Partying with the Secret Police in Romania

By Ioana Moldoveanu and Stefan Munteanu


Illustration by Michael Shaeffer

Vacation options in communist Romania were pretty limited. When Labor Day, the big party holiday of the year, rolled around on May 1, many Romanians travelled to Costinesti, the only seaside resort for young people in the country. To reach it, they had to take the train to the last stop and walk another two miles, or hitch a ride on a farmer’s cart. Most of the country was poor at the time, so many travellers slept on the roofs of rented huts; the only sources of heat were campfires people made on the beach.

There were just two discos in Costinesti, and for some archaic reason, dancing was only allowed in them from 13:00 to 15:00 PM and 18:00 to 22:00 PM. Romanian beer was sold exclusively; other kinds of booze were only available at a store that catered to foreigners. And, of course, everyone was being watched all the time by government minders.

Sorin Lupascu, who DJed in Costinesti at the time, recalls, “You could drink until you fell on your face. The regime never messed with the parties, but the resort was filled with secret police who were scouting for new employees.” Government restrictions caused other problems too, according to Natalia, a math teacher who took teens on field trips to the beach: “The whole class could end up pregnant because condoms were illegal. At night I had to poke through bushes with a broom to stop them from having sex.”

After the fall of the Iron Curtain and ensuing revolution in 1989, young people had more options for partying. Many of them started going to Neptun, a resort town about 50 miles down the coast. Mariana, a hotel receptionist there between 1987 and 1996, described the change: “After the Revolution, people saw the first of May as a day when you could do whatever you wanted. Also, booze was on the market.” Things started to get wild: One year, Neptun’s Hotel Romanta was gutted by a massive fight among a group of friends who had rented nearly 70 percent of the rooms. Teo, a gynecologist who saw that brawl, told me, “The cops didn’t have the guts to break them up. They watched while beds, closets, and tables flew out of the windows.” The next year a confrontation between the customers of two pubs across the road from each other resulted in a brutal fight in the middle of the street that ended only when ambulances arrived.

Other destinations have also become popular in recent years, like the village of Vama Veche – where hippies laze about, ransack tents, fuck on the beach, and hit one another in the face – and Mamaia, where club kids celebrate their holiday freedom by robbing people and committing random acts of vandalism. And while these might not sound like the greatest of times, at least the secret police are nowhere to be found.

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