Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Hunger Circus

Today we went shopping at Bucharest's newest mall, Plaza Romania, complete with high-end boutiques, a state-of-the-art cinemaplex and a food plaza with McDonald's as its crown jewel. After walking around the mall for two hours we felt like we had never left the US. The only difference is that the prices were higher.

The irony of it all is that the mall was built on the foundation of a building that Romanians sarcastically referred to as "The Hunger Circus." In the late 1980's, Ceausescu's ambition of building the ultimate communist society led him to believe that the appetite of ordinary Romanians would be better served by cafeteria-style meals. Forget the daily trip to the market, waiting in line to buy milk and bread, the constant struggle to obtain quality food. Instead, you could have your pre-processed communist goulash served up in a massive soup kitchen. What a great way to complete the socialist utopia! The State could tell you not just what to do and what to think, but also what to eat.

A couple of these large, domed buildings were planned and erected in the capital city of Bucharest. Ceausescu's vision was that they would serve as food markets and public kitchens, eliminating the need for private kitchens in personal apartments. The spectacle of daily mass feedings was widely ridiculed. Officially known as "agro-alimentary complexes", the new buildings were quickly named "the hunger circus" by cynical Romanians. Fortunately, the 1989 revolution ended these communist experiments and the clowns at the hunger circus never got a chance to stage their sinister joke.

The ultimate irony is that, today, the food plaza with its dizzying array of foods does make the place feel like a hunger circus, but of the capitalist kind. Romanians of all walks of life are more than happy to partake in it and they seem to enjoy it.

--(by sorinescu, former Young Pioneer)


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