by Doru Macovei
In one of the winters of the mid-1980s I was in the high school in Focsani, Romania. We had a great teacher named Mr. Craciun, which means “Christmas” in Romanian. He was teaching Romanian literature so well that everybody loved to come to his classes. As you know, that is not really common in high school.
At the time, Communist rule was strictly imposed in Romania in one of the most oppressive ways imaginable. One of the ideas of the dictator Ceausescu was to save on everything. This included saving on food and especially on energy.
Bread was distributed in many cities by the way of coupons, and in winter time for many hours the neighbourhood was in complete darkness because the power was cut. My high school was teaching already in two shifts morning and afternoon. To save even more power, the high school was required to start the morning classes at 0700 (7:00 a.m.) so the evening classes would finish at 1700 (5:00 p.m.).
At that time of the year at 0700 in Romania there was almost complete darkness — but it was strictly forbidden to turn on the lights. Indeed, party officials were checking that this rule would never get broken. All of the high school teachers readily gave in.
But when we had our first class with Mr. Craciun at 0700, he entered, looked in the dark at us and switched on the lights. He spoke a single phrase to us from his desk: “One cannot teach Romanian literature without light”. And we went on as usual.
After some 15-20 minutes the party chief for the school broke in. You can imagine the tall lighted windows of our class were easy to see. After a few minutes of low-toned talk with our teacher he left. We learned later that day that he had fined Mr. Craciun with the equivalent amount of one month of his already meagre wage.
At our next lesson starting at 0700, Mr. Craciun walked into our class and nonchalantly switched the lights on without any comment.
Remember this was at a time when his entire career and indeed life could be ruined by such an attitude. The Secret Police were everywhere and smaller things were enough to send you to many dreaded places, for at least forced labour.
This was indeed the best lesson I got in my whole life. Thank you Mr. Craciun for your wonderful courage, you have taught us to stand up.