The Mystery of the Romanian Communist Anthem in the Sidebar

Sometimes it seems like I get asked the same questions over and over again. And then every once in a while someone will ask me something I didn’t expect, and usually it makes me smile, because it’s about some of the crazy adventures in my life.

A short while ago someone asked me why I have the words to the Communist Romanian anthem on my sidebar, instead of the post-1989 (as well as the historical) anthem of Romania, which is Desteapta-te romane (Hey you Romanian, wake the hell up).

Good question. I realized that I’ve never told that story before. Only one person in “real life” even knows about it, and even he only heard it second hand, although in part he was actually there when it happened.

About 10 years ago, I had a friend with a car. And during a couple of my trips to Romania in those early days, I spent a tremendous amount of time in that car with him (and some other people) driving around all over Romania.

Now I know a lot of you have driven or ridden in a car in Romania before and so you know exactly what it’s like. But for those of you who haven’t, let me just describe two important things.

From any city whatsoever, including Bucharest, literally in five minutes you are almost back in the 14th century. There are peasants with horses and wagons, people hoeing fields by hand, livestock wandering around, shepherds on foot doing their shepherd thing, and stacks of hay in the field. One minute you’re in Starbucks on your iPad, the next minute you’re making your own moonshine and shitting in an outhouse.

The second essential fact to know is that there is barely any radio reception outside the city limits. Therefore my friend had a cassette player and so we used to listen to dozens and dozens of tapes on all of our journeys.

Knowing this ahead of my trips to Romania, back in the United States I used to bring over a few tapes to play while in the car with my friend. Some of these were just “standard” music or whatever, but I also decided to make a mixed tape. More specifically, I scoured YouTube for a few Romanian songs, both to help me learn the language as well as to be something my Romanian friend(s) might enjoy.

I know you’re thinking manele but no, this was an archaic YouTube few people but historians are currently aware of. In this remote past epoch, there were only a handful of Romanian songs in existence. One of them was a brilliant “remix” of Ceausescu’s last speech (subtitled in English at link) with some house music. Alas, I have no idea where that video/song went to but it was quite awesome.

The other song of note that I found was a “straight” recording of the Romanian Communist Anthem, which luckily you can hear here.

Okay so now you can imagine the scene. We’re driving through a tiny, tiny village in the mountains when my friend decides to stop the car at a “store” in order to buy some bread or something. I elect to stay in the car and my friend disappears inside the store. Within a minute, a group of dirty-faced ragamuffin kids from the village are all standing around the car, gaping at me.

I crank the stereo to the maximum volume and play Partidul, Ceausescu, Romania to these little villager kids, all of them with their fingers in their mouths, utterly silent but wide-eyed. I then begin to wag my finger briskly as though I were the conductor of the orchestra, me smiling like a loon.

Ah well, I guess you had to be there :P

Nah, it just struck me as one of the most surreal things I have been involved with as it concerns Romania, and I’ve done some mighty surreal things in this country :P I mean you’re talking to the guy who has actually accosted a peasant on the side of the road and paid him just to let me drive his horse and wagon around.

Anyway, the thought of an American being 10,000 miles away from home, rolling up in some tiny village in the mountains, inside of a late-model car with a sophisticated audio system while playing a song (just about) no Romanian can even stand to a bunch of materially impoverished children who are light years away from most modern technology was just so wrong that it felt right.

It reminds me of a kid I knew once from Haiti, who had never seen a white person until he was 13 years old. And when he and his friend saw one walking down the road, they were taking bets between each other on whether he was a ghost or an alien from another planet.

It must’ve been a little like Elijah to those kids and yet at no time was I doing it in any way because of any superiority over them. On the contrary, I was (and shall forever be) the stranger in a strange land. Yeah, playing the Communist Anthem was a little surreal but hey, if we truly wound back the clock a few decades, I’m sure that the song had indeed been played there many times. I certainly wasn’t the first person to ever play it there. But hey, who was the last person to play it? Me! So in a way, it was a giving back one last final time.

Plus, hey, I had to learn 50 some years of history in a hurry. It’s not like they teach the history and culture of Romania in any school I ever went to :PPP

So there you go, that solves the Mystery of the Romanian Communist Anthem in the Sidebar.