I had lately several blogs about my experience in communist Romania, where I tried to portray how rotten was the system, simply telling stories about my reality as an electronic engineer. I was still a rookie engineer and landed on the Minister’s list as an expert in some electronic devices mostly deployed in Coil Power Plants. Many times, the minister himself signed my delegations. Was it any reward for that? No.
But… one day, after I solved some problems in one of those Power Plants, a guy came to me. “You do not know me, and my name is not important,” said the man, “ but I tell you two things. First is that you should know that the minister signed a bonus for you and the ministry will send the money to your factory.”
Then the man looked to me to be sure I understood. So I asked, “that is very nice, when I am supposed to get it?”
“That is the second thing you should know. Never. Unless you fight to get it.” And he turned around and left.
Sounds like a Kafka story? Surreal? Science-fiction? Well, it was true. And here is why. The minister will send a bonus for me to the factory, but no one will tell me. After three weeks the money will be sent to a factory account, and I will have two more weeks to ask for it. But of course, since I do not know, this will not happen. That means that I refused the bonus. And the factory can claim that money for someone else. The story how I found all this is too complicated, you, the reader must believe me (sorry for that).
OK. But I knew. By the way, the year was 1982.
We got our salaries in an envelope (I had 2,900 lei / month – Romanian currency). It was a fat old lady, dressed carelessly, who gave us the money in a dark room, no windows, on the ground level. I assumed the same lady should give me the bonus.
Upon my return to the factory I entered the dark room and asked: “Do I have a bonus? My name is Eliade Moldovan”
The lady answered in a very unfriendly tone: “No.”
And I visited the lady every week, with the same question. Her answer was the same “No”, her tone more and more nervous, that escalated. After few weeks, when she saw me coming, she shouted before I had a chance to ask my question, and before I entered the room (the door was always opened): “You have no bonus.” And that escalated too, her yelling was louder and louder… Until one day, when she did not shout when I got closer to her room. Without a word, or any other paper for me to sign or see, she handed me an envelope with 1,000 lei inside.
So I finally got 1,000 lei bonus that was a reward for few years of travelling around the country as an expert on the minister’s list. With that money I could spend 2-3 days with my family in a hotel at Black Sea.
How were the salaries in the country during comunism? It was like a nation-wide matrix, each type of job and industry had a predefined salary, that increased with a certain value each year. The best performing individual in his job was rewarded the same salary with the worst performing one, no difference. Even worse, those performing well were asked to solve all problems, and the others were in line for promotion, after all, they had to do something.
I was one of the smart stupid guys that did my job the best I could, and with all the harassment, I kept on going. I had to travel around the country to solve problems for the electronic devices I knew (I will not describe here the misery of those places I had to go to, maybe in another blog). And that kind of stupidity was a rarity, my delegations were signed by the minister of my industry himself. I attached to the end of this blog one of those delegations, that I discovered in my old papers… It is in Romanian language, but at the bottom of it the reader might see the minister’s signature. Note: “Ministru” in Romanian means “Minister”. The delegation is dated 1982, when I was still a rookie engineer, I graduated University in 1980.
I will mention here that all that challenging work did not bring me a better salary…
The only way to have a better salary was to advance up in the hierarchy. Of course, the nepotism was the first chance, but there were some that found diverse ways, and the story today is about one of them, I’ll call him Nick.
One of the places that I often visited in my business trips was Turceni, the biggest coal power plant in Romania, were Nick was in charge with keeping track of the work done by all the engineers coming from factories in my ministry. He was an engineer too, but had no clue of any technology, all he knew was the installation names in the power plant and the expert on the Minister’s list that could repair it. Both Nick and myself participated sometimes in technical meetings where sometimes one, two, or even three ministers were present.
One day I was called to fix some equipment in Turceni, where 4 identical electronic devices were down. I could fix three of them, using pieces from the fourth device. You may imagine that that power plant was never functioning at full capacity. After all done, I did the usual procedure, writing a paper with all that was done, and signed by me and the technician on duty.
The biggest problem was not to solve the technical problem, but to have a director or the chief engineer signing that paper. And they refused for different reasons, mostly claiming they were too busy. And I could not return home without that signature. The real reason was that they wanted to keep me as long as possible around, just in case. Sometimes for a one-day trip I had to stay weeks until I had the signature. And sometimes, waiting, I did some fixings, I was silly enough to help, give them more reasons to keep me more.
So, that day, I fixed the devices, and looking for a director’s signature. The secretariat lady told me “it is impossible since all directors and the chief engineer are in the meeting with the minister from the Ministry of Energy”.
I will not stay shy this time, I thought, and I stepped toward the meeting room door. The secretary jumped to stop me, like she had a spring under her chair, but it was too late, I already opened the door. I looked around the table and there were no sits available, about 15-20 people inside. Nick spotted me and he waved his hand inviting me to step in… and we shared his chair (a very incommode position for both, but he knew I could be an opportunity for him, and I wanted my paper signed, and all those directors were in).
Not more than 5 minutes later the minister asked about the devices I just fixed. It was considered very important, and the question was addressed to the chief engineer. I wanted to intervene and answer, but Nick put firmly his hand on mine, kind of keep quiet.
The chief engineer was in the hot seat, he started to mumble “I know the expert came from Bucharest and is working on it.” The guy never wanted to sign my papers, so, because we never spoke, he did not remember me. Actually, except Nick, no one in the room knew who I was.
The minister raised the voice “Do you know at what stage is it? done or not?”.
The chief engineer seemed lost “I can enquire.”
“It was a simple question, for an important problem, can you answer my question? YES or NO.”
It was one or two more verbal exchanges, the chief engineer’s face with more and more color on it. At the right moment when the tension in the room was pretty high, Nick spoke. He knew the answer, he read my paper, but he wanted the chief engineer to go deeper into the mud.
With a voice of a lion, Nick started specking pressing hard every word. “Comrade Minister, the expert from Bucharest, here with me on this chair,” and he pointed toward me “fixed the problem this way.” And he read the paper I signed with the technician on duty.
Then, Nick bent over the table toward the chief engineer, my paper in his hand. “Please sign this.”
Humiliated, and obviously wanting the discussion go away, the chief engineer signed; I took it, I rose and left the room.
Well, this was Nick’s style. Few month latter Nick was named commercial director. I must give him credit, from that day on I never had a problem to have my papers signed by a director. Nick always signed it and offered me a coffee in his large office.
First question: Did human consciousness change along centuries and millennia?
Disrespect for our environment, religious intolerance, greed, selfishness… I did my reading, history and religious texts and books.
My conclusion? Not much. Add to all this the unstoppable population growth, the overpopulation and the insane resource consumption.
Second question: Did our life standards improve along centuries?
My take? A lot. For some of us. I would dare say that the average individual in western world lives better than kings few hundred years back. I remember a chronicle about the life during King Louis XIV, the Sun King; the cold and ugly smelling palaces (no toilets), sticks to scratch under the wigs for head lice, health problems…
So, we do better today. All this done because of human technology advances: internet, cars, airplanes, medical assistance, you name it…
So, what is wrong?
Technologies advanced much faster than human consciousness; and technology out of control generates disasters.
Discoveries and innovation based on research in chemistry, biology, quantum physics, information technology, transportation… make our life better, but could be used for destruction in the worse imaginable ways.
Third question: Can our society fix itself, and avoid self-destruction?
Why? There are mathematical theories that a system cannot fix itself from inside. The mechanisms to fix the system will alter it, and so, it is different than when the project started, it is a catch 22 situation.
Fourth question: What can be done?
If humankind deserved being saved, it will happen, help from above. Aliens? or gods?
But does indeed human society deserve saving?
My book The World Ends Tomorrow describes such a scenario.
Fracony, a super-civilization that visited Earth periodically, built models forecasting that an apocalypse generated by humans themselves is inevitable.
They discovered a baby girl, Clara, with very special qualities, a research accident from a lab that tried to match man and women for best offspring. Clara was raised and trained all her life to take over the world leadership and prevent or diminish the consequences of an apocalypse.
And the disaster came as a biological apocalypse from a virus escaping from a research lab.
Clara can communicate with Fracony, but her training could not foresee everything, and Fracony might have their plans about what really means saving humanity, or the price to pay.
What is good and bad have different definitions in normal times versus crisis situations, and when the human race was at stake that line between right or wrong was blurry and shifting until became non-existent. Principles transformed into self preservation, fear in divine punishment transformed into anger. Who could rule such a world?
The action is four hundred years into the future, and only two countries sharing the planet, Gaia and Esperanto. Clara was ruling Esperanto as its Secretary. She had to navigate among centrifuge interests and ideas and take bold and heartbreaking decisions. Will she succeed or collapse before reaching the end of the tunnel?
The World Ends Tomorrow
Please leave a comment. Thanks.
Communism was a rotten system that I was surprised it lasted that long. I wrote in one of my previous blogs about the policy of hate. If diverse groups hated each-other, or at least it was a mistrust between them, then it was easier to control them.
The official position of the Communist Party was that the most useful work is done by the strong arms of the working class, and everybody understood this means the workers. Lawyers, doctors, priests, accountants, engineers felt excluded, but they did not care much, almost everybody hated the system anyway. The irony was that all worker families dreamt that one or more in their family could reach one day to be in that “excluded” group, but the competition to be accepted in a University was fierce, at least school had ambitious standards.
And one day I found out what was in the mind of one of my “worker” colleague.
I have a degree in Computer Science and I worked as an electronic engineer. It was 1982, or 1983. I was specialized in some electronic equipment that my company sold to power plants. Those days electronics was very different than today …with transistors, coils, resistors, capacitors, and the schemas for those electronic devices covered the whole table or more, falling over the table’s edges. Electronics engineer was a challenging and interesting job.
I was in one of my business trips in a power plant fixing a device. I found that the problem was a huge contactor, and the power plant did not have it in its inventory. So, I called the factory and one of my worker colleague brought the contactor in his arms (it was around 40 kg), and even if the trip was by train, there were some distances on foot. And he also uninstalled the defective one, and installed the new one, I could not help, it was no room for two inside that device.
After all was done, I invited him to canteen and offered a meal, I received one coupon (that I offered him) from a worker in the power plant that had to leave for the day (I was well known there).
We did not really have common subjects, and I ventured. “How much do you do a month?”
That guy was about my age, but more years on the job, since he started right after primary school, at 16 or 17. “Depends on how many overtime hours I do, but around 4200 a month.”
It was a big surprise for me, I really did not know, and I did not hide it. “Well, that’s a lot, I have a fix salary, 2900 a month.”
He looked with the eyes that told his story, he did not care. So, I continued: “Do you think it is fair?”
More interested in the meal in front of him, he was polite in his answer, even if the words did not mean that. “We the workers keep you engineers on our shoulders. What do you do at work? All day long you stare at those schemas on the table, and sometimes with the oscilloscope see some measurements inside the devices, that actually we build.”
“Don’t you think that working with the head is still a work?”
He looked at me for few seconds then returned his attention to the food. He was not a bad guy, but communism twisted his mind, he appreciated only the work he understood, his, and the Party told him that his work is the most important in the country, something great comes out of his hands every day.
Both muscles and brain are necessary for the society to keep going, but that society that value muscles more than brain cannot survive. Communism died in Romania in December 1989.
I will recount an episode from my life. One day I dared crossing the line.
All around us was a lie; we had a miserable life, cold in our houses, quality food – what is that?, freedom of expression nonexistent, all we saw and heard on radio was very censured, and in the 1980-ties there were only 2 hours of TV emission per day (many times filled with the president's activity). Why do I say this was an intellectual prostitution? Because all official statements were quite the opposite… we are doing great and the population was extremely pleased with the magnificent, visionary and caring leadership of the party; and when asked on the streets or meetings, the people were afraid to express their feelings, they repeated the government slogans.
I was a good University student, doing Computer Science. My marks were around 90%. So, it was a high pressure for me to ask the membership of The Romanian Communist Party; it was a policy, that well performing students should join the party. But I hated communism, all my education at home was to stay away for any engagement (my father served some time in a political prison, soon after the communists took over the country). But I joined the party. Sounds like misrepresenting myself? Well, only who lived in such a regime would understand, it was not misrepresentation, it was following the crowd in a country-wide dance of intellectual prostitution.
And for me it did not stop here. Starting in 1983 I worked for a small computing center, and the company had 23 communists. I wanted to be different and I asked incommode questions in the meetings, well, I knew the limit, how “incommode” the questions should be not to get in trouble. And the big surprise came one day in 1988 when I was elected in the bureau, adjunct-secretary, that was second in command after the secretary of the small cell of 23 communists in the company. I did not ask for that role, I did not want it, but I did not refuse, the dance continued.
And here comes my story, where, after years of following the same pattern as anyone, I dared say what I was thinking, in an official document that that I had to fill.
One day in late spring 1989, when the secretary was missing, I had to host the ordinary meeting (that is, the mandatory once-a-month meeting). And here I stepped over the line. After the meeting was over I had to fill a form to be forwarded to the higher levels. There were regular questions like how many were present, what was the reason for those missing, what about the discussion in the meeting (almost always the latest country president’s activity), what people discussed (you may guess, praising the president or the achievements of our country). At the end I had to fill (optionally) a REMARKS rubric… and I wrote “The members come to the meetings because they are afraid to miss it, and they do not dare ask the questions burning in their chests.”
What I wrote was a truth that everybody knew anyway, but no one that I know wrote it on an official paper. Sounds innocent? Well, in less than a week, an extraordinary meeting was organized, someone from the Ministry came to join, and it was only one subject for the meeting: “Expel comrade Moldovan from the bureau”. Some colleagues spoke about how unfit I am for the position (they were asked to do so, and apologized personally after the meeting, of course, when no one was around).
That was OK for me, but it did not stop here. I was working in different shifts with my wife because we had to take care of our two small kids. In one evening I received a call from home, my wife crying “What did you do? Were you involved in an accident? A police officer came home and asked that you go with all the car papers (driver licence and car ownership) to Ministry of Transportation (that reported to Police department in Romania at the time).” And the police officer left behind a citation paper asking me to go to the nearest Ministry of Transportation office.
I thought it was a mistake, someone was involved in an accident an by mistake the plate of my car was recorded as “hit and run” or something like that. I was wrong, it was me they were after.
So, I showed up the next evening to the police office. The police officer at the gate saw my citation.
“I do not know what all this is about, I will call upstairs.”
When he heard what the clerk upstairs had to say, his face showed a terrible surprise. He turned to me and said it with the most respectful voice “Mister Moldovan, I have to retain your driver licence.”
I observed right away that he did not call me “comrade”, but “Mister” and that was a high form of respect, that should never be used officially, but among, let’s say, intimate groups or friends. Probably the officer received a code that meant “politically motivated”, and the officer was impressed, I do not look like a fighter.
“May I ask why?” I asked.
The officer looked side-way, and his tone was worried “I do not like what I am doing now, but the order I received is clear, I have to retain your driver licence, and I am not allowed to comment in any way.”
“Any advice?” I dared.
“Mister Moldovan, if I were you, I would ask for an audience with the commandant.”
And so I did. I had to write a reason why I wanted an audience. Because I had no clue what happened with my driver licence, suspended or cancelled, I wrote that I want an audience because “I would like to know why my driver license was retained by the police.”
The adjunct-commandant received me few days later, a tall and slim red-haired police major. He was polite.
“What do you want comrade Moldovan?”
“My driver licence was retained few days ago at the gate of this office, and I do not know why.”
The officer tried a smile. “All are saying the same thing.” And he opened a drawer, looked for my folder and pulled it out.
After he read the file, he closed slowly the folder (I will never forget how slowly he closed it), probably trying to buy time looking in his mind for words. He looked to me like to someone fell from the sky, and he struggled to have a neutral voice. “You will receive an answer home; your case is very complicated.”
No more words were necessary. And indeed, to my surprise, I got a letter from the Police department about two weeks later.
It was an envelope with the Ministry of Transportation stamp on it. Inside, a quarter of a page, with only one sentence: “Your request cannot be resolved.” It was no signature or stamp, nothing, only those few words.
My request was why my driver licence was retained? so, the police department could tell me why they did it? That officer wanted to keep his promise, and sent the letter, but he had to keep his mouth shut, he definitely knew the reason, but was afraid to spell it out.
My conclusion in this saga? Regular police officers hated the system too. But they were in the same intellectual prostitution mess like everybody else.
Note: I got my driver licence back in about 6 months, after the communism fell in December 1989, no explanation ever.
I will mention few ideas and then clear my point.
First, the big bang theory. All started almost 14 billion years ago with a small singularity (density close to the infinite) that exploded and started expanding (still expanding today). My question: what was before that? According to the scientists accepting the theory this is a silly question since TIME started with the big bang.
Second, the theory of parallel universes, ours is one of them. And there are different flavours and explanations how our universe was created. The one I like is that an accident in one universe created a distortion that lead to the creation of our universe.
When I was a teenager and an avid reader of everything, I came across some theories (as old as old Greek philosophy). And one said that actually nothing exists, everything is actually a huge delusion. As a very simplified comparison… the table I see right now in my dining room does not exist, it is a creation of my mind. As much as I like it, the delusion (about the non-existence of our cosmos) was in the minds of those genius lunatics, the universe exists.
Since your time is limited, I will say only one more example before my conclusion. Monotheist religions claim the Universe was created by God. “Everything” has a beginning, including our universe. But God is outside that “everything” because He is eternal and does not have a beginning. And since I always use my logic (that will not sit well with many, but still, it is my thinking), He Who is outside “everything” is “nothing”, so, (1) God does not exist, or (2) He is something else then described in Holly Books.
Now I have to spell my idea, how was the universe created: NONE OF THE ABOVE, and by the way, none of the theories I read so far has enough credibility for a twisted mind like mine. Reason: there are 2 limits that all theories cannot explain, the infinite and the eternity.
I tackled such ideas in my first SF /Fantasy book The Rise of Esperanto https://www.amazon.com/dp/1525508768/
And for those that enjoy sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian, apocalyptic stories, I suggest my second book, The World Ends Tomorrow,
Thank you for reading,
I came across two interesting lists,
First is IQ by country
And the second one is penis size by country
I thought that the two lists could be used to draw another one, manhood by country. I considered that IQ is more important, but penis size matters too. So my formula to calculate the manhood is
(IQ * 2) + (penis size in mm)
For (IQ * 2) all countries fall in the interval 118 to 216
For penis size (mm) the interval is 96.6 to 179.3
I will start with a paragraph in my previous blog, since this will set the stage for what I would like to say today.
“Toward the end of the regime, into the eighties, people stayed in line the whole night to buy food. The regime calculated ‘scientifically’ how much food the population needed, all the rest was sold at dumping prices in other countries.”
Let’s start with the lines to buy food. Sometimes it was so crowded, that people could not see what was for sale. So, they had to ask those already in line. But the whole mentality was so altered, that the question was not “what is for sale?”, but rather “what do they give us today?”
The worse were the butchers and the groceries selling legumes and vegetables.
All shops were owned by the state, so, all those working in shops were employees; but they behaved like they owned the place and the customers had the feeling that whatever they put in your bag it is final, useless to complain if something was altered or not quite right for some reason; it was ‘take it or leave’.
The butchers… they stripped most of the meat to sell it overpriced at the backdoor, so, the regular and honest people, those waiting for hours, had to buy what was left. They payed for 1 kg of meat, but most of it was fat and bones. As for chicken, it was proverbial, all that was available were chicken paws. And by the way, you could not buy the quantity you wanted, it was rationalized, well, for as many as possible in the line to get something.
I have to be honest and say that no one died of hunger, because it was bread for everyone, with little or no line; the only drawback was that the customer had to have the exact money, if not the seller rounded up, they always claimed that there was no change. Also, I could buy milk (and that was my task in the family) at a distribution centre near my building. At 6 AM the line was about half an hour waiting, but for lazy ones, after 8:30 am – 9:00 am … no more milk.
One day, walking the street I saw a line and found out potatoes were for sale, about one-hour waiting line. A big chest, right on the street, full of potatoes. When my turn came, I asked for 4 kg of potatoes. Note: the customer could not touch the merchandise, but after he payed. So, the seller using a scoop took potatoes from the pile and dumped it on the balance.
“There is a lot of dry dirt and sand with those potatoes,” I said.
“What do you want me to do?” asked aggressively the seller. “When the truck dumped the potatoes into the chest it was with the dirt and sand. And the whole weight was measured, I have to sell it as it is. Do you want to buy or not?”
“Can you put only potatoes on the balance?“ I tried.
The seller put the potatoes back into the chest, then looked straight to the next in line, and said with an authoritarian voice. “Next.”
I did not want to move, but I had no chance, the whole line starting pushing ahead, drifting me away. An angry voice somewhere back shouted: “The man told you, buy or leave, you had your choice, now move, we stay in the cold for a stupid loser.” Obviously, many in line did not care what was right or wrong. They wanted the potatoes.
That day, in my neighborhood, the potatoes were for sale, so, few streets away, I spotted another chest with potatoes. I bought without complaint. Back at home, I weighed my bag ... 3.8 kg, not 4 kg that I had to have. The salesmen had different tactics to do it. First, they dropped the goods on the scale of the box and took it before the needle stopped. Secondly, the needle itself has been tampered with to show more than the actual value. If they were caught, they solved it in a simple way, paying a ransom to the inspector ... So, after cleaning the potatoes and removing the sand, I had about 3.5 kg. Then, by removing the damaged parts of the potatoes, the final result was a little over 3 kg of good potatoes.
All right, that was the everyday experience buying food, but I also have to say that there were some honest inspectors and some of the sellers lost their jobs or spent some time in prison; but these were exceptions, not the rule. Or, maybe, the inspectors had to have a number of solved irregularities to keep their jobs.
‘Divide at impera’ it is a Latin quote, meaning ‘divide and rule’, meaning, split the opposition so that it ceases to threaten your own power. So, how to rule promoting hate is a very old strategy, probable since the society started to have rulers. But in communism it was fine-tuned to perfection.
The Romanian government policy was to encourage hate among groups, so people could not organize against the regime…
Everybody hated the secret police and the high officials of the Communist Party, that in turn hated everybody in the country (reciprocity law). Doctors had small salaries, so, they were selective whom to care professionally… unless people tipped them, and that became a rule, so, people hated doctors. Workers hated the engineers because they believed that engineers do not work (working with the head was not considered a real job) and engineers hated the workers because workers had bigger salaries (workers were paid the overtime, but most of the engineers were not).
And everyone hated those in the food chain. Toward the end of the regime, into the eighties, people stayed in line the whole night to buy food. The regime calculated ‘scientifically’ how much food the population needed, all the rest was sold at dumping prices in other countries. In these conditions those that ‘distributed’ the food took the best for their families and friends or sold it to the higher bidder at the back door of the shop.
And some people believed that the president did not know, they could not believe that the president was so heinous to accept such a situation.
Here is a joke: President Ceausescu and his wife were passing by a huge queue of people staying in line to buy food. The president asked: ”what is that line for?”. His wife answered: “they are in line for food”.
Puzzled, the president asked: “there is no food?”. Bored to hear about that subject again Madam Ceausescu replied: “I was not talking about us” then pointed her finger to the gloomy crowd… “but them”.
I will mention here that apartments did not have air conditioning, and during winter time the temperature in the apartments was pretty low. I had a corner room where in cold days the temperature was about 7 Celsius degrees.
It is notorious the following happening during a rally where Ceausescu had a speech about how great Romania was. Someone from the crowd shouted: “It is cold in our houses” (that was really, really courageous). Ceausescu did not hear clearly and asked someone in his entourage… when Ceausescu understood what the man in the crowd said, he replied “you may put another coat on you”, and that was recorded and transmitted live on the radio, Romanians should remember that.
With the austerity imposed in the country, all the debt was paid by 1987. When the regime fell in December 1989, the government had about 8 billion dollars deposited in different accounts in western countries (according to the free press after ‘revolution’). Those money were never found, and surprisingly, some people in the country became multi-millionaires, some billionaires (in US dollars); people believed that those guys were high ranking secret police officials. Sounds familiar?
Note: To silence the whispers around the country about the money, the government payed a Canadian company to investigate; they were sure that the investigators will find nothing. But the government was wrong, when the investigators got to close finding the money, the government stopped the investigation.