[Marxism] Nostalgia for Ceausescu
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 1 07:59:47 MST 2004
Dispatches From Romania
From: Sarah E. Richards
Subject: The Dictator's Groupie
Monday, Nov. 29, 2004, at 3:45 AM PT
BUCHAREST—Once a month, at 6:30 in the morning, Angela Boteza arrives at
the Ghencea Civil Cemetery in western Bucharest. She walks down a gravel
path to a nondescript grave, where she clears away dead leaves and
candle wax and leaves yellow gladiolas in a wine bottle with a
handwritten note: "May God forgive your evil deeds. Rest in peace. May
the earth not be heavy upon your soul." A modest granite cross bearing a
red star reveals the grave's occupant: Nicolae Ceausescu, 1918-1989. She
then she goes to the other side of the cemetery to do the same at the
graves of his wife Elena and son Nicu.
After a quick tour of her three-room apartment, Boteza ushered us to the
living room. She perched at the edge of her sofa, lit up a cigarette,
and began: Ceausescu made a good life for Romanians, but he was judged
rashly by people who wanted power and denied his rightful honor of a
proper burial in a military cemetery. So, she has appointed herself the
keeper of his legacy. She monitors the family's graves and throws out
items she feels are insulting. Recently, she's tossed a dirty flag, a
frayed Bible, and papier mache flowers.
Life was better under communism, she continued, parroting the refrain:
"There was nothing to buy, but we had money. Now, there's everything to
buy but no money." At age 52, Boteza is an unemployed accountant who
gets a temporary pension of about $50 a month, through April 2005. Her
son, who, she boasts, is a military officer, helps her out some. She
owns her own apartment, which she bought shortly after the revolution.
"I don't eat so much. I have a few cigarettes and coffee, but it's OK,"
she said, staring at me intently with big somber eyes. She was confident
that she would find another job but admitted that she's having sleep
During the 10th anniversary of the fall of communism five years ago,
much was made of Romania's lack of celebration. Polls showed that four
out of five Romanians were unhappy with the way they lived, and 61
percent said they would be better off under Ceausescu. Such amnesiac
musings ignored the nightmares of the Stalinist dictator: the rations,
the torture of anyone who opposed the regime, the deadly winters when
the energy sector collapsed, the razing of villages and historical
Bucharest to make way for his projects, including the so-called House of
the People. His megalomaniacal monument, which is the second-largest
building in the world after the Pentagon, was built while the people
suffered austerity measures to pay off a $10 billion foreign debt at one
Now the nostalgia is tempered. "Yes, it was better under communism. You
had a job, a house, a car," said 20-year-old university student George
Pascaru. "But you could not have your own thoughts."
But such talk makes few feel better about the giant elephant making its
way east. Romania, a country of 23 million, is lumbering toward entry
into the European Union in 2007. Despite robust economic growth and low
inflation, corruption is rampant, and the average Romanian makes
slightly more than $2,100 a year, or just 30 percent of the EU average
in purchasing power.
The shiny Bucharest Mall, which opened five years ago and includes a
Marks & Spencer department store, a Ruby Tuesday restaurant, and a
10-screen movie theater, is eerily empty. New cars occasionally zip down
the highways, but diesel-spewing Dacias still dominate. For every new
building, there are miles of crumbling, Soviet-era apartment blocks. Add
some bitter, chain-smoking locals; street children; and packs of mangy
stray dogs that seem to roam every city, and you get the feeling the
country isn't going anywhere soon.
The mention of the European Union is met with cynical laughs. People
tell how Hungarians have been forced to raid Romanian grocery stores
because they were priced out of their own when their country joined the
union this spring. There are rumors that EU regulations will force
polluting old cars off the road, and drivers won't be able to buy new
ones. And how will people buy houses?
"[President Ion] Iliescu said he will make Romania a rich country, but I
just don't see it happening," Boteza said, lighting another cigarette.
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