Episode 34: Cuba's New Colony

 Audio Link

Welcome to Stories of Communism, the podcast where we discuss what life is really like for those unfortunate enough to live under communist or socialist governments.    Recording from the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, this is Erik Seligman, your co-host, along with Manuel Castaneda.

Today we’ll be interviewing two Venezuelan refugees, Dory and Maria, about their nation’s fall from the richest to one of the poorest nations in South America.   As you’ll hear, the empty promises of socialism there have led to widespread misery, and their leaders have effectively handed over much of the government apparatus to Cuban so-called advisors.    Let’s go on to the interview.

<Listen to audio for interview>

If you enjoyed this chat, a video interview with Dory and Maria is also available from our friends at the anti-communist site “Spider And The Fly”.   You can find a link in the show notes at storiesofcommunism.com .

And this has been your story of Communism for today.



Episode 33: Special Circumstances

 Audio Link

Welcome to Stories of Communism, the podcast where we discuss what life is really like for those unfortunate enough to live under communist or socialist governments.    Recording from the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, this is Erik Seligman, your co-host, along with Manuel Castaneda.

You may recall that back in episode 19, we discussed Vladimir Voinovich’s satirical novel “Monumental Propaganda”, about a loyal bureaucrat who never lost her faith in Stalin.  Today we’re going to discuss another work of Voinovich’s— but this time, a nonfiction memoir about an actual incident from his life.   In “The Ivankiad”, Voinovich tells the tale of his struggle to get an upgraded apartment in early 1970s Moscow, a seemingly simple task that led to a dangerous clash with a government official.   While some of his actions could have had grave consequences, Voinovich managed to maintain his sense of humor throughout.

The incident started off simply enough.   Voinovich and his wife had been living in a one-room apartment in the Writers’ Union apartment building in Moscow for a long time, one of the smallest in the building, and thought they might try to upgrade to a two-room apartment.   He hadn’t attempted such a request before.

As much as possible I try to avoid any struggle for my personal well-being.  I hate going to the authorities and making an effort to get things.   I am by nature undemanding, content with very little.  I am no gourmet, no dandy, and have no interest in luxury items.  Simple food, modest clothes, and a roof over my head, that’s all I need…  True, under that roof I’ve always wanted to have a separate room all for myself, but such a desire could scarcely be considered excessive.

The process seemed simple enough:  there were periodic assembly meetings in their building, and the assembly had to vote on who would get the next apartment.   Voinovich presented his case, and there was nobody who disagreed that he and his wife deserved the upgrade, so the vote was unanimous that they would get the next larger apartment that became available.   When an elderly writer with a nicer apartment died a few months later, he was excited that they were finally about to get an upgraded apartment.

Now I will have my own room, where in blessed silence I will be able to create my works, immortal or otherwise.  Just imagine, a separate room!   As long as I’ve lived, I’ve never known such luxury.   I some kind magician were to appear and ask my one desire, I would say, “I want a room to myself.”

But soon, Voinovich began to sense that something was wrong.   Neighbors were whispering and making cryptic remarks, indicating that they didn’t think he would actually be moving into the new apartment.    This was very confusing:  hadn’t the assembly voted?   What more was there to discuss?   One friend even whispered, “You have to keep your eyes open, you should put up a fight”.   Who was he going to need to fight?   Soon he started hearing that the building manager had a plan to convert the open two-room apartment to a one-room apartment.  This didn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

I still didn’t understand…  Why should it be necessary to make a one-room apartment out of a two-room apartment?   And what would happen to the room left over, without kitchen, bath, or toilet?   

It turned out that the whole crux of the matter was this leftover room.  Sergei Sergeevich Ivanko had requested an improvement in his living conditions:  the addition of this room to his apartment.   

I still didn’t get it.  How was this Ivanko so badly off?  Did he have a poor apartment?  No, he had a three-room apartment for three people, one of the best in our building.   Perhaps he had waited a long time?   No, he had lived in our building a shorter time than others… and in October of last year he put in an application for an improvement in his living conditions, requesting a fourth room….  On what basis?  You can request anything you like.  I, too, could request four rooms, but no one would give them to me.

Having not ever heard of any writings by this fellow Writers’ Union member Ivanko, Voinovich did some research.  He discovered that Ivanko was a relative of a former KGB director, a close friend of the national Writers’ Union secretary, and on the board that supervised all publications in the Soviet Union.   Thus, he had the power to halt publication— or guarantee publication— of any book in the country.    As for actual writing, all he could find was that Ivanko had written a 44-page pamphlet on the status of Taiwan two decades earlier, perhaps giving him some expertise in territorial disputes.   Voinovich’s friends advised him not to make a fuss, and to just wait for the next 2-room apartment to open.   

It was a bit surprising that Ivanko wanted to expand an apartment in their building; with such high government connections, he could have gotten a space in a much better building altogether.   But Voinovich got even more annoyed when he discovered why Ivanko wanted to stay:

“Because, as he says himself, he equipped this apartment.   He brought a stove from America, a toilet, an air conditioner, special wallpaper, some other special stuff…  stuck in the walls, the floors, the ceilings.   Equipping an apartment costs an enormous amount of money, and to tear it all out would wreck it.   

“…did you see when he moved in?”… “No?  Well, we did.  Two trucks with containers, and everything American.  The toilet, the stove, the devil knows what.   A sled, even a child’s sled, he brought that from America too!….  five rooms would be too small for him.”

The thought occurred to Voinovich that maybe he had an advantage due to the fact that Ivanko wasn’t a real writer, but he quickly dismissed that issue.

I saw that 90 percent of more of the members of the [Writers’] Union were non-writers.  Which is to say that they cover a certain quantity of paper with a text which is then set in type, printed, bound in a hard or soft cover, and, before being made into pulp, displayed on shop counters.   But most of the time this text has no content.  Neither moral nor aesthetic, nor even political.   I stopped carping at non-writers.

Voinovich started speaking to the building chair and other officials, pointing out that there was a unanimous vote in the assembly granting him the right to the next apartment, so he clearly should get priority over Ivanko.   But they began to criticize him on grounds of being too impolite, difficult, or demanding, and not showing a proper collective Soviet spirit of loyalty.

I began to wonder, Why do these people interpret my every word so negatively?   Perhaps I really wasn’t conducting myself properly.   No, don’t think I’m trying to be witty.  In the preceding few pages I’ve tried to produce a certain comic effect, but not here.   Here I’m trying to be completely serious. I was confused.   I thought that all rights, not only legal but moral, were so much on my side that I would be given immediate support, and that no one would stay on Ivanko’s side…  Is it good manners to try to please a bureaucrat?   Maybe I really didn’t understand something, maybe there were some special circumstances in Ivanko’s case. 

As he started to reconsider his position, he received a strange call from an old woman in his building.    

Vladimir Nikolaevich, I beg of you, don’t hang up, hear me out.  I understand, you’re in a bad situation, you’re impatient, but I have cirrhosis of the liver, general arteriosclerosis, I assure you, you won’t have long to wait.”

I suppose I started to get angry.

“Why are you bothering me?”, I said.  “Why should I wait for you to die?”

“Vladimir Nikolaevich.”  I suppose she was getting angry too.  “I was told you are a decent man.”

“Well, what of it, Why should I wait for you to die?”

“So you mean you don’t want to wait?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, now I see”— again, tears in her voice— “you are not a decent man.  You… you.. you…”


After this strange call, he made a few inquiries.  He discovered that Ivanko had attempted to resolve the issue by proposing to kick an elderly writer out of her apartment, forcing her to switch with Voinovich’s smaller one, in order to free up another larger apartment.   But Voinovich refused to accept this proposal, unwilling to make another neighbor suffer in order to please a bureaucrat who was fundamentally in the wrong.   He sent a formal letter to his apartment board, pointing out again that the assembly had made a decision and it had to be enforced.

After this, the apartment board chair, Turganov, convened a meeting to discuss the “unhealthy situation”  and  “threatening statements” that had been coming from Voinovich.   Once again his manners were criticized for pressing the issue so stridently, with Ivanko commenting that the committee was too tolerant of such “outrages”.   But Ivanko failed to get the assembly to revote in his favor, and for a while it even looked like Voinovich would win.

But Voinovich was still getting second-hand advice to give in, so was a but worried about what was coming next.   He was again advised to apologize to Ivanko and ask for his help getting a better apartment.   Apparently the board had received orders from high-level Soviet officials to “help Ivanko”, and while they couldn’t overturn the decision to give the apartment to Voinovich, they could delay it indefinitely, playing a game of attrition.   Meanwhile Voinovich continued to appeal to various government officials, always being criticized for his “selfishness”, “manners”, “provocative actions”, and similar issues.

I’m afraid I’ll be accused of slander.  Did I really not meet a single positive official on my path?  I did.   Two.   One at first also reprimanded me for acting provocatively, but then said anyway (and thanks to him for this), “Ivanko is acting illegally, but he is powerful.   You’ll never get in to see Promyslov, but Ivanko can go to see him any time.   You can’t even imagine what kind of people plead for Ivanko over this telephone.”…

The second positive official was a worker at the Central Committee of the CPSU, to whom I managed to tell this story.

“Ivanko?” he asked.  “Sergei Sergeevich?”

“Ivanko”, I affirmed.  “Sergei Sergeevich.”

“What a scoundrel!” said my interlocutor, shaking his head.

That was all the reaction I got from the two positive comrades.

Finally tired of this war of waiting and attrition, Voinovich made a bold move:  he and his wife went ahead and moved into the new apartment on their own.   After all, they had the legal right to it, so why wait for actions by others?   When officials came around to tell him and his wife to leave, they presented the written document from the original assembly meeting, showing that they had a right to the apartment.   They also pointed out that his wife is pregnant, and did they really want to force a pregnant woman to move?    Voinovich, being a famous satirical writer at the time, was also popular among his neighbors, so they consistently confirmed his claim.

Miraculously, various officials seemed to start to come around to accepting that he really did have a right to the apartment, and allowed him to stay.   Apparently Ivanko wasn’t quite powerful enough, or the issue just wasn’t that important enough, that the higher-level Soviet officials would want to get directly involved in overriding the local apartment board.   The assembly was convened once more, and held another vote confirming Voinovich’s right to the apartment.  

Although a number of factors affected our victory, I would suggest the following in particular:  the pregnancy of woman, a unified collective, and my own stubbornness.   Now that the conflict is over, I am quite content with the fact that in the future my writings won’t be published; I am prepared for the Minister of Culture… to condemn my writings.

To save face, Ivanko blamed the whole fiasco on incompetence by the apartment board chair, Turganov, and arranged to have him impeached, as well as preventing the publication of a two-volume collection of his works.   Perhaps not wanting to face his neighbors after all this, Ivanko then transferred to a job in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he got to spend some time living in the US again.

Now our respected colleague represents our great country at the United Nations…  I believe, however, that he still has a bit of time and money left to prowl around the Manhattan shops for new equipment for his little nest… Perhaps in Manhattan they’re selling toilets of the latest design.  What kind?   My fancy is insufficient to imagine…  Perhaps some sort of stereophonic toilet, or one that turns the raw materials it devours into pure gold.

In the end, Voinovich only got to enjoy his apartment for a few years:   an official harassment campaign by the government began soon after, he lost telephone access in 1976, and he and his family were forced into exile in 1980.   

Afterwards, Voinovich reflected on this series of events:

When you examine the principal factors of our story and attempt to find and explain the reasons for great social changes… do not overlook the humble drudge with the simple, unmemorable, greedy face.   Gentle, smiling, obliging, efficient, ready to do you a good turn, flatter your self-esteem, he is present in every cell of our society, breathing life into all those changes.    And when you plan great reform programs, build castles in the air… or try to see an X chromosome through a microscope, our humble drudge, with his sharp little eyes, watches carefully to see if, under the guise of struggling against alien ideology, he can get something from you:  an apartment, a wife, a cow, an invention, a position, an academic title.   Gradually, in a leisurely fashion, he heats up the atmosphere, and then you notice, on his humble face, not a smile but a wolfish grin.

Before leaving the Soviet Union, the novelist Viktor Nekrasov wrote a letter about the condition of our culture, about the fact that many honest and talented people are subjected to senseless badgering and are forced to leave the country where they were born and grew up, which they served, and without which life is inconceivable.

“Who needs this system?”  Nekrasov asked.

Well, just take our hero for example, Sergei Sergeevich Ivanko.

He needs it!

<closing conversation with Manuel>

If you enjoyed today’s podcast, be sure to check out Voinovich’s memoir, “The Ivankiad”, available at the link in the show notes at storiesofcommunism.com .

And this has been your story of Communism for today.



Episode 32: Romania's Worst Spy

 Audio Link

Welcome to Stories of Communism, the podcast where we discuss what life is really like for those unfortunate enough to live under communist or socialist governments.    Recording from the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, this is Erik Seligman, your co-host, along with Manuel Castaneda.

As you may recall, our last episode focused on the story of Teodor Flonta, who as a college student in Communist Romania in the 1960s, fell in love with a visiting Italian girl.   Defying the odds, they pursued their international romance, despite the continuous obstacles they were facing from the Romanian government.   In the end, Teodor managed to marry Ariella and emigrate to Italy, though he was only able to get his exit visa by signing an agreement to spy for the Communists.    

The memoir ended when Teodor and Ariella began their married life in Italy in the early 1970s.   But half a century later, they are both still alive and well, living in Australia and preparing to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary among children and grandchildren.     So for this episode, Manuel and I have interviewed Teodor about his life after the memoir.  We’ll hear about how he adjusted to life in the West, his career in international espionage, and his thoughts on Communism and the future.

<listen to podcast for interview>

If you find Teodor’s story as inspiring as we do, be sure to check out the memoir of his romance, “Paper Rings”, as well the book he wrote on his father’s struggles, “A Luminous Future”.   Both are linked in the show notes at storiesofcommunism.com.

And this has been your story of Communism for today.


Episode 31: Forbidden Romance

 Audio Link

Welcome to Stories of Communism, the podcast where we discuss what life is really like for those unfortunate enough to live under communist or socialist governments.    Recording from the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, this is Erik Seligman, your co-host, along with Manuel Castaneda.

This week we will be discussing an unusual memoir by a Romanian named Teodor Flonta, in which he discusses his cross-Iron-Curtain romance with an Italian girl in the late 1960s and early 1970s.    The memoir, called “Paper Rings”, tells the story of how he met his future wife Ariella while she was visiting on a student trip, and of the many obstacles they faced as their romance developed.   As we’ll see, the pervasive effects of living under a broken and corrupt system affected every step of their courtship, though miraculously it all worked out in the end.

At the start of the book, Flonta is a student who works part-time as a propaganda radio announcer for the Romanian government.   When he spots a beautiful Italian girl named Ariella at the International Romance Linguistics and Philology conference, it is love at first sight, at least on his side.    But he is faced with a problem:  how to actually get a chance to speak to her.    Luckily, he is one of a small group of students who might have a chance: 

Contact between us and foreigners, particularly Westerners, was not allowed, unless expressly authorised. Therefore, I felt privileged and lucky and I was smiling on the inside at the thought that I was one of the dozen students with language skills lent by the Dean to the Organising Committee of the congress to help the participants find their way to lecture rooms and to answer their questions. 

Our brief was to avoid talking politics but, if we had to, we were to keep in mind the supremacy of our political system over theirs, by reminding them that there was no exploitation of man over man in our country; that we did not have unemployment as everybody was given a job; and that there was no disruption in our society due to strikes and endless bargaining between workers and factories. Our system was fair to all. We had, therefore, all the freedom we wanted to concentrate on the main task of building a luminous future for everybody, as promised by our leaders so often.

(Kindle loc 261)

Unfortunately, this assignment doesn’t leave much room for small talk or socialization, but Flonta desperately hangs around the conference for the whole week searching for her.   In an amazing stroke of luck, a colleague who has been assigned as Ariella’s personal guide has a scheduling problem, and asks him to fill in.    He finally gets to meet her for real, and they click immediately— he is more infatuated than ever.   Luckily, he has a built-in excuse for lingering at conference events to wait for her:

I was not leaving. I had to stay at my post to see if any of these capitalists left the conference rooms, where they were going, what they were up to, and to alert the authorities into timely action to prevent such foreigners plotting against us. Or… from wanting to befriend us!

(Kindle loc 341)

They get to spend more time together, as he shows her the sights, and have a long conversation about their lives.   Flonta has to be careful what he says, and even casual topics like discussing their groups of friends has strangely political connotations in this context.   Ariella is surprised, for example, to hear that he doesn’t have too many friends.

My world was so different from hers. Many things were upside down, nothing squared properly. How could it be when in our self-proclaimed materialistic society it was the material things we lacked most. It was evident to everybody that the Western world was materially richer than ours. We were all needy, poor by comparison. 

Thus friendship was often limited to an exchange of goods which created a chain of obligations towards each other. We needed each other to survive as the regime cared mostly about what we could not do and could not have. “I have an obligation to do this for him or for her” was what you heard often and that was the cement which bonded people in my world. A life full of obligations and often devoid of sentiment was no fun at all, but it kept us busy. As for exchanging ideas, well, we could take the risk to do that in private, testing the trust of family members and friends.

(Kindle loc 461)

It even occurs to him for a moment that this woman might actually be a Securitate informant, trying to draw out disloyal comments and report them to the secret police— but his feelings for her are so strong that he decides it’s worth the risk.     She asks him about some minor details of Romanian student life, whose answers are normal to him but shocking to someone living in the West:

“Are you allowed to express opinions which are not those of your lecturers, let’s say from older books?” she wondered.

“You need a special permission to consult old books published before communism took over.” “That’s unbelievable.” She barely could restrain herself. “I was aware that people could not have Bibles in Russia, but I thought it was because the regime’s professed atheism. This is news to me,” she continued…

Then she told me she had just joined an organisation created by Catholic priests that aimed to educate people about Russian orthodoxy, to inform about the lack of religious freedom and to contribute in whatever way they could to maintaining a Christian presence in Russia. They organised seminaries with exiled Russian writers and artists and printed books and articles reaching them through samizdat, copies written by hand or cyclostyled. I listened to her in awe.

(Kindle loc 513)

They agree to start writing to each other, which is permitted, though they have to be on constant alert that government censors will read their letters, and look suspiciously on any foreign contact.     He loves hearing from her, though their correspondence also serves as a constant, bitter reminder of the fundamental differences between their lives.   He is mystified why she chooses to continue visiting Communist countries, when she can spend all her time in the luxurious West:

Her freedom to go anywhere she liked made me think. It was the first time that I had talked to a person who told me about things which for us belonged to dreams; they were things that seemed unreal and it was hard for me to imagine what I would have done with all that freedom myself. And then I asked myself why a person would go to Russia, of all places, when there was Paris, Rome, Vienna, London, New York or Sydney to visit…

Although I liked her description of Novgorod, I still hated everything the Soviet Union stood for. I knew she looked at those things she had seen with the eye of a tourist while I was looking at Russia with the eye of a victim. In 1946 the communists had fixed the elections and won by a large majority… any politicians who opposed the elections were arrested and ordinary people who voiced dissent were labelled enemies of the state.   I realised I could not blame Ariella for her feelings. She could not have had the experience that I’d had, nor the experience my father had, of being arrested and tortured in the communist jails just for not agreeing with the regime.

(Kindle loc 944,1015)

She visits a few more times, and after Flonta foolishly blurts out that he’s hoping to marry her someday, it becomes clear that this has moved from a friendship to a romance.    She tries to get him to come visit her in Italy, but this is very challenging:  his father has been labeled a public enemy due to past opposition to the regime, and thus it is almost impossible for him to get an exit visa.    He is also suffers from a constant fear that his romance will be somehow labelled as a subversive foreign contact by the government, and get him arrested.   Luckily, the period of this romance largely coincides with a period of detente between Romania and the West, when the dictator Ceau┼čescu is trying to show independence from the USSR. 

Throughout the memoir, we also catch many glimpses into the day-to-day material deprivation in the life of the typical Romanian under Communism.   As we have heard in other episodes, small things we take for granted, like packaging and bags available at stores, are unheard-of luxuries to Flonta and his friends:

Like soldiers in combat with their inseparable rifle, we were an army of civilians carrying in our pocket our daily battle implement – the nylon bag – which would spring into action like a bullet whenever a food item was spotted. The dear nylon bag became our most cherished possession, and it became a symbol of our misery in our struggle for daily survival.

(Kindle loc 176)

He also comments ironically on Ariella’s concerns with helping international charities to aid the poor.   This seems like something that should be fully in line with Communist philosophy, but is unthinkable to the average Romanian:

How could we, at a personal level, help the hungry people of the world when we, city people, had to get up before dawn and queue for a ration of meat and bones to feed ourselves? Sometimes you had to queue three times. First you had to queue to get to the butcher counter. After he cut the meat, with bones and all, for you, you would have to queue at the cashier and after that, armed with the cashier’s docket, you had to queue at the collection point for your packet of meat and bones. We were kept busy procuring food every day. We could not plan a menu in advance but had to make do with what was available that day and with what we could grab from that short supply.

(Kindle loc 1081)

The vast differences between their social statuses naturally leads to many suspicious among Ariella’s family and friends that they can’t fully trust Flonta, and they urge her to break off the unorthodox romance .

On the phone, she told me that her family thought that a person like me, born in communist Romania, could not be trusted. They blamed not only our system but also us, the common people within it, without discrimination. Ariella’s friends, believing that they were born in a better social system, could not accept that my sentiments equalled theirs. So, here I was, in the unenviable position of being cornered both by my official world and by Ariella’s family and friends.

(kindle loc 2546) 

But Ariella is not deterred.  After a few years, Teodor and Ariella are ready to get married.   Unfortunately, they discover that a marriage between a Romanian and a foreigner requires direct permission from the State Council, the Communist leadership.   At best, they could hope for a possible response in 6 months after applying.  

The news about the State Council’s involvement in our marriage had opposite effects on Ariella and me. It gave her new vigour as it clarified things, but it showed me the dreary days ahead, as the State Council was headed by Ceau┼čescu himself. I wondered if anything could be more difficult than dealing with the top echelon of any institution, in our case the leader of the country…

They had the power to deny us and if that happened we would have no other legal avenues left. Aware of that, we thought of a plan B. I should apply for a passport to go to Italy and, once there, I would ask for political asylum and get married. This option looked straightforward, but it was difficult to obtain a passport even if I had an official invitation with all expenses and insurance paid. We thought that we were already under the Securitate’s scrutiny so they would not give me the passport anyway. Furthermore, my unhealthy social origin would certainly add to the difficulty.

(Kindle loc 2052, 2163) 

Eventually, they decide to have a secret religious marriage, and manage to find a priest willing to defy the Communist Party and carry out a small ceremony for their family and closest friends.    While this helps cement their true commitment to carrying out this process to the end, they still need the official government approval if Flonta wants any hope of moving to Italy to live permanently with his new wife.   So they continue with the marriage application process, battling the bureaucracy over various forms before they even have a chance at official approval.

I decided to try my luck and went with the pile of papers to the basement of the Palace Hall where the only lady at the counter behind a grate looked at them, checked them one by one and accepted them without hesitation. I was walking on clouds. For once I could maintain a promise that I had made to Ariella to be quick with the documents.

I felt like Caesar must have felt when he crossed the Rubicon. Whenever you dealt with officials there was always some paper missing, you had to go through interminable queues, lose your temper and swear under your breath and feel that everything was against you. We still had to wait for an answer to come back from the State Council, but if one didn’t come we would ask for an audience to try and speed up the process.

(Kindle loc 3023)

When the paperwork is processed, though, he has to face one final, unexpected obstacle:   government officials who want to condition his approval on agreement to act as a spy for Romania in Italy.

“There should be no obstacles for people in love,” I dared to say. “Besides, I don’t see any reason we should be denied this right. We are not harming anyone by marrying.” 

He smiled and looked me straight in the eyes. “Of course, of course, but in a society like ours the individual cannot put his personal interests above those of the State. You know this, don’t you?…

“It’s very simple. There is no big effort on your part. When you are in Italy, if everything goes well, keep an eye open and let us know what we need to know.” “You mean… spying.” “I wouldn’t put it that way.” “How would you put it?” “Observing is the better word.” “And if I don’t agree?” “Then you are on your own, and we cannot help you.”..

How could I say yes to a regime which had arrested my father, tortured him and deprived me and my mother of his presence for years on end? …  I could not forgive them for that. And I could not forget all the humiliations I was subjected to for being a son of a man labelled enemy of the people. The regime made the laws, but the way in which they behaved was as lawless criminals. I could not become an accomplice to their crimes…

“I leave you to think about it,” Comrade Captain said. “I will contact you in a week. In the meantime, please prepare a written, detailed profile of your future bride and her family: members, ages, professions, earnings, political persuasion – you know, everything. It is a formality, a simple formality.”

(Kindle loc 3111)

He refuses to help the Securitate captain, but several other inquiries and requests from various officials follow.   Meanwhile, he tries to use contacts of his friends and family to encourage the approval of his request through alternate channels.   Somehow, the approval for the marriage eventually does appear in Flonta’s mailbox, though he can never be quite sure who finally approved it or why.    

But his joy is somewhat dampened by the need to apply separately for his exit passport, another huge bureaucratic delay.   To add insult to injury, Flonta’s new father-in-law in Italy is dying, and he needs to leave quickly if he wishes to meet him.    A family friend suggests a way to speed up the process:

He advised me that I should put something on paper, promising the Securitate that I would help them in some way, and that might speed up the issue of my passport. I told him that I couldn’t do that. My father suffered at the hands of those people. 

“That’s the point,” he said. “Why should you suffer, too?”… “You just put some words together, words that sound nice to their ears. I’ll help you,” he said….  “You don’t have to follow up on any of them. Once you are in Italy, you are in Italy.”

(Kindle loc 4233)

In the end, he gives in:

I was very uncomfortable with writing something “for them”, but I thought it was better than sitting at the table with some Securitate officer to sign a contract as I had heard some people had done….

I was going to pursue cultural, artistic, economic activities favourable to Romania. I would work within the Romanian community and try to instill in its members love for Romania, … I would promote tourism, make translations of various kinds, organise art galleries, the more the better. … The more things I could promise, the less likely it was that I would pursue any of them. I gave them words, not commitment. That made me less guilty.

(Kindle loc 4273)

He finally gets his passport approved, but not in time to visit Ariella’s father, sadly.    But ultimately he leaves to join Ariella for their new life in Italy.    In the end, he reflects on the toughest obstacles that had stood  in the way of their relationship:

In my young life I’d been humiliated many times, mostly for being the son of my parents, but I’d never felt so humiliated as I was when I tried unsuccessfully to get little things done in the presence of Ariella. I longed so much to show her that I was a man she could count on. I wanted to be free to go and visit her as she had visited me, to show her that I was capable of making a sacrifice for her. I just wanted to share her burden, to show her that I was a decent man, a caring human being. I was not allowed to do that by my country, obsessed with controlling my movements, my contacts, my love. A country which forbids love cannot be loved. Countries like that should never exist. Ever, on the face of the earth.

(Kindle loc 4425)

<closing conversation with Manuel>

As always, there’s a lot more to this story than the short excerpts we’ve read today.    Be sure to check out Teodor Flonta’s memoir, titled “Paper Rings”, which you can find linked in the show notes.   

And this has been your story of Communism for today.