A large part of that neighborhood had been developed especially for the festival: the park where I used to play, the swimming pool where I had my first swimming lessons, etc. You could say that I was entangled with that history from an early age, without even realizing it. To add to that, the neighborhood where I live now in London, close to Finsbury Park, is also where the George Padmore Institute is located. So you could say this work is also hyperlocal, maybe as an effect of the pandemic. But beyond the self-indulgence of those realizations, relevant only to my parents and my next door neighbor or flatmates, I noticed how much of that history of transnational solidarity has been erased during the post-communist period across the former socialist bloc. Suddenly, it was almost impossible to imagine young activists from the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America and Asia discussing political struggles in my neighborhood. I realized that I couldn’t imagine a contemporary Romanian politician making a statement against colonialism, for instance. So I wanted to revisit a real moment of international solidarity, that essentially consisted of people sharing their space, resources and cultures. Why is it so difficult to imagine a similar event nowadays? Has the staunchly anti-communist intelligentsia of the former socialist bloc succeeded in erasing the nuances of history, and in that process the lineage of anti-imperialist struggles too?
»Listening to elders such as Paul Joseph offers invaluable keys to current struggles.«
Digital Solitude: Your project for the Web Residency »Solidarity is a verb« is a way to activate history. What are your strategies to make the archives of the George Padmore Institute a »living« and permeable archive? What can people expect to encounter on your Web Residency project page?
Simina Neagu: One strategy was to make some of this material visible and accessible on the internet. Part of the online archive 23 August documents John La Rose’s experience at the festival. His notebook and several images hadn’t been digitized before. In the absence of physical markers of that event, these digital artifacts stand in for a memorial. And beside the images, Paul Joseph’s voice really represents a living, breathing archive. Paul Joseph is a South African anti-apartheid activist and writer, now based in North London. I recommend his book Slumboy From The Golden City, a memoir of his life spent in the service of struggle, relevant to anyone with an interest in activism. My chance encounter with his daughter Nadia Joseph at New Beacon Books gave this journey a new dimension. When I told her in passing what I was researching, Nadia laughed and immediately said, »Not many people know that my father and John met at that festival!« Almost seventy years later and 2000 km away, the echoes of the festival were still felt. It was a real joy and honor to meet such an incredible figure as Paul, whose face still lit up when he spoke of his experience in Bucharest, as he recounted joyous moments from his visit: the many dinner invitations and delicious food, dancing the perinita, which you’ll hear about in the recordings. I just sat on his couch eating a scone and was transported to 1953 through Paul’s vivid storytelling.
Anca Rujoiu: What role does fiction play in such a historical account and archival research?
Simina Neagu: As I’m neither historian nor archivist, I’m not concerned with the accuracy of stone-cold facts, but rather capturing some lingering emotions and sensations. I was struck recently by someone saying music is a history of emotions. So it didn’t surprise me when 68 years later, Paul Joseph remembered listening to calypso and perinita in Bucharest. Although an unlikely combination, they both generally evoke a joyful mood that I imagine marked the festival. Feelings might not always be facts, but facts by themselves don’t necessarily create a sense of belonging or attachment to a historical event. Since we are problematizing solidarity, engaging creatively with this concept would entail capturing some of the delegates‘ feelings. How did it feel to be surrounded by 30,000 activists from across the world on a hot summer day in Bucharest?