by Sergiu Ranta
Late '80s Romania & The Anti-Ceausescu Revolution: petty misadventures of common teenagers
|Scene 1: Sometimes in ’87. My older brother Radu (17 years old) is getting passionate for English language (after playing a role in an Oscar Wilde play at the high-school’s theatre club), and signs up with the American Cultural Institute of Bucharest, to be able to borrow books and records in English. Not more than a month later, two polite guys come to the high-school, get him out of the classroom and – in the teachers’ room- tell him that he must stop, otherwise he may got excluded from school and our parents may have problems at work. In the evening, he tells everything home and the decision is taken. He stops frequenting the Institute.|
Scene 2: August ’88, on a Saturday morning. All our family is out for a 10 days holiday on the Black Sea seaside. There’s two days after arrival and my father receives a phone call: my grand-father, up in Turda (near Cluj, north-west Transylvania), is dead after a sudden heart attack. We drop the holiday and head for Turda (around 800 kilometres), my father driving our Dacia. He’s puzzled by the sad news. We don’t make it by midnight and on that Sunday we are forbidden to drive on the streets, as our plate number ends with an even digit and that Sunday was reserved to odd digit-ending plate numbers. At about 1 AM, a policeman stops the car. We are all tired and depressed. My father is exposed to license suspension on the top of the fine. He explains the situation at low voice, his face like stone. There is complete silence, and then the policeman gives his condolences and tells us to go.
Scene 3: July ’89. Radu and I go hiking in the Piatra Craiului (King’s Stone) Mountains, under the lead of Mr. N., senior electronics engineer in his early forties, who back in Bucharest gives use private lessons in Mathematics and Physics. We need these lessons, as many others, because entry exams to the Polytechnic Institute are extremely tough and the competition is fierce (up to 8 candidates for 1 place). We are not necessarily Technical Sciences freaks, but to access Economics, Law or Human Sciences you must learn by heart tons of Ceausescu speeches or Party documents. It’s a superb summer day and we get off any marked path. The hike becomes more and more difficult, turning into thrilling adventure. We haven’t seen any people for hours now, but we trust Mr. N completely. Finally, we reach the destination: very high up, in a pretty inaccessible place hidden by woods, there is a small cabana, clean and tidy, with everything in it for you to prepare dinner and rest for the night. No one’s around. On a shelf, we find a hard cover registry containing short written notes left by visitors. They are in Romanian, but also in Magyar or German. It’s incredible – Ceausescu is openly cursed at least once on every single page and some people even sign their names. The language is sometimes bad, but it gives a feeling of utter freedom. We get out the cabana to admire the wild landscape. Very down below and very far away, it seems like there may be some human settlement. But we feel like we’re on a different planet.
Scene 4: October ’89. In the GDR, Erich Honecker has left power. In Romania, nobody doubts that, at the forthcoming congress of the Communist Party, Ceausescu is going to be re-elected party’s general secretary for another four years. Friday, end of classes. With a thick black pencil, I write on my white desk a funny rhyme that was making me laugh: “Ceausescu fii boier / Fa si tu ca Honecker“(“Ceausescu, be a gentleman/do it like Honecker”). On the way home, I tell some classmates about it. One of them gets very worried, tells me that I was stupid and advises me to go back and clean-up everything. I’m surprised, I’m not taking it seriously but over the evening I grow worried too. The next day (Saturday morning) I go back to school, tell the security guard that I forgot an important notebook in the classroom, and I erase everything. It feels weird.
Scene 5: Late October ’89. It’s the eve of the 14th congress of the Communist Party. A new Romanian movie is about to be out in the cinemas that Friday, and we are keen to go see it (except North-Korean films which are just too stupid, we are trying not to miss any new movie, irrespective of what they are about). This new one is supposed to be about the selfish small lives of some stupid “bourgeois” of the inter-wars period. The announced title of the new movie: “Noiembrie, ultimul bal” (“November, the last ballroom dance”). But by Friday, they take it off the programme.
Scene 6: 22nd of December ‘89, around noon, just after the incredible burst of the poet Mircea Dinescu on the national television (“Brothers, we won!”). I’m with my brother, wandering around the neighbourhood: an elderly woman was hugging a middle-aged military officer, his military jacket unbuttoned. The man was crying and laughing in the same time, like a fool. The woman was crying too. I’m turning 17 today.
Scene 7: 23rd of December ‘89, early in the morning. Sleepless and dizzy, I open the windows of our apartment’s living room, 2nd floor in a communist style block of flats. A small group of people is gathered in front of the building, all pairs of eyes directed to me. Then I realise why. The glass of one window was broken, a round hole in the middle. Then I find the bullet – it’s big, lying intact down on the floor, only its tip slightly scratched. The rumour down is that some communist activist living nearby went mad, got up on the roof the building opposite ours’ with a rifle on hand and executed a random shooting spree before killing himself. I take the bullet and put it in a box.
Scene 8: 24th of December ‘89, before noon. I’m out with my father, to buy a Christmas tree. He’s carrying it, happy to get it but starting to get worried of the whereabouts of my brother. The air is full of distanced sounds of gun and rifle shootings, but otherwise so fresh and pure. The noise is coming from everywhere. There are other people in the street, but no one looks scared. I’m cheerful, and have no doubt that my brother is fine.
Scene 9: 25th of December ‘89. Ceausescu is dead, but the shootings intensify instead of stopping. It’s the army of orphanage boys that he put together to defend him when the worst was going to come. They are fanatic, desperate and have nothing to lose. And then, there are those trained-to-kill Arab troops from those Middle East countries which Ceausescu was frequenting so often. At least, this is what we are told on the national television. The administrator of our block of flats (a retired army colonel in his late sixties) decides that men and boys in the block should form teams of two and guard building’s entrance around the clock, two hours each. I team-up with my father. “Guards” are given one iron bar each, to smash the terrorists in case they want to get in. No incidents.
Scene 10: 26th of December ‘89. News about killings and terrorist acts around the country continue to pour in, with country’s new leaders blaming it all on Ceausescu’s fanatic secret troops. In a moment of despair, I take a pencil and write “Caine!” (“You, dog!”), in small letters, on one of kitchen’s walls. Two or three years later, the note on the wall is still intact and, from time to time, I look at it and I kind of wonder how I could be so stupid.
Scene 11: 27th of December, around noon. My brother called home in the early morning and let my mother know he was leaving the campus (which he “defended” for more than 3 days), heading for home on foot (45 minutes walking distance). Four hours later he was still not there. There are shootings everywhere in the background. My mother is in distress, my father is tense, I don’t know what to think. He gets home at about 3 pm, calm and unaware of any reason why anyone would be stressed out. He explains that on his way back he dropped by some friend’s place to drink a hot tea and discuss the last news and rumours. He forgot to call.
Scene 12: 29th of December, early afternoon. I’m downtown with my two best classmates (Palatului Square, now renamed Revolutiei Square). After all these days of unusually mild weather, the winter is here. It’s snowy, windy and slippery. In the middle of the square, a Dacia “Papuc” (wagon) is advancing quite fast, with a man throwing copies of the new “Libertatea” daily newspaper from the back of the car. The three of us start running after like hell, desperate to get a copy. We get it, then I slip and hit the icy ground, but it doesn’t hurt. Somebody’s laughing. I’m happy, I’m laughing too.