This is an essay I wrote 9 years ago in a English Composition Class
It describes our family of 9 siblings’ struggle during the cold winter months, growing up in Communist Romania.
From the genesis of the human race, there has been an earnest desire to organize in communal groups based either on race, ethnicity, relations, or other values that individuals had in common. Some of the groups lasted for centuries, creating time-proof memories; others twinkled for a short period of time, merely signaling their presence in history. At the beginning of the 20th Century, with Mussolini rising to power in Italy, and the fascist Hitler in Germany, a new concept developed across the Europe: Socialism. While many embraced it as a new and revolutionary movement that promoted prosperity and equality, my family became the continuous target of the extreme leftists; the Comrades (a popular name given to loyalists of the Communist Party), not because of our political views (although in private my father opposed the idea of “common property”), but because of our insubordination to a regime that instilled total control on private property, constricted civil liberties and denied the right to worship God in your chosen denomination.
My family’s home was located in the Carpathians Alps, the region of Transylvania (“the land beyond the forest”) in the northwest part of present day Romania. Transylvania with its rich village, Alburnus Maior (named during the Roman occupation under the rule of Trajan) had by far the richest gold mine in Europe. Modern archaeologists have discovered dwellings, necropolises, mine galleries, mining tools, and 25 wax tablets with text inscriptions in Greek and Latin. It is known that Romans left Transylvania in 271, which means not only that the village was in existence prior to this date, but also proves its extensive mining tradition.
In addition to the vast stretch of conifer forest, Transylvania’s breathtaking landscape included fast flowing rivers that often formed beautiful natural waterfalls. Giant fishing ponds bordered the road going into the village of Alburnus Maior. The abundance of green grass made it ideal for the ranchers to raise cattle and sheep. Mild weather also facilitated the cultivation of potatoes, corn, wheat and other crops. The plenitude of natural resources made Transylvania a unique land, where people learned to be self sufficient during their entire existence. But more than what was on and underground, the real treasure of Transylvania consisted of its people; firm but soft spoken, trustworthy, and entrepreneurial, Transylvanians were always looking for opportunities. The mining secrets have been passed from father to son by unwritten, hands-on lessons from generation to generation. Each teenager anxiously waited to turn 16, the age that qualified him to proudly wear his own helmet carbide lamp and enter the mine by himself. If he was lucky his underground endeavor would result in a lucrative affair when selling his small amount of gold to one of the many open markets, where merchants from the Apullum City would crowd the place in search of a good deal.
As the Socialist Party came to power in the early 1950s, two millenniums of mining traditions came to an abrupt end. The newly formed socialist government’s first step was to take control of the entire mining industry. It followed with the confiscation of the land, mining tools, cattle, tractors (or horse pulled plows) and any other means that could enable the farmer to continue his former life style. Their primary goal was to replace the private property and a market based economy with a centrally planned economy and stock based production. Once an oasis of spirituality where Christian Orthodox, Evangelicals and Catholics cohabited peacefully, Transylvania was declared a “land without religion”. The concept was later revisited and Eastern Orthodoxy was declared the “State Religion”, detrimental to the more numerous Evangelicals (Reformed and Lutherans) and Catholics that lived there. The establishment of Eastern Orthodoxy as the state religion was followed by the seizure of the Catholic Churches and their “extreme makeover” conversion from Catholicism to Orthodoxy; Saint Anthony was removed from his pedestal and replaced with Saint Gregory, The Eucharist replaced by The Holy Supper, Holy Spirit replaced by Holy Ghost and the cemetery divided with barbed wire fence. The irrationality of these acts triggered an irrefutable sentiment of repulsiveness, discontent and hate towards the Socialist Government. In a public market, at a coffee break, or in the church’s backyard, it would be sufficient to mention the “Socialist Revolution” to turn the most docile believer into a cursing machine. When most of the educated men and women refused to be part of the social experiment pushed by the Soviets, the Socialist Government, in order to achieve its repressive goals, had to lower its hiring standards to abysmal levels. A mentally challenged villager (who was the bullying subject of the entire village) after a three month training session, became the newly appointed Police Officer. The town whore was named the City Secretary. A new priest who pledged allegiance to the “Securitate” (Secret Police) was appointed to serve in the local Orthodox Church, to the disapproval and general disgust of the entire village.
The National Forestry Administration was given police powers as well. The enforcers (forest patrols) were carefully selected from a pool of former convicts. The only requirement was to be determined to catch and administer on-the-spot punishment to the violators that dared to pick up firewood from their own forest that the government had seized during the nationalizing process. Confronted with harsh winters, in a short time, most of the villagers became trespassers, tried and convicted in the ad-hoc courts assembled in the street.
I remember such an encounter between my father and one of the forest patrols. It happened in the mid-winter of 1980. The snow had fallen for two weeks with no break in sight. The temperature plunged into the negative 20s. Our ration of firewood supply (1 cubic meter-about 27 cubic feet- per household) had been exhausting fast. With another couple of months of winter ahead and some younger siblings that needed the shelter of a warm house, my father and I decided to deliberately break the law and sneak out in the forest to pick up firewood. Our family had owned a couple of hectares of forest prior to nationalization. Armed with an unregistered chainsaw and a couple of axes, we descended in the forest trying to conceal our footprints in the freshly fallen snow. We set eyes on our victim; an old aspen tree, half eaten by beetles, full of wood-pecker holes. With an incomprehensible desire for revenge in his eyes, my father and I ambushed this poor old tree like a predator on his prey, giving no means of escape. Then he deeply plunged his roaring chainsaw blade in the aspen trunk. The aspen came down with a thundering sound awaking the entire canine community in the village. With a sweeping motion and unreasonable speed, he jumped on the trunk and started cleaning out the main branches. Mesmerized by the tree’s fall and in utmost awe of my father’s dexterity, I did not even notice the forest patrolman (the secretary’s bastard child) that appeared out of nowhere. Standing on the cliff with the shinning sun behind him, the patrolman dwarfed my father with his imposing posture. I slowly backed away looking at my father’s reaction. He did not stop cleaning the branches, angrily hitting the fallen aspen with his sharp ax, ignoring the patrolman completely. The only clue that he observed him was the bestial rhythm and the intensity of his strikes. The patrolman started writing the ticket (a fine that often equaled to a year’s worth of salary) with a large grin of satisfaction on his face. Finally my father stopped, wiping his sweaty forehead with his dirty handkerchief “I’ll give you a five minute head start” he said with a threatening voice. “After I’m done cleaning these branches, I’ll continue with yours if you’re still around” The patrolman mumbled something and vanished in the depth of the forest. In the same afternoon two Comrades knocked on our door asking for dad. One was tall and skinny, dressed in a long black leather coat, always keeping his right hand in his pocket, and the other a rather short man, with a Cuban cigar in the corner of his mouth. “Where is the firewood that your dad cut this morning?” he asked my younger brother. Without hesitation my brother stepped out, barefooted in the frozen snow, and showed them our concealed storage behind a pile of hay. “My dad said that The Pigs are looking for the firewood, that’s why we need to hide them!” said my brother with his squeaky five year old voice. The Comrades ordered my father in their black Volga. Off they went. Later that night, while everyone was gathered around the dinner table, the door slowly opened and dad walked in. He silently passed the dinner table and went straight to bed. Nobody asked what happened. Not then, not now!
While some of the social programs that the Socialist Government implemented had a trace of good intention such as targeting an improvement in social services and helping the poor, the outcome has always been negative. People in charge of such programs lacked managerial skills. The difficulty of making a decision in a vertically integrated structure was a serious impediment, defying common sense. Shaking the foundations of the entire society, the Socialists antagonized the intellectual class. A plethora of brilliant minds, now unemployed and hopeless, found themselves fighting the Government. Among these was my father. His fight for freedom lasted more than 25 years. During these years things regressed from bad to worse. After nationalizing the entire private sector, the Government took full control over the mass media and followed with a strict code of restrictions regarding worshiping God. The right to vote was limited to the members of the Communist Party. The peculiarity of these actions destined Socialism to certain failure. In 1989 in the first Revolution aired on live television, people around the globe witnessed the liberation of the first European Nation from under the oppressive regime of Socialism. However, after the 1989 Revolution, redemption did not come for the wrongfully convicted during the socialism. The newly installed democratic government did not take responsibility for its predecessor’s errors. The guiltless convicts are yet to be redeemed!