The ‘Better Days’ of Communism: Propaganda's Long-Term Effects on Modern-Day Romania

Older Romanian generations often miss Communism, claiming life used to be better under dictatorship. The nostalgia comes after three decades of unstable democracy. The present situation is unsatisfactory for the only Eastern Bloc state to overthrow the communist regime through violence back in 1989.

Illustration Credit: Nicola March

Without a democratic tradition to adhere to, Romania’s sudden change in regime led to confusion and instability. The nation had to rebuild itself after more than half a century of authoritarianism and tight political control. A lot of Communism survivors remember wondering what they could do with so much freedom.

The 1989 Revolution amounted to the execution, on Christmas Day, of communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena. Since then, the country has had no less than 26 governments and 23 prime ministers. In comparison, France has had 14 prime ministers since 1988 and the UK only six since 1990.

These frequent jumps from one government to another created doubt and ignorance at how the country is ruled and by what principles. This is why, in 2019, an overwhelming majority expressed more trust in Romania’s politically neutral institutions. 68% of Romanians showed high confidence in the Army and almost 57% trusted the Church.

In contrast, the Romanian Government gained only 12.4% of its people’s confidence. The Parliament came second to last, with under 10% of the votes. These figures are concerning for the country’s already frail political system.

LIFE DURING COMMUNISM: OUR PARENTS’ STORIES

The lack of trust in present-day Romania’s democracy is not only a result of political instability, but also of a society built on generations educated to love the dictatorship. Romanians who are now in their 70s have spent more than half of their lives under Communism.

The personality cult and Soviet propaganda had been imposed in schools and taught to generations who are now as young as 37. They were in first grade when the Revolution happened. These are the parents of the country’s generation Z, who have not lived a single day in Socialist Romania. Their parents’ stories of Communism recall an Orwellian reality, hard to imagine nowadays.

Under the regime, people only had access to a limited number of harshly censored TV programmes. Students were doing homework by the oil lamp, because electricity was cut every night at ten o’clock sharp. Most working-class families only ate meat at the weekend and queued for hours to buy bread. Most women had just two pairs of stockings and underwear, because they could only buy so much with their limited and state-imposed shopping cards.

IDEALISM: ROMANIANS ARE STILL HAUNTED BY PROPAGANDA’S EFFECTS

A case study by Vice showed that even younger people would choose Ceaușescu as their leader had he been alive nowadays. The reasons behind this desire to give up their constitutional freedoms for a more state-controlled life derived from an idealisation of the old regime.

From remembering they had a secure job and a house, to admiring Ceaușescu’s aim to erase foreign debt, many Romanians over the age of 50 say they felt safer under dictatorship. These views are passed on to their children. Without knowing the entire truth about dictatorship, they then come to believe it was a better system.

This is the main consequence of communist propaganda, which still has strong effects on many Romanians. The idealisation is so widespread, because the regime was based on proletarianism, a class cult meant to eradicate wealth differences.

The financial security most people remember was only available to the fixed-wage earners. Any intellectual, creative and religious practices were censored or abolished. The propaganda was aimed at the working majority, while the elites were constrained, exiled or imprisoned.

WHAT EDUCATION CAN DO FOR YOUNG ROMANIANS

Romanian poet Ana Blandiana, whose work had been under severe surveillance and censorship during Communism, reckons “the nostalgia comes from a mindset that being free is harder than not being free”. She believes the elderly were shaken up by gaining control of their own livelihoods. It came as a shock that they were not a political elite’s responsibility anymore.

Blandiana erected a memorial for the victims of the regime, so younger generations could find out the true extent of the suffering it caused. The poet and political activist warns young Romanians that they are not fully aware of their country’s past. She stresses that the regime’s effects on the present-day society “prevent life from developing normally”.

Solutions for the flaws in Romania’s current democracy are easy to find, by looking back at a seemingly better past. Idealising a political system based on control and censorship disregards the breaching of fundamental human rights and fuels ignorance towards what Communism’s victims went through. Propaganda’s effects are still looming over a people struggling to strengthen their democracy. Without revealing the evils of the regime to a youth who never experienced them, Romanians cannot embrace true freedom.