Romania: Defying the Tyrant

A writer of the 1940s, R.G. Waldeck, said of the German princes who served as kings of Romania between 1866 and World War II that “they all went a bit haywire under the violent sun and deep blue skies. They could not take it. They overdid everything.” The Romanians themselves, she said, were “flexible, realistic fatalistic,” indestructibly enduring all with a conviction “of the transitory quality of everything.”

Yet the striking thing about the Romanians during the last half-year has been their abandonment of resignation and their superbly repeated demonstrations of defiance against the Ubu-esque regime that governs them in the guise of communism. This defiance of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu comes from within the upper circles of the Communist party itself, but, more formidably, it also comes from people entirely unprotected by privilege, established position, or the concern of the Soviet embassy. For example, the Cluj university teacher Doina Cornea, who addressed herself directly to Nicolae Ceausescu earlier this year in two letters published in the British press, and a third one broadcast by Radio Free Europe; she also testified against the Ceausescus in an interview on Belgian television. Six citizens of Cluj and Zarnesti, and of Poiana village, countersigned their names and her second letter to the London Spectator.

There is the poet Mircea Dinescu, who gave a sardonic account of Romania’s condition to the Paris newspaper Libération in March. Nicu Stancescu, a hydraulic engineer and Party member who is now compelled to work as a farm laborer, wrote to the French press in May about “the generalized crisis” in the country and the “skepticism and apathy of the population.” In January, three prominent journalists and a printer published an anti-Ceausescu manifesto, and were arrested. Several other writers have made public declarations critical of the government’s policies; measures of retaliation against them have provoked still other protests by members of the Writers’ Union, including people previously close to the government as well as writers who have never been members of the Party.

Politically, the most significant of the protests was that delivered to Nicolae Ceausescu in March by six veteran members of the Romanian Communist party, including one of its founders. (The text was published in The New York Review of Books of April 27.) They said the government has demonstrated its inability to solve the basic economic and social problems of the country, and that it even threatens “the biological existence of our nation” by its fanatical export program and simultaneous wrecking (“systematization”) of the rural economy. The latter program destroys traditional villages in order to rehouse peasants in apartment blocks and reestablish rural life on an industrialized basis. At least twenty-nine villages have thus far been demolished in this way, and destruction has begun in another thirty-seven, according to the historian Dinu Giurescu, who was until 1985 a member of the Romanian Central Commission of the National Patrimony.

Many of the recent dissidents have been arrested and interrogated. Some have been put under …

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