By Constantin Teodor
There are a lot of journalists, media pundits, and intellectuals in the West that think that communism is the only choice and that communism greatly improved our lives. Much of these opinions are due to total ignorance and lack of knowledge regarding communist regimes and life in a communist country. I’m not trying to convince them of otherwise. I’m merely showing them and everyone interested in communism the reality of life in a communist dictatorship.
I was born 35 years go in Romania, a country in the Balkans, a country though full of resources, corrupted and oppressed by its own ruling class. Those who were in power in my country were not aristocrats, did not inherit any titles. Some of them were part of the communist party (agitators, criminals, terrorists) before the war, others climbed the social ladder by being informants and reporting on others.
It is obvious since I was quite small at the time of the Revolution (the revolution through which Romania ousted its dictator) I did not know much of the politics. I of course, remember Marx’s, Lenin’s and Ceausescu’s (our dictator) portraits on the walls of my kindergarten and later my school.
One of the earliest memories I had at kindergarten is when, one day I went to the kindergarten dressed a little bit different from my colleagues. My uncle had sent some clothes from USA (where he defected), normal clothing, trousers and shirt. Osh Kosh Bigosh was the brand of the clothing as I remember. That day I was punished for a few hours, locked in a room and sent home. My teacher was scandalized that I was not dressed in my uniform, blue trousers, red shirt and red tie. In kindergarten kids were organized into a sort of boy scouts, named “Motherland’s Hawks”. We all had to wear that specific uniform in the colors of our flag. I didn’t understand the outrage my teacher had shown towards my mother’s choice of clothing regarding me but I told my parents and from that day I never dared to put on those “imperialist, capitalist, fascist american clothing”
Another memory from kindergarten years was when, one daym I invented a silly nursery rhyme with our dictators name in it. I remember my father’s face as it went pale and him telling me to never say that thing again as he feared the Militia. Any kind of negative speech against our dearest leader was of course banned.
These were just a few of my memories that I remember, very clearly.
Survival and food
My father was a dentist working in conditions, of which no western doctor could ever work and survive in. My mother was working at a light bulb factory, in better conditions but all under the vigilant eyes of Communist Party informants. To have a better image of what went on in an office, imagine now you could not even crack a joke about your president. Those who told jokes, or cursed the dictator were interrogated, demoted and eventually arrested.
As food was scarce because of rationing, my father often went at night to buy food from the black market. Yes try to imagine going into a supermarket and finding no food, except maybe,maybe, a few canned sardines, expired and long overdue. Yes getting food was like getting drugs nowadays.
I remember one night as my father came home with oranges (which where impossible to find at any supermarket) and some meat, but scared to death. The local dealer, he said, had been murdered.
Getting food for your family of course was a risk that you had to assume, as you had no other choices.
As I said before fod was scarce, but not because we didnt have any, we had plenty of resources. Our dictator choose to lend Saddam Hussein and others, such as Muammar Qaddafi with large sums of money and he also started repaying every debt we had to the west or to USSR. The latter in itself was not a bad idea. The bad idea that led to our starvation and eventually to his demise, was the fact that he started rationing the food, thus creating the infamous “bread line” or “bread queues”.
Bread queues were also a risk that you had to assume. As I already said, getting food was a risky business in the Socialist Republic of Romania, and as a matter of fact in any eastern european and soviet countries. Others, in countries as Cambodia, or Mao’s China were not as fortunate and died of starvation.
In order to get in line and buy food( meaning only one quarter of bread and a quarter of milk) ordinary people (as opposed to the ruling class) had to wake up at around 4:00 am and get in the line. If you woke up too late, there was no more food, those shops were closed and the supermarket such as the one above in the picture closed. And even if you woke up early and got in the line, sometimes the supermarket would ran out of food.
You could easily bribe someone in charge of that “supermarket” (of course owned by the state). A pack of Kent cigarettes or good coffee from Germany would go a long way. A bottle of Ballantines Johnie Walker would get you a passport, and a pack of Kent cigarettes would get even get you some meat. But that happened only if you had relatives in the West, as there was no way you could buy Western cigarettes, coffee or whiskey in any supermarket from any corner in Romania. Money of course had no value, as you could not buy much with it. For a car you had to wait years, and for an apartment in of these buildings
….well good-luck, comrade! Also it is worth mentioning that a lot of these communist era buildings collapsed when the earthquake of 1977 struck the capital of the socialist Republic of Romania, Bucharest.
TV, media and music.
As much as the communists resented western invention, they used these very means (tv, radio) to the maximum to further their propaganda.
Why is so important to show the media worked in communism, some may ask. But the mass media is best way to illustrate how different communist countries from capitalist western countries are, and how close they are to Orwellian full blown dystopia.
In 1947, king Michael of Romania was forced by the Russians to abdicate, thus monarchy was “abolished” and the communist regime took full control of Romania. The abdication was announced on radio, with an apology of the king and his farewell, without the true motives of his abdication. Prior to his abdication, King Michael was threatened that if he does not leave the country along with his family, 1000 students would be executed as dissidents. After the abdication the propaganda continued and the King and all his supporters became “enemy of the people” the same people that gathered prior to December 31 to support him with banners that had written “Nihil sine Rex”- Nothing without the king (from the latin pharse written on monarchy era coins- Nihil Sine Deo-Nothing without God)
Until 1956, the first time the Romanian Television started broadcasting, propaganda continued in Cinema’s through documentaries and soviet movies, and most of the time, presence was mandatory.
In the 50’s and up to 68, most television shows were documentaries about how wealty and happy people were in the Socialist Republic of Romania:
In 1968, our dictator Nicolae Ceausescu condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and refused to take part in a tyrannical attempt to stop the revolution against communism. Since 1968, Romania opened itself to the West, began importing goods from wester countries and even broadcasted french, english and american movies.
From about 68 to 77 there was a small gap in which Romania seemd to leave its communist path but it was intrerupted after Nicolae Ceausescu decided to visit China and North Korea, the places that inspired him to become more like Kim Il Sung and less like a western leader.
From 1977 and onward to the Revolution of 1989, our state stopped importing goods, music shows in which bands played covers after the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd were banned, wearing long hair became an offense, and ordinary citizens could only watch american movies on smuggled tapes.
My mother, a full blown hippy in the 70’s, had the not so inspired idea to go to her UTC (Young Communist Union) meeting, in a hippie garb with ripped jeans, and a jeans jacket which had the the words “Daytona USA” and the American flag embroidered on the back. That choice of clothing led to her being expelled from the union and other more severe repercussions. And this was the fate of many young men and women that dared to adopt and to admire the American and western culture in general.
The ordinary citizens were bombarded with communist speeches such as this:
condemning capitalism, and deploring the fates of millions of people living in poverty, while the population of Romania suffered from famine. This is what you would watch daily, every, day, every week, every year. Of course, sometiimes there would be watch you call “re-runs” of those speeches and very few people were interested in watching TV anymore
There was of course only one TV Channel and only one Radio channel. Listening to other radio channels such as Voice of America or Free Europe was a crime and would get you a lengthy interrogation by the “Securitate” (Romanian Intelligence) and a few months or more in jail.
Music would be mostly soviet, or Romanian symphonies composed in the honor of our dictator.
While we had to listen to propaganda through every channel of communication, the ruling classes had the right to watch movies from western countries (Ceausescu himself was an aficionado of western movies and John Wayne), listen to jazz and drink Jack Daniels straight from the “filthy, capitalist, imperialist” distilleries of Tennessee.
From kindergarten all the way to University, communist propaganda and as I mentioned earlier, the portraits of Marx, Lenin and Ceausescu were always present. A discipline, called scientific materialism (marxism) was taught, in high school and also in University, regardless of Faculty. Every book and textbook had a preface written by Ceausescu and his portrait on the first page and sometimes lengthy introductions by his wife “Comrade Academy Doctor in Engineering-well renowned scientist Elena Ceausescu” (a well known illiterate) a woman with PHD’s in chemistry, physics at “prestigious” universities such as University of Lima (Peru), University of Manila (Philippines) and University of Phyongyang (North Korea). In the 50’s and 60’s many professors that were supporters of monarchy and dissidents were arrested, executed or sentenced to forced labor at the Danube-Black Sea, which during its constructions many intellectuals died.
In kindergarten and school, the national anthem and the anthem dedicated to other Party and our dictator “our adoptive father” had to be recited daily. Defacing Ceausescu’s picture on the first page of any textbook was punished. The punishment was sometimes, a few hours locked up in the classrooms, or in worst cases, you were expelled and unable to get into high school and University.
When we heard that people rebelled in Bucharest and our dictator flee while ordering his men to shoot at the population, one of the first thing we did was to deface the portraits of Ceausescu from our textbooks and burn them. After a week even the portraits of Ceausescu, Marx or Lenin in our school, had been taken of and no remnant of communism had been left again. This how much people hated and resented communism, a system that forced into famine, poverty and reminded them of the oppressive regime, everyday, through any means possible.
In communism the only deity was the Party and the head of the Party. Freedom of religion was unheard of and it was considered the greateste enemy of communism. With the communists in power old and beautiful churches were demolished, mosques were torn down, priests and rabbis were imprisoned in reeducation centers and tortured. In the case of rabbis arrested and tortured it cannot be a case of antisemitism as the people in power in the 50’s like Boris Grunberg, Saul Bruckner and Ana Pauker were themselves jews. Jews that hated judaism and had a deep and profound hatred for Israel. In the “golden era of communism”, the 50’s, 60’s and the 80’s it was illegal to own a Bible, and churches were monitored by infiltrated agents of the Securitate. The system and the Party professed more than atheism, they professed anti theism and the conivction that belivers in any deity , especially christians should be eliminated.
Civil rights and liberties
“Human rights are a retrogade concept”, such began the thesis of a communist lawyer, Adrian Nastase, later to be a prime minister. Human rights were unheard of, in fact a citizen’s life depended on the goodwill of the party.
We see today that the left claimed they stand for homosexuality, but in every communist country, homosexuality was a deviation and it was punished with imprisonment and reeducation. The Communist Party did not have only jails. They also had reeducation centers, which were even more horrible than jails, designed specially for political dissidents, and the psychic asylums in which dissidents , intelelctuals and politicans from the former regime were detained and tortured.
The “right” of every individual was to work, be active in the Party, praise the Party and be an informant. Welfare did not exist in the communist vocabulary and everyone was forced to work. Refusal to work was burgeois, capitalist, deranged behavior that had to be corrected.
As I mentioned rights were granted and took away on the whims of the Party leaders.
For many westerners it is very hard to conceive, unfothamble that such was the life in a communist country. It is understandable that leftist in the west still push for communism, for it is very hard to imagine such a life, if you didn’t have the experience of it. Life in communism seems also surrealsprobably because it was just that, surreal. Before communism my country was a rich country, its capital, Bucharest was called Little Paris, and Romania was the Switzerland of Eastern Europe. Communism eliminated an entire class of intelelctuals destroyed agriculture and brought little to no progres. Journalist and visitors from the West that came in Romania in 1990 said that Eastern Europe looks as if it it was stuck in the 1950’s. And that was the effect of communism, it took us back 50 years in time and its effects are still lingering and it can be seen in the defficient beauracracy and rampant corruption. But the biggest impact and dameg was on the well being and mentality of people. My people and all those who lived in communist countries still bear a wound, a wound no amount of money and time can erase, the wound of one of the darkest eras in history, the wound of communism.