• Email
  • Print

Democracy in Romania?

In response to:

Survivors from the March 5, 1992 issue

To the Editors:

I want to congratulate Professor István Deák for a generally balanced and nuanced account of Romania’s past and present [“Survivors,” NYR, March 5]. Given the complexity of Romania, which Deák identifies very well, there are inevitable disagreements of both substance and emphasis. Since polemics is less interesting than constructive understanding, I propose to add a few elements to Deák’s story. The review does not emphasize the (now) documented fact that since the early 80’s high level officers in the Romanian military and Securitate, together with a few former party bureaucrats, have been plotting to overthrow Ceausescu, with one major attempt in 1984, and replace him with more moderate communists like Ion Iliescu. This fact is significant and explanatory in three major respects. First, it is the only known case in former communist regimes when elements of the military and the secret police plot against the party leadership. The plot was expressing a widespread discontent with and even hate for Ceausescu, particularly in the administration, a fact which explains why Ceausescu was badly misinformed during his last days in power and abandoned in his attempt to escape. This fact also explains why in the first days after Ceausescu’s fall, in spite of the popular anti-communist revolt demanding something totally new, the anti-Ceausescu plotters, with good connections and new recruits in the military and Securitate, thought not only that this is their moment and chance for power, but that they are entitled to it, and have the means to get it. For many dangerous years their obsession was Ceausescu, not a truly democratic Romania, whence, once in power, their conflicts with sectors of the population (students, intelligentsia, workers) for whom Ceausescu, no matter how monstrous, was only the symbol of a regime to be totally replaced. These conflicts still fuel political life in Romania. Finally, given the involvement of parts of the military and Securitate in anti-Ceausescu activities before and during December 1989, as well as the factional fights (some with bullets) for power among these groups in the critical days of December 1989, it is unlikely that we will soon know the truth about the “terrorists” or indeed about the “Romanian revolution.” A “pact of silence” seems to be the price that many of the plotters and factional fighters have exacted in exchange for their involvement and cooperation. It is symptomatic to note, in this respect, that two years after December 1989, with a very lively and free press and publishing industry, there is no well documented and comprehensive account in Romania of the fall of Ceausescu and its aftermath.

Let me conclude on a more optimistic and forward-looking note. Professor Deák is right to foresee an acceleration of the democratic process in Romania. He does not mention the creation of the Civic Alliance, which is likely to be a more formidable opponent of the ruling party than the historical parties (liberals and national-peasants), and probably he could not have included in his review the emergence of the Democratic Convention (an electoral alliance of most opposition parties) which did well in the recent local elections. A few years from now Romania may have a different and probably more democratic political configuration and even governance. This is a possibility to watch and welcome, as Romania’s eventual reunification with (formerly Soviet) Moldova will give the country a critical land and population mass, and a stronger voice, in a fractioned and disintegrating Central, Eastern, and formerly Soviet Europe.

Radu J. Bogdan
Department of Philosophy
Tulane University
New Orleans, Louisiana

István Deák replies:

That high-level plots against Ceausescu existed before the popular upheaval in December 1989 has been confirmed by, among others, the ex-plotter and ancien Bolshevik Silviu Brucan, a colorful figure well known in Western academic circles. Yet it is much more likely that it was the popular revolution and not the conspirators which was responsible for overthrowing the dictator. Exactly what happened during those fateful December days that enabled Iliescu and friends to seize power is still shrouded in mystery.

I agree with Radu Bogdan’s analysis of recent Romanian developments. I should have mentioned the Civic Alliance, a group of intellectuals led by Nicolai Manolescu, which forms a part of the opposition group called the Democratic Convention. The March 12, 1992, issue of the Foreign Report published by the London Economist writes that the “Western governments see the Convention as the main bulwark against the rise of nationalist parties, such as the quasi-fascist Greater Romania Party, which won 6 percent of the vote in Bucharest at the regional elections and enjoys the President’s [Iliescu’s] tacit support.” According to all accounts, the Greater Romania Party is even less popular today than its electoral results in Bucharest would show.

The political situation in Romania is improving. As an expert on the southeast European scene, Professor Gale Stokes of Rice University has written recently in a letter to the editors of The New York Review, scores of genuinely liberal Romanian newspapers, such as the România Libera and the Cotideanul, are doing much better today than the stridently anti-Semitic and anti-Hungarian România Mare [Greater Romania]. Yet the latter was, a year or two ago, the most popular newspaper in Romania.

The local and regional elections held in February won the approval of “The International Delegation to the Romanian Elections.” Abuses detected by the delegation seem to have been no worse than those often found in the United States, or Italy, or pre-fascist and pre-Communist Eastern Europe. The trouble is that both the Democratic Convention and the governing National Salvation Front are divided. Most recently, a large part of the Liberal Party, led by its party chairman, Radu Câmpeanu, seceded from the Democratic Convention. According to some Bucharest newspapers, Iliescu favors an alliance with Câmpeanu, who in turn favors the return of ex-king Michael. This would make the Communist Iliescu an ally not only of the extreme-rightist Greater Romania Party but also of the monarchist wing of the Liberal Party. According to other newspapers, however, it is not Iliescu but his rival in the National Salvation Front, ex-prime minister Petre Roman, who is seeking an alliance with Câmpeanu, and thus perhaps also with the king. Yet again other newspapers speculate that Roman is about to form an alliance not with the Câmpeanu but with Manolescu’s Civic Alliance. The parliamentary elections scheduled for July promise to be interesting.

Finally, I cannot imagine why we should welcome the possibility of Moldova (formerly Soviet Moldavia, earlier Bessarabia, and even earlier the eastern half of the Principality of Moldavia) reuniting with the motherland. The unification of the two economic basket cases, Romania and Moldova, is not likely to help matters; nor does it seem to appeal to most Moldovans. Romania has had more than enough trouble with its minorities; it might not be such a good idea to add to them the Ukrainians, Cossacks, Gagauz (Christianized Turks), Great Russians, Lipovani (Russian sectarians), and Bulgars of Moldova, some of whom are today opposing with arms the Romanian-speaking majority and its exclusivist government. Furthermore, if it is true that reunification would “give the country [Romania] a critical land and population mass, and a stronger voice, in fractioned and disintegrating Central, Eastern, and formerly Soviet Europe,” then there is no reason why other countries should not want to play the same beneficial international role. The Hungarians, for instance, could decide that the reunification of Transylvania—that lost son or daughter—with Hungary would give their country a critical mass of land and population that is sorely needed for the stability of fractioned and disintegrating Central, Eastern, and formerly Soviet Europe. Ukraine and Bulgaria, too, might develop similar ambitions. Personally, I do not look forward to the clash of these “Greater East Central European Co-Prosperity Spheres.”

  • Email
  • Print