Saturday, 3 November 2007

13. Realm - Part 3

There was a more indirect defence of the realm, too... namely the defence of minds that might have been exposed to something opposite to what they were indoctrinated with (successfully or otherwise). Maybe such exposure led those minds to perhaps not just thinking dangerous thoughts, but making bodies attached to those minds do things, latter bringing down the Regime. Again, on our level, these measures translated into suitably surreal manifestations.

Travel to the ‘West’ was something only privileged, trusted people could undertake - sometimes even celebrities the country wished to ‘export’ and turn into lamentable puppets showing what amazing things the ‘East’ can produce. Not sure how easy it is to explain how a kid my age really, truly believed that he’ll never see in reality what lies beyond the Iron Curtain. After all, while listening to those dangerous radio stations, learning languages which allowed me to listen to BBC World Service, reading and setting up cinema nights in my head on dark evenings with no TV worthy of watching and the electricity cut, projecting the mental images I concocted from books and tales, even the fellow communist countries were difficult to experience for real.

Our passports were not really ours. They were held by the Securitate and released to us from time to time, whenever my parents applied for travelling to neighbouring Hungary. Then after lots of application forms that were covering the lives of several generations of our family in order to assess whether we could be trusted with even seeing the reality in the more ‘westernised’ Hungary, we could pick up the little green books. The fact that my parental grandfather was bourgeois because he had a few employees exquisitely hand-polishing antique furniture was never a huge plus for us... But up until the mid-80s, we managed to get our passports every few years and we paid short visits to folks on the other side of the border. “Even the grass is greener here” said one old chap, while leaning out of the window of the exasperatingly slow train that finally crossed the border and was rolling in the incomparably more liberal Hungary...

Hungary produced, printed, and imported many things that were banned back home, so if we picked up any of those banned books or records, our return trip often did become a trip of fear - but never guilt. Depending on the mood of the customs officials, who also had the important role of not letting subversive material enter the country, in the event of unlucky discovery of certain blacklisted things, we could end up with some shouting for show (after paying him off with Western goods bought in Hungary) or serious aggro.

Then in the mid-80s, our applications were being declined many times, a fact we first put down to the general tightening of the Regime in those years. After the Revolution, it turned out that the real reason was a Securitate file about my Dad who always watched his mouth carefully, except during fishing trips with his trusted colleagues... One of them was an informer – ironically, this was the other Hungarian ethnic that my Dad trusted the most. It just shows that we never had a predictable logical rule about who and why turned into a servant of the Regime... Nothing happened of course, apart from a file being opened and him being more ‘watched’ – but one tangible consequence was that allowing my Dad and his family to visit Hungary has immediately become a no-no. Hungarian ethnics were anyway more ‘watched’ than Romanian population... After all, we had access to Hungarian media full of infinitely more outspoken and dangerous ideas, plus they were often criticising what was happening to ethnic minorities in Romania.

I recall that we had to apply for a few minutes of international phone connection, simply dialling another country was impossible. We waited for hours and hours until a lady eventually rang us and established the call. Then she kept listening to every word spoken by us and our relatives talking from the other side of the Hungarian border, every minute entertaining herself by inserting a stentorian comment on how many minutes we have left. After all, any of these conversations could have been apparently dangerous to the country... It also wasn’t an accident that obtaining a phone took people 8-10 years or more in some cases. This wasn’t due to insurmountable technical difficulties, but having direct electronic connection between people, in the days before internet, was not desirable. Phones were just extra danger and extra hassle, abominations that needed to be randomly listened to by the Securitate... We worked out their rota, as we had characteristic crackling and noises turn up on our lines, then disappearing after a while, with a period so precise and predictable as the Moon phases... showing the perverse fact, that these weren’t random paranoia-inducing acts by the Securitate people.

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