Romanians and Bulgarians, whose farms once fed Eastern Europe, welcome freedom after decades of oppression but are more occupied with the struggle to get enough food and fuel for the winter.
They had hoped economic hard times would end with the downfall of their the old regimes a year ago, but it hasn't happened."We need food and clothes," said Livia Hosszu of Timisoara. "You can't eat democracy."
In Romania, food production has declined 20 percent since Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and executed. Less is being exported, but much finds its way to the high-priced black market.
Only 120 tons of meat were left in Bulgaria's main warehouse by mid-December. Sofia alone normally needs 7,000 tons a month. Sugar, cooking oil and potatoes also were scarce or unavailable and energy was rationed.
After Ceausescu and Bulgaria's Todor Zhivkov of Bulgaria were ousted, new governments were chosen in free elections with mandates for economic reform. They promised a break with the old, inefficient economics and a taste of the free-market policies that Western Europe prosperous.
People in both countries say things have not improved.
Bulgarians lived relatively well on the food and energy bought by Zhivkov's liberal borrowing policies, so this has been the worst winter ever for many.
Shelves in food stores usually are empty. Bulgaria stopped making payments months ago on a foreign debt of more than $10 billion and is strapped for cash to import energy.
"If I could choose, I'd choose to live in a country where there is maybe less democracy but more goods," said Marina Popova, 27, who spends much of her time in a stuffy kitchen-living room with her husband, 3-year-old child and in-laws.
"We don't have enough wood to heat the whole house, and that's why during the day we all live in one room," she said.