I had the pleasure of meeting Ramona Mitrică while taking part in the cultural events she organised, with much professionalism and dedication, during the last few years. A Romanian film festival, book launches or cultural meetings on various themes, were just a few of the events she has managed successfully, attracting a select audience, both Romanian and British. She is an interesting personality, discreet, always with a smile on her lips, and a passionate promoter of Romanian culture, a strong woman who brings added value to Romania abroad, wherever she goes.
How much is the Profusion product you propose to the audience ‘British’, and how much is it Romanian?
Profusion Publishers is an independent British company. We translate into English and publish Romanian books in London. We work with native British translators in order to present a quality product on an extremely competitive book market.
The specificity of our books rests precisely on the fact they are Romanian – they come from a specific space, they are charged with a specific history, and they present specific mentalities and events. However, our books present themes of universal interest, showing to the British audience a world which is different from the one with which they are familiar, but also a world where, deep down, the characters’ reactions are similar to those of people from anywhere in the world.
Is this an effort to promote a niche which is almost ignored in Romania?
Yes, it is the niche we have identified after a period of research on the British market. The mystery/thriller genre is very appreciated by the British. During the 20th century this genre was confronted by strong prejudice in the European literary space. In Romania, local Noir literature is still looked upon with a little condescension. But mentalities change with time. At the moment, a critical mass of good books written by interesting Romanian authors is being created. We have identified three of these books, translated them into English and published them in London.
Besides these fiction books, we also published a non-fiction volume written by a British journalist together with a Romanian historian. This is ‘Rîmaru – Butcher of Bucharest’ (Rîmaru – MăcelarulBucureștiului) by Mike Phillips and Stejărel Olaru.
Where did this idea start? What was the spark that started the fire?
Ever since I came to London as the cultural attaché of the Embassy of Romania, in 1999, I have promoted Romanian culture in Britain. As a diplomat, I guided myself in the idea of promotion through informing and attracting the elites, the people who set cultural policies and take decisions in the UK. Afterwards, crossing from diplomacy to the independent sector, I wanted to experiment with the route of mass promotion, to have direct access to the general audience, not only the elites. But this change of vision required a completely different technique of approach. Help came from the British writer Mike Phillips, former BBC journalist, awarded the title of OBE by the Queen for services to the British mass-media. Mike is a well-known and award-winning author of crime novels published by HarperCollins, and we looked together for the best niche in order to promote Romanian culture in Britain. This is how we ended up establishing Profusion International, an arts consultancy business, in 2008, and then Profusion Publishers, in 2011.
What is your relationship with this literary genre?
I am a Noir enthusiast. During my university years, I studied this literary genre with Professor Paul Cornea, at the University of Bucharest. I remained loyal to the genre, and now I can contribute to promoting it.
I chose to promote this genre because I like it, because I know it, because it is popular in the UK, because I had a specialist of the genre with me.
Furthermore, popular literature can sometimes present daily life to a new audience better than elite literature. To paraphrase a well-known Romanian film director, we are interested by the story behind the events we see in the news. And, from what we can tell, the British audience is also interested by that story. Noir literature can create a context which is favourable to the better and quicker understanding of a foreign culture.
How simple, or how complicated it is to be a cultural manager in another country than your country of origin?
This is simple in London, from the point of view of existing possibilities, and the extraordinary facilities offered by this cultural capital of world.
It is also difficult in London, from the point of view of the extraordinary competitiveness. You need quality, creativity, perseverance and serious investment in order to make it here and then maintain your position. The possibilities of success are enormous. The market is always open, always interested in something new, in things which are less known and so can be studied closely.
Which audience was more receptive to the idea? The Romanian one, as its values are being promoted, or the British one, as they manage to know us through the perspective of people who contribute to international culture?
In the current context, the British audience is more receptive, being the audience for whom we created this cultural product.
We had many positive reactions coming from Romania, many people congratulating us for the courage to try something truly new. These are the first translations of Romanian crime writing into English, the first Romanian books of this kind published in the UK. Profusion’s books are also available in Romania through the ‘Anthony Frost’ English bookshop in Bucharest. I heard that many Romanians bought the books in English in order to offer them as gifts to their British friends. I would say this shows an important recognition of our work. The moment a Romanian buys Profusion’s books, or recommends them to their friends, that mean they are happy with the way in which these books and their English translation represents their culture.
What does success mean to you?
When a thing which was done well is appreciated.And bought, in the case of Profusion’s books.
What do you think is the enemy of success?
Indolence.Indifference.Envy.Lack of focus.Lack of perspective. There are many enemies…
What are the criteria when you choose which authors you translate?
We are looking for good books, for authors who say something interesting about Romanian society. Stories which are captivating, well written, original.Authors who are fascinating and with whom I can work with pleasure.
Who is Ramona Mitrică the person, beyond all the culture-related implications? What other passions do you have?
I like to dream, to make plans. I write whole notebooks of ideas. Lists and smaller lists of possible projects. Some of them even come alive, sooner or later.
I like going to the theatre very much. I recently saw an excellent British circus show, at the Roundhouse: Bianco. And, every year, I can hardly wait to go to Romania, to Bucharest and Sibiu, to see as much Romanian theatre as possible. I recently went to Bucharest for ten days and I went to see Victor Rebengiuc and Mariana Mihuț on the stage every evening. Unforgettable.
I noticed I like to do research in the archives – it was very interesting to help with the documentation for the book about Rîmaru. I had access to documents handwritten by the witnesses and militiamen from the beginning of the 1970s, statements given by the victims, by Rîmaru’s family. A fascinating research process.
I discovered more recently that I like to attend Aqua Zumba classes – dancing in the pool. That is until holiday comes and I can go on beautiful and remote beaches to do scuba diving and snorkelling.
What would you change in the Romanian way of promoting the country abroad?
I could write a treatise on the subject. And maybe I should do this at some point. We don’t have the necessary space to debate the subject properly here, but, leaving the jokes aside, here are some two or three ideas.
There are several ways of doing cultural promotion. I prefer the method of infiltration, of ‘fraternising with the locals’. I do not support the idea of imposing ‘by force’ some values exported in a pack. I want to understand what the locals want, to respect their tastes, to present several options and to let them choose. This is also a kind of ‘cultural conquest’, but I think it is more profound and of longer duration.
There must be a vision, attention to the context, focus, professionalism and perseverance.
I would support a better knowledge of the values that are to be promoted, and, at the same time, better knowledge of the new cultural market. I would always look for appropriate niches and favourable moments.
I would engage all existent local forces that are interested in the same activity as I am. I would get together all the factors promoting programmes connected to Romania and the countries of Eastern Europe. I would coordinate my efforts with theirs, and I would not enter in useless competition with other organisations, because there is enough room for everybody.
I would lobby the decision makers in the field, but I would also look for direct access to the masses. I would promote both ‘high’, and ‘popular’ culture.
What would you say to a British citizen if he knew nothing about Romania, how would you convince him to visit your country of origin?
I’d invite them to a well-known theatre festival in Transylvania, for example. At the beginning of summer. Beautiful weather, friendly people, quality shows, good music. I go to Sibiu almost every year and every time I enjoy returning to this wonderful place and its special people.
Did you think for a second howit would be if you returned to Romania for good? What would convince you to do it?
I never thought of returning to Romania. Maybe because I go to Romania whenever I want and whenever it’s needed. I have family over there. But I’ve been living in London for fifteen years, I have dual citizenship, I have friends here, and a business I want to develop. Everything I do is connected to Romania, one way or another; it’s just that physically I am in London.
Author: Daniela Vițelaru
Photography: Art Prime gallery and personal archive