The youth of post-socialist Romania

Ellis Garvey writes about the history and collapse of Romania’s people’s democracy alongside its ruins that the nation’s youth of today live amongst

Ellis Garvey, is a member of the YCL’s Manchester district

Romania, the poster child of the success of the advance of the liberal counter-revolutions of 1989. Before us, we see the epic failure of the introduction of liberal-‘democracy’ to Romania following the notorious counter-revolution of 1989 which saw the purging and scapegoating of all the nation’s problems on Marxism-Leninism (i.e., socialism) and the Romanian Communist Party in particular as an entity.

Introduction:

Hello, my name is Ellis Garvey, I have authored a series of articles which will focus on the history of socialism, primarily looking at the People’s Democracies. I have chosen this because as one reads Marx and Lenin, during their day, they had the Paris Commune which was a revolutionary dictatorship of the Proletariat formed on the 18 March 1871 following the unbearable conditions imposed on the workers of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. The commune would have a profound effect on Vladimir Lenin who would use it to present the need of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the ways in which we could learn from it for the future. In Lenin’s case studying the lessons of the commune Lenin had brought Marxism to a new epoch. Lenin not only how to fight for a revolution but how to defend a revolution and how to lead the working-class to socialism through learning of the successes and mistakes or assertions made. The experience of fighting for the proletarian dictatorship through the theory of revolutionary dialectics would become known as Marxism-Leninism and would go on to shape the politics of the whole globe. 

Following the great victory of the Partisans in the national struggle against fascist dictatorship, and they would refuse to go back to the time which brought the working-class such fear and hardship. In studying Marxism-Leninism, they found that the only answer to liberate the working class would be a dictatorship of the proletariat, having now won the worker-peasant alliance, to respond to their conditions and try to build socialism they would go on to set up people’s democracies in their respective countries as a basis for a transition to socialism. 

These republics varied in how they operated, which the western media has always attempted to tarnish them all as ‘satellite states’ that where all homogenous and totally subservient in every way to the USSR, nothing could be further from the truth. Each of these democracies had made great achievements which I shall over in this series in spite of everything, the constant attack from western imperialism, internal intrigue and the errors made, all of them had achieved gigantic improvements in the development of the social, economic, and political sphere. 

So alike the Paris Commune, these states which had achieved socialism and a dictatorship of the Proletariat, we must study. We must ask the peoples of these former peoples democracies just what it was like and show our solidarity with their struggle against the forced interdependence and neoliberal capitalism which was forced onto them. But also, we must ask what mistakes where made and what we can learn going forward in defending the legacy and the revolutionary theory of Marxism-Leninism. 

I hope comrades and those interested in learning our history and experiences will read this series keen to learn about the experiences of the people’s democracies.

Context: 

Ironically, it was early 1989 which saw Socialist Republic of Romania ban further foreign loans having paid off the crippling debt imposed on it by foreign banks forcing it to adopt a harsh austerity policy which saw increased rationing. With these debts now repaid, Romania could’ve now rediverted much-needed resources to increasing the standards of living.

Indeed, mistakes had been made earlier in following the double-edged austerity policy alienating the working class. Other mistakes included misjudging the power of western imperialism by giving western concessions early on which caused Romania the problems which resulted in the later loans. Marxist-Leninist critiques of this line were discouraged as the line pushed by the central committee led by Ceausescu (President and General Secretary, in the west was referred to as a ‘maverick’ for his initial strong support of independent détente earlier from the USSR) hoped to achieve a semi-non-aligned strictly sovereigntist state using any means possible. This line often put Romania at odds with the rest of the socialist world and as a result, damaged the economic potential of the socialist camp. Another key issue stemming from the austerity policy was corruption and abuses of power becoming much more noticeable, certain party members lived in extravagance whilst the average Romanian had to live under an austerity policy to repay loans.

The events leading up to the 1989 counter-revolution saw an increase in racist activities by pro-US groups, and one event of this, in particular, would spark the collapse. As CIA activities intensified a far-right hate preacher László Tőkés (later to be an apotheosis of the right-wing pro-Europeans in the European Parliament) would be arrested for inciting racial hatred which resulted in a right-wing demonstration. In typical liberal fashion, the media exaggerated reports of thousands of deaths in mass graves.

The only problem with this however was there were no mass graves, and the death toll was nowhere near the thousands hitting only around between 69 – 147 as admitted later by hard Europhilic France24 amongst other sources. Instead, some of the resulting deaths were a result of the persecutions the opposition directed against Communist Party Headquarters raided by the rioters and attacks against people suspected to be pro-communist. All of this became much to bear for the socialist government. The propaganda spread by western secret services and their allies started to amplify the entire issue, in doing so attempt to rally the people to prepare for a coup that could turn things in their favour.

Soon after there would be a coup d’état following a series of huge riots, this was predicted by CIA in reports only a few years earlier on their conclusion of how to achieve regime change by strategic funding to opposition groups. Thus, without the assistance and the weakening position of the USSR abandoning its support of socialist states, refused to show solidarity with its former Communist Party comrades internationally. As a result, a capitalist regime takeover supported by the military and anti-communists known as the National Salvation Front, led by the Iago-like Ion Iliescu due to his use of ‘convincing’ socialists that they were preserving socialism whilst performing mass privatisation, preparing to inevitably join NATO and the EU. The US embassy would thereby send a delegation to ‘advise’ the new government on how to conduct its privatisation and how in their view the government should operate. Using this there was a new generation of politicians, therefore tying Romania nearly totally to the US.

So, what was the result of this counter-revolution?

Economically, the selling off of all state enterprises to US and EU capitalists, and, for the youth this was devastating as the state could no longer provide the funds necessary to keep up the welfare system. Furthermore, with the removal of price controls, food prices skyrocketed as inflation soared by 300% and the majority of people lived on less than $160 a month as unemployment started to massively increase. Industries such as Dacia were sold to Renault for example which removed many of its factories from Romania outsourcing and in doing so prevented the Romanian treasury (and working-class) from reaping the benefits of state-owned industry.

Alike in other ex-socialist countries pyramid schemes flourished that centralised the vast wealth of the country into a minority of foreign investors and ruthless capitalists, one such of these schemes cost families a total of $1 billion USD. Effectively as a result of all these policies imposed on them has turned Romania into the US and the EU’s most reliable and most brutalised neocolony.

Today precarious work contracts dominate the working class that do not provide enough for even some of the most basic of needs. The precariousness of labour and opportunities has bred a whole new thriving underworld to Romania. New problems such as prostitution and corruption run rampant causing an increase in trafficking of all kinds of criminal activity which the government-liberals are seeking to legitimise. With housing bought up by a minority of landlords and these brutal contracts has caused a total of 3.5 million people to leave Romania (which represents 1/5 of Romania’s labour force) entirely resulting in one of the largest population drains in European history.

A harsh anti-communist campaign has also made it almost impossible to come out as supportive of any socialist policy or provide any criticism towards the events of 1989. Racism has only worsened as the former safety nets that once protected Romania’s many minority communities have been overturned and the central government becomes more chauvinistic to what it considers ‘authentic’. There have also been campaigns to rehabilitate the pro-fascist anti-communist movement legitimising the activity of the far-right groups in the country creating two poles in Romanian ‘democracy’ between the far-right and neoliberals, excluding any communist opposition.

Condemning the former socialist period as corrupt has become ironic as Romanian capitalists and their politicians live in much more extravagance. Corruption through politicians being offered jobs and aid by big European and US multinationals has created a ‘legal’ corruption that could have been cracked down upon under socialism but now is considered completely acceptable by the establishment powers in place. Many Romanians consequently feel completely isolated with 61% in a recent poll stating that life was better under socialism.

The interview:

The unheard voices of the youth of former socialist countries are never heard by the right-wing and liberal press alike, I have interviewed Andreea Stanescu, a Romanian born in 2000, a whole 11 years following the counter-revolution. Hence my interview will focus on the effect and memory of the counter-revolution, the problems leading up to it, and then the problems caused by it. The interview will then end on the situation now and the experiences of the atrocious neoliberal system in place Sage has had to deal with. 

Ellis Garvey: Hello Andreea, it is a pleasure to interview you and ask you questions on this matter.

Andreea: Hello Ellis, it is a pleasure to speak to you and shed some light on this topic.

Ellis Garvey: So, in your opinion looking back on it what do you, and your family, remember when viewing the socialist period of your country? 

Andreea: The latter half of the communist period in Romania is viewed with a lot of criticism, but also with a lot of nostalgia, especially when considering the situation that the introduction of neo-liberal capitalism has left Romania in today. Of course, I wasn’t born during communism, and my mum was around 10 when it fell, but we can see the effects of both communism and the failed introduction of capitalism, both when I was growing up as well as today. My mum went on to work as a waitress on a cruise ship in America just for me and my family to have a bit of money. We weren’t under the poverty line, we still had our house given to us during communism, but we weren’t doing good for money. And that’s a good point to make, I think, if it weren’t for the houses we had during socialist Romania, many of us would be homeless today, but now we only need to pay bills and fees. Anyway, I’m rambling. The socialist period is viewed as positive by many people above the age of 30-40, there was plenty of jobs, free housing, free education; there was less stress, especially at the start of communist Romania. Many people have many different reasons as to why it was better, but they are also critical of it. But more on that in a second.

Ellis Garvey: Does anything stand out that you would say caused an issue leading up to the events of 1989? Both internal and external problems faced? Is there any direction of blame specifically?

Andreea: I will always say the blame lies on the two sides, but mainly on the side of the west for entrapping Romania to begin with. Due to Romania being on the Nazis’ side in WWII under the German monarchy, the Soviet Union imposed reparations on us, and although Romanian economy improved (our industrial output rising by 650% since 1950), Romania was designed as an agricultural state by the USSR. All of these things strained the relations with the Soviet Union for sure. In the 70s, Ceausescu kept becoming more and more allied with western imperialism, specifically US imperialism, recognising West Germany and Israel, and there is no denial Ceausescu was a Zionist. Of course, the CIA was planning a coup from long before, playing on the people’s racism and their faith – even today communism is hated because it tried to crack down on the bourgeoisie power of the Orthodox Church. Ceausescu joined imperialist agreements such as taking loans from the IMF and World Bank which had high interest tariffs, so they were hard to pay back. The main thing was the rationing of food, electricity, heat, etc. and of course something you always hear about are the long queues. But people must understand that this was an effect of poverty and western intervention, not communism. Eastern European nations never went out to participate in capitalism, colonialism, the slave trade, etc. like the Western nations did, so we never had the riches they had stolen through exploitation of the Global South. After toppling the bourgeoisie monarchies, the communists had to make do with what they had. Ceausescu’s fault was being too nationalistic, thinking of only his country and himself instead of the fate of communism. 

Ellis Garvey: What are your thoughts when looking at the events of 1989? 

Andreea: The coup d’état was planned from way ahead of time. CIA and US government-backed religious fanatics and racist far-right protestors were inserted close to the time of the collapse.  Towards the end, because of the debts and austerity measures as you mentioned, people did go cold and hungry, and the western powers assured they would be by refusing anything but agricultural products from Romania. All of these elements coupled together result in a nation sick and tired of any promise Ceausescu would have made at improving standards of living. Shiny new capitalistic toys were waved in their faces – western products sometimes made their way in illegally from different countries – and the people were ready to take it in their own hands to achieve that good ol’ American freedom – but as we know, the American dream never came. Only more poverty, more corruption and a whole lot more homelessness and unemployment, which is why Romanians migrated to other countries, including the US, where they assimilate into full American whiteness and capitalism, forgetting all about their language, culture and family back home. 

Ellis Garvey: By and large, has much changed since that time and the events following? How have things worsened since then?

Andreea: Much has changed indeed, for the worse. As I said, the American dream never came, but the nightmare did. My uncle makes about €250 per month if not less, and it’s funny because when westerners come to my country, they say “oh wow! this is so cheap!”. Yes, it is cheap for you. You can actually afford to live. Most Romanians cannot. Costs, especially of food, continue rising despite 85% of all Romanian work contracts paying less than the minimum needed to survive, forcing many of us to migrate to other countries, including Italy, the UK, France and others where Romanians face discrimination for being poor, low-skilled workers which is, ironically, the western powers’ fault in the first place. Our healthcare system is also close to collapsing, especially now with coronavirus. Hospitals and organisations have resorted to calling relatives of deceased patients and asking if they can put down the death cause as COVID-19 because the EU gives them money if they say so. Bribing your GP or doctor is not unheard of either, my family did it too, with gifts. If you don’t, you’re risking being left untreated, or sometimes even left to die, if you’re old. Hospital heads are a lot of the time appointed by the government itself, so the corruption flows in the healthcare industry too. 

The worst thing, by far, is that Romanians, especially my generation (people in their early 20s), still think that “we are controlled by the communists” when they are actually neo-liberals and fascists. Corruption abounds, no matter which party is in power, but especially under the Social Democrat Party (PSD in Romanian). They have tried to pass laws which would free corrupt politicians from prison, as well as sex offenders and paedophiles, many Romanian mayors and MP’s today having had accusations of molestation, rape, sexual abuse, the list goes on. The people revolted a few summers ago, mostly protesting peacefully in huge numbers, but they were quickly pacified by the government’s brutal use of tear gas, water tanks, and extreme police violence.

Ellis Garvey: As we get to the 2000s do you feel like there is a loss in your childhood? Something that could have been different had there been the socialist system still in place?

Andreea: Because my mum worked abroad, she’d send us money and she’d always have gifts like toys and clothes to bring back from America, but if she hadn’t we would have likely been way worse off, and my family’s situation was already quite bad. I remember a Christmas where I received no gift from my family because there was simply no money other than for food and bills. Other than that my childhood was average, playing with the kids in the neighbourhood and my classmates and such, which isn’t so popular here in the UK, where kids tend to want to stay at home and play video games all day and not meet any friends outside of school, or so I’ve noticed.

I’ve experienced Romania’s healthcare system at its worst, being internalised in a hospital in 2010 for pneumonia, where I stayed for 9 days. The nurses would scream at sick children, they’d serve you this cold vinegar of a soup, and the unsanitary conditions of the toilets would shock you. I had a shower there once and the wall was so absolutely covered in moths where you couldn’t see the wall anymore. And that was meant to be one of Romania’s best hospitals, so make of that what you will… But today the government is quite happy to allocate millions to the Church instead of important healthcare and education. 

If there was a socialist system in place today, I am sure me and many others would have benefitted from it. I am sure most people wouldn’t have left or even wanted to leave Romania to go to other countries in search of a better future which then reveals itself to be even worse sometimes. 

Ellis Garvey: Is this a commonly held belief?

Andreea: No. Most of my friends would probably disagree, but most of them don’t know about communism and what brought about its collapse, as it is not taught in school. There are less communists in Romania nowadays, though I have recently connected with a few communists similar to my age. Older people for sure would tell you it would be better, and I agree. 

Ellis Garvey: In regard to opportunities what are your personal experiences with Romania? What are your memories and feelings in regard to this? 

Andreea: I left Romania 6 years ago when I was about 13-14. Because I started school a year later than normal, I had just finished Grade 6 and when I came to the UK I started year 9. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew I really liked English, so I spent hours and days teaching myself, and I let some of my other grades slip. Romania rewards the very well-endowed academically, sending kids to national Olympiads for maths, sciences, etc. Not much reward for the arts as a job, but definitely as a hobby – Romanians love to participate in extracurricular classes for classical music, theatre and so on. Sports and athletics are also important to many, especially football, basketball, gymnastics, etc. In my experience of middle school, many teachers can be bullies and I have many horror stories. A lot of them psychologically abuse you, and some still use physical force against you. There is no proper national curriculum in middle school, so teachers can teach you whatever they want on that specific day. You also get graded 1-10 in ‘behaviour’ so if you complain, they are able to grade you on that and destroy your academic life for something bad you said when you were 11. By the time you finish high school, you might end up disillusioned and many go on to work low-paid jobs. It’s probably easier to get a job in hospitality and retail than a professional one, which are more competitive. 

Ellis Garvey: What do you think of the current situation in Romania? How does it feel looking at what has happened to your country to what is happening now in regard to the economy, the society and the political system?

Andreea: I’m not sure if I have any more hope for Romania. Young people have been polarised, either submitting to internet edge-lord conservatism or western liberalism, and we have all long lost our desire for change. If you ask a Romanian about the current situation they’ll probably sigh and say “can’t do anything about it”. The only good thing that has come out of westernisation is that now people are becoming more accepting and even supportive of LGBT people and they are becoming more open minded, and definitely less religious than they were when I left.

Ellis Garvey: Thank you for expressing your views on this subject this was a very productive and thought-provoking interview, any last comments you would like to give?

Andreea: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on this issue. I’d like to keep the fight for socialism alive, even from here. If you’re a Romanian or a sceptic reading this, please take the time to look into the history, and don’t believe western propaganda. Do your own research. 

Ellis Garvey

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