Emil Hristache’s (Peterborough, NH) father, Eduard, grew up in Rumania. He was 15 years old when the communist regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu fell. He recently visited Ms. Doenmez’s AP European History class to talk about the contrast between the promise of communism and the reality as he experienced it. He started by describing the prime positive of the communist system - attempting to create equality. He then talked about the realities of human nature and how the lack of competition in the Rumanian system led to a lack of motivation, black markets and bribery as a normal event, a failure of innovation and the ascendancy of bureaucracy. He did point to some good things in terms of housing policy and family leave. He also felt that there was great compassion in Rumania due, ironically, to the universal suffering of the people under a failing economic system.
He described his childhood and education under the system. The Rumanian education system was heavily dependent upon memorization and rote learning. Political instruction was also a significant part of the curriculum. He said that even as a 6th grader, he could see the lack of comfort of the teachers in reciting mandated political instruction. The end place of primary education was in excelling on national exams that led a small minority to university education - top performers and those with political advantages.
He thought one of the great ironies of the Rumanian system was that although the official mantra was of equality, being part of the Romani minority ethnicity, discrimination was an every day event in his life. Education, employment and most opportunities were circumscribed for ethnic Romani. At the daily level, parents discouraged their children from establishing friendships with Romani students or even riding a bus with them.
Mr. Hristache finally described the events of the revolution and its aftermath. He reflected that in the early days everyone felt so free. The common thought was that the individual, after years of oppression, could do whatever they wanted. However, things didn’t improve immediately as the next ten years resulted in chaos. After 45 years of a strictly controlled and isolated economy, few people had an understanding of how to make an economy move forward. The few productive assets in the country were bought up by the former communist leaders for pennies on the dollar. When they sold them at significant profits to Western manufacturers, many people then lost their jobs as the new owners worked toward economic efficiency. As a result, a small minority longed for the prior system.
Mr. Hristache’s final message to the class was the same that he imparts to his son Emil on a frequent basis, “You have no idea how good you have it.”