Life in communist Romania

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Life in communist Romania

Postby Liviu » 05 Mar 2012, 16:52

On this thread, I will answer the request of Elliott and I will try to tell you how life was in communist Romania. I will mix what I personally lived with what I know from my parents, friends and relatives and what I read about it after the Communism fall.

To put things into perspective (I believe few people outside Romania know much about recent Romanian history) I will very briefly present what happened in Romania after the Second World War. Skip that part if you know the basics of Communism or you are in a hurry, it can be boring for some readers.

In august 1944, the country has broken the alliance with Nazi Germany and joined the allied camp, in the hope of escaping Soviet occupation. The previous democratic constitution was restored and the political parties regained freedom of expression. However, this could not stop the Soviets imposing their puppet regime by force and the communization process went very rapidly. By 1948, the king was expelled and the only legal party left was the Communist Party, while the members of the democratic parties were virtually all in jail. Soon, hundreds of thousands of people would be imprisoned, virtually every one that could put up even the smallest resistance to the new regime (many of them were imprisoned without trial, based on an “administrative sentence” alone). The policy of mass imprisonment of (potential) political opponents was enforced until 1964. For 5 years, one of those prisoners was my father (lucky for me, that happened before I was born). His only “guilt” was to possess forbidden books about Romanian history. When he got out of prison, he was 31 years old and had not teeth in his mouth.

In 1948 were nationalized all the medium and large size companies (factories, banks etc.). By 1960, virtually all firms were state-property or state-controlled (which was in fact the same thing). The vast majority of the countryside was collectivized and peasants practically became serfs of the state. The regime began a policy of industrialization that would be obsessively followed until its demise.

The overt violence of the regime would become less and less necessary as people would be put into submission. In 1958, the Soviet troops left Romania and in 1964 the communist leadership began to distance itself from the Soviets and took up a nationalistic approach, a policy that will be continued from 1965 by the new dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. The political prisoners were (almost) all released in 1964.

In the 1960s, the everyday life slowly began to improve, ideological restrictions gradually relaxed and shops had more merchandise. The regime courted the West and get money from IMF in order to expand the industrial base. However, while the economic prosperity continued for the most part of the 1970s, the new dictator began to build a personality cult that soon arrived at Stalinist proportions.
Liviu
 
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From cradle to grave

Postby Liviu » 05 Mar 2012, 16:55

That is when I show up on the scene (in 1974, to be precise). We lived in a 60.000 people town, 80 km southwest of Bucharest. A vast plain extends in every direction; the summers are hot and dry, the winters cold.

At the beginning, home was a very small, two rooms apartment, in a four stories block at the outskirts of town. As was the case in the majority of communist blocks of flats, the tenants came from various backgrounds: teachers, workers, public service employees, doctors. From that time, I remember only one neighbor, a troublesome gipsy that kept us awake at night (he was constantly fighting and beating with his wife and children).

My parents both worked (this was the norm) so I had to attend kindergarten. That is where the party would take hold of you for the first time. Not being content that children had to wait until school years to be recruited to a Party-affiliated organization, Ceausescu invented one for the 5 year-olds, with a surreal name: “The Fatherland Hawks” (many things were surreal, so it was not mocked about). Therefore, I gladly became a fatherland hawk, along with all my peers in the entire country :). Not much was required from us, apart from learning some Party-praising poems. The Great Leader portrait was hanging in every classroom, looking after us with his infinite love.

Of course, at that age, you do not question these things, and I enjoyed kindergarten fully :)

Life was easy then, there were candies in the shops and even oranges and bananas in December. My parents manage to get a 3-room apartment through a housing bank credit. It was situated in a pleasant neighborhood, in a new block of flats and soon afterwards, I entered school in the first grade. Ceausescu’s portrait was, of course, everywhere, in every classroom and on the first page of every school manual. Now and then, we had to learn some Party-praising poems. The first page in every newspaper was mostly about him, so were much of the TV daily news.

We were constantly told we live happy lives in a happy country, and we believed it (I believed it, for sure). The country was not only happy, but had a glorious past (we had won practically every war we have been drag into) and an even more glorious future. As for the present, that was the Golden Age - I am not kidding, that was the official designation :).

That country of ours was also very important and respected in the world, and had contributed massively to human progress through science and technology.

I sense already your envy for not being born into such a great place, but I am not going to hold this against you, after all, we cannot all be equal :).

In those days, my town was a great place to be a kid. There were few cars, so we could play football in the street. My grandmother lived just 5 minutes from our apartment, in a house with a garden and a small vineyard, great for various games. Very close from that house there was a wooded area (we called it simply “The forest” and it appeared huge and wild, even if it was probably less than a square km large and had even a few asphalt alleys) with a pond meandering beneath the oaks canopies (that pond no longer exist, being filled with the rubble resulted from house demolitions made for “urban development” in the last years of the regime).

Every summer we took a 12 days vacation at the seaside or in a mountain resort (for which my mother saved money an entire year).
Liviu
 
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Motto: “Not only they make you eat shit, but they force you to say you like it.” – Costica, my father’s uncle, summarizing life

Postby Liviu » 05 Mar 2012, 16:56

First, the “eating shit” part

The situation began to deteriorate from 1980. The decline was constant throughout the 1980s, every year being worst than the preceding one. Because of economic mismanagement, Romania defaulted in 1981 on its international financial obligations. Ceausescu felt this as a personal humiliation, and from that moment, he became obsessed with economic independence. That reimbursement of the country’s foreign debt was set as the main priority of the country. All “unnecessary” imports were halted and everything that could be exported was sold for hard currency.

Of course, no public news of the default were ever made public, and I found about it many years later. However, the changes were evident in everyday life.

Basic imported merchandise like coffee or cocoa disappeared from shops. Imported fruits like oranges or bananas disappeared, too.
In winter, centralized heating began to falter (as a rule, heating was provided for an entire quarter of blocks of flats from a single heating plant). For days in a row, the radiators would be cold. The following year these heat blackouts will be measured in weeks, later in months. By 1987, I think, there was no heating at all for the entire winter. In the morning we would wake up to see ice formed on the inside of the windows from breathing moisture, thick as my thumb. There was no hot water for years, either.

People began to use alternative sources of heating, mainly electric radiators. Therefore, the regime responded by introducing teams of inspectors that were supposed to enter people homes in order to confiscate those radiators (I know, it is hard to believe). For one reason or another (perhaps it was too absurd even for them) these inspections never really worked (we received only one in 8 years).

Electric power began to be erratic, too. The official reason was that “savings” must be made. At the beginning, every one or two weeks we got a power cut of a few hours. That rhythm increased by the years, so in the late 1980s we got only a few ours of electric power every day. I remember having a flashlight with me every time, so I can see the way on the pitch black stairs of my block of flats while returning from school in the evening.

In the late 1980s it was not uncommon for me to do my homework at the light of a candle or of a gas lamp. And that was in a town that was the county’s administrative capital. In some of the surrounding villages, the blackouts could be measured in months.

The basic living products were rationalized. Every adult was entitled to a certain amount of bread, milk, cooking oil, sugar, meat (and smaller ratios for children). We had cards in which every such purchase was marked, so we cannot buy more than our share.
The worse part was that none of these was regularly for sale, apart of bread (and for bread you have to be quick, because you will find it only in the morning). The shops were simply empty as a rule, with long lines of people waiting outside in the hope that some merchandise will eventually be brought in (I am not kidding, people were staying in line for days, even weeks, just waiting for the moment a truck will appear at the corner bringing in some skinny frozen chickens).

Sometimes, when Something was brought in for sale, the hell could broke loose. Imagine 50 or 100 people previously aligned in a more or less ordered line (there were single lines, double lines or triple lines, depending on the number of people on each row). Once the news that Something was going to be sold, some people would break the line and would push forward, in order to get to the first ranks. If gypsies were present, you would be sure that would happen. That will encourage other people to do it, too, and a beastly fight would start, with people pushing each other for a better place in the line. In order to control the crowds, metal bars had been installed in some places, in a pattern resembling that used at some airports at passenger control. In one instance we were caught, me and my grandmother, in such a stampede for food. My grandmother got out with a cracked rib and I was afraid I would die crashed between the crowd and the metal bars. I was probably 12.

Anyhow, these episodes were rare for me; my parents were sheltering me from these hardships and usually took the entire “food gathering” upon themselves. At one point, every purchase was a victory; it did not matter if it was a pack of batteries, a cotton towel or toilet paper.

The heating gas we used for cooking was also rationalized and hard to get. We were using gas cylinders because our town was not connected to a gas pipeline. I remember people staying for days in the freezing cold, waiting for the “gas truck” to come. I remember going in the middle of the night, with my mother, to the “gas center”, to give my father a hot drink while he was guarding his place in the line.

There were many jokes about that state of affairs (the jokes made in communist countries are great, I don’t know if you are familiar with the Soviet “Yerevan Radio” ones). One of those goes like this:

One american, one frenchman and one romanian were flying over Africa. The plane had a malfunction and crashed in cannibal territory. Of course, cannibals captured the three men and brought them to the tribal chief. After briefly examining them, the chief decides:
- the american, being rather fat, will be fried at stake
- the frenchman will be made a stew
- the romanian, being so skinny will be used to make soup

After a while, the chief goes to see how the cooking was going.
At first, all was ok: the american was nicely roasted, the French stew smelled good. Arriving at the soup boiler, he is amazed to find the romanian being hold above the water with long, wooden sticks.
-What are you doing here, you fools? Asks the chief angrily. – Why is he not in the boiler?
-Sorry, great chief! Answers one of the cannibals. – Every time we drop him, he dives to the bottom and eats all the potatoes.

Everyone had its way of coping with the situation, and a complex black economy developed. You could get many things absent from the market if you did know the right people and had something to give in return.

Our family had the advantage of my father working at the county people’s council (that was the state institution in charge of county’s administration). He was an economist working at the economic planning department. Every county, like the state itself, had a party leadership, on top of the civil administration. Therefore, every now and then, the state employees were given the opportunity of buying food left over from the Party’s shop, and my father will return home with this precious catch.

Yes, the Party had its own network of shops and hotels. When I say “Party”, I mean the apparatchiks, the hierarchy. The regular members (some 4 million of them) were not privileged. However, if you were part of the nomenclature, you did not have to stay in line, you had access to better services, imported products and, depending of your position, hunting lodges and various, other very “bourgeois” perks.

In the end, I will tell you one more episode. I was probably 11 years old. I was happy to be in my summer vacation, playing everyday with my friends in my grandmother neighborhood. That morning I was sent to buy bread, from a shop two or three blocks away, in the same old quarter of the town I went, stayed in line for an hour, as was the norm, bought the family rations and went back, as usual. On my way back an old woman suddenly stopped me. She was resembling my grandmother – gentle and showing the signs of a life of work. With a trembling voice, she asked me if I could sell her a piece of bread. She was not from our town. I knew that if you were not registered in the town, you had not the right to buy bread or any of the rationalized items. She was from a nearby village, and bread was simply not provided there.
I was overwhelmed with shame, with the shame that an old woman had to ask me, a child, to give her the bread that I knew was made from the wheat she and other peasants had produced. What was I supposed to do? I could not sell her a whole piece of bread because my grandmother expected me to bring it home. I sold it half. Nobody scold me for it.
Liviu
 
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And now, the “I like it” part

Postby Liviu » 05 Mar 2012, 16:59

As life became more and more impoverished and humiliating, the propaganda got more and more surreal. The only TV program was reduced to only 2 hours a day (to be later extended to 3 hours a day in the last year or so). Regularly, these 2 hours comprised good news about Ceausescu’s and country’s achievements. In the summer, you could watch endless statistics about record crop yields, absolutely delusional.

While in the early 1980s one can still watch a movie in what little time remained from those 2 hours broadcast time, later on the other part of the program began to be allocated to grotesque shows glorifying the Great Leader. That went on and on and on. It was inescapable.
It was even in the children magazines. There was a single children magazine for every age group. While in secondary school, we were forced to made subscriptions for a weekly children magazine titled “The Bold Ones”, printed on cheap paper and fundamentally ugly. It had only one page of comic strips (more often than not with an ideologically subject) the rest of it (it had 12 or 16 pages, I guess) being pure, unreadable propaganda, with Ceausescu’s face all over it. It was so indigestible that I never read a single article, while those days I was so fanatic about reading that I was re-reading my “real” books 3 or 4 times if I could not get a new one. Basically, on every page children were thanking the Great Leader for the fatherly care he provided for us.

Once every two months or so we had meetings of the “Pioneers” organization (we were all “pioneers”). That meant gathering at school in special uniforms, waiting for an hour or two for the “meeting” to begin (not having where to sit down), giving the “Pioneer’s salute” for an impossible long interval while the endless “Pioneers anthem” was intoned (my right hand always hurt me while saluting, so I had to use the other one) and then listening to some drivel about the party, the country, our happy lives and, above all, the Great Leader that provided all these for us.

Much of the same happened to our parents. They too had their meetings in which were “allowed” to express their gratitude towards the Great Leader.

I have to say that I was not in any way discriminated as the son of a former political prisoner. On only one occasion I felt something was not ok. I was in the 8th grade and my school results (I was a very good pupil) made the teachers in charge with the pioneers’ organization to consider me for the future leadership. I was called to the pioneers’ coordinator office. She was a very good teacher and I think a good person either. As I remember, she asked me to write a short CV. I guess it was a form to be completed, because she was very surprised to find out that my father was not a party member. She asked me if I was sure he wasn’t. I was sure. The process stopped immediately, much for my contentment, because I hated wasting time on endless meetings.

The same year, 1989 my father was laid off from his job because of his past. The communist regimes were on the road to collapse, and Ceausescu was taking desperate measures to repress once more every possible opponent. One night, my father came to my room and told me that it was possible for him and my mother to be arrested. He was trying to prepare me for that event. I was scared then, but I didn’t fully believe him at that moment. After the Ceausescu’s fall, it surfaced that plans for the arrest of former political prisoners were indeed prepared.

There is more to say about all of those things, but I’ll stop here. It is already too much for a forum posting, I don’t want to be impossibly boring.

P.S. I will not be online for the following week. However, I’ll be glad to answer your possible questions one week from now.
Liviu
 
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Re: Life in communist Romania

Postby Elliott » 05 Mar 2012, 22:54

Liviu,

Your account is not boring at all! Thanks for writing it, and please feel free to expand it as much as you like. You're describing a way of life most of us have never experienced, but (as conservatives) are suspicious about, so it is very interesting to read.

I do have some questions...

Just to be clear, did money actually exist in Communist Romania? You mention transactions (like selling the bread to the old lady) which imply money. If money did exist, that would seem to suggest that the regime had accepted, in some way, that Communism didn't work.

You mention a black economy. How dangerous was it for people to be involved in this? For example, could you be reported to the police? And again, was money involved or did it always run on bartering (swapping goods)?

Throughout your account, you mention "meetings" several times. Were meetings a big part of life under Communism? (A cliche about Communism is that it creates a lot of pointless bureaucracy.)

You mentioned people joking about the situation. Did people generally know that there was a different way to live (capitalism)? Dalrymple has said that people he's met in Communist countries tend to know that their life is very unnatural - would you say that was true of Romania?

The state confiscating electric radiators... was this so that the state would save electricity, or so that everyone would be equally cold?

Finally, you mentioned in the other thread that living under Communism made you certain of the existence of evil. Could you expand on that here? Assume I know nothing about it. Which experiences, which aspects of the life you had, which things you saw, made you certain that evil exists?

I know that's a lot of questions. I'm sorry. I have never had the chance to speak with someone who has lived under Communism, and it's quite fascinating. If you could address each of those questions, I'd be very grateful.
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Re: Life in communist Romania

Postby Damo » 06 Mar 2012, 20:53

Liviu, thank you for your posts. I did not find them boring at all.

Please give us some more when you get a chance.

Was it hard to leave Romania during the communist era?
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Re: Life in communist Romania

Postby Caleb » 07 Mar 2012, 01:34

I'd also like to know how Romania is doing these days. What, if any, negative changes has Romania undergone post-Communism?
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Re: Life in communist Romania

Postby Liviu » 14 Mar 2012, 11:27

Glad to be back on the forum :)

I am pleased that some of you were interested in my account. Thank you Elliott, Damo and Caleb for your questions. Here are the answers:

Just to be clear, did money actually exist in Communist Romania? You mention transactions (like selling the bread to the old lady) which imply money.


Yes, the money was used more or less like in any other country. People had salaries, and were paid with money. It was even legal to poses foreign currency, but as I remember, for sums above a certain amount (like 100$ or so) you were required to keep it in a bank account. There were a few people that were receiving foreign currency as salaries for working abroad (mainly in Arab countries – in which Romanian companies had a strong presence those days) or from relatives living in Western countries.

If money did exist, that would seem to suggest that the regime had accepted, in some way, that Communism didn't work.


Well, Communists were very cunning people. In order to placate any criticism, the official mantra was that we were not yet living in a Communist society, instead we were “on the way to Communism”. The “theory” was that many “old order” institutions, like money, would be preserved as long as they would be necessary for society, and would be discarded as they became outdated (“an obstacle in the way of progress”). This is one of the main victories of socialist propaganda: to compare real capitalist societies with the “great humanist ideal” of Communism, not with real life communist societies. The socialist left would pretend that any criticism of Communism had to be discarded on the grounds that “this is not really Communism”. The only problem is that we were not, and we could never be, “There”.

You mention a black economy. How dangerous was it for people to be involved in this? For example, could you be reported to the police? And again, was money involved or did it always run on bartering (swapping goods)?


You could end up in prison for dealing on the black market, and some people did, usually if those goods were stolen. The goods on the black market had several origins:
- Goods meant to be openly sold in shops, but instead kept in deposits in order to be sold to selected customers for higher prices or for the legal price plus a favor
- Goods meant to be openly sold in shops, directly bought by shopkeepers before entering the store, to be later distributed by a complex black-market network operating more or less on a person to person basis, for much higher prices.
The regime pretended that this was the main cause of penury, and it was subject to various crackdown campaigns.
A shopkeeper had more social standing and power than a teacher or an engineer, because he controlled access to “real” resources.

- Goods stolen from state manufacturers (there was a widespread culture of theft; because state property was not “someone’s” property, people were not seeing themselves as “real” thieves.) As a rule, people working in the manufacturing sector were using the various resources at hand at the workplace in order to manufacture various artifacts not available on the legal market, for personal use or for transactions. In my home town, all the trolleys used for carrying gas cylinders for cooking were made in this way.
- Goods brought in from abroad, usually smuggled by truck drivers or sailors.

To give you an example: you had a car and some day the radiator would break off. Of course, at the local auto parts shop there would be no radiators. What could you do? Fortunately, there could be some solutions:
- bribe the shopkeeper with money, in order to convince him to sold you a radiator hidden in the back of the shop (the radiators being precious, that might not work)
- bribe the shopkeeper with some food item (like 5 kilos of beef ) – that would be better than money
- ask a friend/neighbor to give you a tip. He might know someone who has a brother working at the automobile plant. Your neighbor will ask you a favor in return, of course – maybe you are the cousin of a doctor and his wife needs an operation etc.
So bartering involved goods and services, often accompanying money.

Throughout your account, you mention "meetings" several times. Were meetings a big part of life under Communism? (A cliché about Communism is that it creates a lot of pointless bureaucracy.)


Yes, they were. I was not talking about mere “bureaucratic” meetings (even if I am sure there were plenty of those); I was referring to regular ideological meetings with the sole purpose of force feeding people with propaganda. Every Communist Party cell had to have regular meetings (at least once a month, I guess). The unions had regular meetings also, with much the same content (the unions were nothing like the Western ones – they were subordinated to the Communist Party and an instrument used by the party to control people).

You mentioned people joking about the situation. Did people generally know that there was a different way to live (capitalism)?


Yes, they were joking a lot. Here is one more:
“Mommy, if the West is such a bad place and our country is such a nice place, why is the West such a nice place and our country such a bad place?”

Romania was very isolated back then (perhaps the most isolated country in Europe, with the possible exception of Albania), but it was impossible for the regime to block all information about the West. Of course, people knew there was another way of life (some of them even lived that way before communist times). They could see it in the movies (in the more “open” faze of the regime, even an essentially capitalist item like the “Dallas” TV series was broadcasted on television). Of course, the lack of first hand experience had distorted in many respects the image of the West (only few people got permission to travel abroad - usually for professional purposes).

Dalrymple has said that people he's met in Communist countries tend to know that their life is very unnatural - would you say that was true of Romania?


This is a very important point. Communism proved how powerful propaganda can be. Constant propaganda and information control prevented people from establishing a coherent vision about their life in Communism. They knew many things were not right, but in the same time many of them believed it was a good society, because every media outlet told them it was. This schizoid mindset is still present in many individuals. I guess it is hard for many of you to understand, but these things would all be true for such an individual:
- He knows westerners were living better
- He believes Communism had many achievements and was a just society; he believes Capitalism is evil
- He would act very cynical in order to survive

The whole Communist experiment was a lie of huge proportions, perhaps the greatest lie in history. So great, that people would see first hand it was a lie but could not really escape it. Many of them did not saw their life as unnatural. The young communist apparatchiks were probably the most cynical of all people, the few that did not believe almost anything of the propaganda.
The process of recognizing the truth has been long and painful. In the 1990s people would return from the West in shock – they did not believe (before going there) that such huge differences existed.

(Speaking of lies, I will give you just an example: from time to time, people were required to do some unpaid, forced labor, like planting trees, cleaning some garbage dump etc. This forced labor was officially called “voluntary labor”)

The state confiscating electric radiators... was this so that the state would save electricity, or so that everyone would be equally cold?


I believe the motive was to enforce regime power. This was their outmost concern. If the regime had decided that savings had to be made, then people should comply. If they did not comply, they should be forced into it. In Communist societies people were always treated as suspects, as malevolent individuals prone to sabotage the “good” decisions of the Party, so the usual response to the failure of an idiotic decision was more repression to support it.

Finally, you mentioned in the other thread that living under Communism made you certain of the existence of evil. Could you expand on that here? Assume I know nothing about it. Which experiences, which aspects of the life you had, which things you saw, made you certain that evil exists?


Some of those experiences happened after the fall of Communism. They are banal and can be lived by anyone, in any society. Being very personal, I will not describe them in detail, but I will say that one can become a bad person gradually, while meeting strong challenges in a state of moral complacence. You do not do one great evil act suddenly, but small, negligible ones day by day. After a year or two you’ll find yourself as another person, a nasty one, and the harm caused to other people cannot be fully undone.

Returning to Communism, I will not talk about the mass imprisonment, forced labor for hundreds of thousands of people (the numbers are uncertain, it could have been more than a million for a country of 20 million people) and later psychiatric confinement for the little few that still had the courage to oppose the regime. I did not live any of these myself.

I will only speak about the huge lie in which all people were living, in which I lived. One cannot remain fully human if he is made to hear and to tell lies on a regular basis, to celebrate as benefactor an idiotic creature that cannot even speak correctly his own mother tongue. Here is one example of what could be like, in the excellent account of Theodore Dalrymple: http://blog.skepticaldoctor.com/2011/12 ... -1991.aspx

Was it hard to leave Romania during the communist era?


Yes, it was hard to leave. You would need a passport even for traveling to fellow Communist countries. Passports were issued by a section of the secret police. If you had a “bad” personal file, the passport would be denied to you. In order to travel to Western countries you would need not only a passport, but an exit visa also. Several filters were put in place for this exit visa. First, one should get the “approval” from his/her workplace (everybody had a personal file at the workplace, that followed him along his/her working life from workplace to workplace, and the persons in charge of those files were linked to the secret police). Background checks were also conducted by the secret police informants that lived in the same building as you. A final check was done by the secret police unit in charge of your person (many people had also files in the secret police archives). The purpose of these checks was to guarantee that no “hostile” person would be allowed to exit the country (a person that could criticize the regime or a person who could want to remain abroad). An emigrant to the West was designated by the official media (and was no other media apart the official ones) only as a “fugitive”.

If you do not had a passport, it would be very hard to escape because all the neighboring countries were socialist ones. The only neighbor outside the Warsaw pact was Yugoslavia. You could try swimming across the Danube at night, or you could try to evade the guards on the land frontier (also at night). If you were lucky, the Yugoslavs would not return you to Romania (where several years in prison would follow).

I'd also like to know how Romania is doing these days. What, if any, negative changes has Romania undergone post-Communism?


Thank you for your interest, Caleb. I will answer your question in the next posting; I have to work a little on it.
Liviu
 
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Location: Romania

Re: Life in communist Romania

Postby Damo » 14 Mar 2012, 13:09

Liviu, thanks for the excellent post. If I may ask another question.

If you did receive a passport, left the country and decided not to go back, would there be any consequences for your family still residing in Romania?
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Re: Life in communist Romania

Postby Liviu » 15 Mar 2012, 17:58

If you did receive a passport, left the country and decided not to go back, would there be any consequences for your family still residing in Romania?


Yes, there would be consequences. The family members would not get any promotions at work or would be demoted – they would experience a professional death. They would not get permission to travel abroad. In some cases, if the “fugitive” had a high profile (let’s say, a writer) his/her relatives would be summoned regularly to the secret police headquarters (or to a secret police conspiratorial house – yes, there were secret locations used for recruitments) in order to give written accounts of what they know about their relative.


I'd also like to know how Romania is doing these days. What, if any, negative changes has Romania undergone post-Communism?


This is a tough question, so the answer will be only fragmentary.

There is real progress from the point of view of material gains, of the standard of living. The purchasing power is stronger; people have more and better cars, better houses. Many spend their holydays abroad. Few are those that live in worst conditions than before 1989.

People enjoy real freedom of expression, media are free. Internet, cable TV and mobile phone coverage are very good. A vast corpus of literature has been made available through translation starting from the early 1990s, including fundamental conservative thinkers (like Friedrich von Hayek).

The unemployment is fairly low and people enjoy job mobility at home and abroad (during Communist years it was relatively hard to change your designated workplace).

Some negative aspects:

- There never was a de-communization process similar to that of de-nazification, so the society is on very muddy moral foundations. The Communist apparatchiks and secret police officers remained in power in the 1990s. Nowadays, these characters or their offspring still occupy key positions in economy and politics. The media they control (some 75% of the market) promotes a very toxic agenda which can be described as a gross version of corporatism. People are encouraged to blame the state for everything and Communist nostalgia is encouraged.

- The mainstream media (which is aggressively hostile to the current right-leaning ruling coalition) is full of shows that swing between vulgarity and soft pornography. The political talk shows rarely debate real problems; instead, various trifles are debated in bad faith, the “moderators” acting like Stalinist prosecutors.

- Corruption is widespread in the administration and the justice system. The judicial courts often give ridiculously motivated sentences in high profile cases, without any shame. The current ruling coalition has begun a corruption crackdown with some important successes, but more has to be done. One lawyer told me that in Communist days the justice system was less corrupt in non-political cases.

- The school system is on a downward slope, much like in the West. Romania had, in my opinion, a relatively good school system (if the ideological component is not taken into account), especially in mathematics-related fields. In the last 20 years various Western-style reforms were put in place, with bad results (I was a teacher from 1998 to 2004 and a close relative of mine is also a teacher). We are not yet at the disastrous state in which British schools are finding themselves now (as I have read on the forum), but would get there in 10 years or so.

- Violence is on the rise. Despite the bad reputation Romanians have abroad, life is fairly peaceful here. People are often impolite or even rude, but physical violence is rare. I live in Bucharest (a 2 million city) and I was never mugged. In the course of 20 years I’ve been involved in only one small brawl involving pushing and a lot of swearing. I regularly walk in the park after dark with my fiancée and feel relatively secure (it is a large and beautiful park, with a lake full of ducks and seagulls, very close to the block of flats where we live – in a classic Communist-build neighborhood, by the way). Nevertheless, I see on TV more and more news about violent episodes, usually involving young individuals in some road incident. I guess the lack of discipline in schools is one of the factors.

- Many people have illegal sources of money. Internet fraud and credit card fraud (the most of the victims being Westerners) are not uncommon; I believe there are thousands of people (usually in their 20s and 30s) in the whole country that practice it. Young people in general are very pragmatic and, I believe, more inclined to cheating than my own generation.

- The gypsy community has expanded and is on the rise (I think it represents at least 10% of the population) – they have much higher birth rates and are traditionally marrying very young. The problem is that the majority of gypsies have an antisocial culture, very hard, if not impossible, to integrate. This culture sees theft as a legitimate way of living and has no notion of respect for the wellbeing of others. The situation is aggravated by the fact that many young Romanians are adopting some of the habits of gypsies: public swearing, rudeness and aggressiveness, specific vulgar music. All of these are now regularly promoted on mainstream media. We are not civilizing them, they are barbarizing us instead.

I believe these are some of the main problems in Romania today.
Liviu
 
Posts: 36
Joined: 03 Aug 2011, 08:04
Location: Romania

Re: Life in communist Romania

Postby Darian » 15 Mar 2012, 18:35

Liviu, these are very interesting posts. I confess to not knowing much about Romania beyond Vlad the Impaler and the fall of Ceaușescu.

The way you describe modern Romania sounds very much like the state of modern Russia and many other former Soviet republics. Do you think that Romania is doing better than other former communist nations?

Is Romania blighted with Le Corbusier style architecture and crumbling concrete monstrosities like many other Eastern Bloc countries?
Darian
 
Posts: 71
Joined: 29 Oct 2011, 01:25

Re: Life in communist Romania

Postby Liviu » 15 Mar 2012, 19:39

Darian, thank you for being interested.

I do not have first hand experience of life in former Soviet republics, but from what I have read I believe Romania is doing better in the following respects:
- the election process is generally fair and there are real political parties and real changes of power at the top as a result of elections (unlike in Russia, where the opposition is negligible and elections just a show)
- the media is not state or regime controlled (even if much of it is subordinated to various politico-economic interests)
- the economy is not dominated by huge state enterprises. The “real” private sector (not state-controlled or state-dependent) if fairly large and appears to weather rather well the current world economic crisis.
- the majority of people are pro-democracy in general, pro-EU and pro-USA

I believe we are doing worse than countries like Czech Republic or Poland in clarifying the moral aspects of Communism (I hope I am not too optimistic about these countries).

I believe Romania is one of the most blighted Eastern Bloc countries with Le Corbusier style architecture. The “crumbling concrete monstrosities” you talk about could be found everywhere. The process of demolishing old city centers was helped by a 1977 major earthquake.

The communist regime wanted to erase as much as possible of the old order. This new environment has various degrees of supportability – there are concrete deserts in some places but other neighborhoods are almost livable because there are many trees between the blocks of flats.

It is a shame that destruction continues to this day: ugly steel and glass, “capitalist” buildings are replacing beautiful pre-1945 houses, defacing the architectural unity of residential quarters.

Transylvania and Banat (West and Center of the country) still have some beautiful medieval and baroque architecture. In the “Old Kingdom” (South and East of the Country) the majority of cities have been “modernized” beyond recognition.
Liviu
 
Posts: 36
Joined: 03 Aug 2011, 08:04
Location: Romania

Re: Life in communist Romania

Postby Caleb » 16 Mar 2012, 00:55

Liviu: Thanks for responding to my question. I spent a total of a little over a year in various Eastern European countries (including Russia) from 2002 to 2004. I didn't get to Romania, but those things seem to be a fairly common thread through much of the former Eastern Bloc, at least according to my superficial observations at the time.
Caleb
 
Posts: 865
Joined: 20 Oct 2011, 04:44

Re: Life in communist Romania

Postby Tomasz » 16 Mar 2012, 08:45

- There never was a de-communization process similar to that of de-nazification, so the society is on very muddy moral foundations. The Communist apparatchiks and secret police officers remained in power in the 1990s. Nowadays, these characters or their offspring still occupy key positions in economy and politics. The media they control (some 75% of the market) promotes a very toxic agenda which can be described as a gross version of corporatism. People are encouraged to blame the state for everything and Communist nostalgia is encouraged.

- The mainstream media (which is aggressively hostile to the current right-leaning ruling coalition) is full of shows that swing between vulgarity and soft pornography. The political talk shows rarely debate real problems; instead, various trifles are debated in bad faith, the “moderators” acting like Stalinist prosecutors.

Exactly the same situation is in Poland. Excepte that right governement created by Low and Justice party, which governed 2005-7 does no longer in power. What happened to great patriot president Lech Kaczyński - all You knew. We have cabinet, right in theory, but in reality, without any ideology, except keep power. Leftist media keep eye on it and demand more and more action against Catholic Church (which is stronghold of Polish identity even for atheist like me). The true is that we lost in Poland and many countries battle over media. As conservative peoples we can have parties and MP-s, but not media, especially electronic.

I have also two things to write. First about Hungary. Yesterday a few thousand Poles came to Hungary to public support Viktor Orban and I'm very proud of that. As conservatives, we should stick together and support, especially agains leftist media, who bombardment us everyday information about bad bad guy, fascist, evil, enemy of Europe, bla, bla, bla, Viktor Orban.

Second thing, I want to say, is lesson from Central Europe to lesson in Great Britain about media and not only. I'm observing Tory-Liberal coalition and sometimes feel that they are in position a head without body. Ofcourse they have Westminster majority, governement and few hundreds officials in crucial chairs. But still, a lot of institutions are strongholds Labour peoples. BBC at start, Trevor Philips human rights body, all body's taking decisions about schools, courts, and few more. I dont have full knowledge about politic system here, but if I'm not wrong You call them as quangos. New coalition should with full impact take those institutions, put there new peoples. Westminster, Whitehall and Downing Street is not enough to do real changes. There is tragic paradox. In Poland we were always told how bad is Polish politic, when new power party clears public institutions to do place for their own peoples, we were told is very bad and much better is to fill governing bodies by apolitic, independent, difficult to remove public officers. I was always sure that it's good idea, but now I starts to change my point of view.
Tomasz
 
Posts: 11
Joined: 27 Feb 2012, 14:47

Re: Life in communist Romania

Postby Liviu » 16 Mar 2012, 20:40

Sorry to hear that, Tomasz. I hoped things were better in Poland.
Liviu
 
Posts: 36
Joined: 03 Aug 2011, 08:04
Location: Romania


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