A New Romanian President

The largest Western newspapers in Germany, France, Great Britain and the U.S. were surprised by the victory of Klaus Iohannis.  Der Spiegel, for example, considers the election a sensational event. It is indeed a new beginning for Romania. It is not going to be easy because for now the present regime still has a majority in the parliament. Nevertheless, the former communist party activists and their dreaded secret police have been finally declawed.


By Nicholas Dima l December 9, 2014


Klaus Iohannis, former Mayor of Sibiu, a non-communist, elected President of Romania

On November 16, at the second round of elections, Romania elected the first truly non-communist president since the fall of Ceausescu in 1989. Klaus Iohannis is a 55 year-old man who has been the mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu since 2000. The election was hotly disputed and many voters were skeptical. They thought that the former communists, still in power, would not allow his victory. There were poll irregularities, some abuses, and many obstacles against the Romanians who work abroad and who vote constantly against the communists. Yet, this time the people put their foot down and voted for a true democracy.

Klaus Iohannis was born in 1959 to a local German (Saxon) family, an ethnic group that has been in Romania since the 13th century. Most of the Germans left after the Second World War and the remaining ones left more recently. Currently, only a few thousands ethnic Germans still live in Romania. Iohannis’ parents also left in 1992 and became German citizens. Young Iohannis stayed in Romania, attended university, and became a high school physics teacher.  Before entering politics, he was a school inspector. In 2000 he was elected the mayor of Sibiu with a majority of 69 percent, a victory which he repeated in 2004 and 2008, when he received close to 90 percent of the votes. It is worth mentioning that presently only 1.6 percent of the population of Sibiu is of German origin. The local people reelected him because they liked what he did for the city.

In Romania, the Germans are known as disciplined and hard working. And this is what the new mayor showed. He revived the old city and made it into a big tourist attraction. Under his leadership, Sibiu was declared a European Capital of Culture in 2007. The whole country noticed. Then, last year he joined the National Liberal Party, which nominated him as their candidate for president. Many people doubted that he could defeat the former communists who still dominate the country politically and economically. Yet, a small miracle occurred. And it occurred in a country where 90 percent of the population is ethnic Romanian and also 90 percent are Eastern Orthodox. Iohannis represents a miniscule ethnic minority and he is a (Lutheran) Protestant. How did it happen?

Communism was a double catastrophe for Romania

For about the first two decades the country was led largely by non-Romanian ethnics who were obedient to Moscow and who suppressed the aspirations of the nation.  Then, for the last two decades, the Ceausescu regime resorted to a strident, yet false nationalism, while repressing any manifestation of freedom. The “revolution” of December 1989 was just a coup organized by Moscow with the help of the Romanian secret police.  Literally, overnight the communists changed their name and became “social-democrats.” Ion Iliescu, a former colleague of Mikhail Gorbachev while studying in Moscow became the new president of the country. Allegedly, Gorbachev helped him gain the presidency in exchange for Romania renouncing its historic rights on the province of Bessarabia (Republic of Moldova).

Ever since 1990 Romania was led, misled and abused by the former communists who defrauded the national economy for their own benefits. While average Romanians survive with a few hundreds dollars per month and prices similar to American ones, the new oligarchs have amassed hundreds of millions of dollars and have robbed and ruined the country.  Corruption was endemic, while nepotism and favoritism became the only path to advancement. In this climate, millions of people left the country either for good or to work abroad.

From a demographic point of view, the entire post bellum situation was a disaster for Romania. About ten percent of the population, most of them members of different minorities, left before the 1989 fall of communism.  For example, hundreds of thousands of Jews and Germans left for Israel and Germany.  At the same time, many ethnic Romanians also escaped to different western countries. A lot of them were highly educated. Then, after the fall of communism another ten percent of the population left to join their families or to work abroad. It is estimated that over two million young Romanians are currently working in the West. They are allowed to vote in the Romanian elections and their participation can change the balance in any close poll as it happened now.

The two presidential contenders in the second ballot were Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who favored the status quo and advocated better relations with Russia and China, and Klaus Iohannis, who ran on a pro-Western and anti-corruption platform. The odds were clearly favoring former communist Ponta.  In the end, however, people rejected the corruption and arrogance of the post-1989 political leaders. Ponta feared the Romanians living abroad and his government tried to prevent them from voting. Yet, the expatriates mobilized, used the Internet and social media, including Facebook, called their families and friends back home, and helped change the political direction of Romania. (After the election the EU authorities realized the difficulties facing the expatriates of any European country voting in their national elections and began to discuss how to respect their rights.)

The largest Western newspapers in Germany, France, Great Britain and the U.S. were surprised by the victory of Klaus Iohannis.  Der Spiegel, for example, considers the election a sensational event. It is indeed a new beginning for Romania. It is not going to be easy because for now the present regime still has a majority in the parliament. Nevertheless, the former communist party activists and their dreaded secret police have been finally declawed.


Nicholas Dima, Ph.D., is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. He currently lectures and is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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