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Razing Romania

To the Editors:

The undersigned wish to draw the attention of your readers to some grave developments in Romania, which have elicited considerable public concern in western Europe, including semi-official protests on the part of several governments, and have drawn comments from Hungary’s government, but which are virtually ignored in the United States. At issue is the program of Nicolae Ceausescu’s government to raze by the year 2000 one half of Romania’s villages and to eliminate almost immediately most of the smaller communities. Heralded as “Systematization,” the program was launched by the Romanian National Council in March 1988.

Under the circumstances of the operation of Ceausescu’s centralized regime, it is difficult to know how and when this program will be implemented. Nevertheless, judging by what has happened in recent years in Bucharest, where hundreds of private buildings and apartment houses as well as many churches were suddenly razed so as to make way for government buildings and for a great avenue dedicated to the Romanian leader, there can be little doubt that the regime means business. Whether the systematization is aimed at Romania’s national minorities, especially at the settlements inhabited by the nearly two million Hungarians, or whether it will affect the rural population as a whole, is unclear.

The process of destruction has already begun in the Romanian areas surrounding Bucharest, where the inhabitants of the razed settlements have been directed into hastily erected block houses, which often lack the most basic facilities.

The avowed purpose of systematization in the countryside is to gain arable land and to make such modern facilities as schools available to the rural population. It is widely questioned whether this in fact addresses the main sources of retardation in Romania and whether this policy could lead to such positive consequences. While it is the Romanian population in the Bucharest area that is primarily victimized by measures thus far taken, the contemplated expansion threatens to strike with particular force the Hungarian and German ethnic communities of the countryside. The minorities have already been the object of special discrimination. Their schools and museums have been closed, their publications made to toe an official line, some of their cultural leaders persecuted. The ancient Saxon-German, Hungarian, and Romanian churches and cemeteries in the villages are now threatened with destruction beyond resuscitation. Transylvania, Walachia, and Moldavia, the three historic principalities making up today’s Great Romania, are still extremely rich in historic monuments. Their capricious destruction would diminish the whole of the European cultural heritage.

We hope that all individuals and groups concerned about human liberty will join the wave of protest mounting in Europe against both the violation of the human rights of all Romanians and the cultural identity of its minorities. Readers in the United States can write to the Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Romania, 1607 23rd Street NW, Washington, DC 20008

Natalie Z. Davis
Istvan Deak
Carl E. Schorske
Princeton University
Department of History, 129 Dickinson Hall
Princeton, New Jersey 08544

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