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The streets of Bucharest
The streets of Bucharest
Mirel Bran

BUCHAREST - When he's not glued to his computer screen, Stefan Cornea watches films on TV. At 18 years of age, this Bucharest high school student is fed up with politics, Romania and life in general. "There's nothing to do here," he says in a cynical tone. "It was better before. My parents have told me about how it used to be."

"Before" means the time of Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship, which collapsed in 1989, four years before Stefan was even born. He was not alive when "the Conducator" turned Romania into one of the worst communist autocracies, but he is still convinced that everything was better during the time of "the Genius of the Carpathians."

Young Stefan is not the only one to feel this way in today's Romania. These young Romanians are nostalgic for the "good old times," a time that they have never known. A study called "Civic and Political Implication of the Youth," carried out by the Soros foundation in Bucharest and made public on Sept. 18, paints a surprising portrait of this young Romanian generation.

"Two-thirds of teenagers believe that life was better under communism, mostly because they think people paid a greater respect to the law," says Ovidiu Voicu, coordinator of this study. "They don't have any trust in democracy or in a market economy, and they're not completely opposed to the idea of an authoritarian ruler."

Twenty-three years after the collapse of the communist regime and five years after Romania's entry into the European Union (EU), the country has hardly turned over a new leaf. Political instability, economic crisis and corrupt politicians have plunged young Romanians into a deep feeling of unrest.

Instead of searching for ideals for the future, they would rather turn toward a past they have never known but which nevertheless fascinates them. "Frankly, I don't understand, it's absurd," says Mugur Ionascu, a retiree who knows only too well the extent of repression enforced by the Securitate, the political police of the dictatorship.

"They have no idea what we went through at the time. I can understand that people my age maybe miss the supposed social security of the old regime, but the youth are beginning to idolize Ceausescu, which means that we have failed, that we went to prison for nothing."

Political discontent

The young Romanians' discontent has been furthered by the political crisis that hit the country in the summer. The conflict between the socialist Prime Minister Victor Ponta and the center-right President Traian Basescu has persuaded many young people that politicians are not interested in their problems.

Since coming to power in May, the socialist government has seen four education ministers in the space of five months, and Romanian schools opened a week late this year. The revelation that the prime minister plagiarized his doctoral thesis also damaged the credibility of politicians in the eyes of young people. "In the times of Ceausescu, you would have been thrown in prison for intellectual thievery," exclaims Stefan. "Today, it's the strongest who wins, no matter what he does. Only poor people respect the law, all the others do as they wish."

The study by the Soros Foundation also shows that 47% of 14- to 18-year-olds think that the current education system is worse than it was under communism, whilst 46% have no confidence in the health system. Two thirds of young people also hope never to encounter the Roma, the minority most discriminated against in the country.

With no future prospects, they dream of going to Western Europe, where between two to three million of their compatriots have found work. "Romanian society has forgotten the evil that communism inflicted upon the country, replacing it with a memory of utopia," explains Ovidiu Voicu. "It's this loss of memory that could make Romania's youth victims of those who wish to take advantage of their nostalgia."

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