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How Forgotten Communist Orphanages Tie in with Our Present

 4 min read / 

Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

I was speaking to someone, just the other day, about communism and capitalism and whether or not China may have gotten it right. Among those who follow global affairs, you will find very strong opinions supporting both sides. However, classic communism is something that sounds good in theory, yet has never managed to succeed.

Sometime in the early 90s, western newspapers were flooded with photos from Eastern European orphanages. They would have children of all ages, in the hundreds, in one building, leading lives none of us will ever imagine.

Ceausescu’s psychotic obsession with a bright socialist future meant that every woman only had access to contraception after having five children. Five. The state, however, offered an alternative: you had to have the child but you could always put him or her in an orphanage.

Of course, this sick solution didn’t help the socialist plan. It just created more issues. Women died trying to give themselves abortions. And the number of abandoned children kept growing. Some put the number at 500,000.

Thousands of miles away, beyond the heart-wrenching photos the West was publishing, there was the everyday reality which, once you’ve seen it, never leaves you. Many of the children would sleep with their thumb in their mouths up until adulthood. Always alone. Many would bounce back and forth when sitting against a wall, sometimes hitting the back of their heads against it. They would spit and scream at you, or hug you aggressively because their need and hunger for love were so stringent that it would almost turn them into wild animals. They would be both prickly or even mean – as so many people seeing extreme suffering are – and desperate for a level of attention they would never get.

Some very lucky ones would get adopted. I remember one boy who did, as a toddler. And his life changed. Until his new family had a child of their own. Then he became an afterthought. Their neighbours would feed him as his parents forgot so often…

Then there were the abuses. The physical and mental ones. The beatings, the humiliation. And the lack of anyone taking responsibility. The lack of empathy and compassion. The lack of any love.

Again, I remember so many stories. One caretaker dipped a baby in hot water when bathing her because she didn’t check the temperature. The child was burned from the belly down.

Still, in an inhumane system, it’s hard to judge someone for their lack of humanity.

Like many of you, I’ve never gotten anything for free. I’ve worked for absolutely everything I have – and I still do. My parents are not rich, but the life I’ve lived was. Maybe I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had everything. A loving family, a great education both at home and in school, access to healthcare and the safety net that is a normal life.

I live most of my days enjoying this sheltered environment.

I wish I could pick one of these children and, in Pulitzer-style journalism, tell their story and then present you with the wider picture of a system that not only failed, but destroyed lives. So many lives.

But I can’t. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, their faces pop in my head. Their desperation to be friends with us, our lack of proper tools to understand at the time. I think about all the things I could have done had I known then what I know now. And about the guilt of being a silent witness to it all. For not speaking up sooner. For the fact that I may never know what happened to so many of them. And their faces blend into one image of the painful, communist grey.

I speak in our Life @ Mogul video about some fun stuff in my life – my passion for movies, my love for journalism. But we are all the sum of the things we live through – so many of them define us. And too often we don’t speak up. Too often we don’t realise that our ‘normal’ can be incredibly eye-opening for so many others. Whatever your story, find those important perspectives and give them to the world. Changing the world starts will every single one of us.

(Photo By Thomas Black57 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

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