‘Eastern Bloc’ Communist Countries Comparison

A comparison of communist countries allows the researchers to have a better understanding of the effects of communism and the knowledge help approach interviews more effectively.

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“The comparison is fantastic on various levels.  Primary level is the violence at the very end of the regime whereas the Czechoslovak is closely bound to the ideology of non-violence and brotherhood”  [….]  “We don’t have to compare only violence and nonviolence, not only civil rights and religions rights but also can compare things like drug culture and everyday life.  But this is something we have to do now”  (Dr Michal Pullman [Contemporary History Lecturer at the Charles University, Faculty of Arts] in response to a question on the comparison between Romania and Czechoslovakia)

However during the interviews others felt it was too vast a subject and to do a comparison would be difficult because of several factors such as the size of the countries, and the population “So I agree that those regimes, there were some common features based on ideology. Communist ideology was definitely more universal”[…..]  I think to find parallels and differences is a good thing, but it’s not so easy to say Czechoslovakia was like Poland and was different to Romania.” (Dr. Oldrich Tuma)

Quick overview of some Eastern Bloc communist countries

Country Communism infiltration Architecture Revolutions
Czechoslovakia1948 – 1989 Democratically elected HistoricalModernismCubism Jan 1968 Prague SpringNov-Dec  1989 Velvet Revolution
Romania1947 – 1989 Falsified election results Communist-influencedPower related Romanian Revolution (series of riots and protests in Romania in December 1989
Bulgaria1946 – 1990 Coup d’etat on existing government Principles of Totalitarian architecture, representativeness and impressiveness, were combined with classical architectural forms i.e. hotel “Balkan”, the Central Shopping Mall, the Communist Party Building October 1989 Enviromental demonstration in Sofia
Poland1947 – 1989 Rigged election results April – September  1988 (Fall of Communism strike)
Hungary 1949 – 1989 Soviet intervention allowed  communist control after coalition government had been formed. Oct-Nov 1956 uprising

War Crimes

“I think everyone was a victim of the communist regime. Even the communists were victims of the regime; their life was deformed by it; they had to lie, they had to muddle through it. So I think that just for numbers of repressions…repressions based on imprisonment and executions, perhaps Czechoslovakia is not such an exception if compared to Hungary or Eastern Germany” (Dr Oldrich Tuma –Director of  Institute of contemporary study)

In Poland, repressions affected up to 400, 000 people. During 1944-1953, military courts sentenced 70,097 people for crimes against the state (any alleged anti-regime activity or sentiment). 20,000 prisoners died due to harsh condition in prisons. Furthermore, 6,000,000 Polish citizens were classified as suspected members of a “reactionary or criminal element” and subjected to investigation by state agencies. The repressions were meant to scare the common people and get rid of any anti-communist opponents. Often the accusations and sentences were exaggerated or fabricated to speed up the process.

In Bulgaria those who didn’t adhere to the strict Soviet policies were marginalised and denied access to educational, personal and job opportunities.  All religious activity was severely restricted or banned apart from the which later became infiltrated by communist activities.  Over 90 000 dissidents were eliminated via expulsions, arrests and killings between 1948-49.

Hungary had the harshest dictatorship in Europe with over 50 000 women & girls raped.  Approximately 350,000 Hungarian officials and intellectuals were removed  from 1948 to 1956. Were many were arrested, tortured, imprisoned in concentration camps or were executed.

“Even in Czechoslovakia it is hard to say how many victims of the communist regime were…. We know exactly something like 250 people got sentenced to get executed for political reasons… it’s not such a great number” (Dr Michal Pullman – Contemporary History Lecturer at the Charles University, Faculty of Arts))

Exile prisons such as the one in Pitesti, Romania were created to re-educate their political prisoners using violent and degrading methods known today as ‘the Pitesti Phenomenon’.

Rose Muzvondiwa

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‘Eastern Bloc’ Central and Eastern Europe Communist Countries

‘Eastern Bloc’ refers to the former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, generally the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact.  These countries include Czechoslovakia, Romania, East Germany, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary.  The term Communist Bloc was used to denote the groups of states associated with the Soviet Union.

eastern bloc

European Communist Countries (sourced 22 april 2013)

These European countries experienced communism and their dictators relied on spectacle in order to create and maintain their citizen’s compliance to their communist ideology and used fear, oppression, arrests and killings to suppress the public but in the end mass revolts helped restore democracy. “Whoever becomes the ruler of a city that is accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it can expect to be destroyed by it, for it can always find a pretext for rebellion in the name of its former freedom” (Debord 2009:113).

“Communist states claim to be guided by a specific law of interpretations and goals  – these are Marxism-Leninism” (Wesson 1978:13) and there is quite a lot of similarities within these countries during the periods they experienced communism.  These similarities include totalitarian rule, dictatorship, food shortages and terrible war crimes.

Communist societies are very militaristic and include long periods of military duty, glorification of military heroism, cult of leadership and of violence and loyalty is the basic virtue (Wesson 1978:12-13). 

Rose Muzvondiwa

Comparison between communist Romania and Czechoslovakia

We’ve asked Dr. Michal Pullman if there can be made a comparison between communist Romania and Czechoslovakia. This is what he answered:

“Of course and the comparison is fantastic on various levels.

Primary level is the violence at the very end of the regime whereas the Czechoslovak is closely bound to the ideology of non-violence and brotherhood.  The Romania was very violent and this was already at the time a tension that was not too much discussed cause people did not know how to articulate this huge difference but the violence outlook of the 1989 revolutionary upheaval. How can we talk about the Romanian events of December 1989 was really perceived at the moment. There are also other important differences… we can talk about 1989 whereas Romanian revolution began with an idea of religious freedom it was of course reduced freedom was one of the many topics in Czechoslovakia but the most important notion was non-violence not the idea of violence in religious life as was the case in Romania and also there are many other differences in the everyday life.

[…] we don’t have to compare only violence and nonviolence not only civil rights and religions rights but also can compare things like drug culture and everyday life.  But this is something we have to do now. Unfortunately I do not speak Romanian but I would introduce immediately these comparisons because they are extremely interesting especially Czechoslovakia and Romania cause it was so different in many respects but both with similar outcomes I mean with demise on the system and the introduction of the neo Liberal capitalism which the people did not want neither in Czechoslovakia nor Romania.”

Marina Gogeanu

Transcribed by Rose Muzvondiwa

Romania’s communist architecture

During its entire existence in Romania, the communist regime was able to see its political message perhaps the best expressed in the architectural planning of Bucharest.

Architecture, seen as a science that designs buildings, both residential, as well as the institutional, could (as could any other scientific or cultural field) not have another faith than the one subordinated to the communist totalitarian system, which was a perfect mindset defined by the Orwellian formula of “double language” – meaning the difference between the official discourse and the real one.

The intentions of the country’s leaders in that period were to uproot the inhabitants of Romania in huge apartment blocks districts. This action was meant to accomplish several objectives: alienation, homogenization, the transformation of the Romanians into “automatic machines of modernity” in order to finally fulfil their evolution towards the “new man” (the socialist type)(connection with The futurist’s manifesto)

A second aspect of communist beliefs included the institutional buildings constructed in a megalomaniac way – specific to the totalitarian regimes, serve as an expression of prosperity and welfare of the state. 

Finally, one last way to put in practice the Communist totalitarian ideas was the destruction of monuments of historical value which served as memorial places for people, in order to erase the memory of a previous period regime off their minds.

Bucharest wasn’t literally torn down, but it was destroyed.  All the communist tenant blocks that were constructed during that time destroyed the air and elegance of “The little Paris”. Those constructions are connected to The Futurists Manifesto, as the tenant blocks were constructed in order to provide equality among the romanians, but they also provided lack of individuality and Romanians had to forget who they used to be.

Photo source: reptilianul.ro

Photo source: reptilianul.blogspot.ro

Marina Gogeanu

 

Pitesti penitenciary – Romania

I’m supposed to write a blog post about the crimes of communism, but having lived in a country still haunted by this appalling political regime, I feel I cannot do justice and explain properly the terror that the communist era has developed into the mentality of Romanians. Some people will read this having little to no knowledge about communism; others will read it feeling they already know everything there is to know about the crimes in that time… However, I dare anyone to put in plain words the sheer brainwash activity that has happened for more than five decades (1947-1989) in a country still feeling the consequences of the Second World War.

Communism in Romania:

In the immediate years after the WWII, the communist-aligned parties gained more and more power through constant elimination of adversaries. Thus, in December 1947, the rightful king of Romania, Michael, was forced to abdicate (and flee the country) by a growing body of communists. As a consequence, the People’s Republic of Romania was formed. Although we can talk about numerous crimes in the build-up to the coup d’état that happened in 1947, the most terrifying and frequent crimes came after the regime was officially in power. Most of the intellectuals (academics, students, writers, poets, philosophers, and priests, among others) opposed the change in power vocally at first, as they were concerned that the new political regime will prove similar to the one in Russia, where J. Stalin imposed the Great Terror in the late 1930s   (The Great Terror a.k.a. the Great Purge was a series of repressive measures in the USSR that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Old Bolsheviks – thought to be enemies of the state). Unfortunately, their worst fears turned out to be completely true.

In a perfect Communist country, the underlying Marxist ideology is “From every one according to their aptitude, to all according to necessity”. This is a very good idea for small groups of people, where public pressure and collective power prevent the creation of a privileged class. This way, communism guarantees an equal distribution of power and wealth, which can be seen as an egalitarian society. However, both the theory and the implementation of Communism in a country are flawed because of:

  1. Human nature – humans are not as group oriented in modern society as they were millions of years ago when they were required to stay together in order to survive. The consequence of this is that nowadays, humans will not work beyond the normal efforts just to get a normal reward. To be more explicit, if someone can get £5 for producing 5 items, they won’t strive to produce 10-15 items because in Communism they will only get the same reward of merely £5.
  2. Privileged class – in all communist countries, the party is solely responsible for the implementation of the communist ideology. Although ideally the party should be there to maintain the social parity and collaboration, realistically, the party is the group that dictates everything as it possess all the power. Unfortunately, there are no checks of power within the communist regime and as such, the leader becomes all powerful and terribly abusive, not to mention obsessed with his “perfect” personality.

As I said before, the intellectuals in Romania had plenty to fear about the new regime, nevertheless because of the newly created privileged class. The implementation of communism in Romania was of a very high standard. Immediately after the communists took over, a command of terror was spread across the country and the very first victims were the people who had position of power previously and the people who did adhere to the new rules. Principals of schools, with years of experience in both tutoring and running schools were dismissed and uneducated people were put in their position. The reasoning was very simple: take a detractor and destroy him and in the same time, replaces him with someone whose loyalty you can buy easily. Because people who had no power previously were tasked to run various institutions/companies, they listened blindly to what the people in power told them to do, even if that meant hurting other people. Because it was forbidden to say anything against such practices, everyone who dared to display signs of rebellion would be taken away and some of them were never to be found again.

This led in 1949 to the conception of the single most terrifying creation of communism in Europe, a place of pure horror: the Pitesti Penitentiary. On the 6th of December 1949, this place started the process of re-education with the aim to destroy any form of mental health of an individual. Most of the people who suffered this process were students, academics, intellectuals or communism haters. They were all called “enemies of the state” and the military police would force other people to say untrue stories just so they could have a claim against them. A confession taken after the Pitesti experiment had finished tells the story of a young man who was brought in for questioning for plotting against the communist party. Even though he was innocent, there were claims from secure sources that he “wanted to rebel against the party”, thus becoming an “enemy of the state”. After hours of questioning and beatings, he was finally shown who the police’s informer was: his wife, whom he married just a few months before, had been beaten and persecuted until she capitulated, lying that he was an “enemy of the state”. This is how it all began for most prisoners as the military police had no real claim against them so they had to force other people into inventing such things.

As soon as they had proof of claims against you, you were then taken into the penitentiary where the horrific process would begin. It was very detailed and aimed at destroying the innate being and beliefs of an individual and it consisted of 4 stages:

    1. External denunciation – through continuous torture, you were made to invent claims against your closest friends and acquaintances so that the military police could detain and prosecute them as well
    2. Internal denunciation – After you were made to lie about your friends, you were forced to start insulting yourself until you lost any respect for your upbringing, for your values, for the world that you constructed for yourself. One of the stories tells about a very religious man who was constantly forced to relieve himself on the Holy Cross whilst insulting God and anyone who would believe in him. The key for this process was to keep going like this until all the principles of an individual were destroyed through constant torture and unmitigated pain.
    3. Public moral denunciation – the third step of the process required the individual, again under severe and constant torture, to start criticizing his parents up to the point where the mother would become the biggest whore that ever existed and where the father would become anything as bad as a “paedophile” or “incestuous scumbag” who raised you as a “scumbag” as well.

Torture is very well spread in times of war and totalitarian regimes, everybody is aware of that. However, the difference with the Pitesti experiment was that torture was constant, it didn’t stop at all; it was continuous until the last stage of the process, the 4th step which is basically the complete dehumanisation of an individual.

                  4. The victim becomes the torturer. After you’ve gone through the first 3 steps of the programme, you were forced to do  the whole process to your best friend, thus becoming an executioner yourself. This was the final straw that ultimately destroyed the personality of all those who were re-educated. By becoming a torturer and doing the same atrocious acts to your best friend, they assured that you won’t have any chances of coming back to who you were previously. The transformation and brainwash were complete in every way and this is what made the Pitesti Penitentiary one of the most terrible places of those times.

Countless people have died before word got out of that was happening there in 1952. The government acted as if it was surprised at the activities that were held at Pitesti and they quickly condemned some of the torturers to death to silence everybody.

Even though the Pitesti phenomenon has been finished for more than 60 years, I am still deeply disturbed by what happened merely 80 miles away from my home city. Similar experiments have indeed taken place in other countries (this re-education process started in China and was copied by others later), but none of them went through all the 4 steps in order to complete the process.

Marina Gogeanu

Media portrayal of N.Ceausescu (Romania)

As many other communist countries, Romania utilised media to spread the communist propaganda to the masses.  Ceausescu’s cult of personality and his control over the media, transformed the communist Romania into one of the strangest regimes Europe has ever seen. Newspapers had to mention his name 40 times on every page and all the factory workers had to spend months rehearsing dance routines for huge shows at which thousands of citizens were lined up to form the words “Nicolae Ceausescu” with their bodies.

In 1980s, when the Romanian economy and living standards dropped down, the line between theatre and life became completely blurred. Ceausescu went on working visits to the countryside where he inspected displays of meat and fruit made out of polystyrene as the Romanians didn’t have real food to put on view and without noticing the starving that was taking place all over Romania, he started building the largest palace in the world.

“King of Communism” offers an astonishing and frightening view of the absurd world of the Romanian dictator’s regime. It was released three years after 1989, when Romanians decided to walk past their leader and portrays Nicolae Ceausescu, his cult of personality and the extraordinary use of theatrical propaganda, all of them by using Ceausescu’s own archive of propaganda films.

Marina Gogeanu

The Decree and The New Man of Romania

Ceausescu had a big dream for Romania – to create a pure communist generation – to create “The New Man”.

Marinetti suggests in his Futurist Manifesto (1909) the need for the “New Man” – an aggressive, animalistic merging of machine and human body, in the future of the human society. For example, while he notes that “Woman does not belong to a man, but rather to the future and the race’s development,” he also points out that this “future” is one entirely devoid of “every emotional morbidity, every womanly delicacy” (M 86). So women are bound to animalistic feelings and impulses which Marinetti’s “new man” is capable of overcoming. In order to overcome humanity’s physical and emotional limitations and recreate humanity, Marinetti must first recreate creation: namely, women’s “animalistic” power to reproduce. In short, Marinetti’s conception of Futurism requires that he both stigmatize and vilify that female body to achieve his prescribed vision of the future.

Ceausescu understood very well the role of women in the development of Romania’s economical system and especially for the procreation of “The new man”, so he gave the 770 Decree which forbade women to do abortions. This documentary illustrates the demographic and the psychological disasters provoked to the almost 2 millions of people born because of the decree. It is a truly terrifying documentary about “the crimes of communism in Romania” and more specifically about all the women murdered by the clandestine abortions and all the “malfunctioning” children declined by the system and then exterminated. “The new man” ideology also led to a racial purification in Romania, as unlike Romanian women, the gipsy ones were allowed/obliged to do abortions.

The Decree was one of the largest social experiments in the human history.
The Romanian Government banned abortions in 1948 to legalize them in 1957, after the Soviet model, because of the effects on women’s health. Statistics had shown that diseases caused by illegal abortions or inadequate conditions for pregnant women led to the damage of the Romanian women’s health.
Between 1959-1965, only one out of five pregnant women gave birth whilst the others were provoking themselves abortions.
So, Ceausescu put the issue of abortion ban just a year after arriving in the management of PCR.
On the 1st October of 1966, Ceausescu gave the 770 decree, banning all women to interrupt pregnancies with few exceptions: if the pregnancy endangered the woman’s life, if one of the parent suffers from a communicable hereditary disease, if the mother presents serious disabilities, if the women were over 45 years and have already born four children or if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
Women who worked were obliged to go to regular gynecological controls; the company doctors were obliged to do even 60 examinations a day;

Ceausescu also banned the sex education; books about human reproduction were classified as state secrets and used only as medical textbooks.
Contraceptive methods were not longer imported in Romania. The only women who have had access to them were just the wives of the party members, the athletes and the athletes’ wives.
This led to clandestine abortions which killed thousands of Romanian women.
According to data from the ‘Centre for Statistics and Medical Documentation’, there were 9452 women who died between 1966 and 1989 due to clandestine abortions.

But the decree has reached its goal, at least initially. In 1967, the number of births has almost doubled, from 14.3 per thousand in 1966 to 27.4.

The sociological effects of Decree 770 decreased gradually, and in 1983 reached the same figure as in the 1966 birth rate. At the same time, the number of maternal deaths due to abortion rose from 64 in 1966 to 192 in 1968.
The number of births increased but not proportionally with restrictions.

In 1989, the birth rate had risen to 16 per thousand inhabitants, but the mortality rate increased up to 170 maternal deaths recorded per hundred thousand births, which is ten times more than the highest rate ever recorded in Europe, according to a study.

The first government after the fall of the communist regime annulled the decree 770.  On December 26, 1989, Romanian women were free to do whatever they wanted with their pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the abortion liberalization triggered a demographic catastrophe: there were a million of abortions done in 1990 which led to a decrease in population, which can still be felt.

Marina Gogeanu

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