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A Tale of Two Villages

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi

Chapter 4. The Invention of Social Conflict

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A failed project

  • 1 Catanus¸ and Roske, Colectivizarea agriculturii, 69.
  • 2 Stalin, Opere, vol. 2, 106–7.

1“The rural poor – i.e. the proletarian and semi-proletarian agricultural workers – must be on full alert and permanently mobilized in the struggle against kulak exploitation. […] The kulaks should be permanently under attack from the rural poor, and must be kept under pressure in order to diminish their moral, political, and economic power,” reads the Report of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Romanian Workers’ Party (PMR), presented by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, the party’s First Secretary and the protector of Nicolae Popa, the peasant from Scorniceşti.1 Dej was simply explaining to Romanians a strategy inherited from Lenin via Stalin, who summed it up in the following terms: “The alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry is an alliance between the proletariat and the rural working classes. Such an alliance can endure only if the poorer peasants are organized into a support base of the working classes in the countryside. Therefore, in the current circumstances of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the alliance between workers and peasants can be achieved only in the spirit of Lenin’s well-known slogan: Seek support among the poorer peasants, establish a strong alliance with the middle peasants, and never cease to struggle against the kulak class. Only through the application of this slogan can the masses of the peasantry be guided along the road of socialist construction.”2

  • 3 Fitzpatrick, Stalin’s Peasants, 29–33.
  • 4 Seton-Watson, The Pattern of Communist Revolution, 45.
  • 5 Ibid., 157.
  • 6 Cătănus¸ and Roske, Colectivizarea agriculturii, 166.

2The project was clearly signposted, but its practical application was much less clear-cut. First of all, there was no clear definition of the kulak, and quite often the distinction between kulak and middle peasant was blurred. Following the Soviet model—the general template for the socialist transformation of agriculture—in communist Romania all those with the potential to cause trouble for the regime were categorized as kulaks. However, in Romania as well as in the Soviet Union, the peasants were more likely to admire the upwardly mobile, wealthy kulaks than the poor “proletarian” peasants. The kulaks were people who had worked their way up and were at the center of patronage networks which benefited the village, whereas the day laborers were looked down upon as little more than drunken idlers.3 Boundaries were fluid, and the peasants preferred to identify themselves with the “kulaks”. In Nucşoara, as few as ten families had land in excess of ten hectares; they included families such as Paul, Arnăuţoiu, and Şuţa. The average peasant had around three hectares. There was no evidence of a self-perceived class difference among categories of the Romanian peasantry, just as there was no evidence of it in Russia.4 In fact, there existed no such distinction, because the peasants shared basic economic interests, namely low taxation and access to cheap, guaranteed state loans for the development of their farms. Lifestyles and land issues were the same everywhere, and family wealth varied from one generation to another, according to number of heirs, sons to marry off, and daughters to endow, so nobody was ever looked upon as an “exploiter”. The Bolshevik definition of labor for hire was not suitable either, because sometimes sons from wealthier families would in fact be working days for poorer peasants, while people with tools would offer their services to anybody. Making life difficult for the kulaks was rapidly exhausted as a strategy, and it was equally hard to obtain the neutral indifference of the middle peasants and the support of the poorer peasants. The regime therefore turned to straightforward, Soviet-inspired repression.5 Not only did the defenseless kulaks come into the line of fire, entire villages did so too. But as the peasants failed to oblige and turn against each other according to the class boundaries marked out by Lenin, the Communist Party put the blame on incompetent strategists and members of the Iron Guard movement who had infiltrated the countryside: “Apart from the militia, there was the solidarity of the working classes. There were cases when a kulak family would be evicted and left on the roadside, and the laborer peasants would show compassion and would side with them. There were such cases in Odorhei county, where the entire commune joined in the defense of the kulaks. Peasants in 100 horse-drawn carts paraded in the streets of the county seat to demand justice. There was quite an atmosphere; 86 A Tale of Two Villages the poorer peasants did not agree with such methods. […] With such impolitic measures, one is likely to encourage the reactionaries.”6

  • 7 Fitzpatrick, Stalin’s Peasants, 16.

3So the “divide-and-conquer” policy failed to create different classes of in-fighting peasants. The project was far too ambitious and ignored one essential fact: The threat of collectivization was the same for all landowning peasants and it was, therefore, not surprising that they should unite against those who tried to take their livestock and their plots. The partisans were able to resist for the same reason: The peasants in the mountainous regions would regard the communist authorities and their merciless quotas as their common enemy. Conversely, in periods when there was no requisitioning, either of land or produce, the peasants learned quickly to denounce their personal enemies as “kulaks”.7 An example was the aforementioned neighbor of Popa from Scorniceşti, who, having a dispute over land with Popa’s mother, had no qualms denouncing him for having an alleged kulak father-in-law. Had the land already been confiscated, the neighbor would not have bothered to denounce him. Attempts to engineer social conflict can succeed only as long as insufficient resources can be used as rewards offered to some at the expense of others. Such resources can include land, wherever it is still privately owned, or food in times of major shortages and starvation, such as in the period immediately following World War I in Romania. Housing, too, can be used in this carrot-and-stick game: In the 1950s and 1960s in Romania, for instance, bombardments and the exodus into towns created a severe shortage of housing. Likewise, state jobs can be coveted by those who regard them as secure employment with a minimum of responsibility. Using such resources as incentives results in social conflict on a large scale. But rather than creating neat, clear-cut social categories in opposition to each other, this kind of conflict produces randomly a society in which everybody is virtually against everybody else. This is the classic definition of a peasant society founded on competition for scarce resources. By extending this model, the communist state was able to replicate it on a gigantic scale, creating an entire society of scant resources.

4 Communism was an ordinary tyranny, but founded on an extraordinarily ambitious ideological design. The subjection of the peasantry by this modern tyranny was the most comprehensive which had ever existed in history. The consequence of the ensuing class warfare was the dissolution of all class boundaries and the emergence of a dogeat- dog society where ruthless individualism far outweighed attempts at social solidarity. Nucşoara was, sadly, a case in point.

Veterans vs. bandits

5In Nucşoara, the total number of families sentenced to hard labor or executed for political offences prior to the political amnesty of 1964 amounted to some twenty-eight, who between them owned around ninety hectares of land. Their holdings were also confiscated when they were sentenced as “bandits”. The region was not collectivized, and the communists struggled to develop the state farm at Slatina. As the confiscated lands were scattered plots on top of the hills, a swap was proposed. The state farm requisitioned the adjacent individual plots—on the lands formerly belonging to the family of boyar Paul which had been divided among poorer peasants in the 1945 land reforms; those peasants were compensated with the plots seized from the political prisoners. However, after the collapse of the communist regime in 1989 a law dedicated to the victims of communism cancelled their sentences and provided the return of their lands. One post-1989 mayor of Scorniceşti recalls the difficulties of retrieving such lands, which had changed hands many times in thirty-five years of fragmentation due to inheritance and sale: “It was difficult when they came back to claim their lands. From ’58–’59 to ’91 there had been perhaps seven changes of owner. It was difficult, because there were over 200 families owning ninety hectares”. (Ion Chelu, a former mayor)

6The repression had struck randomly. Aside from those who had taken up arms in the mountains, and their support network, dozens of other people received minor sentences simply for having run across the partisans or having offered them cigarettes or a piece of cheese. The reallocation of the partisans’ lands was also conducted rather randomly: The land was given to those whose former plots had been adjacent to the state farms and which had been merged to extend the farm holdings. There were the usual exceptions, favoring members of the reallocation commission—the local predatory elite. But many of the final recipients of the politically confiscated land had not been involved in any conflict. Some saw their own relatives imprisoned: 88 A Tale of Two Villages Names such as Berevoianu, Adămoiu, and Berja could be found in both camps. Initially, the new owners had nothing in common apart from their proximity to the state farm, but later they became a more cohesive group, united by their shared interest. In the thirty-five years after expropriation, the lands which remained under private ownership were fertile and productive. In contrast, the lands taken over by the state farm became, as the peasants explained, “wastelands” as a result of mismanaged “exploitation”. Those who had been the unwitting beneficiaries of the expropriated lands realized that they had to join forces when the political prisoners were amnestied in 1964. None of them did anything to help these people, who had lost everything, although their situation was desperate. Some had lost their homes, as well as their building plots. Vică Berevoianu was put up by his former wife. Constantin Paşol was advised by the Securitate to rent a room from the current owner of his own former home. But the real difficulties started twenty-five years later, when the land swap had to be legally effected in reverse. With the exception of the priest and Petre Ungureanu, everybody else was reluctant to return land. They preferred to go to court, where lawsuits lingered for years. And they all lost, although they had the support of the local authorities and of all those who had been, in one way or another, the accomplices of the communist regime. During the trials, they found a common cause as a group. They called themselves the “Veterans”, because among them there were a few World War II veterans, who had received land from the property of the Paul family in 1945. They sent memoranda to the courts, in which the story of the village was told from their point of view:



BEEING A GROUP OF VETERANS FROM THE COMMUNE OF NUCŞOARA, ARGEŞ COUNTY, WE ARE WRITING TO DRAW YOUR ATTENTION TO THE FOLLOWING: As a result of the two world wars, in which several citizens of this commune participated, they were allocated lands within the perimeter of the commune, lands which they owned only for a short time, because the newly created IAS Slatina state farm took them away to extend its holdings.
In the meantime a small group of citizens allied themselves to the Arsenescu-Arnăuţoiu Iron Guard gang which had been sentenced for the offences they committed.
These citizens had their lands confiscated following a court order. These plots became the property of IAS Slatina, but because they were spaced out, the farm had no use for them. Therefore, to replace the lands taken from us, the war veterans, by the farm, we were given instead these lands confiscated from the detainees, which we have now owned for some thirty years. On these lands, people have built homes, cattle sheds, and orchards on the produce of which we now depend.
Following the recent land regulations, these detainees are now insistently claiming these plots which we have owned until now; taking advantage of Law 118 of 20 March 1990, they have forged claims dossiers and now wish to take over land legally confiscated and owned by IAS Slatina in Argeş county.
It would be highly unfair to us to have to abandon these lands which we have cared for, and either become shareholders or owners of small plots of poor-quality, weed-infested land. It is not acceptable that these well-cared-for lands should be given to detainees who have made no contribution to their upkeep, lands which we the veterans have been looking after and which otherwise would have been as run-down as the lands of the farm. They probably like the way these confiscated lands look today, but we, who have fought for this country, are not going to let these lands go, whatever the risk.
We have sacrificed ourselves for this country and some of our brethren fell on the battlefield; others came back home wounded and maimed for the rest of their lives. And this sacrifice cannot be judged in the same way as the offences committed by the Arsenescu-Arnăuţoiu gang which lured some of our fellow-villagers away.
Their actions materialized into stealing food and livestock from people in the village to feed the gang. Moreover, they killed villagers and soldiers of our country who had nothing to do with the Communist Party; they were simply serving in the army.
The real heroes are these veterans who defended their country and not those detainees who ganged up and fought for power. We request that the situation be examined carefully and that justice be done.
In return for state farmlands, some of the veterans did receive plots which had been held in reserve for the former popular councils (the property of the Church, of schools, or other expropriated lands for which claims can no longer be made following the land regulations). It would be a further injustice for some to remain in possession of the plots, while others are mere shareholders in the farm. 90 A Tale of Two Villages
We therefore write to you, requesting that our situation be examined and that the organs of power take the most appropriate and humane measures.
This memorandum represents the views of several citizens from the commune of Nucşoara, in Argeş county. For and on behalf of these, the undersigned:

1. Băncescu Toma... 41. Adămoiu Petrişor

7The memorandum was sent to the president and other bodies by Vasile Stoica, the director of the school in Nucşoara and a local councilor, who was himself involved in a conflict over land with Nel Preda, a former political prisoner. The text is worth a closer reading. It proposes a distinction between two opposing camps: the newly formed group of veterans vs. the former political detainees rehabilitated in 1990, although the latter had in fact included World War II veterans as well. The text also compares the “heroism” of the two groups, alleging that, whereas the veterans sacrificed themselves for their homeland, the “bandits” did nothing but steal food and fight for power. In addition, the “bandits” had a “criminal record”: the signatories of the memorandum conveniently ignored the fact that the political sentences passed on the partisans had been revoked and chose to treat them as common offenders who had fully deserved their fate. Accusations of affiliation to an “Iron Guard gang” were typical of the Securitate jargon and glossed over the fact that both Arsenescu and Arnăuţoiu had been career officers with links to the bourgeois parties rather than to the Iron Guard movement.

8Although they bought into the Communist Party’s version of local history, the signatories to the memorandum were in fact highly dismissive of the idea of state property when they compared the neglected land of the state farm with their own well-looked-after plots. However, they warned of the unfairness of a situation where some would have retained ownership of lands expropriated from the Church and the schools, whereas others would have been left simply with shares in the state farm. The concluding appeal for the perpetuation of an unjust distribution of land was made in the name of “humanity” and asked for “the most humane measures” to be taken. The language used by Stoica, an intellectual educated in communist schools, was the wooden tongue taught to everybody in political indoctrination classes. But though he was the only writer of the memorandum, the feelings expressed there were shared by the entire group of peasants on whose behalf he wrote. Some of them were agents of communization in the countryside, and we shall return to them later. Others, however, were not. Two hundred families involved in land redistribution in a commune of only 1,800 inhabitants is a lot. This would explain why the commemorative cross for the partisans could never be placed in the local cemetery. The fact that people came out en masse to prevent the placing of the cross shows that they all shared the spirit of the “Memorandum to the President”. With the exception of the former political detainees, nobody agreed that those who had been executed deserved to be commemorated in the cemetery, and the cross was erected in a forest clearing, an isolated spot to which nobody objected. “The village suffered too much because of them, that’s why people were against it,” forester Ion explains.

9The truth is that many today have nothing good to say about the former political detainees, which was not the case when the partisans were active. There is now much envy against these men, because a special law granted them higher pensions and they enjoy attention and social recognition beyond the village boundaries. This reversal of status has annoyed a lot of people. A law passed in 1990 recognized the category of “victims of communism”, which resulted in a new, positive public image of the former detainees who for thirty years had been social pariahs. By 2001, when these interviews were being conducted, the former political prisoners had higher pensions than the village average and had reclaimed their former lands. The fate of Elisabeta Rizea sums up this newly acquired popularity. As the partisans’ last connection to the outside world, she was arrested and severely and repeatedly tortured: She was once suspended by her own hair, and her scalp came off her skull. Yet, she never revealed the partisans’ hideouts. She became the recipient of several high-profile visits, from Romania’s King Michael, after his return to the country to President Emil Constantinescu, and was the subject of several popular TV programs and books. However, in Nucşoara itself, many hated and envied her. In the early 1990s, when she tried to explain to her fellow-villagers that it was no longer necessary to vote for a single party, there were people who did not hesitate to jostle her. This fragment of a conversation between the interviewer (Q) and four notables in today’s Nucşoara (Respondents 1-4) is revealing: 92 A Tale of Two Villages

Q: Was communism good or bad?

Resp. 1: I would like to start by saying that under communism many people could afford to go to school; nobody will deny this. For if in the more distant past only the sons of schoolmasters and priests went to school, later there was an equalization. This had both positive and negative consequences. For example, we the latecomers, we were somewhat marginalized by those better off than us; I wouldn’t say things were better then, although it was in that period that I had the house built and bought the car, but I worked hard. I don’t know whether others with less education worked as hard as me. Whereas in the past everybody would stand up when the schoolmaster went by, today it’s only the elderly who greet me; as for the rest, they’re all the same. The man who tills the field might say that I made money by cheating others, so why should he respect me.

Resp. 2: I more or less believed in communism, because I thought we were all equal and there was some justice.

Q: Are people proud of Mrs Rizea, or not really? Because I heard she’d been beaten up.

Resp. 1: Do you think I don’t have enemies? We all have enemies, but not in the same way. If one doesn’t have enemies, one is not really alive. But if she had five enemies and they persecuted her, that’s another matter.

Resp. 3: I don’t think they knew what they were doing.

Resp. 1: We have been unable to capitalize on her image as hero. Had we known better, we would have achieved more, but at least we had the main road asphalted.

Resp. 2: For me, people are all the same, and I treat them all in the same way when they come to the dispensary. When I see her on TV, I don’t think very highly of her; she doesn’t seem genuine to me. I personally was placed in a rather delicate position. Sometime after 1990 I got a phone call. It was my day off, and I was asked to come to the practice because we were due to be visited by the director of the Health Directorate and by the director of the hospital in Curtea de Argeş. I thought there was something wrong; I didn’t know what was up. Two ambulances came and they asked for Elisabeta Rizea; they’d come for her. I saw her, she was walking on her own two feet, but when she saw us she fell to her knees and started crying, that she’d been in prison and couldn’t walk. Those gentlemen came with precise instructions that she had to be hospitalized and diagnosed. She hadn’t told me, as her local doctor, anything about all this. This was why I felt so humiliated. She arrived at the hospital in a wheelchair and with a whole panel of doctors around her and she was placed directly in the care of the hospital’s director. Subsequently she checked herself out; she ran away from the hospital. I told her husband— who was ninety-three when he died—not to worry because “Nana Tuţa” is in good hands. And he says, “Lady, she’s got shit instead of brain; all her life she never knew what she was doing, and still doesn’t.” Yes, it’s true, she had a difficult life, the way they were all treated. I even thought that maybe she found that life convenient, because she could take some advantage from it. All I can tell you is that she was doing quite alright even under Ceauşescu.

Resp. 1: In Ceauşescu’s time, there were communist rallies and we used to go to Curtea de Argeş for those.

Resp. 2: Aside from Rizea, there were other people in the village who collaborated with the resistance, people who all served hefty sentences in prison. There were two sisters who hide for five years in the attic of some house. And I asked Marina Chircă why doesn’t she feature on TV, and she said “I didn’t want the whole country to know what silly things we did”. I never understood why. But I did wonder how Marinica got a pension.

Resp. 3: The majority of people were not involved in politics. The peasant way is to mind one’s business.

Resp. 2: You asked me what I think about communism, but I want to ask you what you mean by “capitalism”. Well, the way I see it, for this is how I was brought up, capitalism was bad, and I mean it, but I thought that if there are a few rich people in a community, then the rest of us will get our share, that’s what I thought. For me, life after 1989 was a disappointment.

Q: How do people look upon the former political detainees?

Resp. 1: I consider them to be victims, because some were sent to prison simply for a smoke. Resp. 4: Some of those who were in prison do not think very highly of Elisabeta.

Resp. 3: There’s no consensus among them either; I’m wondering why Arnăuţoiu’s daughter does not speak with Elisabeta. 94 A Tale of Two Villages

Resp. 4: Some are indifferent, others say “Look at her now, she’s a TV star”.

Resp. 2: I personally wonder why the war veterans should have smaller pensions than the former political detainees. They have very high pensions.

Resp. 1: Nucşoara got public recognition owing to Elisabeta, but people won’t admit that.

Resp. 2: If it hadn’t been for her, the King wouldn’t have visited the village, that’s for sure.

Resp. 1: Elisabeta is not even from Nucşoara, she’s from Domneşti. But she’s gifted for PR, other political detainees who served sentences as long as hers never appeared on TV and nobody knows about them. Resp. 1: I’m persuaded that, had Ceauşescu visited, she would’ve come out on the porch shouting “long live Ceauşescu”.

Q: Are people afraid of capitalism?

Resp. 3: Well, people have this fear of going back to man’s exploitation by man.

Resp. 2: This was it.

Resp. 3: Afraid we might be tied to someone else.

Q: What are you afraid of?

Resp. 2: Of course I’m scared that Mr Paul comes back and takes my land, or Iorgulescu comes back and takes my land, and I’m left with half an acre and not enough to live on.

Q: Did you personally receive land from their plots? You’re a doctor on a state salary.

Resp. 2: I’m speaking on behalf of the villagers. People still have land that was theirs. I personally wouldn’t like to have to work on the land of someone else.

Resp. 4: The boyars sold the land and the peasants had to work in order to be able to buy it.

Resp. 2: Because they exploit me. What else can I do? I haven’t got money, so I have to work. Since they were given their plots back, they should have worked them, but some sold the land instead.

Resp. 3: I think it was fair for these people who’d lost their lands to get compensation, but these lands should have been left to those who held them, because they were not to blame for these land swaps. Now, I had some land there and there comes this law which says they’re going to take it and give me somewhere else in exchange, so I suffer. In the entire commune there are over three hundred of us that had to suffer from these exchanges for about twenty former detainees.

Q: Back in the fifties, were there people who refused to take on land confiscated from others?

Resp. 3: I don’t think so. Look today, when lands were returned, why aren’t the detainees working them, instead of selling?

Resp. 4: When they claimed their rights, that should’ve been on condition that they were going to work the land, not sell it.

Q: Well, why, when you buy a car you have a right to sell it on, isn’t it the same with land?

Resp. 2: It’s not the same. Why should I give away the land that I was toiling whether in the collective or not? It was their land, fine, but why can’t they work, why are they selling it? People work for years in order to be able to buy it off them.

Resp. 4: It’s a mistake to give so many hectares to whoever is still alive from so-and-so’s family. They should get only one hectare, and some land should also go to those that are known to work it. But they speculated it, against me, and against others.

Resp. 3: I’m just wondering what will happen to the dozens of hectares that are about to be returned now. Let’s say you live in Bucharest, what are you going to do with fifty hectares of land in deep countryside.

10All the participants in this discussion had formerly benefited from expropriated land reallocated to them. They believed that the swap should not have been reversed, or that the former detainees should have received just one hectare or just as much as they could reasonably work. As for those who decided to live in town, they should not 96 A Tale of Two Villages have been entitled to any land restitution at all. Envy and enmity are directed against everybody. Some say that other former detainees, and especially Arnăuţoiu’s daughter, look down upon Elisabeta, which is false. They also affirm that Elisabeta used to volunteer to take part in Ceauşescu’s orchestrated rallies, whereas the political detainees were strictly supervised by the Securitate, especially during official visits, and were not allowed to travel, etc. Anything seems to be said against anybody who, one way or another, stands out and gets recognition. The lady doctor is angry because the ambulance came directly from the district hospital for the high-profile patient, and because decisions about Elisabeta’s treatment were taken without her being consulted. In addition, she claims that Elisabeta’s late husband, who had served a prison sentence at the same time as Elisabeta, made coarse remarks about his wife.

  • 8 Foster et al., Peasant Society, 313.

11The mechanism of the conflict becomes intelligible in the light of the above conversation. It starts by building up evidence for the “limited good” and continues with an argument about the unfairness of its distribution. Better-quality land is only one such scant resource. Appearing as a star on TV, earning a good reputation, and receiving royal visits are all rare opportunities. In his overview of the features of traditional peasant societies in the anthropological literature, Foster listed among other characteristics a reluctance to give credit.8 Peasants believe that the individuals who get to enjoy such rare opportunities can do so only by depriving others of advantages drawn from a limited common pool of goods. Moreover, according to this view, it is self-evident that it was not lack of courage or other moral qualities which led to some individuals being deprived of such goods, but the simple fact that others had privileged access. But because such sentiments cannot be acknowledged either in public or even simply before one’s own conscience, certain defense mechanisms are required to justify and legitimize them. One such mechanism is context replacement, whereby negative feelings towards certain people are recontextualized in a way which makes them more acceptable and honorable. A second mechanism is the transfer of one’s own feelings and their attribution to others. The schoolmaster, for instance, compares himself to others, claiming that they envy him and that, although he has always worked harder than they have, he remains worse off and marginalized. Therefore, he does precisely what he accuses others of doing, i.e. he attributes greater success to lesser merit. In one and the same sentence, he claims that his life was precarious, yet in the same period (when he was actually brought in by the communists to replace schoolmasters who had been arrested) he bought himself a house and a car, which was quite a feat under the communist regime. The woman doctor claims that Rizea derived advantages from her relationship to the partisans, although it is known that she was sentenced to prison and that all her assets were confiscated. She also claims that Rizea was duplicitous, that she was prominent at the pro-Ceauşescu rallies, and concludes by speculating that Rizea was the one who clamored loudest in favor of the communist dictator.

12The substituted context in this local tale of opportunistic “haves” and wronged “have-nots” is the conflict between the rich and the poor from the egalitarian propaganda supposed to justify it. It is alleged that in the past the detainees possessed better lands because they had more money and that today they are still better off because the state has given them higher pensions. Communism found a temporary solution for this inequality, whereas capitalism—i.e. the post-1990 regime—reinstated it. This discourse which justifies envy and injustice draws on several basic principles which can be summed up as follows. Firstly, justice is not objective, but subjective, and represents the point of view of the majority. There are only thirty detainees as against 200 individuals who were allocated land; therefore the former are not entitled to the land, even though morally and legally it is theirs. Secondly, if, however, they have to be given lands after thirty-five years, let them have only one symbolic hectare, which they should be legally bound to work with their own hands and be prevented from selling. The sale of the land is denounced, in the spirit of the communist propaganda of the post-1945 period, as profiteering. Land is not merchandise, it does not belong to one owner but, to use the words of the first communist constitution of 1948, to “those who labor on it”. Yet, when the new landowning notables are asked whether they till their lands with their own hands, they say that they use “work for hire, because we don’t have the time”. Thirdly, it is preferable to be exploited by the state than by someone better off than yourself, which is degrading. To work on another man’s land is seen as unacceptable. However, hiring hands to work for you is perfectly acceptable. The important thing is to be numbered among those who can afford to hire 98 A Tale of Two Villages labor or, alternatively, to have a situation where this privileged category does not exist at all. In national polls carried out in 2000-2002 more than two-thirds of respondents believed that in “today’s Romania there is an ongoing conflict between employers and employees”. Fourthly, no differences can be accepted if they favor someone else, even when different circumstances would warrant it. The former detainees must have the same pensions as the war veterans and as everybody else. The mere possibility that lands can be settled on some while others would get only shares in the decrepit state farm is in itself sufficient to divide the embattled veterans into two warring camps. This self-serving, self-justifying discourse is far from benign. Mayor Chelu explains that, even when some of the detainee-claimants won their lawsuits, it took six years to enforce the court’s decision, simply because the defeated incumbents refused to leave. The regime change of 1996, which brought the first anti-communist regime to power, did not come a minute too soon, he says. The new Peasant Party prefect authorized the “veterans” to take back their former lands from the state farm, which until then had been fiercely defended by the postcommunist authorities; and so the veterans finally accepted that they would have to swap lands with the former detainees.

  • 9 Oprea, Banalitatea răului, 287.

13It was not only villagers who were successful in manufacturing local conflict. Efforts were made by the Securitate itself and by para-Securitate bodies to inculcate conflict in the very midst of families. When Vică Berevoianu was arrested, for instance, his house was confiscated and given to a relative of his. Later Vică had to rent a room from this man until he was able to have a house of his own built. He also had to make it up with his wife, who had divorced him in the meantime. Significantly, informants recruited from within families either by blackmail, violence and terror, or by promises of wealth redistribution were called “deep-cover informants”. Upon their return from prison, Titu Jubleanu’s daughter and her husband found only half of their house—her half—available. The husband’s half had been confiscated. The new residents were encouraged to take them to court over ownership, although, as fellow-villagers, they were aware of the background to the case. When the political detainees returned, nobody in the village was willing to risk helping them. The Securitate secured jobs for them in places where they could be easily monitored. “When we came out of prison,” Verona Jubleanu recounts, “we had to go to court for the other half of the house. They wanted to bring a boy from the village into the house. We had no-one to help, there were some relatives who would bring food through the backdoor, my sister, my little brother, and an elderly aunt, my father’s sister, who had looked after them. Nobody else.” In a separate case, Securitate reports described tersely how two men known for their ties with Arsenescu were discovered hiding in bunkers which they had dug under their own houses: “On this occasion, we used only deep-cover informants,” the reports explained.9 In other words, they were given away by their families.

14People without much education, such as the Rroma (Gypsy) handy - men, cannot deliver elaborate, self-justifying speeches in the manner of the village intellectuals. They worked for the cooperatives in the plains until 1990, minding the cattle in exchange for maize and other produce. When the cooperative farms were dismantled, they were left with nothing to do. As they had no land of their own, they were allocated some under Law 18. Not on the site of the state farm, which even during the transition was regarded as state property, but from the detainees’ lands. In 2002, Ioana Arnăuţoiu, Toma’s daughter, was still fighting in court to reclaim her land. The fact that these particular lands were chosen to endow the Gypsies is no accident, but derives from the old tactic of pitting one social group against another. The domination mechanism chosen in this case involved turning the conflict between the state and a group of citizens into one opposing two groups of citizens, so that the state could pose as a referee between the two. Engineering social conflict is essentially an economic mechanism of domination whereby the state turns a process which would otherwise necessitate investment in enforcement into a spontaneous process, and mobilizes private energies for the benefit of those who manage the conflict. In the early years, the communists recruited massively among the marginals. In the district committee, says Gh. Şerban, there were enough Rroma and people without an education. Things were no better among Securitate personnel. The former detainee Constantin Paşol has this story to tell: “There was this elderly colonel from Piteşti, he was from artillery, and a Gypsy who worked for the Securitate was beating him up; he would just smash his face every time. The Gypsy’s name was Zamfirescu, he was with the Securitate, but before that he had been a servant in the colonel’s house. There 100 A Tale of Two Villages were three of us in one bed, one with a broken leg from the war, the colonel, and myself, and many others on the floor. For food we had 100 grams of stale polenta, that’s what we had every day, that’s how we lived for five years. After Piteşti, we went over to Jilava prison, then to the moors of Brăila to cut thatch.”

15After several hard years in prison, Constantin Paşol returned to the village to find his home confiscated, his land taken, and the place full of “a lot of Securitate people, very much like today”. His was the strangest story of all, as suggested by a comprehensive table in which the names of those whose lands were expropriated are listed on the left and the beneficiaries on the right. Next to his two plots— of 0.06 hectares each—listed as belonging to a “Paşol Ctin”, one in the village of Topile and the other simply named “home”, the same name is written on the right column and on the left. There was a second “Paşol Ctin”, one of Gh. Şerban’s first recruits, who became Communist Party secretary and who, as a member of the land distribution commission, simply helped himself to land. He had had an old dispute with Iancu Arnăuţoiu, the brothers’ father and an influential local man before the war, and joined the communists in the hope this would make his position stronger. After 1990 he fought long and hard for his land, but, of course, he had no rights over it, so he lost. Today he tells his story grumpily, without a trace of the sense of humor he showed when thirty-five years before, as a party apparatchik in the land commission, he decided that the plot he would seize for himself would be that belonging to the other “Constantin Paşol”.

  • 10 The Valerian Stan Report.
  • 11 The concept of state capture was first coined by Daniel Kaufman of the World Bank.

16Although highly spectacular, Nucşoara’s case could be dismissed as exceptional or unrepresentative, but nothing could be further from the truth. In the communist period such redistributions of land were common, although admittedly they were less frequent in the countryside, which had been almost entirely collectivized. The principle enshrined by Law 18/1991, which required transferring lands to those who had never had any from those who had, merely expanded the application of this communist logic. There was no rationale which might have explained why a European state—albeit a peripheral one —would create new landowners in a country where forty per cent of the population had already been employed in agriculture, instead of drastically reducing that number. Likewise, postcommunist Romania’s main social conflict had a similar source: It pitted former property owners, whose houses had been nationalized by decree, against the tenants forcefully relocated in their homes by the state. The postcommunist state pretended to be refereeing this conflict, but the Tenants’ Association was widely known to support the electoral campaigns of the postcommunist parties. Families in their hundreds of thousands were involved in the conflict. A tiny minority of these was formed by the profiteers who lived in confiscated luxury villas, but they were people with strategic positions. A report dated July 1997 by the Prime Minister’s Audit Office10 showed that the majority of these villas were occupied by politicians. Some, like Ilie Verdeţ, the man responsible for the repression of the miners’ revolt in Valea Jiului in 1977, dated back to Ceauşescu’s time; others were members of the postcommunist parties. The state’s manipulation of the conflict between owners and tenants was duly penalized however: In the first twelve years after the collapse of communism, the Romanian state lost all the lawsuits over property referred to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. But while there were few people willing to pursue justice as far as Strasbourg, the strategy brought double benefits to those who orchestrated it. Firstly, they benefited from the votes of the almost one million tenants, who, in Nucşoara and elsewhere, far outnumbered the lawful owners. Secondly, members of the predatory elites continued to live in, and gradually started to buy, such confiscated houses. The main beneficiary of invented social conflict has not been the communist state, which, after all, is an abstraction empty of content, but whoever happens to hold the state captive at any one time: the predatory elites.11


1 Catanus¸ and Roske, Colectivizarea agriculturii, 69.

2 Stalin, Opere, vol. 2, 106–7.

3 Fitzpatrick, Stalin’s Peasants, 29–33.

4 Seton-Watson, The Pattern of Communist Revolution, 45.

5 Ibid., 157.

6 Cătănus¸ and Roske, Colectivizarea agriculturii, 166.

7 Fitzpatrick, Stalin’s Peasants, 16.

8 Foster et al., Peasant Society, 313.

9 Oprea, Banalitatea răului, 287.

10 The Valerian Stan Report.

11 The concept of state capture was first coined by Daniel Kaufman of the World Bank.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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