Romania's revolution through the eyes of three generations

Camelia Sucu was 24 when she took part in the Romanian revolution

Camelia Sucu knew that people had died on the night of the Romanian revolution when she saw the street cleaners scrubbing away the blood the following day.

She, along with thousands of others, had been in the square on 21 December 1989 demanding the end of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's regime. She arrived in the afternoon with her mother and then-husband after watching Ceausescu's earlier speech on TV. The address was meant to win the public over, but descended into chaos.

As the night came, with protesters still chanting: "We want freedom, down with Ceausescu", it turned violent and shots were fired.

"Everybody was running," says Mrs Sucu. "I could hear the bullets and I could see the broken car windows.

"I remember being kind of scared, but also being together with all the other people - we encouraged each other."

Demonstrators outside Ceausescu's palace Crowds assembled initially at the behest of Ceausescu to listen to his speech
Ceausescu giving his last speech Ceausescu delivering his last speech as Romania's leader

She readily admits that she didn't know exactly what a free Romania would look like, or how it would work, but she is clear that she wanted to be "free to talk to foreigners and free to travel".

For her, a free-market economy has worked out well. After the revolution, instead of becoming a doctor as planned, she set up a successful furniture business with her then-husband.

Life in Ceausescu's Romania

Ceausescu giving a speech
  • Talking to foreigners not allowed
  • Holding foreign currency not allowed
  • Restaurants and cinemas had to close at 21:00
  • Illegal to own video recorders or films
  • Some professions (such as a tour guide) not allowed to have a beard or long hair
  • Two hours of TV programmes per day (unless Ceausescu was making a speech)
  • Licence needed to own a typewriter
  • Electricity and hot water rationed

In her mid-20s at the time, she had recently moved into a new apartment with her young family and was frustrated by the lack of choice of chairs available to her.

"Before 1989, bookshelves, chairs were all similar... I wanted something lighter, more colourful."

Today, sitting in her in swish designer showroom, her life is very different to the one that she and her mother had envisioned before the revolution. And yet 25 years later, her daughters just cannot imagine her life under communism.

"I'm always curious when I hear your stories... were you constantly afraid?" 23-year-old Cristina asks her mother, referring to the many strict rules under communism that to her seem nothing less than bizarre.

"We can't imagine being forced to do something."

Her sister Ioana adds that even though her parents take her to Revolution Square every year to help understand what people died for, it still seems difficult to understand how it worked.

"My future husband's parents told me that they were afraid that their friends would tell the state police about them watching movies," says Ioana, explaining that they were very nervous about having anyone new in their house.

Camelia Sucu, her two daughters and her mother From left to right: Elvira Nitoi, Cristina Alexandru-Sucu, Ioana Sucu, Camelia Sucu

The sisters express their amazement at the thought of it being illegal to own a video recorder. They don't appear to have wanted for much.

Ioana, 27, runs a special events company, while Cristina plans to open a children's playground later this year. They both studied in the UK and exude confidence, worldliness and ambition.

It's something their grandmother, 69-year-old Elvira Nitoi, comments on, saying it is one of the ways in which she sees the world has changed. "In the communist era, women were not as empowered," she says. "Now they struggle more to get a good career."

Mrs Nitoi, who herself worked in a textile factory, also wants to dispel her granddaughters' idea that everything was grey and miserable.

"It is not as you picture it. In my circles we used to makes jokes and talk freely," she says.

"Without wishing to be nostalgic, some things were better, for example the certainty of tomorrow, everybody had a job, nobody was on the streets."

Table and chairs Camelia Sucu set up a furniture business because she wanted a more colourful choice

But that's not how her daughter Camelia remembers it.

She says that although her childhood was very happy, when she became an adult she understood how difficult life was, and was at times afraid.

At one point she describes how difficult it was to get baby milk, and how, when she was lucky enough to get hold of 18 Pampers nappies, they were kept for special occasions. When she talks about queuing for food, she points out that she's not talking about minutes but the hours spent waiting for eggs or bananas.

"We were fighting every day to get something on the table."

Romania has come a long way since then but it is still the second poorest country in the EU, behind Bulgaria.

Investment banker Matei Paun says the country has not met its economic potential.

"It is obvious to the naked eye that the level of development is at least five if not 10 years behind Poland."

Boy playing harmonica Romania is the second poorest country in the EU

He blames it on the country not having a clean enough break with its past and not bringing in much-needed radical reforms.

"The fact that there is clear lack of reformist leadership is a big hindrance.

"One of the biggest undermining problems in Romania is that you don't have an authentic, ideologically driven political system. You don't have a left and you don't have a right which makes the democratic process difficult to manage," he adds.

It is true that there is a certain dissatisfaction with politicians amongst Camelia and her family.

"We have to learn more about how to choose. Left side, right side, middle. The parties are so young. They can't prove which direction they are," says Camelia.

"There is a choice of bad and not so bad," says Cristina.

This lack of conviction in today's politics, it seems, is something they all agree on.

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