Everything about Romania during the communism
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The series of photos is in the same time a series of discoveries of my own country. Once again home, I’m feeling like I’ve taken another step back from places I used to know by heart. Looking differently on everything, I try to understand what makes Romania, home, for me.
To sum up my thoughts about communism, I have a nice poem for you, written by Ana Blandiana in 1984, at 3 years before the revolution.
… Leaves, words, tears
Tinned Food, Cats
Trams from time to time, queues for flour
Weevils, empty bottles, speeches
Elongated images on the television
Colorado beetles, petrol
Pennants, the European Cup
Trucks with gas cylinders, familiar portraits
Newspapers, loaves of bread
Blended oil, carnations
Receptions at the airport
Bucharest salami, diet yoghurt
Gypsy women with Kents, Crevedia Eggs
The Saturday serial, coffee substitutes
The struggle of nations for peace, choirs
Production by the hectare
Gerovital, the Victoriei Avenue Mob
The Hymn of Romania, Adidas shoes
Bulgarian stewed fruit, jokes, sea fish
‘Totul’ (Everything) is a list of things which either existed or didn’t exist in Romania at the time and was therefore immediately familar to Romanians – the poor conditions, meagre food, and the symbols of the personality cult of Ceausescu.
A few comments on the ‘list’ from here:
‘Totul’ = ‘Everything’, a word used constantly by Ceausescu in his speeches, stressing that everything has been done by the party, that the people owe him everything.
There was no shortage of words, leaves or tears
The shelves of the supermarkets were bare, all that was left were tins of food
Cats – there was a rumour that an alley cat attacked and injured Ceausescu’s beloved dogs when he went to survey the site for his Centru Civic –
he ordered it to be caught and destroyed but it was impossible; « only a cat may look at a king »
Trams … only from time to time and then they were always full!
Queues for flour … and for everything else: bread, oil. meat, petrol, eggs, sugar … etc
Weevils – in the flour, the pasta, etc
Empty bottles – stock-piled for deposits, to bottle your own fruit etc, or when going out for oil etc
Speeches: no shortage of hot air from the conducator, he was known for his endless, monotonous speeches
Elongated images – TV reception was very poor and the pictures distorted
Colorado beetles: the scourge of potato crops, but there was nothing to combat them with
Petrol: produced from Romanian oil-fields but mainly for export; strictly rationed and very expensive for the home market
Pennants: hanging everywhere for local footballl clubs, gymnastic teams, and of course waved for the Conducator
European Cup: the nation was obsessed with football – sport was not political
Gas cylinders: refers to the trucks loaded with cylinders of butane gas for domestic cooking use since mains gas was not readily available, even in Bucharest;
these were also in short supply so excited crowds awaited the arrival of the truck
Familiar portraits: everywhere you looked there were portraits of Ceausescu – Big Brother was watching!
Export-reject apples: despite having been the bread basket of Eastern Europe, all food of decent quality was exported for hard currency
Newspapers: the skimpy party daily – ‘Scinteia’ had few used other than as toilet or wrapping paper
Bread: rationed, a delivery would always create a queue
Blended oil: a euphemism for adulterated cooking oil; and that wasn’t all – even flour was reputedly bulked up with sawdust
Carnations: no shortage
Receptions at the Airport: Ceausescu liked to make a fuss of guests with an entourage from the airport through streets lined with cheering people
and flag waving schoolchildren
Cico: a sweet beverage of indescribable flavour, a poor substitute for Coca-Cola!
Bucharest Salami: a very pale, disgusting substance made to a recipe given the seal of approval of the Conducator; said to contain the offal, fat
and bonemeal of various animals. The high quality Sibiu salami was strictly for export only.
Diet Yoghurt: healthy food was completely unobtainable
Gypsy women with Kents: Kent cigarettes were the second currency in Romania in the 1980s, especially on the Black Market;
the gypsies were thought to be behind the smuggling rackets. Kents were an incredible status symbol and even empty packets would often decorate the sideboard!
Crevedia eggs: considered the best and always likely to attract the longest queues
Rumours: in a world of dis-information and brain-washing rumours were rife
Saturday serial: the most populat TV programme – often important serials such as Dallas or Kojak; not to be missed when the remainder
of the very limited programme was dedicatEd to Ceausescu speeches and patriotic folk music.
Coffee substitute: blends of chicory or acorns; real coffee was rare outside restaurants for western visitors or hard currency shops;
a couple of bags of coffee beans were equivalent to a months salary on the Black Market
Peace: Ceausescu’s constant call for peace and nuclear disarmament were used to woo the West: in particlular the US
who granted Romania ‘Most favoured Nation’ status for its apparent anti-soviet stance
Choirs: also folk ensembles, the other main interest on the limited TV programme
Production figures: everywhere you went there were tables and graphs of grossly exaggerated production figures
Gerovital: the famous anti-ageing treatment, exported for hard-currency
The Victoriei Avenue Mob: Ceausescu’s elite Securitate entrusted with guarding the route along the Calea Victoriei to the Central Committee Buildings;
assumed to have been hand-picked orphans who were totally loyal – these were responsible for the continued resistance following the 1989 Revolution
Hymn of Romania: a much-publicised music festival to praise the leader and provide a focus for patriotic nationalism!
Adidas: a status symbol from the designer-label conscious West demanding high prices on the Black Market
Bulgarian Stewed Fruit: something else that appeared in all the shops during 1984, having been dumped on the market
Jokes: despite the hardships the Romanian were (and still are) very humourous; jokes about the system were commonplace
Sea Fish: usually sardines from China or Vietnam, promoted as nutritious but usually delivered as a semi frozen, semi rotten grey mess to town food stores