He Won’t Give Me an Interview, at 92 Still Scared He’d Be Killed by the Communist Secret Police

I was told he’s the best to talk to about life as a Hungarian in our town. He’s 92 years old and still going strong, walks downtown, does his own shopping, and oh, so talkative!
He lives on our street. Past the fisherman’s store, past the dentist’s, next comes his gate, a green wooden fence. The gate is unlocked, only held by a rope. I enter his green lawn. I call his name towards the open windows covered in rusty mosquito screens.
He comes along the porch, opens the window glass door, I tell him my mission. He says, oh, in his days he preserved the virginity of our street, that is he rescued it from demolition that was hanging over our heads during the communist craze of urban planning and reconstruction. He wrote a four-page complaint and gathered the neighbors’ signatures and sent it to the newly formed Civic Complaints Bureau in the capital and they responded that indeed our street wouldn’t be demolished because it is a historical site.
Mom says he talks rubbish, they stopped the impending demolition because the government was overturned in ‘89, and now they gave a new regulation and everyone had to renovate their house façade, though they have no money, and can’t make any changes to the building without costly Town Hall approvals.
Anyway, he said he was busy with his ailing wife, and his raspberry patch, and was expecting a handy man to help out on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, to help out, but I should come back on Monday afternoon. Alright. He said he was so very sorry for my father, back then when father had sold bananas in the market, though he was a retired agricultural engineer. So very sorry to see him tending to his stand in cold and rain, below his station. And my mom. ‘Give them my regards.’
When I came back on Monday I went deeper in the yard, though fearing he might have biting dogs. He would not answer my chirpy “Hellooo there! Helloooo, anybody home?!” He was working in a dark shed among plastic barrels, slowly folding a cloth. I didn’t give up being cheery. He remembered me. He did not want to speak into my voice recorder. He had no wish to remember the war. He had no wise words to impart to nowadays youth. He watched TV and saw there were 100,000 people sunning themselves on the beach, the Black Sea could not fit anymore people, 100,000, and meanwhile there’s no money to buy medicines for old folks? All they want is to have the elderly vanish, die fast, get rid of them quickly. Plus whatever he’d have to impart, it would fall on deaf ears. He knows that too well. In Germany the elderly had senior citizen centers with large rooms, well lit, and the elders played domino, chess, what a life! Here?!
The wife’s hoarse and frail voice came from behind a window, “Where the heck are you?” several times. I called his attention, but he nodded and went about the war he had fought in the Hungarian army, was stationed in Székesfehérvár, and when he saw his unit’s tanks were sticking out of the wheat field while the Russians’ were much lower, camouflaged by the wheat field, one couldn’t see them. Then when the Russians started to shoot at their tank towers, he said to his officers, “Man, I don’t want to do this anymore.” “What do you mean?! You owe us.” “What?” “We taught you how to drive a tank!” “No, man, I shall not keep doing this. I want to go home.” And they sent him to the camp where the other Transylvanian soldiers were held by the Russians. There he got his documents, and he was to board a train when the Russian officer said, “Wait a minute, what is your name?” “Nagy Imre.” “Where are you from?” “Carei.” “Not Crişeni Cherestur?” “No, Sir. Here are my documents.” “Okay. Pashli.” And he got into the train and got off at Máteiszalka, 24 kilometers from his hometown Carei, and walked home from there.
Later on, under communism, he just got married, when they asked him to go to the Securitate, our Secrete Police back then. He didn’t tell his young wife about it. He went there, the guard barked at him nastily, “What do you want?” Quite an intelligentsia fellow, he says ironical, making me laugh. Then he entered a tiny room, not like what they have nowadays, large leather sofas, cognac, delegations of foreigners, lavish feasts, and the officer asked him again what was his name, and was he born in Crişeni Kerestur. “No, here is my ID, here is my birth certificate.” It came out there was a teacher with his name from Crişeni Kerestur who was against the regime here, or back then, when he was in the Russian camp against the regime in Hungary, the Horthy regime, which was a fascist regime. So why would the teacher be in trouble if he was protesting fascists in a communist state? Anyway, he was let go, and only then he told his wife he had been called to Securitate. “Why didn’t you tell me?” “So you wouldn’t be anxious about me,” he said protectively.
He was never one for sowing dissension. Hungarians, Romanians, were all the same for him. He was called once more to Securitate to report on what was the atmosphere like at his work place? He laughed in the Securitate’s face. “Are you asking the atmosphere like in truck tires, when the driver pumps up more air pressure or less?” He joked. “Come on, I want to know what’s going on.” “Nothing is going on.” “No trouble? No ethnic tension?” “No trouble at all.” And only when he was about to walk out of the office, he turned around and said, “There is a matter actually, across the street from our warehouse at the Red Star Furniture workshops,” he reported, “on Hungarian Catholic Easter day won’t come to work on the grounds of the old parents were sick, this and that. In vain would the leaders report them missing work, they’d refuse to come to work. That was the only trouble to report.” And he was let go scot free.
I then asked him why were we standing up, instead of sitting back, but he was adamant about no interviews, no interviews. He asked me if my parents were ailing, he hasn’t seen them in awhile. No, my father works a lot in the garden. My mother made tomato paste preserves.
He then took me in the back to see his tomatoes, and his raspberry patch. Now his tomatoes, he said, were something to take a picture of. He told his granddaughter to do that, to have a memory of what he left them. But they were still green, small, nothing like my father’s crop, crates upon crates of red, huge tomatoes. The raspberry patch was large, half of it still full of weeds, the other half was weeded by his handyman, his former employee, a 72 year old wearing overalls and basketball cap.
He said, “See this fence?” A weathered wooden fence tied with wires, “When I went to Cluj for the day to get new foreign eyes,” I assumed he meant eyeglasses, “and I arrived home, my fence was gone!” Alas, the small river behind his garden he pointed at, had flooded. “See that turn there? were that turn, its beach, carved out, the water would flow and not flood my plot. I complained to the Town Hall because I was aware there was an environmental protection law, and one day, vroom, vroom, vroom, an excavator was digging in the river, clearing the turn, and I asked the worker, ‘Please throw the cups of earth here to build the river bank back and raise my fence back,’ and I gave him 100 lei for that. Then they gave me 200 lei from the Town Hall to manage on my own to fix the damage.” I suggested he should complain to the National Water Bureau, they were the ones that dealt with rivers and floods. I thought maybe I could endear myself if I spoke to my ex to fix his river matter, maybe this way he’d give me an interview.
Anyway, he got even more animated, “No one does anything nowadays. Corruption in the Parliament! They get 350 lei a day for sitting on their fat arses and warm the chairs while my wife gets a 400-a-month pension?! Parliamentarians go on educational trips abroad on working people’s money, the TV said so! Awful. I get so very angry, I barely eat. Doctor said I’m like a mill, the grinding wheels worn out, my stomach can’t grind anymore. I should chew real well.
“Oh, how rich was Romania, oh, how rich! Only I know. Everything went thru us, thru our large warehouses: snails for France, horses to Italy, healing herbs to Germany! Oh, how rich was this country and now they robbed it and turned it into rags.
“When I see how fat they grew, such huge jowls, fat pigs! Incredible! They sit in their parliamentary armchairs, warming their seats, making 350 a day! I fist fight the TV screen! I scream at the TV screen, ‘Robbers and thieves!’ So, no interviews.”
He took me gently by the shoulders, a small pleasure to touch my suntanned skin, and again wished all the happiness to me and my parents, and walked me determined and steadily along the path towards the front gate. He soon will go in front of the Supreme Chief, God. He was a just man, never discriminated between Hungarian and Romanian employees. He was extremely strict.
I hold his green cloth rope higher for him to pass underneath it, so his denim hat wouldn’t fall off. He stops to tell me, man, was he strict! He looks fiercely at me with his blue eyes! He’d take the six employee sign-in work ledgers and look thru it, “Alright, this and this and this say they are sick. Possibly hangover. The workers from the medical insurance office should go to their homes and inspect them immediately.” And indeed all the absentees had hangovers. He ordered them brought in. He asked the first one in his office, “ ‘Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?! A family father and you get dead drunk on the money for your family? I could fire you right now. I’ll give you a fine, but if you do this once more, then I’m thru with you.’ I could spit on them! The old lady that was my typist, now she’s dead, may she rest in peace, asked me, ‘What have you said to this guy, dear comrade? He came out crying!’ So strict I was. Hungarians, Romanians, there was no difference.
“And now? They show on TV old movies, but they don’t show how they shot Ceauşescu, like a dog. Shame on them. He was a smart man who did a lot of good things for this country and he was well respected. Oh, when he went to the U.K. they presented him with six white horses, they held him in such high esteem. Would Băsescu,” today’s president, “get such treatment? I doubt it.”
And then he proceeded again to tell me the story of the atmosphere in the truck wheel tire. I bailed out thanking him and cajoling him, “Now I have to go home write down what you told me, so the world should know your sorrow. You are the last one standing, do let me hear your stories.” “Oh, I have stories for hours and hours.” “Do tell them, and let me use the voice recorder. That would be a fine memory for your granddaughter, Sir.”
He was way too busy. St. Mary’s Day was coming soon and he has to go to the cemetery, a steep uphill walk, and tend to his mother’s and sister’s craves. Then he had to travel to another town. Way too busy for interviews.
“No, I can’t leave any traces, no, I can’t. I’m 92, I’m pretty weak, but they’re still strong. They could cut my throat in a blink. No trace, no record of what I say.” “But Sir, I write this in English, no Securitate would get wind of your stories in New York.” “No, no. One never knows.” “I shall come again, Sir.”
Perhaps bring him some of my father’s tomatoes will make him talk.
Why, oh, why don’t people think we need our old folks?
I find it hard to believe he’s in danger if he reveals his secrets. But what secrets can he have?! Maybe he’s just off the rocker, imagining, or if not imagining, still living in dread of communist persecutions. He might be right. Because they certainly didn’t put anyone in prison from Securitate’s ranks. Too many of them. They’re still around, prosperous, well connected.
And yet, what secrets might he have?
The oath of silence.
He might be 92, but his daughter and granddaughter stay behind him. I don’t know…
Transylvania, Romania
Monday, August 08, 2011

Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy, amassing testimonies, and engineering social change thru art being one of them, I’d be grateful.

1 comment:

  1. Am citit textul cu batranul de 92 de ani.

    E trist si in acelasi timp il inteleg. El stie mai multe despre vremea trecuta decat stiu eu. Aceam doar 10 ani la revolutie, asa ca nu am prins perioada dinainte in care fusese mult mai greu.

    Inteleg frica lui de a iti acorda un interviu oficial. O sa iti spun si de ce. Dupa referendumul din vara trecuta, basescu si-a trimis procurorii in satele si comunele din tara, au batut la usile taranilor in varsta, si i-au hartuit constant, incercand sa-i sperie, pentru a nu merge si la alegerile parlamentare care urmau pe 9 Decembrie. Oamenii au fost pusi sa jure pe biblie ca nu au votat multiplu, au fost tratati ca niste suspecti pentru simplul fapt ca au mers la vot. Si stii cum sunt batranii, oameni simpli cu frica, ce cu greu pot lasa in urma sechelele comunismului. Multi dintre ei s-au speriat.

    Inca un fapt de luat in seama este ca acest presedinte, in timpul mandatului sau si conform prerogativelor de care dispune, a numit in functie peste 4000 de procurori si judecatori. Asta s-a intamplat in ultimii 8 ani. Asta inseamna mai mult de 500 de magistrati pe an. Stii cati magistrati au numit ceilalti 2 presedinti postrevolutionari? Iliescu si Constantinescu, in timpul mandatelor lor combinate de 13-14 ani cred, au numit aproximativ 100-200.

    O diferenta imensa, si inca un indiciu ca agenti sau colaboratori ai fostei securitati sunt numiti in posturi de putere in acest regim totalitar.

    Ei nu sunt prosti. Mai intai au acaparat institutiile fara de care statul nu poate functiona cum trebuie. Basescu are majoritatea in Consiliul Superior al Magistraturii (CSM) - forul care reprezinta intreaga justitie romana, are majoritatea in Curtea Constitutionala a Romaniei (CCR) - un for consultativ care ar trebui sa se asigure ca Constitutia Romaniei este respectata, si careia, sub regimul basescu, si dupa asigurarea unei majoritati, si in acelasi timp cu sprijinul actualei conduceri a Comisiei Europene, i s-au acordat puteri si prerogative sporite. Basescu a acaparat deasemenea Directia Nationala Anticoruptie (DNA), o organizatie ce ar trebui sa se ocupe de coruptia la nivel inalt, dar in mainile gresite a devenit o unealta a opresiunii si politiei politice (vezi cazul fostului premier Adrian Nastase condamnat fara nici o dovada, dupa cum recunosteau si judecatorii care l-au condamnat, dar au motivat ei ca trebuia dat un exemplu. Un exemplu fara dovezi. Incredibil. Ce mai justitie !). Deasemenea basescu detine si Parchetul General, ce reprezinta conducerea procurorilor din Romania. Si procurorii functioneaza pe regim militar, ierarhic, adica urmeaza ordine. E suficient sa ai persoana de la varf, si restul se aseaza de la sine. Din fericire, acelasi lucru nu e valabil in tagma judecatorilor, care sunt inamovibili, si nu trebuie sa urmeze ordinele nimanui. Peste 1700 de judecatori din toata tara au initiat o actiune de demitere a 2 membri ai CSM, cunoscuti suporteri ai presedintelui basescu. Asta imi da inca sperante, cand va ca sunt oameni care inca se lupta. Chiar daca CSM-ul a ales sa-i ignore pe acesti judecatori, ma bucur ca ne luptam cu ei pe mai multe fronturi.

    Cu aceste unelte in mana, fosta Securitate, si de fapt actualele servicii secrete tin in sah Romania si lucreaza impreuna impotriva interesului national.

    Totusi mai sunt oameni care lupta. Actualul guvern, oamenii de presa, o parte dintre magistrati, si o parte din cetatenii simpli ca mine. De fapt presa cu adevarat libera din Romania se rezuma la un singur trust, si anume trustul Intact din care face parte si Jurnalul National. Restul presei e plina de infiltrati sau patroni "pusi" acolo de cineva.

    Sunt multe lucruri de spus, si mai multe de facut. Oricum, ideea e ca inteleg reticenta acestui batran.