Thirty-three years after being taken to a communist orphanage in Romania, Vişinel Bǎlan is running for mayor in the hopes of changing living conditions for others.
"They beat us up until we couldn’t move," Bǎlan told Euronews of his 26 years living in orphanages.
The mayoral candidate was abandoned as a child amid Nicolae Ceauşescu's decree that forbade both abortion and contraception in order to boost demographics.
Hundreds of thousands of children are estimated to have lived in Romanian orphanages.
Bǎlan, who didn't meet his biological parents until he was 11, was the youngest of 13 children, four of whom died.
Now he's running for office, to be mayor of Joiţa, a commune near Bucharest, with hopes of improving life for other people.
'There was a lot of violence at the orphanage'
Bǎlan was often sick with bronchitis, lived in a room with other six boys and was often woken up by another kid punching him in the head.
Tutors would also hit him: "We got beaten each time we didn’t learn the lesson," Bălan told Euronews.
“Running away from the centre was a coping mechanism, to protect myself and avoid the daily violence that was part of our lives," Bălan said, explaining that many children tried to escape.
“I remember that once I ran away with my friend Georgiana... she disappeared, and shortly after I returned to the centre a newspaper said that a girl was found on a river bank. It was Georgiana, she had been murdered.”
Bălan says he often took refuge at the local monastery, once jumping from the second-floor balcony of the orphanage to get there.
Later he lived with a foster family but the situation didn't improve.
"The husband beat his wife and the wife beat me. I complained to the authorities, but they asked not to cause any more problems," Bălan said.
As an adult, he set up an NGO which helps institutionalised children in Romania and takes part in motivational speaking events where he talks about his experience and life in Romanian orphanages.
Bid for public office
Vişinel Bălan first ran for office in 2016 as an independent, during the Romanian parliamentary election, but failed to win a mandate.
He is now running for mayor of Joiţa, a commune near Bucharest.
“I decided to run for office because I felt a change was needed and not just a random change," he said.
He has submitted several petitions for community services but he says nothing has changed.
The campaign has often been difficult: Bălan says he had been threatened and harassed.
A representative of the local party branch backing the incumbent mayor said that there hasn’t been any harassment and that Bălan lives in his own fantasy world while the press officer of Joiţa Town Hall said that Bălan is looking to denigrate the incumbent mayor, Constantin Tănase, for personal reasons.
Bălan, who has been living in Joiţa for several years, said he faces threats.
“I’ve been told that after election day I will vanish for good from Joiţa. I do fear for my well-being. I fear that they could at any moment barge into my house," he said.
The local elections are set to take place on September 27.