The Romanian Town’s Revolution

 

The 2-hour Revolution in a small Romanian town

The 1989 Revolution that marked the fall of Communism  in Romania, seen through the eyes of a couple living in Zalau, the smallest county capital.

On the morning of December 22, 1989, Zalau was covered in silence and in an inappropriate spring. Zalau is a small city in northwestern Romania, where Viorica Mesesan and Ilie Mesesan met, got married, received an apartment from the State, gave birth to a child and then experienced a Revolution.

Ceausescu had held his last speech on December 21, 1989, in front of millions of burning heads, deaf to his words (or maybe for the first time actually listening), and on December 22, at noon, he and his wife climbed in the helicopter and ran away. Viorica and Ilie went to work that day like on any other normal day .

Viorica, 35 back then, was working for the municipality in a building right next to the central square. She and her colleagues were gathered in the main hall that day, in front of a TV, watching mesmerised what was going on there. She remembers Ceausescu’s last speech, promising to raise children’s allowance by 100 lei and Dinescu, announcing that Ceausescu and his wife ran away. Two of her colleagues took Ceausescu’s portrait, threw it on the ground, stamped on it and then ran out of the building to the central square, trying to convince other people to join them. It was the portrait of a person no one had even dared to make a joke about before, which now turned into little glass pieces. Her husband Ilie, 34, remembers too such an image: different portraits of Ceausescu, flying out of the windows and breaking down on the alleys of the factory where he was working.

The morning silence which was covering the city was only a deceiving one. There was a great tension hiding behind that silence which exploded when the announcement was made that Ceausescu ran away. Those in factories stopped their work and formed a march to the center of the city. Around 3,000 women and men, taking advantage of the almost spring-like winter that year, singing and shouting among radio announcements, walked to the central square (in picture). Ilie was among them and he perfectly remembers the enthusiasm he was feeling then. An enthusiasm his wife doesn’t recall. She only names fear and confusion among the feelings. “I cannot say that we were very enthusiastic. We didn’t really know what was happening and what kind of consequences this would have on us,” remembers Viorica.

The people gathered in the central square waiting to see what will happen. Who – and what – will come next. The secretary of the county, a woman called Maria Stefan, tried to talk to the people, but they refused to listen to her. They were only receptive to the speech of the Army Commander, who assured them that no fire was shot or would be shot, that he gave orders to the Army not to interfere with the population. In the end, indeed there was no gun shot. At least Ilie remembers it that way and his wife too.

But Ilie’s cousin, Nelu, a communication engineer, remembers the story differently. He was called in those days by the secret police (Securitate) to do some interceptions and he recalls perfectly the gun shots, which stayed in his mind for some months after everything ended. But memories are vague and history is just a collection of these memories.

Ilie remembers that they were gathered in the central square when they heard the news at some loud speakers. “The Ceausescus were caught in Targoviste. They are being held at the Military Section number…from Targoviste. Please stay calm, there will be a law suit”.  He tells it exactly how he heard it that day, using the present tense, like it would happen now. Those were words with such a great impact, words he has never forgotten and have stayed with him for 25 years. The heroes of the day in the small city of Zalau were the figures talking to the people gathered in the central square. They were different factory managers, professors, mostly people who had the power to influence, to capture trust, to assure their place in the new order. Patriotic songs, flags with the communist symbol cut out showed everywhere, loud speakers bringing news, this was the 2-hour gathering in the central square and the short Revolution in Romania’s smallest county residence, Zalau. Then people returned to their houses and followed the Revolution on TV.

The TV is the central character in the memories of those days. Ilie remembers that he couldn’t move away from the TV, being mesmerised, incapable of reacting to any other stimulus. „What was happening there was hugely important. We could not afford to skip any information, any image,” recalls Ilie. Viorica was constantly moving between the TV, the kitchen and their 2-year old baby. It was only two days before Christmas and she had to prepare ‘sarmale’, the traditional Romanian food. “Our little girl was crying all the time, maybe she felt in some way the tension and pressure, my husband was effectively stuck in front of the TV, I asked him many times to help me, but he didn’t react, he did not move from there”.

The news, the rumours, the figures were pouring from TV amidst the preparations for the Christmas, the cooking, the cleaning, and taking care of the child  The rumours were the most tormenting thing, because nobody could tell what was true and what was false. „They were telling us not to drink water because it may be poisoned, that there were terrorists  shooting  everybody, we were so afraid a civil war would break out,” recounts Viorica.

And then on December 25, the things finally settled down. It was the Christmas day and after a short lawsuit, which was broadcasted on TV, Ceausescu and his wife were shot to death by a military squad.

Both Viorica and Ilie still remember the noise of the guns shooting at the Ceausescus, and still recall some images of Ceausescu and his wife lying on the ground and then in their coffins, dressed in their winters coats.

„Kids, kids, please behave, people, please” and „I refuse to talk to anybody else except for the Great National Assembly” were the words of Elena and Nicoale Ceausescu during the trial. Words that Ilie still recalls at the present tense. He thinks it was very wrong to kill them.
„First of all it was the Christmas day and you don’t do something like this on Christmas day. Secondly they were not alone, there were so many people beside them that should have been also judged and only afterwards a sentence to be passed,”  comments Ilie.

”It was suddenly all silence. I am being honest to you, I felt relief, I too was afraid a civil war would break out. I may be wrong, but I guess the majority wanted them killed. We felt they were bad people. Or maybe they made us believe that way through the images they were showing us on TV,” recounts Viorica.

New heroes were proclaimed or maybe proclaimed themselves that way. Ilie and Viorica were watching on TV how a new world was settling in. The Ceausescu trial, the foundation of the new party, the new leaders. Some of them were familiar. Most of the things that confused them and brought about fear in those days were never resolved. „Nothing could be proven. Everything remains a mistery,” comments Ilie.  Nobody has discovered any single terrorist. A few Army Commanders were prosecuted but almost everybody escaped. The people that talked in the central square of the small city Zalau did find a place in the new order.  And the TV got and more important with every day more.

By Diana Mesesan, features writer, diana@romania-insider.com

(the two  main characters of this feature are the writer’s parents

The New Zealander Who Went Through Hell To Adopt

http://www.romania-insider.com/new-zealander-adoption-comunism-romania-adele-rickerby-promise/158933/

By Diana Mesesan.

The New Zealander who went through post-communism hell twenty-five years ago to adopt a Romanian baby.

Adele wrote in her memoir, ”The Promise I Kept”; You wake up one morning to the sound of history knocking loudly, impatiently, persistently at your door. To answer it is to take a leap of faith into your future.

 

Adele Rickerby went through the hell of early post-communism to adopt a girl from Romania.

As the plane was flying over Brisbane, an Australian city set on a wide, beautiful river, one of the mothers gathered at the playgroup pointed out to the plane and told her little daughter: “We came on a plane like this one when we returned from Romania.”

The woman was one of Australians who adopted a kid from Romania in the early 90s. Several people living in Brisbane, whose kids were born in Romania, started a playgroup, so that the children would get together regularly. They’ve never kept it a secret from them that they were adopted.

Adele Rickerby, a New Zealander who moved to Australia after she got married, would also bring her daughter to these playgroups. She felt like she had a special bond with the couples that went through the same experience. They were an extended family for each other. For Adele, adopting a child from Romania was not an event from the past that simply went forgotten as years went by. Instead she would think every single day about her six weeks in Bucharest in the early spring of 1991, as she was struggling to adopt a baby girl. After she semi-retired, due to a surgery on her back, she found the peace and time to sit at a table and write down her thoughts. This is how “The Promise I Kept”, her book on adopting a baby girl from Romania, was born.

Romania allowed international adoptions until 2001, when it placed a moratorium on the practice. It officially banned these adoptions four years later. But even domestic adoptions go through only with great difficulty. Last year, only 840 children were adopted in Romania, despite that fact that the country had over 58,100 children in the special protection system at the end of March this year. The big problem lies in the complicated laws which define when a child is “adoptable.”

Adele Rickerby herself had to overcome a number of limitations to adopt the baby, she tells me during our first Skype discussion. Her voice is very warm and a bit nervous. It is the end of summer here in Bucharest, but the beginning of spring in Australia. Her Romanian-born daughter, who is now in her 20s, helped her install Skype. Adele laughed about it. “I have a reputation for being bad with technology.”

When Adele came to Romania to adopt the baby, after she had seen the terrible images of Romanians kids in orphanages, it was late winter. Bucharest, which had just come out of the Communism era, was gray and felt unsafe. Many kids were sold illegally in those early days of freedom, and the rumours about a moratorium were everywhere. Adele was afraid that she would not be able to get through with the adoption. But spring was slowly making its way.

April 1991: The winter train ride between Budapest and Bucharest

In April 1991, Adele Rickerby took the plane from Australia to Frankfurt. She had a luggage full of documents, which were necessary for the adoption. Back in Brisbane, she left her 6-year old daughter, which she hugely missed, and her husband. Their marriage was kind of falling apart. She was planning to take the plane from Frankfurt to Romania, but when she arrived in Germany, there were no free seats for that weekend. Instead of waiting a few days for the next flight, she booked a train from Germany, which passed through Austria, Hungary and then reached Romania. She had this strong sense of urgency, that she needed to get faster to Bucharest.

Everything went well through Germany and Austria. However, soon after the border with Hungary, Hungarian soldiers got on the train and asked for her passport. Then they ordered her off the train and threw her luggage out of the window. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon and she didn’t wasn’t sure where she was.

Adele had no choice but to get off the train, and the train left without her. “I was just standing there in the afternoon, not knowing what was going on.” She went to the wooden train station and waited. Then a man who spoke English and was well-dressed approached her and told her that he was the local taxi driver. He could help her get a visa for Hungary, then take her to the train station in Budapest so she’d catch the same train. “We will get to the border and we will get a visa for you. The same train leaves Hungary at nine o’clock at night. I will make sure you are there on time,” the man told her. She then paid 350 dollars to this stranger to drive her across Hungary. She had the feeling that the man and the soldiers which got her off the train knew each other and were part of a scheme. But what could she do about it?

“I got in the taxi. It was getting dark and we started to drive through the back streets of this village. Where are we going, I asked him. I need to get petrol, he replied, which was fair enough. I had no choice but to trust him.” She sat in the back of the car. The man started talking about his wife and family, while Adele was looking out of the window. The Hungarian villages and town they were driving through looked particularly disheartening in the dim winter light. After she finished her nursing training in Australia, Adele did a lot of travelling around the continent with her husband. “I was like, I’ve done a lot of travelling, I can cope, but nothing could prepare me for the shock of Hungary and Romania.”

It was just getting darker and colder, but they made it and arrived at the railway station at Budapest. They found an empty carriage, the man threw her suitcases and her sleeping bag, and then he left. Within 15 minutes the train left too.

She spent all night just travelling the rest of the way into Bucharest. It was very dark, and every time the train passed through a little town, officials would get on the train, come to her carriage, look at her passport, at her visa, then go through her luggage, searching for contraband.

“We’d go through villages that were very poor; a light bulb in this village, a soldier with a rifle just walking on the platform. It was still a lot of snow on the ground, the end of winter; a peasant man’s jacket made out of of sheep’s skin.”

At about 8 o’clock, when the train was getting closer to Bucharest and Adele was tidying up her belongings, taking her sleeping bag off, three well-dressed man came into her carriage. One of them was an engineer for the railway station and was on his way to a meeting. He could speak English and asked her was what she doing there. “I said I was adopting a baby girl.”

She remembers the main saying: “Our country is poor, but our hearts are rich.” Then the train finally arrived at the Gara de Nord railway station. It was early in the morning.

May 1991: The promise
The only person Adele knew in Bucharest was a Catholic woman called Mihaela, who had hosted other couples from the US, New Zealand and Australia willing to adopt babies from Romania. Adele knew that going through the whole process would take about six weeks. The law gave the adoptive mother the opportunity to change her mind within this period. She was planning to do the adoption as a New Zealander, because the Australian Department of Immigration had rejected her request to adopt from Romania.

She phoned Mihaela, who was in holiday, but luckily hadn’t left Bucharest, so she picked Adele up from the railway station. After so many hours of uncertainty and fear, Adele felt desperate for a shower, a hot meal and conversation with English-speaking people. She found another couple from Australia in Mihaela’s house. Adele wrote in a diary during her six-week stay in Bucharest, describing her experiences. It later became the source of her book “The Promise I Kept.”

In those speculative days after the fall of communism, Romania had several people who worked as intermediaries between foreigners wanting to adopt kids and state institutions. Some were willing to intermediate sales of children. With 20,000 dollars one could buy a baby on the black market. Some were decent people, who spoke English and grabbed the opportunity to make some money. The man who helped Adele get through all the process was a doctor, who was well-educated and spoke English. She paid him a small fee. But these go-between persons weren’t the only ones asking for cash. Sometimes even the birth mothers would demand money, even if they had given up their children. However, Adele didn’t go through that. The mother of the girl she adopted was a very young girl herself, living in a small apartment in Ramnicu Valcea, with her parents, a brother and a sister. They had no money and no way of supporting the newly-born kid. It was also the stigma attached to being a single mother. Poverty and the blame passed on to single mothers forced many women to abandon their children during communism and afterwards.

Adele met the mother and her family in their apartment, where they had a meal. It was very emotional for both parts. Adele thinks that maybe the grandparents were even more distressed about the whole thing, because they understood the enormity of it, while the mother was still very young. But the girl did tell Adele that she wanted her daughter to have a future, so Adele promised her she’d give her daughter a future. “And that’s the promise I kept,” she said. “25 years later, the daughter is very beautiful, has a wonderful partner. She is a pharmacy assistant, and she has a lovely family and home.”

Then she met her future daughter, who was in an orphanage. A nurse held the baby up to the window. “She was four-month old and she was really cute,” Adele said. The judge, who had the final word on the adoption, said yes, and Adele finally had the little girl in her arms.

The Mother
One year after returning to Australia, Adele divorced and had to raise her two daughters by herself. “I had whole sentences that I wanted to write down, but I was really busy and I didn’t have the opportunity.” But two years ago, she had to give up work, due to a surgery on her back. She rented a little unit and went away by herself for several months to write her book. It was really difficult revisiting the whole experience, she said. “It was one stage where I couldn’t finish it. And I had to leave it for about 6 weeks before I ended it.”

After she finished the book, Adele was approached during book launches by Romanian adoptees, who didn’t understand why they were left and abandoned.

Several Romanian kids who were given for adoption are now trying to find their families. There are even Facebook groups, where they share their experiences. The media has immediately picked up the topic, searching for emotional stories. But for some of the adoptees, this can be a traumatic experience. They discover all sorts of terrible situations and they are tormented by the question of why they were given up for adoption. “They are trying to pull their lives together but in the meantime they also feel this burden of responsibility towards their birth families,” Adele said. Her own daughter was once approached by a newspaper interested in her experience. But she said no. “I’m not gonna do that so that they’re gonna have a story.”

Adele lives with her Romanian-born daughter, so she still gets to hear “Mom, can you do my washing?” or “What’s for dinner tonight, mom?”. The girl works a lot, but she has Fridays off and they go out and have coffee together. Her older daughter now lives in another city, but not too far away.

Adele shares a very close bond with the other adoptive couples from Brisbane. They’ve organized trainings about adoption, they’ve set up this playgroups for kids, they’ve spent Christmas together over the years. Adele was once talking with a couple from England, who also lived in Brisbane. “When do you get over Romania?” they asked themselves. “But you can’t get over Romania. You can’t have an experience like that and not change your life. You can’t live superficially,” Adele said.

Adele has now been living in Australia for 30 years. She is not very close to her family in New Zealand. “My mother died when I was not even 13. I don’t think we were close when we were growing up. I like to say that mothers have a glue that bind us together and when my mother died, the family fell apart. I think that’s the truth,” Adele says. Then she pauses for a while, and adds: “Maybe that’s why it meant so much to me to adopt a child. I know what it’s like not to have a mother.”

 

” The Promise I Kept” is available as a kindle edition from your Amazon.com store. https://www.amazon.com

 

Also available as a paperback from the Book Depository. https://www.bookdepository.com