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’re going to interview Nora Clinton, author of “Quarantine Reflections Across Two Worlds”. Nora discusses her early life in Communist Bulgaria, her experiences on moving to the West, and the ways in which recent events remind her a bit too much of her past. Let’s hear what she has to say directly.
Here are some of the quotes from the book that we noted down, for discussion in the interview:
I had always considered a ham-and-cheese sandwich to be nothing more than what the name suggested. Little did I know this would be a memorable paragon of free-market economy and a kaleidoscope of magical abundance.
The server asked with a gentle smile, “What kind of bread would you like?” I was confused. “What kind do you have?” “White, wheat, rye, pumpernickel, pita, sprouted, flourless …” After I hesitantly chose, he continued, “Cheddar, provolone, brie, gouda, Havarti, pepper jack, or American?” Followed by, “Do you want mustard, mayo, butter, or cream cheese? Peppers, tomatoes, relish, onions, lettuce, arugula, or sprouts?” And to top it all off, “How about a pickle?”
I felt exhausted after ordering my first American sandwich, yet almost tearful with amazement and appreciation.
Clinton, Nora D.. Quarantine Reflections Across Two Worlds (p. 16). Archway Publishing. Kindle Edition.
The communists then nationalized the company but needed experts to teach them basic skills at the state-owned insurance outfit. They hired my grandfather to manage this effort but soon ordered him to dismiss two employees for political reasons. Their crime was “harboring ill musings toward the government.” My grandfather refused to fire the employees on political grounds. And he disappeared overnight.
In 1968, the comrades’ tanks invaded Prague, and my grandfather vanished again. An informant sitting at a café had recorded his conversation with a friend, in which both men expressed disapproval of the invasion. The government exiled my grandfather to an isolated, poverty-stricken village in northeast Bulgaria for one year, without permission to see his family. He was denied the simple joy of attending his daughter’s high school graduation.
We did not have a telephone; visitors merely dropped by. Phones, cars, apartments, and other essential possessions were a privilege—people had to deserve them. They often waited five, ten, twenty, or more years to obtain them.
When I was five, I attended kindergarten. While some teachers were warm and humane, the communist directive mandated that children be indoctrinated and humiliated every step of the way. This would serve as an instructive preview early on of what was to come in adulthood. We sang a song about the party being our one true mother. It went like this: “You love your mother, and she may be a very fine person, but she only cares about you and your sister. We all, however, have one true mother—the communist party that cares for us all.”
Few people in the West are aware that high school and college students, soldiers, and other groups were engaged in forced labor to help the unsustainable communist economy. They dug ditches, painted buildings, worked in the fields or can factories—the so-called “merry brigades.”
A few days after the explosion, my classmates and I were to collect spinach at a vast cooperative farm, after spring rains and gusts of wind had spread the radioactive cloud across great swaths of territory in many countries. Our principal called the Ministry of Health to inquire if this was safe. “We are talking about eighth-grade children,” she pleaded. The ministry assured her there was no risk, and we gathered radioactive spinach from dawn to dusk, when a new order arrived from above: “Destroy the spinach!”
My extended family included a number of medical doctors, who were aghast upon learning that I had spent the day picking radioactive spinach. “You must take iodine,” they urged me, “immediately!” They diluted some iodine in water and made me chug it. It left a burning sensation in my esophagus, but perhaps it saved my life.
One professor I knew, who earned a six-figure salary, was an unabashed self-proclaimed communist, who enjoyed a luxurious house with acres of majestic pines and an emerald pond. He incessantly directed invectives at the United States and sang “The Internationale” at his bon-vivant soirees, after distributing gaudy pink brochures with this dreadful anthem’s lyrics to his unfortunate guests.
The French have fittingly labeled this phenomenon “left caviar” or “champagne socialism.” Just think of George Bernard Shaw, who shamelessly propagated eugenics and genocide, offered to assist Hitler and Mussolini, and lauded Stalin’s extermination camps as though they were a quaint holiday arrangement of voluntary duration.
As always, you can see a link to Nora Clinton’s book, as well as one to her foundation’s website about victims of Communism in Bulgaria, in the show notes at storiesofcommunism.com .
And this has been your story of Communism for today.