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Understanding Romania – Romania under the rule of Communist Dictators

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Whether your interest about Romania has been sparked from a recent trip, or if you are still planning a trip, we hope that you will take a moment to consider the culture and history of Romania. Each month we will have a new installment of Understanding Romania with tidbits of history, current events, and stories of the land and its people. In order to begin to understand Romania today, we need to look back to the Romania that existed under Communist Rule just 20 years ago.

After WWII, the Soviet Union heavily influenced Romania to the point that the formerly illegal Communist Party became the ruling party. King Michael abdicated his throne and went into exile in 1947 and Romania became the Romanian People’s Republic. Whatever resources Romania had left after the war, were subsequently drained by the USSR. Romania was also not exempt from the imprisonment of political and religious prisoners that happened all over the Eastern Bloc.

In 1948 there was a move to a collective farm. Citizens were “convinced” through beatings, intimidation, arrests, and deportations to give up their land. Shortly after the Communists began taking land, people were forced into the high-rises throughout the cities, high-rises you still see today. Half of Romania’s population now lives in rural villages while half remain in the cities for work. By 1962 collective and state farms controlled over 77% of the land.

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Nicolae Ceauşescu came to power in 1965, asserting some independence from Soviet rule and he ruled until 1989. In 1974 he became the President of what was now the Socialist Republic of Romania. Despite initially appearing as a reformist, Ceauşescu was not good news for his country.

Ceauşescu turned a moderately prosperous nation into one at the brink of starvation. In order to repay a 10 billion dollar national debt, he ransacked the Romanian economy of everything that could be exported, leaving the country economically devastated. The already existing collective farms helped with this. Food rationing was introduced on wide-scale throughout the country. Bread, milk, butter, cooking oil, sugar, pork, beef, chicken and potatoes were rationed with the rationed amounts becoming smaller each year. Most of what was available to the people of Romania was export rejects.

Curfews were installed, and petrol and electricity consumption were strictly rationed making it almost impossible to cook.

Control over Romanian society became stricter with phones being bugged, calls being taped, and 1 in every 3 Romanians was an informant to the secret police. This caused a lack of trust even among close friends and family members.

roma-orphanageThe thing that Ceauşescu is perhaps infamously remembered for however, is the overflowing orphanages. Because Ceauşescu longed to be an industrial giant and a military leader of Europe he outlawed birth control and abortion almost immediately after gaining rule of the country. He taxed all families with fewer than 5 children. All women in factories were subjected to a monthly gynaecological exam to make sure the laws were being followed. Due to these laws, orphanages were flooded with children, back-street abortions were given, and poverty ravished the nation.

On December 17, 1989, riots and protests broke out in Timişoara, a city in Western Romania. By the 21st, the protests had spread throughout Romania. Ceauşescu was captured, tried and shot by the 25th.

The total number of children in state care reached over 100,000 under Ceauşescu’s rule.

A country’s recovery from the kind of rule that Romania endured is not instantaneous. As you travel to Romania today, you will still see the Communist-era high-rise apartments in the cities. There are still problems with children being institutionalized on much too large a scale, or simply not being cared for. This is where FMN steps in, to provide hope and a future for these children and their families and to turn the tide on the abuse and neglect and abandonment that still occurs.

FMN is not another institution, not even close. As you partner with FMN, for the first time or on a continued basis, we ask that you consider Romania’s recent turbulent history and understand how Ceauşescu’s rule created horrible cycles of abandonment and abuse. Remember, as you are working in the Isaiah Center, that you are hugging and playing with and loving on a child that 20 years ago, most likely would have been institutionalized for their entire life. These are beautiful children who have still been cast-off and neglected, but who now have a hope and a chance to change their society because of God’s work through FMN.