Everything was better with communism – Doing research

Timișoara, seen through a grim filter

Newer pop and literary culture paints a grim picture of Romania. The main theme is how everything and everyone is cast under the dark shadow of the Securitate. When watching British or US documentaries about the 1980’s in Romania, they all compare it to a dystopian George Orwell story come true. People’s sole concern in their everyday life is how to escape and survive the all-seeing big brother’s eye.

Yet, when I meet with my father or mother and talk about our home country, they paint a different picture. The Romania of their adulthood wears the vivid colors of a Hippie era. “The cities were full of beautiful flowers, clean and trimmed. We’d called Timișoara the Eastern Paris,” my mother remembers.

And my father had the time of his life in the late seventies/early eighties “with all those big, joyful parties going on for days. Musicians used to dance on the roofs of houses, the whole village celebrated with us. We toured everyone’s home and everyone contributed with food and drinks. It’s unforgettable.” The “Kirchweih” – the anniversary of the consecration of the village’s church – was like an annual Woodstock festival. Surprising for a communist world everyone considers devoid of religion and God.

I must admit, Romanian parties are legendary. Never again have I met more joyous and humorous people when celebrating something. Compared to even the smallest of a Romanian birthday, every German wedding is dull. No offense, but that’s a fact.

But, as they continue talking about their lives in Romania, other stories come to light. My mother’s friend at boarding school who got unexpectedly pregnant and had to undergo the most inhuman difficulties to remove the fetus, as in a typical movie directed by Cristian Mungiu. Birth control and abortions were strictly forbidden in Ceaușescu’s time.

Then there was the event of my father being arrested simply for his German ethnicity, and therefore considered an enemy of the state.

There are two sides of one coin.

Everyone agrees, with being a Historical Fiction writer, you have to do plenty of research. Interviewing contemporary witnesses is an important part in that process. While one’s own family members are not the best choice, it still remains a task discussing 1980’s Romania’s with strangers.

Similar to Eastern-German’s “ostalgia” (a special form of Eastern nostalgia – East meaning Ost in German) over the loss of the German Democratic Republic, middle-aged and older Romanians remember that time in a golden light. Younger millennials know very few facts about the Romanian revolution or that it happened at all.

A survey on the streets of Timișoara revealed many don’t know the revolution started in their own city. Eyewitness reports have to be enjoyed with caution.

As most documents are still under seal, I mostly relied on British documentaries about that time period while writing my novel. I noticed when the analysis of the events was narrated too strongly from an English standpoint, I added and mixed my own interpretation and memories. After all, I wrote fiction and not an academic theory. Additionally, I wanted to show a typical Romanian and “americanize” him for a broader audience.

There are wild parties in my novels. There’s the cabin in Transylvania where my MC’s spend some of their holidays, coated in a romanticizing tone praising the beauty of Romanian rural life. My characters are not solely grim and anxious. Tiberius Nicolescu, the MC of the trilogy, shares many traits of my father in his “wild party years.” Summers were spent at the nearest natural bathing resorts, barbecuing with plenty of meat and cakes, listening to music, having fun, sometimes all night long.

As diverse and dazzling as the different Romanian regions and landscapes are, as lively and vivid a Romanian novel has to be, in my opinion.

No, it wasn’t all flowers and party.

No one admits today the Securitate spied on their family.

Still, years have to pass until Romanians can talk more freely about the “good ol‘ days of communism.”

The existence of violence and cruelty is still denied, similar to what Germans did with their own history in the first decades after World War II.

But then, Romania isn’t only conspiracies and spies, Gulags and dystopia, either.

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