By taking this solemn oath, the second-grade pupils were allowed to enter the Pioneers Organisation in communist Romania. For me, this happened in 1987. All the second-grade pupils became pioneers and entered into a broad process of indoctrination. Students in uniforms, classrooms with the comrade Ceausescu’s picture on the wall, unique textbooks, patriotic songs, agricultural fieldwork, duties, and obligations for children. This is only a glimpse of how the Romanian education system looked like during the communist regime.
Each class had a detachment commander, who wore a yellow cord to the uniform. Then there were the group commanders, with a red cord attached to their uniform. They would be responsible for each row of the class. At the beginning of the classes, it was the responsibility of the group commanders to align all the students to sing the national anthem and praise the “most beloved” leader. I breathed the rarefied air of the system as a group commander, leading the entire line of the school class. I conducted the operations from the first bank (that is, collecting the test papers or designating who would clean the board). The students with bad grades were always placed in the last benches of the class.
The portrait of the communist pupil was one in love with the country and the party. Instead of learning, he or she would spend time in activities to demonstrate the attachment for the great leader and the communist party. Adopting the Chinese and Korean models, Nicolae Ceausescu actually “militarized” education. The children were registered in the education system and the communist organizations from the age of 4. The "hawks of the country" in kindergarten, the Pioneers, and later, in high-school and university, the Communist Youth Union. All these organisations were created by the communists who wanted to create an ideal society, subject to their rules and duties. The purpose of these organizations was to create a “new man”.
How my life under communism would have looked like?
For me, being a Pioneer lasted only two years, from 1987 to 1989. Honestly, I don't know when I found out about the fall of the Berlin Wall. Certainly not in November 1989, a time when any source of free information was strictly forbidden. The wave of freedom would arrive in Romania one and a half months later, in December 1989. At that age, I didn't even understand much about what was happening. I was only 7 years old and for me, the cartoons broadcasted once a week on TV or the American movies secretly played on a video-recorder brought, illegally, by acquaintances from abroad were more important.
All that propaganda machine put in place was an attempt to transform society and its people, including me. That’s why everything started at such an early age: to raise faithful supporters of the communist regime.
But now, 30 years after those events, I have often wondered what my life in communism would have looked like. I like to think that I would have been a hero, resisting the indoctrination process or maybe being part of the resistance. But once caught in this process from such an early age, I think it would have been difficult to act differently from the majority. I would have been just another small wheel in the immense machinery of the despotism of the single party. Without any information about how free societies functioned, I would have believed everything I was told. During high school, I would probably have entered the Communist Youth Union. After finishing my studies, the communist state would have sent me to work somewhere in Romania. Nobody was allowed to be unemployed.
But the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Romanian Revolution, and the radical changes in the other states of the Eastern Block brought me the freedom that I would not have known otherwise. Without these major changes, freedom would have been a totally foreign concept to me. In her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt writes: “What drives forward fight against an oppressive society is a rival vision. A vision of equality, liberty, and justice and a sense that this should be defended”. But how to defend something that you don’t know? This is what communism tried to erase: that sense of freedom, justice, and liberty. I am fortunate enough to have lived most of my life in a free society. And that I was free to travel and meet new people. I know now that freedom is the most precious gift, brought to me also by the fall of the Berlin Wall. A gift that we must preserve and cherish.