Each summer the Flinn Scholars Program takes an entire class of Scholars to Budapest, Hungary, and neighboring Romania for a three-week seminar on the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. Here’s a day-by-day account.
Laurel Gray (’09)
“The world was created in seven days.
We won our freedom in seven days.
They shot me on December seventeenth.
I am not sad.
I am happy.”
With these words uttered by one man in a small chapel, we begin our journey through a museum of the Romanian Revolution. It begins in the courtyard, where a photograph displays the crowd of 150,000 people that stood in the square now dubbed “Victory Square” in December of 1989. The courtyard is open to multiple stories of balconies, where flowers and cactus (“special flowers for the special people who visit us)” grace the rusting iron pots hanging off the thin rail.
We wander up the stairs to the second story and enter a room with sheafs of newspaper clippings, papers, and magazines organized meticulously onto different shelves. The papers are organized by date and subject, the shelves upon which they rest are categorized by country. This holds all of the texts, materials, and reports of the Romanian Revolution during, before and after the seven days of December in 1989 when the Romanian people overthrew Nicolae Ceausescu.
We are next led into a room where we watch documentaries of the revolution, and then a history on the life of Ceausescu. Like many leaders wreathed in overwhelming power and prestige, Ceausescu was adamant that the people of Romania worship him with a fervor closely resembling the people of China’s praise for Mao, or the way in which the people of North Korea today venerate Kim Jong Il. Ceausescu egotism spread so far as to try to alter his own history. Staff was hired to create a new childhood history for Nicolae, one full of heroism and love for Romania and the Romanian people. All of the facts were fabricated, and yet the people still had to learn this history by heart in school, learning to repeat lies. Ceausescu’s hobbies (mainly hunting) were celebrated in propaganda videos, and his perpetually youthful face covered huge banners across every city. He and his wife had so many palaces across the country that they were not able to live or even visit each ostentatious building.
Yet still, the United States government was supporting this leader, because Ceausescu portrayed himself as an anti-Soviet communist, a platform which he was rooted to long after the communist era of the Soviet Union ended and the relations of the Soviet Union with the rest of the world were once again relaxed. It is at this time in the presentation of the Romanian Revolution that I become annoyed and angry. I am frustrated, for while I highly value the education I received in high school, I did not learn much of the history, politics, and social upheavals of Central Europe. I was completely unaware of the immense power Ceausescu held over an entire nation, and I did not know of the vast destruction he wrecked over the Romanian countryside, nor of the social upheavals of his reign.
Yet this museum and the information it houses is only a small fraction of the knowledge and discussions we have all received on this trip. It has ceased to be a novelty when I learn of a piece of history I never knew, as it is blatantly obvious that my education, and the education many other youth in the United States probably receive, is biased and incomplete. We learn what others think is important (or even worse, we learn the information that is present on the AP exam), but this is dangerously ignorant. Instead, we cannot consider ourselves “experts” in any particular topic until we study it from multiple perspectives. These perspectives cannot come strictly from a textbook or from a professor in the United States education system, but rather from people of different cultures, nations, and backgrounds. “History is bunk” is something Henry Ford once declared, and in my opinion, this is undoubtedly true until every single perspective of an event is taken into account, and even then the event of the past can be skewed.
So when we walk into a museum dedicated to the Romanian Revolution, and one man is bent on collecting documentation from literally every single country and every major news source from said country, it is clear that this person is determined to create a complete picture of the seven days that defined his life and many of those around him. He does this so that the Revolution is never forgotten, and so that people around the world can be educated about seven days that won a country its freedom.
Again, this is a noble goal, and one to be respected. Yet I am not of this man’s generation; I and the rest of the youth are the “new” generation. So when this man declares that the neo-communist party “protects killers. They are free. It is a shame” I am hesitant to give him my full attention and respect for his materials. Yes, I never lived through a communist era and I do not know of the full impact of Ceausescu because I never experienced it. However the attitude of revenge against the persons formerly in power seems to me inherently wrong as the cycle of mistrust and anger will simply begin again.
As one of my fellow classmates pointed out later, this is the exact attitude that defines the current youth in Romania. No one under the age of 20 has a full perspective of life under Ceausescu, and so it is possible for them (and us) to view Ceausescu’s reign as “history,” a thing of the past. But his legacy still remains throughout Romania. It is present in the attitudes of the people, it is obvious in the pervasive distrust of the government, and it is visible in the huge cement monstrosities that form the old housing projects and apartments. So while the current youth may not know of Ceausescu through experience, everyone is still affected by his past reign. The museum of the Romanian Revolution is another piece in this vast puzzle of events and opinions that has shaped and defined the Romanian people for decades.
Our time at the museum ends with a request to help find materials about the Romanian Revolution from sources in the United States. We gather for a group picture in the courtyard, sign all of our names in a guest book (proof for the museum’s donors that people do indeed visit this place), and then file out the door onto the streets. After the past couple of hours, our journey through modern day Timisoara seems unusually bright.