Historical Context | Observations During a Europa Trip (Part I)



By Sigrid Weidenweber

Dear Reader, in case you noticed the absence of my opinion pieces from the Citizen’s Journal and, by chance wondered what happened—I enjoyed a month-long river cruise on Europe’s water ways. My family was with me, and I will note some of their comments along-side my own. Our trip began in Bucharest, Romania, a former Communist country.

We arranged for an extra day in Bucharest to have more time to explore the city than the cruise allowed. Bucharest is one of Europe’s oldest cities, surrounded by many fortresses, of which the oldest was built in the 15th century. The town was first mentioned by Prince Vlad the Impaler, whom you might know as Dracula. I found that he had good reason to be cruel, his enemies the Turks, had their own modus operandi of exquisite torture.

The city lies in a fruitful plane along the Danube and needed fortifications against numerous enemies, especially the Turks. They sacked the town in 1554 and occupied the city, which was almost destroyed in 1594 in an uprising against the Turks.

Forgive me if I sound as if I am trying to inculcate with a history lesson. I just find that the old history bears similarities to modern history. Instead of Vlad III, there was Ceausescu, but I will come to that. Romania became prosperous when Tsarist Russia ended Turkish rule, and thrived under the governance of its first King, Carol I. Its new wealth produced wonderful architecture in French and Italian design. Many of these buildings are visible in the old town district today, for WWII destroyed little.

After WWII, the Communists, under Russian leadership took over the country. With their system of total governmental control over all aspects of life, the economy declined rapidly and a utilitarian style of architecture after the Stalinist model prevailed.

As we walked through the old city. With its rich, ornamented buildings and homes, beautiful iron fences and gates, we remarked that these artifacts forged with old craftsmanship could not be replicated today. Then, comments arose within our group about the horrid, obvious neglect—of everything. The sidewalks, many cobble stoned, sported loose stones and tiles, a constant hazard to sandals and summer shoes, as well as to your health. Most people, as if to fit their home, were dressed in drab utilitarian gear. Of course, there were many exceptions—all young, exuberant and pretty.

We went into a nice-looking restaurant that was obviously cared for by the owners, and had a delightful lunch. When it came time to pay, we asked if we could add the tip onto the credit card. “Please don’t! It’s fine not to tip.” Astonished we asked if tipping was not the custom. “Oh, it is,” was the quick answer. “It is just that the government takes 70% of all gratuities and so we spare our customers the trouble.” Needless to say, we tipped. In dollars, as we had not yet changed money, making our guy very happy. Upon further inquiry we found that the government does not like people to earn more than their proscribed salary. Although, Romania is not a Communist country anymore, many socialist hang-overs remain. I felt as if I was back in Communist East-Berlin again. Many houses were dirty, their plaster eaten away from the sulfuric acid rain that coal-burning brings, so that they looked as if they had Leprosy.

And then, after the grim aftermath of Communism, we saw the greatest Communist extravaganza—the Palace of Parliament! By dictate of Nicolae Ceausescu, Communist party head and president of Romania, an enormous area of historical buildings, and whole sections of homes, were radically erased to build the dictator’s “Casa Popurului”—his dream to rival the greatest buildings on earth.

No one quite knows the entire cost of the megalomaniac expanse; however, you will be able to imagine the cost once I quote some facts. It is so large for such a small country that 70% of its accommodating space is still unused. The building is the second largest government building only after the American Pentagon. It has 12 floors above ground and seven beneath it complete with nuclear shelters in the deepest two basements. All rooms in the building are clad in marble. It has a staircase to rival the staircase of the Tsar’s in the Winter Palace. All staircases and rooms are clad with the finest carpets, and the rooms feature luxuries crystal chandeliers, of which the largest weighs 5 tons and sparkles with 2800 light-bulbs. The Parliament, monumental colossus was designed by 400 architects, choosing only materials of Romanian origin, and using around a million cubic meters of marble in the construction.

Now that I have summarized these facts for you, can you imagine the enormous costs imposed on the people to produce the horror? Taxes bled the people dry. Hunger and starvation decimated the population—as their children were dying in orphanages. We heard that they were feed with diseased blood. All of it! Just to satisfy the megalomaniac desires of a Communist sociopath. Ceausescu wanted to rival Stalin—he did! He built a monument to horrors and excesses of Communism that will be remembered forever. 

Palace of Parliament known as the People House or Republic House. Bucharest, Romania. Dreamstime


 Sigrid Weidenweber grew up in communist East Berlin, escaping it using a French passport. Ms. Weidenweber holds a degree in medical technology as well as psychology and has course work in Anthropology.  She is co-founder of Aid for Afghans.  Weidenweber has traveled the world and lived with Pakistani Muslims, learning about the culture and religion. She is a published author and lecturer. You can find her books on Amazon.com

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