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by Andy Trincia (Romania 2002 )
Looking for Ben Franklin in Timisoara
ONE BLUSTERY DAY in November 1989, Dorel Jurcovan stood in line several hours for a half a kilogram of meat just over one pound his familys ration for a whole month. Ration lines were a way of life in Communist Romania. Waiting, more waiting, for 5 eggs, less than an ounce of butter and a half-gallon of milk.
Night fell in Timisoara, and still he had no meat, so he began to ask about the slaughterhouse and delivery truck how could they be sure meat would arrive? Other people around him suddenly were nervous and moved away. One man uttered, It doesnt matter. Look, I want to go home from here, meaning the alternative was to be hauled off to jail for challenging authority. Dorel eventually received a piece of meat the size of his forearm, but most of it was bone and fat.
I was so furious when I got home, he recalls. I just shouted not at my wife or daughter but shouted, If we cant ask a simple question, we are just doomed. Our lives have no meaning.
So a month later, when anti-Communist protests erupted in Timisoaras streets and main plaza, Dorel was right in the middle, even circulating his secret writings to Western journalists covering the drama. Fueled by TV reports from nearby Yugoslavia that the Berlin Wall had come down and change was engulfing the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, the December 1989 Revolution rumbled across Romania and into Bucharest, leading to the toppling of the government and the Christmas Day executions of evil dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his equally hated wife, Elena. Dozens of students died in the melee, martyrs for freedom, though many believe a simultaneous coup detat engineered by Romanias Securitate, KGB-like secret police, actually toppled Ceausescu. Nonetheless, Communism was dead in Romania.
Today, Dorel is a successful, 57-year-old businessman and an inspiring, yet unassuming figure. Another Peace Corps Volunteer and I met him recently hed asked us to come to his restaurant and talk business. His story was so amazing that I went back another night to have him tell me more. After six months here as an economic development Volunteer, I can tell you that this country needs more people like him.
A nuclear physicist by training, he spent many years working for the Romanian states Research Institute, specializing in semiconductors and machine circuitry.
Before the Revolution, I had no idea about starting a business, he says. I had zero knowledge of accounting, economics or marketing. I didnt even know my salary. My wife took care of the finances. I was just so focused on my job, the technical aspects of it. But I eventually realized that I could be my own master. Economics is like a game of chess. There are rules but you just have to have common sense.
Fortunately for him, his writings surfaced after the Revolution and he received letters from around the world, including one from Norway in 1990 inviting him to an economics symposium. He and his wife, Luita, daringly packed up their old car with food and clothes and headed northwest with just enough money to buy gasoline. They encountered the kindness of strangers along the way, as well as the excitement of crossing the border for the first time and seeing new countries.