1940s to 2000s
“I prayed to God every night so that he allowed my family and I to come back to Săcueni” said Marika Néni as she recounted how her life unfolded under the Socialist Republic of Romania. It was 1964 when this family of four decided to move out of Săcueni and into a coal mining territory, in an attempt to alleviate the precarious living conditions which most people around the country were experiencing. Having returned to their place of origin after a decade, our protagonist noticed that the deterioration of Romania’s political and socio-economic landscape had escalated.
It is nearly impossible to imagine how unbearable life became during the next 25 years of dictatorship, when Nicolae Ceausescu came to power. All types of freedoms were suppressed and indoctrination reached not only television and radio programmes but also schools, with young people being educated in that the honourable leader was their only God and saviour. Marika néni remembers how they secretly read at home the Bible and talked about Christmas and Easters. “Teachers were lecturing us with that undoubtedly deceptive content, since our families were surely not lying about the stories they told. But reading, singing and writing about the greatness of the leader every day led us to have a split mind. We were unable to differentiate what was and was not true” she revealed.
The Securitate was Ceausescu’s main tool to impose this iron grip over the population and ensure compliance. In fact, one in ten people were recruited to be an informer for the secret policeduring the eighties. Almost anybody could be the subject of a file or be coerced to betray their inner circle, and it became impossible to neither leave the country nor had any relation with the outer world. Even when the transition towards democracy was underway, Marika Néni confessed that “it took for our souls and minds at least eight years to assimilate that there was no need to be nervous or extremely conscious about what we said since no one was listening or watching anymore.”
However, nothing compares to the frightening pro-natalist campaign of the sixties which decreed that delivering babies was now a patriotic duty and thus, women’s procreative capacities were misappropriated to ensure reproduction of the labour force. Marika Néni described it as a truly hateful period for women since “pregnancy is a very intimate process in which the government need not to interfere”. In spite of the broad aversion, abortion was restricted and economic as well as social measures put into place to stimulate births. Childless couples over the age of 25 faced a substantial tax penalty, and woman were abusively monitored by specialise agents scavenging for pregnancy symptoms and signs of miscarriage, induce abortions or contraceptives use. Given the case, female individuals were immediately taken away to perform a medical investigation which somehow “felt as experiencing rape due to the types of machines they used in our bodies.” Even though there was a meaningful increase in overall fertility between 1967 and 1989, Ceausescu’s policy resulted in one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates around the globe. Numerous couples who were incapable of feeding even themselves, had no other choice but to abandon their children in overcrowded and understaffed state-run orphanages. Meanwhile, others decided to risk their lives by attempting extremely unsafe self-induced abortions.
The nightmare continued during the 1980’s with the supreme leader exporting all of the food that the country produced to repay an external debt of 10,000 million dollars. Meanwhile, the Rumanian population had to queue up for nearly two hours to achieve staple foods and then arriving home to find out that there was no electricity due to the power saving initiative. Marika Néni recalls how children shouted to each other while playing on the street, ‘Do you know that they are selling milk two blocks away?’ Since families were extremely numerous, one sibling would normally start lining up in the queue while the other one would run home to collect the necessary money. Nowadays, people recognize that as far as can be expected, the regime would have been more endurable if they have had more food and less blackouts at night.
As a rural area, Săcueni also suffered the agricultural collectivization that was put into place during the early years of the regime, and which followed the Stalinist model. With the aim of embarking into a forced industrialization and redefining the relation between the state and local community, the government tried to persuade land owners into joining collective farms without nationalising their lands. In this way, farmers had to provide for themselves while depositing a striking amount of what they harvested into a common storage. Throughout the implementation of this initiative peasants did not only lived in dire poverty and under precarious living standards, but also suffered a major drought followed by a famine that killed thousands and the ravage of war and Soviet occupation.
The relationship between Rumania and Russia goes back to the 19th century, when the URSS aided Rumania to achieve independence from the Ottoman Empire. Their pathways newly encountered during World War II after Rumania opportunistically decided to switch sides. In spite of this union making it easier for the country to recover its territory by expelling the Hungarian and German forces from Transylvania, Săcueni inhabitants do not remember these days with much fondness. With a tone of sorrow and aversion in her voice Marika Néni insisted in that “Russians invades the city on the 14th October 1944 at approximately 7:00 am. They behaved like animals”. People started digging holes in their gardens to hide children and women of all ages since Russians raped whoever they apprehended. They also stole valuable items from every single house including clothes and animals, broke into cellars and got extremely intoxicated, thrashed those who were walking on the street to death… “From that day on nearly every family had a relative to grieve, either because they had been murdered or raped by a Russian soldier.”
Out of all the Soviet bloc countries, Romania was the only one in which the transition towards democracy was accompanied by the execution of the leader and his wife. Faced with these events, Marika Néni felt an incredible sense of relieve and prayed so that her sons would not have to live the abusing and oppressive life that she had gone through. With a tear in her eye and a hopeful tone in her voice our protagonist stated that nothing else mattered because finally a better life was finally coming for her three sons. The falling of communism also brought with it access to books on literature, science and many other disciplines that they have had no access to before. Our protagonist happily recounts how she and her husband would spend countless night reading instead of sleeping. Electricity gave them the chance to do so.
It is true what they say in that we do not pay much attention to something until you lose. This is why it is of a tantamount important to hear stories such as the one of Marika Néni. Firstly, so that we learn from the past in order not to experience the atrocities that thousands of people once suffered. Secondly, so that we start appreciating how lucky we are of being able to enjoy what now seems to be in the palm of our hands.
Andrea Sofía Sánchez Almeida