Made in Romania

For centuries, Romania was home to a collection of self-sufficient and successful rural communities.

The country was a picturesque homestead akin to the likes of any agricultural powerhouse: adorned with rolling hills and great plains, home to vast tracks of fertile countryside and traversed by plentiful waterways.

At one time, Romania was recognized as the breadbasket of Europe.

The once agriculturally rich country gained this status between world wars while providing essential wheat, corn and meats to the whole of the European continent.

Today, however, visions of these glory days subsist only in distant memory.

Surely nostalgia has the tendency to rosily tint the past; but regardless, the downward spiral of late has been in stark contrast to, and far more destructive than, any scenario ever imagined. Today the reality is grim. Peasants, unable to afford modern machinery, work the fields by hand.

Former communist co-operative lands, now overrun with weeds, sit idle. Irrigation systems rest damaged and unusable.

And by far the most telling statistic is that today only 12 per cent of Romania’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from agriculture.

As a result, Romania finds itself on the losing side of an unequal playing field against neighboring countries and the European Union.

Today the country struggles to stay afloat, rendered unable to compete in the newly globalized and highly efficient markets of the European Union (EU).

The former European breadbasket has seen a drastic change in the livelihood and self-sufficiency of its agricultural industry, a feat that is entirely attributed to decades of oppressive communist rule.

Spiraling downward

The communist experiment in Romania was an abysmal failure until its collapse along with the Soviet Union. This culminated with the overthrow of former President Nicolae Ceausescu, which was followed by his execution three days later on Christmas Day, 1989.

The system’s unforgiving grip on any country’s institutional makeup is near impossible to reverse without wiping out the entire existing infrastructure and rebuilding it from square one.

This is due to the massive and largely ineffective bureaucracy which, despite the best intentions, will continue to survive unless entirely disposed of.

The communist formula went as follows: religion was outlawed, corporations became nationalized and agriculture was collectivized.

Collectivization meant the government took over ownership of all lands and animals and in turn formulated a series of community collectives.

Villagers continued to work their lands and in return the state paid them a portion of their earnings.

Communist policies promoted the collective and not the individual.

As a result, wealthy Romanian farmers became the target of government propaganda and mistreatment.

Immediately, the Communist Party determined that Romania’s affluent community, the majority of whom were farmers, had become wealthy by taking advantage of the common people.

As a result, the communists painted the country’s most successful individuals as sworn enemies of the Romanian people.

The communists decided that the wealthy had been too privileged for too long and now it was their turn to give back. Rejection and barring from schools was only one aspect of punishment directed at the children of wealthy families.

One Romanian disclosed that her uncle was told not to return to law school the following year as communism began to take root.

The late 1980s and early 90s brought regime change to some of the world’s most suppressed, but the damage was irreversible.

Even today Romanians speak of how communism forever altered the work ethic of the country’s population.

“Communism in the countryside promoted hypocrisy and laziness. No incentive meant no one worked hard or cared,” said one Romanian.

Another furthered, “communism equalized everyone only in theory; in reality it impoverished the masses. Romania is still struggling with the after effects of this today.”

The basic fundamentals of communism do not support nor promote an agricultural and rural based community. Therefore, under communism the focus turned toward industrialization.

In the 1950s, Romanian leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej officially spearheaded the movement away from agriculture and toward mass industry.

While some petitioned for a return to Romania’s agricultural heyday, Gheorghiu-Dej opposed this outright.

Instead, he favored a push toward the communist ideal of mass industrialization. While the government did not forcibly remove Romanian peasants from the countryside, laws were imposed which made earning a decent living and mere survival in the country’s villages nearly impossible.

In the end, farmers were forced from rural villages and into urban areas.

A quick descent

No longer able to sustain their way of life under this new system of collectivization, many peasants relocated to city life.

Here they took up residence in government provided blocs and secured jobs working in factories.

After centuries of existence, an entire authentic way of life was wiped out by a mere change in governmental ideology.

As a result, farmers and peasants suffered immensely.

Gheorghiu-Dej and his successor Ceausescu were not the only leaders to be blinded by the intoxicating visions of mass industrialization.

Other communist and socialist leaders throughout Eastern Europe and Russia were wooed by the riches and power mass industry and manufacturing promised them.

But very few Romanians pondered the repercussions and aftershocks that could result from the collapse of an economy based on gross misrepresentation of economic figures and false successful completions of supposed communist mandates.

Moreover, by systematically driving Romanians from their peasant lifestyle, communist ideology and Ceausescu’s rule uprooted the country’s very livelihood.

The necessary exodus to urban areas left many of the country’s villages sparsely populated or completely deserted.

In some extreme cases, entire communities were literally demolished.

Collectivization dismantled families, villages and authentic ways of life while the collapse of the agriculture industry led to a painful economic fallout as well as poverty and hunger.

Not surprisingly, social and economic recovery is still underway.

Suffering was country-wide, though not bared equally.

It has been said that under communist rule, everyone was equal, yet some were more equal than others.

In Romania’s agricultural communities, a very different series of events played out from region to region.

The turnaround

The current goal remains to make Romanian farms more productive and competitive.

However, this is far easier said than done.

For the country to reemerge as a European breadbasket the solution must be multifaceted in nature.

Political, economic and social forces must be utilized in order to make success an attainable goal.

On one hand, Romania’s entrance into the EU as of 2007 means access to desperately needed EU funding packages.

On the other, however, it also spells out increased competition from the greater European markets.

Regardless, Romania’s agricultural potential is underutilized.

This untapped asset must be properly harnessed and in good hands if it is to be put to profitable use.

For this to be possible the agricultural sector must be sheltered from gross manipulation and the ever-present tangle of corruption.

“Apparently we received EU funding to develop our community’s former communist collective farm; however, we never saw any of it. But, we did see that the mayor now has a new luxury car and completed renovations to his house,” one Romanian man explained.

The turning point for a successful Romanian agricultural industry will be the establishment of a sustainable development strategy for the country’s rural communities.

Currently, foreign investment’s helping hand appears to be Romania’s real chance for any turnaround. Foreign investors have the ability to increase Romanian agriculture’s competitiveness on the EU market and help the country live up to its known potential.

The Romanian people see foreign investors as the country’s only chance at a turnaround.

When speaking about their own government, one Romanian remarked, “They don’t think about helping the country… only furthering themselves.”

The world over

The plight of Romania’s agriculture industry and those individuals involved in the sector is far from over, across the world in many parts of South America the scene is eerily similar.

As socialist dictators begin to reign in their country’s wealthy farmers and collectively reorganize prime agricultural land an ominous chord has been struck.

Collectivization is a single step but it was a major leap historically along the pathway to economic failure. Modern society is convinced that history repeats itself. As a result, to ignore such an obvious déjà vu is criminal.

Responsible global citizens and world leaders must learn from past experimentation and glaring failures rather than continue the testing of questionable practices and the use of a broken and failed system.

Romanian history

1916
Romania entered First World War, on the Entente side, after the Entente agreed to recognize Romanian rights over Transylvania, which at that time was part of Austria-Hungary.

1918

Romania exits the First World War by signing a peace treaty with Germany, and then re-enters the war at a later date.

1945

By the end of the Second World War Romania had suffered approximately 300,000 casualties, mostly fighting the German army in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

1947

King Michael I was forced by the communists to abdicate and flee Romania. The country is also proclaimed a People’s Republic.

1948 to 1965

President Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej governs Romania until his death; he is replaced by Nicolae Ceauşescu.

1947 to 1964

Between 60,000 and 80,000 political prisoners were detained and hundreds of thousands of Romanian citizens are reportedly tortured or killed.

1989

In a revolution that killed approximately 1,000 people in Timişoara and Bucharest, Ceauşescu is overthrown on Dec. 22 and executed on Christmas Day along with his wife.

2004

Romania joins the North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO).

2007

Romania joins the European Union.

Today

Although Communist parties are no longer outlawed in Romania, many of Ceauşescu’s policies such as his ban on abortion and contraceptives are frowned upon.

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