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15 Dark Facts About Life in Former Communist Countries

Lifestyle, World
15 Dark Facts About Life in Former Communist Countries

There was a time when Americans thought (and some still do) that being a commie was the worst thing possible. Little did they know there was something even more horrifying: living under a communist regime. It’s one of those things you have to experience yourself before being able to fully understand it.

Even as a child, growing up in communist Romania, I was aware of some of the hardships people had to go through on a daily basis: food was scarce and rationed, hot water and central heating were a luxury, standing in endless lines for staples like milk and eggs, lack of freedom of speech, daily propaganda all over mass-media.

So how is it that communist nostalgia is on the rise in Eastern Europe? Yes, you heard it right. Many people (especially the elderly) find themselves longing for the past. What was so good about those years you might ask? Weirdly, there was a certain sense of safety and security that people have lost in the last 30 years. There was no food, but no one was starving, education and healthcare were free for everyone, everyone was provided a place to live, more economic stability, and hardly any violent crimes. While nobody wants the communists back in power, some people miss the stability they once had. Was the price they paid worth it? I’ll let you decide for yourself.

15. Food or lack thereof

Can you imagine going to a grocery store that doesn’t really have any groceries? There was plenty of food in the Soviet Bloc, but the communists would rather export it than feed their own people. All you could find in stores were random canned goods, packaged ice cream, disgusting salami made with soy and the occasional chicken that was so skimpy, it could hardly be called food.

On top of that, the food was also rationed. The communists decided that Romanians only needed to consume about 2,800 calories a day, so they rationed the food accordingly. Each person was entitled to half a loaf of bread per day, a liter of oil and a kilo of sugar per month.

Members of the Communist Party never had to worry about this, since there was plenty of good food available for them. In order for us, commoners, to get some decent meat, we had to know the right people and be prepared to bribe them. The most popular barter items were foreign coffee and Kent cigarettes.

14. Endless lines

The Soviet bread lines have become famous all over the world. But bread was not the only thing people had to wait in line for. Milk, eggs, meat are just a few of the staples that kept people in line for hours. People would wake up as early as 3 am, grab their empty milk bottles and get in line to wait for the milk truck.

In my childhood, oranges and bananas were a real luxury, so whenever we heard of a shipment at a neighborhood grocery store (usually around the winter holidays), news traveled really fast. Everyone would send their kids to wait in line, and we were often pushed and shoved because waiting in line did not guarantee you anything. There was always the possibility you could go home empty-handed since there wasn’t enough food for everyone.

13. No freedom of speech

No one was allowed to say anything bad about the Communist Party and the regime. You couldn’t even make jokes outside your house because you never knew who to trust. Anyone could turn you in: your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends and even your relatives. In some cases, spouses even spied on each other.

I was told the story of a man who kept getting summoned to the police station to be questioned. After the end of the communist regime, he finally was able to access his file, only to find out it was his wife who kept turning him in!

In Romania, anyone accused of being anti-communist was detained by the secret police (Securitatea), tortured, and even imprisoned for years.

12. Media censorship and propaganda

In the Eastern Bloc, the state owned and operated the means of mass communication. The media didn’t really report any negative news (“Under Communist rule, nothing goes wrong because they are always right.”)

In the Soviet Union, everything was censored and controlled, starting from printed materials, to television, cinema, and radio. The Soviets destroyed foreign material from libraries, leaving only special collections accessible by special permit from the KGB.

During the Stalinist period, even the weather forecasts were changed if they thought the sun might not shine on May 1st (International Workers’ Day).

Numerous artists from the Eastern Bloc (writers, poets, musicians) were arrested, tortured, and executed for going against the system through their work.

11. The Housing Problem

At the beginning of the 50s, the Romanian Communist Party decided to start demolishing houses to make room for apartment buildings. As part of a grand industrialization plan, hundreds of thousands of people from rural areas were relocated to cities to work in factories, so they all needed a place to live. About 10,000 Bucharest houses (many of which were historic buildings) were demolished in the process and the inhabitants were forced to live in cramped apartments. Over 20 beautiful old churches and monasteries were also destroyed. All this was replaced by ugly gray buildings housing cold apartments with walls so thin that you could hear your neighbor’s conversations.

And the nightmare does not end here. Running water was rationed, so most people would fill up their bathtub whenever they got the chance. You would only get hot water a few days a week for a few hours. Heating was another big issue and so was electricity, which was often interrupted for hours at a time. Pretty much every newly established family would get a free apartment, but considering all of the above, they weren’t anyone’s dream home.

10. Forced to give up their land

According to, collectivization was a policy of forced consolidation of individual peasant households into collective farms, as carried out by the Soviet government, as well as by other communist countries. Joseph Stalin resorted to mass murder and wholesale deportation of farmers to Siberia in order to implement the plan.

In Romania, the Communist Party confiscated the people’s homes, land, and animals. The peasants who opposed the decision were beaten, imprisoned, deported and even killed. In the end, everyone was forced to form collective farming units, which meant they were basically working for the state and they had to give up a large part of their crops. A large number of peasants were relocated to cities and put to work in factories. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 300,000 people were killed beginning in 1945 as part of agricultural collectivization and political repression.

9. Fleeing communism

Leaving the USSR was almost impossible. People who were brave enough to attempt getting a visa were persecuted, imprisoned, or even placed in psychiatric wards. The Communists thought that anybody who wanted to leave the Soviet paradise had to be insane. People were put on massive amounts of psychotropic drugs, which were meant to cure them of their desire to emigrate.

In Romania, people tried to escape by swimming across the Danube to get to Serbia (former Yugoslavia). During the summer, crossing the river wasn’t as hard, but they had to make sure the border patrol did not see them. Once they reached Yugoslavia, those who had a college degree were allowed to stay but were placed in a refugee camp for months until their papers were processed to emigrate to a Western country. The many unfortunate people who did not make it across the river were caught and ended up being shot. In many cases, the victim’s family was never contacted, so they spent years trying to figure out what happened to them. Between 1980 and 1989 approximately 16,000 Romanians tried to flee the country and 12,000 of them were caught. Some border patrol agents turned a blind eye and allowed people to escape even if they risked losing their jobs and going to jail.

8. The death of communism

By the summer of 1990, all of the former communist regimes of Eastern Europe were replaced by democratically elected governments. In Romania, communism ended in December 1989 with the death of the infamous dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. Along with his wife, he was subjected to a very short trial (considered a show trial by many) on December 25th, 1989. Some of the charges were genocide (over 60,000 people died during the revolution in Timișoara), the offense of destruction of public property by destroying and damaging buildings and explosions in cities, trying to flee the country using funds of over $1 billion deposited in foreign banks. Immediately after the trial, the dictator and his wife were taken to a military base outside the capital. Their hands were tied, they were lined up against a wall and executed by a firing squad. That Christmas, millions of children received an unusual gift: they got to watch on TV the trial and execution of the evil Ceaușescus. There was no PG-13 back then and no one thought it was inappropriate

7. The Frankenstein experiment

During the Cold War, the Soviet Secret Services created a poison laboratory where they started testing deadly poisons on prisoners from Gulags: mustard gas, ricin, cyanide and many others. Their mission was to find a tasteless, odorless chemical that could not be detected post-mortem. When they succeeded in creating it, the victim changed physically, became shorter, weakened quickly, became calm and silent, and died within fifteen minutes.

Other experiments involved reanimating severed organs and body parts, and breeding undead, mutated beasts. Disturbing videos show parts of dead animals being reanimated through the use of machinery.

Russian biologist Ilia Ivanov was determined to crossbreed an ape and a human. One of his experiments included transplanting a woman’s ovary into a chimp and then inseminating her with human sperm. While working on this project, a new idea came to mind: inseminating women with chimp sperm. He even had several female volunteers, but in the end, all his experiments failed.

6. The sleep experiment

In the 1940s, Soviet researchers locked five war prisoners in an airtight chamber and exposed them to an experimental stimulant gas to test the effects of prolonged sleep deprivation. Nine days later the subjects started showing signs of violent behavior. After failing to establish communications with them for several days, the scientists replaced the stimulant gas in the chamber with fresh air. The subjects started screaming and begged for the gas to be turned back on. When the Soviets finally walked into the chamber, a horror movie scene was revealed. All of the subjects had been severely mutilated. They had ripped open their own abdomens and there were chunks of flesh and organs everywhere. The four that were still alive kept asking for the gas to be turned back on and fought back ferociously in their attempt to remain in the chamber.

5. The Ukrainian genocide

In 1929, Joseph Stalin started his campaign for collectivization in Ukraine. This involved seizing all privately owned farmland and livestock, which had a devastating effect on a country where 80 percent of the people were farmers. When people opposed it, the Soviet Union used labor camps, executions, and starvation (Holodomor) to kill millions of Ukrainians. Thousands of Ukrainians were forcibly removed from their homes and sent by train to uninhabited places in Siberia, where they were left without food or shelter. A large number of them (especially children) died on the way or soon after arriving.

Between 1932-1933 the Soviet government increased Ukraine’s production quotas, ensuring that they could not be met, thus causing widespread starvation. A decree was implemented that gets anyone arrested if they stole any food item from the fields where they worked. During the famine, about 25,000 Ukrainians died every day and 2,500 were convicted of cannibalism. The total number of people that died during the Holodomor is estimated to be around 8 million.

4. Anthrax island

It might sound like the name of a sci-fi movie, but it is an actual place in the Aral Sea – Vozrozhdeniye Island. In 1954, the Soviet Union constructed a biological weapons test site called Aralsk-7, that was supposed to be a secret base and was not marked on any maps.

It was at that time the epicenter of biological warfare testing and housed the largest facility in the world with some of the deadliest pathogens known to man. According to released documents, anthrax spores and bubonic plague bacilli were made into weapons and stored at the complex.

In 1971, during a field test, there was a smallpox outbreak which caused ten individuals to contract the virus and three unvaccinated individuals (a woman and two children) died from the hemorrhagic form of the disease. The incident was not made public until 2002.

3. The Secret Police

The Stasi, also known as the secret police, was one of the most hated and feared institutions of the East German communist government. They infiltrated every institution of society and every aspect of daily life, including intimate personal relationships. By 1989 the Stasi had 100,000 regular employees, along with approximately 2,000,000 collaborators and it maintained files on 6,000,000 East German citizens (more than one-third of the population).

After years of arresting and torturing innocent people, the Stasi resorted to something less obvious: psychological harassment. They would break into the victim’s home, trying to disrupt their life by moving things around the house, changing the set time of their alarm clock or damaging their cars/bicycles. Other practices included purposely incorrect medical treatment, sending falsified compromising photos to the victim’s family, psychological warfare, wiretapping, bugging, mysterious phone calls or unnecessary deliveries. Most victims had no idea that the Stasi were responsible and simply thought they were losing their minds, which lead to mental breakdowns and suicide.

2. Dictator Stalin

While Hitler was undoubtedly the most evil man in history, Joseph Stalin was not exactly a saint either. By some estimates, he was responsible for the deaths of 20 million people. Between 1920-1940 at least 1500 artists and scientists were sent to prison and later died. Writers were accused of producing anything other than pure propaganda, while scientists failed to solve problems.

In early 1940 on Stalin’s personal orders, over 25,000 of Poland’s best military officers were executed.

During the Great Purge, he signed lists authorizing executions of 40,000 people. While reviewing the lists at a later time, he reportedly said: “Who’s going to remember all this riff-raff in ten or twenty years time? No one.”

He wasn’t any better with his own family. When his son was captured by the Germans, Stalin refused a trade for a German general and his son died.

1. Cighid – where children came to die

Even though it was called a “recovery and rehabilitation center for the disabled”, no one really recovered and hundreds of children never made it alive out of this “slaughterhouse of souls” in Transylvania (Romania). Children with severe handicaps, either orphans or from families that couldn’t afford to raise them, ended up in this hell hole. The system considered them a burden and pretty much let them die. There was no heat, some of the rooms did not have windows and the children often slept naked or in their underwear. They were fed food scraps and left to sit in their own feces. They didn’t even have enough beds and it was so cold that at night the children would try to warm each other up with their own bodies. They were left to scream, to starve, to die in pain, without medication, and without anyone’s affection. In less than two years over 100 children died.


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