The most striking feature of the new interim government of Romania, created amid the chaos of the bloody uprising last week, is that many of its leaders are the reform-minded sons of once-influential Communists who served the executed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, according to U.S. and academic specialists.
Their program appears to be to make Romania into a West European-style social democracy. They also speak of improving relations with both East and West, but they have already turned to the Soviet Union for “massive” aid, apparently in the form of oil to generate electricity and heat to see them through the winter.
Their links to communism, which have already been attacked by anti-Communist Romanians and which will probably be the major issue in elections promised for April, have made the U.S. government cautious about embracing the new Romania.
“We like their program, and we will be following closely how well they implement it,” a senior State Department official said last week. The United States has recognized the interim government, he said, “but we will calibrate the warmth of the U.S. relationship with the new government according to their performance.”
“We have no reason to doubt their commitment,” he added, “but remember, these men have come up within a different system. Most of them were associated with the Ceausescu regime, not with its worst practices, but with the idea of monopoly control over the political process.
“It’s valid to ask how content they will be to allow a free press to function, for example, leading up to the elections. A psychological change on their part, at least, must take place to allow their program to be fully carried out,” he said.
How the inexperienced new government will handle the welter of political, economic and foreign issues ahead is unknowable. Some experts are pessimistic, others optimistic. What is clear, however, as another U.S. official said, is that “the easy part--the revolution--is over. Now the tough part begins.”
The new government’s 10-point program promises to eliminate the single, Communist Party state in favor of “a democratic and pluralistic system;” hold April elections; separate the legislative, executive and judiciary powers of government and limit officeholders to two terms; restructure the economy on “the criteria of profitability and efficiency;” restructure agriculture to favor small-scale, peasant production; guarantee minority rights; and reorganize the country’s education, trade and foreign policies.
Romania’s new prime minister, Petre Roman, 43, was a professor of hydroelectric engineering. His father, Valter, was an early Communist militant who served as a minister in the postwar Romanian government, was purged as a suspected “Titoist,” rehabilitated in 1953 but since has been relegated to running a political publishing house.
The new foreign minister is Sergiu Celac, a career diplomat also in his mid-forties, who was Ceausescu’s interpreter for 10 years. His father was also an important party functionary, and both he and Roman attended the same high school, which was largely restricted to the children of the elite.
President of the National Salvation Council, a broad-based group approaching 100 members which appointed the new government, is Ion Iliescu, 59, once a middle-level official in Ceausescu’s government but demoted in 1968 by Ceausescu for his veiled criticism. Iliescu attended Moscow University at the same time as Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and they reportedly are friends from those days.
One of the founders of the council and a key member of its executive committee is Silviu Brucan, 73, a longtime Communist purged by Ceausescu in 1966 and recently under house arrest for joining five other veteran party members in criticizing the late dictator.
Typical of the criticism heard against the new government was that of a former political prisoner, Valentine Gabrielescu, 68, and a member of the council.
“These Communists push themselves and one another forward,” he complained. “These are the types who will try to put a rosy face on communism.”
But Brucan, who is the senior strategist of the new government, said that “the people on the council who were Communists are not there as such. They are there because they have been fighting the party. None would declare himself as a Communist. There is none of this reform-Communist nonsense in Romania.”
“Change in Romania did not come out of a reform movement within the party,” he added. “The changes came as a result of a popular struggle without a political leadership. It was in the fire of the mass movement that the new leadership was formed.” His words have not satisfied all of those masses. Some have blatantly challenged the authority of members of the new government. “Who elected you?” shouted one man during a speech.
Explanations vary on how the new leaders got there. Iliescu and Roman emerged during the first demonstrations in the capital’s streets, according to reports from Bucharest. Some accounts said that at one point a student protester shouted: “Here’s a professor, let him speak!” This led to Roman’s becoming a member of the council, whose executive committee named him prime minister.
“Roman was chosen because he is a very highly educated man,” said Brucan in an interview with the Financial Times of London. “He is a very brave man who distinguished himself Thursday night (Dec. 21). He is also young and good-looking.” The full council could not decide who should be prime minister, so its 11-member executive committee decided, Brucan added.
The similar backgrounds of the top leadership and the intertwining circles in which they moved, however, raised suspicions that their choice was not quite so haphazard as pictured and even that the new leaders may have conspired in some way before the popular uprising against Ceausescu. The evidence is circumstantial.
Iliescu has the same technical speciality as Roman and they often met socially and professionally, according to Vladimir Timeaneanu, a Romanian scholar who attended the same high school with Roman and Celac. They were members of an informal study group on “the impact of technology on society” which was organized and led by Brucan. Iliescu, in another connection, was a close admirer of Roman’s father.
Celac, besides his school ties with Roman, is related through marriage to a famous mathematician and dissident, Mihai Botez, who has been called “the Romanian Sakharov,” according to Timeaneanu, who is a resident fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.
The new prime minister and the new foreign minister would have socialized closely enough so “each had a very good idea of how everyone else stood,” he added. There is no evidence that they planned a coup or fomented an uprising against Ceausescu, but “it’s hard to believe that they were not personally prepared for their hour when it came,” he said.
Timeaneanu predicted that the new government would be “Eurocommunist and internationalist in its orientation, because the socialist ideal for Romania is still relevant to these men.” They will run hard for election in April, rather than step aside when the interim government is over, he said, because “these men did not come to power just to renounce it.”
But they must perform well in the interim. The government, according to Brucan, “must start with food, with electricity, with gas. These are the priorities. We must show very vivid and evident improvements in the level of material life of the people. . . .
“We won’t act to lift the barriers against private enterprise until after the elections. It is a matter of focus--you can’t both improve material life quickly and institute deep economic reform.”
In foreign policy, Brucan said, Romania will now comply fully with the human and political rights guaranteed in the Helsinki Accords--it had been the major violator in Eastern Europe--and will seek to improve relations with both the United States and the Soviet Union.
“We will get very, very massive help from Gorbachev; that has been made clear,” he added. “He has troubles of his own but he can afford what we need in terms of energy. We will improve relations with the United States and we expect to get back our most-favored-nation (trading) status” which was withdrawn because of Ceausescu’s human rights abuses.
But satisfying the populace will not be easy. “It is doubtful that reforming Marxists will be able to retain control indefinitely over a Romanian population that is traditionally anti-Communist, anti-Russian and anti-Hungarian,” according to Prof. Mary Ellen Fischer of Skidmore College.
Among its other problems, she wrote recently, Romania has no tradition of multi-party politics but now has an “all-powerful army” since it sided with the popular uprising rather than with Ceausescu and his security forces. In her view, Romania has such a strong tradition of military and authoritarian rule that it “runs a greater risk than any other East European country of slipping eventually into military dictatorship.”
The new defense minister is Gen. Nicolae Militaru, a professional soldier who retired several years ago. The interior minister is Lt. Gen. Mihai Ghitac, about whom key U.S. agencies know nothing. A third military man high in the new government is Col. Gen. Matanasie Stanculescu, who had been first deputy defense minister and is now in charge of the national economy.
“Everything is in the balance in Romania now, the military most of all,” a knowledgeable U.S. official said. It may be tempted to seize power if it fears anarchy in the freewheeling election debates that are expected.
“The Romanian army must avoid giving in to its baser instincts by resorting to Bonapartism, the use of its power,” the official added. “Just as the ex-Communists must resist trying to keep control of the levers of political power--sharing information rather than managing it. They’ll have to learn that ‘people power’ means power sharing.”
“On the other hand, maybe we’re overly skeptical,” he added. “Eastern Europeans do know who Jefferson was. They have a sense of democracy, if only stemming from the bankruptcy of Marxism. Let’s see how it plays out before writing them off.”
The other major issue in Romanian politics is nationalism. It got a bad name under Ceausescu, who used it to justify his repressive human rights and economic policies. Moreover, Romanians and their large minorities of Hungarians, Germans and others were strikingly unified in the fighting to depose the dictator.
But ethnic tensions are almost certain to reassert themselves and be seized upon by politicians in future elections, if not the April balloting. A Hungarian people’s party and similar ethnic groupings have already emerged, along with a peasant Christian party that emphasizes its religious orientation.
A rise in anti-Semitism--long a feature of Romanian life--is anticipated by several analysts, in part in reaction to the fact that a number of Jews served in influential positions at various times during Ceausescu’s rule and are visible in high posts in the interim government now.
But the appeal to recover “lost lands” annexed by the Soviet Union will probably be the most significant single nationalist issue. Ceausescu, a few months before he fell, announced that the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 was “illegal in all its consequences.” One of those consequences was the Soviet takeover of the Romanian province of Bessarabia and its incorporation as Moldavia into the Soviet Union.
Some U.S. experts predicted that Romanian politicians, once Ceausescu’s words have faded, will begin making pilgrimages to that region as they run for office.