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Socialist Romania

During the first decade of communist rule, Romania quietly complied with Moscow's foreign policy requirements and joined the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Treaty Organization (Warsaw Pact) and Comecon. Bucharest curried favor with Moscow by strongly endorsing the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, hoping to be rewarded with the removal of Soviet forces from Romanian territory. After Moscow withdrew its troops in 1958, however, Gheorghiu-Dej was emboldened to set an increasingly independent foreign policy. Tensions over Romania's economic development strategy and relationship to Comecon soon emerged.

Gheorghiu-Dej's determination to industrialize his country outraged Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who had intended to relegate Romania to the role of supplier of agricultural products and raw materials to the industrialized members of Comecon. To lessen dependence on Comecon, Gheorghiu-Dej established economic relations with noncommunist states and contracted with Western firms to build industrial plants in Romania. During the Sino-Soviet dispute, he supported the Chinese position on the equality of communist states and audaciously offered to mediate the disagreement. And in the famous "April Declaration" of 1964, Gheorghiu-Dej asserted the right of all nations to develop policies in accordance with their own interests and domestic requirements.

When he came to power in 1965, President Nicolae Ceausescu inherited a political model that differed little from the Stalinist prototype imposed in 1948. Under his shrewd direction, however, new control mechanisms evolved, giving Romania the most highly centralized power structure in Eastern Europe. After his election to the newly created office of president of the republic in 1974, Ceausescu officially assumed the duties of head of state while remaining leader of the Romanian Communist Party and supreme commander of the armed forces. Also in 1974, Ceausescu engineered the abolition of the Central Committee's Standing Presidium, among whose members were some of the most influential individuals in the party. Thereafter, policy-making powers would increasingly reside in the Political Executive Committee and its Permanent Bureau, which were staffed with Ceausescu's most trusted allies.

Ceausescu tightened his control of policy making and administration through the mechanism of joint party-state councils, which had no precise counterpart in other communist regimes. The councils went a step beyond the typical Stalinist pattern of interlocking party and state directorates, in which state institutions preserved at least the appearance of autonomy. The fusion of party and state bodies enabled Ceausescu to exercise immediate control over many of the functions the Constitution had granted to the Grand National Assembly, the Council of State, the Council of Ministers, the State Planning Committee and other government entities. Five of the nine joint party-state councils that had emerged by 1989 were chaired by Ceausescu himself or by his wife, Elena.

The appointment of close family members to critical party and government positions was a tactic of power consolidation that Ceausescu employed throughout his tenure. Indeed, the extent of nepotism in his regime was unparalleled in Eastern Europe. In 1989 at least twenty-seven Ceausescu relatives held influential positions in the party and state apparatus. Elena Ceausescu was elected to the Central Committee in 1972 and immediately began amassing power in her own right. From her position as chief of the Party and State Cadres Commission, she was able to dictate organizational and personnel changes throughout the party and the government. And as head of the National Council of Science and Technology, she played a central role in setting economic goals and policy. Ceausescu's brother, Ilie, became deputy minister of national defense and chief of the Higher Political Council of the Army after an alleged military coup attempt in 1983. Ceausescu's son, Nicu, despite a playboy reputation, headed the Union of Communist Youth and was a candidate member of the Political Executive Committee. Western observers coined the term "dynastic socialism" to describe the Romanian polity.

Another control mechanism perfected by Ceausescu was "rotation," a policy applied after 1971 to bolster his personal power at the expense of political institutions. Rotation shunted officials between party and state bureaucracies and between national and local posts, thereby removing Ceausescu's potential rivals before they were able to develop their own power bases. Although rotation was clearly counterproductive to administrative efficiency and was particularly damaging to the economy, Ceausescu continued the policy with vigor. In one month in 1987, for example, he dismissed eighteen ministers from the Council of Ministers -- about one-third of the government body established by the Constitution to administer all national and local agencies.

In the Stalinist tradition, Ceausescu exploited a ruthlessly efficient secret police, the Department of State Security (Departmenatal Securitatii Statului--Securitate) and intelligence service to abort challenges to his authority. Relative to the country's population, these services were the largest in Eastern Europe. And they were perhaps the most effective, judging by the relatively few documented acts of public dissent in Romania as compared with other communist states. Ceausescu generously funded the secret services and gave them carte blanche to preempt threats to his regime. In direct violation of rights guaranteed by the Constitution, Securitate agents maintained surveillance on private citizens, monitoring their contacts with foreigners, screening their mail, tapping their telephones, breaking into their homes and offices, and arresting and interrogating those suspected of disloyalty to the regime. Prominent dissidents suffered more severe forms of harassment, including physical violence and imprisonment.

In addition to the feared Securitate, Ceausescu directly controlled a force of some 20,000 special security troops, whose primary mission was to defend party installations and communications facilities. Heavily indoctrinated in Ceausescu's version of Marxism, these soldiers, in effect, served as a "palace guard." Moreover, as chairman of the Defense Council from its inception in 1969, Ceausescu could rein in the regular armed forces and minimize the threat of a military coup. Further diminishing the military as a potential rival to his authority, Ceausescu developed a unique military doctrine that deprofessionalized the regular armed forces and stressed mass participation in a "War of the Entire People."

Ceausescu would not willingly yield to the forces of historic change sweeping Eastern Europe. His faith in the massive control structure so carefully erected over the previous quarter century remained unshaken. Indeed, the regime had stifled the scattered voices of dissent and had prevented the emergence of a grass-roots political movement analogous to Poland's Solidarity or Czechoslovakia's Civic Forum. Following his November 1989 reelection for another five-year term as general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, there appeared to be no serious internal threat to Ceausescu's continued totalitarian rule.

Until late December 1989, it appeared that the Socialist Republic of Romania would enter the final decade of the century as one of the few remaining orthodox communist states. Revelling in his recent political triumphs at the Fourteenth Congress of the Romanian Communist Party (Partidul Communist Romn--PCR), President Nicolae Ceausescu adamantly refused to bow to international pressure to relax his iron-fisted rule. Ceausescu cast himself as the last true defender of socialism and rejected the liberalizing reforms adopted by other Eastern European states and the Soviet Union. Instead, his regime unflinchingly continued its Stalinist policies of repression of individual liberties, forced Romanianization of ethnic minorities, destruction of the nation's architectural heritage, and adherence to failed economic policies that had reduced Romania's standard of living to Third World levels.

Despite Ceausescu's growing international isolation, Romania's state-controlled media continued to lionize the "genius of the Carpathians." The period after 1965 was termed the "golden age of Ceausescu," an era when Romania purportedly had taken great strides toward its goal of becoming a multilaterally developed socialist state by the year 2000. The international community regarded the regime's depiction of its achievements as self-serving distortions of reality. But no one could deny that Ceausescu's long rule had radically changed Romania.

The dictatorship of the Ceausescu family, one of the most absurd forms of totalitarian government in the 20th century Europe, with a personality cult that actually bordered on mental illness, had as a result, among other things, distortions in the economy, the degradation of the social and moral life, the country's isolation from the international community. The country's resources were abusively used to build absurdly giant projects devised by the dictator's megalomania; this also contributed to a dramatic decline of the population's living standard and the deepening of the regime's crisis.

Under these circumstances, the spark of the revolt that was stirred in Timisoara on December 16, 1989 rapidly spread all over the country and in December 22 the dictatorship was overthrown owing to the sacrifice of over one thousand lives. The victory of the revolution opened the way for a re-establishment of democracy, of the pluralist political system, for the return to a market economy and the re-integration of the country in the European economic, political and cultural space.

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Page last modified: 21-11-2011 17:29:49 ZULU