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My Communist Childhood: Growing up in Soviet Romania

21 July 2014 | By Alex Chiriac

'Soimii Patriei' ('Eagles of the Motherland') 

My communist childhood was cut short during a shopping trip with my mother. We had gone out to buy groceries one cold December morning in Bucharest. The city streets were unusually quiet, when suddenly a clamour of voices could be heard, becoming louder and louder. I could not make out what they were saying and stopped to listen. My mother’s reaction was quite the opposite: she grabbed my hand tightly and rushed me along to the bakery. We arrived home breathless, clutching bags filled with emergency bread loaves. What was happening I wondered? Craning my neck out the window I saw people holding flags and placards daubed with slogans. It looked a bit like the parades we were so used to, glorifying our Leader, yet they now read ‘Down with the Dictator’. My mother realised the enormity of what was happening and, like a consummate homemaker, stocked up on supplies. It was December 1989 and I had been a Pioneer for just three months.

One got to be a Pioneer form the second year of primary school. In nursery school we were ‘Soimii Patriei’, that is ‘The Eagles of the Motherland’. The uniform was orange and scratchy, but girls did get to wear a headband with enormous white pompoms on special occasions.

'Soimii Patriei' (Eagles of the Motherland) dressed up for a special occasion

End of year festivities were a particular boon, as we got to forgo the uniform for costumes made by skilled mothers and grandmothers. I was Little Red Riding Hood one year, lisping my part with glee, but my firm favourite had to be the green polyester ball gown I wore as the personification of Spring, complete with paper swallows sewn into the frills.

Other entertainment was not easy to come by. ‘The Eagles’ did have their own magazine, whose cover invariably showed smiley happy children in scratchy orange uniforms. TV programmes were thin on the ground and hardly any were dedicated to children. The lucky people who, through some technological hocus-pocus, captured channels from neighbouring countries got to learn a bit of Russian while watching the wolf chase the bunny, shouting ‘Nu pogodi!’. The local success was ‘Mihaela’, a cartoon series about a blonde girl and her dog, which even won prizes at international film festivals. Mihaela wore pom-poms too, thus cementing them as the fashion accessory of choice for schoolgirls building socialism. Here she is going to holiday camp with her fellow classmates, another common activity:


Mihaela On Holiday, one of the few Romanian-made Soviet animations

Board games were also enjoyed at holiday camp or at home. The most memorable one is what I now recognise as the Communist version of Monopoly. At that time I had, of course, never heard of Monopoly and the thought of dealing in properties would have probably horrified me. Monopoly’s Romanian incarnation was called ‘Bunul Gospodar’, roughly translatable as ‘The Good Homemaker’. Intriguingly, it taught little socialists to consume, albeit in a responsible way. Going round the board players would have to save up enough money to buy an apartment and furnish it with all mod cons, while also enjoying the many delights of Communist life such as playing sports or taking educational trips. I leave you with an extract from the game’s instructions:

‘The Good Homemaker is for children of school-age. The goal is to develop the economical spirit of the child, and develop skills that lead to a rational, orderly, dignified life in which hard work is harmoniously complemented by a passion for sport, literature and art. The game will inspire devotion for the past struggles of our nation, as well as its current and future achievements.’

'Bunul Gospodar' (The Good Homemaker) board game