This December Romania celebrated twenty years since the fall of communism. In many ways, I cannot believe it’s been twenty years already, mostly because I expected a lot more to happen in my native country in twenty years, but also because I can’t believe it’s been twenty years since I was a preteen – fourteen to be more exact. This is crazy! I still remember growing up under communism, being constantly afraid of the secret police and mindful that they are listening to our private conversations.
We were fairly certain our house and our phone was bugged. I still remember the nearly empty shops, the long queues to buy milk at 6am, the 23rd August parades to praise our genius president, Ceausescu. But I also remember a full church on Sunday, even if I’m a little hazy about what was preached from the pulpit. I do remember countless Bible study and discipleship camps with my parents and foreign missionaries, hiding in the mountains from the secret police.
This constant pressure and menace from the government made the life of faith for many Romanians to be the only way to resist the Communist regime and protest against it. It defined our identity, placing us against everything that the Communists stood for. When we heard news of the unrest in Timisoara on December 17th, we barely dared to hope that Communism had run its course; but it did. The nightmare was over, even if at a great cost for many people, mostly high school pupils and college students who stood against tanks and were gunned down by the secret police.
I was only fourteen, but I remember the excitement and hope for a new era for Romania. Little did I know of the struggle which was to follow the fall of Communism. For me, the hardest thing to accept was to see how the church had been affected by Communism, and how many of the control techniques employed by the secret police continued to be used by clerical leaders to control their members, and eliminate anyone who didn’t follow the ‘party line’. It is true that it is easier to eliminate Communism from the government, than it is to eliminate it from people’s hearts.
The most heart-breaking thing for me was to observe how entire generations who opposed Communism with all their might became its ultimate victims by being irreversibly compromised by it. Freedom is a difficult thing. Freedom is not only something that you are given. Freedom is first of all something you give to others. If you cannot give freedom, you will never feel free. I’m still learning to set people free, after twenty years of Communism. I think I may have just escaped the Communism’s fatal influence. So help me God!