Romania Under Communism

I am sure I have told many this joke before, but this describes Communism for you.  A friend of mine who was pretty far up in the Communist Party in Romania told me this joke.  This is what she said:  We want Communism. We are on this train going toward Communism.  We notice there is no food, but that is okay because we have Communism. We notice there is no water, but that is okay because we have Communism.  We notice we have no clothes, but that is okay because we have Communism.  Eventually, we notice we have nothing, but that is okay because we have Communism.  There are some now a days in Romania who want to refute the fact that life was hard under Communism. They site the fact that the State gave every young couple a new apartment when they got married, but they forget all the other degradation and deprivations the Romanians had to endure under Communism.

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I read a story when I lived in Romania written when the Communists were in power.  It said this girl had offended someone high up in her work,  In Romania, you don’t lose your job if you do something wrong. You are just transferred.  This girl was transferred.  The story follows what happened to her when she was transferred.  She got on a train to go to her new post which was way out in the middle of nowhere.  She was demoted from an office job in the city to living in the country in a cabin observing weasels.  On the trip, the train was too hot, and she had to hold the window open not to get too hot.  They stopped, and she had to go find something to eat.  The only thing she could find was moldy salami and dried bread, but she had to eat, so she bought it. It was all she had to eat.  When she got there, no one greeted her at the train. She had to walk through the woods to her post carrying her suitcase.  When she got there, the one roomed hut she was supposed to stay in was supposed to be manned by two people.  The person she was replacing had already left, and the person she would be working with and living with was there. He was a gross, fat, nasty guy.  They slept in bunk beds, and she got the top bunk.  The weasels were running all over the cabin, and they weren’t supposed to disturb the weasels, but just let them have the run of the place, watch them, and make notes about them.  When she needed a bath, she asked the guy where they were supposed to take a bath, and he showed her a barrel and told her that they heated water on a wood fire and put the water in a barrel to take a bath. He told her the last girl who worked in her place just went ahead and took a bath with  him there, and he didn’t mind if she did the same. She couldn’t handle it. She insisted that he could not be there when she took a bath, and that she would not be there when he took a bath.  He was kind of mad at being asked to leave for her to take a bath, but she had to stand up for herself.  When it was time to go to sleep, she heard him doing strange things to himself in his bed.  After she fell asleep, the weasels began running across her and woke her up.  She finally went to sleep again, and woke up with the weasels mating on her bed.  She was having a terrible time!  How could anyone think it was better under these kind of conditions?

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Another story I read while I was there was written by a guy who didn’t make enough money to get married.  There was no food in the shops. The people had money, but there was nothing to spend it on, and that made whatever they bought extremely expensive. He couldn’t go up in his company, but he was already in his thirties and wanted to get married, but couldn’t afford to get married.  He teamed up with another guy he knew who was operating a business of raising chickens to give eggs and selling the eggs.  He finally figured out how to get extra money so he could afford to get married.  The Securitate heard what he was doing.  The Securitate is the secret police who came and took them away in the middle of the night never to be heard of again, and the Securitate went and got him, arrested him, and he was never heard from again. It was illegal to have a business on the side.

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A friend of mine was taken away by the securitate.  Her daughter had fled the country to marry a Yugoslavian man.  They thought my friend had helped her, but she didn’t.  My friend was the vice principal and a Math teacher in a high school on Vicorei Boulevard in Sibiu, Romania.  The Securitate came and got my friend at school and took her away.  They took her to a dry swimming pool and put her inside.  There were others in the swimming pool too they were keeping there.  She stayed there for three days. She was giving no food and nothing to drink.  There was no furniture, no bed to sleep on, on blankets or pillows.  There was no bathroom, and if she wanted to use the bathroom, she had to just do it in the dry pool with everyone else in the pool too.  She would have died had her husband not figured out what happened to her.  Her husband happened to be high up in the military. He figured out that she had been taken away and went looking for her. After three days, he found her in the pool and rescued her.  The Securitate guy insisted she couldn’t go back to her job, but the principal of the school told him she was too good of a Math teacher to not let her teach.  They took her vice principal-ship away, but they kept her as a Math teacher until she retired.

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Another lady I knew had a nice big house when Communism took over.  The Communists took her house because no one was supposed to have a nice big house under Communism.  They divided her house up into little apartments of a couple of rooms each and gave her one of the apartments.  Her house was full of people whether she liked it or not.  After Communism fell, she went to court trying to get her house back.

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Children were doing their homework in coats, hats, and gloves in the winter because if they got hot water, they got no heat. If they got heat, they got no hot water.  A friend of mine figured out how to make himself a heater for when they didn’t send heat.  However, he hid his heater. It scared him to death to have a heater.  He said the other people would be jealous, and he could be taken away by the Securitate.

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All progress stopped under Communism.  When I got there, there were people who told me they had been on a waiting list for 10 years and still couldn’t get a phone. Ceausescu wouldn’t allow them to have computers because he didn’t like computers.  When I moved to the village in the 1980’s, they were still using a switch board as if they were in the 1940’s.  If I wanted to make a phone call, I picked my phone up and talked to the switch board operator telling her who I wanted to talk to.  I was on a party line, and often I heard my neighbors on the line too listening when I was talking.  What if something needed to be kept confidential? It just didn’t happen. Before that, I lived in town, my phone was bugged so they could listen in on my phone calls.

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My friend who was high up in the Communist party took another friend into her office.  She showed him a tape recorder under her desk.  She told him that she secretly tape recorded every conversation that took place in her office. That was how she made it up the ladder in the Communist party. She let them talk and used it against them.

Most people didn’t have cars. They had to rely on public transportation. However, the buses were wrecks.  They were always broken down. If you depended on the buses to get you where you needed to go, often you were waiting and waiting and waiting, and would never get there. when we didn’t have a car, I walked clear across town to go to work.

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There was no food in the stores, and the people were forced to develop a culture to cope with it.  They grew gardens.  They went to the mountains to pick wild berries and mushrooms.  They raised pigs in their back yards, even in the middle of town.  If you lived in an apartment, you didn’t have a yard to raise your pig in.  If you needed eggs or milk, you found people form the village to buy them.  You couldn’t get them from the stores.  There were long lines everywhere to buy bread, rice, and other necessities.

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The hospitals were in terrible condition because they couldn’t afford to take care of them. There was mold growing on the walls of the operating rooms.  There was lack of medicine, and after the revolution, that is what the west sent in first, medicine and food, and it was greatly appreciated and needed.  If they called an emergency vehicle under Communism because someone was having a heart attack or something like that, the medical staff asked how old the person was. If they were older than 60 years old, they wouldn’t come because they said they were going to die anyway. One woman told me they refused to come and get her dad when they called  because they said he was too old,  and her dad died in her arms. Now a days, the Romanian doctors have gone to other countries and worked as doctors, gathered money, and many are back fixing the hospitals with their own money or opening up private clinics.

I could just continue, but any Romanian who has forgotten why the Romanian revolution happened needs to think again.  Getting rid of Communism was not a bad idea. It saved you from starving. It saved you from sleeping in the cold, and Romania is really cold in the winter. It saved you from being taken away by the Securitate and who knows what would have happened. It enabled you to be taken care of when you got old and sick.  It is true that under Communism, people were given a free apartment when they got married, but where did they get that apartment?  From the lady who had to give up her family home to be chopped into smaller apartments.  Is it really that bad to work for what you have?  Government handouts just break the economy which is what happened under Communism.  People got out of bed, went to work, left work to go downtown to get a cup of coffee, and stayed in town all day getting nothing done at their jobs.  They showed up at the office again just before it was time to go home. They could get by with it because no one is fired under Communism, but they broke the economy doing it.They may have been given free apartments, but was that worth it?  My next blog will be about trying to develop after Communism.

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