Gherghina Buican

As interviewed by Gloria M., March 14, 2013

Gherghina Buican: In Her Own Words

My name is Buican, Gherghina. My date of birth is the 24th of August, 1938. I was born in Romania, in the region of Vata, District Olt. My religion was and still is Orthodox. I lived in Romania for 56 years. Communism came into power in Romania around 1940, when I was about two years-old. My family consisted of four children, one boy and three girls, and we all lived with our parents until we grew up to about 18 years-old. I don’t recall much of the beginning of communism since I was only two years-old at that time. But when I grew up and was still living in communism, I was able to understand more of what was going on, and I could recall those hard times that we had living under communism. I never liked communism – I detested this regime.

The communist regime was one of the most cruel periods that a human being could endure. There was no right to express your feelings, to talk freely, or to be able to make your own decisions. There was no freedom; everything was abolished. Before communism came, my parents belonged to the aristocratic class; they were intellectuals. When communism came, around 1940, this class was unaccepted by communists and was under close scrutiny. The aristocratic class was the black sheep for the communist regime. My dad was thrown into a political jail, and all four of his kids were, from the beginning, destined to a life full of obstacles. We never had the right to complete an upper education; we never were accepted to a university, and we were always treated as enemies of our own government. (They were watching us because we belonged to the “wrong” class). I lived under communism from 1940 until 1989, when the Revolution came and communism ended.

I lived with my parents and siblings in a very beautiful, big house in a small village. We had beautiful and expensive furniture, art and jewelry. But when communism came, they took everything from everybody because their mentality was that everybody should be the same. All those nice things were divided between themselves, the communist leaders.

During the communist period, nobody was allowed to travel overseas, outside the Romanian borders. There were people brave enough to try to risk their lives by passing the borders, but if they were caught, they were put in jail or shot. They had soldiers around the border, and they were ordered to kill anyone who attempted to leave Romania. For these reasons, the fear of losing your life, and the fear of being in jail for the rest of your life, not too many people had the courage to do it. I, personally, never left Romania during that period.

Nobody would ever risk their lives to speak out against the communist government. It would’ve taken a lot of courage and a tremendous risk – not only for the person that would give you that advice, but also for the one who would initiate such a danger. While in a political jail, the punishment would be so harsh that there would be no chance for you to come out alive.

I didn’t like any books, films, or theater performances during communism. All of the good books that didn’t advertise communist regime were taken by the communists from peoples’ houses, libraries, from everywhere, and were burned. The books that were left were the ones that proclaimed the communist regime. You were not allowed to own anything that had any real value, such as valuable art, good books or jewelry; everybody had to be the same. If they found you with such things, they would come into your house and take them away from you. Anything that didn’t belong to communist propaganda or communist regime was not allowed.

My father was against the communist regime from the beginning, and because of that, they threw him into a political jail. Members of the communist party came into our house and took everything that had any value. Then they put us in the streets. I remember my mom and all three of my siblings lived on the pity of other people that helped us to at least have food in our bellies. My father was in a political jail two times: once in 1952 and another time in 1963. Political jails were considered, back then, and even to this day, one of the most tyrannical, inhumane, torturous of places. Once in one of those places, the chances to come out alive were minimal to none. For this reason, nobody had the courage to say or do anything against communist regime. Tthe consequences were dramatic. It was very hard, but I could tell my dad was very lucky to get out of those horrific places twice. Both times, the regime gave amnesty, and my father was very lucky to come out of those horrible places and survive the punishments he was exposed to.

Criminals were taken to the police station first and were beaten until they would confess to things they did – or even didn’t do. Written statements were taken in a way that looked better for the investigators, and the statements were sent to the judge who was in charge of making a decision based on the collected data. Prisoners didn’t have any rights. While in jail, they were taken to do hard labor in agriculture, or down in the mines, and the food they were given was worse than what you would feed your own animals. In jails, there weren’t any televisions or gym areas; there was nothing.

During communism, family members were important, and there were very few friends you could trust. You couldn’t trust any other people because the risk was too big to be thrown in a jail. You couldn’t risk to open your mouth to anybody except your very limited, close friends. We just talked to each other and encouraged each other so we could go further, but there was no way to escape the conditions we lived in. We just lived with the hope that some day things might be better.

School curriculum required every student to study everything during their school time, including two foreign languages: Russian and French. When the bell rang, all the students had to be present in class and wait in silence until the professor came. Then everybody’s name was called, and, afterwards, they either talked about the lesson of the day or, sometimes, certain students were called in front of the class and were asked questions based on studied material. Then, grades were given. The grades were from one to ten, ten being the best (A+). There was no cafeteria in school, so kids always took their lunch from home, like a little sandwich or whatever you had from home. School was always very strict, with very strict rules. To be present in class was very important. If you had a few absences, then you would receive a bad grade and have your parents called to come in and talk with the principal. The teachers had the right to punish you if they felt like it. They might pull your ears, slap your palm with a ruler, or call you names, but you couldn’t say or do anything in return. P.E was a required class. During elementary, students were in school from 8:00 to 12:00, during middle school, the time was from 8:00 to 2:00, and in high school the time was from 8:00 to 4:00. There was no school during summer; you had three months off.

Once you reached high school, you studied more math or science based on the high school preference. Before then, everybody studied every subject equally. All students had uniforms. Uniforms were styled differently in elementary, middle, and high school. Children that were in high school were called “students,” and all the others were called “pupils.”

Fruits and vegetables were located at market places where farmers brought their produce to sell to the people. They only existed during the season they grew in, like apples, apricots, grapes, strawberries, and cherries. Tropical fruits, such as bananas, oranges, and lemons, were only seen maybe once a year. During the winter, those fruits and vegetables didn’t exist because they were not in season. We had to stay in line for basic groceries, like sugar, oil, cheese, meat, butter, and milk. There were no plastic bags: they didn’t exist. When you wanted to buy groceries you had to bring your own cloth bags. Many people didn’t have cars, so you had to walk long distances or go to the bus after you bought your groceries.

If a person was feeling sick, they could call an ambulance that would take that person to the emergency room where they would decide to hospitalize you or send you back home. There were not any family doctors. If you were too sick, and you didn’t have any car available, then you would call the ambulance. Very few people had their own car: not too many people could afford one.

Whenever a new factory or place of work was built, people would go there and ask for work. They never advertised availability for work in the newspaper; people found out about job openings by word of mouth. You would never see homeless people during communism because the police would put them immediately in jail. Under communism, communists were advertising that everybody was having a good life, not only for their own people, but also for anybody that visited Romania. It would’ve been a bad mark for the communist regime for anybody to see homeless people on the streets, so they were thrown in jail. People who couldn’t find work in the city were forced to move to the country so that they could grow their own food for themselves for selling and eating purposes.

I worked in a laboratory. I would have loved to go to a university and complete my education, but the fact that my dad was politically arrested, my siblings and I were never allowed to go to any university. So, for a while I had to work in a chemical laboratory, and I guess I was okay with it. I did measurements, quality, quantity, and certain calculations for different substances. I also collected data and sent them to other departments for further evaluation.

Any big technological advancement that was recognized as very high-level in any discipline was not credited to the scientist that discovered it, but instead was taken and given as a credit to the wife of the dictator, Ceausescu. Nobody could be smarter or better than her. That was the reason Romania lost so many smart people. They found a way to leave the country and start a new life in a different country that offered them a chance to advance.

When the 1989 Revolution came, I was at home in Pitesti, a little town. I don’t exactly remember what I was doing at the time, maybe cooking. We were all at home living in our communist block apartment. We were watching TV at that moment and found out that the revolution that was trying to get rid of communism had started. My middle son went and helped with the revolution. We had mixed feelings at the time: fear that maybe this was the end, or that it might be a dream; happiness that this moment had finally come true; and fear for everybody’s lives that would be sacrificed for this wonderful gift called freedom. Some people were screaming because they were happy for this moment that finally came; some were screaming for their loved ones that had already died for this cause.

My most memorable experience during communism was when I got into big problems with the communists after our daughter went to the American embassy and asked to immigrate to the United States. From that point on, we were interrogated by the Securitatea on a daily basis. They were trying to convince us that nowhere could be better than our own country, and that she would not find anywhere as good. They were also telling us about different cases about other girls that did the same thing that our daughter did. They asked us to convince her to give up this idea that is completely wrong, and that this is not the right way to start her life. They came to our house and searched everywhere with the hope that they would find dollar bills, or any kind of material that was against communism. Anybody found with foreign money in their house would’ve been put in jail right away. Every book in our library was searched, every corner in our house, but they couldn’t find anything, so they left.

We were very lucky that the revolution came just in time, and after that her papers got approved and she went to the United States. Shortly after she came to the States, she did the papers for us and we came to the States as well. For us, her accomplishment was extremely emotional because I remember even my own father always saying that one day the Americans would come and save us from the communist regime. In a way, my dad’s dream came true with my own daughter who immigrated to the States. And, finally, we came too.