Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

VHS versus Communism in Cold War Romania

One of those ‘gem’ stories from the days of the Cold War.

VHS vs. Communism

(Sorry, looks like WordPress doesn’t like embedding this video.)

Closest I ever got to anything remotely like this (and I’m not saying these were in way the same, just happening at the same time) was listening to the short-wave broadcasts from Radio Moscow (aimed at America), where they would ‘answer’ questions posted to the station, usually dispelling myths that the writers had of life in the USSR.

Had I been a bit older, I might have been smart enough to record some of those, just for the fun of being able to quote from them years later.

However, I seem to recall the ‘voice’ often began its answers with “Well, it’s really much the same here as in America” – but then again, they did get to pick and choose which questions they answered… and which they never.

Back then, I’d have to admit that I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about Romania. In fact, growing up during the Cold War, I didn’t really think much about global thermonuclear war.

During the 1980s in Communist Romania, a young translator became an unlikely voice of freedom, illicitly dubbing thousands of foreign films distributed on VHS tapes, turning B-movie stars into heroes.

Via ‘VHS vs. Communism’ –

All the dialogue on these movies was dubbed into Romanian in a husky, high-pitched woman’s voice. Throughout my childhood, these films provided a glimpse into the forbidden West, resplendent with blue jeans, Coke and skyscrapers. As Hollywood movies became ubiquitous through the black market, this voice became one of the most recognizable in Romania. Yet no one knew who she was.

After the 1989 revolution I learned the true story, which I present here in this Op-Doc video. In 1985, Irina Margareta Nistor, a young translator at the national television station, met a mysterious entrepreneur. He was smuggling, copying and distributing movies on VHS tapes. This was the beginning of a working relationship that lasted more than a decade. In all, Ms. Nistor says she dubbed more than 3,000 different films. Thanks to her, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Bruce Lee became popular heroes in Romania.

In a time when the Romanian state controlled every aspect of its citizens’ lives — including food, heat, transportation and information — people found a way to escape and resist the state’s far-reaching hand, through the power of movies.

By Ilinca Calugareanu, a London-based Romanian documentary filmmaker.


February 22, 2014 - Posted by | Cold War | ,

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