Paris—The dramatic, even hysterical, physical construction, reconstruction, and destruction that has gone on in Romania at the will or whim of Nicolae Ceausescu has conveyed an intimation of the end—an end that may now be approaching. The open letter of protest published below was addressed to the Romanian dictator on March 10 by six senior figures in the Romanian Communist party, including one of the Party’s founders, ninety-four-year-old Constantin Pirvulescu. It is certain to have serious backing elsewhere in the Party and government.
It is virtually certain, as well, to enjoy support from the Soviet Union, although the ability of the Soviet authorities to intervene in Romania’s internal situation or to protect the six is by no means assured. The statement by the six that they are “risking [their] liberty and even [their] lives,” is thus certainly the truth. One of the signers, Silviu Brucan, former ambassador to the United Nations and former editor of the Communist party newspaper, was taken into custody for questioning the day after the letter was released, as was, later, another of the signers, Alexandru Birladeanu. Both subsequently were released. Diplomatic sources in Bucharest say that all the signers and their families continue to suffer harassment and measures of retaliation.
Most at risk at this moment appears to be Mircea Raceanu, stepson of Grigore Raceanu, another of the signers, who was arrested earlier this year on espionage allegations and, following publication of this open letter, was charged with treason. He is a former first secretary of the Romanian Embassy in Washington (1969–1978) and was head of the US desk of the Romanian Foreign Ministry at the time of his arrest. His father, Andor Bernath, was executed during the war for anti-Fascist activities. A manipulated letter-writing campaign in the Romanian press has called for the “harshest punishment” to be inflicted on him. The same diplomatic sources say that as of March 23, they are aware of no change in his situation since his arrest was made known. Other people currently at risk are three journalists, Petre Mihai Bacanu, Anton Uncu, and Mihai Creanga, and a typographer, Alexandru Chivoiu, on trial for having prepared a manifesto critical of the regime.
The initiative of the six Communist patriarchs brings the internal Romanian crisis into the open; until now it has been stifled by police repression and obscured by Nicolae Ceausescu’s program of national monument building. He has all but completely substituted for Marxism in “socialist” Romania a grotesquely triumphalist nationalism, by which Romania’s national progression is portrayed as having found its culmination in the era of Ceausescu. Sumptuous avenues and public buildings (including the immense “House of the Nation,” formerly the “House of the People”) have been under night-and-day construction as expressions of the grandeur of the Romanian nation while the Romanian people have groaned in cold and winter darkness, trekking from shop to market in the daily search for something to eat.
The six say in their letter: “Why urbanize villages when you cannot ensure decent conditions of urban life in the cities, namely adequate heating, lighting, transportation, not to mention food? A government that for five winters in a row has been unable to solve such vital problems for its population proves itself incompetent, and incapable of governing.” They demand that exports of Romania’s agricultural output be stopped—“that are threatening the biological existence of our nation.”
The charges they make are ones that exiled Romanians and foreign observers have made for years. Their letter was issued the day after Romania was condemned by the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations in Geneva—in a vote on which the Soviet Union conspicuously abstained, as did Bulgaria and the East German delegation, while Hungary co-sponsored the proposal for a UN investigation of Romania’s human rights situation. France recalled its ambassador from Bucharest March 16 as a consequence of the Romanian government’s reaction to this open letter, and on March 24 the United States cancelled a scheduled meeting on human rights matters and issued an unusually blunt warning that measures against Mr. Ceausescu’s critics would have “direct consequences” on relations between Washington and Bucharest.
The Romanian writer Eugène Ionesco, a resident of France, told the political commission of the European Parliament in February that Romania’s present situation is one of “cultural genocide.” Romania, he said, is “making a final departure from Europe itself.” A poet, Mircea Dinescu, living inside Romania, gave an interview to the Paris newspaper Liberation on March 20 in which he said that
those organs of the nation supposed to defend the fundamental rights of man, the system of justice and the press, without speaking of the police and security service, have been transformed into instruments of intimidation and terrorization of the population
He was dismissed from his job with the weekly Romania Literara and has been excluded from the Party and placed under police surveillance, but he maintains his defiance, saying (as quoted in Liberation March 24) that
after four prizes from the Writers’ Union and a fifth from the Romanian Academy I had begun to think, in my naiveté, that I was a free man, born free and to die free; that freedom was the raw material of my profession and that without it I would not exist.
A second poet, Dan Desliu, sixty-two, for many years a court poet of the preceding Gheorghiu-Dej regime, has also written a critical open letter published in the West. His action can be taken as a further sign of the foundering of the regime.
Infant mortality in Romania is now the highest in Europe, despite a government program of population increase, which demands five children from every woman of child-bearing age and forbids not only abortion but the use of contraceptives. The old are expected to die without burdening the country’s declining medical facilities. Male life expectance has been falling, and it is now only sixty-six years. The ration of meat for a worker in Brasov, Romania’s second city, in 1987 was 8.5 kilos (less than twenty pounds)—for the entire year. The independent culture and languages of the national minorities—Hungarian and German—are cruelly repressed. More than 13,000 ethnic Hungarian refugees from Romania were given residence permits in Hungary last year alone, and something like the same number are thought to be living undeclared in Hungary. Hungary’s consulate in the Transylvanian city of Cluj has been closed by the Romanian authorities.
In Bucharest, at the beginning of March, one of the signers of the open letter—its existence then was still unknown—made it possible for me to see another document, which he had signed, arguing that multiparty government was inappropriate for Romania Communist party; real and open debate among the Party’s members and leaders, with decisions taken openly at the outcome of those debates.
I did not understand at the time what he wanted me to do about this document. It now seems clear that he wanted it emphasized internationally that the aims of these Communist patriarchs—who include a former foreign minster, a former president of the UN General Assembly, the number two figure in the Party before 1972 and head of the Communist unions—are wholly consistent with the orthodoxy of contemporary communist reform.
These six old men challenging Nicolae Ceausescu do not ask for Communism to end in Romania. They ask for respect for constitutional guarantees and a constructive dialogue. They wish to save the system, not wreck it. Theirs is, no doubt, an aim that may properly provoke bitterness; they served Stalinism in their time, and they helped make Romania what is was when Nicolae Ceausescu took it over. Nonetheless, today they take their lives in their hands to defy manifest injustice. They honor the Romanian nation; they deserve urgent support from western governments and Western public opinion. International outrage can make a difference, even in Ceausescu Romania.
The letter of the six men is printed below:
To President Ceausescu:
At a time when the very idea of socialism, for which we have fought, is discredited by your policy, and when our country is being isolated in Europe, we have decided to speak up. We are perfectly aware that by doing so we are risking our liberty and even our lives; but we feel duty-bound to appeal to you to reverse the present course before it is too late.
1) The international community is reproaching you for nonobservance of the Helsinki final act, which you have signed yourself. Romanian citizens are reproaching you for nonobservance of the constitution, which you have sworn to observe. Here are the facts:
A) The whole plan for systematization of villages [i.e., their “modernization” by destroying existing buildings] and the forced removal of peasants to three-story apartment blocks runs against Article 36 of the constitution, which protects the right to personal property of a household, with its annexes and the land on which it is situated.
B) The decree forbidding Romanian citizens to have contact with foreigners has never been voted on by the legislative body and never been published; thus it lacks legal power. And yet our citizens are threatened with being fired, harassed, arrested, and sentenced for doing so.
C) The Civic Center [in Bucharest], the biggest multibillion lei investment made in Romania, has no public budget and is being built in violation of all existing laws regulating constructions and their financing. The cost of the immense building has tripled because of changes you order every month in the interior and exterior of the building.
D) Securitatea [i.e., the State Security Service], which we created to defend the socialist order against the exploiting classes, is now directed against workers demanding their rights, against old members of the Party, and against honest intellectuals exercising their rights to petition (Article 34) and freedom of speech (Article 28) guaranteed by the constitution.
E) Factories and institutions have been ordered to force their employees to work on Sunday against Article 19 of the constitution and the labor code.
F) Mail is systematically violated and our telephone conversations are cut off in violation of Article 34, guaranteeing their privacy. To sum up, the constitution has been virtually suspended and there is no legal system in force. You must admit, Mr. President, that a society cannot function if the authorities, starting from the top, show disrespect for the law.
2) Planning no longer works in the Romanian economy. The meetings of the Executive Political Committee are all oriented toward the past, [and taken up with] exhorting the workers to make up for the unfulfilled plan of the previous year, previous semester, or previous month. An increasing number of factories lack raw materials, energy, or markets.
3) Agricultural policy is also in disarray. Harsh administrative measures are directed against the peasants, who, according to your own data, provide 40 percent of the country’s vegetables, 56 percent of the fruit, 60 percent of the milk, and 44 percent of the meat, though they have only 12 percent of the arable land. But, of course, what is now predominant in the villages is the fear of being “systematized,” with seven or eight thousand villages threatened with being razed. Above all the economic, cultural, and humanitarian objections of the civilized world to that program, a legitimate question arises: Why urbanize villages when you cannot ensure decent conditions of urban life in the cities, namely adequate heating, lighting, transportation, not to mention food? A government that for five winters in a row has been unable to solve such vital problems for its population proves itself incompetent and incapable of governing. Therefore, we are not pressing on you any demand in this respect.
4) The very fact that Germans, Hungarians, and Jews are emigrating en masse shows that the policy of forced assimilation should be renounced.
5) Finally, we are deeply worried that Romania’s international position and prestige are rapidly deteriorating. As you know, this is concretely shown by the decision of quite a few countries to close their embassies in Bucharest. Most alarming, embassies of such European nations as Denmark and Portugal have already been closed and others may follow. Our growing isolation affects not only diplomatic relations. We have lost the most-favored-nation status for trade with the United States and as a result some of our textile factories have no orders. The EEC is unwilling to extend its trade agreement with Romania, which will negatively affect other sectors of our economy. You have always maintained that summit meetings are decisive in improving relations between states. But how are you going to improve Romania’s external relations when all the leaders of the non-Communist nations of Europe refuse to meet with you? Romania is and remains a European country and as such must advance along with the Helsinki process and not turn against it. You started changing the geography of the countryside, but you cannot remove Romania to Africa.
To stop the negative processes, both domestic and international, besetting our nation we appeal to you, as a first step, to take the following measures:
- To state categorically in unequivocal terms that you have renounced the plan of systematization of villages.
- To restore the constitutional guarantees regarding the rights of citizens. This will enable you to observe the decisions of the Vienna Conference on Human Rights.
To put an end to the food exports that are threatening the biological existence of our nation.
Once such measures are taken, we are prepared to participate in a constructive spirit in a dialogue with the government on the ways and means of overcoming the present impasse.
Gheorghe Apostol, former member of the Politburo and chairman of trade
unions; Alexandru Birladeanu, former member of the Politburo and chairman of the planning committee; Corneliu Manescu, former minister of foreign affairs and president of the UN General Assembly; Constantin Pirvulescu, founding member of the Communist party; Grigore Raceanu, veteran of the Communist party; Silviu Brucan, former acting editor of Scinteia
April 27, 1989