- 45.5% of respondents believe Communism was a good thing for Romania
- 44.7% believe Communism was bad for Romania
The majority of people (44.4%) believe that living standards were better under Communism, while only 33.6% believe life was worse under Communism. People who are nostalgic about Communism generally tend to be older (above 50 years of age) and less educated. Coincidentally, the region that feels the least nostalgic about Communism is the region where the anti-Communist revolution of December 1989 started: the Western Banat region (Timișoara is the main city in this region, and also the place where the anti-Communist movement started).
The results should not be surprising to anyone, given that the grave of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in Bucharest has become a place of pilgrimage for the nostalgic, and his birth place in Scornicesti has been turned into a national museum.
I will attempt to provide a few simple explanations for the current situation:
- The Capitalist regime, with its free-will principle, is making Romanians very anxious. In Communism, your life as a citizen of the republic would be laid out for you by the Party: someone else took the major decisions for you. What you studied, where you worked, where you lived, and even what you could watch on TV, read or buy were all decided by the Party. For some people, this is the equivalent of pure bliss, as they do not have to make any important decisions in their lives.
- What followed after Communism in Romania was not Capitalism, but a long period of transition, with many economic, political and social disillusions, and a lot of instability. It can be argued that this is still the case today.
- People’s memory is short and subjective. Many do not remember the years of hardship (particularly the 80s), or tend to remember only certain (happy) moments.
- Romanians, as a nation, do not value entrepreneurship, free thinking, and initiative, because they have lived for centuries under various foreign rulers, where they were forced to adapt to the circumstances. You can see it today, by listening to how the media or the people typically refer to entrepreneurs. (we use the somewhat pejorative term of “patron” to describe an entrepreneur, which suggests between the lines that the person is exploiting the workers).
America’s Love-Hate Relationship with Dictators: How Ceausescu Became the Western Bloc’s Favorite Maverick
One may think that the Cold War meant a complete communication break-down between the East and the West. However, things during Communism were never just black or white. Relationships between the two “Blocs” were mainly influenced by the balance of power on each side, and by the opportunities of the moment. To safeguard their strategic interests, the United States of America often embraced diplomatic relationships with dictatorships that would otherwise be incompatible with the democratic values they are typically preaching. Such was the case with Romania, which was led at the moment by the Ceausescu couple. And so was the case later, when the American government became close friends with the Saddam regime in Iraq, or backed up the Afghan Talibans led by Osama bin Laden in the war against the Soviets.
Before becoming one of the most repressive Communist leaders in Eastern Europe, Nicolae Ceausescu enjoyed his popularity as one of the “friends” of the Western Bloc. It all began when − soon after climbing into power as the General Secretary of the Communist Party and the de facto leader of Romania − he took a stance against the Soviets by condemning their invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Here is Ceausescu’s public speech where he denounced the Soviet invasion (with partial English subtitles):
From this moment on, it was pretty clear to the Western Bloc that the Soviet Union finally had a contender from within. Yugoslavia’s President Josip Broz Tito followed the same path as Ceausescu, declaring his country independent from any Soviet influence. As a result, Ceausescu managed to maintain close relationships with both the East and the West during his regime. Romania was one of the few Communist countries (alongside China and Yugoslavia) which took part in the Summer Olympics of 1984 organized in Los Angeles.
People from Ceausescu’s entourage believed that he secretly envied America for its modernity and the high standard of living, and that he always enjoyed himself when visiting the country. He did so on four different occasions.
Below is an excerpt from the welcome speech given by President Jimmy Carter on April 12, 1978 at the White House:
It’s also of great benefit to me as President to have a chance to consult with a national and an international leader like our guest today. Their influence as Romanian leaders throughout the international world is exceptional. Because of the strong commitments of the President and the independence of the people, Romania has been able to serve as a bridge among nations with highly divergent views and interests and among leaders who would find it difficult under some circumstances to negotiate directly with each other.
One recent notable achievement of President Ceausescu was to be instrumental in arranging the historic visit of President Sadat of Egypt to the capital of Israel in Jerusalem. Both of those countries have found in Romania an avenue of communication and understanding that’s been very valuable to them, to the Middle East, and to world peace.
There are differences, obviously, between the United States and Romania, in our political system and also in our military alliances. But the factors which bind us together are much more profound and of much greater benefit to our countries. We share common beliefs. We believe in strong national sovereignty. We believe in preserving the independence of our nations and also of our people. We believe in the importance of honoring territorial integrity throughout the world. We believe in equality among nations in bilateral dealings, one with another, and also in international councils. We believe in the right of every country to be free from interference in its own internal affairs by another country. And we believe that world peace can come—which we both devoutly hope to see—through mutual respect, even among those who have some differences between us.
Our goals are also the same, to have a just system of economics and politics, to let the people of the world share in growth, in peace, in personal freedom, and in the benefits to be derived from the proper utilization of natural resources.
We believe in enhancing human rights. We believe that we should enhance, as independent nations, the freedom of our own people. And Romania has been instrumental in pursuing the goals of the Helsinki conference, in particular, building the mutual confidence factors that can let the nations of Eastern Europe and the nations of Western Europe understand one another better and build up legitimate trust through that understanding.
Ceausescu’s itinerary in the United States often included visits to local businesses, research or academic institutions. Below is a photo of him visiting the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, where he is guiding a Moon exploration vehicle with the help of astronaut John Young.
The relationships between the Ceausescu family and the American leaders started deteriorating in the early 80’s, after Ion Mihai Pacepa, the head of the Romanian Espionage Service, defected to the US, and started uncovering the truth about the abuses of the regime. But more about that in a future article…