Surveys show that many people in Romania still believe it was better during the Communist regime
According to an opinion poll, after 30 years since the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, 27% of the Romanians still believe that the Communist regime was better for Romania, and 30% believe that Communism was bad. At the same time, 34.4% of them chose to respond with "Things are more complicated. Communism in the 50s was one thing, the one during the Ceausescu regime was different."
Another sociological survey, launched in November, shows that half of the Romanians believe that it was better in Communism. This kind of surveys have been conducted since 1989, and the results have been slightly different. For instance, 20 years after the December Revolution, some half of the Romanians believed that it had been better before, and 14% of them believed that things had not changed. No matter the differences between methodologies and results, it's quite clear that positive perceptions are many, maybe as numerous as the negative ones. Researcher Manuela Marin, from the West University in Timisoara, has analyzed in several studies something that has been termed as 'Communist nostalgia'. She believes that, in order to explain this phenomenon, one should analyze those aspects that people perceive as positive in relation to the recent past.
Here is Manuela Marin: "From what I have noticed, these things are mostly about that wellbeing provided to the people by means of state paternalism: a stable job and living conditions that were seen as decent, up to a certain kind of equality in society. What I believe that Romanians appreciated about communism was the father-like state who got involved in citizens' lives. Also with regard to past surveys, mention should be made of the fact that Romanians do not want to revert to the political regime back than, with all its limitations to freedom of speech and expression. What they want is a mix between the socialist well-being and the freedom they are enjoying now."
In reality, Socialist well-being was not genuine. So, how could we explain this sweetened perception of the past? Manuela Marin is attempting and answer:
"We must think of the fact that, for those in the 1970s/1980s, and even for those in the 1960s, because usually one differentiates between the various stages of communism, what mattered was to have a flat in a block, access to electricity and hot water, and also a stable income. For the generation born in the 1940s and early 50s, that was the maximum of well-being they could dream of. The 70s are seen as the years of Socialist well-being, but people back then had nothing to compare that well-being with. They just remember a stable job, spending their holidays at the seaside or in a mountain resort, and that, at some point, they could afford a washing machine or a TV. We must understand those who came from the countryside and settled in a town or a city, that was a step forward in terms of material well-being."
All those were provided by the state, so the positive perception of communism is also a matter of nostalgia for that type of caring state. In communism, everything was regulated by the state: jobs, housing, holidays and even spare time. The fast and traumatic toppling of the economy triggered by the transition from Socialism to Communism confused many and left them dreaming of a type of involved state, but, as Manuela Marin told us, that would come at a price:
TRACK VF: " The individual found themselves faced with a multitude of challenges that would question everything that was familiar to them, about life and living in general. It's about what I call the disappearance of the social contract. The communist state is a paternalist one, which made a certain unwritten deal with the common citizen: I provide for your basic needs, and you commit to subordinating to me, to putting into practice the decisions of the communist party or of the state."
30 years after the fall of that state, the governmental and administrative structures that followed failed to replace the dependence on the state with the trust into the functionality of some institutions that guarantee certain rights. We have more on this from historian Alina Pavelescu, the deputy-director of the National Archives in Bucharest.
"Currently, for a citizen to feel good and safe also means to trust the other members of society, authorities and institutions. And it is understandable, as long as the relations between citizens and institutions are not that good in our country, with so many unresolved issues in the past 30 years, which are related to both the Communist regime, and the post-Communist times. The consequence is citizens' lack of trust in other people and also in the institutions."
On the other hand, many of the issues occurring in Communism have not been settled in due time. Quite the opposite, many have persisted and grown and that has created confusion among the young people, who believe they are phenomena from the recent past. Here is Alina Pavelescu again:
" It's quite strange to see that many young or middle-aged people say that it was better before, given the fact that those who lived in those times should know that, for instance, treatment conditions in hospitals were terrible, so much worse as they are now. The bribe giving system, for instance, became quite well-established in the 1980s."
But for the younger generations to find about all these things, the history of Communism should be better learnt and understood. So, education and lower expectations from a paternalist state could be solutions for the younger generations to get rid of the mentalities inherited from those times. Alina Pavelescu believes that children today have the chance of living in an open world, where their critical thinking is free to grow.