Every year during the winter holidays we see articles about communism and the death of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu who was shot for treason on Christmas day 25 December 1989. If I look at the comments, I see every time the same quarrels are born between 2 camps. The first is comprised of those who remember the famine, the secret police, travel restrictions, absolute government control, invasion of personal life, control of the press and the restriction of freedom of speech, rationing of food, gas, electricity and heating… . and on the side we have the group of people that does not remember any of these things, but just remembers simpler times when you had the security of the day of tomorrow (even if it was a bad and bitter day).
As far as I noticed young people and generally those that are educated, traveled and had contact with the outside world, they are part of the first group. In the second group we tend to find some middle aged and a large part of the elderly part of the population. They are the nostalgic who have worked their whole life at the factory and enjoyed the benefits of the early years of communism when the country was growing. For them, the last harsh period (1980-1989) of Communism did not mean much, and the period after it brought only destruction, inflation, pension cuts and they saw their entire working life reduced to a few Lei (National Currency units). They obviously have no interest in traveling outside, or in getting to know the world outside of Romania. They voted for most of their life the Communist Party, and now it’s seems only natural for them to vote for the red socialist party PSD which is largely comprised of the same people that were in charge during communist times. Unfortunately they are locked in a loophole of promises that their pension will increase and lured in by speeches that they and their work are still respected by someone in the country. Lately more and more young people tend to join this group. They are part of the group of young people disappointed with the current democracy in Romania. These people, generally found in rural areas are not well educated or exposed to the outside world, and are the kind of people who do not want to struggle too much in life to get things done. For them a system where you get offered a home and a job on a silver platter in exchange for personal sacrifices of liberties sound pretty good.
Romania unfortunately suffers from the Stockholm syndrome, applied at a national level for decades in the form of continuous and aggressive indoctrination under the communist regime.
Stockholm syndrome by definition describes the behavior of an abducted or captive victim who, in time, begins to sympathize with the kidnapper.
Captive victims begin by identifying themselves with the kidnappers as a defensive mechanism, due to fear of violence and repression. The small signs of kindness coming from the kidnapper are amplified, because in a captive situation, the lack of perspectives is by definition impossible. Escape attempts are also perceived as a threats to their situation because in an escape attempt there is a great risk that the kidnapped person is caught and injured.
Separation of the victim from the kidnapper is becoming more and more difficult for the victim, as it would lose the only positive relationship formed – that with the kidnapper. By analogy in Romania, we see exactly the similar behavior of these Romanians who miss their kidnapper, Nicolae Ceausescu. The propaganda machine was so successful that many were convinced that this is the best and there is no better alternative. In the absence of a free press and access to information from the outside world, who could have told them otherwise? This, in combination with the repressive component of the regime that severely punished any rebellion or escape attempt, led in time to a deep-rooted mentality that tells them those were the good old times. Such behavior is found also in other dictatorial states: the Russians still mourn Stalin, the Libyans miss Gaddafi, the Iraqi cry for Saddam, and so on. Probably the best example at the moment is North Korea, where citizens still say out of fear or just pure conviction owed to 3 generations of doctrine, that they have the best lives and that their leader is the only one who takes care of them.
In addition, the fact that after the revolution, Romania had a “home grown” version of capitalism in which the smart guys from the communist regime used their positions to make spectacular fortunes, bringing the country to the state in which it is today, did not help at all. But that does not mean that Romania does not have it better than in 1989 by any standard. Communist myths that persist in the minds of many due to the media campaigns of those times are simply blown away by official figures. Here are just a few of them:
- Romania was a highly industrialized country with record production and exports: FALSE. Romania in 1988 peaked at a GDP of 60.925M $, or $ 2,610 per capita, far below the average of West European countries. (source) France, for example, in 1988 had a GDP of 1,020,878M $, or $ 18,241 per capita. We were a poor country by any standards, at the level of the third world developing countries. In comparison, in 2017 Romania had a GDP of $ 210,000M, $ 10,756 per capita, 5 times higher than communist times. It is undeniable that in Romania there are spinning, spending and producing much more money than in the communist times. We are now, for better or worse, at an average level in the world rankings.
- Romania under the communism was the grain basket of Europe and the grain production was at a record level: FALSE: Romania in 1987 reported a record production of 31.7 million tons, a ridiculously high number, but such reports were not surprising at the time. In 1985 it was reported to be only 23 million tons and the WTO data estimated real production somewhere at 20-21 million tons. (source) Compared to 2016, we boast a production of 21.8 million tonnes of crops. France in 2016 boasts 54.2 million tonnes of harvested crops, Germany (45.4 million tonnes of harvested grain), Poland (29.8 million tonnes), Spain (24.1 million tonnes), the United Kingdom almost 22 million tons). Romania was not the grain basket of Europe back than, and it sure isn’t now. (source). Strange though how Romania was at the time advertised to it’s own people as the grain basket of Europe but the Romanians were eating bread and basic food on rations no?
- The industry was producing at record levels and the country’s exports were spectacular: FALSE. Although there were giant industrial plants in the country, due to lack of automation and outdated production techniques, production levels was not as great as communist officials stated. Even though large quantities were produced, the quality of the finished products was poor and unattractive for developed countries. Products went largely to less developed countries where they were sold at low wholesale prices or on bargain deals , traded for raw materials. According to the World Bank in 1989 Romania had exports of $ 10,487 million, and $ 8,438 million in imports. We had a commercial surplus of exports just because everything that was produced in the country went to export. The domestic population was deprived of even the most basic necessities goods and food products. In comparison, in 2016, we had exports of $ 63,581 million (6 times higher) and imports of $ 74,605 million. Our exports now go mostly to Western Europe in developed countries such as Germany, the UK, Italy and France. Nowadays, Romania may not produce just as much in quantity, but it produces more valuable, desirable and competitive products. All indicators show that if we had the right infrastructure and a national industrial development strategy, we could easily return to a commercial surplus of exports.
- Romania under communism was an educated and healthy state where education and health were free and the envy of the world. FALSE! I know from my grandparents (who themselves were semi-illiterate) that those statistics about the illiteracy rate, praised as being next to zero, were a big communist lie. Even they did not know well how to read and write and so did one-third of the village, although the village was recorded with 90% of the population that can read and write. It is simply unexplainable how a large number of illiterates suddenly appeared in Romania just after the revolution, between 1989 and 1993. They all suddenly forgot how to read and write? The National Health System was about in the same condition as now: going to your local family doctor was not possible without a nice gift for him. At that time it was the custom to give products that were hard to come by (branded cigarettes, coffee, fine spirits), now that these products can be bought by anyone, you give directly the money envelope (preferably in EUR currency). The situation in the hospitals in the final years of communism between 1985-1989 was not far from how it is now: lack of materials, unsanitary conditions, lack of renovation and maintenance, lack of modern equipment, lack of interest from the staff, etc. So how was it better?
- Romania would not have today all the roads, railroads, apartment buildings, cities and many more if they were not built by the communists, who claimed that Romania before them was only an undeveloped agricultural country: TOTAL AND ABSOLUTE FALSE! AND ANY COUNTRY OF THE NON-COMMUNIST BLOCK BLOWS AWAY THIS MYTH. What the Communists have successfully covered in their history textbooks is that the inter-war Kingdom of Romania was already a developed country, an economic rich pole in the entire Central-Eastern region of Europe. Oil production was at 5,800,000 tons in 1930, placing Romania on the sixth place among world producers. Steel production was at 144,000 tons in 1928. Many industry branches had progressed sufficiently in the late 1930’s to be able to meet almost all domestic needs in locomotives, rail, food, textiles and chemicals. In the heavy industry sector, the Malaxa plants and Resita Steelworks were at the same level with the best in Western Europe; Textile factories were also generally equipped with modern machines. We were taking pride not only in the inherited cities of Hapsburg Transylvania region, but also with our own built cosmopolitan Romanian cities such as the capital Bucharest (Little Paris), Constanta, Braila, Iasi. The country had an extensive railway network and the longest bridge in Europe. (Saligny Danube Bridge). The Communists have nationalized these plants, renamed them and claimed them as their own. Also, the ground roads that were already terraced and used during the kingdom, were paved by the new regime and propagated as a great communist achievement. All of this was accompanied by an aggressive long campaign to establish the idea that Romania was a primitive country before they came along. Unlike Romania, Western countries have developed naturally, cities have grown fueled by the real demand of jobs and new people to fill the labor force, and yes, they also have also apartment blocks. Their blocks even come in a variety of buildings that integrate into a city more harmoniously than the standard commie block. The communist urban planning pattern, in many situations has intentionally and willingly destroyed the character and history of Romanian cities to replace with it’s own.
The problem is that despite all of these arguments, the believers of communism still say it’s better. For them those were simpler times in which you were the child and the Communist state, headed by the father figure of Nicolae Ceausescu, cared for you and the country. The state offered you a job that matches your studies, but you can’t refuse this job, even if it is on the other side of the country. You relocated from your village to the city, where you were given an apartment, the size of which depended on how many members your family had, but again you had no right to choose where you would live. You and your family were forced into a 5 story block of flats, in a tiny 1 bedroom apartment of 35 square meters, where you will live with your wife and a child. The apartment was located in the industrial area of the city and you will take it, bow down your head and say “Long live Ceausescu and the Romanian Socialism!” , because there was simply no other alternative. If you had patience for a few years and saved your money, you could have bought a refrigerator, a radio, maybe even a car (you only had one bad choice and only one model of course – the famous Dacia 1.4 Petrol engine). You even received a free physical exercise program when you were dragged from the factory to help with the digging and landscaping of the new city park, or were taken to the nearby farms to help with harvest in the fields, accompanied of course by a compulsory attendance to the festive events on the stadium or central city plaza where you must cheer for the Leader and the Party. As a citizen of Communist Romania, you received these gifts from the state, and the state asked from you only for your absolute obedience. You are never to comment, never to come up with any demands and to work. 200 years ago, when the master gave the workers a job, a roof above their heads, fenced premises and forced them to work, to keep silent, not to ask for anything, and to be completely obedient was called slavery.
For many citizens relocated from the rural areas where there was little electricity and no running water, this move has been an improvement so they received gladly these “gifts”. Under communism they saw a period of rapid development. Wherever you went you could see a skyline full of cranes and construction sites. In the daily news that you were hearing and more recently can even see on the new TV invention, you were presented solely the great achievements of socialism. All of course being done in the most capitalist way possible: ON CREDIT!
What they constantly forgot to say in the evening news was that all those building sites and developments were possible due to the money borrowed from the Western countries and banks. The charismatic leader of Romania has graciously gained the favor of these countries after deciding to speak against the Soviet Union’s intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Soon after he borrowed hundreds of billions of dollars, which he used to build giant industrial complexes and essential infrastructure projects. Even though his well educated staff advised against building these giant industrial complexes, due to the fact that they would never be economically feasible, the communist leader coming from a rural background and not having much education in administration and economic sciences, ignored these warnings. The people already loved him and nothing was impossible in his head. The energy crisis of the late 1970’s, which coincided with the maturity term of many of the loans he made, put great pressure on the country’s finances. Other communist states in the region (such as Yugoslavia) obtained at that time extensions and renegotiated more favorable terms of repayment of the loans. But the ignorance of the dictator Nicoae Ceausescu did not allow the use of these inferior and humbling options. Instead, he decided to pay the country’s debt in full at record time, despite all the advice, protests and warnings from his own counselors not to do so. His decision was based on the “spectacular” production of the country, a production that, as I said before, did not actually produce so much currency in order to pay back the loans in big chunks. The disadvantage of selling and trading mostly with third world countries quickly showed it’s effects, and the only other product that could bring in currency was the agricultural production of the country, which was almost entirely sacrificed to exports, in the detriment of the domestic population.
Many of the measures that the communist regime used to make it self popular, have come to have an adverse economic effect. The lack of a flexible working mass that can change its qualification, the lack of the possibility to relocate to other areas, and the lack of a liberal market policy to adapt to the global demand for industrial products have contributed significantly to the downfall. But the most important of the populist measures that have done damage to the economy, was to secure a job for every man in the country by the state. Due to these centralized state job place distribution policy, many of the factories had a surplus of employees and became even more unprofitable than they already were. As an individual you were going by force to a work place, where you just stood around doing nothing, hence the expression “Don’t stress your self, time passes and the cheque comes anyway”. In comparison, the same factory in West Germany, managed to produce the same quantity of products with only one third of the employees.
Soon after, there have been decreed some ridiculous saving measures, such as the rationing of domestic electricity consumption, a measure that in essence did not save too much money or resources to the budget. Even the domestic consumption of agricultural products was not so great as to motivate the sudden and aggressive rationing over of the population, but no measure was too hard as long as the plans of the supreme leader were fulfilled. The Communist Party scientists have decided that for a man is sufficient: half a loaf of bread per day, one liter of cooking oil and one kilogram of sugar per month. Every year, you were entitled to 39 kilos of meat, 78 liters of milk and 166 kilograms of vegetables. That means 3.25 kg of meat per month is what your master gave to you.
Shortly afterwards, rations of gasoline and of other household products like toilet paper followed (like that was the biggest expense in the country). The cherry on the top followed: the leader who was already in a degraded mental state, gave a decree prohibiting abortions and declaring illegal any means of contraception in order to boost the country’s population. The baby police appeared in order to enforce this decree. In the factories, regular gynecological controls were forced on young women.
The younger Romanians began to be fed up with these conditions and started protesting. It did not take long before the famous “Securitate” rose up on the scene. This was a sort of secret police that kidnapped in the middle of the night anyone who had the craving to say something bad about the regime. It was encouraged and practiced telling, listening of phones, and informers were planted in the factory unions. Seeing that they can not even freely express themselves in their own country, many have taken the path to the West by any possible means. The borders were completely shut, so many were shot by border guards at the nation’s barbed wire borders. Many women also lost their lives during improvised abortion operations, and many were left with severe psychological traumas due to lack of food and basic goods. To all this, the argument of the nostalgic sustain er group is: “Yes, but no one died of hunger during that time, this is just an exaggeration”. It is virtually impossible to prove the opposite due to the simple fact that there was no one authorized or willing to recognize it. You just can not expect the state news of the time to talk about starvation in the country. Not only did the media and government not admit it, but there was also a huge cover up campaign. On the evening news there were still presented shops full of foods and talking about the prosperous condition of the country.
The main question that the nostalgic group is not capable of answering is: Why did the Romanian people still continued to suffer if the country’s debts were already paid in full in April 1989? Meanwhile, I found out why, the supreme leader with all his hatred for the IMF and capitalism, he wanted to start his own the International bank together with his Iranian friend state. He believed that his beloved people could ride it out a little longer, so he can put a little a side to start his pet project. This is how much this individual cared about his own people.
And yet all these issues still present no interest to those who miss communism times. They were already old in late 80’s and were getting ready to retire when the revolution came. They were willing to ride out this hard period in order to secure their own retirement pension. Of course there are also those who do not remember the rationing punch cards and the restrictions, simply because they did not have to experience them. If you had the right connections and relationships in the party or in the places where you needed (the party shop, state farms,the city slaughterhouse, etc.) you pretty much had everything you needed and were not affected by the shortages like the rest of the population who had to stand in the queue at 5 AM in order to catch a piece of meat. This is probably the most profound and lasting legacy of communism, which still persists successfully in Romania today: the culture of relationships, connections and bribery. Any visit to a doctor, professor, city official or local government counter was useless unless you brought along a bag with a nice gift. Any product or service could be obtained if you knew and bribed the right person. The ordinary citizen who did not know anybody suffered the most. He earned money, but didn’t have what to spend it on when he found only empty shelves in the local food store. The smart guys in today’s Romania still do their business in this way and have no reason to regret those times. They had it well back than, and have it even a lot better now by working the system to their advantage.
These nostalgic people will constantly repeat to you that it was better back than and that the debt of the country is now much higher and conditions are worse today. I agree regarding the national debt and the conditions in today’s Romania, however, that does not mean in any way that it was better in those times. The benefits of capitalism and democracy are not visible to them, in large part due to the fact that real capitalism never really reached Romania. Unfortunately, it will take another 20 years for the generation of these sympathizers and voters to disappear. Until then, the young people will continue to leave the country at an alarming rate (1 out of 5 young people is leaving or has already left the country) and it is unclear who will remain in Romania to fill out the labor gaps and sustain the growing numbers of retirees and government workers. The massive drainage of skilled workers from the country will be felt much sooner than that. Whether the government wants it or not, they will have to make important changes. I think the next 10-15 years will be very interesting in Romania, until then I prefer to observe from the outside the evolution of the country.
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