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Socialist Romania - Foreign Policy

Accepting the April Declaration as the guiding principle of his foreign policy, Ceausescu further distanced Romania from the Soviet bloc. He defied Moscow by establishing diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in 1967 and by maintaining relations with Israel after the June 1967 War. He denounced the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and thereafter refused to permit Warsaw Pact military maneuvers on Romanian territory. And he brought Romania into such international organizations as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the IMF, and the World Bank. In the early 1970s, Romania claimed the status of a developing nation, thereby gaining trade concessions from the West and fostering relations with the Third World. Championing the "new economic order," Romania gained observer status at the conferences of the Nonaligned Movement.

The West enthusiastically welcomed Romania's emergence as the maverick of the Warsaw Pact and rewarded Ceausescu's independent course with the credits and technology needed to modernize the country's economy. Prominent Western political figures, including Richard Nixon and Charles de Gaulle, made symbolic trips to Bucharest and paid homage to Ceausescu as an international statesman. When the United States granted most-favored-nation trading status in 1975, the noncommunist world accounted for well over half of Romania's foreign trade. To enhance his growing international status, Ceausescu made highly publicized visits to China, Western Europe, the United States, and numerous Third World nations. By 1976 he had visited more than thirty less-developed countries to promote Romanian exports and to secure new sources of raw materials. As a result of these efforts, in 1980 less-developed countries accounted for one-quarter of Romania's foreign trade.

In the late 1970s, with the onset of Romania's economic difficulties, particularly its foreign-debt crisis, relations with the West began to deteriorate rapidly. Throughout the following decade, Ceausescu's trade policies and domestic programs exhausted the reserves of good will he had built through his defiance of Moscow. Accusing the West of economic imperialism, he slashed imports from the advanced capitalist countries, while selling Romanian goods on their markets at dumping prices.

It was the regime's human rights record, however, that most damaged relations with the West. As early as the mid-1970s, the United States, West Germany, and Israel protested Romania's increasingly restrictive emigration policies. The regime attempted to stem the outflow of productive citizens through various forms of intimidation. Applicants were routinely demoted to menial jobs or fired; some were called to active military duty or assigned to public works details; others were interrogated and subjected to surveillance by the Securitate. Concerned for the fate of the large number of ethnic Germans who wanted to leave Romania, West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt travelled to Bucharest and negotiated a program to purchase emigration papers for them. Over the 1978-88 period, West Germany "repatriated" some 11,000 persons annually, paying the equivalent of several thousand United States dollars for each exit visa.

Ceausescu's restrictive emigration policies seemingly conflicted with another of his primary goals--assimilation of ethnic groups into a homogeneous, Romanianized population. The tactics used to achieve that goal grew progressively harsher during the 1980s and further tarnished Romania's international image. The regime's attempts to assimilate the Transylvanian Hungarian community--with nearly 2 million members, the largest national minority in non-Soviet Europe--were particularly controversial and inflamed relations with Budapest. The "Hymn to Romania" propaganda campaign, launched in 1976, glorified the historical contributions of ethnic Romanians in unifying and liberating the nation. Hungarian and German place-names were Romanianized, and history books were revised to ignore key minority figures or to portray them as Romanians. Publishing in minority languages was severely curtailed, and television and radio broadcasts in Hungarian and German were suspended. Educational opportunities for minority students desiring instruction in their native languages were reduced, and Hungarians seeking employment in their ancestral communities encountered hiring discrimination that forced them to leave those communities and settle among ethnic Romanians.

Potentially the greatest threat to the Hungarian community, however, was Ceausescu's program to "systematize" the countryside. Conceived in the early 1970s--ostensibly to gain productive farmland by eliminating "nonviable" villages--systematization threatened to destroy half of the country's 13,000 villages, including many ancient ethnic Hungarian and German settlements.

Ceausescu's assimilation campaign forced large numbers of ethnic Hungarians to flee their homeland, triggering large anti-Ceausescu demonstrations in Budapest. In retaliation, Ceausescu closed the Hungarian consulate in Cluj-Napoca, the cultural center of the Hungarian community in Transylvania. In early 1989, Hungary filed an official complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, accusing Romania of gross violations of basic human rights. The Swedish representative to the commission cosponsored a resolution with five other Western nations calling for an investigation of Hungary's allegations against the Ceausescu regime. Earlier in the year, Romania's international reputation had been badly damaged by its conduct at the Vienna Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Failing in its attempt to delete human rights provisions from the conference's final document, the Romanian delegation declared it was not bound by the agreement. This action was condemned not only by Western delegations but also by delegations from some Warsaw Pact states.

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