I rarely talk about it. I’ve definitely never properly written about it. I’ve referenced it before, but telling the story has always been difficult.
Before that night, the only other time I had seen fear was in my mother’s eyes when I repeated out loud something she had said: that our fridge was more often empty than not. We were not poor, yet we were. My parents had their salaries, yet nothing was available to buy. The stores were empty. Saying something out loud about it was highly risky in a state that controlled every aspect of its people’s lives and made a habit out of spying on them. And I repeated it. I was a child, yet I still remember the look in her eyes. Even today.
Before I tell you about the rest, I need to explain what I call the “Communist grey”. For all my friends – and even family – from the West, growing up without any control over one’s life is unfathomable. People are born, go to school (or they don’t), have their healthy or junk food, pick a career path or a piece of fashion and it’s life as usual. All of these things start with choices.
Our “choices”? Soy salami. Sour bread. Old Chinese chewing gum (or, when lucky, real chewing gum that the Roma travellers would sneak into the country from abroad). We had to wait in line to get our food rations, often for many hours.
Anything “nice” – a fancy pack of cigarettes (one of the widespread acts of freedom back then), a frozen chicken or the epitome of extravagance, oranges – were available through either contraband or having the right connections.
We had no control over anything, from our lives to our bodies.
Whenever my mother talks about my birth, she talks about my father bringing her a bag of oranges to the hospital – and toys for me.
The country was completely cut off from the rest of the world – we didn’t even trust our next door neighbours, let alone those from across our borders. The West was Satan incarnate.
Then, that day in December came. We were at home. We were watching TV. And then it broke. The “revolution”.
My father was in the army, so he was called to his base. In our house – a cold one, as Communism would have it – there was a young woman with her two children – a toddler and a month-old baby.
While the baby slept, the mother and the toddler watched TV. In the dark. Under the blanket. And what followed was the biggest manipulation I have ever borne witness to.
Before this moment, people had access to two hours of TV programmes, aired by one single station, usually consisting of Communist propaganda. Suddenly, the TV station became the centre of everyone’s universe. And once the talking heads announced there were “terrorists” in the country, nobody dared to go outside. We were told enemies were out to kill us. That the water was poisoned. We spent the next few days trying to make sense of a made-up reality we could not understand.
We watched Ceausescu’s execution on TV on the same day it happened. Joy followed among everyone we knew. The talking heads had won – 22 million people cheered the death of their president. The few that were his judge, jury and executioner – what a cliché, but very appropriate in this case – robbed us of the option to make a real decision about our future, and of our humanity in one swift move.
I look back at those moments and realise how silly we were. How powerless. How easy to manipulate.
This is not an optimistic article, where I turn around and tell you that it was bad, but hey, there’s always a silver lining. There is no upside to being in the dark. To being treated, not like individuals, but statistics in someone’s political agenda. There is NO silver lining.
So the next time you gloss over media bias and think that it has nothing to do with you, think again. That December is why I became a journalist. So often, making the world a better place starts with being in the know. Being informed. That’s part of what gives you the power to act.
And you should know that there’s an entity out there, with people just like yourselves, whose main goal is to make sure you understand the world around you. Not knowing is what makes us powerless, what keeps us divided. Never, ever settle for that. We definitely won’t.
(Andreea Groenendijk-Deveau is the Chief Content Officer and the Editor-in-Chief of The Market Mogul)
(Photo: By Denoel Paris and other photographers [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
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