|Wikipedia Commons: Iosif Berman, Bucuresti covrigi|
For starters, we had food justice, one for the proletariat and one for the communist elitist apparatchiks. It was not the kind of food justice you are demanding, free and fresh food from the government.
The proletariat was equally poor, miserable, and hungry. We were on the Ceausescu’s communist diet so we were all equally thin and gaunt. Were we healthier? If you consider that our food was not very nourishing and vitamin supplements were not easy to find, the answer would be no. We did not have the sugar problem the U.S. has because sweets were not available and not largely part of the diet; sugar was not an additive to every food item sold in grocery stores. Sweets were special treats on birthdays and were expensive.
We ate well on Christmas, Easter, birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. It was customary to prepare a feast for every momentous occasion and to indulge in alcohol, including spilling some on the ground in the memory of the deceased who were no longer there to partake in the revelries.
Women were slender and waif-like as a result of Ceausescu’s diet. Each person could only consume so many calories per day and only 2.5 kg of meat per month. Calling it meat was a stretch, it more resembled a mass of bones covered in some greyish/purplish paste and a few blood stains.
To this day, I am not a fan of vegetables because they were a staple of our diet mostly in summer time, during the growing season – peas, corn, green beans, lettuce, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, potatoes, and green peppers. In wintertime we had potatoes; we were hard-pressed to find canned vegetables and frozen food was unheard of because nobody had freezers. And we seldom ate beef, as cows were more valuable as sources of milk, butter, and cheese.
Canning our own jars was impossible – the commie stores did not sell mason jars with lids that could be sealed. Grandma attempted a crude way of canning in jelly jars by using Grandpa Cristache’s tar, paper, and string sealing system which often cracked the jars.
Wax was used for candles to light up homes when the incompetents in charge of our electricity delivery would shut it off for hours each day either on purpose, to keep us compliant, or because they were running low and needed to ration it. They would not dare leave their commie bosses without electricity! They were hooked up to a special network. Rationing everything became law eventually and rationing coupons were distributed to every household.
Barely half or less of the population could afford a refrigerator to store food. In summer time, when the soup started to smell spoiled, mom would boil it again to destroy some of the bacteria and make it edible again. She refried smelly chicken or rancid pork and we ate it because we were really hungry. We could not afford to throw away any food.
Our cold storage in summer time was the cellar, for those living in the country, and in winter the window sill for those living in Ceausescu high rise cinder block apartments. Crows learned to be crafty and pecked out our packages to get to the food as we did not have plastic containers and Tupperware had not made it to Eastern Europe.
When bread was short and grandma had no flour to bake it, we resorted to Grandpa’s stash of “covrigi,” a circular hard white bread pretzel that was strung on a rope and hardened to the consistency of a rock a few hours after it was baked. However, when toasted briefly on a cast iron stove top, it would become soft again and edible-delicious by itself or with thin soup. “Covrigi” were such a lifesaver and treat for humans and rats alike, Grandpa tried to hang a big bunch strung up high in the air. Somehow mice and rats leaned how to jump and dangle on the strung covrigi, close to the ceiling, while chewing on our food.
We even had a saying in Romanian, “ciini cu covrigi in coada” (dogs with pretzels on their tails), implying that it was an unlikely scenario to find something prized, as unlikely as finding dogs running around with pretzels strung on their tails.
Our environmental justice meant that all of us breathed in equally polluted air, bathed in contaminated water, drank things that would make a westerner sick, and wore clothes dried on clothes lines, exposed to dirty air from the nearby factories that often turned white shirts into greys and yellows when hung on the balcony. No washers and dryers for us. Our hands struggled to keep our few clothes clean, washed in the tub with detergent so caustic that left red blotches on our palms and fingers.
The gender justice meant that we all wallowed in the same mud and terrible working conditions regardless of gender, and all of us were paid equally low wages, regardless of gender, qualification, or education.
Reproductive justice was not your brand of gay fascism, it was a law which forbade any abortion on any ground and contraceptives were not sold on the market. When contraceptives were found on the black market, women took one tablet each time they had sex and still got pregnant.
If and when women became pregnant and tried to kill their babies, failed, but caused infections or bleeding in the process, they were refused medical treatment until they revealed who helped them, and, if they survived, they were jailed along with the doctor or the person who performed the successful or botched abortion. Some died from untreated septic infections.
Even women who had natural miscarriages came under suspicion and were investigated. In some instances, young women were forced to have dehumanizing gynecological exams with the doctor at work to determine if they were pregnant again or not.
Ceausescu wanted to increase the declining population at all costs and he succeeded. A lot of babies born during this time were abandoned by their parents at orphanages, resulting in a crisis and neglect of thousands of babies, a crime that was so vividly exposed by the western media on television. These babies, who grew up rocking themselves nonstop, unable to speak for lack of verbal interaction with their cruel caretakers, and untouched by humans, wallowing in their own filth, were never psychologically normal and few recovered.
Social justice is a term attributed to Luigi Taparelli, a Jesuit priest, but was used more since the 1840s in a progressive vein. The community organizers of today demand safety nets and economic justice, the transfer of wealth from the haves and from those who work hard, to the have nots and slackers or those who choose to live on generational welfare. The current use of the term social justice focuses on redistribution of wealth around the globe, equality of outcome regardless of a person’s ability and participation, and regardless of a person’s bad choices when posed with equal opportunity.
Under the communist social justice system I experienced, the individual citizen’s wealth was confiscated and redistributed to all communist party members, scaled according to their role and position in the Ponzi scheme called communism.
People were socially engineered by force and moved from the country into cinder block apartments in the city while their homes were either spared and given to someone else or bulldozed to make room for the co-operative farms owned by the communist party and run by the collective work of former landowners who received a meager part of the crop while the communist party received the lion’s share.
Those who objected too vociferously were dragged to jail for a long time. A doctor friend I met years later in Philadelphia, Dr. Petrasovich, had served a seventeen year jail term in a lead mine. I am not sure how this man survived such hard labor. When he was released, he immigrated to the United States and practiced medicine for a while, then retired, inspiring crowds with his stories, and eventually passing away in his eighties. The hotel he owned in Sinaia was returned to his rightful heirs.
Others, like my mom’s uncle Paulica, were beaten severely for being successful in his small grocery store business and for having too much land, and thrown in jail for seven years. His wife went into mourning for the duration, became severely depressed, seldom left her bed, and died, leaving behind a beautiful neoclassical villa which was promptly occupied by a communist apparatchik’s family who was given the deed to the house immediately.
When the EU forced the government after Ceausescu to return properties to their rightful owners, it was hard to find heirs immediately, the system was corrupt, overwhelmed, and beautiful “nobody’s” buildings were waiting, decayed beyond belief, to be claimed and restored. When an heir was found, money was often not available for restoration, and the property had to be sold with little gains to the owner after taxes were paid.
The biggest injustice that was perpetrated on people, tricked or forced to accept communism, was the destruction of the human spirit, the terror, torture, and brutal beatings people had to endure in the name of social justice, the utopian pie in the sky community organizers promised to hapless and uninformed listeners. And it seems that history is repeating itself now.