The following review addresses an article published by Vice Magazine.
Nicolae Ceaușescu is a man who gets what he wants, when he wants. He ordered that his near illiterate wife be awarded a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Bucharest and that she become deputy president of Romania. He also had a golden presidential sceptre crafted for himself after “winning” a presidential election in Romania. Whilst in 1982, with the goal of paying off Romania’s large foreign debt, Ceaușescu ordered the export of much of the country’s agricultural and industrial production, massively lowering living standards. A man who even tested the patience of the Soviet Union, surely life is far better without him in charge, than with him in charge? According to the Vice survey, apparently not. One asks the questions why and how this can be so? After all, the Romanians are saying that they would sacrifice, most if not all of their civil liberties by hypothetically voting for Ceaușescu.
The older generation of Romania has tasted what it is like to live under a “communist” society and a free-market society, yet prefer the communist one. During the latter years of the Cold War, people who lived in the ex-Soviet union were promised so much, opportunity, a meritocratic society and prosperity. Ideas which caused the Eastern Europeans to revolt against the Soviet Union and eventually topple it, as the people dared to dream of what it was like to live in the West. Yet, from the eyes of the Romanians, capitalism has failed to live up to all 3 promises. Corruption and greed, prevents society from being meritocratic and prosperous, as politicians and businessmen are motivated by their selfishness and not their selflessness. The three promises turned out to be myths and illusions. People’s motivations became distorted (people become more motivated by money, than to improve society) as well as our judgments about people, making rich people fearful of becoming poor because meritocracy dictates that poor people are stupid and are to blame for their own predicament. As a result, it is extremely difficult to prosper as a Romanian without contacts and social mobility grinds to a halt. Now the government no longer offers a helping hand to the poor (which happens to be the majority of Romania), so naturally the older generation prefers the communist society that they grew up with, where at the very least the government seems to care about your welfare.
I believe that the results of the survey would have been different if it was conducted in London. This is because, younger Romanians are more likely to live here than older Romanians. The older generation of Romanians are more likely to stay in Romania, where they spent most of their lives. The younger generation, having never really experienced communism only have what their school teachers and parents let them know. The very fact that the Romanian expats choose to live in London, suggests that these Romanians think they are better off here in the UK than they are in Romania. Therefore communism is bound to be frowned upon.
Despite the results of the survey, I still consider Romanians to be worse off under Ceaușescu than they are without him. However with that said, I now believe that the differences between the lives of citizens in Western Europe and in the Eastern Bloc are slightly exaggerated. The difference between the lives of Western and Eastern Europeans can be attributed to many factors, such as:
- A lack of third world resources, The Soviet Union could not mirror America’s aggressive foreign policy, or protect and expand their interests abroad, in the same way that America could. This no doubt restricted the industry of the Union and what it could provide for its citizens.
- Idiotic decisions such as Ceaușescu’s decision to export food from Romania, can be overruled and vetoed in the West but can’t be stopped in Eastern Europe.
Then there’s the question of civil liberties, questioning or opposing the decisions of dictators can land you in jail or worse, so there is virtually no liberty in Eastern Europe, but can we say we live in a truly liberal society? Western European and American governments are becoming increasingly totalitarian and the fact that agencies such as GCHQ or the NSA observe our phone calls, e-mails and Facebook’s, suggests that we are not as free to speak out as we like to think we are. One could also point to the two-party system that the US and the UK have, where both parties are very similar and only disagree on minor things. Neither of these parties represent the views of the people and this is shown by the increasing decline of the number of people who decided to vote in a general election, during the past few decades. So are Romanians better off now, than they were before? I would say so, but not by much.