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Faith, Hope, and Caritas in the Land of the Pyramids: Romania, 1990 to 1994

  • Katherine Verdery (a1)
Abstract

Caritas has become not just an obsession but indeed emblematic of the profound crisis of the times in which we live. In such times, marked by social and political upheaval and by shortages of all kinds, prophets and quacks arise to heal everything, the coming end of the world gets a precise date, and every day a miracle or two happens. People crushed by hardship and without hope can hardly wait to believe in these things. The Caritas phenomenon is such a miracle.

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This essay was presented as a paper at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and at the University of Michigan, whose audiences offered much helpful comment. I am also grateful for the assistance of Pamela Ballinger, Eytan Bercovitch, Elizabeth Dunn, Ashraf Ghani, Christopher Hann, Robert Hayden, Claude Karnoouh, David Kideckel, Gail Kligman, Kirstie McClure, and Jane Schneider.

1 Consţanta Corpade, “ Fenomenul Caritas: între iluzie şi îngrijorare,” Adevārul, 11 2, 1993, 6.

2 That project, an inquiry into decollectivization, was supported by a grant from the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX). Among IREX's funders are the National Endowment for the Humanities, the United States (U.S.) Information Agency, and the U.S. Department of State, which administers the Russian, Eurasian, and East European Research Program (Title VIII) set up by the U.S. Congress.

Because my research focused on a topic other than Caritas, I did not collect data on Caritas systematically. Far from being an opportunistic sample, mine is serendipitous; the newspapers from which I clipped Caritas stories (primarily România liber, Evenimentul zilei, Adevārul, Expres, and Cuvîntul liber—Free Romania, Event of the Day, The Truth, Express, and The Free Word) tended to be critical of the scheme. I sought to compensate for these deficiencies with some pro-Caritas brochures and by talking with a wide variety of people from various parts of Romania (though concentrated in Transylvania): Germans, Hungarians, and Romanians; farmers, industrial workers, and white-collar workers, in both urban and rural areas. Although I cannot present statistically sound results, I believe my data broadly capture the so-called “Caritas phenomenon.”;

3 The site of my research was the community of Aurel Vlaicu, in the county of Hunedoara, south-central Transylvania. For a social history of this community, see my Transylvanian Villagers: Three Centuries of Political, Economic, and Ethnic Change (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983).

4 This was worth 350,000 lei at the time, representing perhaps 5 months' salary for a professor (see note 11 below).

5 The different schemes in these countries operated according to a variety of rules. For example, the largest ones in Yugoslavia (Serbia) were banks promising high interest; they worked only with hard currency and are thought to have been a mechanism by which the government aimed to seize the hard currency reserves of the populace (Robert Hayden, personal communication, letter, September 1994). The best-known Czech schemes and the Russian MMM were complicated investment schemes that sold shares in themselves and promised excessive dividends, rather than turning over people's savings as Caritas did. MMM was reported to have had one to two million investors as of August 1993 (its organizer. Mavrodi Sergei, claimed ten million) (Financial Times, 07, 3031 1993, p. 9). Tax police following the scheme's closure estimated the worth of its shares at ten trillion rubles. Although these figures equal or exceed those for Caritas, the population of Russia is many times larger than Romania's 23 million. (For details on MMM, see the Financial Times for July through September 1994, as well as the Foreign Broadcast Information Service and RFE-RL reports for this same period.)

6 This is the most widespread of the rumors about his former occupation. See, for example, Business Central Europe, 10 1993, p. 55; Financial Times, 10 18, 1993, p. 3.

7 I have this from a member of the Hungarian parliament.

8 Shafir Michael, “The Caritas Affair: a Transylvanian Eldorado,“RFE-RL Reports 2 (09 24, 1993), 24.

9 This was confirmed by the prosecutor in charge of the case against him following his August 1994 arrest. See România liberā (International English Edition), 09 39, 1994, p. 12.

10 The Romanian currency unit is the leu (p1. lei). It is difficult to give equivalents for figures in lei, owing to the 250 to 300 percent inflation rate and the discrepancy between official and black-market exchange rates. Stoica's 100,000 lei would have been worth about $300 (at the official rate) in the spring of 1992; by September 1993 it was worth $100; and by May 1994, when the scheme collapsed, $60.

11 Owing to ever-widening discrepancies in income after 1989 (as well as the factors in the preceding note), it is difficult to express in terms of average salaries the magnitude of monetary sums for Romanians who deposited in Caritas. In summer 1993, when many people were putting in 20,000 to 40,000 as a first deposit, some Romanians were receiving collective-farm pensions of 5,000 lei per month, university professors were earning 60 to 80,000, while industrial workers might have (on paper, at least) over 100,000 and miners (Romania's best-paid workers) over 250,000.

12 I obtained these figures from a cashier at one of the deposit centers in Cluj, in September 1993.

13 See my “ The ‘Etatization’ of Time in Ceaqescu's Romania,” in The Politics of Time, Rutz Henry, ed. (Washington: American Ethnological Society, 1992), 3761, and Câmpeanu Pavel, România: coada pentru hranā, un mod de viaţa (Bucharest: Ed. Litera, 1994). Several publications noted that the “psychology of the queue” was an important part of Caritas's success (for example, România liber, 07 22, 1993, p. 1).

14 Shafir, “El Dorado,” 24; Adevrul, 08 10, 1993, p. 3. There were different sorts of inside tracks, as well, for regular depositors who found a way to circumvent the queue and for those who were well-placed cronies of the organizer and his patron, for instance.

15 See România liberā, International English Edition, 05 26–06 3, 1994, p. 3, and 09 1016, 1994, p. 4. Compare also Romania libera (International English Edition), 07 2329, 1994, p. 11, concerning hidden lists and premature reward in another “mutual-aid game.”

16 See, for example, stories in Evenimentul zilei, 10 9, 1993, p. 4, and 10 16, 1993, p. 8; Adevārul, 10 15, 1993, p. 1, and March 1920, 1994, p. 1; România liber, 03 21, 1994, p. 1, and 05 4, 1994, p. 16.

17 One politician close to Caritas claimed that 260 parliamentarians had deposited in the scheme (Adevārul, 10 29, 1993, p. 2).

18 Officials at the U.S. Department of State told me that reliable figures on the numbers of depositors cannot be obtained. The Department of State was sufficiently concerned about the possible effects of Caritas to have arranged for regular reports on it, both classified and unclassified. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was at that time negotiating a new stand-by loan with Romania. Given the scheme's apparent magnitude, IMF negotiators were doubtless concerned about its possible impact on Romania's finances; but the IMF was not able to provide me with reliable figures on its size. (My thanks to Mark Asquino and Brady Kiesling for discussion of this point.)

19 See Zamfirescu Dan and Cerna Dumitru, Fenomenul Caritas sau mantuirea romanilor prin ei insisi (Bucharest: Ed. Roza Vanturilor, 1993), 17. Cluj mayor Funar also used these large figures.

20 For example, Evenimentul zilei, 10 27, 1993, p. 3; Adevrul, 03 18, 1994, p. 8; Mesagerul, 12 7, 1993, p. 5.

21 For example, Bor Adam Le, “Pyramid game grips Romania,” LondonTimes, 11 19, 1993, p. 11; “Ponzi, by Any Other Name,” Economist, 328, 09 1824, 1993, p. 87; Maass Peter, “Romanians Grasp a Straw,” Washington Post, 10 17, 1993, p. A25; Perlez Jane, “Pyramid Scheme a Trap for Many Romanians,” New York Times, 11 13, 1993, pp. 1, 47; Marsh Virginia, “Faith, Hope and Caritas,” Business Central Europe, 10 1993, p. 55; Dixon Hugo, “Pyramids with Giddy Heights,” Financial Times, 10 18, 1993, p. 3; Lane Charles, “Ubi Caritas,” New Republic, 11 8, 1993, p. 9.

22 The chief editor of the Transylvanian Messenger said in an undated interview (before 10 6, 1993) that the paper was publishing 16,000 names daily; this would mean about half a million per month (see Smeoreanu Gheorghe et al., Caritas: radiografia unui miracol [Rîmnicul Vîlcea: Ed. Antim Ivireanul], 23.) There are problems with estimating the number of depositors by the number of names in the Messenger, since a given person might deposit several times in a single month; thus, the figure of 2 million for three months could include many duplicates. But at the same time, a single person might deposit for many others under his or her own name; the friend who deposited my money was also depositing for at least six others whose names appeared on no lists. Moreover, people on the inside track might not have their names on the lists either. For these reasons, the number of names in the Messenger may in fact underestimate the total number of people depositing.

23 Evenimentul zilei, 11 10, 1993, p. 3.

24 New York Times, 11 13, 1993, p. 1.

25 Evenimentul zilei, 11 10, 1993, p. 3. For dollar equivalents, see note 10.

26 România liber (International English Edition), 09 39, 1994, p. 12, cites this as the state prosecutor's figure for the total amount circulated through Caritas. In August 1994, Stoica himself claimed to owe depositors $700 billion, which would be approximately 1.2 trillion lei (România libera [International English Edition], 08 612, 1994, p. 5). I have the figure for government expenditures from the IMF.

27 York Times, 11 13, 1993; Economist, 09 1825, 1993.

28 My thanks to bank president Mugur Isarescu for this information. The 2.5 trillion figure for liquid reserves is from the IMF, for the month of June. A Romanian source gives the figure of 2.9 trillion lei for July and 3.1 trillion for Aughst (Romania liberci, 10 20, 1994, p. 4).

29 România libera (International English Edition), 09 39, 1994, p. 12. Caritas paid taxes on profits (Stoica designated 10 percent of the proceeds as profit, used to pay employees, make donations, and so forth), and a value-added tax was additionally withheld from the pay outs to depositors, beginning in the summer of 1993.

30 Adevārul, 12 18, 1993, p. 4; Evenimentul 10 14, 1993, p. 2. Again, equivalents for these amounts are problematic. România libera for 07 22, 1993, p. 16, states that 100,000 lei is the mean salary for three months.

31 For instance, I saw signs in Deva, capital of Hunedoara county, saying “Tourist agency Coratrans organizes excursions to Cluj (for Caritas) leaving every Tuesday and Friday at 16:00, price 3,850 lei round trip.” Deva is about three hours' drive from Cluj.

32 The newspaper Expres, 09 1319, 1994, p. 8, reported that the banking system was giving very little credit to the private sector, reserving its funds chiefly for state firms and joint ventures.

33 The bank interest on savings accounts eventually (winter 1994) rose to 100 percent or more (though not before many people's savings had vanished), successfully attracting funds from the pyramids.

34 The 30 percent figure is from June 1993, courtesy of the IMF.

35 Precisely this difficulty with bank interest rates was what drove two friends of mine to sell some farm animals and put the proceeds in Caritas, turning their investment over twice and buying a tractor, since exorbitant interest had foreclosed their making the purchase through normal banking channels.

36 Since the early 1980s there has been yet another spate of pyramid schemes in the United States; there has also been a proliferation of multi-level marketing programs, whose relation to pyramid schemes is sometimes very close. See, for example, stories in American Heritage, 11 1994, pp. 1820; Atlantic, 10 1987, pp. 8490; Baltimore Sun, 12 10, 1994, pp. I B, 4B; Business Week, 09 3, 1990, pp. 4042; Forbes, 11 11, 1991, pp. 139148, and 03 15, 1995, pp. 4648; Los Angeles Times, 08 25, 1991, p. D3; New York Times, 03 28, 1993, Section 13NJ, p. 1; Washington Post, 10 12, 1991, p. CI, and 04 11, 1991, p. B11.

37 Indeed, the Roman Catholic diocese of Oradea protested the name, threatening to bring suit against Stoica for damage to the good name of their organization. See România libera, 08 9, 1993, p. 16.

38 This seems unlikely, since he was able to open a large supermarket with the proceeds.

39 This equalled about $112,500 at the time—a far larger sum in the Romanian context than it is in the American one.

40 See, for example, Evenimentul zilei, 12 18, 1993, p. 4; Adevarul,02 14, 1994, p. 1.

41 My sources for these are the reports of friends who claimed to have certain knowledge of the organizations they were naming; Professor Alexandru Stanescu, a researcher doing a project about Caritas; the head of one consumer cooperative; the president of the Aurel Vlaicu village association; Adevarul, 11 19, 1993, p. 1; România libera, 03 19, 1994, p. 1.

42 In Romanian: “Din Sibiu in Fagaraş, Nu-i pui de romanaş, Sa nu joace Caritas”; “A apāut un om, Pe toţi ne-a salvat, Lāsaţi pe Domnul Stoica Impārat.” I have the first from ethnographer Claude Karnoouh and the other from România liberā, 10 20, 1993, p. 16.

43 In Romanian: “Trenule ce duci cu tine, Atîta rau şi-atita bine, Oprelti 1i iei din gara-n gara, Durerea din întreaga ţarā. La Caritas, La Caritas, Speranţa noastra ne-a ramas, Durerea noastra şi speranţa, Ce poate sa ne schimbe viaţa.” See “Ţiganul Viorel Marunjelu a compus primul cîntec dedicat patronului ‘Caritas’-ului,” Evenimentul zilei, 11 4, 1993, p. 10.

44 The verb used by nearly everyone to describe the money they received from Caritas was a civiga, which translates as both “to win” and “to earn.” It is appropriately used for the wage one receives at work, prizes awarded, the proceeds of games of chance, a victory in a competition, the sympathy of one's fellows. Thus, its root meaning is “to obtain, acquire, or get,” without implying whether the thing gotten is earned or not. The verb most often used for participating, however, was a juca, “to play,” as in a game: “am jucat la Caritas” meaning “I played [at] Caritas.” One might also say “I deposited” (am depus) or “I put” (am bcigat) money in Caritas.

45 See note 21.

46 Among the most critical were Romania libera, Evenimentul zilei, and Cotidianul.

47 In fact, the Romanian Supreme Court had already issued a decision banning such “games,” on 09 15, 1992 (Decision Number 150). This may partly explain why Stoica regularly insisted that Caritas was not a “mutual-aid game” [joc de intrajutorare] but a “financial circuit” [circuit financial].

48 Mesagerul transilvan, 09 24, 1993, p. 1.

49 Sources for some of the points in this paragraph: Adevarul, 11 12, 1993, p. 1; Adevoirul, 11 2, 1993, p. 1; Evenimentul zilei, 11 6, 1993, p. 1; Evenimentul zilei, 03 4, 1994, p. 1; Evenimentul zilei, 03 5, 1994, p. 8; Adevārul, 03 11, 1994, p. 1; Adevārul, 03 4, 1994, p. 1.

50 România libera, 05 20, 1994, p. 1; Adevarul, 06 6, 1994, p. 1. This unfortunately would not include the author of this essay, since my money was deposited under the name of someone who had already turned sums over twice.

51 According to the prosecutor in the case, these charges would carry a jail sentence of two to seven years (22 [September 31-Sugust 6, 1994], p. 3). As of this writing, Stoica was in jail (see note 147 below).

52 I reach this estimate-more conservative than that reported in the New York Times-in the following way. Households are a more meaningful unit than individuals for this calculation, given that one-third or more of the population is under twenty years old and is unlikely to be participating seriously in the game and that my experience suggests that although some spouses deposited individually, in many if not most cases the household deposited as a unit. If we divide Romania's population by 3.2 (the figure given in Romanian statistics for the number of persons per household), we get 7,187,500 households. Taking what I consider to be the lowest plausible figure for participation—2 million depositors—and assuming, conservatively, that as many as half of these deposits would be made by entire households and the other half might be duplicated within a household, we have 1.5 million participating households, or 21 percent of all households.

53 I heard several stories about people who could no longer find babysitters, housekeepers, temporary construction workers, or caretakers for the elderly, since no one was willing to spend time doing this kind of work when they could sit at home and wait for their Caritas money to roll in. The household of some Bucharest friends was turned upside down because they had to bring their aging mother-in-law from Cluj, where nursing care was no longer available, and move her into the bedroom of their sons, who moved out to various aunts and grandparents.

54 Comparable effects were achieved differently in other East European countries. For instance, in Poland domestic savings were soaked up by monetary policies, which pushed inflation so high that people had to change dollar savings into zloty just to make ends meet. See Sachs Jeffrey, Poland's Jump to the Market Economy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993), 53.

55 At least some of this potential was realized: I knew of cases in which Caritas earnings had bought trucks for transport and tractors or other instruments of agricultural production, funded small businesses, or enabled payment of bank debts on businesses already established. Caritas served as a source of windfall profits of a magnitude that nothing else could produce.

56 This took at least two forms: a redistribution from the many to the few and possibly another from the non-Transylvanian parts of Romania to Transylvania.

57 “Loto” was a classic lottery; one selected a set of numbers and waited to see if they would be drawn. “Loz-în-Plic” was simpler, requiring only the purchase of an envelope inside which there was (or was not) announcement of a prize. “Prono-Sport” involved betting on specific sports teams for particular games.

58 Thanks to David Kideckel for this point.

59 By the spring of 1994 the government's fiscal policies had brought the official and black market rates for hard currency into alignment, but for the year prior to this, the discrepancy between the two rates was substantial.

Few could tell me why Stoica picked furniture rather than something else; the only reason offered was that it had to be something valuable with a good market in the West. Furniture met these conditions, as did items such as mineral water, cement, and porcelain. During the Ceauşescu period, several industries had operated specifically for export, and furniture manufacture was one of them. Furniture also seemed to have disappeared from the internal market or else was selling at astronomical cost, a fact that may have predisposed people toward this explanation.

60 Herein may lie the significance of popular representations of Stoica as part-Gypsy, as well as the increase in newspaper reports (after Caritas had stopped making pay outs) of Gypsy participation in it. The link between Caritas and Gypsies—including threats against Stoica by the upstart Emperor Iulian I, who was in revolt against Gypsy King Cioaba and perhaps (like Funar) using Caritas for his own political ends—is a fascinating angle that I cannot cover here. (See, e.g., Adevdrul, 02 56, 1994, p. 5).

61 Cf. Adeverrul, 11 17, 1993, pp. 12.

62 This theory may well have something to it. It is widely believed both inside and outside Romania that 1989 opened a new drug-smuggling corridor through Eastern Europe; in addition, smuggling of armaments, oil, and other goods through Romania to Serbia is extremely likely. Anthropologist Claude Karnoouh learned from well-placed sources in Budapest and Warsaw the routes by which illegal accumulations and Party funds had been moved out of Hungary and Poland, through a series of transactions with local banks and transfers to western institutions. Probably the more rudimentary state of Romania's banking system and the later entry of western finance capital into that country closed this option for disposing of the funds from Romania's Communist Party or illegal enterprise. Instead, they would have to be laundered internally, such as on inside tracks of Caritas. The hypothesis gains credence from Stoica's failure to put an upper limit on the size of withdrawals—a chief cause of the eventual collapse of the pyramid's base. If the point was to run huge sums through the first few cycles until all were “clean,” an upper limit would only be an impediment.

63 It is true that once Caritas stopped paying out, the exchange rates for foreign currency stabilized and then dropped. At the height of its operation in Cluj, foreign currency was much more expensive in that city than elsewhere in Romania.

64 The support might also, of course, be indirect—from either the absence of legislation to control such schemes (Russia's MMM scheme aroused much official reflection about the lack of legislation to protect citizens, for example), or the clear benefits to the government from letting the scheme persist as ways of absorbing the “monetary overhang” and of providing people with a means other than strikes and protests for coping with inflation.

65 Cornea Andrei, “Se convertesc oare comuniştii la capitalism?” 22 (02 1622, 1994), p. 6. This figure would constitute almost two-thirds of the total of state expenditures.

66 My personal inclinations favor a money-laundering scheme as part of Caritas's pool of funds (see also below) and international pressure on the government as contributing to its fall. Off-the-record discussions indicate that international lending agencies were indeed concerned about the fiscal and social instability, and especially the potential for ethnic violence, that would accompany Caritas's collapse. These agencies expressed their concerns quite clearly to the Romanian government, without however making loans conditional on the government's bringing Caritas to an end. The timing of Iliescu's comments about the scheme's fragility and of changed National Bank fiscal policy makes it likely that this informal pressure indeed contributed to the scheme's collapse. (Significantly, the collapse of the MMM scheme in Russia preceded the arrival of an IMF team to negotiate a standby loan in that country, as well. See FBIS-SOV-94 no. 172 [09 6, 1994], p. 38.) This note shows that my Romanian associates succeeded in teaching me to look for conspiracies.

67 See my “Theorizing Socialism: A Prologue to the 'Transition,'American Ethnologist, 18 (1991), 422–3.

68 Czech finance minister Václav Klaus put it in almost exactly these terms in 1990: “The aim is to let the invisible hand of the market act and to replace the hand of the central planner” (cited in Ladislav Holy, “Culture, Market Ideology and Economic Reform in Czechoslovakia,” in Dilley Roy, ed., Contesting Markets: Analyses of Ideology, Discourse and Practice [Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1992], 236).

69 Smeoreanu, Caritas, p. 7. Random ethnographic details suggest that he was succeeding to some extent. One friend, asked whether Caritas money was like any other money, replied that “only your attitude toward it is different, as you continue to risk it.” “Now when someone sets a price,” another told me, “Caritas intervenes in how they think about the values of money.” Still another friend, just returned from six months abroad, said she noticed a tremendous change in the people around her: “Because of Caritas, they've started to behave as if they were independent, to take initiative rather than waiting for things to happen, to have the courage to make a plan, and to take risks.”

70 Aside from the fact that many people did lose, this comment betrays a certain naïveté about the loss of value in an inflationary period. Between the deposit of a certain sum and its retrieval eightfold three months later, inflation would have reduced the value of the initial deposit considerably.

71 This observation reminds one of the psychology behind credit-card spending in the United States.

72 See below, also Verdery, “The Elasticity of Land: Problems of Property Restitution in Transylvania,” Slavic Review, 54 (winter 1994), 10711109.

73 See Magyari-Vincze Enikö and Feischmidt Margit, “The Caritas and the Romanian Transition,” MS (1994), p. 24.

74 I owe the ideas in this and the above paragraph to Kirstie McClure.

75 That money and market exchange require moralizing is an anthropological truism far beyond the East European context. See, for example, Bloch Maurice and Parry Jonathan, eds., Money and the Morality of Exchange (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989);Dilley Roy, Contesting Markets; Emily Martin, The Meaning of Money in the United States and China (Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures, University of Rochester, 1986).

76 This opinion was offered by the managing director of the state-controlled Romanian television in one of several editorials touching on Caritas (editorial for October 2, 1993). Other opinions given here come from my field work.

77 By criticizing and participating simultaneously, people adopted the same relation to Caritas that they had to the former regime: a relation of “complicity.” This sort of complicity creates complex dispositions and ambivalences that we might expect to find as attitudes toward money evolve further. Complicity may have disposed people to relax their moral scruples about “unearned money,” especially if they had already gotten sums and spent them.

78 See, for example, papers in Bloch and Parry, Money; Taussig Michael, “The Genesis of Capitalism Amongst a South American Peasantry: Devil's Labor and the Baptism of Money,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 19:1 (1979), 130155.

79 See, for example, Smeoreanu, Caritas, 51;Zamfirescu and Cerna, Fenomenul, 14.

80 Smeoreanu, Caritas, 9192.

81 Ibid., 48, 49.

82 Ibid., 40; Adevārul, October 1, 1993, p. 4;Expres, November 915, 1993, p. 16.

83 Zamfirescu and Cema, Fenomenul Caritas.

84 Ibid., 17. Boldface in original.

85 Ibid., 23.

86 Ibid., 24. Capitals in original.

87 Ibid., 17. (Written in capital letters.)

88 Cited on the back of Zamfirescu and Cema, Fenomenul Caritas.

89 Compare Eliade Mircea, The Two and the One (London: Harvill Press, 1965), 126150. David Lempert finds a “cargo cult” attitude in Russia also (Changing Russian Political Culture in the 1990s: Parasites, Paradigms, and Perestroika,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 35:3 [1993], 643).

90 In a review of work on millenarian movements in Melanesia, Trompf cites Eliade's insight as the one durable generalization about them: that they arise when different understandings of time come together. See Trompf G. W., Melanesian Religion (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 192. See also Lattas Andrew, ed., “Alienating Mirrors: Christianity, Cargo Cults, and Colonialism in Melanesia,” Oceania, no. 63 (special issue, 1992). My thanks to Eytan Bercovitch for these references.

91 See Verdery, “‘Etatization’ of Time,” 5657;National Ideology under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceausescu's Romania (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991), 249–51; and What Was Socialism and Why Did It Fall?,” Contention, 3:1 (Fall 1993), 1820.

92 David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989). See also Verdery, “What Was Socialism,” 1820.

93 Owing to its nationalism, the Caritas “millenarian movement” is very different from those of Oceania or other places where they have been found. Classic literature on those latter forms sees them as pre-political, paving the way for more explicitly political and even national movements, whereas Caritas with its associate, the PUNR, had already trodden this path. See Peter Lawrence, Road Belong Cargo: A Study of the Cargo Movement in the Southern Madang District, New Guinea (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1964);Burridge K. O. L., Mambu: A Melanesian Millennium (London: Methuen, 1960);Peter Worsley, The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of “Cargo” Cults in Melanesia (New York: Schocken, 1968).

94 Eliade, Two and the One, 155.

95 Some argue that the religious imagery was manufactured by Stoica and his supporters (e.g., Shafir, “Eldorado,” 24). Although I think it possible that stooges placed in the long lines at Caritas may well have planted some of these ideas, more important (as my field work convinced me) is that people took them up with gusto.

96 Smeoreanu, Caritas, 31;Adevdrul, October 10, 1993, p. 4;Adevdrul, November 11, 1993, p. 1.

97 Smeoreanu, Caritas, 37.

98 See Ibid., 31; Adevārul, November 67, 1993, p. 1;Evenimentul zilei, November 8, 1993, p. 3;Adevdrul, November 11, 1993, p. 1; and Magyari-Vincze and Feischmidt, “The Caritas and the Romanian Transition,” 36.

99 These quotations are all from Magyari-Vincze and Feischmidt, “The Caritas and the Romanian Transition.”

100 The schemes had not just failed but caused much social disturbance (see, e.g., liberā Românic, lune 25, 1993, p. 5).

101 Niţu Marius, “Odatā cu apropierea iernii Caritasul se ‘ra-ceste,’” Adevărul, October 22 1993, p. 1. The cities in which Caritas did best were those in which the local authorities were of the PUNR, such as Petrosani, while those having mayors of opposition parties (such at Bucharest) sought to exclude it. In this vein, perhaps a more important reason for the failure of Caritas in Brasov was that its mayor belonged not to the nationalist parties that gave Caritas suct a boost in Cluj but to the political opposition.

102 Evenimentul zilei, November 2–3, 1993, p. 1.

103 Cristoiu loan, “De Ia ‘Caritas’ Ia moaîtele Sfintului Dimitrie cel Nou,” Evenimentul zilei, October 27, 1993, p. 1

104 Michael Stewart, personal communication (October 1993).

105 Smeoreanu, Caritas, 1415.

106 “E lucrul dracului, că banii nu fată!” More common, however, was the expression, “leave your money in so it will hatch chicks” (Lasă-i să facă pui).

107 Taussig, “Genesis of Capitalism.” See also Chevalier Jacques M., Civilization and the Stolen Gift; Capital, Kin, and Cult in Eastern Peru (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982);Olivia Harris, “The Earth and the State: The Sources and Meanings of Money in Northern Potosi, Bolivia,” in Bloch and Parry, Money, 232–68;Michael Stewart, The Time of the Gypsies: Poverty, Cultural Identity and Resistance to Proletarianisation in Socialist Hungary (Manuscript, 1994), ch. 9.

108 Davis Compare John, Exchange (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 20. My thanks to Elizabeth Dunn for the idea and the reference.

109 This is a modification of Bianchi's term, unruly corporations (see Bianchi Robert, Unruly Corporatism: Associational Life in Twentieth-Century Egypt [New York: Oxford University Press, 1989]). Thanks to Ashraf Ghani for this suggestion.

110 Kochanowicz Compare Jacek, “The Disappearing State: Poland's Three Years of Transition,” Social Research, 60 (1993), 831.

111 See Humphrey Caroline, “‘Icebergs,’ Barter, and the Mafia in Provincial Russia,” Anthropology Today, 7 (April 1991), 813;Stark David, “Privatization in Hungary: From Plan to Market or from Plan to Clan?,” East European Politics and Societies, 4 (Fall 1990), 351–92; and Timofeyev Lev, Russia's Secret Rulers (New York: Knopf, 1992), 127. I reject both mafia (too Italian in its connotations) and clan (inaptly implying kinship).

112 For example, Shelley Louise, “Post-Soviet Organized Crime,” Demokratizatsiya, 2 (summer 1994), 341–58;Timofeyev Lev, Russia's Secret Rulers.

113 Humphrey, “‘Icebergs,’ Barter, and the Mafia.”

114 Jowitt Kenneth, personal communication. See my National Ideology, 129–30.

115 For instance, where a city mayor is of the nationally governing party, this suggests a composition very different from that of an area in which the mayor is of an opposition party. Local elections will produce shifts in the composition of unruly coalitions, as will scandals involving networks of persons central to them.

116 Iliescu is not, technically speaking the head of his party, but he is for all practical purposes.

117 I use the standard Romanian initials for these parties rather than their English equivalents. Some parties changed their names after the elections, most notably the former Democratic National Salvation Front (FDSN) to Party of Romanian Social Democracy (PDSR); I use the initials of the new names. The percentages that I give here are not those won by each party in the overall vote, but the percentages they each gained in the Parliament. Because no party was allowed parliamentary representation unless it received 3 percent of the votes (and there was a large number of parties), over 1.5 million votes were cast that did not elect parliamentarians. I use the voting figures given by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS-EEU-92–193) for October 9, 1992, p. 27.

118 Mesagerul transilvan, September 24, 1993, p. 1.

119 România liberă, November 3, 1993, p. 3.

120 România liberă, July 22, 1993, p. 16, and March 22, 1994, p. 16; Gallagher Tom, “The Rise of the Party of Romanian National Unity,” RFE-RL Reports, 3 (March 18, 1994), p. 30. The first source gives a figure of $2,500 per month, the last as $5 million total, for the amount the PUNR received in taxes on Caritas.

121 See Tom Gallagher, “The Political Dimensions of the Caritas Affair in Romania” (Manuscript, 1993), 20–21.

122 See, eg., România liberă, May 13, 1994, p. 9.

123 See, e.g., Evenimentul zilei, January 2, 1994, p. 8, in which Cluj prefect Zanc seeks to use Caritas to undercut Mayor Funar.

124 See 22 (June 29-July 5, 1994), p. 3. Its standing did not improve in subsequent months.

125 Staniszkis Jadwiga, “‘Political Capitalism’ in Poland,” East European Politics and Societies, 5 (Winter 1991), 127–41.

126 Although several publications gave the number of Romanian pyramid schemes as around 100, I think this figure is low. Taking only numbers for the six cities of Brasov (100 schemes), Oradea (36), Pitesti (30 in six months), Constanla (25), Ploiesti (80 between 1991 and 1993), and Brăila (35), we have 306 such schemes—and they appeared in many other cities as well. Some of the localized schemes were branches of larger organizations, but because travel time was a significant ingredient in people's participation (not to mention in moving the money used for pay outs, given the rudimentary state of Romania's banking system), it makes sense to see even these branches as quasi-separate instances of their parent scheme. Sources for the above figures: România liberă, June 25, 1993, p. 5;Adevărul, January 20, 1994, p. 1;Adevărul, January 27, 1994, p. 1;Adevărul, March 21, 1994;Adevărul, January 11, 1994, p. 3; and România liber“, July 23, 1993, p. 5. (I note that the figures are not certain, since newspapers reported varying totals even for the same city.) A later report provided by Reuters in mid-June 1995 on Stoica's first trial gave the number of schemes as 600 (thanks to Mihai Pop for this information).

127 Evenimentul zilei, October 16, 1993, p. 8. Many other newspapers told comparable stories. In May 1994 the lines of victims registering complaints against Caritas was said to include: “pensioners, the unemployed, peasants, workers, intellectuals, and … Gypsies. … It is interesting that in the line of people waiting to register complaints we do not find the former or present nomenclatura, Securitate members, and potentates of the present regime. It seems they pocketed tens and tens of millions of the money of those who have been swindled” (România liberă, May 16, 1994, p. 16).

128 See Romulus Brâncoveanu, “Fenomenul ‘Caritas’ si escrocheria politică,” România liberă, March 8, 1994, p. 2. Also see Romania liberci, March 21, 1994, p. 1;Romania liberd, January 6, 1994, p. 10.

129 Here is how Gerald reportedly got its start: When local officials gave it the green light, they received assurances that they would be at the top of the lists of depositors and would receive one million lei two months after depositing 100,000 each. See Evenimentul zilei, October 15, 1993, pp. 12.

130 See Verdery Katherine and Kligman Gail, “Romania after Ceausescu: Post-Communist Communism?,” in Eastern Europe in Revolution, Banac Ivo, ed. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 117–47.

131 Gallagher Tom, “Vatra Romaneasa and Resurgent Nationalism in Romania,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 15 (October 1992), 579. Here is some further anecdotal evidence for the connection. First, in my one visit to Caritas headquarters, I asked my guide what job he had held before starting to work for Caritas; he replied that he had been a chauffeur and had been in counterintelligence, joining the Romanian Information Service after the revolution. When I commented on how well-organized Caritas was, he said, “No surprise! It's been planned for five years’—which would put its origin before the revolution. The friends to whom I reported this said they had heard that the Securitate had had pyramid-like schemes underground before 1989. Finally, friends in Cluj said that the first people in their workplaces to deposit in Caritas had long been suspected of being Securitate informers.

132 See Gallagher, “Vatra Românească,” and “Political Dimensions”; Dennis Deletant, “Convergence versus Divergence in Romania: The Role of the Vatra românească Movement in Transylvania” (paper presented at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies conference, December 8–14, 1990); and Verdery Katherine, “Nationalism and National Sentiment in Post-Socialist Romania,” Slavic Review, 53 (summer 1993), 179203. For Romanian newspaper reports, see, for example, Adevărul, March 14, 1994, p. 3;România liberă, March 22, 1994, p. 16;Evenimentul zilei, October 9, 1993, p. 4;România liberă, May 4, 1994, p. 16. (I note that these papers are not always credible.) For a disproportionate PUNR presence among Caritas depositors, see the lists of parliamentary Caritasians published in Adevărul, November 12, 1993, p. 1).

133 In his televised interview of February, 8 1994, for example.

134 Adevarul, 01 20, 1994, p. 1, and 01 26, 1994, pp. 12.

135 România liberā, 07 8, 1993; p. 2, published a detailed calculation as to how much money might be expected to come into a newly established pyramid scheme and how fast it would grow in six months, pay outs included. Interest rates on bank savings deposits fluctuated greatly during the period under discussion; by autumn 1993, when many of the competitor schemes were being started, one could get 50 percent or more annually, and that figure rose during the winter (when schemes were still being founded despite the evident difficulties of Caritas). Thus, for pyramid organizers to place deposits at high interest was indeed an option. Given how much money often came into a newly opened scheme—Gerald, for instance, reportedly took in 300 million lei in its first four days (Adevārul, 10 15, 1993, p. 1)—their short-term profit from interest alone could be enormous.

136 Adevarul, 01 26, 1994, p. 2.

137 Cronica romcind, 09 28, 1993, p. 3; Evenimentul zilei, 03 19, 1994, p. 3, and 04 12, 1994, p. 10. During summer 1994, there was a lengthy discussion in the Romanian press about the government's plan to count only one property certificate per citizen, so as to rectify the fact that many people had sold their certificates without understanding their potential value as stocks in profitable firms. I think it possible that beneath this plan was a conflict among groups of entrepratchiks over who would control the wealth embodied in the certificates.

138 The part of this question that I do not try to answer—why did depositors keep coming, despite overwhelming evidence that they would lose their money—points toward the most ethnographically significant aspect of this essay: It reveals among Romanians a frame of mind that most readers will find wholly unfathomable. That is what the “transition from socialism” is really about.

139 The article, published in the Constanla Telegraf, was excerpted without the author's name, in Evenimentul zilei, 02 2, 1994, p. 3. I add that a very well-placed source told me (for what it is worth) that the scheme had collapsed so quietly because the secret service had carefully managed it in that way.

140 These figures are from advertisements and articles in the Romanian newspapers Evenimentul zilei, România libera, and Adevarul for 11 1993 through 02 1994. There were many more games, but I know the stakes for these and that they began after Caritas gained momentum.

141 Evenimentul zilei, 10 16, 1993, p. 8, and 10 28, 1993, p. 8.

142 See, for example, Financial Times, 08 8, 1994, pp. 1, 2. The shareholders' slogan was reportedly, “Trust MMM, don't trust the bureaucrats.” The story of Mavrodi's election comes from National Public Radio (October 31, 1994).

143 These questions must be answered differently according to where people were in the cycle of earnings. Those who received and spent substantial amounts will probably have had their conceptions durably altered, while this is less likely for those who had yet to benefit.

144 Evenimentul zilei, 12 18, 1993, p. 1, reported that some Cluj banks were repossessing fifty apartments that had been mortgaged so their owners could participate in Caritas. Adevarul, 02 14, 1994, p. 1, reported, similarly, that every day Hunedoara banks were auctioning off the houses of people who had used them as collateral to borrow for Caritas.

145 România libera, 03 18, 1994, p. 1 and 06 25, 1993, p. 5; Adevdrul, 03 3, 1994, p. 2.

146 By early June 1994, a number of such associations had been formed, with names like National Association for Proving Abuses, Action Committee for Recovering Money Deposited in Caritas, Association for Recovery of Caritas-Type Deposits, Association of Victims of Caritas, and Association of People Deceived by Mutual-Aid Games. Certain lawyers offered their services free of charge, but news reports during the summer of 1994, however, suggested that they were being politically harassed in some of their activities. See, for example, Lazar Virgil, “Boss Stoica Gets Hysterical While Damaged Claim International Protection,” Romania liberci, International English Edition, 07 30–08 5, 1994, p. 7. Similarly, in Russia following the collapse of MMM, shareholders organized rallies and a union, to defend depositors' rights nation-wide. See FBIS-SOV-94, no. 148 (08 2, 1994), pp. 1618; no. 157 (08 15, 1994), p. 15; no. 162 (08 22, 1994), p. 25; and no. 168 (08 30, 1994), 14.

147 During the same period as Stoica's arrest (08 1994), the PUNR clinched a deal with the government and received the four cabinet portfolios it had long been seeking. That this occurred even as its standing in the polls plummeted casts an unexpected light on Stoica's arrest and his prospects. One possibility is that sacrificing Stoica and Caritas was the price that the PUNR paid for its goal of entering the government. The new alliance in turn suggests, however, that Stoica will not be in jail for long—in other words, in exchange for managing Caritas's demise to prevent social chaos and consenting to be arrested (rather than fleeing, as so many other pyramid owners have done), Stoica will be quickly pardoned and allowed to keep his fortune. His fate would thus parallel that of the potentates of the Ceausescu regime, who (it now seems) agreed to be sacrificed so their successors might take over and pardon them later. As this essay goes to press, Stoica was sentenced to six years in prison after being convicted in the first of several trials on charges that he used Caritas to defraud millions of investors. His imprisonment does not preclude the possibility that he may be pardoned or released before his term is up.

148 Brancoveanu, “Fenomenul ‘Caritas’ şi escrocheria politica.”

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
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