According to a recent poll conducted in Romania, a large majority of those who expressed an opinion stated that life was better when the Communist Party was in power than it is now under capitalism. Most people gave a favourable view about communism in principle, with over 60% saying that communism is ‘a good idea’. The pollsters noted a significant increase in sympathy with communist ideas since a similar poll was carried out four years ago.
Conducted in August and September this year by the Romanian polling organisation CSOP, the survey found that over 49% of respondents agreed that life was better under the late Communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu, while only 23% think that life is better today. The remainder gave a neutral or ‘don’t know’ answer.
The reasons given by the participants for their positive evaluation of the communist period were mainly economic, with the availability of jobs cited by 62% and decent living conditions by 26%; the provision of housing for all was referred to by 19%.
The survey was sponsored by the government-funded organisation IICMER (the Institute for Investigating the Crimes of Communism and the Memory of Romanian Exile), in order to help guide the institute in its work to ‘educate’ the population about the evils of communism. Among the most bitter disappointments for that organisation were the answers given to a question which asked whether the particpants or their families had suffered under the communist system.
A mere 7% of respondents said they had suffered under communism, with a further 6% asserting that although they personally had not suffered, a family member had suffered. Again, the reasons given were mainly economic, with most of the small group who had direct or family experience of suffering under Communist Party rule citing the shortages which occured in the 1980s when Romania implemented an austerity programme in order to repay the country’s foreign debt. A small fraction of the minority who had suffered during the communist period said they had lost out by having their property nationalised, and a handful (6% of those who had experience of suffering under communism) recalled that they, or a family member, had been arrested at some time while the communists were in power.
Putting their best spin on the outcome of the survey, the IICMER noted that pluralities of those polled (41% and 42% respectively) agreed with the statements that the communist regime was criminal or illegitimate. A substantial minority (37% and 31%) explicitly disagreed with those propositions and the rest were neutral or gave no opinion.
Also, although most participants gave a positive view about communism, with only 27% expressing disagreement with communism in principle, most of those who gave a definite opinion were of the view that communist ideas had not been put into practice in the best way before the before the regime change in 1989. 14% gave the unequivocal response that communism was both a good idea and was well implemented in Romania.
Thus a large proportion of Romanians who are undecided on the question of whether or not communism was a legal or legitimate form of government, and a big majority of those who say that communism was incorrectly conducted, are nevertheless clear in their view that the system as practiced under the Romanian Communist Party- warts and all- provided a better life for the people than that which is provided under present day capitalism.
Before the communists took power in Romania, most people were illiterate and had no access to health care. Few in the countryside, where the majority lived, had sanitation or electricity. Infant mortality rates were among the worst in Europe, and most people died from hunger or disease before reaching the age of 40. Romania had a right wing regime which allied itself with Hitler during World War Two, and as part of that alliance Romania’s capitalist administration sent most of the country’s Jewish population to the Nazi death camps.
Achieving power following the Soviet victory against Nazi Germany in 1945, the Romanian communists- who had hitherto been an illegal underground group fighting the pro-fascist government and the Nazis- numbered only a few thousand. However, they succeeded in mobilising the enthusiasm of the people to rebuild their war-shattered country. Illiteracy was almost wiped out, health services were massively improved and extended, and- as the participants in the CSOP survey point out- jobs, homes and decent living standards became available for everybody.
Buoyed by these successes, the Romanian communist government led by Nicolae Ceauşescu went into debt during the 1970s, buying expensive industrial equipment from the West in order to increase the country’s economic growth rate on the expectation that Western countries would increase their imports from Romania. That strategy failed, and the austerity programme that was implimented in order to pay off the national debt gave rise to increasing resentment.
Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife Elena were executed by firing squad on Christmas day 1989. Their death sentence was carried out after a brief trial by the new reformist leaders of the country, in which they were found guilty of crimes against the Romanian people.
But despite that condemnation, and although the general view as reflected in the CSOP survey results is that the communist system as practiced in Romania was flawed, only a small minority of those consulted in the poll (15%) said that former communist chief Nicolae Ceauşescu was a bad leader. Most respondents were neutral or undecided on this question, and 25% said that Ceauşescu’s leadership was good for the country.
Leader of ‘relaxed communism’: Nicolae Ceauşescu depicted on the cover of Time Magazine, 1966
In its analysis of the poll results, IICMER noted that Romanians are far from alone in their generally positive evaluation of 20th Century communism. According to a survey carried out in several Central and East European countries in 2009 by the US-based Pew Research Center, the proportion of people in former socialist nations who take the view that life under capitalism is worse than it was during the period of communist power is as follows:
Czech Republic: 39%
Particulary significant in the results of the 2010 CSOP / IICMER poll in Romania is that, as they aquire more experience of life under the ‘market economy’ people are becoming more negative about capitalism and positive about communism. In the previous poll in 2006, 53% expressed a favourable opinion about communism; the 2010 survey showed that 61% are favourable towards communism.
The CSOP’s survey findings are not altogether suprising in view of what has taken place since capitalism was reintroduced- increased poverty, the rise of unemployment and insecurity. Romania’s health system is currently in crisis, and public sector workers have recently had their pay cut by 25%.
Information on the poll: 1133 people aged 15 and over were interviewed between August 27 and September 2, 2010. Interviews were conducted based on a standardized questionnaire, face to face at home. Margin of error: 2.9%.