I grew up in a block of flats one hundred meters from one of the harshest extermination centres in the Communist block — Pitesti Penitenciary. Between ’49 and ’51 here took place “re-education” experiments of unimaginable cruelty. The prison served as political prison for the “enemies” of the communist regime until ‘64 when all the political prisoners have been freed.
I’d like to make some points which I think are relevant for the times we live, aware though that these point might be relevant or visible to me only. It is fine with me if it is so but things need to be said.
I write these rows as I visit my parents in Pitesti. Where once was this extermination centre, now there are blocks of flats. Mum tells me that some are empty because people know that they were built over mass graves. There is also a humble monument listing some of the names of those who died here between ’49 and ’51 and also a map showing hundreds of extermination centre categorised by harshness.
I know this is unknown history to many. People commonly know that the Communist systems were harsh but they do not imagine how harsh. While I expect that others who lived thousands of miles away, in different regimes to have little or no knowledge of these crimes, I did not expect in the ’90 after the fall of the Communism that nobody here has heard of these prisons. This what I was faced with though.
I knew about the prisons because people in our immediate family went to prison and the fact that they’ve been there sometimes appeared in the conversation in the most bizarre ways. “Your great-grand mother threw all my library and old coins collection in the river because she was afraid that “they” will come to lift me too as they lifted her son!” The uncle mentioned in this sentence spent six years in Pitesti prison and nobody knew where he was until he was released.
I knew thus of prisons even during the communist times and I assumed everybody knew of them but we were not allowed to talk.
What I was not prepared to hear after the fall of Communism was that the prisons did not exist and people did not die and suffer. I had unreal conversations. I learned in the process that fifty years of Communism created a “New Man” which truly believed whatever propaganda was thrown at him or her. History gets forgotten, remodelled or never learned.
What this has to do with the times we live now in UK, US, Poland, Hungary, Turkey and so on?
1. Exposed enough to propaganda, certain people transform into a “New Man”, on the mould prepared for him or her to be manipulated and somehow to always hate some “others.”
2. This process is not long in my view so the risk is for all of us in the countries flooded by aggressive authoritarian rhetoric that we will find ourselves surrounded by a species that we will hardly recognise as our own.
3. Don’t count that the next elections are free as the authoritarian manipulators of the left or of the right will already have breed a manoeuvre mass.
4. Whatever tools you have in your profession, creative or not, state the truth. Do it repeatedly. If these times continue, you may find your self alone with the truth even when the truth is not an abstract concept but refers to a physical place filled with thousands of dead.