Life in Romania
Simona is in her late 20's, so she remembers life under Ceausescu from when she was a child. Her story was interesting and touching. She remembers going and standing in line at 4 am in order to get bread and other food, but thought it was fun, since she played with her friends.
She also remembers "nice people" coming to her grade school class and asking questions of the young students about what their parents and neighbors were saying about the government. Children learned very quickly to not talk about home life to strangers, and parents learned very quickly to not say anything -- even in jest -- about Ceausescu, his family, or the government.
Since Ceausescu did not want to borrow money from others and wanted Romania to be self sufficient, they had few imported goods. Simona recalls having only four colored pencils, none of which was a "good" color, and they broke frequently. One of her classmates brought 12 colored pencils to school that were stamped "made in China". That young girl became the most popular in the class, because everyone wanted to borrow her pencils. The examples went on and on.
On the other hand, Simona's grandparents say that during communist times, everyone had money, but there was nothing to buy. Now, you can buy anything in Romania, but no one has any money.
Slovakia - Background, History, and Famous Slovakians
Marek did a presentation on his home country of Slovakia. It was wonderful to hear someone speak so passionately about his country and his love for it.
Slovakia is kind of an "unknown" country to most of us. It is rural, agricultural, and lightly populated. The Viking Neptune stopped over in the capital city of Bratislava, our only stop in this country the size of Pennsylvania. He stressed that Slovakia was not the same as Slovenia, a country on the Balkan Peninsula that was once part of the former Yugoslavia (evidently people get them confused all the time).
Most Slovakians speak Slovak, but since the country is bounded by five other countries, there are many "minority" languages such as Polish, Hungarian, Czech, German, and even Russian since Slovakia is bordered by the Ukraine.
Slovakia was part of the Austria-Hungarian empire for over 1000 years. After 1000 years, Slovakia "divorced" the empire and joined with the Czech Republic. The timing for this union was very poor, since the country was almost immediately overtaken by Hitler. After World War II, the joined country of Czechoslovakia was part of the eastern European bloc socialist countries under Russia.
I found the term "socialist" interesting, and wondered why he did not think the eastern bloc countries were communist. Marek said they never considered themselves communists because the system didn't quite work the way communism is supposed to work. According to Marek, they were taught as school children that in a true communist state, it would be like paradise, with everyone happy and no money needed to buy anything. It does sound like paradise, doesn't it?
Under the socialist/communist regime, Czechoslovakia must have been much like Romania, except since they did not manufacture cars, the waiting list for one was over 5 years (like in Bulgaria). Marek said to get a good refrigerator, you had to "know someone". Most things, there was only one or two different choices, so you could get by.
One good thing about socialism was that everyone worked and Slovakia had zero unemployment. Everyone had "stuff", but not necessarily what or when they wanted. For example, they had fruit only at Christmas.
People could not travel to the West from Slovakia, and Marek said "black market" passports from Yugoslavia (who could travel since Tito was a favorite of the West) were in high demand. Marek said that communication from the West was so bad that as a child he had only heard of two Americans--Ronald Reagan and Madonna. What a contrast!
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