I get where you’re coming from. I know the more you study history, the more you feel as if all of the suffering humanity has endured stemmed from greed and the pursuit of capitalist gain. I know you think you’re a Marxist. I know you get annoyed when adults tell you how awfully idealistic you are, as if they are so busy being cogs in the capitalist machine they can’t see their own position. But trust me, they’ve lived to see the suffering that comes from experiments in Marxism and communism. You haven’t. Those societies can never function as Marx and Engels intended on a large scale. You should know because your own father lived in one.
Let me tell you about an experience you’ll have in a couple of years. It is a humid summer evening in Bucharest, Romania, and across the street from a famous sausage shop, your family sits on a porch, surrounded by kittens, eating different pastries and cheeses. You will ask, “So, what was Ceausescu’s regime really like? What was it like to live in a communist society?”
Your father will immediately start listing banned activities in 1980’s Romania. They include speaking with foreign citizens, having a passport (to travel internationally required an application for a passport for a trip and returning it upon arrival), reading the works of George Orwell, criticizing the regime, and getting an abortion. Later, once you have WiFi, you’ll learn that more than 9,000 Romanian women died between 1965 and 1989 due to complications arising from illegal abortions.
Beyond a list of bans, your understanding of this communist regime will soon shift towards your family’s more personal anecdotes during your dinner of sausage with mustard.
While eating, you will begin to understand why your father saw you as an alien while you muttered about the disadvantages of capitalism. How could you go on, in front of someone with actual experience living in a communist regime? While your family will remain mostly light hearted while telling these anecdotes, state-run media was far from a laughing matter. The regime used its control of the press to exaggerate positive statistics and neglect the repressive elements of society. And before you start telling me that such control of the media and use of opinionated fact reminds you of a certain candidate in this year’s presidential election (for you), I don’t want to hear it. Yes, you can tell me about how we never learn from the past. You would be right, but that’s not why I’m here.
I mean, of course, I still asked about similarities between the behavior of Ceausescu and Trump because (spoiler alert) he will win the election. So, Tata’s cousin will tell you that both men speak in simple phrases, often with grammatical errors. Then, Tata will talk about nepotism present in both administrations. For Ceausescu, his wife was the vice prime minister; his son was a member of the executive political committee, and his brother was a high ranking general in the army. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s rank in the government seem to have similar derivations.
The point of this letter is to show you the perils of applied communism, so I’ll stop scaring you with the similarities between a totalitarian dictator and your future president. Hopefully, in reading that last sentence, you said to yourself, “Wait a second. The whole point of communism is a rebellion led by the proletariat and the abolition of private property, thus bringing the end of social classes. There shouldn’t be a totalitarian dictator.” However, this never happened in real life communist regimes. A single dictator would abolish private property by making it government property. Social classes were never eliminated, they were simply reformed. Communist societies had two social classes: the suffering, and those in power. Your family, including your own father, mama mare, and tata mare (your grandparents) were all in the suffering camp. There were extreme shortages and rations: supermarkets with completely empty racks except “shrimp chips,” potato skins with shrimp flavoring.
In an attempt to eat more than these chips, your father and grandparents would wait in lines two to five hours long for “tacâmuri.” Mama mare will laugh wryly as she tells you the story. “…And the meat was one little package of one kilogram and you were content; you were happy to have it, but it was bones.”
Tata will explain, “They were not selling chicken, the chicken breast was exported. All you could find was the claws. The bones of the legs and the feet of the chicken.”
Mama mare will finish, “… and we called them tacâmuri1. It sounded Japanese, so we laughed. This was our life.” She will tell you another story. In this one, she was on call as an anesthesiologist, with no time to wait in lines. She walked to a restaurant nearby and paid 70 lei ($20) for a single hard, cold strip of meat and a handful of cold french fries, her meal for the day. Her monthly salary was 1,500 lei ($375) a month.
The cousin will add, “That’s just a communist regime, that’s the problem. Ceausescu is just a form. Even if you had money, you didn’t have anything to buy with it.”
The shortages extended past meat, cooking oil (1 liter per household per month), and sugar (1 kg per person per month), to necessities like running water and electricity.
Mama mare will say, “At any moment, we would have no gas, no light, no elevator, we go on the stairs with a candle or lantern, if we had. And we couldn’t cook a piece of meat, couldn’t make tea, nothing. Once a day, we took the bath in the same basin, [my husband] and me, in the same water because we had to catch it while it was there.”
Tata will recall having to study for University by candlelight. At the time, his cousin was a freshman university student and wanted to visit West Germany. He was taken aside by 2 Securitate officers (secret police) and beaten bloody, and told he would be beaten up again if he persisted with his application. A visit to West Germany could instill radical ideas in him, including thoughts of democracy. You can criticize your government all you want, but you must at least acknowledge that your right to do so is not a ubiquitous privilege. There is no secret police force in this country that took you aside for going on Marxist tangents in history class. Yes, I know that you’ll say our police force and justice system are extremely flawed. You’re not wrong, but stop trying to get me off topic.
You will ask how the regime ended. Tata will say, “[Ceausescu] got shot. ‘89, December 25th. Christmas Day. And it was another communist that shot him. And this guy pretended he was a big democrat.”
His cousin will say in Romanian, “Yeah, he was a democrat of the Russians.”
You will be rusty on your Romanian history, and your father can tell, disappointedly, by the look on your face. So, he will explain, “It was Iliescu, the guy who brought the miners, that, you know, scratched my back a little bit. Back in 1990. Didn’t I tell you about Iliescu and the miners coming in Bucharest taking the university from students? It was my 5th year at the University of Bucharest. Why? Because comrade Iliescu told them to [mockingly] ‘eliminate the golani [hooligans, rascals].’” He will laugh.
His cousin will say, “He started talking like Trump.” Your grandmother will agree. I know you’ll find this worrying. You’re right in doing so.
The event to which they were referring was the June 1990 Mineriad, and the protests that led to it. After the death of Ceausescu, the National Salvation Front was set to hold Romania’s first free elections in May. The University of Bucharest had been declared a “zone free of communism,” and university students demanded that former Communist leaders be banned from running for office. The elected president Iliescu called participants “golani.” Then, on June 13-15, the remaining participants were arrested, and Iliescu brought miners to beat up the students and occupy the square.
Your father went almost daily to the square to protest. On June 15, he went to hand in his senior thesis. A group of miners approached him, asked to see his ID, and struck him with a baseball bat on his back.
This action wasn’t secretive, like the assault on Marius, or indirect, like the various rations. This was a deliberate act of uncalled for violence toward peaceful protesters condoned by authority. The president clearly endorsed the working class over the academics and initiated class warfare. I’m not giving you any more spoilers, but read this letter again after August 11, 2017. Sometimes, there is blame on both sides. This was not one of those times.
To be honest, I don’t know myself, you, well enough to gauge your reaction to this letter. However, I needed to tell you everything I heard that one summer night because since then, I have accepted that our political and economic system is the best among evils. Let me be clear, I don’t want you to give up. I know you are enraged by the many inequities in our society. I want you to be part of their solution. I just need you to understand that such a solution does not involve radically tearing down the government and forcing the elimination of social classes. The solution is not, and never will be, communism. On that summer night in Romania, you will ask your father’s cousin, “What was the scariest part of the regime?” He will respond solemnly, “All of it.”
1 Translates literally to “cutlery”
Adina Cazacu-De Luca is a senior in high school from St. Louis, Missouri. She writes mostly creative nonfiction, and her work has been featured before in the National Scholastic Writing Award Online Galleries. She’s the editor-in-chief of her school’s literary journal, and enjoys playing the piano, reading, and watching documentaries in her free time. In the future, she hopes to pursue epidemiology.