Stores Fuller, Heat Up: New Government Makes Life Brighter With AM-Romania, Bjt
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) _ The red meat in crude plastic packs being carted into Bucharest’s crowded, dimly lighted stores looks unappetizing, but for people accustomed to a diet of pigs’ feet, it might as well be chateaubriand.
″This isn’t new. I’ve stood in lines like this before,″ said furniture worker Marim Ghedzu as he waited in a long queue for meat this week. ″But there’s almost never been anything like this in Romania. I would stand here even if the pieces were small.″
Under Nicolae Ceausescu, this meat went for export, much of it to the meat- starved Soviet Union in exchange for the raw materials needed to fuel the industries the dictator built to fulfill self-aggrandizing dreams of transforming agricultural Romania into a major industrial state.
According to an economist writing in the daily newspaper Adventarul this week, at least $12 billion was wasted on investments in these projects.
For the most part, this money was paid back through food exports to the West, or the export of petrochemicals made with Romanian oil and the raw materials from the Soviets, Iran and anywhere else Ceausescu could buy oil and gas in exchange for food.
Romania, once the breadbasket of southeastern Europe, became a land of ration cards and bare shelves. Emigres recall going six months without eating a piece of meat or even seeing butter.
That has changed since the anti-Ceausescu revolt erupted Dec. 15 in the western city of Timisoara, where demonstrators massacred by Ceausescu’s security forces called for bread along with their freedom.
Before he was executed, Ceausescu put food on the shelves in a last-ditch attempt to appease his unruly populace.
It didn’t work. But the new government swiftly took measures to ensure the people who fought for freedom and ousted Ceausescu Dec. 22 felt some immediate relief from the burden of oppression and privation.
On Dec. 23, Romania’s new rulers announced they were ending rationing and food exports, and lifting draconian restrictions on heating and lighting homes and offices.
Corruption had always bent those and many other rules in Romania under Ceausescu. But people nonetheless froze in homes and offices, shivering in overcoats at their desks and donning gloves and hats to sit and watch the opera before it and all other public entertainments - TV included - shut down at 10 p.m.
Marin Sorescu, one of Romania’s best-known writers, proudly showed off his beautiful 19th-century home in old Bucharest Friday. ″At least now I can bring you in here, because it is warm,″ he beamed as snow swirled down outside.
Citrus fruits, unseen in ages, have appeared on shop shelves. Butter, previously rationed to as little as 7 ounces a month, cheese, unappetizing- looking sausage, and even that previously unpurchasable luxury - coffee, are on sale.
Western diplomats say the goods come from special warehouses where they were stored either for export or for distribution to the Communist elite.
Corneliu Bogdan, first deputy foreign minister in the new government, said Friday the leadership has tried to ease life without disrupting the national economy.
Ending ration cards, banning food exports and curbing oil exports fell into that category, as did the popular decisions to declare Jan. 2 an extra New Year’s holiday and extend students’ vacation by 11 days to Jan. 14.
More basic economic questions and overall strategy are not expected to be resolved until a new government takes power following free elections in April. For that task, Romanians hope to avoid mistakes made in the earlier reforms of Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union.
Silviu Brucan, a former foreign minister and member of the new leadership, said last week Romania should learn from the Soviets and feed its people before reforming industry.
With Romania’s fertile soil, that should be easier to achieve than in the Soviet Union, where weather makes farming difficult and 60 years of state agriculture have killed off most peasant traditions.
Yet, it may take a while before stores measure up even to the standards of 10 years ago.
On Friday night, a vegetable store that for three years has had virtually nothing to sell was offering potatoes, beets, leeks, apples and dried fruit.
Previously unseen lemons were being sold down the street.
″It’s better, but it’s not great,″ said Dina Cristescu, 22. ″We are still waiting. We are a country that waits always.″
Slushing around in the damp dirt left by shoppers braving a daylong snowstorm, about 20 men and women jostled in a queue for the only other product on sale: crude and unappetizing salami.
In between the vegetable and the salami shop, another crowd waited for chocolate and sweets.
Around the corner, at least 40 people bearing the fruits of a day’s shopping waited in the dark street and muddy slush for the rare treasure of a taxi to get it all home.