Revolution In Vintileasa

Almost no one in Vintileasa saw on TV the scene when the revolutionaries broke into the famous Studio 4 in the afternoon of 22 December 1989. The villagers were busy doing other, more important things. Some were killing their Christmas pigs. Others were stealing wood. Most of them had got drunk as early as morning. It was decanting time. Willy-nilly, pouring wine from one barrel into another, it was impossible not get blind drunk. However, had they been sober, the villagers of Vintileasa would still have been ignorant that Ceauşescu was overthrown. For many years now, no TV set in the village was tuned in to Bucharest. Everybody was watching Moscow. And so, precisely when Mircea Dinescu was shamming work, well advised to do so by Ion Caramitru, the heart of the victorious socialism was broadcasting a meeting on the historical importance of perestroika. The radios however, were tuned in to Radio Bucharest. But all of them were outside, on the porch, hanging from a nail. There was no way the people indoors could hear the great news. The people outside were busy with the pigs. Pavel Tînjală, an old man of Vintileasa Deal, had just thrust the knife into the animal's throat. Between the desperate squeaks, his ear caught the shouts: Hurrah! The dictator has been overthrown! Long live free Romania! "My, my!" he muttered, wiping the blood off his knife. "Yet another 23rd of August[1] play" But the news spread soon throughout the village. Ceauşescu had fled! The crowds in the square had broken into the Central Committee building! The TV sets were quickly tuned in to Bucharest. At first, no one believed a word of what was being shown on TV. Seeing all those people with flags in Studio no. 4, they thought it was the Hymn to Romania[2] program. Radio Free Europe, to which everyone hastily turned to, confirmed that everything broadcasted was for real. From that moment on, Vintileasa no longer budged from the TV. What was happening on the screen exceeded by far everything they had ever seen in movies, American ones included. The pigs were left in the middle of the courtyards. The wine remained undecanted. The drunk rubbed their eyes thinking they were so plastered they had political hallucinations. Fortunately, the sober set them at ease, reassuring them they saw the same. The night of 22-23 December passed without sleep. The villagers of Vintileasa watched quite beside themselves the news on Ceauşescu's capture. They made bets whether he would flee the country or not. Towards morning, some of them started fighting. Those who claimed to have won used as an argument the information from the TV that Ceauşescu had been caught. The others replied that it was not Ceauşescu who had been caught, but his double. Ceauşescu had run to Cuba, after putting on a fake moustache to make him look like Ion Ţiriac. The thing with the terrorists did not frighten them a bit. Many years previously, an artillery shooting ground existed on the village commons. The shells whizzed over the village day and night. Around midnight, they went out to listen what was going on. They heard nothing unusual. Except for Costache Boambeş calling his wife a tart. But that had nothing to do with the revolution. The following day, Vintileasa started getting bored. They were wasting their time when so many chores were to be done. They had to muck out the stables. The pork had to be jarred. The wine was waiting in buckets. So the village returned to their daily chores. Just a few lads stayed on in front of the TVs. They were all workers in Floreşti, and had been gathering every afternoon for a week at the house of Mitică Banu, whose parents had gone to a spa. They were engrossed in backgammon, talked until their jaws ached, and smoked. They would have certainly gone to work, for they were bored to death of staying in the village, but there was no way to get there. The driver of the bus that passed through Vintileasa had got drunk like a lord, and took the bus hostage. The numerous envoys of the transport company returned to Floreşti with their tails between their legs. The Militia could not do much either. The driver, who lived in a mountain village, at the end of the line, threatened to set the bus on fire. For several evenings, the lads were thrilled to see how the revolution gradually spread throughout the country. The town halls had been taken by storm in tens or hundreds of places. The masses, following the calls on TV, had gone into the streets or, well, lanes, depending on whether the place was a town or a village. It was only in Vintileasa that nothing happened. The mayor, a former Ceauşescu enthusiast, was drinking on the house in the village pub. After getting stoned, he would hit the table with his fist and yell: "Down with Ceauşescu! Bring another bottle." Vintileasa was not the least worthy village in the country. And nonetheless, look: other more pitiable places, some of them not yet electrified, had outshone them. After Ceauşescu's trial, which – the whole village agreed – had been staged, the group of lads decided to go into action. They planned a great manifestation in front of the village hall for the following day. That is exactly what they proposed: a great manifestation. In reality, it proved utterly impossible. The villagers they visited wouldn't even hear of it. "Come on boys," said one of them, "are you out of your minds?! Can you actually imagine me, an old man with married children, walking dawn the road with flags and placards?! Well, the 23rd of August was quite a different matter, so I used to go. But it all happened in Floreşti, not here, in Vintileasa. I didn't make a fool of myself in front of my fellow villagers. Then again, the trip counted for two days work in the collective farm. Can you make the same arrangement?" Of course, they couldn't. They asked permission from the president of the A.P.C.[3], but he refused politely, saying he had received no instructions in this respect from the Party County Committee. The lads had to content themselves with a small manifestation. Especially as this one too was just about not to take place. No one would bring a bed sheet from home on which to write with red paint: Down with the mayor! Culai Parvana = Ceauşescu! No one knew which way to turn. Some said their parents refused them, others that their sheets were not in such a good shape as to express the will of the masses of people in Vintileasa. It was Mitiţă Banu that finally sacrificed himself again. His folks were away at the spa, so it was not all that difficult to take a sheet from the chest, tear it in two and fix them on vine props. On one banner they wrote the slogans against the mayor. On the other, the century-old wish of the villagers of Vintileasa: We want free elections! They also got a flag of the Socialist Republic of Romania. They shook the dust off, cut out the coat of arms, and gave it to Cornel Băboi, who was instructed to wave it back and forth, as they saw the people in the balcony of the Central Committee building do on TV. Cornel Băboi did not find it too hard to carry out his task. He was quite experienced, as he was the one who carried the banner during the funeral processions. They tried, unsuccessfully, to procure a loudspeaker. Vasile Calistru, the only one who had such a device (he had got it from a film crew and used it to lead the cattle, for he was the village cowherd), refused them bluntly because they would use up his batteries. They hardly gathered around 15 people. In the morning of December 27 they set out towards the People's Council, located at the other end of the village. The people they met on the way stopped and stared at them. Now and then, one would ask: "Where are you going, lads?" "To the revolution, uncle," the young men would answer, waving the flag back and forth. A few little boys, stiff with cold, were following them along the side of the road, whimpering that they wanted to go to the revolution too. Their demands brought about a heated argument between the demonstrators. Some said they should be accepted, moreover, that they should be placed in front, as they did in Timişoara. To see if the tanks dared crush their innocent bodies. Others were adamantly against it, saying the presence of the snotty group would compromise the movement. They finally reached an agreement that pleased everyone. They let the boys follow them along the side of the road. In front of the People's Council, they found no armored cars and no special troops as in the Palace Square in Bucharest. The entrance door was padlocked. The mayor was at the local pub. The demonstrators did not despair. They occupied the bare ground in front of the town hall and started shouting slogans, raising high the placards and waving the banner. Now and then they would fall to their knees and say Our Father in chorus, following the example of the young revolutionaries in the Roman Square, as seen on TV. The neighbors came out onto their porches. Some of them, angry because that bunch of loafers were shouting uselessly at the Council's door, although it was clear it was not open for the public. Others advised them in jest to go to the church, because that was the proper place to say Our Father on their knees. The lads ignored them. They had learnt this from the young Bucharesters who, faced with the provocations of the Securitate and of other of the dictator's tools, closed the ranks and shouted: "No violence! You're Romanian too!" Vasile Andronache, the head of the local militia station, came out on the porch. His face was crumpled with sleep, he wore no belt, and his shirt was hanging out of his trousers. He had drunk heavily the previous night while investigating a public property theft in the neighboring village. The lads' shouts had woken him up. The fate of revolutions sometimes depends on chance. If sergeant Vasile Andronache hadn't had such a hangover that morning, Vintileasa might have taken a glorious place in the great concert of the Romanian Revolution. Following the example of the special forces in the Palace Square, the head of the militia station would have sided with the demonstrators. He would have opened the town hall wide open for them, letting them in to take over the place. But Vasile Andronic had a hangover. His temples hurt so much he felt like banging his head against the walls. His chest burnt terribly. "Fuck them!" he grumbled, "The wine wasn't pure. God knows what shit they put in it!" And against his anger on those who tamper with the wine, putting all sorts of chemicals in it, he started shouting with his arms akimbo: "You, little pricks! Go home or I'll beat the shit out of you! Look, You've fucking ruined a good sheet! Well, let me tell your folks about that!" Hearing this, Mitiţă Banu suddenly got scared. "Guys," he whispered, "if my old man finds out I've taken this sheet from the chest, he'll beat me to death." And, without waiting for their reply, he folded the two banners, put them under his arm and left. Bereft of their revolutionary material and also scared that their folks did not know what they were up to, the others hung their heads and followed him silently. A gray sky was arching over Vintileasa. The chimney smoke went straight up, like thin, isolated pillars, above the shingle roofs. There were signs a terrible snowfall was approaching. Joyful shouts and cheers were coming from all directions. Although there were three more days until the end of the year, Vintileasa started preparations for the New Year's Eve. For, who knows, the new authorities might as well ban it!
[1] The national holiday of communist Romania.[2] A major propaganda ("cultural") TV program during the communist regime.[3] Agricultural Production Co-operative = the official name of the collective farms.

by Ion Cristoiu (b. 1948)