I was born in 1959, in Gârnic, like my parents and my grandparents.
My grandfather and great-grandfather were musicians. My great-grandfather played one of those huge tubas. We used to have a brass band here in the community. It welcomed the king when he came to Moldova Veche by boat.
One time, they went to the village of Bela Crkva to play at some dance or ball. As they were on their way, he suddenly stopped and blew his tuba so hard that he broke a shopkeeper’s window. The shopkeeper quickly called the police. They waited for the police, the shopkeeper wanted to be compensated for his window.
The policeman or the gendarme, whatever he was, asked him: But what did he throw at the window?
I didn’t throw anything, he said.
So how did it break?
It broke when I blew into my tuba.
Good for you. Let him pay for his own window, he had a weak window.
The other grandfather on my mother’s side was the first miller in the village, they say he had a modern mill. He used to make clean flour and put it directly in the sack. Not like those mills where you have to sift the flour afterwards. Both brothers were millers. When the communists came, they ruined them. They couldn’t carry on, so they quit.
But still, there was plenty of life in the village back then. There was no envy, no greed, everyone minded their own households and life was like a fairy tale, as they say. Unlike today.
Envy… Money, which ruins everything.
EXCERPT FROM AN INTERVIEW
What did the village look like back then? What were the households like? What do you know from stories…
When I was born there were no pavements, there was mud everywhere. Every household worked its land, that’s how they made a living, they had somewhere between three and ten hectares. They ploughed with horses, they had two or three cows, four or five sheep, a pig or two, chickens in the courtyard, and they grew their own food and everything else they needed.
Most houses used to consist of two rooms. There was the kitchen and the room by the road. The front room always faced the road, if possible. The family spent all their life in the kitchen, they only used the room by the road at holidays or on Sundays, they would go in and get their holiday clothes, get dressed and go to church or to the party. They ate and slept in the kitchen. The owners would only use that room to spend their last three days on this earth there, i.e. after they died.
People were poor, there was hardly any money.
There was nowhere to earn money in 60s.
Then came the mining enterprise at Moldova Nouă, in 1965. They started to employ people, and the 70s were the most prosperous years for the community. People had money, they could move around more, they could take care of their health.
Did you work there as well?
The entire area around Moldova Nouă, on a radius of 30 km, all the villages worked there. There were many workers. Some people left their fields and went to work at the mining company because the money was better. I’m not saying it was easier, but it was better.
It’s 25 km from our village to Moldova Nouă. I remember that at first, people commuted in a truck that would come pick them up, it was covered with a tarpaulin. Later it was vans. There were three shifts.
I worked at Plant 2, where copper was prepared, ground in some huge mills based on a Canadian model. They had bought one or two of those machines from the Canadians, then they started to manufacture them at Bucharest Heavy Machinery Company.
It went well until 1989. Somewhere in the 90s, around ’95, various sectors started closing, and I think in 2007, the company stopped its activity altogether. I worked there for almost 10 years, until the Revolution. And then another year after the Revolution.
The history of the Czechs in Banat is closely linked to mining. So is its disappearance. More than 5,500 people worked in Moldova, about 500 of them were Czechs. There were even two Czech engineers from Berzasca.
Apart from the mine in Moldova, there was a town hall, school, parish, church and milk collection centre in the village. Later my wife worked at the milk collection centre for a few years after the Revolution, until the political parties came and destroyed everything. They destroyed absolutely everything. They closed the factory, they also closed the milk collection centre in Gârnic, everything broke down.
What do you remember from the Revolution?
I was at the mining company at the time. The day before it broke out in Timișoara, some handwritten A4 posters appeared, something about how people should stop believing in Ceaușescu and should rebel. When I came to work the next morning, the posters were gone.
Soon after, we heard news on the radio and TV that Revolution had broken out in Timișoara.
There was chaos at the company, no one listened to anyone anymore, we left work and went to town, to a restaurant, to drink. In front of the town hall there were people booing, shouting… you know, everything that was happening. I remember that I missed the 4 o’clock van, I got home with the 12 o’clock one, with the second shift. When I got to the village, there was even more shouting, on the bus there had been shouting as well.
I remember there was a pub in the centre, a private one, and the policeman was there. They were making fun of him, people were stepping on his hat, but he, the poor thing, kept quiet, didn’t say anything. There was nothing the man could do, he was alone among fools, that was the Revolution.
The next evening there were some alarming news that the terrorists were coming through the Almăj Valley and we needed to defend our village. The man who was mayor at the time, or maybe the vicemayor, Mr. Kuska, he organized citizen groups to patrol the village and keep watch in case the terrorists shot at us. Foolish things. I couldn’t go, I had three small children at home. After that it was laughed off as false alarms. But at the time you didn’t know what to think… You didn’t know what to do anymore. You were afraid of what was happening.
I thought it would change for the better, but I was sorely mistaken. There is no change for the better. They said Ceaușescu was stealing, but there’s even more stealing now. And all those who work are at the bottom, and those who turn tricks are at the top. Those who know how to lie, how to steal, they are considered the smart ones in society.
This is where a change occurred that had a major effect on the community. People started to leave for the Czech Republic.
For as long as I can remember, people didn’t leave. Hardly anyone left until the beginning of the ‘90s. They left for cities, here, in Romania, yes. There were young people who moved, who got married elsewhere or who didn’t have a house here, because there were too many brothers, but nobody left for the Czech Republic.
After 1990, when people started leaving, it was terrible. Today the man is here, tomorrow you have no one to talk to. The neighbour is gone. I didn’t like those departures, but people had no choice. Mining had stopped, there were no jobs, everyone was doing agriculture and it was too much…
The first to leave was the school principal. I remember because they didn’t all leave at once. After 5-6-10 years, you didn’t know who had left anymore, you couldn’t keep track. Everyone had relatives in the Czech Republic, they sent papers, you made your papers, they taught each other how to do it and that was it.
What does the village look like now? There are less people, but in terms of the economy, it’s more developed. People have machines, tractors. The work is not as hard as before. There are young people who started raising livestock, agriculture.
But it’s hard to make a living only from farming. I mean, you can make a living, but you’ll be the poorest in the community. You can’t buy the machinery you need to get you started. My son, for example, doesn’t buy bread, doesn’t buy flour or other stuff, maybe some oil or vegetables in winter, when you can’t grow them. He gets all this food from his land, from his household. We haven’t used chemical fertilisers for ten or fifteen years, since he came from the Czech Republic, where he went to school. It’s all clean farming, like it used to be.
We helped him, we bought him what we could, others gave them money so he and his wife can build a house. He’s made a mini-farm, but he doesn’t live off the mini-farm. They have other sources of income.
The girls have stayed in the Czech Republic. One of them, the older one, had bought a house there, the other bought an apartment in a nice resort, I’d like to live there. It’s something… my word! They have stayed there, the boy came back. It’s hard, but they also have the satisfaction of living their lives the way they want to. The younger daughter’s been all over Europe. They can afford it. We’re glad for them, but they’re far away. We meet up, sometimes they come here, other times we go there. There’s nothing you can do, that’s life.
I have grandchildren. Three from the older daughter, two from the younger daughter, and four form the son; they live here, in the village.
These departures are now a common thing, there is no family in the village that doesn’t have children abroad. Children, when they turn 18, they are like that swallow, if they can fly, they will. Most families have children in the Czech Republic. Maybe there are 2-3 families who don’t. I’m among the lucky ones because I have grandchildren here. The son came back, but there are others who grow old, and their children are away. And they are all alone here. They have no one.
If I were to count those who are left, we are about 160-170. But the number of people living in the village is higher, because there are those who have move here from the Czech Republic and from other parts in the country.
You are now man of culture. Was it after the Revolution that you started down this road?
I got the job as librarian here. I took the exam for this position, and I have been working here ever since, for 30 years. It’s been very nice being a librarian, it’s a nice job. The ‘90s and the 2000s were great. There were so many readers that I didn’t have enough books for them. One had to wait for a book to be returned to read it.
Before the Revolution, the youth was having fun, everybody came to the community centre. I too was young at the time. There was a disco, a ping-pong table, on Saturday and Sunday they showed films, 16 mm films, as they called them.
Later, when I took over the community centre, I showed films too. I had a machine that’s still in my attic today. I used to get the rolls of film in the mail, the mailman would bring them, and I would send them back by mail. I had a stamp with Cinema Gârnic, I got it from Reșița. I would cut tickets and I can’t remember how much, maybe 15% of the earning was mine, the rest I would send to Reșița in the mail.
Sometimes when I went to Reșița I would choose the films I would show. I’d have to go into town with that machine to get it fixed, the straps would break, and so on. They’d allow me into the storeroom, and I’d pick out older films that I had seen in Timisoara and bring them to the village. There was a good communication between us, I liked working with them.
For a good couple of years, I used a machine with two reels, until cable TV came along. That’s when it all finished. There were no more clients, the people from Reșița stopped sending me films and the ones they were sending were old and kept breaking… It was over.
Now you work as a librarian, and you also take care of the Czech House – Gârnic Village Museum. I see that your family has a sense of humour! Is it the same at work?
This modernity has pretty much put an end to our quiet community life. But new initiatives do come up. The Czech House is one of them.
I try to make tourists smile. I want to make them feel good when they come to the museum. It is a nice job and I have always liked it. As a librarian I was always with people. And again, as an employee of the community centre I couldn’t go there upset or bitter, when the place was full of people. In a job like this you have to joke even if you don’t feel like joking.
After I took over the Czech House, I developed this spirit even more, this quality of keeping people on their toes. I joke with them, I talk to them in the Czech we speak in Banat and they laugh.
Have you ever wanted to be an actor?
No, I couldn’t do it. I acted in plays in school, but I never liked it. I didn’t like playing a character. I didn’t like being someone else.
You look like Puiu Călinescu to me.
Yes, but he has teeth, I don’t.
Wife (from off): We have a thing together today, but today is my day. You know, today me, tomorrow him!
(They both laugh. They laugh a lot, they joke, they complement each other. They don’t take themselves too seriously, they laugh and live their life in Gârnic).
Photo credit: Mircea Sorin Albuțiu