Systematization was Ceauşescu’s policy to do away with up to half of the country’s villages and move the rural population into larger centres. The concept was first developed by Nikita Khrushchev in the Soviet Union in 1951, to combat the movement of younger people to the towns by amalgamating villages to raise the standard of rural life. In 1967 Ceauşescu reorganized Romania’s local government system and announced a scheme to get rid of up to 6300 villages and replace them with 120 new towns and 558 agro-industrial centres.

Ceauşescu thought that by herding people together into apartment buildings so that “the community fully dominates and controls the individual”, systematization would produce Romania’s “new socialist man”. However, the project was forgotten while Ceauşescu was preoccupied by other projects such as the Danube–Black Sea Canal and Bucharest’s Centru Civic, but he relaunched it in March 1988, when he was becoming obsessed with increasing exports and paying off the national debt.

The model development was to be the Ilfov Agricultural Sector, immediately north of Bucharest, where the first evictions and demolitions took place in August 1988. Only two or three days’ notice was given before shops were closed down and bus services stopped, forcing the people into the designated villages. En route to Snagov, you’ll pass through the area most notoriously affected by the systematization programme. Baloteşti, just north of Henri Coandă airport, consists of stark modern apartment buildings, housing people displaced from villages such as Dimieni, which lay just east of the airport. Vlădiceasca and Cioflinceni, just off the DN1 on the road to Snagov, were bulldozed and the inhabitants resettled in Ghermăneşti, on the western outskirts of Snagov. In other villages across the nation, ugly concrete Civic Centre buildings began to appear in the centres of the planned New Towns.

There was widespread condemnation of this scheme that was set to uproot half of the rural populace; in August 1988, the Cluj academic Doina Cornea, one of the country’s few open dissidents, wrote an open letter (published in the West) in protest, pointing out that the villages, with their unbroken folk culture, are the spiritual centre of Romanian life, and that to demolish them would be to “strike at the very soul of the people”. She was soon placed under house arrest, but the campaign abroad gathered pace. Approximately eighteen villages had suffered major demolitions by the end of 1989, when the scheme was at once cancelled by the FSN, the new ruling party following the revolution.

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