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The Golaniad ID

This is one of my most valuable souvenirs - it may not look like much, but for me it's from a time that I will never forget.
Golaniad ID

In April 1989 I flew to India on the Polish Airlines, LOT. When I came back in October, Poland had liberated itself from the Soviet Union and the totalitarian communist dictatorship. The way I noticed this was through the greater choice of drinks in the plane: on the way out the choice had been "Orange or beer?", the diluted concentrate and warm beer being served by a brusque stewardess holding two one-litre bottles in each hand. Coming back, I remember soft drinks, cartons of cheap fruit juice, and more. And a smile.

I arrived at Glasgow University late, and signed up to do English, Sociology and Arabic. Eastern Europeans were ripping the geopolitical landscape of my childhood apart in one momentous shove after another. By Christmas, when we watched TV reports of armed skirmishes in Romania, and the hurried dispatching of Ceau?escu, Europe was transformed beyond all expectations.

Back in Glasgow for a second term, I was unhappy with my courses and chafing to get back on the road; although I loved Glasgow, I felt I was missing out on history. So, I decided to start university again the next year, and go to Eastern Europe - specifically, Romania, which seemed like the most exciting place to be. Elections were scheduled for May 20th, and I decided to be there.

I hitchhiked from Brussels to Vienna - via Luxembourg and Nuremberg, and from there across the border into Hungary. From then on I took the train: at Budapest a man hit me in the face while I was walking in the street - I can't remember why, he must have been drunk and I looked at him the wrong way or something. Or he knew I was a foreigner perhaps. Anyway, it didn't hurt much, and nothing else happened. I was scared for a while though.

I got a train to the town closest to the border with Romania: international train tickets usually cost more, so by getting across the border on foot or something, and taking the train in the new country, I would try to save money. Anyway, that was the theory, but in this case the town was too far away from the border or something, so I had to get an overnight international train anyway. I took the cheapest ticket, but was able to pay the conductor five Deutschmarks and get a first class sleeper cabin for the night. I slept really well that night :-)

In the morning, I was woken by the border guard who wished me 'Welcome' - he was friendly, and that set a pattern for most of my time in Romania. Everywhere, people were welcoming - in the two months that I eventually stayed there, I stayed in a hotel for only about seven nights in total. The rest of the time I stayed with people I met.

So, back to the tatty envelope, with a photocopy of a 'V for victory' hand and my name... When I got to Bucharest, I went straight to what was then being called 'Piata Libertilei' (I think, or 'Libertati'); it was the place where thousands of demonstrators were gathering every day and protesting against the newly elected FSN government, made mostly of Communist apparatchiks who had orchestrated the coup against Ceau?escu. They were called 'Golani' (hooligans) by the government, and so they called this space of protest 'Golaniad'.

Most people came and went. But some slept there in the tents that had sprung up on what must have been a lawn. And when you stayed there, you had to register with the committee in charge, who gave you an 'identity badge' so that you could be marked out from informers, and random others. I was number 269.
Golaniad ID