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.