Have the 10 Amendments Inspired Freedom? Six Foreign Prespectives : ROMANIA : Mere Proclamations Are Not Enough
When the Communist dominoes in Eastern Europe started falling in 1989, the collapse of communism was hailed as a triumph of liberty over despotism, of democracy over dictatorship. And, of course, what better guidepost for our political leaders and intellectuals eager to inaugurate a new era of democracy in Romania than the U.S. Bill of Rights.
For Romanians, the events of that year made possible a big leap from a nightmare of more than two decades. Indeed, the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu was the exact opposite of what the Bill of Rights proclaims and stands for. In the letter of six former Communist dignitaries addressed to President Ceausescu, which I wrote and distributed to Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and the BBC to be broadcast to Romanians, we reproached the tyrant for having trampled on many of the rights enumerated in the U.S. Bill of Rights that are also in our constitution.
Historical experience has taught us, however, that merely proclaiming liberties and rights is not enough. Josef Stalin’s 1936 constitution provided for all kinds of freedoms. But, as a Russian joke had it, after exercising all those rights, how could one remain free?
The authors of the U.S. Bill of Rights wisely understood that a political and economic system must be set up to guarantee the freedoms they wanted to protect. The communist system, with its one-party structure, was incompatible with individual liberties and rights. Accordingly, the revolution that overthrew Ceausescu’s dictatorship set out as its first priority the establishment of a multiparty political system in Romania. Since then, more than 100 political parties have been founded, free unions have been forming every month and the number of newspapers and weeklies has jumped from around 90 to more than 2,000. And yet, the picture of Romania, as well as that of Eastern Europe, does not look exceedingly bright. Why?
In the euphoria of liberation, there was a general feeling that the transition to democracy must be harmoniously accompanied by the birth and development of a market economy. Two years later, we have discovered, to our deep chagrin, that between the two there is a gap--even a striking contradiction. People in Eastern Europe enthusiastically embrace their newly won rights and liberties, but find it more and more difficult to accept the privations and sufferings associated with market economics. One consequence is that the people are using their new rights to protest the market’s impact on prices and job security.
The response of some East European leaders has been to adopt the authoritarian style. Lech Walesa is the most notable example of this trend. The question has thus become: How can a turn toward authoritarianism be stopped short of dictatorship?
The Founding Fathers of America left us the answer: the principle of checks and balances. But whether a political system embodying this principle can be effective in nations that have not known democracy for half a century, such as Romania, remains an open--and worrisome--question.