Some friends of mine recently told me they thought I needed to have a lecture tour teaching people about Communism since I lived 8 years in a country that was just emerging from Communism and lived right on the border of another Communist country. (People need to realize that Socialism is just another name for Communism. ) Since I really don’t know anyone ready to ask me to lecture about Communism, I will tell you just a bit about things that I know.
I went to Romania the year after they had the revolution that threw the Communists out. I made friends who were ex Communists and many who had been hurt badly by Communism. Many young Americans think that Communism or Socialism sounds like a good idea because it seems logical that if we all share so that everyone is the same, it would just be fair. The only problem with that idea is that people are greedy and really and truly down deep in their hearts, they only care about themselves. When Communism came into power, the people on the bottom went to war against the people who were at the top economically. The people at the top were pulled to the bottom, and the people who were at the bottom, set themselves up as the rulers. Since they were at the top, all of a sudden, they were the ones with the money, the privilege, and the power. They didn’t make things equal. All they did was take the power, the money, and the privilege away from people who had it. No one was really equal.
They came in and took people’s homes away from them claiming they were too big. They made the people who owned the house move into one or two rooms, and they moved lots of other people into their house giving each one or two rooms. No one was allowed adequate heating, and Communism reined in very cold countries. If you tried to find a way to heat your house beyond the allotted amount of heat, you were a bad guy, and you may get arrested. I knew people who told me when they had to do homework for school, they did it in their coats, hats, and gloves because their apartments were so cold. One guy decided he didn’t want his family to freeze, but he wasn’t allowed to go buy an extra electric heater or something like that. He invented something and kept it hidden because he would have been in trouble had anyone have known he had it.
One of the biggest problems many of them had was Securitate an the Duba. Securitate was the secrete police that spied on them, and if they did something Securitate didn’t like, the Securitate would come with the Duba, a big black van, in the middle of the night and take them away never to be seen or heard from again. One of my friends was taken by the Securitate in the Duba in the middle of the night, and she was lucky to be alive. Her daughter had escaped the country into Yugoslavia and married a guy in Yugoslavia. The Securitate was convinced my friend had helped her escape, but she didn’t. It didn’t stop them from taking her away. They put her in a dry swimming pool for three days. She had no where to use the bathroom, no where to sleep, and no food for three days. There were other people in the pool with her. She would have stayed in there and died had her husband not figured out what happened. Her husband was high up in the military, and he was able to find her and get her out. The rest of the people in the pool died from starvation which is what would have happened to her had her husband not rescued her. After her husband rescued her, the Securitate man didn’t want her to go back to her job. She was a Vice Principal and a Math teacher of a high school. The Securitate man wanted her fired. The principal of the school pled with him to let her stay because she was a very good Math teacher. The Securitate man gave in. She could no longer be Vice Principal, but he let her teach Math. When the revolution came, she was one of the first to go into the streets marching to get rid of Communism.
Another friend of mine, an English Professor, went to Constanta to the Black Sea. There are resorts and beaches there, and they were letting foreigners come in and spend time at the Black Sea. My friend met some people who were native speakers of English. He had never had a chance to speak English with a native speaker. He wanted to talk to them. He was making friends with them, and he could see they were very nice people. A man in the Securitate approached him and told him to stay away from them because he said they were spies. My friend knew they weren’t spies, and he tried to convince the Securitate man, but the Securitate man told him he would come get him with the Duba if he talked to them any more. My friend went home from the beach very upset. He loved Romania, but he didn’t like it that the Securitate thought they could order him around. He decided to escape the country. He was caught at the border. The Securitate put him in prison. They strip searched him. They told him his wife was going to divorce him. They told his wife that he was going to divorce her. Both of those were lies. Neither of them wanted a divorce. They did everything they could to take his dignity and his life away from him. After the revolution, he was released from jail. He and his wife happily reconciled, and he began a university.
One of the problems was that they could get a paycheck whether they worked or not. Everyone had a job, and they couldn’t be fired. You would think it would be a good thing, but it wasn’t. People took advantage of it. They showed up for work in the morning and did nothing. They saw that everyone knew they were there, so they would leave and go downtown to get a cup of coffee, and spend the rest of the day in town. Just before quitting time, they showed their face again. They broke their economy.
With no one producing, pretty soon, there was nothing in the stores. If you wanted bread, you had to stand in a big long line, and maybe when you got to the front, there would be no bread. Sometimes, they had to stay in gas lines for a week before they could get anywhere near the gas pump. If you wanted chicken or eggs, you went to the chicken or egg stores and stood in a big long line that extended out of the front of the store and around the block. I stood in these lines. If you wanted rice, you stood in a line to get rice, and when you got to the front, there may be no rice. To get milk, you had to wake up very early in the morning and go down to the dairy to stand in line in the ice and show. The father of a friend of mine died of pneumonia standing in one of those lines. I stood in the milk line too. If I wasn’t the first in line, I wasn’t guaranteed to get milk, so I had to be there very, very early and stand in the ice and show for a long, long time. It was extremely cold. I wore several layers of clothing, several pairs of socks, boots, a hat, and a big coat. When I got home, if I got the milk, I had to heat it to pasteurize it myself. The stores were completely empty.
Everyone had to grow gardens, raise pigs, and forage for berries and mushrooms in the mountains in order to eat because there was nothing in the stores. A whole major grew up at the university called Mountain Agriculture. They knew which flowers to pick to make tea, which plants were eatable, etc. Even if you lived in town, you raised a pig in your back yard. If you lived in an apartment in town, you had to go to the country and find a place you could raise your garden and go there often to tend to it. You had to keep your food in the basement or can it. To can it, you had to get jars, and try to seal cellophane to the top of the jars. It was hard, and if you didn’t do it right, all your food molded in the pantry. In the winter, we left our windows open in the pantry and could use it like a refrigerator because it was so cold.
If you lived in the apartments in town, if you got hot water in the winter time, you didn’t get heat. If you got heat, you didn’t get hot water. In the winter, we had to heat water on the stove for baths and dish washing because we wanted heat. If you lived too high up, the water couldn’t get that far, and we lived on the ninth floor for a while, and we couldn’t always get water.
I had friends who were workers on the coop farm in the village. There were farm apartments, and they only had two rooms and a kitchen and bathroom. If you lived on the second floor, the water couldn’t get to you, so you had to carry all your water up the stairs. They cooked over wood and heated with wood. It didn’t matter if it was two parents and four kids, they still only had two rooms. I knew others in the village you lived in two rooms with four kids without an indoor bathroom and with no water in the kitchen. Their faucet was outside, and they had to bring all the water inside the kitchen from outside. Their rooms were wall to wall beds.
I knew another family who lived in the village who had a decent sized house. However, they still had a well in the courtyard where they got their water and an outhouse. They also heated with wood. The people who heated with wood ended up only heating one room at a time in the winter because it was too hard to heat all the rooms. We went to visit this family we knew who had several kids. All the older kids had to go to school, and both of the parents had to go to work. They didn’t have a baby sitter. They felt forced to leave their two youngest kids at home alone who were 2 and 3 years old. They didn’t want to leave the fire on in the stove to keep them warm in winter because they were afraid they would burn themselves or burn the house down, so the kids stayed in a cold house all day. There was no one to change diapers, so they wet all over themselves. There was fire wood next to the stove, so the kids had taken their shoes off and walked on the wood with bare feet and had splinters in their feet. It was a disaster!
When Communism came, all progress stopped. It came in the 1940’s, so everywhere was like the 1940’s. Some people didn’t have electricity. Many people didn’t have phones. In the village, they were still using an old switch board, and if you wanted to call someone, you picked it up and told the operator who you wanted to talk to, and she connected you, and it was always possible that the neighbor was listening in because everyone was on a party line, and the ones who had phones were just lucky to have phones. The secretary at the university had been on a list for ten years and still couldn’t get a phone.
A friend of mine went to see a dentist. He needed a root canal, dental surgery. When he sat down in the chair, the only thing the dentist had to clean his mouth out with was gasoline. The economy was broken, and they couldn’t get anything else. Part of the way through the operation, the chair broke and fell. My friend went down falling in the floor. Everything was broken, and they didn’t have money to fix it. My friend got up to help the dentist put the chair back together. Blood was streaming from his mouth because it was in the middle of an operation. When he sat back down, the dentist took his blood pressure, and told him it was too high. My friend said, “What did you expect? You saw the blood coming out of my mouth!”
Some American friends came to visit us, and they took a tour of the hospital. There was mold on the walls of the operating room. The doctors didn’t have any modern equipment, and a lot of what they had was broken. There was no money to replace anything.
When we lived on the ninth floor, at times, we would be on the elevator, and it would just stop. It was broken. It would stop between floors. We had to just open the door, and climb up onto the floor, then go the rest of the way on the stairs. When the elevator was out and the electricity was out, I would be scaling nine flights of stairs in the dark pregnant, holding the hand of a two year old. Everything was broken.
I could just continue, but this gives you as short glimpse into what it was like in Romania under Communism or Socialism. I am told that there are young people in America who think they want Socialism. I suggest they think again. Now that Romania is away from the revolution and has thrown Communism out, they are slowly making progress. Many doctors left the country, worked outside of the country for a while, saved money, and then went back and are setting up nice private clinics. They are rebuilding their hospitals. They are online, but under Communism, none of them were online. They have put gas in many places where they used wood for heating and cooking. They have installed fiber optics for their phones. There is food in the stores now. They did the right thing throwing Communism (Socialism) out. I plead with the people in America who are thinking they want Socialism to think again. Next, time, I will explain to you what it was like living close to North Korea.