Business

The Romanian entrepreneurs making money from communism

Tourists taking part in a Open Doors tour Image copyright Picasa
Image caption Tourists taking part in one of Stefan Munteanu's guided tours stand in front of the parliament building

It may be more than 25 years since communism came to an end in Romania, following the violent overthrow of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, but feelings still remain raw in the country.

Such was the level of repression and grinding poverty under the communist regime that ruled the country from the end of World War Two until December 1989, that most Romanians still don't like to discuss this turbulent part of their history.

It was a time of severe food and fuel shortages, and the feared secret police, the Securitate, which by 1985 had 11,000 agents and 500,000 informers. Thousands of people were arrested and killed.

Yet while the wounds haven't healed for many Romanians, the growing number of tourists that today visit Romania, and in particular its capital Bucharest, are keen to find out more about life in the former Socialist Republic of Romania.

As a result, over the past two years, Romanian entrepreneurs - most who were only children at the time of the 1989 revolution - are starting to organise "communism tours" for foreign visitors. The tourists typically come from across Europe, the US, Japan, China and Israel.

The guided walks take in key buildings and locations in Bucharest linked to the former communist regime.

Lack of food

Stefan Munteanu, 31, has been organising such tours since 2013, after he invested 2,000 euros ($2,263; £1,480) of savings to set up his business Open Doors.

He now organises 10 tours a week, which each attract an average of 15 participants, and cost from 13 euros per person.

He says that tourists find out about his business via three main sources - his own website, Tripadvisor, and recommendations from hostels and hotels in Bucharest.

Image caption A flyer for one of the communism walks

"I was only six in 1989 when the communist regime fell, but I do remember the lack of food, the queues at the grocery stores, and the power cuts," he says.

"Now it is over, but we have to accept that communism was part of our recent history... let's see how we can profit from it."

Mr Munteanu says that "the biggest wow" for tourists is inevitably the giant parliament building.

The grandiose structure and its 1,100 rooms was Ceausescu's most notorious vanity project.

Originally called the People's House, it was designed to be both his personal palace, and home to all parts of the communist administration.

To make way for the vast building, which is 270m (889ft) long and 240m (787ft) wide, Ceausescu ordered that one fifth of the historic centre of Bucharest be bulldozed.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nicolae Ceausescu ruled Romania for 24 years from 1965 to 1989

Work on the 3bn euros project started in 1984, and it had not been completed when Ceausescu was executed by firing squad in December 1989.

The building was finally finished in 1997, and while now home to both houses of the Romanian parliament, such is its vast size that only a third of the structure is occupied.

Continuing taboo

Fellow tour guide Marius Zaharia, 33, has a number of communist props to show the tourists who join him on his three-hour walking tours around central Bucharest.

Image caption Marius Zaharia says it is still difficult for many Romanians to discuss the communist period

He has photos and old newspapers from the era, one of the former regime's coat of arms, and even a pack of communist-made cigarettes.

Mr Zaharia ends his tour by the former Romanian Communist Party office building where Ceausescu and his wife Elena fled from by helicopter during the 1989 uprising.

He says that while most Romanians wouldn't want to go on such a tour, he hopes that this will eventually change.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Romanian people rose up against Ceausescu's regime in December 1989

"Many Romanians do not cope with the past, and this is why the tours of communism haven't been done until recent years," says Mr Zacharia.

"We still have this taboo, many don't like to talk about it."

However, he adds that if tourists can now go on organised walking tours in Berlin and Munich looking at locations key to the history of Nazi Germany, then he hopes that more Romanians will be able to accept communism tours in their country.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The giant parliament building dominates the centre of Bucharest

The Romanian government certainly hopes this is the case, with the Ministry of Tourism saying that the country's communist past should be more extensively used to attract foreign visitors.

As a result, plans are now afoot to create a museum focused on the country's more than four decades of communism.

Maria Stoe, 33, another tour guide, says she hopes such developments will help Romanian's better cope with the country's past, "because the society is not totally recovered after so many years of communism".

The executioner

While other Romanian entrepreneurs are now starting to make and sell communist-themed souvenirs, such as porcelain piggy banks shaped like Ceausescu's head, it is the walking tours which remain at the centre of the industry looking back at the Socialist Republic of Romania.

Image caption The Ceausescu piggy bank costs 80 euros

One of the tour guides who is older than most is called Dorin Marian Carlan.

Now in his 50s, he was a member of the army firing squad that executed Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu after they had been caught near the city of Targoviste.

While no fan of communism, Mr Carkab says he is still uneasy that the couple were shot after a military trial that lasted just one minute and 44 seconds.

He tells the BBC: "I just hope that history won't repeat itself, I mean the communism, but also the faked trial and execution of the Ceausescu's."

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