Maria Cernat was invited by Belgian-based journalist Youri Smouter to appear on his podcast, 1+1, to share with an international audience what Romania was like during communist times and also to talk about the past three decades of neoliberal austerity. In the interview, Maria describes the experience of growing up in communist Romania and how she experienced the 1989 Revolution. During the 90-minute discussion she shares her views on the dark sides of human rights abuses during Ceausescu’s regime but she also emphasizes the positive aspects of that regime that the post-89 anti-communist hysteria prevents anyone from acknowledging and discussing.
This is an automatic transcription of the interview and may contain mistakes and spelling erros.
Youri Smouter: OK, perfect. OK, well, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another episode of One Plus One, Your Place for An Inconvenient Truth Telling in Myth Busting. And we are joined today by and I hope I’m not butchering her name, but we are joined today by by Dr. Maria Cernat. Did I get that right? Not exactly, but Maria, it is sure. And that’s who is a journalist, academic, professor and intellectual in Romania. And just before we get started, I’m going to give a brief introduction to her. Maria Cernat. Dr. Maria Cernat is vice president of the Institute for Social Solidarity and she is a lecturer at the university. And she’s part of the Faculty of Communication Sciences and International Relations and the Department of Communication, Foreign Languages and Public and Public Relations. Thank you so much for joining us.
Maria Cernat: Thank you very much for having me.
It’s an honor to have you. And so the first question I wanted to. I also forgot to mention she’s also an editor. She’s also an editor of a of a of a brilliant new journalist. Outlets called The Barricade and which which does very good news and analysis in Romanian, Polish, Bulgarian, English translations and in other languages geared towards an Eastern European left audience, but also an international audience. So I don’t want to forget that.
Yeah. Thank you for your kind introduction. We are actually a collective, journalistic collective because we thought to ourselves, well, since we are leftists we better organize as a collective and try to see how that works.
And that and that’s brilliant, because and we’re actually we’re going to get into why that is important, because at the moment… Well, throughout the world, but particularly in Eastern Europe, it is quite volatile, the situation of the far right and all of these rival oligarchs at each other’s throats.
And still, I mean, even though in the US there was there was the brief insurgency of Bernie Sanders and the Brits and, you know, Jeremy Corbyn and Canada. We have Dmitri Laskaris and Miriam Hadad of the Green Party trying to get the left to advance, but that Eastern Europe, it’s a completely different story where the left is advancing to where the left is and advancing too much.
Yes. Yes, it is. Because you asked me just before we started our conversation, if somebody like Jeremy Corbyn or somebody like Bernie Sanders would actually have success here in Romania? It would be very difficult for such a person and such a politician to appear. And I will tell you all about it, first of all, because the Romania the left has been dismantled by some sort of anti-leftist fundamentalism. And this has to do partially with something that can be accepted. And it’s a form of understandable hatred towards the authoritarian regime that we experienced. But it soon transformed into a much larger problem that we have here in Romania, that is: all the mainstream intellectuals are hardcore right wingers, even though they perceive themselves as being nuanced and centrist. When you look at their positions in terms of culture, what do they say? What do they say in terms of gender or what is their position in terms of the state intervention in the in the economy? You can easily see that they are hardcore right-wing intellectuals. So basically, it would be very difficult for someone like Bernie Sanders to become such a star here in Romania, but not impossible. And I will tell you all about it, but I will let you to guide me through the interview as you planned. So, your first question was about the communists?
Can you describe briefly what it was like to grow up under a Stalinist type dictatorship? That was that was huskier. And what made his rule distinct as compared to those of the USSR and others in Eastern Europe? Because, I mean, because all of them were or albeit Ceausescu was particularly brutal.
So I’ll explain a little bit my personal experience. I was 11 when in 1989, when the revolution basically took down Ceausescu and the communist regime was dismantled. And it was and I have very vivid memories of that period of time. I remember exactly about me growing up during those times.There were very difficult times. Ceausescu had this idea that we must pay back the IMF, the loan that we took. And what is ironic is that also Poland had a loan, but when the communist regimes fell apart, Poland was forgiven and their loan was simply erased but Ceausescu, left us proud, proud and poor with the loan completely paid. But that loan was paid off with a lot of hardships and the whole burden of it was supported by us, the citizens. And I remember going with my grandmother almost every day when I was very little to buy bread, then we will all stay in line and I don’t know if you can imagine that, but everybody was entitled to a certain amount of bread, to a certain amount of oil, to a certain amount of flour. So you could not buy more. And it has some advantages because nowadays you are seeing that somebody is throwing up food while others are starving. So we were all equal but somehow equal in poverty. And I remember that we went there and I mostly spent my childhood with my grandmother staying in line to buy something. And this was a common experience during those times. There was a food shortage and economic hardship, but of course, people managed to get by. My mother was very savvy in terms of getting by and she was the manager of the family and she always found ways to get food. And we had the refrigerator. And I remember that at some point one of her younger colleagues came to our house saying that his mother, who was also a very fierce manager of their household, didn’t have enough room for the meat.
And he came and my mother was struggling to find some room and he said, well, you and my mother should kiss Ceausescu because look how good you are doing. People found ways. And it’s interesting to see that even the famous writer, Saul Bellow, wrote a book about his winter here in Romania. And he described this process how on the surface there was no food. But people manage through all sorts of informal networks to get around the system. Now, there were all these political rituals. When I was very little I was…, how should I say, the “hawk of the nation”? I mean, this was so ridiculous. We were just small children and we were supposed to become some sort of war heroes. And I have a specific uniform. I particularly liked it because, you know, when you’re a child, you don’t realize the crazy theater you are taking part in. And then I become a pioneer. It doesn’t have the same meaning in English. You became something else when you were in the third grade. And I still remember that we had to salute and we had to report. We were all divided in groups, small groups, and each group had a leader and then the whole classroom had a leader that reported to the headmistress. And it was a whole ceremonial. And I still remember that
That staff kind of groomed to be the next secretary general of the Communist Party!
Its interesting because we were so little. But I still remember the salute that you have to say, hello, comrade. And you reported to the head of the classroom: ”My name is Maria. I had my time reporting for our group. We have 11 students present and these of us are missing and we are ready to begin the activities.” All of us used to say those things because we are three leaders that reported to the leader of the classroom and then the leader of the classroom reported to the headmistress. And it was very interesting because the whole ritual in itself was engaging. And I was so disappointed because in one year I missed the chance of becoming the leader of that group because I forgot to read something or to bring a book. I even had my picture removed from something that was called The Blackboard with the Students of Honor or something like that. And I had my picture taken and I was devastated so I could write stories.
But you know what, people when the communist regime fell, people who were so angry that there was no room for rational debate and functionality. And I cannot ask my sister who saw her colleagues being murdered before the dorm she was staying in Timisoara for rational discussion about communism, she will die as an anticommunist person, and I completely understand because I remember the first days when the revolution started, there were trains coming into our small town, that from Timisoare, where the revolts were taking place. And I remember my parents telling me that a family that they were expecting the students like they were coming from a war zone and every parent was desperate and they were all crying and shaking because they all saw what happened to one of the families expecting their son. They were not able to see him but their son got out of the train on the other side, not on the side where the parents did. And they were crying desperately thinking that he was shot. And you can imagine that there were dramatic times that we lived through very tragic times because there were students, colleagues of my sister’s, that were arrested, beaten up brutally and released the weeks after the revolution started. So, you cannot ask these people for a rational debate, OK? You have to understand that they will hate it and when they hear about communism, they start to react very irrational. And that’s understandable. But unfortunately, that left us without antibodies for the new neo liberal regime that was going to come that we idealized so much. Because there were good things too during those years. I remember that I went and I took guitar lessons for free and they even had guitars there that I could take home that were for free for everybody. I remember that we could go in different camps. We could go at the sea for free. I mean, the you would still have had to have some money, of course, to buy certain things. But the hotel and the cafeteria and the food was for free for everybody. Just imagine every single child in Romania had access to that.
This is something that was something that was lost and not the elites who go to Greece and go to exotic places think that now everything is greatbecause during Ceausescu’s time, we weren’t able to go abroad. But…think of the millions of Romanian children who don’t have access to any form of vacation. I mean any vacation outside their home is not possible for them.
So you must think in terms of who got access to what. And there were hospitals, even a small little village like the one I’m living now because I moved closer to Bucharest and even a small village like this one had some sort of hospital here and people could go to. Of course, not for very complex medical advice or operation or surgery or stuff like that, but for minor things. They could rely on the doctor that was coming here since public health was for free. Everything was for free. So nobody’s willing to discuss these things. Nobody is willing to discuss it. And it’s something that everybody is concentrating only on the negative elements. There were a lot of bad things. The list is long, but you also have to see that for the vast majority of people just think that after the 1945, a vast majority of Romanians were simply illiterate, more than a half of Romanian, especially in the rural areas, were illiterate and that was abolished in 1989. We didn’t have that high percentage of illiterate people. And that was of course due to the free education and the fact that everybody had access to free education. Now, another thing that was for the intellectual elite was a disaster but for the people, for the children living in rural areas was the blessing. And let me explain, he had this idea to send the best teachers and the best students to teach in the rural areas. And my mother and my father had the incredible, incredible opportunity of studying with some of the best teachers. In a very, very small village like, I don’t know, a village with three hundred people, just imagine, and the school there had exceptional teachers. Of course, for the teachers it was a disaster because the state didn’t give them enough money. They had to go from their family to God knows where to start off there in the middle of nowhere. It was horrible for them. But for people like my parents, it was a blessing. I mean, my mother went from living in a small house somewhere on a hill in a very, very small little village that the resembled the village of in the Middle Ages. And she went to school. She got quality education, and she ended up being the economic manager of a one thousand two hundred people. OK, so she went from nothing to becoming the economic manager of 1200 people. So these are realities and we must take a broader perspective. But unfortunately, the mainstream intellectuals colonize the discourse. And there are people like my sister who are viscerally hating communism and they are vengeful and full of frustrations. And of course, I think maybe two decades from now on, we will be able to discuss a little bit more calmly about what happened. It was pretty traumatic for a lot of people. We must acknowledge that.
But unfortunately, it transformed itself into some sort of religion. OK, yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah.
I could talk for hours just about that topic because I think it’s very interesting and I think you see a lot of people just saying the bad things that happened back then. Well, yeah, there were. But also we had what is called “the house of the student” or something like that is very difficult to translate exactly in English, because there was a whole vocabulary of the Communist Party that is difficult to translate. But there you had the teachers paid by the state that would teach you from dancing, ballet, guitar or violin or whatever, even electrical and building a small radio and stuff like that. I remember I went there and it was all for free.
And then I bought a guitar that was not expensive because I didn’t like the one that I got for free. That was not the best one. But still you could use that. And I love to play classical guitar. And this is how I started: with free lessons, you know,I took lessons all during high school for free.
Can you imagine that?
I took lessons for free. And the teacher was really great and I felt excellent. And that was the situation. You have to take into account the pluses and minuses and to see that there are the people had the major chance.
I’m thinking about father. I mean, he was brought in a well-off family back in the rural area, but if it weren’t for the communists, he would still be in the rural area, probably cultivating the land.
K, so he got like my mother, but also the support of his family. And he was pretty smart. And he got the best teachers and he entered one of the best universities in Romania. And he was an electrical engineer and he became also manager in a big company producing fur coats in Romania. I guess when you think about that, they were pretty bad things because I remember my father when the revolution started, he climbed the building of his factory and he took down the letters, because there were letters, big letters saying the Socialist Republic of Romania. And he took down the letters form the word “socialist” all by himself. It was his revolutionary act back then in 1989. So everybody was pretty much fed up with Ceausescu and his crazy wife. But, you know, the factory doesn’t even exist right now, and that’s the sad part, because we thought that, oh, we are going to get rich, we are going to get so rich that the top one percent in the United States are going to look at us with envy.
But we are so naive.
I fell like crying when I remember how naive we were and how happy we were that Ceausescu was finally gone. I remember that. I listened to what is now the national anthem in Romania and I listened it for the first time to the national radio. And we started crying. My grandmother, my sister, we were so happy…
I could talk for hours about that …
Well, before we talk about Romania now, that’s a perfect segue way to my second question in which you could probably talk a bit more about the hardships of of Ceausescu and the abuse of human rights, because he did talk about some of the some of the positive elements of the socialist policies that Ceausescu had. Well, yes. In terms of human rights and civil liberties, yes. The guy was very appalling. And so this is one of the questions. The second question I want I want to talk to you before we talk about post-communist Romania is why was Ceausescu opposed to abortion and how did he weaponize mental institutions?
Yeah, well, let me explain what happened. I mean, abortion rights were not granted in Romania. But starting from 1945 and for a short period of time, they were accessible for women. But Ceausescu had this crazy idea that we have to make Romania great again. Maybe it sounds familiar. And he had this idea that we have to build a great nation and how can you build a great nation if you don’t have enough children? And who is going to give birth to those children? Of course, the women. In 1966, a law was voted on, not voted on, but imposed, that all abortions are illegal. The people who are providing abortions should be put in jail, that all contraception was forbidden. Not even contraception was allowed.
It was horrible because you may think that that was only a law. This is, I think, the third one that I’m telling this, that but important for our viewers to understand that the system had very meticulous and very devious ways of implementing that law. For instance, in factories, women would be lined up and going to colleges would come to see if they were pregnant or not. They were treated like cattle, like animals, you know. I heard horror stories from one of my best friends saying that her mother had a back-alley abortion and she got infected. She ended up in the hospital and the police was preventing the medical personnel from taking care of her. And that was not enough. The police brought her children saying, look, you are not going to see those brats anymore. You are going to die unless you tell us who did this to you. This is that was the cruel reality that many women had to face. And you can imagine how big trauma was for Romanians, because, just think about it… When I hear right now the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church in Poland wanting to abolish abortion, I get… I don’t know, I’m terrified by the idea because you can imagine how hard it is to live with such a burden. The Romanian women were deeply traumatized because of all the intimacy, all the relations with men were compromised by this constant terror that you have to have as many children as possible. And it is true, though, they were offered housing. Things were different. It was not like the situation we are now experiencing. Back then, the housing was a human right in Romania and they were offered some housing but it was far from enough. So, people had to deal with very serious hardships during those times. And the whole effort of having a big nation, a great nation again was put on the shoulders of the women and their uteruses were no longer theirs but the property of the state.
So just imagine and and then before we talk about post-Soviet Romania, but isn’t there a big movement in Romania which wants to make abortion still illegal at all, contraceptions illegal, even though there still is that collective trauma, the intergenerational trauma of Ceausescu’s eccentric views?
Well, you see, this is the tragedy that people are going further and further to the right. And what happened after 1989 is that it was some sort of ideological void, some sort of ideological confusion.
And the Orthodox Church was there to fill up that gap because because religion was outlawed in Romania.
Yes, but let me just say that we had more churches than any other country in the Ex-Soviet Block. And it was the love- hate relationship with the Orthodox Church because the secret services in Romania used the priest who would to get information from about the church going people.The priests usually signed an agreement with the Secret Service that they would reveal things that they would be hearing during the confession.
So it was a love and hate relationship. And unfortunately, Ceausescu was not a true communist in all the aspects that we would consider right now. He came from the rural area and there were a lot of areas where he was conservative. Let me give you just one example. When he came to power, we were in good relations, good relations as in inverted commas, with the Soviet Union. It was a relation of cooperation because this is how it all started, the countries in the Soviet bloc who were cooperating. But he thought that he should have his own say and his own ideas imposed. So, he made some deals. Just remember that he visited the queen of England. He had Nixon coming here and he forged some alliances with the Western countries, and he also emphasized and pushed the nationalist propaganda to the maximum here in Romania. And it is very funny because this is how crazy right-wing movement was began in Romania, because he said, look, our ancestors are small tribes from a long time ago, just before the Romans came here and colonized the province. And we are those descendants of those tribes, “dacii” as they are called, and they fought with the imperialist influences of the Roman Empire. We are fighting right now having Ceausescu as our leader against the imperialists from the Soviet Union. That was the propaganda and it all started in 1971. And we have this one in my small town…We have a statue of the leader of those tribes that were colonized by the Roman Empire. And this type of statues is to be found all over the country. And the people came to believe this ideology. And because Ceausescu put his brother as the head of the Museum of Military History, a lot of people in the army have some sensitivity and quite believe this type of nonsense, that we are the descendants of a great tribe that fought with the Roman Empire and so on and so forth. This type of wild theories about our very noble ancestors and this type of building for yourself, this very nice and very, how should I say, idealized version of your ancestors.
So, yeah, well, this is what happened.
And unfortunately, we had the very powerful Secret Service I would call Romania a dictatorship of the Secret Services. And it was not really a communist dictatorship because the proletariat was certainly not in power. The Secret Service was in power. And what we saw was a Secret Service that was unleashed that didn’t obey to anyone. And eventually the Secret Service took over because there were people that got some money that wanted to get more money and the communist ideology and the Communist Party would just stay in their way. And after the revolution, the ones that opened up business are the ones that dismantled the state companies and the public sector were those people, you know, and it is so tragic that we publicly condemned communism, but no word about the secret police, the Secret Service. It started to function again in 1991 and they function under a law from 1993. I think that was amended in a thousand and two allowing them to provide finance also from private enterprises.
So, you have a very interesting history of the secret services here and the deep state and the very real national security state.
Yes, and unfortunately nobody discusses about because, OK, it was not Karl Marx that came to torture and to destroy the lives of the women back then. It was their work, the people working for the secret services. And while after the revolution, they continued to get their pensions and only two of them got convicted for torturing people here in Romania, we condemned communism.
So we basically deprived ourselves from the ideological antibodies that would allow us to fight the neoliberal policies.
And at the same time, we caressed and we cherished the Secret Service and the descendants of the Secret Service that was actually doing all the bad things before 1989.
Previous to 1991 that they were to arm a force that actually implemented those very harsh policies in all their all their sins are forgiven just because they just because when they saw the writing’s on the wall, they helped overthrow Ceausescu. And then later some summarily executed him and his wife.
Yes, it was a very. It was… A very troubling fact. We all felt that that was a very… how should I say… it was not a real trial, but some sort of cheap theater and that they, Ceausescu and his wife were murder murdered on December 25 when we celebrate Christmas and I don’t know if you know, but we rank first among the European countries in terms of religious people so that they don’t feel so good about that event. But think everybody was happy that we finally got rid of the monster, not thinking that that monster was not alone.
OK, perfect segue way to that, which is I mean, you’ve already talked about this, but it just expands a bit more. Can you describe, then, the tragic turn of events of post-Soviet communist Romania and how Romania, after ridding itself of Russian imperialism and its far-left tyranny, that was Ceausescu. You we then got into that the age of what the Yomi Klein calls the shock doctrine, which is now called austerity. So, talk about that. Talk about how deindustrialization and privatization was disastrous for Romania.
OK, so what happened was that let me give you just one example, I live near one of the biggest mega-state companies in the city, in the western part of our country that employed before the revolution almost 40 thousand workers.
It is destroyed.
People were depressed. They had nowhere to go and especially men were hit because the women got to jobs or at companies suing clothes for the big companies that would come and use their cheap labor. But the men were particularly hurt by this by this thing. So, this happened all over Romania.
There’s also a very, very nice movie about how workers tried to save their factory by going to Bucharest to donate their sperm. And they think that they would collect enough money.
And it is so sad that it’s so ironic in the movie that one character, the doctor, says we are looking for Danish students, not you, stupid Romanians. You are not valued on the sperm market. To comment, I will give you the link after initially something like that, so this happend all over the country. I mean, people lost their jobs. They were working in huge state companies. We had huge industrial complexes that hired thousands of people and the whole city was living around those institutions. This was also a weak part of our economic model because we have these mono-industrial cities.
And when the company collapsed, the city collapsed because they were dependent on that company to function.
And it was a tragedy, as I told you, my father was hired and he worked for pretty much the all the period after he graduated up until 1989 to a factory that was producing leather and fur coats. And they were exporting them to Russia because it is very cold in Russia and they need the fur coats during winter time. And they were producing fur coats for the army and for the police and for every pretty much everybody. And there were 3500 people employed there and the factory no longer exists. You can see it is so sad because when I was little, I remember that I went there and my father even designed one of the buildings and they were even thinking about extracting keratin that is now used in cosmetics because they had a lot of a lot of leather. And a lot of very bright and very intelligent people worked there. I mean, it is this idea that the whole Romanian industry was full of uninteresting, stupid people. It is not at all like that. I mean, they worked and they liked it there because it was stable. It was predictable. They would go there from 7.30 to 3 PM and then they would go home. They would stay there for eight hours, no extra time. Everything was very stable and that provided them with some sort of stability that is crucial to your psychological well-being.
Now that’s gone.
The factory… where did the factories go to, do they go to another part of the world where they just simply dismantled and whoever got people got rich?
Let me explain. Unfortunately, the vast majority were simply dismantled. It’s such a tragedy to see that even the buildings started to collapse and people would steal.
One would steal a window, another one would steal a door, and everything would collapse in the end. And part of that was due to what we believed. I mean, my father, my mother, we all believed that privatization is the solution because, of course, when you have a state bureaucracy, you have a lot of stagnancy. You have a lot of frustration due to the fact that people are bored and things are not dynamic enough. I mean, it was not an ideal situation and people were fed up with this type of bureaucratic state-owned companies. But what followed was an even bigger disaster and nobody expected that, OK, because there were people who got very rich and who got to the factories for nothing and the owner would pay directly to the person some money, like five hundred two million or so cost to the whole thing. He would pay some bribe to somebody less than the amount and then who he would buy for two dollars.
This is how it happened then.
People were very disappointed and nobody listens to them, you know, nobody listens to them.
And they are the most excluded, marginalised people because the workers found themselves with nothing after 1989 and they had such high hopes.
And just think about it. Romania lost almost four millions of its citizens that went to work abroad.
I mean, no single fire shot, you just had to reinstall capitalism, and now we are seeing that we are the second country after Syria in numbers of people migrating. It is unbelievable. And the right wingers are cheering up saying this is a good thing because they are going there and they are working. And this is how free market works, because they are selling their labor and sending home money for the children. But yes, but they are leaving the children alone here to be taken care of by some relatives. And the numbers of depression cases and even suicides among children just spiked after this because maybe economically might sound OK, but socially, it’s a disaster. You will see the number of divorces and families destroyed, then people and children abandoned and then women coming back from working very hard and actually suffering from mental burn out and being very distressed. And it is a burden on the public health system. And nobody is when you are saying, well, they sent in Romania 10 million euros just in one month. But think about the social costs. I mean, how many children abandoned school, how many children committed suicide? How many children do you have right now in depression? How many women have come back and now are in a mental institution because they are broken by the harsh conditions of work that they had to face? So nobody is discussing this in the more nuanced I mean, nobody people in mainstream, especially the right wing, the intellectuals and the right wing politicians are not looking at this very complex phenomenon that migration is in terms of the social costs, in terms of mental institutions,
So if you were a dissident, you were thrown into a mental institution and they would do all sorts of evil things to try to sue the person. But that said, our private mental institutions considered good in Romania, but they cost way too much, whereas the public institutions I mean I mean there are bad as well. But they’re so underdeveloped that everyone goes seat once again. If you get government involved, everything goes to shit. Therefore, more privatization.
Well, this is what happens. I mean you destroy the public system by cutting funding and then you say, look, it doesn’t work. Well, no kidding? I mean, you throw mud to it and now you’re saying that it’s dirty. This is basically how it works. So, in terms of this is a whole new chapter of mental problems here in Romania, I saw some statistics that we are among the most depressed people. And no wonder I mean, just about just think of our century because we just celebrated one hundred years since we are a nation, the three provinces of Romania got together. Two of them got together and merged earlier and the three merged in 1918. So, we just celebrated two years ago the great unification of the provinces.
And the problem is that, look, during 100 years, we had two wars. We had the communist regime, we had the revolution, and then we had the three decades of neoliberalism. Just think about it. I mean, you cannot compare because everybody says, look how civilized and well-ordered society in Switzerland is. Well, you cannot compete with that, OK, because they have not gone through the same traumas that you have as a people. So you better stop trying to compete to compare yourself to that.
That’s yeah, that that’s amazing and that’s a perfect segue way, because now Romania started all the shock doctrine and austerity before they joined the European Union rights.
Of course, we had this idea to join the European Union.
They had to do more privatization before they could even join the European Union, right?
Well, yes, they had to. The problem is that they signed very controversial agreements, and the European Union was, again, this sort of fantasy that we had, we thought that all things are going to get better once we are in the European Union and maybe this is the case… you cannot create a picture in black and white. Some things work better because look… there’ work those four million Romanians that have nothing to do here. We’re supposed to do what was expected once we were in the European Union and they were given the possibility to work abroad for them. For the moment, it was something good if we don’t look at the bigger picture. But for the moment, it was a good thing for them. Then it was the thing that we no longer need visas. And this whole idea that we belong to something, it was quite reassuring that finally, even though we are still self-colonized, of course we are. Europe is like, you know, you have the states of the United States and now somebody in San Francisco would suddenly be happy that he is entering the United States. You were there all along. We were here, here in Europe all the time. I mean, this type of thinking that, oh, we are finally in the European Union is also proof of self-colonization. I don’t know much about the privatization that we had to do, but I know that starting from 1996 and 2000, whole sectors of the Romanian economy started to be privatized. And then in 2011 almost two thousand schools were either closed or they merged.
And at the urging of the European Union rights.
Well, it was a response to the crisis in 2008 and it was a response to that crisis, and the answer to the Romanian politician’s answer was that we have to close down schools and hospitals because we are spending too much with it.
And they closed 67 hospitals. We still have like six hundred. So, they closed 10 percent of the public hospitals back then.
That was a huge blow to the country.
The reason why I was laughing a bit is that is that you said very quickly after the end of communism, there was already the wild, wild west of capitalism coming about and all of these realizations and privatization schemes and shock doctrine. Then you joined the European Union, which everybody says is the great liberal socialist hope, and that the European Union say to a country which has already, you know, sabotaged its own economy, you know, and propping up reactionary capitalism, you’re now having the European Union saying you guys are actually spending too much money on your hospitals and your schools. You need more privatization.
Yeah, yeah, well, Romania is a strange country, I mean, just before the pandemic’s, we had the Ministry of Health that wanted to privatize actually the emergency services or he wanted to give access to private hospitals, to the public funds.
And what is even funnier is that during lockdown, the first to close down their doors for the public hospitals, the private hospitals.
So just imagine that the propaganda is very powerful. And the sad, sad thing is that I think we must wait for another generation, for people who are not visceral, you know, that they are not so vengeful and hateful against leftist ideology. We must wait to have a new generation of people that might be prone to listen to these ideas. What is even more dangerous is that they will probably be inclined to listen also to the Orthodox Church that said that we should ban abortion because they no longer remember what it was like and they don’t remember that we had 10000 thousand women die due to the back-alley abortions. And we had tens of thousands of children abandoned in orphanages due to that that the law. So I don’t know, I saw some statistics that we are going almost to disappear as a nation because of fewer and fewer people want to have children and our youngsters are dreaming about going abroad. Our population is depressed. And I don’t see a bright future for Romania. And I held responsible. First and foremost are intellectuals who are not willing to engage in any debate about in a poor country like Romania not to have a left-wing voice. It’s also the result of mainstream intellectuals being engaged in some sort of capitalist church, in some sort of anti-leftist religion. If you talk to them about redistribution, you are the sister of Mao, OK? If you talk to them about modern versions of social protection, you are the incarnation of Stalin. OK, so it is impossible to have a debate and a healthy intellectual and political environment when people react like that. I mean, and I told you, I want an intellectual debate and I when I look around and I see so much conservatism and neo conservatism and so much, I don’t know, the Orthodox Church coming in our university, my university, we have a huge painting in the Aula Magna of the Virgin Mary giving birth to young Jesus. I mean, come on, we are a university, not a church. So, when I see all the things It looks pretty depressing.
Yeah, it’s it is it is very sobering because because, you know, you mentioned how about how this about how this about how these market fundamentalists, these you know what I mean?
Max Blumenthal would call the ad libs idiot liberals, you know, talking about how wonderful it is joining the European Union, because now everybody can because now everybody can move freely from abroad. But the problem is, is that those Romanian youths and even those elderly Romanian workers who go to work in some building company that creates a brain drain in Romania. And then the vicious cycle just continues because the moment those people, even though they may not like doing a working class or a low wage job in England or Scotland or Ireland or Belgium, they still say, well, this is a five star hotel compared to Romania or any other part of Eastern Europe, right?
Yeah, this is the sad part. And the brain drain should be addressed. And the European Union, if we want to have a European Union, I still believe maybe I’m self colonized or nostalgic or call me whatever you like, but I still believe that the European project should be given another try because but it has to be restarted on political and not economic basis. What do I mean by that? We have to come together around some values and not around the idea that we must all work for a financial elite in the European Union.
OK, do you think fighting for the European Union is so? Do you agree with those on yet? Do you think that the European Union is a neo-liberal institution?
Well, not do I think I’m certain. I mean, just look how the financial sector is working. We don’t have some sort of the same financial policies in every country.
We don’t have a much stronger public central bank that could, you know, inject where whenever is needed, money on the market. If you are in the European Union and you no longer have your own currency when disaster strikes, then you cannot inject money into the economy to make it work again. So, the European Union doesn’t have this instrument or if it has it, it doesn’t work.
OK, so you have the crisis and just look how the financial institutions and how it works and how far to go and how I learned how Italy, how Greece, how Spain look what happened to them.
Look what happened when they were not allowed to inject enough money into their economy when the crisis hit because they were no longer in charge of that. And unfortunately, the European Union was not responsive enough. And even during the pandemics, I mean, you should expect more when you listen to that wonderful song that is the anthem of the European Union, that all nations should come together and stand together like brothers.
This is what should bring us together. But this is pure theater, because in the end, you saw what happened to Greece. I mean, the whole money that they got were to pay the German banks and not the Greeks, OK?
And the most vulnerable Greeks were taking off governmental financial aid to pay for the rich, wealthy German bankers. And they find this to be very troubling. And they followed all these measures to destroy what was once thought to be a very nice and very inspiring political project. Of course, it was thought as an economic project right from the beginning, but it had the sense of a nice political flavor to it to call it that, though, OK, and all the European very good.
The European Union’s propaganda is very good at branding itself as a as a wonderful socialist social liberal project. But of course, it’s anything but. But before I get to my last. Two questions that is staying on the topic of the European Union, you mentioned that you believe that you still feel that you still believe in reforming the European Union. So with so with the Brexit campaign was taking place in Britain, were you more of a were you more of a favor that Britain remains in the European Union? And if a Jeremy Corbyn was to ever become prime minister or some other person who’s not a reactionary Thatcherite, it’s against a power. It’s better to reform the European Union as opposed to just abolishing its completely and then, you know, leaving a vacuum for more reactionary right wingers.
Well, I think that the European Union got a major blow from Brexit because and I don’t condemn them and don’t condemn anyone for voting like that and don’t say, oh, these are stupid people that wanted to get rid of the European Union because they don’t know what they’re doing. No, they had their reasons, OK? And they just outlined some of them. And I think they had other reasons.
But there also was a lot of propaganda that you are going to get rid of all the Romanians working and all the Polish people working in, you know, Great Britain. And then everything will be great.
Well, I like very much a perspective that Paul Smith, one of the contributors, said the Barricade had on what should happen. I mean, the whole European project should be founded on cooperation and solidarity, and there is no other way to do it. But first, abolish the fiscal paradises. I mean, let’s talk about the money, OK? Because the propaganda is so nice that I even fell for it from time to time, even though I’m very critical as well. Well, so first of all, abolish the financial paradises like Ireland, like Luxembourg, like the Netherlands and eventually Switzerland. OK, let us all play by the same rules. Let us not accept what Luxembourg did, like the first three hundred and fifty major corporations came to put their money there in order not to pay taxes. OK, let’s think about solid politics of redistribution and let’s think about producing what is needed and stop a little bit this competitive production of profit. OK, because this is what is driving us here. Even if you have a socialist country that, say most of the companies are public and even if you have worker coops, if they compete like crazy amongst each other, you are not going to get beyond this crazy logic of competition because that is basically ruining the community, the family, the planet and everything else with it. So, until we do that and I told you, I have a big problem with those who don’t pay taxes and to hide their taxes here in Europe, let’s start with those things and then think about how we should try to get back into the European Union because nobody plays by the same rules.
It’s very difficult to say, well, we have to act in solidarity. In solidarity with whom? With Luxembourg. No, I don’t think I can do that.
All righty, fantastic answer and make sure that Romanians don’t adopt the euro.
Well, it would be very difficult and I think it would be the final blow to our economy because we are so poor. Just let me give you some numbers. 32 percent of Romanians live in poverty, third world poverty. They don’t have enough food. OK, 32 percent now. Most of the minimum wage in Romania is four hundred and sixty euros, and 60% of the workers work for that minimum wage.
So just imagine what a crisis and financial crisis would mean in these conditions for Romania. Wow.
Yeah, yeah, so Romanians, please don’t adopt the euro.It may sound nice, but it’s not.
Just ask your Irish brothers and sisters for me because I’m not a specialist. Listen to the Joseph Stiglitz, who was at the World Bank and who wrote an extensive work that was translated into Romanian about the euro and how dangerous it is still not to have the possibility to inject money into the economy when disaster and when a crisis hits.What happens to our neighbors in Greece? Because you may find there some very interesting lessons.
Yeah, and that’s a perfect this is a perfect segue then into. Yeah, that’s a perfect segue way to this question. We we talked earlier you explained earlier how Romania and Eastern Europe, do you have legitimate grievances against communism. And by and large, they do have legitimate grievances against the Russians who who lack of a better word did colonize Romania and Eastern Europe.But you talked about how much of the political, academic and media class engaged in anti-Russia, Putin derange Putin derangement syndrome.And they believe that joining the that that joining NATO and the European Union, it’s their best defense against you, against a resurgent Russia, even though Russia under Putin and before him, Yeltsin is capitalist, not communist. So, so, so, so can you talk about how the about how solidarity people like me and and the left in Romania, how can they overcome the anti-Russia derangement syndrome while still acknowledging that there are legitimate grievances against.
I mean, I think in Romania right now saying that you are pro-Putin is worst than saying you’ve got STD so that carries such a stigma that you better shut up about it?
Because it is bizarre, because Romania is very much market fundamentalist. It has rival oligarchs, rival far right wingers across the country. The entire political class are all market fundamentalists. And the liberals are all right wingers, too. They all hate Putin and they all have Russia derangement syndrome, much of that because of legitimate grievances, because Russia colonized Romania. But that’s bizarre because Putin said it’s not a flaming left winger. Putin is a flaming right winger.He’s an autocratic oligarch.
And yet the left the very pathetic excuse of a left in Romania, what the world socialist Web site would call the pseudo left are joining forces with the right wingers in this and say, Putin derangement syndrome and thinking that membership of NATO, just like membership of the European Union, is their best defense against a resurgent Russia, even though that Russia is a is a backward capitalist system, not a a left wing tyranny.
Well, this is very interesting, but people are not interested in that because we are cultivating ignorance about Russia. And here I mean, just imagine most of the people that get invited to discuss about Russia do not speak Russian. I talked about this other on another podcast with JG Michael. And I told him, look, I interviewed two feminists from Russia, and that already makes me more of a specialist that most of the people who are invited to discuss about Russia because there will be in corporate state media and Romanian mainstream media, OK, they don’t speak Russian, they don’t talk the Russians they are not interested in the Russian press.
And they are cultivating this representation of the boogeyman who is going to come and get us. And we have to fight it.
And as I told other reporters and other journalists, I what is missing in Romania is that honest, deep and complex criticism of Russia, not this repeating of propaganda by, you know, important figures in mainstream media.
We currently lack people who speak Russian and are familiar with what happens in Russia to give us an honest criticism.
Paradoxically, what we are missing, because you talked about Putin as an oligarch, as a supporter of a deep state, because he was a member of their Secret Service and nobody is trying to engage and to tackle these issues, he had a major problem because he wanted to change the retirement age and to change the rights of the people who were retired. And there were protests about that. Nothing in the Romanian press.
Well, we can hear that he’s a bad guy and we must pay NATO and American companies money to defend us from him. This is the basic narrative that is very simplistic and even stupid.
News surfaced just a few weeks ago that the Romanian army just dropped off the negotiations with the European company producing military equipment and then going to buy with no public bidding, with no auction or something like that, to buy directly from Raytheon military equipment. And I thought to myself, I think the owner of Raytheon went home and just kissed a picture of Putin, saying: “it is so good that you exist”.!
Please stay there because I owe you! This stupid Rumanians just offered to buy directly from us, making us two hundred million euros richer because you exist. Just think about what would happen if Putin would suddenly decide to negotiate and to make friends with the US. It would be a disaster. I mean, a lot of people would loose their jobs. A lot of people would not be invited to talk about how bad Russia is.
A whole industry and whole business would collapse if he didn’t exist. And this is the perverse, you know, aspect of this whole situation is that you need him to be there and to be the boogeyman. I mean, you the companies, the intellectuals in Romania actually need this boogeyman.
Even at what?
And also intellectuals to the left are saying, oh, don’t talk like that, they are going to think that we are pro Russians or don’t collaborate at The Barricade because they are going to think that you are pro-Russian. Look, I define myself. You don’t get to smear me by saying that I’m pro-Russian. If I don’t join you in this festival of fear and ignorance, what I want to do is some almost complex analysis of what’s happening in Russia.
This is what we lack. And even if I say that, it means that I’m paid by some, oh, I don’t know, secret services to influence the Romanian public. Come on, this is crazy. I mean, I interviewed a girl, a feminist, that was accused of spreading hate against men and they wanted to put her in prison. OK, the Putin regime. So, don’t talk to me like that. I mean, I interviewed people that are really suffering in Russia as a result of the authoritarian regime, but it’s very difficult to reason with these people. And I think some of them are idiots and some of them are paid. OK, we have very few people can engage in a very serious and profound criticism and analysis of what happens in Russia. This is my opinion.
That’s crazy because you would think, though, that Putin, who’s who’s not a left winger, Putin is a right winger. In fact, Putin actually has much more in common with the very people who hate him because he is a right winger. He does have he does have a rival far right forces. Who do you know who do support him? Romania, as you mentioned, you have men in the grip of the orthodox of the Orthodox Church, which is very socially conservative, very, very reactionary. And you have the same similar forces that support Russia rivals. But but still, at the end of the day, he is very much a right winger. So you would think that those that you know, that those that those reactionary forces in Romania would actually would actually be very much like Donald Trump and say, why don’t we actually get along with the Russians?
Well, we actually have to talk with Russia because talk about like a waste of like our resources with all of these, you know, with all this NATO fun club now because Romanians are very obedient and they want to get along with NATO and they don’t want any trouble, even though that, as you mention, Romania is… most of the country is dominated by an oligarchy pretty much like Russia. So, we have many things in common. But if you would say something like that to Romania, because they would go crazy because they don’t want to explore that possibility. And what is even more interesting, and I find it so disappointing, is that it was in the Romanian Academy.
We have one person that this man has a high status to say to express it like that. And he said, look, we cannot do to Russia what Russia is doing to us.
And I got the feeling that he’s envying the guy, you know, that Europe is so feminized. Then we have so many people that advocate for pluralism. While in Russia you don’t have that. But he was saying it like there was something to envy.
So, you actually had so you had this Romanian academic and is he a self-described leftist or right wing or a right winger and defending the right wing?
Yes, if you listen to him, you would get the idea that we have a problem in Europe with pluralism and democracy. And this is why Russian propaganda is so effective, because we tend to listen to the other side and this is our problem and presented like a problem like that one. And I write novels about other intellectuals and what they’re saying because it’s simply unbelievable. And it’s quite difficult for me because you can get very easily smeared and attacked. And luckily for me, I don’t have such a huge base of followers and a huge influence, because the minute I think I would get more influential, then they would come after me and they would say pretty horrible things about me.
It’s a pretty risky to talk in nuanced terms about Russia
That’s a pretty good segue then into the left in Romania and why the left is so weak in Romania, because, as we mentioned, we can’t have an honest conversation in which we say to people that the world is way more complicated than just the Russians are evil, no matter whether it’s communism or capitalism. We need to have a mixed economy where, where, where, where, where we can allow businesses to flourish. But the social contract is, is that they do need to pay taxes.
And we do need to have public education, public, a public health care service, and even merge mental health care with a universal health care. You know, like you mentioned, you cannot have these sort of conversations, especially in the country, which in which any one to the left of, you know, of a Bernie Sanders is considered evil, as you mentioned, Chairman Mao, Chairman Mao or Joseph Stalin. So how can we actually how can the left in Romania and Eastern Europe make these gains?
Yeah, how can they actually become like, you know, a you know, a positive force for good in Albania when there are so much of these reactionary forces and so many also get co-opted by nature in the European Union?
Well, starting from 2012, we had a platform committee, Critic Atac, that summon up some of the leftist intellectuals here in Romania. And I think it had a major role because it gave us a sense of community. Up until that moment, I thought I was the only one in the country having these ideas. And I slightly moved from the right wing to left to the more left leaning perspective. And I was scared. And first I thought, oh, I have these ideas, but it sounds so communist. What am I doing? How am I going to say these things? And it was a process. And I think for a lot of people it was very good that this platform finally appeared and we got a place to debate things. And I, I got more interesting and more interested in what happened after I saw that there were others. Of course, this is only natural and we wouldn’t have a political party, the Party of Democracy and Solidarity. But unfortunately, they’ve been caught up in all this cultural wars about how to discuss about sex work, how to discuss about gender and how to discuss about trans people. Should be right workers X with an X, not workers.
And in Romania, Romania is quite difficult because the language has a very … I mean the gender is so much influencing in the language. It isis not like in English that you have a single word. Workers in Romania you have two words.
You are referring to the women workers and you are referring to the men workers and those debates were endless. So, you see that these debates are very interesting but maybe in time there will be more prone to discourse about issues like poverty, like the wage, your wage, the people that are working and are still extremely poor because right now it’s very elitist. I mean, it was founded by Yale University professor working in one of the best universities in our countries, and it got together with some other university professors. Then this is how it started, the way we must accept that it was a very elitist group performed by academics and activists. And it has to appeal to the masses that it has to expand. Maybe not this particular political party, even though I’m happy it finally appeared in Romania and it finally somehow broke the consensus. But we need more and we need to appeal to those people. The problem right now, I was talking today to a political science student for her research. The problem that we are facing now is that we have a very elitist left-wing political force discussing very much about gender and ideology. And these discussions are very interesting that they are not appealing for the masses. We have to accept that. And the problem is that the vast majority of Romanians are Orthodox, are very conservative but would be very open to measures such as let’s have all the owners of enterprises give you a twenty five percent of their profit at the end of the year. That would sound very appealing, of course, but we have to find a common language with these people who are poor, abandoned and not the language of the activist sects that have their truth and are very emotionally engaged in one cause, but actually go to these people and find a common language.
Oh, yeah, but before I continue on with that, it’s so. So, you find that the that the Romanian left, the very small Romanian left. Do you find that they focus way too much on social issues like are liberation of feminism, immigration rights the right? Of Roma people, the gypsies, which are honorable, which are very, very honourable campaigns to wage, and I’m not denigrating them, I think I believe that we can chew gum and walk at the same time. We can raise the consciousness of workers and address workers rights while also campaigning for queer liberation, but that if you want to get the masses of the working class to say, hey, capitalism has failed you just as much as just as much as Romanian style of communism. But that we do that you do have to sort of put aside queer liberation, feminism and focus on workers, you know, worker rights, worker rights and campaigning for better funded education and health care and social rights.
Well, I think that would be the solution right now, because otherwise you will risk I mean… in this party was only one worker at one point. He was a taxi driver, but he was sexist and he was thrown out. And that sums it up. I mean, I think I could say no more. You get the picture. I mean, we had one worker every each and every one had a Master’s degree or a college. So we had highly educated people. And we had one taxi driver and they threw him out because … the reality that he was sexist. So, please find a solution because I cannot find one!
Well, it kind of reminds me when Jeremy when Jeremy Corbyn, the last year was running against Boris Johnson. And I’m of the opinion that if they had just kept the debates on economic issues which affect everybody, no matter whether you’re whether you’re an immigrant or whether you’re a black person, whether you’re a white working class person and even a young person getting out of university, if the debates and the issues had just focused on that, I think there’s a chance that Jeremy Corbyn would have won or at least would have had a good still a good opposition. But because they made it into Brexit, round two. I think that alienated much of the electorate still, even though there was very enthusiastic people who were talking about a second referendum, because if we leave the European Union, you know, locusts are going to take over the whole country. The fact that they believe that Brexit would appeal to people’s very narrow nationalism. And those people said, really, you’re going to try to overturn the referendum, which we won two middle fingers to you guys. And I think that’s why the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats and the Greens were all wiped out completely at the last general election.
Well, that’s a very interesting perspective. But let’s help our viewers and the ones who leftist in Romania, think about that, a lesson for the near future.
But then the last question I wanted to talk to you because you’re talking about because we talked about the left being so weak. But you mentioned that another reason why the left is so weak is because you still is because those who are far left, those who still identify as communists, are not so much communist, but that just Marxists, they tend to say that we need to go back to the days of chess scoop.
Well, we have such a party here in Romania. It was smaller, I think, or compared to this, the new one that was that was formed just a couple of years ago. And they are nostalgic. I went to one of one of their meetings and it is like you are on the ground near the grave of Ceausescu and people are mourning there. That’s I mean, this was the sentiment that I got where that the people mourning for our great leader. I mean, come on, I always push myself, because I teach critical thinking… I push students and I push myself to think of good things, even about the worst leaders like Hitler or the worst thing that you can imagine. But come on, at the end of the day, you have to move on and to understand the good things, there were bad things and abandon this type of rhetoric. Let’s go back to what it was. It’s not going to convince anyone anymore.
Yeah, it reminds me of, you know, that song by the Beatles Revolution.
I think I don’t remember.
Yeah, it’s it’s a fantastic song, and it was it was written by John Lennon and know and there’s one part of the song where he’s talking to the far left and at the West, you know, those I assume and migrates in and, you know, in the US. It’s all the rebel that they want to change the system. But when they talk about, you know, communism and they talk about, you know, dictatorship of the proletariat, that’s where, you know, it’s like, whoa, time out. And there’s one part of the song where he goes, where John Lennon goes. If you go carry your pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow, things like that, OK?
It was very nice talking to you. And I hope this is informative for your viewers. I wish you the best of luck with your show and.
Well, it’s exactly. Well, until and then, ladies and gentlemen, we are joined on this very special edition of One Plus One with Dr. Maria Cernat. And you can find her work at The Barricade, which we’re going to which we’re going to link at.
Well, we’ll talk to Dr CernatThank you so much for joining us on one plus one. I really hope that we get the chance to get to talk to you again, the future and even and even have you as a regular because you do follow Eastern European politics. So so, once again, thank you so much for joining us. And I look forward to future to future conversations.
OK!. Thank you very much. Bye. Thank you.
Photo: Block of flats in 21st century Bucharest (source: Pixabay, CC0)
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