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1980 – Thirty Years ago – Romania’s Communist Christmas

December 22nd, 2010 · 1 Comment · OPINION, PEOPLE, Poetry, quotations

1980 – Thirty Years ago – Romania’s Communist Christmas

Social, Economic and Political Background:

During such an epic leadership of the scholarly personage, which was embodied by Elena Ceausescu – the Woman Creator-Symbol, beside her husband-hero Nicolae Ceausescu, there was no question of any other Romanian woman being allowed any creative exercise, except in reproductive terms.

Bucharest Historic Downtown bulldozed by Ceausescu 1980s

As if such inhumane policies were not enough Romanians under Ceausescu suffered the constant threat of being evicted from their homes, in the drive of modernising the country, with scores of city centres being razed to the ground, and the historic architecture vanishing with it,

16th c Monastery in the heart of Bucharest being bulldozed by Ceausescu to make room for his Pharaih delusions of grandeur

in order to make room for prefabricated Stalinist-style  blocs of flats. People were given 72 hours to clear their belongings and move into modern chicken coops: they abandoned their furniture and pets in the streets (hence the errand dogs of Bucharest, that have become proverbial).

Proverbial stray dogs of Bucharest - descendants of abandoned pets during Communism

To add to this unseeming social nightmare, intended to cower the people into utter submission, and steal their memory and their pride, during the early 1980’s, Ceausescu decided that all foreign debt, incurred over an unreasonable industrialisation, should be repaid, for which most agricultural products were exported; Romanians were left without basic foodstuff and miles-long queues were formed in front of state-owned co-ops, lining for hours on end, in the hope that something to eat would be provided: there was no meat, no fish, no eggs, no vegetables –only some rotten potatoes, occasionally, not fit to feed the pigs and on a good day one may find some chicken claws, with which one could make some broth with (q.v. Eugenia Velescu):

Potatoes:

“I got up early, at the crack of dawn, to secure a place, by 6 AM, in an interminable queue, in the hope of buying milk and eggs for our silver wedding anniversary, but I came home empty handed. That afternoon I went again on an errand to see if I could buy anything for our dinner at our local market place. This was an open air market where peasants with a tiny plot of land could bring their vegetables. These were a luxury as they were so expensive, so I thought I had a better chance of finding something. The stalls made of wooden planks on struts were absolutely empty and in the fine rain they looked desolate and dirty. I scanned the stalls, as the last peasants were about to leave, for their villages, outside Bucharest. It was winter time and dark was falling early in the day. As I was about to give up, looking down, carefully to avoid the pot holes full of rain water, I just noticed a few potatoes which fell on the ground, under the stall, so I asked the peasant if I could pick them up. As I knelt on the ground, with difficulty, at my old age, because of my arthritis, I put them in my plastic bag and asked how much he wanted. He did not want to receive any money, in deference to my old age. I must have looked pityfull and exhausted. I hurried home with just an empty bag with three potatoes covered in mud. As I entered our block of flats I met this young neighbor of mine, who exclaimed in surprise: madame, she said, ‘where have you found these potatoes, because I looked the whole day and found none… and I have a young baby at home who has nothing to eat. I am desperate.’ So, I handed over to her the  three potatoes, which were visible through the plastic bag and came home with nothing: but was glad to have done a good deed.” (Jenny, personal communication, 1981)

The whole despair of hunger is summed up in an open letter sent by the women of Romania to Elena Ceausescu, in 1980 (q.v. Hunger, Potatoes), which was published in the West.

Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu's Cult of Personality

Hunger (Open letter to Elena Ceausescu):

“Mrs. Ceausesscu,

We are a group of Romanian women from across twelve different Counties of this very Land that you and your husband, aided by your family, are leading, with these smiling, well-groomed faces – judging at least from  your ubiquitous  portraits displayed everywhere, in offices, factories, and streets – whilst the population suffers from malnutrition, being deprived of basic foodstuff.

You allowed yourself to say on TV that Romanians are fat and that they eat too much. As if the lack of food would make one fat! Indeed, it may be that the very lack of food that makes one fat as we are without even the most basic foodstuff such as potatoes, onions, dry beans, not mentioning green vegetables.”

(……………………………………………………………………………….)

“Since 1980 one could scarcely find anywhere any potatoes on sale in the state-owned shops and if, by chance, one finds any one could hardly eat three or four good potatoes out of four kilograms, as the rest are unedible, being so bitter.”

(……………………………………………………………………………)

“Where is our agricultural produce, dear “First Lady of the country”? We would dearly love to know it, from yourself, in your capacity of communist woman, wife and mother, where is our foodstuff? Where on earth could one find cheese, margerine, butter, cooking oil, the meat which one needs to feed the folk of this country?

By now, you should know, Mrs. Ceausescu, that after so many exhausting hours of travail in factories and on building sites we are still expected to rush about like mad, hours on end, in search of food to give our husbands, children and grandchildren something to eat.

You should know that we may find nothing to buy in the state-owned food shops, sometimes for days or weeks on end. And finally if one is lucky to find something, as we must stand in endless queues, which in the end  would put paid to all desire to eat and even to be alive! Sometimes we would even feel like dying, not being able to face the suffering, the utter misery and injustice that is perpetrated on this country.”

{Translated from French, text quoted in the special Issue nr. 20, Summer of 1981 under the title  ‘Roumanie, Crise et Repression, 1977 – 1980’’, in the Periodical  ‘L’Alternative – pour les Droits et les L ibertés Démocratiques en Europe de l’Est’, pp. 97, Paris, 1982)

The Romanians known for their defiant spirit which allows them to laugh during grief, as a means of ultimate catharsis (a face haz de necaz) could at least show a bitter smile, when hearing the Romanian gypsy children performing the parody of a Christmas Carol, in 1980, nine years before the tyrant and his wife were put down, on Christmas Day:

CHRISTMAS CAROL

Christmas Carol - Romania

(A   Parody sung by Romanian Gypsy children)

Father Christmas we do beg

Bring us butter, bring us egg.

If you ever come on foot

Bring some cabbage, or beetroot

If your bag is large enough

Add some maize and garlic cloves.

Christmas Father don’t miss either

The potatoes and the flour.

Should you come, though, in a sleigh

Don’t forget for the New Year

Toilet paper that’s so sparse,

To wipe at least our arse.”

(Translated by Constantin Roman, from the French version published in the magazine “L’Alternative” (Paris), supplement 20, 1981, pp. 96)

Ceausescu Propaganda Poster

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