Zoltán Rostás (b. 28 December 1946, Odorheiul Secuiesc) is currently emeritus professor and supervisor of doctorates at the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work of the University of Bucharest. He graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy and History of Babeş–Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca and holds a doctorate in philosophy from the same faculty, with specialisation in the philosophy of values, of culture, and of history. He has extensive journalistic experience; before 1989 he worked as an employee or collaborator in radio and television and in the written press. He is a member of the Romanian Society of Sociologists, the Romanian Society of Cultural Anthropology, the Centre for Regional and Anthropological Research in Miercurea Ciuc, and the Association of Professionals in Public Relations. He is also a member of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (USA), the European Association for the Advancement of Social Sciences (Austria), and the Société des Europénistes, Bruxelles.
Zoltán Rostás is well-known as an author in the Romanian cultural space. Before 1989, he published only the volumes Visszajátszás (Reverse connection) and Kétely és kísérlet (Doubt and experiment). Starting from the year 2000, however, his publishing projects have followed one another at a dizzying rate, since he began, on the one hand to put to use the interviews he carried out before 1989, either by publishing them directly or by writing monographs based on them, and on the other, to carry out together with his students new projects based on oral history. The list of his volumes, which have brought to fruit or extended his research in the 1980s includes: Monografia ca utopie. Interviuri cu Henri H. Stahl (2000); O istorie orală a Școlii Sociologice de la București (2001); Chipurile orașului. Istorii de viață din București. Secolul XX (2002); Sala luminoasă. Primii monografiști ai școlii gustiene (2003); Secolul coanei Lizica. Convorbiri din anii 1985-1986 cu Elisabeta Odobescu-Goga – Jurnalul din perioada 1916-1918 (2004); Atelierul gustian. O abordare organizațională (2005); Parcurs întrerupt. Discipolii din anii '30 ai Școlii gustiene (2006); Dialog neterminat (with Ioan Mihăilescu) (2007); Strada Latină nr. 8. Monografişti şi echipieri gustieni la Fundaţia Culturală Regală “Principele Carol“ (2009). Among the volumes of oral history that he has produced together with his students may be mentioned: Istorie la firul ierbii. Documente sociale orale (împreună cu Sorin Stoica) (2003); Televizorul în "micul infern" (împreună cu Sorin Stoica) (2005); Tur-retur. Convorbiri despre munca în străinătate, 2 vol. (împreună cu Sorin Stoica), (2006); Activişti mărunţi (with Antonio Momoc) (2007); Cealaltă jumătate a istoriei. Femei povestind (with Theodora-Eliza Văcărescu) (2008); Jurnal de cămin (with Sorin Stoica) (2008); Tânăr student caut revoluţionar (with Florentina Ţone), vol. I – 2011, vol. II – 2012; Bișnițari, descurcăreți, supraviețuitori (with Antonio Momoc) (2013). Zoltán Rostás is also the author of numerous studies, articles, documents, and scholarly papers published in specialist journals.
Zoltán Rostás’s passion for oral history as a method of producing documents for the study of social history came to him early, but he did not at first consciously identify it and name it as such. “I knew how to talk with people, of various categories. I liked talking with them; I liked listening to them. Later, regarding with my passion for oral history, I got involved in the press, and there my ability to take interviews with people was cultivated more and more. It was important that I worked in the written press, and in radio, and in television. I could say that, looking at things from the perspective of social history and what I have done in that field, I had a rigorous training, from various directions.” It was his professional activity together with his sociological training that, in different ways, pushed him towards his passion for carrying out in-depth interviews that would render stories of life. “Regarding the press and what I had in mind to do, it seemed to me right from the beginning that the press provided a very restrictive framework. I wanted to take big interviews. Whatever sort of press I might work for, they were drastically cut – even if they were not actually censored. Only a very little could be included. As a consequence of my sociological training, I was much more inclined to find out the opinion of the person I was talking with than to present my own opinion.”
As for the specific moment that launched his interest in oral history, he mentions the World Congress of Historians organized in Ceauşescu’s Romana, underlining the fact that this first professional meeting with the research method that was to generate his collection was due, on the one hand, to chance, and on the other, to his intellectual curiosity: “1980 was the turning point. Both for me and for my passion. In that year a big history congress was held in Bucharest. It was a regular event, which happened [that year] to be held here in our country. It was something truly impressive at the time. I went there pursuing my passion: I was thinking of taking interviews, all sorts of interviews. As I was saying: It was a very attractive setting from this point of view too. And that’s what happened: I made a lot of recordings. And on one of the days I said to myself that on that particular day I wasn’t going to make any recordings; I was very tired too with all the effort. And I said to myself: I’ll look for a section where they’re presenting papers on a theme that I haven’t the slightest idea about, and I’ll go and listen. And so I did! It was the section dedicated to oral history. I can even remember that when I read the poster announcing details about this section I was thinking to myself: Is this about the history of orality or is it about something else? There I found out that it was about an in-depth interview, taken with young people, not elderly people, that this interview had a well-established methodology, and that, at least in the West, it had been practised for several decades. Especially since the tape recorder appeared, at any rate. Because shorthand transcription applied to oral history both works and doesn’t work, because what results from shorthand transcription (Henry H. Stahl, whom I knew well, did this sort of thing – his father was chief stenographer in Parliament) is a much poorer document than the interview. There, on the tape, there is also the voice of the person; and the voice of somebody is very precious, because it’s unique and unrepeatable.”
His sociological training played a decisive role in his decision to embark on this intellectually interesting project only out of pure curiosity for the study of a subject and without any certainty that he would ever see anything published. “Oral history took off precisely because of the need for social history! It is the history of those people who do not appear in official archives, the history of people about whom there are no detailed documents regarding their lives, the fundamental reference points of these people’s lives. And what struck me right from the beginning of this personal project was that, although we were in communism and inasmuch as oral history and social history deal very much with researching the condition of marginal people, we had, in fact, a lot of marginal people to hand. Although communism said one thing in theory, in practice and in reality, it produced a lot of marginal people. Whoever was not in power was, in fact, a marginal person in communism. Now, in communism, very few in fact had power!” A different way of looking at history and communist society than that of the official discourse was one of the fundamental aims of the oral history and social history activity practised by Zoltán Rostás. Because “social history is in fact an influence of anthropology and sociology on historical study. And from this derive new varieties of history: this is no longer just a study of elites, of power, of ‘high politics,’ of the great events with elites and power at their centre, but it is something else.”
There are two biographical moments with a high emotional charge that Zoltán Rostás mentions in connection with the extremely personal relationship that he has with oral history and social history. The first concerns the inaugural moment when he assumed this vocation, a moment directly connected to the Hungarian community that he belongs to, and implicitly to the geographical region dominated by this ethnic community: “I had in my mind a project at one time, something that was to be like a sort of radiography of the political elite of an administrative district over the course of a decade (1950–1960). The first secretary, the president of the District People’s Council, and a multitude of apparatchiks, petty apparatchiks as we would call them today. A district in the Hungarian Autonomous Region. They were all Hungarians. Why did I want to do this? Because, immediately after discovering oral history, I wanted to make my first attempts, my first interviews, with my father, but he died, just a week after I had told him about my intention. In memory of my father, I made the recordings that give the radiography of the political elite of that district. It was the district in which my father lived and in which I too lived when I was a child. So, in oral history, I started from myself, almost from my origins. In the history of Romanian communism, many books have been written about the top elite. But communism relied on the petty apparatchiks, such as were those in the district in which both I and my father lived. After 1989, I also produced a book about the petty apparatchiks.”
The second moment concerns a turning point in the life of Zoltán Rostás, a stroke, which he says was, in the end, “good” for him, because it was basically what made him decide to put to use the interviews he had carried out before 1989: “The stroke that I suffered in 1995 was, in the end, good for me and it was good for oral history. A serious illness makes you think, as they say. It turns you back to yourself. I was almost half paralysed; I couldn’t speak; I couldn’t write either. For almost two years I was out of circulation. I was recovering in those months, finding myself again, concentrating more and more on oral history. I said to myself that nothing was lost, because I had available, right beside me, a great treasure. Well, that treasure of oral history that I had gathered over the years almost led me by the hand out of my serious problem. It was, in a way, saving, healing. After that, my books began to come out, with a very big impact. Now the time had come for this sort of oral history document, for this sort of interview, in-depth, non-ideological, not from the perspective of a victim of communism, but an interview that recounted in great detail the life of some person or other.
Zoltán Rostás knows that there are still another twenty or thirty books that might be written on the basis of the precious testimonies recorded on magnetic tapes in the archive that he keeps at home. “I know that I have a treasure there. In fact, my treasure is so in two senses: first, because I have saved the voices and the stories of those people; and second, because there is still a lot to be processed out of what I have at home,” he concludes.
Zoltán Rostás has had the occasion to become familiarised with the theme of the COURAGE project and to reflect on his own activity of carrying out oral history interviews before 1989 through the prism of the research questions that this project has set out to answer. With regard to the period in which the great majority of the documents that are now to be found in his private collection were created, the 1980s, in communist Romania, he underlines how important it was to be able to evaluate the limits of the political system in order to know to what extent a certain tolerance existed: “From around the time I was a student, I was quite aware of the constraining political regime that I lived in. I was not a dissident, but I tried, as far as was possible, to evade the constraints of the regime. In fact, I may say that I relate to communism more as a historian than as a participant. I knew from the beginning that we were lied to. And it became a great lie, because it became a system. I did not foresee that the communist system would fall in such a radical way as happened in 1989, but even from the beginning of my work in oral history, I was convinced that the system would weaken so much that, even if it didn’t fall, I would one day be able to publish those interviews. In the last decades, faith in communism had fallen very much; there was no longer that affective relation to it as an ‘ideal.’ In Hungary and Poland this sort of thing could be published in the 1980s – and I knew this very well. What I was doing when I went to take interviews was my own affair. The regime did not forbid me, but nor did it encourage me; it was something tolerated. I would always tell anyone everything that I was doing. That was my technique of avoiding too great a curiosity on the part of the Securitate.”
Zoltán Rostás’s passion in the time of communism, which flourished in the grey space of tolerance permitted by the regime, turned into a profession after the fall of that regime. Before 1989, his activity as a researcher in the field of oral history was a pioneering one for Romania. After 1989, Zoltán Rostás became one of the people who played a decisive role in its institutionalisation. His books had numerous highly positive public echoes. Dozens of seminars and public lectures were organised that gravitated around the themes and method developed by Zoltán Rostás for oral history and social history. There are already ten published volumes prepared together with students using this method in the field of oral history and social history. From 2000 to the present, at least 250 students annually have carried out advanced research according to this working method. With regard to his role in institutionalising oral history as a research method for social history, Zoltán Rostás says: “I didn’t invent the one-person institution. In communism, there were several such people-institutions. In the first place, they were people with a real passion for what they did. What I did, I did out of passion. That was my driving force. Indeed even, so to speak, the financer of this type of project. I was supported by my passion. I didn’t ask for money for those hundreds or thousands of hours of recordings; I made them out of passion. What I learned then, before 1989, I used after the revolution too. What I have done together with my team, the ‘Gusti Cooperative’, is inspired by what I did before 1989. On top of that, it is a production of Romanian sociology made without any money from the Academy, University, etc. The most important thing is to rely on yourself. And if you can manage to bring alongside you a few other people that you can work together with – not lead, because I haven’t given myself the task of leading them – , then this is very important.” His activity of preserving the memory of the school of sociology founded by Dimitrie Gusti and, at the same time, guiding a new generation of students, may be followed in Romanian, English, and French at the portal http://www.cooperativag.ro/.
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- Bucharest, Romania
Author(s) of this page
- Petrescu, Cristina
- Pătrăşconiu, Cristian Valeriu
Rostás, Zoltán. 1984. Visszajátszás (Reverse connection). Bucharest: Albatros.
Rostás, Zoltán. 1988. Kétely és kísérlet (Doubt and experiment). Cluj-Napoca: Kriterion.
Rostás, Zoltán. 2000. Monografia ca utopie: Interviuri cu Henri H. Stahl (Monograph as utopia: Interviews with Henri H. Stahl). Bucharest: Paideia.
Rostás, Zoltán. 2001. O istorie orală a Școlii Sociologice de la București (An oral history of the Sociological School of Bucharest). Bucharest: Printech.
Rostás, Zoltán. 2002. Chipurile orașului: Istorii de viață din București. Secolul XX (Faces of the city: Life histories from Bucharest: Twentieth century). Bucharest: Polirom.
Rostás, Zoltán. 2003. Sala luminoasă: Primii monografiști ai școlii gustiene (The bright hall: The first monographers of the Gustian school). Bucharest: Paideia.
Rostás, Zoltán and Sorin Stoica, eds. 2003. Istorie la firul ierbii: Documente sociale orale (History at grassroots level: Oral social documents). Bucharest: Tritonic.
Rostás, Zoltán. 2004. Secolul coanei Lizica: Convorbiri din anii 1985-1986 cu Elisabeta Odobescu-Goga – Jurnalul din perioada 1916–1918 (Madam Lizica’s century: Conversations with Elisabeta Odobescu-Goga from 1985–1986 – The diary from 1916–1918). Bucharest: Paideia.
Rostás, Zoltán. 2005. Atelierul gustian: O abordare organizațională (The Gustian workshop: An organisational approach). Bucharest: Tritonic.
Rostás, Zoltán and Sorin Stoica, eds. 2005. Televizorul în ”micul infern” (Television in the ”little inferno”). Bucharest: Tritonic.
Rostás, Zoltán. 2006. Parcurs interrupt: Discipolii din anii 1930 ai Școlii gustiene (Interrupted trajectory: The Gustian school’s disciples of the 1930s). Bucharest: Paideia.
Rostás, Zoltán and Sorin Stoica, eds. 2006. Tur-retur: Convorbiri despre munca în străinătate, 2 vol. (Round trip: Conversations about working abroad). Bucharest: Curtea Veche.
Rostás, Zoltán and Ioan Mihăilescu. 2007. Dialog neterminat (Unfinished dialog). Bucharest: Curtea Veche.
Rostás, Zoltán and Antonio Momoc, eds. 2007. Activişti mărunţi (Petty apparatchiks). Bucharest: Curtea Veche.
Rostás, Zoltán and Theodora-Eliza Văcărescu, eds. 2008. Cealaltă jumătate a istoriei: Femei povestind (The other half of history: Women telling stories). Bucharest: Curtea Veche.
Rostás, Zoltán and Sorin Stoica, eds. 2008. Jurnal de cămin (Boarding house diary). Bucharest: Curtea Veche.
Rostás, Zoltán. 2009. Strada Latină nr. 8: Monografişti şi echipieri gustieni la Fundaţia Culturală Regală “Principele Carol“ (8 Str. Latina: Gustian monographers and team members at the Prince Carol Royal Cultural Foundation). Bucharest: Curtea Veche.
Rostás, Zoltán and Florentina Ţone, eds. 2011–2012. Tânăr student caut revoluţionar (Young student seeks revolutionary), 2 vols. Bucharest: Curtea Veche.
Rostás, Zoltán, ed. 2013. Răfuiala cu scopurile noastre: Școala sociologică de la București în cotidianul Ecoul, 1943–1944 (The struggle with our goals: The Bucharest school of sociology in the daily newspaper Ecoul, 1943–1944). Bucharest: Paideea.
Rostás, Zoltán and Antonio Momoc, eds. 2013. Bișnițari, descurcăreți, supraviețuitori (Black marketeers, resourceful people, survivors). Bucharest: Curtea Veche.
Rostás, Zoltán, ed. 2014. Alți București interbelici: Studii și cronici gustiene (Another interwar Bucharest: Studies and articles of Gusti’s school). Bucharest: Vremea.
Rostás, Zoltán, and Marin Diaconu, eds. 2014. Al XIV-lea Congres Internațional de Sociologie din 1939: Documentar (The fourteenth International Congress of Sociology of 1939: Documentation). Bucharest: Editura Universității din București.
Rostás, Zoltán, ed. 2014. Universitatea interbelică a sociologilor gustieni: Studii (The Gustian sociologists in the interwar university: Studies). Bucharest: Editura Universității din București.
Rostás, Zoltán, ed. 2015. Henri H. Stahl - Epistolar monographic: Din arhiva de scris a lui H. H. Stahl (Henri H. Stahl – Letters related to the monographic school: From the archive of H. H. Stahl) Bucharest: Paideea.
Rostás, Zoltán, ed. 2015. Între proiecții urbanistice și sărăcie letargică: Bucureștiul arhitecților, sociologilor și al medicilor (Between urban projections and lethargic poverty: The Bucharest of architects, sociologists, and physicians) Bucharest: Vremea.
Rostás, Zoltán and Irina Nastasă-Matei, eds. 2016. Alma Mater în derivă: Aspecte alternative ale vieții universitare interbelice (Alma Mater derailed: Alternative aspects of interwar university life). Cluj-Napoca: Eikon & Școala Ardeleană.
Rostás, Zoltán and Dragoș Sdrobiș, eds. 2017. Culturalizare în uniform: Articole și documente despre Serviciul Social, 1938–1939 (Culturalisation in uniform: Articles and documents about Social Service, 1938–1939) Bucharest: Paideea.
Rostás, Zoltán and Martid Ladislau Salamon, eds. 2017. ”Transhumanța” interbelică în Balcani: Studii și articole despre aromâni în publicații gustiene (Interwar ”transhumance” in the Balkans: Studies and articles about Aromanians in Gustian publications). Cluj-Napoca: Eikon.
Rostás, Zoltán and Mireille Rădoi, eds. 2017. Dimitrie Gusti: Corespondență. Acte și documente (Dimitrie Gusti: Correspondence. Acts and documents). Bucharest: Editura Universității din București.
Rostás, Zoltán, interview by Pătrăşconiu, Cristian Valeriu , September 15, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection