Communist Romania

From Academic Kids

Romania Coat of Arms
Part of the series
History of Romania
The Middle Ages
National awakening
Kingdom of Romania
World War II
Communist Romania
Romania since 1989

The Soviets pressed for inclusion of Romania's heretofore negligible Communist Party in the post-war government, while non-communist political leaders were steadily eliminated from political life. King Michael abdicated under pressure in December 1947, when the Romanian People's Republic was declared, and went into exile.

In the early 1960s, Romania's communist government began to assert some independence from the Soviet Union. Nicolae Ceauşescu became head of the Communist Party in 1965 and head of state in 1967. Ceauşescu's denunciation of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and a brief relaxation in internal repression helped give him a positive image both at home and in the West. Seduced by Ceauşescu's "independent" foreign policy, Western leaders were slow to turn against a regime that, by the late 1970s, had become increasingly harsh, arbitrary, and capricious. Rapid economic growth fueled by foreign credits gradually gave way to wrenching austerity and severe political repression.


Rise of the Communists

When King Michael (Mihai) overthrew Ion Antonescu in August 1944, breaking Romania away from the Axis and bringing it over to the Allied side, Michael could do nothing to erase the memory of his country's recent active participation in the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Although Romanian forces fought heroically under Soviet command, driving through Northern Transylvania into Hungary proper, and on into Czechoslovakia and Germany, the Soviets still treated Romania as conquered territory.

The Yalta Conference had granted the Soviet Union a predominant interest in Romania, the Paris Peace Treaties failed to acknowledge Romania as a co-belligerent, and the Red Army was sitting on Romanian soil. The Communists played only a minor role in Michael's wartime government, headed by General Nicolae Rădescu, but this would change in March 1945, when Dr. Petru Groza of the Ploughmen's Front, a party closely associated with the Communists, became prime minister. Although his government was broad, including members of most major prewar parties including the Iron Guard, the Communists held the key ministries.

The king was not happy with the direction of this government, but when he attempted to force Groza's resignation by refusing to sign any legislation, Groza simply chose to enact laws without bothering to obtain Michael's signature. On November 8, 1945, an anti-communist demonstration in front of the Royal Palace in Bucharest was met with force, resulting in numerous arrests, injuries, and an undetermined number of deaths.

Despite the king's disapproval, the first Groza government brought land reform and women's suffrage. However, it also brought the beginnings of Soviet domination of Romania. In the elections of November 9, 1946, about 90% of the votes went to the "traditional parties", with Communists gaining less than 10%. However, with the support of the Soviet Army, the Communists and their allies claimed 80% of the vote and as the Rough Guide to Romania has it, "virtually every device ever used to rig an election was put into play". Using Machiavellian tactics, the communists worked with the Iron Guard to eliminate the role of the centrist parties; notably, the National Peasant Party was accused of espionage after it became clear in 1947 that their leaders were meeting secretly with US officials. Other parties were forced to "merge" with the Communists.

In 1946-1947 tens of thousands of participants in the pro-Axis regime were executed as "war criminals." Antonescu himself was executed June 1, 1946. By 1948, all non-Communist politicians were either executed, in exile or in prison.

By 1947, Romania remained the only monarchy from the Eastern Block. On December 30, 1947, the Communists made King Michael chose between abdication and a violent repression against all anti-communists, including the executions of the 1,000 students arrested earlier for anti-communist demonstrations. The king abdicated and the Communists declared a People's Republic; this was formalized with the constitution of April 13, 1948.

The new constitution forbidden and punished any association which had "fascist or anti-democratic nature", which in reality meant that it forbidden any association which displeased the Communists. It also granted the freedom of press, speech and assembly, but only "for those who work".

Justinian Marina, the new chosen Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church with the help of the Communist government disbanded the Romanian Greek-Catholic Uniate Church merged it with the Orthodox Church.

Internecine struggle

The early years of Communist rule in Romania were marked by repeated changes of course and by mass arrests and imprisonments, as factions contended for dominance. In 1948 the earlier agrarian reform was reversed, replaced by a move toward collective farms. This led to tens of thousands of arrests, as did the effort to liquidate the Uniate Church. On June 11, 1948, all banks and large businesses were nationalized. Romania developed a system of forced labor and political prisons similar to the Soviet Union, with an estimated 100,000 forced laborers dying in an unsuccessful effort to build a Danube-Black Sea Canal.

There appear to have been three important factions, all of them Stalinist, differentiated more by their respective personal histories than by any deep political or philosophical differences:

  1. The "Muscovites," notably Ana Pauker and Vasile Luca, had spent the war in Moscow.
  2. The "Prison Communists," notably Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, had been imprisoned during the war.
  3. The somewhat less firmly Stalinist "Secretariat Communists," notably Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu had made it through the Antonescu years by hiding within Romania and had participated in the broad governments immediately after King Michael's 1944 coup.

Ultimately, with Stalin's backing, and probably due in part to the anti-Semitic policies of late Stalinism (Pauker was Jewish), Gheorghiu-Dej and the "Prison Communists" won out. Pauker was purged from the party (along with 192,000 other party members); Pătrăşcanu was executed after a show trial.

The Gheorghiu-Dej era

Gheorghiu-Dej, a firm Stalinist, was not pleased with the reforms in Nikita Khrushchev's Soviet Union after Stalin's death in 1953. He also blanched at Comecon's goal of turning Romania into the "breadbasket" of the East Bloc, pursuing a program of the development of heavy industry. He also closed Romania's largest labor camps, abandoned the Danube-Black Sea Canal project, halted rationing, and hiked workers' wages.

This, combined with continuing resentment that historically Romanian lands remained part of the Soviet Union, in the form of the Moldavian SSR, inevitably led Romania under Gheorghiu-Dej on a relatively independent and nationalist route.

Gheorghiu-Dej identified with Stalinism, and the more liberal Soviet regime threatened to undermine his authority. In an effort to reinforce his position, Gheorghiu-Dej pledged cooperation with any state, regardless of political-economic system, as long as it recognized international equality and did not interfere in other nations' domestic affairs. This policy led to a tightening of Romania's bonds with China, which also advocated national self-determination.

In 1954 Gheorghiu-Dej resigned as the party's general secretary but retained the premiership; a four-member collective secretariat, including Nicolae Ceauşescu, controlled the party for a year before Gheorghiu-Dej again took up the reins. Despite its new policy of international cooperation, Romania joined the Warsaw Treaty Organization (Warsaw Pact) in 1955, which entailed subordinating and integrating a portion of its military into the Soviet military machine. Romania later refused to allow Warsaw Pact maneuvers on its soil and limited its participation in military maneuvers elsewhere within the alliance.

In 1956 the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced Stalin in a secret speech before the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU. Gheorghiu-Dej and the PMR leadership were fully braced to weather de-Stalinization. Gheorghiu-Dej made Pauker, Luca and Georgescu scapegoats for the Romanian communists' past excesses and claimed that the Romanian party had purged its Stalinist elements even before Stalin had died.

In October 1956, Poland's communist leaders refused to succumb to Soviet military threats to intervene in domestic political affairs and install a more obedient politburo. A few weeks later, the communist party in Hungary virtually disintegrated during a popular revolution. Poland's defiance and Hungary's popular uprising inspired Romanian students and workers to demonstrate in university and industrial towns calling for liberty, better living conditions, and an end to Soviet domination. Fearing the Hungarian uprising might incite his nation's own Hungarian population to revolt, Gheorghiu-Dej advocated swift Soviet intervention, and the Soviet Union reinforced its military presence in Romania, particularly along the Hungarian border. Although Romania's unrest proved fragmentary and controllable, Hungary's was not, so in November Moscow mounted a bloody invasion of Hungary.

After the Revolution of 1956, Gheorghiu-Dej worked closely with Hungary's new leader, Jnos Kdr. Although Romania initially took in Imre Nagy, the exiled former Hungarian premier, it returned him to Budapest for trial and execution. In turn, Kdr renounced Hungary's claims to Transylvania and denounced Hungarians there who had supported the revolution as chauvinists, nationalists, and irredentists.

In Transylvania, for their part, the Romanian authorities merged Hungarian and Romanian universities at Cluj and consolidated middle schools.

Romania's government also took measures to allay domestic discontent by reducing investments in heavy industry, boosting output of consumer goods, decentralizing economic management, hiking wages and incentives, and instituting elements of worker management. The authorities eliminated compulsory deliveries for private farmers but reaccelerated the collectivization program in the mid-1950s, albeit less brutally than earlier. The government declared collectivization complete in 1962, when collective and state farms controlled 77 percent of the arable land.

Despite Gheorghiu-Dej's claim that he had purged the Romanian party of Stalinists, he remained susceptible to attack for his obvious complicity in the party's activities from 1944 to 1953. At a plenary PMR meeting in March 1956, Miron Constantinescu and Iosif Chişinevschi, both Politburo members and deputy premiers, criticized Gheorghiu-Dej. Constantinescu, who advocated a Khrushchev-style liberalization, posed a particular threat to Gheorghiu-Dej because he enjoyed good connections with the Moscow leadership. The PMR purged Constantinescu and Chişinevschi in 1957, denouncing both as Stalinists and charging them with complicity with Pauker. Afterwards, Gheorghiu-Dej faced no serious challenge to his leadership. Ceausescu replaced Constantinescu as head of PMR cadres.

Gheorghiu-Dej never reached a truly mutually acceptable accommodation with Hungary over Transylvania. (The same could be said of all leaders of the two nations as long as they have had identities as nations.) Gheorghiu-Dej took a two-pronged approach to the problem, arresting the leaders of the Hungarian People's Alliance, but establishing an autonomous Hungarian region in the Székely land. This erected an ultimately meaningless façade of concern for minority rights.

Most Romanian Jews initially favored Communism, in reaction to the anti-Semitism of the Fascists. However by the 1950s, most were disappointed with the increasing discrimination of the Party and the limitations for emigration to Israel.

The Ceauşescu regime

Missing image
The Coat of Arms of Communist Romania

Gheorghiu-Dej died in 1965 in unclear circumstances (his death apparently occurred when he was in Moscow for medical treatment) and, after the inevitable power struggle, was succeeded by the previously obscure Nicolae Ceauşescu. Where Gheorghiu-Dej had hewed to a Stalinist line while the Soviet Union was in a reformist period, Ceauşescu initially appeared to be a reformist, precisely as the Soviet Union was headed into its neo-Stalinist era under Leonid Brezhnev.

Many would be loath to admit it now, but in his early years in power, Ceauşescu was genuinely popular, both at home and abroad. Agricultural goods were abundant, consumer goods began to reappear, there was a cultural thaw, and, most importantly abroad, he spoke out against the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. While his reputation at home soon paled, he continued to have uncommonly good relations with western governments and with institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank because of his independent political line. Romania under Ceauşescu maintained diplomatic relations with, among others, West Germany, Israel, China, and Albania, all for various reasons on the outs with Moscow.

The period of freedom and apparent prosperity was to be short-lived. Even at the start, reproductive freedom was severely restricted. Wishing to increase the birthrate, in 1966, Ceauşescu promulgated a law restricting abortion and contraception: only women over the age of 40 or who already had at least 4 children were eligible for either; in 1972 this became women over the age of 45 or who already had at least 5 children.

Other abuses of human rights were typical of a Stalinist regime: a massive force of secret police (the "Securitate"), censorship, massive relocations, but not on the same scale as in the 1950s.

During the Ceauşescu era, there was a secret ongoing "trade" between Romania on one side and Israel and West Germany on the other side, under which Israel and West Germany paid money to Romania to allow Romanian citizens with certified Jewish or Saxon ancestry to emigrate to Israel and West Germany, respectively.

Ceauşescu's Romania continued to pursue Gheorghiu-Dej's policy of industrialization, but still produced few goods of a quality suitable for the world market. Also, after a visit to North Korea, Ceauşescu developed a megalomaniacal vision of completely remaking the country; this became known as systematization. A large portion of the capital, Bucharest, was torn down to make way for the Casa Poporului (now House of Parliament) complex and Centrul Civic (Civic Center), but the December 1989 Revolution left much of the huge complex unfinished, such as a new National Library and the National Museum of History.

The big earthquake of 1977 shocked Bucharest, many buildings – notably the Carlton block – collapsed, and many others were weakened; this led to a policy of demolishing old buildings (even monuments of historical significance or architectural masterpieces) such as Văcăreşti Monastery, Sfnta Vineri Monastery, The Palace of Justice – built by Romania's foremost architect, Ion Mincu –(scheduled for demolition in early 1990 according to the systematisation papers), as well as abandoning and neglecting the buildings and bringing them into such a state that they would require tearing down. Even the Gara de Nord, one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, listed among The Romanian Architectural Heritage List, was scheduled to be torn down and replaced by a new one in early 1992. Either systematic neglect or outright demolition affected 70% of old Bucharest, including buildings in the areas such as Magheru-Universitate (the heart of Bucharest), Lipscani, Halelor, Domenii, St. John's Cathedral, Grivitei, and the Gara de Nord, systematization being halted only by the Revolution in 1989. Many of Bucharest's landmarks have since been partially repaired and consolidated, starting with the Gara de Nord in 1993, the Palace of Justice in 1997, and the University in 1999, but most and buildings are in severe need of reconstruction even today.

Despite all of this, and despite the appalling treatment of HIV-infected orphans, the country continued to have a notably good system of schools and generally good medical care. Also, not every industrialization project was a failure: Ceauşescu left Romania with a reasonably effective system of power generation and transmission, gave Bucharest a functioning subway, and left many cities with an increase in habitable apartment buildings.

In the 1980s, Ceauşescu became simultaneously obsessed with repaying Western loans and with building himself a palace of unprecedented proportions, along with an equally grandiose neighborhood, the Centru Civic, to accompany it. These led to an unprecedented level of shortage of available goods for the average Romanian. There was no marble to be had for tombstones, because it was all going to build the palace and the Centru Civic.

There was also a revival of the effort to build a Danube-Black Sea Canal, which was completed, a nuclear power plant at Cernavodă, a national hydroelectric power system (including the Porţile de Fier power station on the Danube in cooperation with Yugoslavia), a net of oil refineries, a fairly developed oceanic fishing fleet and naval shipyards at Constanţa, and so on.


see also: Romanian Revolution of 1989

Unlike the Soviet Union at the same time, Romania did not develop a large, privileged elite. Outside of Ceauşescu's own relatives, government officials were frequently rotated from one job to another and moved around geographically, to reduce the chance of anyone developing a power base. This prevented the rise of the Gorbachev-era reformist communism found in Hungary or the Soviet Union. Similarly, unlike in Poland, Ceauşescu reacted to strikes entirely through a strategy of further oppression. Those who tried to warn him against this policy were treated as criminals.

Romania was nearly the last of the Eastern European communist regimes to fall; its fall was also the most violent up to that time. Although the events of December 1989 are much in dispute, the following is at least a reasonable outline.

Protests and riots broke out in Timişoara on December 17 soldiers opened fire on the protesters, killing about 100 people. After cutting short a 2-day trip to Iran, Ceauşescu held a televised speech on December 20, in which he condemned the events of Timisoara, considering them an act of foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Romania and an aggression through foreign Secret Services on Romania's sovereignty, and declared National Curfew, convoking a mass meeting in his support in Bucharest for the next day. The uprising of Timisoara became known across the country and in the morning of December 21 protests spread to Sibiu, Bucharest, and elsewhere. On December 21 the meeting at the CC Building in Bucharest turned into chaos and finally into riot, Ceausescu hiding himself in the CC Building after losing control of his own "supporters". On the morning of the next day, December 22, it was announced that the army general Vasile Milea was dead by suicide; people were besieging the CC Building, while the Securitate did nothing to help Ceausescu. Ceausescu soon fled in an helicopter from the rooftop of the CC Building, only to find himself abandoned in Targoviste, where he was finally formally tried and shot by a kangaroo court on December 25.

Controversy over the events of December 1989

Much more open to question is what may have been going on behind the scenes. At what point did which leaders of the army and police abandon Ceauşescu? Had they merely decided that Ceauşescu had become a liability, or did they genuinely want deeper change? How long before taking power on December 22, 1989 did the National Salvation Front (FSN - Frontul Salvarii Nationale), composed entirely of figures from the old regime, begin organizing itself and to what degree? (.Some conjecture that the formation may date back as far as 1982.) Who was shooting at whom, and which side did they think they were serving? (At one point there was a battle over Otopeni Airport near Bucharest where each side apparently thought the other was fighting on behalf of Ceauşescu.)

For several months after the events of December 1989, it was widely argued that Ion Iliescu and the FSN had merely taken advantage of the chaos to stage a coup. While, ultimately, a great deal did change in Romania, it is still very contentious among Romanians and other observers as to whether this was their intent from the outset, or merely pragmatic playing of the cards they were dealt. Clear is that by December 1989 Ceauşescu's harsh and counterproductive economic and political policies had cost him the support of many government officials and even the most loyal Communist Party cadres, most of whom joined forces with the popular revolution or simply refused to support him. This loss of support from regime officials ultimately set the stage for Ceauşescu's demise. Template:Communist Eastern Europept:Romnia comunista ro:Comunismul_în_România


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