Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Goodbye, Dracula: The Story of a Transylvanian Defector

Good-bye, Dracula: The Story of a Transylvania Defector
Traian Nicola
Outskirts Press (2012)

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“Goodbye, Dracula” is the memoir of a Transylvanian boy who grows up in a country slowly being overtaken by communism. His life was shaped during the reign of Nicolae Ceauşescu, head of the Romanian Communist Party. The book was written as a reminder of what things were really like, specifically for those readers, who, after the disarray of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the new capitalist movements, longed for the “good old days” of communist rule.

When one has the intelligence and talent to excel, the only good jobs available under communist rule are those working for the government, so, not surprisingly, Nicola's career opportunities came working for Ceauşescu's government. Was he there because he had a great love of intrigue or deep devotion to the Communist Party? No.  He was there because as a child, a distant family member had told stories of his time living in the US, and of the world beyond Transylvania. This sparked in him a longing to choose a career where he might be allowed to travel to see them for himself, so he chose to study economics and national trade. Because those areas of study were good covers for intelligence activities, Nicola was recruited by the Intelligence Division of the Romanian government.  But those who were given the opportunity to travel, even in that context, were few, and concerns about defections were great. It was working for the government that taught him more than he ever wanted to know about the inner workings of authoritarianism.

Life in Romania for those who were not party members was bleak. There were farmers who lost everything when the government claimed ownership to all property in the name of the people. Those who had run businesses for years found them nationalized, with no compensation, and lifetimes of work were nullified. Government departments claimed the need to examine employees' choice of mates, forbidding marriage to those who might have family members who had been declared “enemies of the people,” a charge that could come not only from seriously dangerous anti-government activity but sometimes just from bad relationships with party members, or from having too much prosperity. Those who were too outspoken were found to have tragic “accidents” and replaced with dedicated party members. There was little regard for those who were victims of these policies.

The lack of humanity played itself out markedly in Nicola's case, when a woman he intended to marry, whose family did not pass muster, narrowly escaped being raped by Romanian security, the intent being that he would then believe she was an “easy woman” and refuse to marry her. Remarkably, he did not marry the woman; they decided that the resulting harassment would have been too large a burden to bear so they chose to give up on the relationship, moving on to new opportunities that didn't endanger their careers. He later married someone else who who did pass the scrutiny of his department.

Travelers who left Romania had to leave behind “hostages,” to ensure their return. Family members were at risk if anyone tried to leave permanently. Desk jobs in intelligence were given to those who could no longer be trusted to leave and actually come back: those who showed signs of dissatisfaction with the status quo, or who were considered contaminated by too much exposure to the free world. The government clearly knew there was dissatisfaction. Only the most trusted were allowed to bring their families out of the country.  When his son was born while he was serving in Japan, he was told to bring back the birth certificate so it could be replaced with one showing he was born in Romania, because dual citizenship was considered a threat to national loyalty later in life.  In a moment of indiscretion, even the Party Secretary was reported to have said "show me one person in this building  who did not think at least once of running away!" As it turned out, it was because  of his privileged positions as attaché (first press and later economic) to various countries, that the opportunity came to bring his family with him, and  they all defected to the United States in 1979. 

No wonder that he was appalled to hear talk that communism was easier and better than the the insecurities that came after the breakup of the Soviet Union. No surprise that he says, because of the shifts that are created in the ways people treat one another, that “Communism strikes at the very heart of the human soul” and is destructive to humanity.   It is his hope “that this book will help the reader to understand the reason why communism should never again be considered as a viable political option.”

It's certainly food for thought. My only wish for this book is that it be expanded to include a bit more of the human touch. While he describes incidents, the facts of which are repulsive on their own, we don't get to really feel how this played out in real life. When he was told he could not marry the woman of his choice, how did he feel? What did his family say? What would have happened if he'd tried to elope? All of these questions remained unanswered. Part of that may be the deadening of emotions that happens when choices are always limited, and permission has to be asked for everything, but I do wish he'd been able to add that extra dimension to the book.

1 comment:

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