In my travels, I have seen two hunger strikes, but I consider one more of what Mahatma Gandhi would have done. As an American, this is an unusual thing to see because Americans don’t normally go on hunger strikes. The one I saw here in Korea, didn’t accomplish as much as the one I saw in Romania. Here in Korea, one of the professors was let go, and instead of leaving the university, he stayed in the front hall of the university not eating. I felt sorry for him and stopped to talk to him. He explained to me what he was doing, and I asked him what it would take for him to break his fast because I could see that he was losing weight. When he told me, I tried to contact people who could help through the grapevine because I knew about the people he was talking about, but I didn’t know them personally. Soon afterward, I heard there was a meeting in a hotel with the professor who went on the hunger strike and the man I had sent a message to through the grapevine. They resolved the differences, and the strike was broken.
The Korean professors wear suits and ties everyday. They are very sophisticated, but this man laid on blankets and pillows for a couple of weeks on the floor of the main entry way of the university.
The leader of the farm coop was a poor man with a white beard. He dressed in a sophisticated manner, but all his clothes were old.
The man I call Mahatma Gandhi was in Romania. Romania was just coming out of Communism in the 199o’s. The whole structure of the society was changing. Under Communism, the government was responsible for giving everyone a place to live. If a young couple got married, they received an apartment from the government. However, when Democracy came and Communism left, the government was no longer responsible to make sure everyone had a place to live. They put the apartments where the people lived up for sale at extremely reasonable prices, and the people living in the apartments had the first option to buy their apartment. However, there were people who couldn’t pay for their apartments, and they were put out on the street. In front of an apartment building I frequented in Sibiu, furniture was strewn everywhere, and people were living outside on their furniture because they had been put out of their apartments because they couldn’t pay for them. I saw on the television news that there were people all over Romania being put out in the street and living on their furniture outside because they couldn’t buy their apartments.
The people had no where to go, so they slept on their furniture in front of the apartment buildings.
In the village where I lived, there was a coop farm. The boss of the farm was trying to take advantage of the change from Communism to Democracy to get rich. His wife opened up a butcher’s shop in Sibiu, and he sold her the meat from the coop farm for her butcher’s shop. They sold the cows and pigs to her as if they were skinny and completely underfed. The price was extremely low, but the animals were not underfed. They were very well fed. She paid the lowest price they could come up with, and then charged top dollar (or lei, since I am talking about Romania) in her butcher’s shop in Sibiu.
At this coop farm, there were farm apartments where the farm laborers lived. The farm laborers were extremely poor. They were migrant farm workers. They were living like modern day serfs. The apartments had two or three rooms with a kitchen and a bath. Only the ones on the first floor got water. If you lived on the second floor, you had to carry all your water from a well behind the apartments up the stairs to take care of yourself and your family, for all your baths, drinking, and other washing needs. The apartments were heated with wood, and the people cooked over wood. The government was fair. They planned on selling these apartments to the farm laborers for an equivalent of $2,000 American dollars each.
This street is a little nicer than the one where the apartments were, but there are no available pictures of what the apartments were actually like.
However, the farm boss decided he wasn’t going to sell any of the apartments to the people. He decided to put them all out on the street and tear the apartments down. The apartments were right down the road from a small airport, and he wanted to put up a nice big hotel there.
The head of the farm laborer’s union’s wife just happened to be a lawyer. She thought they had the right to buy their apartments, so she went to the library and did some research. She learned she was right. By law, they had the first option to buy their apartments. Her husband went to the farm boss and told him, and the farm boss had him shown out of his office and refused to sell him his apartment. The head of the farm laborer’s union wanted everyone to be able to buy their apartments. He didn’t want to see anyone out in the street.
He went day after day trying to convince the coop farm boss to sell the apartments to the people who were living in them. Day after day, the boss of the farm coop turned him down. The head of the laborer’s union was beside himself because he knew they had the legal right to buy their apartments. There were more than 200 families in those apartments, and he couldn’t see them all be put out on the street. He finally came up with a plan. He decided to go on a hunger strike until the farm boss listened.
He sat in the outer office of the coop farm boss, and didn’t leave. He stayed there all day long not eating. He told the farm boss he would stay there until he consented to selling the people their farms. He kept a two liter bottle of water, and that was all. The people in the apartments were scared, but the head of the coop wouldn’t give up. I went to visit my friend, the head of the farm laborer’s union, and he said there were very few who came to visit because they were so scared. He began loosing weight. He got weaker and weaker. He sat there day after day not eating. I was getting scared for him.
I wanted to break the strike so he could eat. I wanted the people to be able to buy their apartments too. There had to be a solution! I decided to use part of the Romanian culture against the farm boss. In Romania, shame is very important. They control one another through shame. I went to the newspapers in Sibiu. I told them what was happening in the village. I thought if what the farm boss was doing was exposed, he would be forced to sell the apartments to the people, and my friend could stop his hunger strike.
The newspapers sent a reporter to check it out. They went into the office. They saw my friend sitting there thin and weak from hunger on a hunger strike. They went into the farm boss’ office and had a discussion with him. The farm boss filled the reporter’s trunk with cheeses and meats from the farm hoping the reporter would write about him in a good light. We didn’t know what the outcome would be.
The article was published quickly. The farm boss was beside himself when he read it! He called the head of the farm laborer’s union in and told him he was going to sell the apartments to their owners. The strike was broken. The people all bought their apartments. No one was put out in the street. Deedee Macrea, the head of the farm laborer’s union became the village hero! He had sacrificed for everyone in the village and won. The spirit of Mahatma Gandhi was living in Romania.