Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reality tempers joy of Romania's 1989

As a boy I wept for joy when communism ended. But the din of freedom in a plundered nation has drowned out my dreams

Lucian Dan Teodorovici

Tuesday 10 November 2009

For me, the morning of 22 December 1989 went something like this: I had been at my grandmother's for the last two days, in a village in northern Romania; I was 15 years old and it would be the 15th Christmas I spent there. But that day was to be different from any of the other 14 days of the Christmas holiday. In the days before, Radio Free Europe had kept us informed of events in first Timişoara then Bucharest. On that day, we trembled when the same radio station broadcast despairing voices shouting, "Go on, shoot us – we don't care any more!" And then we heard gunfire.

That was how I spent the morning. Listening to the revolution. Trembling. I couldn't listen to the radio any more. I was sweeping the yard when I heard shouts coming from the road. I dropped the broom, but from instinct I didn't run out into the street. Instead, I ran into the house to listen to the radio. On the official station this time, I heard the news. "Ceauşescu has fled!" For me, this was how the other life, the life after communism, began: I flung myself on the bed and started to sob. It was the first and last time in my life that I wept for joy. At the time, I didn't know that it was possible to weep from too much joy.

Twenty years later, I no longer believe even myself when I tell someone who didn't live through those times that they were terrible. I don't believe myself because I can no longer remember, in any profound way, the water rationing (there used to be no running water in the blocks of flats for even up to two weeks at a time), or the power cuts (I remember a whole month without electricity, plus the hundreds of other shorter outages, when I used to have to do my homework by candlelight), or the endless queues for basic necessities such as bread or milk, not to mention meat. In fact, I'm mistaken – I do remember them, but I no longer feel them. The mind has not forgotten them, but the spirit has, which is a good thing.

I know that my joy on that day was a childish joy. My expectations were of a perfect world without communism. But since then I learned that there are no perfect worlds. There is a better world, but it is not built on joy alone. Present-day Romania is stalked by the vengeful ghost of the past: the arrivistes of the former regime have, perversely, gone on to even bigger and more glorious things. Something is rotten in the state of Romania, and it is enough merely to examine the past of today's politicians to know why.

The communists invented capitalism in Romania. From the shadows, from their seats in parliament, from the supra-political level, Romania's new rich have seized power. Romania's new rich don't have the pedigree of the European old rich. They don't have any tradition behind them. They don't possess what might be called the cultured manners of wealth. They have enriched themselves overnight, by shady means. Their craving to amass wealth has become destructive for all the rest. They no longer even feign to care. They quite simply lay waste to everything in their path.

I've got nothing against genuine capitalists. What I said above might seem left wing, but ultimately it is not. I'm not left wing, but what makes me bitter is something I had no way of foreseeing on 22 December 1989: the fact that the communists who mutated into capitalists have stolen from Romania any chances of real democratic evolution. There are two Romanias. There is the Romania in which we all live under the illusion that we enjoy the same democracy, freedom, values and upstanding press as Europeans or Americans. Then there is the other, subterranean Romania. This is the Romania that was confiscated by those who held power from 1947 to 1989 and their descendents. This is, alas, the real Romania. It rests not on illusions but on concrete facts that erupt as political and economic chaos, and bitter disappointment for ordinary people.

Twenty years later, I'm glad that there was a revolution. I'm glad that the direct dictatorship that blighted us all is gone. But I have no reasons to be glad when I compare today's Romania not with the Romania of 1989 but with countries that have a long democratic tradition. I have no reasons to be glad when I see how Romania has been plundered by economic and political cliques, thereby preventing the emergence of any genuine middle class.

I have no reasons to be glad when I understand that those who have seized power have no interest in creating any tradition of civilised behaviour and respect. Hence, I have no reasons to be glad when, because of Romanians migrants devoid of this civilised behaviour and respect (I refer to only a very few among the greater mass of Romanian workers in the west), I am humiliated in my turn and viewed with suspicion when I visit other European countries. And this for the mere fact of being a Romanian, even if I myself have pretensions to civilised behaviour and respect.

Romania has changed for the better. If I were able to go back in time, however, and talk to the child I was in 1989, to the child sobbing for joy on the bed, I would tell him not to exaggerate. To stop sobbing. To be happy that the hell has passed. But not to think about any paradise. Because there is no paradise where the devils and the angels walk arm in arm. And let him be content merely with this. The rest is by no means silence, but rather a terrible din. This din is, in truth, the result of freedom, but it also drowns out your ideals and dreams.

This is Romania today. Maybe after another 20 years things will be different. And this is the great difference compared with the period up to 1989. Now at least we have the right to hope, even if this hope lies somewhere far in the future.
Translated into English by Alistair Ian Blyth

No comments: