Romania: Ten Years After the Revolution

BY GERRY FOLEY

Bucharest during 1989 revolt that overthrew Ceaucescu bureaucracy

With the onset of the 10th anniversary of the Romanian revolution that overthrew the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaucescu, the social crisis caused by the attempts of successive governments since December 1989 to restore capitalism seemed to be reaching a new peak.

The Italian left daily Il Manifesto reported Nov. 24: “Protests swept the cities of this most populous of the Balkan countries. … Yesterday workers in Constanza, Sibiu, Bacau, Ploesti, and the Cernavoda Nero nuclear plant filled the center of Bucharest in a demonstration organized by the Fratia [Brotherhood] union federation, which has more than three million members.

“Shouting, ‘robbers, robbers,’ … they demanded the resignation of the government that has reduced the country to starvation and desperation.

“Yesterday’s march was preceded by demonstrations of all sectors of society, engineering workers in Brasov, port workers in Costantza, students, teachers, railworkers.”

In the end-of-the-year holiday period itself, Romania was hit by a three-day general strike of railway workers and threats of further actions. In its Dec. 9 issue, the Budapest daily Nepszabadsag pointed out that the railworkers had defied Romanian strike laws by staging a total walkout without maintaining even minimum services.

“On the third day of the strike. the country was totally paralyzed. … The shutdown of transportation caused serious losses in industry and agriculture. These losses were all the heavier because heating plants could not be supplied with sufficient coal.”

The decline in the living standards of the masses has been particularly acute since the installation of the present right-wing government three years ago. The ruling coalition, dominated by the Peasant Party, includes Petre Roman, one of the main leaders of the wing of the Communist Party that rebelled against Ceaucescu 10 years ago. He has just been appointed minister of foreign affairs in a new cabinet just formed by the same coalition. (The new premier, Mugur Ilarescu, a bank official, is generally seen as a stooge of the international financial institutions.)

The other main leader of the Communist Party opposition at the time of the revolution, Ion Iliescu, heads the opposition to the government. He and Roman compete for the mantle of Social Democracy. However, since Iliescu is the only visible alternative to the present discredited regime, he has an overwhelming lead in public opinion polls.

According to Tibori Szabo Zolt in Nepszabadsag (Dec. 20), more than 48 percent of those polled say that they will vote for Iliescu; and only 13.8 percent say they will vote for the ruling coalition.

Inflation has been running at 60 percent. The public health situation has deteriorated to where the country is being threatened by epidemics.

Facing this situation, the ruling coalition suffered a serious split at the end of the year. The premier, Radu Vasile, was dismissed by the president, Emil Constantinescu. Vasile claimed that his ouster was unconstitutional, and refused for some time to turn over his office. For a time the country had two premiers. For his defiance of the president, Vasile was expelled from the Peasants Party at the end of December, accused of ‘indiscipline” and “forming a group within the party.”

Vasile’s expulsion was hardly characteristic of a bourgeois parliamentary party, which is what the Peasants Party claims to be. Rather it was reminiscent of the practices of Stalinist Communist parties. As such, it was symptomatic of the fact that the heritage of Stalinist bureaucracy has not been eliminated-only most of the positive features of the collective economy off of which it fed.

The 1989 revolution combined a split within the Communist Party with a mass uprising. The second aspect explains why it took so long for the attempt to restore capitalism to gain steam. It also explains why the would-be restorers of capitalism now face such a volatile situation.

During the revolution, major factories were taken over by the workers and powerful trade unions were formed. The lack of a political alternative in accordance with the workers’ interests has diverted and eroded working-class organization but it has not destroyed it. The power of the revolution and the aspirations it aroused explains why the anger of the population is so explosive.

Journalists researching the changes in Romania since the December 1989 revolution have revealed a shocking picture of the continuation of the old bureaucracy under capitalist restoration. In its Dec. 23 issue, the Brussels daily Le Soir published an account of the situation in the city of Timisoara, where the revolution began on in 1989.

“Almost without exception, the local leaders of the old guard of the Ceaucescu regime, guilty of the deaths of nearly 100 demonstrators, have escaped justice. Today, most of the Communist leaders and the agents of the dreaded Securitate are not only free but still occupy important posts….

“For their part, the veterans of the revolution, the families of the victims, and the many people wounded complain that they have gotten little by way of compensation and that the judicial inquiries designed to uncover those responsible have been systematically sabotaged by the various regimes that succeeded Ceaucescu.”

Le Soir’s correspondent interviewed Radu Tinu, who was second in command of the local Securitate at the time of the revolution. He is now a prominent businessman: “A man well into his 40s, very short hair over a steely countenance, he opens his little black wallet and hands me his visiting card. He is a lawyer and an officer of a branch of the Inter-Agro company based in Bucharest.”

The two Securitate officers charged with disposing of the bodies of the murdered demonstrators, Eugene Peptan and Valentin Ciuca, were also located. Peptan is now a legal counsel to the mayor of Timisoara and Ciuca is a rich businessman, in partnership with Tinu, engaged in exporting drink to Italy. Of the 54 Securitate officers in the county of Timisoara, only five have served prison terms.

The population continues to seethe with resentment:

“Ion Ghinca, 48 years old, a welder, was almost killed on Dec. 17, 1989, when he was hit in the chest by an explosive bullet. He says that a third of those wounded in the revolution died later in poverty or were driven to suicide. Ghinca was forced to retire. He moves about slowly. This anniversary means tears rather than joy. The families weep, they set up candles in the street, they continue to look on the police and soldiers with hatred.”

In Bucharest, Le Soir’s correspondent found that most of the apartments supposedly allotted to “heroes of the revolution” have gone to Stalinist bureaucrats.

Many of the former political police have tried to justify their past with a new line: “The agents are writing books that please the nationalists. They maintain, in general, the idea that they defended the national territory from the pernicious influence of the CIA, the KGB, and the Free Masons.”

The Ceaucescu regime turned more and more to chauvinism in its last period in order to shore up its rule. It was its reign of terror against the Hungarian minority in Transylvania that struck the sparks that finally ignited the December 1989 revolution.

The post-Stalinists of both the left and the right have continued this tradition. Iliescu’s party is in an alliance with the Greater Romania Party, which is a fusion of ultra-Stalinists and fascist-like nationalists. It explicitly looks to the French neofascist Le Pen as a model.

Some of the labor leaders most prominent in resisting the economic policies of the capitalist restorationist governments, such as Miron Cozma, the imprisoned leader of the coal miners, have lined up with the Greater Romania Party, apparently because it says that economic policies must be subordinated to the national interests of Romania, a more collectivist base than the neoliberal ideology of the government.

But this alliance is extremely short-sighted. It is a major factor in fostering fear of the opposition to the present government in significant sections of the population.

It has been a general pattern in recent elections in Eastern Europe that “left” Stalinist opposition parties have seemed to have a lot more support in opinion polls than they actually get in elections. The polls reflect the population’s hatred of the capitalist restorationist governments and their policies. The election results also reflect mass fears of restoring the reins of government to neo-Stalinists.

To break the vicious circle, a new kind of opposition is necessary that can offer a consistent alternative to capitalist restoration based on democratic control of the economy by working people. Only such an opposition can fulfill the promise of the December 1989 Romanian revolution.