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Romania's Red Plague

"Jos Comunistii!" "PSD, Ciuma Rosie!"

Why are there now, as I'm writing, protesters out in the streets chanting, "down with the communists" and "PSD is the Red Plague"? Hasn't it been nearly thirty years since a bloody revolution rid us of the Red Plague? It had poisoned our minds and imprisoned our souls for nearly fifty years. Globally, Communism has killed more people and lasted longer than any historical plague. Yet here we are, still fighting this insidious disease, as if it never went away.

Judging by much of the Romania around me, it hasn't.

Without a doubt, the Romania of '89 and the Romania of today are two different countries - at least on the surface. Cars are not all Dacias, people aren't toting worn-out raffia bags wherever they go (even if Luis Vuiton has made them fashionable in the West), there is more colour, more glass alongside the concrete, more neon, more music. Roads are flatter, (some) sidewalks wider. Supermarkets abound. Rationing is a foreign concept. I won't go on. The differences, at a glance, are dramatic.

But there is an underlying tension running through the country. Paradoxically it serves both to unite and to divide us. It unites only as a pandemic can unite and it divides in the exact same way, by fostering an instinct of avoidance among the populace. It drives wedges between us, dissipates our energies, and stifles the boundless potential of Romanians, generation after generation.

There is a name for it: Communist Culture.

I'm afraid that the damage produced by fifty years of Communism will take at least as long to reverse, in any tangible manner, at a social level. It's a pervasive culture; entrenched in our institutions, in our mentality, even in some of our traditions.

This list, in no particular order, is by no means exhaustive, but I'd stamp the 'Communist Culture' label on any society where the average person routinely upholds or applies five or more of the following 'principles' on a regular basis.

  1. Loudest is the strongest.
  2. True leaders don't need consensus.
  3. Leadership is a title not an attitude.
  4. Control over collaboration.
  5. Know your place, stay in your place.
  6. Speaking your mind is dangerous.
  7. Apologies are an admission of guilt and to be avoided at all costs.
  8. Groveling pleases the displeased (even if they remain displeased).
  9. There is no such thing as an "honest mistake".
  10. "I don't know" is not an acceptable answer; 
  11. As a result, a wrong answer is often the 'right' answer.
  12. Facts are malleable if they satisfy the powers that be.
  13. If it's "not your job" don't lift a finger and don't even think about it.
  14. Power/Influence/Money make up for lack of knowledge or experience - and even for stupidity.
  15. Always say your last name first,  and your first name last (even in casual interactions).
  16. Bureaucracy equals efficiency.
  17. Words speak louder than actions.
  18. Degrees and credentials speak louder than work experience (especially PhDs).
  19. Transparency is weakness.
  20. Trust is vulnerability.
  21. Politeness is earned, and given, according to social class.
  22. Help yourself, not others.
  23. It's not stealing if everybody you know does it, too.
  24. Threats and ultimatums are efficient negotiation mechanisms.
  25. Anger always proves a point: pound fists,  raise voice, be dismissive, deride others, storm out.
  26. Show displeasure by humiliating others; personal attacks are welcome.
  27. No decision is always better than the wrong decision.
  28. The boss knows everything, employees know nothing.
  29. Accept no responsibility, always looks elsewhere to assign blame.
  30. Avoid giving a straight answer at all costs (it's too much responsibility).
  31. Any appeal to popular opinion is valid reasoning.
  32. Complaints are more relevant than solutions.
  33. Humiliation is a state of being, not just a temporary feeling.

Maybe this final point is the most relevant of all. I can concede that  individuals the world over may embrace many of these tenets without any particular pre-disposition towards communism, but, when these  transgressions are tallied, especially inside the collective mentality of an entire society, the outcome is a state of perpetual humiliation. It's the kind of humiliation which feeds on and propagates this vicious circle. It's humiliation masked by resentment, frustration, and, ultimately, capitulation.

If you look at these closely, you'll notice the telling elements of Orwellian newspeak, where the reverse of commonly held assumptions are now 'true' or 'right'. That is what communism was all about. It was satire come to life; a parody of human values and of classical liberal thought, institutionalized and made whole. That is what modern cultural Marxism is all about as well, and it's easy to see it in action in most Western democracies - but that's another discussion.

Suffice to say that Communist Culture still holds Romania in its grip. This is why the current socialist government thinks that 3 million votes (cast by 16% of the population) is a mandate to legalize theft and bribery. This is why they're happy to appeal to unity when it comes to the massive protests but not when dissenting opinions are presented. This is why they have the audacity to lie, blame, and complain without ever shouldering responsibility for their actions. This is what the PSD has done in the twenty-some years of leading post-revolution governments in Romania. But, in truth, this has been going on for the past 70 years.

This is a system devised to reduce people to insignificant cogs in a monolithic apparatus too large for us to challenge.

Why build highways and make life easier for Romanians? Isn't it more convenient to maintain rage-road inducing traffic conditions? Why empower people to own and operate businesses, and why 'teach a man to fish'? Isn't it easier to make sure everyone is a wage slave or a welfare recipient? Why invest in education and develop strategies that could place our universities in the world's top 100 when our ill-prepared graduates help ensure the status quo? Finally, why work, when we can steal? Why be transparent, when we can lie? Why encourage, when we can humiliate?

This is why Romania can't reach it's potential. This is Communist Culture. This is the PSD platform.

This is why, and what, we must all #rezist.


  1. Matt, excelent articol, denota o intelegere adanca si deplina a fenomenului, nu ai zice ca ai "lipsit de acasa" atata timp. Keep up the good work. Salutari din Richmond Hill, Ontario.

    1. Cred ca lipsa ajuta la obervare cateodata. Multumesc de sustinere si spor cu iarna.

  2. Hey Matt,

    I've been reading your blog for a couple years now and I've really enjoyed it. I know it's a bit strange to meet people over the internet, but I'm going to be in Cluj at the end of this month for work. I don't suppose you'd be up for letting buy you a beer while I'm there?

    1. Anytime, just drop me me an email!

  3. Hi Matt,

    On further thought I feel like I really should have explained myself a bit more ;)

    I've been fascinated with Romania for years, ever since my first trip there in 2000 to pick up my adopted sister with my parents. I've been back a number of times since, I spent 6 months in Constanta working with inner-city children and several months backpacking around Transylvania over the years.

    My grandparents are from Transylvania and fled at the end of WW2, although some relatives only got out at in 1990.

    Transylvania has always had a really strong attraction for me, I've even kicked around the idea of trying to live/work there at some point.

    Anyway to sum it all up, I've found your commentary as a Canadian/Romania fascinating. I'd love to chat and get a chance to hear more of your thoughts/experiences in Romania.


  4. RE: Crad Kilodney. Dear Matt, I see that a few years ago you wrote a comment on Crad Kilodney's blog about his novel Putrid Scum. I wonder, did her ever write back to you? I'm making a documentary about Crad -- also called Putrid Scum. He wrote "Failed Writer" in my copy too. Best, Anthony

    1. Hi Anthony, I do remember looking him up on Google a few years ago and was surprised and saddened to hear he'd passed. I am not sure if at the time I wrote that comment he was still alive... Funny to get your comment now though; I've recently re-shelved my books and made sure to give my copy of Putrid Scum a prominent place in the 'Classic Literature' section.

  5. Today noncompetitive young people blame the communism where they didn't live...Dogmatic view is spread out every moment by those who think a coin has only one face...Manipulation of the "crowd" by the new and few over the night rich people based on corruption, is huge,constant and used by TV, radio, newspapers, universities, think tanks, even some of the former communist staff...All these refuse to see what the communism left; 2.8 million of houses in cities and 1.2 million in rural places(1965-1989, 24 years).
    1990-2017, 27 years - less than 700.000
    In Bucharest, from 800000 units, 700000 left from the communism.
    The blamed "Victoria Socialismului" avenue with 15000 flats is now the most expensive area, the underground is built up during communism, electricity network, electric power station, ports, bridges, 23500 km in railroads network achieved during communism is now usable for 8500 Km, the maritime fleet of 150 ships is now null.
    38,5 % of the population is living below the severe poverty, the eradicated ills during communism spread now in large numbers, most of the Black Sea resorts build up before 1989 are now ruins.
    4(Four million!!!) of Romanian citizens left the country due to the poverty to find work in foreign countries for much fewer then native citizens, the forests are harvested by foreign companies which in their country are forbidden and damaged the ecological system.
    It was destroyed the Romanian industry to let free the imports of metallurgical products, HQ metal alloys, the machines, the raw materials, a.s.o.
    Is not a matter of come back to communism, but the new international order is based on the hegemony of the riches over the former communist countries.The elected political parties are not capable to issue and implement the policies for the real development of Romania and to justify the poverty of the people, put the blame on the communism. They fight and succeed GRAND VICTORY against the defunct! In real terms, they manipulate with all means the most of people!

    1. What communism "achieved" in 50+ years in Romania was run of the mill reconstruction for most of Europe in the years following the Second World War. In other words, had Romania not been a communist country, we'd have developed at least as well as Spain or Italy in the same period. Easily.
      The point here is not to blame Romania's communist past, that's not the problem now, and I don't think anybody is saying it is.
      The problem is Romania's communist *present*, embodied by every generation of politicians from 1990 onwards. You don't need Ceausescu if you still think and act like there's a Ceasusescu.


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