuni culturale în managementul românesc (Cultural 

              dimensions in Romanian management). › pdf › articole ›.

– Miłosz, C. (1988). La pensée captive. Essai sur les logocraties populaires, préface de

                Karl Jaspers. Paris: Gallimard. p. 9, p. 13.

– Natansohn, I. (1972). Sociologia în impas ? (Sociology in Impasse ?). Iași: Junimea Publishing     


– Wursten, H. (2019). The 7 Mental Images of National Culture. Leading and managing in a

                  globalized word. Edited by Erika Visser and Pia Kähärä.

– Wursten, H. (2022). Mental Images and Nation-Building. The Pyramid system.  › culture-impact-journal. Culture And Nation Building. Defining           Culture – Impacting Our World. Special Editions. June 2022; 

 -It’s All In the Image.. July 6, 2020. An interview with  Huib Wursten; MS Printer

– Caredda Sergio . Book Review: The 7 Mental Images of National Culture by Huib › Inspiration › Books.