Anca Coman 27th July 2018
There’s a movement among young people in the UK glamorising one of the toughest societies anyone could live in — communism.
The increasingly popular phrase “I’m literally a communist” — exclaimed by 26-year-old activist and lecturer Ash Sarkar to Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain — tells the story of Brits in a capitalist society who are seeing their peers trapped in jobs which don’t pay enough to survive, with spiralling debt and few opportunities.
Communist ideology sounds appealing but those who advocate it often don’t want to face the reality of what it might be like in Britain.
Social equality and egalitarianism are beautiful words incorporated in a nightmare. It’s not possible to have equality when you’re conditioned by a single political party to praise and support it in order to get what you want. Sure, capitalism has its own very real and harmful flaws, but let’s beam ourselves for a few minutes to Romania of the ‘80s and discover what’s beyond the egalitarianism motto.
If there’s one thing Romania has suffered from, it’s the rough communism period which ruled for more than 40 years. Under the name Romanian People’s Republic, the state followed Eastern Bloc ideology with only one leading political party and a nationalisation of all banks and large organisations. The Constitution was nothing but a form of deception. It provided a series of theoretical freedoms like religion, press, political options, meetings and protests that were actually not maintained in practice. Citizens were forced to settle with what the government dictated or face serious, often deadly, consequences.
The leader of the Romanian Communist Party, Nicolae Ceausescu, was worse than the Boogie Man — history sees him as one of the most drastic communist dictators of all time. In 1982, Ceausescu had only one goal — to pay the external debt Romania had previously acquired. The most abusive era started with Ceausescu imposing the austerity policy that led to an economic stagnation. This included extreme food rations, enormous queues in front of a grocery store hours before its opening, and a huge reduction of electricity and heating in people’s houses.
Despite this, nearly 30 years after Ceausescu’s shooting in December ’89 and the fall of communism, people’s minds and souls are full of nostalgia. What’s most interesting of all is that Romanians, the very people whose freedoms were restricted under communism, would prefer to return to that system.
A survey conducted in 2014 showed that 61% believe that people had a better life during the communism era than in the present. Similarly, 68% of people born after ’89, so after the end of communism, share this view.
The flaws of modern capitalist society, such as corruption or poverty, have led to fond memories of the times when you weren’t allowed to be against the party, to express your own views, to travel whenever and wherever you wanted to, or to have bread and meat in your house every single day. These are things that we, the younger generation, now take for granted and can’t imagine how such a limited and harshly enforced system could rule our lives.
You can understand why life seemed better back then. The party trained people into better jobs, offered them a job and a house
Romanian journalist in the UK, Alex Hrincă, has a theory as to why people said they’d prefer to return to communism.
“Communism moved a big part of the rural population in cities and the fast industrialisation meant training the peasant workers. They’ve turned from cowherds and swine herds to bricklayers and plumbers.
“You can understand why for these people life seemed better back then. The party trained them into better jobs, offered them a job and a house. After the revolution, these people suffered the most. The majority who built the Romanian industry became unemployed in capitalism, and the new regime didn’t need them anymore,” he says.
People who think that communism was the better option bring an insult to the martyrs of the revolution and the victims of communism
“What I can’t understand, however, is the second half of the poll. Life wasn’t at all better in communism, and the percentage of people during democracy who think that communism was the better option bring an insult to the martyrs of the revolution and the victims of communism,” adds the 32-year-old journalist.
Another Romanian who still lives in the country talks about the unfairness people faced every day, being ruled by uneducated politicians, and the fake hope that communism offered them.
“Ceausescu’s relatives were national leaders without having any education. The only illusion was created for the people living in the rural area and for those oppressed from the cities – it seemed that suddenly they had some chances they hadn’t had before the war. Communism was horrible, an upside-down world in which perpetrators were praised by the victims.”
There was almost half of century in which Romanians were brainwashed
A quarter-century almost seems too long ago for people to remember what a regular day was like in the communist era. Meanwhile, history books are filled with facts, but not real life experiences, so if you didn’t live in communist Romania, it’s hard to get more than a superficial understanding.
It’s made worse by the fact that many people who were party members or had relatives involved in the Romanian Communist Party continued to be part of the current political sphere and wouldn’t have any benefit from pointing to the real abysmal truth of communism.
Daiana Vlad, 25, who works in public health tells me that she thinks safety is the principal reason for which people might embrace communism, but that they totally forget everything else.
“There was almost half of century in which Romanians were brainwashed but, at the same time, the state made sure you had a minimum required – a place to work, to live, something to eat and not complain.
“If there’s someone who misses the communism time, they just take into account the mirage of being safe — people like to feel safe. It didn’t matter that the workplace was awful, in a planned economy. It didn’t matter that you were living in a tiny place, and that light and water were reduced, and you had meat few times a year and bread once a week – things you can’t even imagine in the present,” Vlad says.
When my brother wanted to become a party member to receive a flat, the party researched and discovered that he was coming from an inadequate family
It is not even the case that everyone was in the same boat. The truth is that some people really were “more equal than others”, as the George Orwell quote goes.
Liana Cîrstea, a 57-year-old primary school teacher, describes how submissive people were in front of the party during those times.
“If you wanted to advance at the workplace you had a condition to fulfil: be a party member.
“This condition also applied when buying a place to live or for having various advantages. My uncles have been politically condemned and when my brother wanted to become a party member to receive a flat, the party researched and discovered that he was coming from an inadequate family,” Cîrstea says.
During the ‘80s, because work productivity was at its lowest point, more than 800,000 students and teachers were forced to “voluntarily” work in agriculture for the betterment of the country. Not only no payment was involved, but also the living conditions were insalubrious, in stalls or barracks. There were small portions of poor quality food and access to potable water only when the water tank came. The voluntary part is again another form of deception – no submission meant tough consequences like low behaviour grade in school, a lower exam mark, or even expulsion from school.
All the aspects that seem to be better in communism than in capitalism came with severe consequences, both for individuals and the entire society. Having a secure and guaranteed job meant sometimes awful conditions to work in and sometimes being unable to choose your job or where you work; having a place to live meant a small place with many people living in and the lack of water, heat or electricity; having a good infrastructure meant forcibly replacing people’s houses with massive buildings, like the Parliament House that can be seen from the moon.
Ioana Ene, a Romanian postgraduate student in the UK, shares stories about her family’s life during communism and the illusion of good things covered in a dark hallucination.
“Every single good aspect during communism had a negative part.
“My grandma graduated from the Math School and she was forced to teach in a rural school at about 200km (125 miles) from Bucharest, the place where she lived.
“The infrastructure was developing – roads, schools, hospital, underground, but with the price of destroying everything that used to be there. The Parliament House was built by destroying an entire neighbourhood. Same with all the blocks of flats in Bucharest and big cities around the country. People had money, but there wasn’t anything to spend it on – you couldn’t find anything in stores.
“People were arrested, beaten or jailed for the smallest comments against the regime. My dad’s friends were arrested because they listened to Radio Free Europe,” says Ioana.
Just because life was easier, didn’t mean it was better
There was no future ahead of you, just the security of not worrying about tomorrow. Police officer Carmen Simon, 41, describes communism as a golden jail with a relatively comfortable life: “Overall I don’t think it was a better life. Almost all our rights were violated. Just because life was easier, didn’t mean it was better. The right to know, to want more, to develop and to manifest were all violated,” says Simon.
On the other hand, contemporaneous Romania hasn’t achieved its brightest moments yet and it’s still in recovery from the most turbulent years of its existence, with new issues within the society. One Romanian believes capitalist Romania isn’t any better, but eventually the access to information and opportunities will make the difference.
“I wouldn’t live either in communist Romania, or in the nowadays one. I don’t think it’s a big difference between the two. We currently live in a pseudo-democracy and I don’t believe people were ready to switch to democracy in ’89. Even though we’ve been a democracy for almost three decades, the state institutions and the civil society aren’t strong.”
There is no doubt that four decades of communism has made its mark. Journalist Paul Greavu, 27, believes that part of Romania’s current problems under capitalism are caused by its communist history and the country would have looked different in the present if it wasn’t for communism.
“I believe the hypothesis of a better life during communism is false. We’re talking about 42 years of communism which now make a big difference between Romania and the West. I think those were lost years for our country,” Greavu argues.
For me, communism meant black, grey and brown
With the desire to step forward and progress, Romanians look back at their time during communism and wonder how their beloved country would have looked like today if it wasn’t for the “egalitarian regime”. The colours we see today on the streets were just beautiful dreams for the people living in those times, as everything was covered in black and grey.
The children of communism, now grown-ups, lacked a proper childhood, filled with laughter and joy, which was replaced by a cruel leadership. Some of them wonder today what they would have done if they had been parents in those times.
Mari Coman, a 45-year old economist, has been a mother for 22 years and offered to her kid the opposite of communism — the possibility of travelling abroad, of eating anything, of having heat during winter and air conditioning during summer.
“I hated those times so much.
“I can’t imagine how I would have managed to raise my child during communism. I would have run and left the country. For me, communism meant black, grey and brown. It seemed like every time we were attending a funeral.”
I think this communism trend is really dangerous and a slippery slope, especially if it comes from a country which has been a democracy for a long time
Though Romanians are divided on whether they want to return to communist Romania, they all seem to agree that a relatively wealthy powerful country like Britain should avoid it.
Sinziana Wolff, 25, an NGO communication coordinator says: “I think this communism trend is really dangerous and a slippery slope, especially if it comes from a country which has been a democracy for a long time.
“It probably comes from misinformation and from a generalised apathy towards politics, from a fear against the migration wave – like Brexit – and from a feeling that maybe the democratic values don’t mean much in today’s Europe.”
To the ones that promote the communism idea, I’d have to remind them that most of the communist leaders have ended violently
Hrincă agrees and adds that the fact this subject is discussed in the UK “is a sign of a healthy democracy” but Brits should be careful about getting too carried away.
“Communism gives birth to dictators. There is no kind part in communism. To the ones that promote the communism idea, I’d have to remind them that most of the communist leaders have ended violently,” he says.
“Smart people learn from their own mistakes, and the real smart ones from the mistakes of others.”
Anca Coman 27th July 2018