Possible topics of interest: education, health care, living in a cash-based, creditless society, religion in a communist dictatorship, the consequences of political dissidence, the black market, the consequences of criminalizing abortion and homosexuality. Ask away!

EDIT: Holy cow people, it's late and I have work tomorrow..I'm going to bed now, thanks for an evening of nostalgia. :) It's been fun.

Comments: 1569 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

ArthurTrollington587 karma

No questions, but I'll answer questions too. One time, my parents took away my BMW FOR THE WHOLE WEEKEND.

eigenmouse272 karma

Come on people, downvotes? Seriously? Have some sense of humor!

theycallmemorty246 karma

Does it bother you when some Americans refer to their nation as a police state?

eigenmouse359 karma

Nah, I find it incredibly amusing.

fetuslasvegas143 karma

Can you elaborate a little more? :)

eigenmouse685 karma

It's a bit like watching spoiled children. They see these things happening that are sort of worrying, warrantless wiretaps, Gitmo, police abuse, they scream a bit about it, but all they ever do about it is vote for some politician who makes it even worse, or write a letter to some other politician who doesn't give a shit, and that's only the really motivated ones. The others go right back to matters of actual importance, such as why has Arrested Development been taken off the air and is nobody going to do anything about it.

When people realize that the politicians they vote for and write to to oppose the police state are the very people building it, it's usually too late.

fetuslasvegas124 karma

So what's your opinion on how we should handle these things besides voting/writing letters?

This is really interesting to me BTW.

eigenmouse481 karma

You could try violent protests every now and then. Or voting en masse for some folk hero type who isn't part of the establishment. Or publishing and consuming intelligent, openly subversive literature. Anything that can genuinely put the fear of God (it's an expression, you understand) into those scumbag politicians of yours who got comfortable and think they can ignore their constituents. Voting and writing letters isn't going to work, that's their game.

RiOrius46 karma

Or voting en masse for some folk hero type who isn't part of the establishment.

You betcha, Palin 2012!

pandemic144419 karma

who isn't part of the establishment.

I think he means along the lines of Nader (if he means someone running--I don't know if he will again) or Colbert (if he means someone who isn't), somebody who's not part of the plan. We always vote Democrat or Republican so they always know that much about us, we have to switch it up.

eigenmouse39 karma

You're exactly right. Someone with an anti-establishment history like Nader would be even better. Someone that would tell the politicians in power that the American people mean business.

balthisar17 karma

Ah, so the concerns about a police state aren't without merit? We may not be the Third Reich yet, but you say, "When people realize that the politicians they vote for and write to to oppose the police state are the very people building it, it's usually too late." So you agree that we're on the way to a police state?

eigenmouse105 karma

The potential for a police state is everywhere. The suddenly popular right-wing extremists in Europe, the PNAC neocons in the US and their Blackwater mercenaries. Some people are always looking to grab political power and never let go. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don't. When they do, it's usually too late to do anything about it, at least for a while, so I think the proactive approach is a good idea, especially when your government is already spending huge amounts of your money on hired mercenaries to invade and institute police states in other countries.

EDIT: Haliburton -> Blackwater. I always get my military mercenaries and my corporate mercenaries mixed up.

dermballs109 karma

I remember talking to a bouncer from Romania. He said he had a degree in Mathematics and started telling me about his time in college. He said they used to have secret parties where they listened to smuggled rock and roll contraband. His favourites were The Beatles and Bruce Springsteen. He also started giving out about how the Romania youth of today only listen to traditional Romania music and forget the importance of rock and roll. They didn't seem to appreciate that listening to Born To Run was once an act of treason and rebellion.

What is your opinion of the music scene in contemporary Romania?

eigenmouse31 karma

Has anyone mentioned manele yet? :) Contrast manele vs traditional Romanian folklore.

Aside: wow, you really can find anything on youtube!

slipstrm15101 karma

How much of income/what kinds of goods did you regularly obtain through the black market?

eigenmouse176 karma

During the worst of the shortage era, almost all my family's income was spent on the black market. Food, clothes, luxury items (i.e. shampoo, deodorant, chocolate, alcohol), you name it. My mom had this lucrative bartering scheme where she would slip food from her restaurant to the bookstore clerk next door, who would give her "limited edition" books in return (a.k.a. copies that got out before the print run being cut off by some zealous censor).

subliminali67 karma

just curious, what was the exchange rate for leftovers to censored books? My guess is one Orwell novel per liter of Goulash.

monoglot30 karma

Do Romanians eat goulash? I picture a cuisine of endless varieties of tiny sausages.

eigenmouse95 karma

More like meatballs and cabbage rolls. And tripe soup. That's actually pretty tasty, I still eat it every now and then.

Misanthropologist18 karma

[deleted]

eigenmouse37 karma

It is, if you like vegetables boiled within an inch of their lives and heavy sauces. Nouvelle cuisine it ain't.

greginnj98 karma

Could you compare and contrast how the Gypsies/Roma were treated (both by the government, and by regular citizens) before and after communism fell?

eigenmouse134 karma

That's a very good question. Ceausescu ruled the Gypsies with an iron fist. He limited their mobility and forced them to work for a living. In Bucharest where I lived if they got unruly (heh, almost typed "uppity" before I remembered the special significance of that word to Americans) they were hunted down mercilessly by the police. Somehow some of them still managed to steal, beg, and do all the other things they later became famous for, but only in remote rural areas, never close to big cities.

After that, they were pretty much free to do as they pleased. Some got obscenely rich and built huge mansions for themselves and their families. Some got into politics. Some integrated into society. A lot of them left the country. And others continued to steal, beg, extort, etc., except now they could go anywhere they pleased; no more official policy of persecution, and bribes took care of the police.

vivalavi88 karma

[deleted]

eigenmouse150 karma

Have you been separated from family members?

No, but I know plenty who have. The person who left usually spent months, if not years, in internment camps in Austria or Germany, family members left behind were constantly harassed by the authorities, it wasn't pretty.

What was your experience with the revolution?

It was euphoric. Everybody suddenly seemed to have a purpose. Everybody took to the streets, suddenly determined, after so many decades of enduring the oppression, to overthrow the dictatorship. We were drunk on newfound power, and ideals, and hopes. Bullets, death, the mysterious "terrorists" who wreaked havoc and destruction, nothing could stop us. When we weren't out protesting, we were glued to the TV screen, which suddenly became an object of interest after gathering dust for several decades when all you could watch was propaganda. Lots and lots of backpedaling from former highly visible officials who suddenly found themselves facing angry crowds with no support from the fleeing authorities. Lots and lots of new faces, former dissidents who were at the forefront of the movement yet were virtually unknown by the population due to censorship. It was really, really chaotic. And then it all fizzled out and corruption took over.

How has democracy shaped current-day Romania?

I haven't been there in 10 years, so I'll probably pass on this one. As far as my second hand knowledge goes, place is still a shithole full of corruption and ugliness.

subliminali23 karma

we were glued to the TV screen, which suddenly became an object of interest after gathering dust for several decades when all you could watch was propaganda.

What was soviet TV like? How about print and radio media?

eigenmouse61 karma

Two hours of propaganda a day. Endless reports of record crops, and industrial production, and economic indicators, and everything. Footage of Ceausescu's visits to factories, Kim Jong Il-style. Really grandiose shows with patriotic music and choreography. Patriotic poetry recitals. Bo-ring.

Print media, 2 national newspapers, no local press. Mostly propaganda.

Radio: 2 national stations, no local ones. Also mostly propaganda.

geauxxxxx32 karma

Did everyone realize and acknowledge that it was all propaganda or did a lot of people buy into it?

eigenmouse166 karma

Nobody bought into it. Not even the really stupid people. It was so overt and in-your-face that it failed spectacularly at convincing anyone. It was a constant subject of ridicule.

That's why American propaganda scares the shit out of me. It looks like a masterpiece of subtlety and insidiousness in contrast, and it seems to be far more effective.

mre576512 karma

No, but I know plenty who have. The person who left usually spent months, if not years, in internment camps in Austria or Germany, family members left behind were constantly harassed by the authorities, it wasn't pretty.

Austria provided internment camps for Romania?

eigenmouse21 karma

Not specifically, they were for all refugees from Eastern Europe. Or so my friend who actually went through one of these told me.

[deleted]15 karma

So were they humanitarian-ish refugee camps or internment camps?

eigenmouse32 karma

From my current perspective, I'd say probably more like the former. From the perspective of someone who had just literally risked their life to get to freedom, being forcibly kept in some prison-like facility for an indeterminate period of time with officials yelling at them in German, they must have felt like the latter.

[deleted]64 karma

So, what's your opinion of atheism?

eigenmouse188 karma

I'm an atheist myself, so obviously I think it makes sense. I believe there is some truth to the Marxist quote about religion being the opiate of the masses, but forcing the masses to go cold turkey isn't the way to go. Religion somehow managed to survive half a century of communist oppression, so it seems that the masses really do need their opium.

I do regret the oppression though, that's not what atheism should be about.

TheThirdRider55 karma

My former supervisor grew up in Romania around the same time. He said that in school he was required to recycle a certain number of clear, green and brown bottles and if they couldn't find them his family would buy them and dump them out to meet the recycling quota. Later he was in the military and at one point they were ordered to pick up and move tomatoes from one field to another to 'meet' inspection quotas. The tomatoes the agriculture minister was inspection were planted hours before by him and his squad, and 20 rows in there were no tomatoes on the plants. They pretended to pick them from boxes. He mentioned other similar things that were just so against common sense I had trouble imagining it.

Besides wanting to share that I was curious if you saw policies that were similarly totally against common sense but no one spoke out against out of fear.

eigenmouse43 karma

ROFL, I remember all that. The communist experience was full of that kind of stuff. As a high school student, we had to meet a quota of chestnuts of all things, I have no idea why. When it snowed, everybody in the apartment building had to get out and shovel the snow (women, elderly, children, didn't matter), it was forbidden to just pay someone to do it. When I think about it now, it seems really surreal, but back then you sort of got used to it. You didn't have a choice if you wanted your brain not to explode from absurdity overload.

TheThirdRider13 karma

It sounds so strange I find it hard picturing myself there, it's almost like Alice in Wonderland, it's so topsy turvy. Like you said, surreal. He said for school he had to collect medicinal plants and they had to collect a certain amount. But they lived in a city and the best they could do was willow bark from the park for willow tea, so they would often have to go to the corner store, buy some herbs, put it in a paper bag and bring it in to school so that it could be resold at the same store.

Would there be any way to point out that gathering herbs in a city is just not practical without being arrested or at least labeled a decenter?

eigenmouse24 karma

Not really. You did what you were told and din't ask questions if you knew what was good for you.

bombadil7754 karma

Educate me: How did the people of Romania get coerced into forming a police state, supporting it and then what led to disbanding it?

eigenmouse92 karma

It actually started on a set of very lofty ideals, with intellectual elites on board and everything. People really believed for a while that they were enacting the Marxist ideals, with people sharing ownership of the means of production, to everybody according to their needs, and all that jazz. When they realized they have put an illiterate peasant in jackboots in power, it was too late.

As to what led to disbanding it, sadly I think it was the current of change starting in Moscow and spreading throughout the Soviet sphere of influence at the time. Without that stimulus that energized the masses, Romania today would probably be like North Korea.

SubmittedBuy15 karma

Why do you say "sadly"?

OutsideObserver38 karma

Probably because it did not come from within Romania itself.

eigenmouse41 karma

Precisely. Romanians would never have risen against oppression on their own, which is kind of sad.

Franz_Kafka41 karma

How was education? Was anything they taught completely insane?

eigenmouse96 karma

To the extent that teaching Marxist dialectics to 9th grade high school students, I'd say yes, it was completely insane. Lots of nationalism in literature and history classes, Romania was the best country ever, glorious history, larger than life historical figures blah blah, switching sides in WW2 was a heroic decision, and so on. Basically the entire history of the country was reshaped to fit the nationalist / communist ideology, 1984-style. Which was really nothing compared to the regular mass purging of undesirable party leaders in the '60, who were summarily executed and then simply disappeared from all historical records.

doublementh31 karma

So, how did you feel when you found out they shot Ceausescu and his wife?

eigenmouse125 karma

I felt sorry that they got off so easy. I thought they should have been put in frigid concrete cells and slowly starved for a few decades, just like they've done to millions of people.

Shea_Aquitaine29 karma

Can you tell us about the criminalization of abortion - was the movie 4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 days accurate? Did you know of anyone that had to do that?

eigenmouse37 karma

I haven't seen the movie so I don't know what you're talking about, but my mother had multiple abortions before having me, and so did all of her female friends. Illegal or not, it was the only means of contraception for some. You could get contraceptive pills and condoms on the black market, but they were pretty expensive. I'm guessing more expensive than a back alley abortion.

I have a friend in Canada now who used to practice medicine in communist Romania, the stories she tells of doing her best to patch up botched DYI abortion attempts while at the same time desperately trying to hide what she was doing from the government thug breathing down her neck are horrifying.

[deleted]25 karma

What kind of political/economic system do you now favour?

eigenmouse73 karma

I'm completely jaded on politics now, partly due to my experience with communism and the transition to democracy. I've never cast a vote in my life, and I never will. Screw politicians. All of them. I have residence rights in a bunch of western countries on two continents, I'll move to wherever I feel most comfortable and let other people bother with changing things. I don't have the patience for that any more.

American112225 karma

Did you ever know anyone who was put into a prison camp? If so, for what reason?

eigenmouse62 karma

I had an uncle who I didn't see much of, lived in a different city. My family sometimes spoke in very hushed tones of his time at the "Canalul Dunare-Marea Neagra" (Danube-Black Sea channel), which was the biggest prison camp at the time. They never discussed the reasons openly, but the Canal was the premier destination, so to speak, for political prisoners, so I assumed he must have said the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time.

Daniel_SJ21 karma

To what degree, as far as you know, would people actually get imprisoned for expressing a political or illegal opinion as opposed to never saying anything because they we're afraid? What came first?

How was the transition to a police state (if you have any knowledge of that). What fell first, how did people adapt, etc.

If you were useful to the regime, was the regime more lenient towards you?

eigenmouse37 karma

Everyone I knew (including myself) had personally known at some point someone who got arrested and interrogated, or even sent to a prison camp, for expressing illegal opinions, so I'd say a pretty large degree. Fear came from repression IMO, not the other way around.

The police state was instituted right after the end of WW2, so there wasn't much of an outcry. Romania was already beaten into submission first by the Nazis, then by the Russians. There wasn't much political will left.

One way you could be useful to the regime was to act as an informant, i.e. rat out your friends and colleagues. Informants did have a somewhat easier life, but really not by much. Just a bit of extra money, maybe a spot at the front of the line for a color TV or a crappy Dacia (Romanian version of Renault 12).

Mescallan18 karma

How freely was music available? Was foreign music aloud?

Thanks for doing this IAMA BTW, very interesting.

Edit: Allowed*

eigenmouse31 karma

It was pretty easy to get on the black market, and the authorities turned a blind eye to it for some reason. It was dug up and used against you only if you pissed them off some other way.

Vietrmx17 karma

Since the request for someone who actually lived in a police state had to do with the ridiculous accusations that the United States is turning into one, what are your opinions on that? Any interesting comparisons or contrasts between the United States (as it is and as it might possibly be) and the Romanian police state? What do you think of the people who claim the US is becoming a police state?

eigenmouse64 karma

As I said above, I find that attitude amusing, mostly because they don't do anything about it. A police state is a very serious thing to be worried about.

Comparison, hmm. In some respects, calling America a police state is laughable; you guys have passports, are free to come and go (except to Cuba, oops), the police can't just barge into homes and arrest people without having to justify themselves at some point (although I'm increasingly less convinced about that), there's no overt political oppression.

In other respects, it's scary how far America is ahead of historical police states. Your government's propaganda machine far surpasses anything any 20th century dictator could have dreamed of. Your government's surveillance powers are similarly unmatched. They certainly have the military resources and the expertise to make it happen if they ever choose to. And honestly, looking at the PNAC doctrine and its adherents, I don't doubt for a second that they'd do it if they felt it was needed.

mariesoleil15 karma

Is there anything better about Ceau┼čescu-era Romania as compared to current-day Romania? I ask that because some former East German look upon the DDR with nostalgia.

eigenmouse18 karma

Your life was kind of decided for you: where you worked, where you lived, how much you made. I guess that had a certain appeal to some people.

brutus6615 karma

The only police state I have ever been to is New Jersey. Romania, I hope, at least smells better.

eigenmouse20 karma

Ha! I've been to New Jersey too. I have fond memories of the NJ Turnpike, the New Brunswick grease trucks, and the Adana kebab at Efes. Damn, that thing was delicious.

EDIT: OK, I lied about the Turnpike

[deleted]14 karma

What contact/information did you have with or about the outside world?

eigenmouse60 karma

None. We could send letters, but they were opened and confiscated if their content was not deemed satisfactory. We weren't allowed passports, except a very select few government officials, scientists and athletes. Phones were tapped, even if you could call someone in another country you probably wouldn't do it because it would have gotten you in a world of trouble. You could get old copies of Paris Match and other western publications on the black market, but you did so at your own risk.

The only uncensored channel of communication from the outside world was Radio Free Europe, a counter-propaganda station funded, if I'm not mistaken, by the US government.

[deleted]5 karma

Why does every single Romanian I've ever met passionately hate Gypsies? Like, will go on for quite a while about how they are the cause of all of life's problems?

eigenmouse28 karma

Because all the gypsies they've met have been thieving scumbags. That doesn't mean all gypsies are, but inference based on personal experience is how the human mind works.

UtopianComplex5 karma

I think this situation is too ironic to not put here...

I was studying in Denmark and was friends with a Romanian around my age (born around 86) and he LOVED America, he had spent 6 months in Chicago and 6 months in New York. One night, He would come up to me as I was the only American at the party and just gush over how great it was and as he got drunker he then said, "But you know what I do not love about America, It is a fucking Police State" And then he went on about how much it scared him to see cops in New York with big guns, and how they don't let you drink in the streets, and how strict people are about littering and Jay walking... So soommmme Romanians think we are a police state... only in this instance it was the american laughing about the accusation.

eigenmouse14 karma

If not being allowed to drink in the streets was a sign of a police state to him, he probably had no idea what a police state is. He was probably too young in the 80s to remember anything.