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Tuesday, October 1: Day 162 – The End

Life During Communism

In 1981 national emergency was declared in Romania. They were told that they could live with less. There was rationing and coupons. Scales were installed to measure their weight. Those scales still work today.

There was no heat. Electricity was available only two hours per day. One had to get up in the middle of the night to cook because that was when the electricity was on. And, of course, with no electicity, refrigerators weren’t operational.

There was a black market as distribution was difficult and shops were empty.

Romania had become economically independent by paying off their $17 billion foreign debt in 1988. So it was considered by the government to be the richest country in the world.

Their factories were exporting. Most people were working. It was illegal not to have a job. Everything was made for export. However, there was nothing for Romanians.

At 5 am people would stand in line to wait for the supply truck to come. This job often fell to the grandmas and grandpas. “If you don’t have an elder, go out and buy one. They come in handy.”

Queuing became their national sport. If one would stop to talk to a friend, a line might form.

Goods came directly from the truck and never made it to the shelf. It was truly a minimalist supermarket. People became trained scavengers. Oranges were only eaten at Christmas.

TV was limited and consisted of a speech from Ceaușescu or a Russian movie.

Contraception was illegal because their country needed more workers. Women died from unsafe abortions. Children were abandoned.

Older people that lived during that time have a hard time trusting people, even neighbors and close friends, as people feared being reported as a collaborator.

German political economist Albert O. Hirschman indicated in his book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970), that there are three responses to decline or deterioration: quitting, speaking up, or staying quiet.

Many Romanians risked their lives trying to swim across the Danube. People were so desperate that they even fled to Yugoslavia!!!

Ceaușescu was not the first Communist leader in Romania. He was in the right place at right time. In 1965 the leader of the communist party died after two decades of power. He was young and the powerful thought that he could be manipulated. He was voted in overwhelmingly. He banished opposition and imprisoned intellectuals.

Ceaușescu was independent of Moscow. He visited a lot of countries in the west. Not many western leaders came to Romania. Jimmy Carter visited several times. The production of the Dachia car came about due to friendship with France.

Ceaușescu learned that friendship with the West brings money from the World Bank. They were hopeful for the future.

Plans looked good on paper. They build. Everyone has jobs. They are energy independent. They share a hydro power plant with Serbia. They have a nuclear power plant on the Black Sea.

Ceaușescu made competing in the Olympics a top priority. He wanted to compete with the Soviets. Gymnastic Nadia Comăneci was a result. Today Romania is not as competitive in the Olympics because it is no longer supported by the state. Parents must pay.

When the Soviets boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, Romania was the only communist country to defy that order and came to compete.

Romania Today

Democracy was a slow process because the succeeding leaders were likely part of Ceaușescu’s people.

Their problems were very visible. They have the fifth largest diaspora (5 million) in the world because now they can exit.

Our guides, Catalina and Elena, chose the third option of speaking up and using their voice. They are sharing the stories with the world. They ask us to go home and share these stories. Romanians have learned to use their voice.

Romanians view cars and traffic as a sign of prosperity. There is a four-fold difference from the highest paid worker to the lowest. The best job is in IT. They make ~$2,000/month whereas a textile worker makes ~$500/month.

The End

Ceaușescu lost his grip on reality. He believed his own lies. He didn’t see a coup coming or any problems. In the Palace Hall, Ceaușescu was reelected to another 5-year term at age 71 with no plans to retire.

On December 21 Ceaușescu gave his famous last speech saying the same old theme of better life and salaries. Here is a video of this last speech.

He blamed the killings in Timisoara on hooligans and terrorists. For the first time spontaneous booing and whistles came from the back of the crowd. Ceaușescu looked confused. He and his wife left by helicopter from the roof of the building. Here is the balcony.

People came to listen to the speech. Then came the shooting. Blood was cleaned from the streets in the night as if nothing had happened.

On Dec 22 crowds, mostly students, gathered and came to fight but didn’t know who they were fighting. The Minister of Defense committed suicide. Who is the enemy?

We saw a photo of a large protest crowd with one poster from Vlad, the Impaler. It read, “Have you missed me?”

On Dec 25 Ceaușescu and his wife were taken to a military base. It was a speedy unconstitutional trial and they were sentenced to immediate death by firing squad. Every one was a witness because it was rebroadcast on TV. Below is a video that people in Romania saw on TV.

Here is a recommended documentary that our guide Elena sent to us called Death of a Dictator.

Post Ceaușescu

Six-year-old Catalina remembered her dad throwing her up in the air and shouting, “We’re free.” I was so happy. I asked my dad, “What is free?” All I knew was that it was good and made him smile.

Next is that EVERYTHING was under construction, not just buildings. They had a school holiday for three months because schools were state controlled.

It was easy to blame everything on the dictator. In 1990 it was the same leaders who said that they disagreed with Ceaușescu, but who knows?

The party with the communists won the first election. Today the older population votes. There are two parties and the last party in control gets voted out. They have a flat income tax of ten percent. Since they lived under a dictator, the president was given no veto power.

Bucharest is the largest city. All other cities have no more than 500,000 people. Bucharest is the only city with a subway. It was built in 1975 with four lines. Today the subway is packed. It is the first day of college classes.

In August 1989 the former Museum for History of Communism was the last official parade for Ceaușescu. Usually it was held in the soccer field as he loved large choreograpahy. He enjoyed 20 years of smiles and waves.

Of all the European countries we are at the bottom of the tourism pyramid with 2 million visitors. The next highest is Bulgaria with 9 million.

Chuck Norris vs. Communism is a must see documentary. Movies from the West were smuggled in, dubbed by a woman, and copied for distribution. The secret police liked to have the movies, so he was not arrested and others benefitted. Elena remembers getting together in large groups to watch these movies. Think Terminator with a woman’s voice!! All voices were by this woman and her voice is recognized throughout Romania.

Ceaușescu’s Home

We get ready for our time for the English tour and we run into Maria from Altanta who was on our castle tour in Brașov. What are the odds!!

The building was started by Ceaușescu’s predecessor, but he died before it was finished. The Ceaușescus added to it.

Ceaușescu worked as a shoemaker. He only had three years of schooling. His wife had four. She was two years older than him. They had three children. One son Valentin is still living but is NOT involved in politics.

Ceaușescu became a full Communist member when he was 18. He was in the right place at the right time.

The first room is made of walnut wood from Romania. The Shah of Iran gave him many gifts such as Iranian carpets. Ivory came from the country then known as Zaire.

He had a chess set made from bones and a Steinway grand piano. Nobody knew how to play either.

There were numeous paintings of peasants. The house remains intact because it was guarded after revolution.

We saw a spa and the mosiac swimming pool.

And, of course, the legendary closets and gold bathrooms.

All gold is either painted or gold plate representing the fascade known as Communism.

The Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum

We walked to the nearby village museum. Diverse villages from all over the country and from different time periods are displayed.

Originally people lived inside the houses but it proved too cold. We looked in a sheep pen.

Four sheep came out in search of yummy acorns.

This is the End of the European portion of our trip…on to Asia!!

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