Romania's Hysteria

BUCHAREST: Across Eastern Europe throughout this year, people have celebrated their peaceful, victorious revolutions against communism. In Romania, however, there was nothing “velvet” about communism's end. Ten years ago this December the center of Bucharest was ravaged by tank and sniper fire, leaving many people dead, as the part of the Romanian army that sided with those who wanted liberation fought street by street with loyalists of Ceausescu's Securitate.

Today, our so-called revolution is still viewed differently than those that took place in other former communist countries. Elsewhere, people know that a real revolution took place; they have been building truly new societies. Our revolution of 1989 now seems more like a coup, with one part of the communist elite simply replacing that part which had become utterly discredited. As a member of the “Group for Social Dialogue” that sought to give direction to the forces of change during the fighting that December, I can say that we were never certain as to what forces were fighting with us and against us, nor for what reasons.

The National Salvation Front that ruled Romania's first half-decade of transition, headed by Ion Iliescu, simply emerged triumphant from the bloodshed of 1989 as a fait accompli. It never really declared communism over, merely that the Ceausescu dictatorship was finished. Indeed, the only thing that I know for certain about those days is a strange curiosity: that Ceausescu endured his kangaroo court trial and execution with far more dignity than I would ever have imagined.

Uncertainty about our “revolution” still has debilitating effects today. As then, people remain passive and uncommitted. Market-oriented reforms, long postponed by the Iliescu government, appear to have failed to raise living standards. As in Russia, they failed to bring about a legal free-market economy. On the contrary, the share of the black market economy has been increasing by such a speed that, according to some economists, the real economy (composed of both the "white" and the "black" economy) actually grew over the last two years, notwithstanding an official decline in GDP.