Interview with a 57 year old Romanian woman – perceptions of the communist era in Romania

What do you think was good about communism?

Maybe the fact that the kids with poor families benefited from free camps and that the kindergarten taxes were cheap. You were able to give your children an education without being wealthy.

What was bad about communism?

What I hated the most during the communist era was the lack of privacy and the in-existent access to information. Me and my husband used to lock up in the kitchen in order to listen to “Free Europe”, a radio station with international news which was forbidden during communism. We would do the same to listen to rock music which we enjoyed, but was really hard to find. My husband used to invite his friends over, and listen together to those foreign radio stations, even though they weren’t allowed to do that. We lived in a building with lots of flats where all the other owners were working for the security, so we had to be very careful each time we were doing that.

When it comes to food, I don’t even want to remember how much time I spent waiting in queues in order to buy some. At one point, they introduced queue tickets. But you couldn’t find food any-more  People would do anything for food; they were capable of anything because they had to eat and there was nothing at the markets.

Besides that, we didn’t have heating in our homes. Me and my husband had our first kid in the ‘80s when we didn’t even had any heat in the apartment, so we got hold of a diesel oil heater. We used to steal fuel every day from our workplaces in order to heat up the baby’s room, but it was very risky because we could start a fire in the building and everyone would have been in danger, so we had to be very careful who sees us when coming back from work.

It was a time when they wouldn’t allow curtains in restaurants. All the restaurant owners were instructed to take off all the curtains as they had to be aware if there was someone drinking alcohol early during the day or late during the night. The communist party’s observers had to watch closely people coming in restaurants and interrogate the ones choosing to drink alcohol.

Because Ceausescu’s wife, Elena, hated how churches looked, many were either demolished, moved away or surrounded by blocks of flats. People didn’t have to believe in God, but in Ceausescu and communism.

If you wanted to buy yourself a book, you were obliged to buy another 5,6 books with Ceausescu’s discourses.

Ceausescu’s portrait was on each first page of the textbooks. You weren’t allowed to destroy that page or draw/write on it. Also, every classroom had a painting with Ceausescu.

When watching television, all we could see were communist films. They would start broadcasting at 6,7 in the evening with a cartoon programme and afterwards start the news which lasted 2 hours, until 10 o’clock when they also switched off the electricity. All the news were about Ceausescu and his discourses, walks, controls. And all of these were lies.

We had to watch all the time on the news, Ceausescu “having fun” while hunting. His results were always remarkable for the camera, even though the boars were bounded in order to stay still. We all knew this, but we used to find it funny, especially because we found out that Ceausescu always had someone else shooting in the same time with him to be sure he was successful.

His visits to various workplaces (refineries, industrial warehouses, etc.) were also lies, as we were all rehearsing everything before his arrival. I remember that it was very annoying when he was coming in control because we would work full weeks in order to clean and re-paint the place, to write down messages and to create expositions with everything that we had in the enterprise.

I remember that one time he visited an apple orchard. The president of the co-operative declared that he had the biggest production of apples in the orchard’s history and when Ceausescu decided to control it, he asked his employees to tie apples in the trees, so the first 3 rows of trees would have lots of apples. And this was not a one-of-a-kind situation. The farms did the same as cows, pigs, sheeps were moved from a place to another depending on Ceausescu’s controls.

How do you think communism affected Romania?

I definitely think that Romania would have been better now if it wasn’t for the communist era.

In the inter-war period, Romania was well rated by Europe because it was much evolved culturally and industrially. We would have been a very rich nation.

My grandmother used to tell me that before the communist era, everyone in the country had a house and all kinds of animals, so they didn’t feel the need for food. The entire surplus was going to the citizens which were able to buy everything they wanted to. Romania used to be known as “Europe’s granary” during that time. We had petroleum, salt, iron, ore, coal. Also, the relief favoured us: rivers, mountains, fields, seaside so the Romanians had everything they needed for a living. The industry was very developed and people used to live well.

In the inter-war period, Bucharest (Romania’s capital) was known as “The little Paris” of the Balkans, because the wealthy people of the city constructed for themselves really nice houses. The communists said that they are going to modernise it, but actually, they destroyed it.

Ceausescu demolished everything they built, and constructed lots of grey block of flats, which we called “boxes of matches”.  Many of the rich people from the pre-communist era were obliged to move out of their house for various reasons (“enemy of the state”, “traitor” and so on). Because of this, entire families lost their homes, their possessions and it led to exasperation and even to suicide.

There were many people who killed themselves because they lost their houses. Ceausescu’s strategy was to put all the people at the same level in order to control them. People would have little to no freedom in a building full of flats as most of the neighbours actually worked for the police and if someone would do anything out of the ordinary, he would be classed as “a threat” for the party and he would end up really bad.

I met a family which used to be very wealthy, but because the communists took everything they had, they ended up living in a basement. The woman, Florence still had her old dresses and she used to wear them and talk by herself on the street. Her husband was one of the few still wearing hats and tailcoats – from aristocracy  they became the laughing stock of everyone else. She ended up getting a job as a “shopper” for anyone willing to give her a few coins. She would wait in long queues for hours to get someone else’s food and she ended up carrying lots of bags everywhere she went. That’s how we started sarcastically to compare ourselves with Florence every time we had more than 3 or 4 bags in our hands.

Marina Gogeanu

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