This article originally appeared on VICE Romania.
In 1968, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu chose the small community of Vaslui as the new capital of the district, because Barlad—the largest city in the region—was the birthplace of his former rival Gheorghiu Dej. Ceaușescu couldn't stomach giving Dej that pleasure. On a whim, he turned the small community of Vaslui into a thriving regional capital city within five years. Large numbers of peasants were brought there overnight and relocated to apartment blocks, transporting their chickens to their balconies. A combination of communism and Ceaușescu's spite brought Vaslui architecture, industry, education, running water, and heat.
The Communist Vaslui project restores old archival photos and videos from the heyday of the city. The project is run by Andrei Beşliu—an art director born and raised in Vaslui—along with his architect father and a local museum curator. I asked Beşliu about the communist glory days of Vaslui.
VICE: Why did you start this project?
Andrei Beșliu: I grew up in Vaslui, in the 70s and 80s, when it turned from a dusty trade town of seventeen thousand people to a county capital of ninety thousand. My parents worked at the Design Institute, and I know how much work they put into making this place into a beautiful and functional city. But I've seen all that work being ruined by local authorities since the 90s.
What was the atmosphere in Vaslui in those early days?
In the 70s, it was a hip city. A lot of people from Bucharest and other big cities were forced to move to cities like Vaslui, which was sad for them, but helped the region grow. There were Italian and French tourists in the city, who were pen pals with Vasluian women and came to visit. The city produced clothing for Italy and furniture for IKEA. My parents would throw these house parties for local architects and artists. Everybody wore Levi's and had an improvised photo development studio at home. We received foreign magazines. I guess I was in a privileged position.
How has the city changed since then?
In the 90s, there was suddenly no more money for the intellectuals who were sent to this city. The economy, the culture, and the development in Vaslui were all artificial. Those things need a couple of generations to take root, that doesn't happen with just twenty years of forced urban life. Nobody invested in anything anymore, so the population halved, and those who stayed became a cheap labor force for the west. The mayor is trying to restore some of the city's shine, and he's doing an OK job. But I hope our project can help Vaslui a little bit.