Ceausescu’s last push to pay off the national debt lead to some of the most drastic austerity measures in times of peace. Food rations were an essential part of the plan. Coupled with electricity and heating shortages as well as with an iron fist in dealing with any sort of political dissent, the humiliations that Romanians had to go through were utterly complete. The violent outburst of December 1989 came down rather as a natural effect of this austerity.
The photo depicts bread rations of a East-Transylvanian family of three in the last trimester of 1988. The ration per person was roughly 250 grams a day. The tickets were non-transmittable, “losing it annuls the right to get bread”.
Rationing of bread was introduced in 1982 and the communists prepared it gradually through the adoption of several laws aimed to formalize reduced food portions. On December 19, 1980 the “Law for the creation, distribution and use by counties of resources for population” was enforced. The law, in fact a decree, stipulated rationalizing food consumption by each county. Flour, sugar and oil ticket cards were differentiated on categories of the population. Larger cities were getting bigger rations while smaller ones were given to rural peasants.
The process by which Ceausescu intended to reduce food rations at the edge of survival, followed a scientific program created at the request of specialists from the Party’s Central Committee. In 1982 it came out with the “scientific diet program for the population,” which established the calorie intake needs, including food rations and weight standards for individuals – a purely Nazi piece of legislation.
By decree, in 1984 a new and lower food standard was adopted. Romanians were annually entitled to 39 kg of meat, 78 liters of milk and 166 kg of vegetables. Oil and sugar were given once a month, the ration was one kilogram.
Rations were lifted on Christmas Eve 1989, a couple of days after Ceausescu and his wife fled the Central Committee in a helicopter. Next day, on Christmas, they were caught, mock-tried, and executed by a military firing squad.
On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear reactor accident in history occurred in Chernobyl and contaminated as much as three quarters of Europe. Voices from Chernobyl is the first book to present personal accounts of the tragedy. Journalist Svetlana Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people affected by the meltdown – from innocent citizens to firefighters to those called in to clean up the disaster—and their stories reveal the fear, anger, and uncertainty with which they still live. Comprised of interviews in monologue form, Voices from Chernobyl is a crucially important work, unforgettable in its emotional power and honesty.
A work worthy of Nobel…
The Soviet bicycle “passport” was in fact a registration document for the bike.
Citizens of USSR were called to protect the natural richness of the country in the mid ’80s.
‘Man is not an omniscient master of the planet who can get away with doing whatever he likes and whatever may suit him at the moment’. That introductory quotation of Václav Havel is illustrated by Josef Koudelka’s photographs of the land dominated by head frames, waste heaps, factory stacks and dried-up lakes.
20 years ago Koudelka published “The Black Triangle”, a photographic report in black and white on the Podkrusnohorí Region – the western tip of the infamous Black Triangle’s foothills of the Ore Mountains, located between Germany and the Czech Republic. It is one of Europe’s worst devastated territories, but it is also a region that shaped the origin and future development of the Czech state.
The Czech photographer is author of two masterpieces Invasion 1968 – depicting the Soviet brutal assault on the Prague Spring and Gypsies – instants and portraits of Roma in 60s Czechoslovakia and Romania.
Slate Magazine provides a sneak preview of the Black Triangle in an macabre yet beautiful slideshow.
Io laid my eyes on two funny posters from the times of Perestroika criticizing the Western mass culture. I tend to agree.
October 2013 marks 42 years since the mining accident that led to the deaths of 89 people in the Romanian town of Hunedoara county – Certeju de Sus. The tailing dam collapsed and flooded the village causing Romania’s worst peacetime tragedy in the 70s. The scale of the disaster was kept secret at the time by the communist authorities so that they didn’t declare a national day of mourning.
Eight possible causes were considered: from ground hogs to tectonic movements. It was noted however, that while the stability loss of the tailing pond was provoked by the beyond the limits increase of the dam. Following technical research and accident investigation to identify those responsible, the case was closed without any legal consequences. It is well known that the main cause that led to mining accidents in the past 25 years is the tailings’ dam failure. The same cause was identified also for the cyanide mining accident at Baia Mare in 2000.
Manifestations of international solidarity with Certej were held in Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Deva, Iasi, Timisoara, Oradea and Vienna.
42 years later, a new gold mining project threatens to endanger the lives of the Certej rezidents, of the neighboring communities and of the city of Deva, about 10 km away. In July 2012, the Regional Environmental Protection Agency has issued an environmental permit for the Certej cynide mining project . The extent of the project proposed requires a total of 26 448 tonnes of sodium cyanide usage during the 16 years operation. The processed toxic sludge would be stored in a 63 hectares ponds. It would require as well the construction of three dams made out of rocks, of which the tallest will reach 160 meters high.
The government has not requested any environmental warranty for the Certej project approval. The Romanian state participation is similar to the one of the Rosia Montana project and the contract is still a secret one. Moreover, the environmental permitting for the mining project found acceptable the impacts of the 29 million cubic meters of water from the river Mures consumption, the clearing of 187 hectares of forests and the project’s overlapping the the Nature 2000 – 0132 ROSPA Metaliferi Mountains on 108 hectares. Currently, the environmental license is subject to a law suit at the Bucharest Court of Law (Tribunal).
The Mining Watch Romania network unites the efforts of the civil society and the local monitoring, planning and intervention communities with regards to mining activities in Romania. The network secretariat is being provided by the Independent Centre for the Development of Environmental Resources.
“In Siberia we built a regulation basketball court. Basketball allowed us to have dignity, to retain our sense of humanity. How did I survive? Basketball. It gave me a lot. They didn’t bury me.” These are the words of Juozas Butrimas, a Siberian Gulag survivor from the 1950s.
The whole sports club Zalgiris in Kaunas was falsely accused of participating in anti-Soviet, Lithuanian resistance organization and most of them were deported in the Siberian cold.
In the wake of the Eurobasket final, Lithuania vs. France, let me just recommend once more the 2012 documentary “The Other Dream Team” where director Marius Markevicius documents the Soviet occupation tragedy hooked to the sportive tradition of Lithuanian hoops. All four Baltic stars of the USSR Olympic team from 1988 and pillars of the Barcelona ’92 bronze medal glory had numerous family members deported.
The fantastic story of Sarunas Marciulionis, Arvydas Sabonis, Rimas Kurtinaitis and Valdemaras Chomicius is not merely culminating with hoping on the podium at the Olympics in Barcelona, but it has a background of a long resistance against communism and Soviet occupation. Whilst in the ’70s and ’80s the scene was occupied by the terrible duel between KGB harassed Zalgiris Kaunas, the Baltic ‘David’, and Spartak Moscow, the Soviet ‘Goliath’, in the ’50s the real heroism of basketball is being forged.
In the heart of the most oppressive empire in history, surrounded by the most unfriendly environment, Lithuanians were also resisting through basketball until they broke away from the red empire triggering its collapse. The story culminates with the image of the bronze medalists in tie-dyed Grateful Dead tee-shirts, however the core of it lies in fighting evil and keeping dignity. As a follow up, the documentary proposes a bright future for the ’92 born rookie Valanciunas, drafted for the Toronto Raptors and center in today’s Lithuanian national team.
While in Berlin for an “active citizenship” seminar, the hottest debate in the local public sphere was whether to keep the Eastside Gallery, a remnant of the Berlin Wall, as it is or to breach it for developers could erect some luxury projects on the Spree riverbank. Besides good sewage systems and green parks, urban ecology entangles memory and tight connection with the city dwellers. It is commonly known that urban sprawl leads to the extension of suburban areas into natural ecosystems. However, nowadays there is an inner sprawl, a pressure towards the city’s center that is almost all the time exerted by private developers allied with a weak local government against historical sites. Powerful interests – big developers, land speculators, construction corporations – get rich off this inner sprawl, also named infill building.
Cities are human altered ecosystems, all different from one another. People, inhabitants along history, give them uniqueness, by living in them, using and changing them in a diachronic evolutionary process that shapes the past and the present. Currently, this evolution is curbed by developers that, artificially and within a very short time span, reshape the city’s ecosystem, surpassing the citizens’ desires. Despite an apparently improved functionality, communities are losing buildings and spaces that developed organically and spontaneously, spaces that mark turning points in history, local creativity and heritage. They are losing memory.
Just a week after the seminar, at the break of dawn on Monday morning the bulldozers broke through the wall, thus “segmenting” the Eastside Gallery. Both developers and authorities were sneaky, they avoided any sort of opposition or dissent from the citizenry that organically integrate memory into the community’s ecosystem.
Memory and the communal sharing of the public space becomes a category of consciousness that pre-exists private property – just as reciprocity, once it too becomes a category of consciousness, marks the first step towards exchange and individual interests. Proudhon’s early writings on anarchism celebrate “mutual aid” and contractual federalism; Marx hails communal property (and planned production). However, they make no advance from the primary principle of usufruct in the primal (romantic) organic societies. We are captive to the notion of interest, to the rational satisfaction of our egotism. Developers in Berlin, backed by police, despite their push of utter destruction, based their actions on rational and “correct” interest, in accordance with today’s worldview. But why did they do it at night and as almost in hiding? Why did they avoid citizens’ dissent?
Memory and ecosystems in today’s citizenship is a result of a symbolic usufruct, the freedom of individuals in a community to “appropriate” beauty and fruits of their environment merely by virtue of the fact that they are using or enjoying them. Symbolic function of our constructed environment replaces our hallowed concept of possession. It brings forth an unconscious emphasis on use itself, on need that is free of psychological entanglements with property, work, and even reciprocity.
The green critique that I came forth with does not entangle merely the issue of the Eastside Gallery. In Istanbul, people did not flood the streets just to save a little park in Taksim, Bulgarians did not surround the Parliament merely to express their disenchantment with energy bills, students in Budapest did not block the Chain Bridge over the Danube only for the budget policy of prime minister Orban, ecologists in Romania do not protest merely against cyanide mining in Rosia Montana, but against a corrupt and acculturated political realm of possession and domination.
Forgive the commonplace, but people in Europe strive for equality and freedom. And this is where the green critique hails organic societies of the New World; notions of equality and freedom do not exist therein. They are implicit in the societal outlook itself and they cannot be defined as they are not placed in juxtaposition to concepts of “inequality” and “unfreedom”. Murray Bookchin, the American philosopher, was amazed at the absence of coercive and domineering values in organic cultures such as that of the Wintu Indians. Terms commonly expressive of coercion in modern languages, in Wintu syntax they denote cooperative behavior. A Wintu mother does not “take” the baby into the shade, she “goes” with it. A chief does not “rule” the people, he “stands” with them. The verb “to have” does not express possession, but in direct translation it means “to live with”.
We must learn that, which for our peers from far away lied within.