Tad Szulc, Dispatches From Eastern Europe - articol publicat în "National Geographic", martie 1991.
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Dispatches From Eastern Europe

by Tad Szulc


A field day for petty tyrants arrived when several thousand coal miners – grateful to President Ion Iliescu for promised wage hikes – came to quiet those opposed to the regime. Residents of the capital, who had seen students demonstrating daily even before Iliescu won office last spring in a disputed election, studdently found themselves subject to car searces (right). Packs of miners roamed the streets, led by men in civilian clothes, possibly former Securitate agents.

They beat people at random. When victims said they would call the police, the miners' response was quick: " We are the police today. "

When they had finished, at least one person lay dead. Hundrods were injured, including student leader Marian Munteanu (left, at right), who had a hand injured and a foot broken. His younger brother, Bogdan, lies beside him, wounded by a crowbar. Soon after their mother's visit, here in a Bucharest hospital, they were arrested and taken to a government hospital. They suffered two months in prison before demonstrators won their release.


I wake to see the miners still in control, surrounding the hotel and patrolling University Square across the street. The toll from last night at least one dead, hundreds injure*) President lliescu makes a speech, thanking the miners for “saving democracy” and warning them - a bit late, I think - against excess.

Meanwhile, I notice something odd on the streets. While some miners lounge around, relaxing and enjoying the spring sun, other rush about grabbing fellow citizens, cracking more skulls. Almost every group of miners is led by a civilian I assume to be a former agent of Securitate, the dreaded secret police who were the muscle behind Nicolae Ceauşescu’s brutal dictatorship. Are they still running the place?


A thousand students have been arrested, and more citizens beaten since yesterday. On a hunch, Tomasz and I drive to the Bucharest Emergency Hospital to find the 28-year-old leader of the Students’ League, Marian Munteanu. with his foot in a cast and his hand smashed.

“I guess we had better change our strategy,” he says, smiling feebly.

His brother, Bogdan, also active in Romania’s prodemocracy movement, is propped in an adjoining bed. Somebody had taken a crowbar to him, cracking his ribs and piercing a lung.

The next day police come to the same room, armed with arrest warrants, remove the

brothers. They recuperate in a hospital of the Interior Ministry; then they arc transferred to prison for two months until tens of thousand of demonstrators finally secure their release through protests.


It is impossible understand the brutality

Of this springitme in Romania, but it helps to know what came before. First the Romanians were forced to fight, successively, on both sides during World War II. Then came communism and the megalomaniacal regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, which ended only with his execution on Christmas Day 1989.

Romanians had no rights of any kind, barely enough food to survive, a few hours of electricity a day, no heat in the harsh winter, no contact with the outside world. To increase the country's population, contraceptives were banned and abortions were virtually forbidden, which spawned a generation of abandoned children - all of which must have left deep scars in the national psyche.

“What Ceauşescu had undertaken," a friend with long diplomatic experience in Romania told me, “was to turn 23 million Romanians into zombies with the sole purpose of producing for the state - and for the pharaonic life style of the ruling family.”

To get an idea of Ceauşescu's values, you need only visit his newly constructed - but never occupied – House of the Republic. One of the largest buildings in the world, it is boxy and outlandish, dwarfing any human who stands before it. With more than a thousand rooms and a hundred public reception halls, it is fitted out with fine furniture, gold-leaf walls, and thick slabs of marble. This communist palace supposedly cost a billion dollars to build, perhaps more.

Twenty miles to the west in the village of Grădinari. I see the other side of Ceauşescu’s legacy. Here, in a decaying mansion called the Home for Non-recuperable Children, the government sent severely disabled patients to be forgotten, rather than waste official funds on remedial programs.

I see a hundred children wandering the halls or sitting outside, sleeping, screaming, defecating, sometimes fighting. Mosquitoes and flies buzz at their open sores I see autistic, spastic, and retarded children, children with cretinism. I am told that some could be helped with training or teaching, but little money is forthcoming from Iliescu's government Although one physician commutes here daily from Bucharest, her duties are largely administrative; otherwise, no trained nurses, psy-chologists, or instructors care for the children. A kindly woman named Joana Dodoiv and a staff of 13 others provide for these patients as best they can, but there is little at Grădinari except empty time, day in, day out,

When one of the little patients, a boy no more than ten, takes my hand and silently looks Into my eyes, I can take no more. I have to walk away.

Tad Szulc, Dispatches From Eastern Europe - articol publicat în "National Geographic", martie 1991.
Descarcă documentul în format tipărit (fotocopie).