The Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of Romanian Exile in Bucharest has recently released the results of another opinion poll on communism and de-communization, conducted on a representative sample of the population between 22 October and 1 November 2010. The poll shows strong nostalgia among Romanians, an attitude not completely explained by the economic difficulty and political instability the country has faced during the recent months.
According to the survey, 59% of Romanians consider communism a good idea; 44% think this good idea was wrongly applied, while 15% think it was well applied. Only 29% of respondents view communism as a bad idea. There are no significant differences between men and women in regard to this question. Positive views on communism are related to age and residence. A majority of those older than 40 consider communism a good idea (74% of those older than 60 and 64% of those aged 40-59), but only a minority of the younger generations, who had little direct experience with the regime (49% of those aged 20-39, and 31% of those younger than 20). Rural respondents have a more positive view (only 21% of them consider communism a bad idea, compared to 34% of urban respondents). Residents of Bucharest and central Transylvania are least likely to praise communism, while Moldovan and Southern Romanian residents have more positive views.
These positive views have several explanations. First, Romanians still support a strong state (72% of them consider that the state should guarantee jobs, and 51% believe that the state should engage in economic planning). Second, the abuses of the communist regime are long forgotten. Two questions tap into the memory of the communist regime. First, 38% of respondents believe that the imposition of the communist regime at the end of World War II was a bad thing, and as many believe it was a good thing. Ironically, older generations, who directly faced the wrath of the communist authorities, are least inclined to view the regime’s imposition in negative terms. Some 56% of respondents over 60 believe the imposition was good, compared to 39% of those between 40 and 59, 29% of those between 20 and 39, and only 15% of those younger than 20. While 30% of rural dwellers view the imposition in negative terms, 44% of urban dwellers hold that view. Transylvania and Bucharest are least likely to hold a positive view of the imposition. The second question asked whether respondents or their immediate family directly suffered under communism. 83% of them said no, only 7% said yes. Only 6-8% of respondents older than 20 had a memory of suffering. Ironically, among the very young (younger than 20) were the most who claimed direct suffering (12%) and the most with no knowledge of communist repression (20%). Nostalgia for communism ignores the fact that 71% of respondents remember that Communist Party leaders enjoyed extensive privileges.
The positive memory of communism explains why Romanians are generally disinterested in de-communization. Some 52% of respondents believe that neither lustration nor access to secret files remain important today. Women are slightly less interested in these two transitional justice methods, as are all age groups, both rural and urban residents, and respondents living in all regions of Romania, except Transylvania and Bucharest. Only 37% believe that file access is important, and 31% believe in the importance of lustration. Some 58% of those who believe that lustration is still important are of the opinion that it should apply to national and local leaders of the Communist Party; 54% believe it should apply to the Securitate agents. These responses are paradoxical, given the fact that many more respondents believed that the Securitate more than the Communist Party was responsible for communist crimes (63% compared to only 35%). That is not the only contradiction. While 31% of respondents consider lustration important, and 52% view it as unimportant, 5% reject any lustration law. Only 6% believe that a lustration law would have negative effects. by contrast, 26% consider it will have positive effects, while 24% consider that its effects will be negative.
Many more Romanians support compensation packages (48%, compared to 27% who reject them). Of those who favor compensations, 47% consider that they should be decided by the courts, on a case by case basis, while 42% believe they should be decided by the government, through a blanket ordinance. The vast majority of respondents are of the opinion that pensions of former Communist Party leaders and Securitate agents (around 66% of respondents are in favor of diminishing these pensions). Symbolic transitional justice, in the form of a ban on communist symbol, is embraced by only 28% of respondents, and rejected by 44%. Some 25% of women and 30% of men support the ban on these symbols. The least likely to oppose the ban are the respondents older than 60, those living in rural areas, and in Moldova and Southern Romania.
Defenders of communism might rush to condemn democracy and capitalism and to extol the virtues of communism, but the survey does not quite support that view. As any other survey, this one is as good as the questions it includes. For example, asking respondents whether they suffered under communism is a vague question that could be interpreted differently by different respondents. I challenge the IICCMER to ask Romanians whether they would like their country to have only one state-owned tv station broadcasting two hours a day (offering strictly programs with Ceausescu); to receive break, sugar and oil on food tickets; to see food stores empty, and well-stocked stores reserved for the nomenclatura; to have no permission to travel abroad; to have the Securitate opening their correspondence, listening to their phone conversations, and bugging their apartments; to give the government the meager food staples obtained on their meager land plot; to have all salaries capped at the lowest possible level; to have permission to fill up their gas tank once a month; to stay in line for days and nights to buy an egg or a carton of milk; to wait for seven years to have a phone line installed in their homes; to buy cars only with permission from the party and to have only Romanian cars available; to have no possibility to get abortion legally; to have permission to build no house and to be obliged to continue to live in drab and grey state-owned apartments.