The History of Romania in One Object: Valentin Hurduc's Clandestine Printing Machine
Updated: Jul 27
Photo 1: Nicolae Ceauşescu receives a scepter to mark his election by the Romanian Communist Party as President of Romania (1974). The scepter is handed out by the Chairman of the Great National Assembly, Ştefan Voitec. From the Romanian Communism Online Photo Collection
Nicolae Ceaușescu became General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party having succeeded Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, its first leader after the establishment of the communist dictatorship in 1947. The first years of his reign witnessed, internally, a relative economic and cultural liberalization, while abroad he continued a foreign policy course increasingly independent from Moscow and more open to the West. Since the early 1970s, impressed by the "example" offered by China and especially by North Korea, Ceaușescu would gradually adopt an exacerbated version of national communism, which was characterized, among other things, by an aggressive personality cult. In 1974, the dictator was "proclaimed" the first President of the Socialist Republic of Romania at the end of a ridiculous ceremony in which he received a presidential scepter as the symbol of his new dignity. Against the background of aberrant economic policies, the living standards of the population continued to deteriorate while flagrant violations of human rights made Romania an international pariah. The popular grievances erupted in December 1989 into bloody revolts which succeeded in removing Ceaușescu from power. On December 25, 1989, following a trial in Târgoviște (approximately 50 miles North-West from Bucharest), Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were sentenced to death and executed by firing squad.
Photo 2: Valentin Hurduc and his printing press
Ceaușescu’s dictatorship did not go unopposed. As the situation deteriorated during the 1980s, small groups of opponents started to challenge the regime. And one way to counteract the pervasive propaganda and to utter calls for disobedience was by printing and distributing illegal manifestos. It was the courageous and hugely risky path taken by Valentin Hurduc, a worker employed by the printing shop where the Communist Party official newspaper, Scânteia (The Spark), was published. Hurduc would smuggle various materials and parts out of the shop, which he used to build a makeshift printing machine in his own home. The manifestos printed on this installation would be placed in so-called “carbide bombs”, left in public places in central Bucharest and when they went off the leaflets would be scattered all over. These artisanal “bombs” were made of pipe, water, beer bottles, cans, wire, fishing line, carbide, and women's socks (to hold the carbide). The basic reaction was between water and carbide, which in contact created a small “explosion”, enough to throw the manifestos, more precisely 20,000 of them between 1988 and 1989, in all directions.
Photo 3: The clandestine Luneta publication
Photo 4: Molds for anti-communist manifestos
Photo 5: Anti-communist manifesto
Some manifestos called on the citizens of Bucharest to take part in protests against the communist regime; other satirized the everyday life under the communist dictatorship and introduced characters whose names alluded to famine, abuses and illegal practices, such as Constantin Foamete (Hunger), Aurel Burtăgoală (Empty Belly), Virgil Bișnițaru (Spiv), Ion Bătăușu (Bully), Sandu Cătușe (Handcuffs). In addition, in April 1988 Hurduc started issuing a clandestine publication called Luneta (The Telescope), which criticized Nicolae Ceauşescu and the system. He was also involved in other actions against the regime like the one in April 1987 when he set ablaze a temporary triumphal arch inscribed with the slogan “The Nicolae Ceauşescu Era – The Golden Age of Romania” or that in December 1987 when he put to flames Lenin’s statue which stood in front of the huge Scânteia building complex.
In the 1980s, the communist dictatorship had become increasingly repressive. The population was permanently surveilled by the ordinary police (Miliţia) and especially by the secret police, the Securitate. People felt they were being watched all the time. In each institution, factory, plant, school, university, faculty, large commercial venue there was at least one agent of the Securitate keeping an eye on everybody, encouraging and rewarding snitching.
Photo 6: Food ration card in the 1980s
Photo 7: Romanian food store at the end of the 1980s
Photo 8: People queuing in front of a food store (1988)
Photo 9: People queuing in front of a bakery (1988)
Photo 10: Caricature published in a French magazine, related to the energy rationalizing policy of the Ceausescu regime ("Mortal danger between the following hours ....").
The failure of the socialist economy had serious consequences on the population’s standard of living during the last decade Ceauşescu’s reign. Food shortages became chronic and ration cards, which had disappeared for almost thirty years, were back into circulation. Although the regime prided itself with its large refineries, gasoline was rationalized to only about 8 gallons a month. In communist Romania, which claimed it would become multilaterally developed until the year 2020, children were forced to learn at the light of gas lamps because of the power shortages. In a country where only 40 watts light bulbs were supposed to be used, the official propaganda hailed the regime as “the luminous era”. When the heating and hot water was rationalized to a few hours a day, the “beloved ruler”, one of the dictator’s monikers, urged people to put an extra coat on.
Photo 11: The People's House, the current Palace of the Parliament is the heaviest building in the world. The building works started in 1984 and in order to make room for such a project, Ceașescu demolished an entire neighborhood. The construction was not finalized until 1997.
Photo 12: Nicolae Ceaușescu giving directions for the construction of the Commercial Complex (later nicknamed “The Hunger Circus”) in the Pantelimon district of Bucharest (1985).
Photo 13: The Militari district in Bucharest
Photo 14: A family moving their belongings from their demolished house in the Uranus district, completely demolished in order to make way for the People's House in Bucharest
The remodeling of Romanian towns and villages was one of Ceauşescu’s grand ideas, which was continuously pursued from 1974 until 1989. 37 cities underwent demolitions, some being practically destroyed and rebuilt in the prevalent Brutalist syle of Soviet inspiration. For example, in 1985 the monastic complex of Văcăreşti – a symbol of Romanian history, faith and architecture – was put to the ground. This absurd act of destruction caught the eye of the international press and became a repulsive symbol of Ceaușescu’s abuses.
Photo 15, 16, 17 and 18: Pages from the criminal records young people caught by the authorities spreading manifestos or scribbling anti-communist texts and convicted for actions against the communist regime (SOURCE: CNSAS).
Valentin Hurduc was not the only opponent of the regime. There were many other Romanians, young and old, students or workers, who had the courage to protest against the dictatorship by scribbling on the walls of their work places or by writing manifestos, in which they asked for Ceaușescu’s demise or denounced the food and power shortages, throwing them in crowded public places. Most of them were quickly located, arrested and sentenced to many years in prison. But never Hurduc. Despite all efforts made by the Securitate, he was never caught and witnessed the collapse of the regime to which he fought with courage a free man.
THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, our online program that evokes decisive epochs in the Romanian past starting from objects with powerful symbolic and representative value, is developed in partnership with The National History Museum of Romania. Text by historians Cristina Păiușan-Nuică and Oana Ilie. Video presentation by historian Cristina Păiușan-Nuică.