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  • Ilinca Stroe

Today’s a Little Time Machine: What Romania Makes of Its Communist Past

Weekend holidaymakers and locals strolling on Bucharest’s Calea Victoriei on 1 April 2018 experienced the thrill of losing their way right into turbulent 1945 Romania. Streams of angered workers in navy overalls, suburban housewives with worried eyes under their grey scarves, young intellectual rebels sporting the ringlet curls of the trendy ‘40s, and bourgeois men in smartly tailored three-piece suits – all, swelling into the Palace Square. For handsome 24-year-old King Michael I of Romania had gone on “royal strike”. His country was being hijacked by an illegitimate communist government backed by the Soviet Union. He wanted to prevent that. His loyal subjects were converging to the Palace to show their support.

Selfies and groupies went crazy, with tourists and locals pleasantly bewildered by such dramatic time trip at the heart of Bucharest. And while all that was just about a film shooting (Moromeţii 2, directed by Stere Gulea), wryly scheduled for April Fool’s Day, present-day glimpses into the communist past of Romania have become increasingly revealing, popular with visitors and Romanians alike, and, yes, very important.

Long repressed, as oftentimes the case with shameful nation-wide traumas, that communist past is slowly creeping back to light to display its acts, shock us, horrify us, remind us of terrible facts, drive us away towards a different future and, finally, stop haunting us.

It is a kind of healing process formally acknowledged in Romania on 18 December 2006. Back then, at the Parliament Palace, the former communist regime was officially condemned as oppressive, and “taking ownership of the past” was declared key to the country’s “democratic reconstruction” [1].

Admittedly, that sounds quite serious. Yet the benefits are quite tangible. (And, some, good fun!)

First, there’s a whole new concept fuelling tourism development and inspiring “travel-to-Romania” offers: “communist heritage tourism”. It spans several ex-communist cultures and may well occasion, in the near future, concerted holiday packages for Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, etc. In Bucharest, for example, travellers can purchase attractions like “Ashes of Communism” guided tours, which locals often go on, too.

Secondly, taking ownership of the past binds Romanians to nations that have experienced similar historic processes. In recognition of that, on 1 March this year the European Commission decided to grant the European Heritage Label to an absolutely outstanding Romanian site: The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance, located in Sighet (northwestern Romania), for the way it has promoted European Union values – “peace, freedom, tolerance, solidarity.” [2]

2018 is, of course, the “European Year of Cultural Heritage”. It’s also the year when the Sighet Memorial celebrates

its 25th anniversary. Last but not least, it’s when Romania as a modern state turns 100. Celebrating with champagne and fireworks will work fine, just fine. But at the end of the day there’s that other, perhaps less spectacular celebration: when you look around, appreciate what you’ve got so far, out there, and you smile to yourself. Realising, “We’ve come a hard long way. It feels good. Let’s keep going up that path!”

P.S.: Interested in going through a brief history of communism in Romania? Click here, scroll down a bit and read.


[1] Cf. Prof. Vladimir Tismăneanu, Head of the former Presidential Commission for the Analysis of Communist Dictatorship in Romania. See <>.

[2] Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics: “All the sites on the European Heritage Label list promote these values and remind us of all those who fought to establish and preserve them.” <>


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