One of the most powerful symbols of Communist rhetoric was bread.
The communist regime took over the role of protector of the famished and the exploited, and proclaimed its ability to provide the population with whatever they needed in terms of nourishment. However, the food rationalization of the 1980s and, unofficially, of bread too, clearly revealed the lack of political vision of the most humanist ideology of all time. One of the regime’s favourite logos was “No work without bread, no bread without work.”
Maxim Berghianu was the president of the State Planning Commission and held several top level government positions. Interviewed in 2002 by the Oral History Center, Berghianu recalled how Nicolae Ceausescu took the initiative of reducing the consumption of bread in the mid 1970s.
Maxim Berghianu: “I have never heard him say anything about something that impressed him and which he would apply here, something good that is. He would always notice whatever was the meanest. For instance, last time I saw them they had just come from a visit to France. I don’t remember who the French president was then, Pompidou or Mitterand….probably Mitterand. What do you think he had noticed? That at the reception party, people would get only one bun, not two or three as it happened at our reception parties. So the conclusion was that we were wasting food and we ate too much bread, and that the peasants were feeding bread on poultry and pigs. After that he came up with the idea of reducing bread consumption by 20%. That was on the New Year’s Eve.”
Although Berghianu didn’t think that was a good idea, and although he was not supported by the other participants in the meeting, he tried to influence Ceausescu and have him give up this idea:
“I was working in the food industry department, I was no longer minister and I was not a member of the executive committee. I was a state-secretary as they had demoted me for spending money on a public swimming pool. We were asked to provide statistics to see the evolution of bread consumption. He called Angelo Miculescu, who was a deputy prime-minister and minister of development, also Ilie Verdet, filling in Maurer’s position as prime-minister, and Ana Muresan from trade. And he told them: “as of tomorrow, bread consumption shall be reduced by 20%. Draw up a bill and bring it to me to sign it.” Nobody said anything, they all just nodded. But I said: ‘Comrade Ceausescu, I would like to raise several issues. Bread consumption has lowered by the year, we even have a chart to prove that. You will see a reduction of 8-10% as compared to …I don’t know which year. But the production and consumption of specialized products has increased: buns and croissants. However, all in all, the consumption has gone down. “It’s not true”, he said, “we shall reduce bread consumption”. “There is something else”, I insisted, “bread is the only product for which people do not have to queue.” He got even angrier. “No queues! We like to say that we have 3000 calories per inhabitant, of which 1500 from bread!” If somebody else had supported me, maybe he would have given up the idea. But they said, “Look at him, the smart pants, all the others agree with us.”
People received the measure with hostility. Maxim Berghianu: “In less than two weeks we began hearing news about strikes in Galati. People used to interrupt their work at the plant and rush to buy some bread as by the time their shift was over they could no longer find any. In Ploiesti, southern Romania, you could read on train carriages “We want bread!” “Won’t work without bread!”. The situation was serious. Ceausescu summoned us on January 16th. He didn’t call all of us, just Angelo and me this time. He ordered us: “Give them as much bread as they need! Draw up a plan and we’ll take the wheat out of the state reserves so they can have as much bread as they want.” We left him and went to Verdet , who also asked Ana Muresan to join us. I told Miculescu: “Sir, didn’t I tell you that was a bad move? Why did we need to curb bread consumption?” Of course after a week I got sacked from the food industry department. But I believe it wasn’t only that…because Ceausescu started to alter food recipes, to reduce the amount of alcohol in alcoholic beverages, sugar in sweets, canned food and so on. All that lowered the quality in products and I didn’t want to give my approval. Then it was the situation with the bread. I got transferred to the Ministry of Labour so I had nothing more to do with the economy. That was it! My point is that Ceausescu seemed to be inspired only by what was evil. For instance, from North Korea he got the idea of food factories, which he wanted to implement in Romania, too. But how can you do that to a people with such a great cuisine and gastronomic tradition? How can you possibly force them to eat their traditional food in cafeterias, all because this is what you saw in Korea?”
Until the end of the communist regime, bread remained for Romanians a symbol of freedom, of the people’s right to build the life they wanted.