It is hard to compare the current revolt with the 1989 revolution. In 1989 the West pursued and helped to bring about radical changes in Eastern Europe, probably in anticipation of the globalization process that followed. Now, the West wants only cosmetic changes to fit the policy and interests of the European Union. Many Romanians disagree with some of the EU laws and rulings, but they do not want to leave the organization.
By Nicholas Dima l February 13, 2017
Riot police stand guard as demonstrators protest in Bucharest on February 1, 2017/Image: AFP by Daniel Mihailescu
Since the beginning of February, Romania has been rocked by an unprecedented series of protests causing internal turmoil and attracting minimal international attention. Largely unreported in the United States, over 200 thousand people demonstrated daily against governmental corruption in Bucharest and another 200 thousand protested in 20 different cities across the country. Romanian expatriates also organized public protests in several Western countries, and in Sofia the Bulgarians organized a rally of support condemning at the same time corruption in their own country.
What triggered such huge rallies? Is Romania facing a second revolution? To answer these questions, one has to understand what communism meant for Romania and Eastern Europe. This is even more important today since the Western media is acting as if it wants to forget communism; as if nothing out of the ordinary happened under those hated regimes.
Communism was forced upon Eastern Europe by Soviet tanks.
No country would freely and willingly elect or accept a communist regime. By imposing communism in East Europe, Moscow aimed at expanding the Soviet geopolitical sphere and at annihilating growing nationalism. As for Western Europe, Moscow helped the local communists against a revived Europe, especially against America. Interestingly, the former Western European communists have rebranded themselves as socialists or social democrats and are now in control of the EU bureaucracy.
Romania is a typical Eastern European example of post-war Soviet occupation.
By 1944 when the Soviet troops occupied the country, Romania had close to 20 million inhabitants and a miniscule communist party numbering less than one thousand. Of those members and by official communist statistics, some 80 percent were non-Romanian ethnics who hated the Romanian nation. With Soviet help, those individuals imposed one of the most brutal Stalinist regimes. Then, after about 20 years of Soviet-type communism, Nicolae Ceausescu took over the party and imposed his own ruthless regime. By 1989, during the European uprisings, Romanians were fed up with their dictator and joined enthusiastically the public protests against his regime. They had hoped that once toppling Ceausescu, they would get rid of communism all together.
They were wrong!
By changing their name to social-democrats, the communists remained in power. Ceausescu was replaced with Ion Iliescu, a communist who had studied in Moscow where he had been a colleague of Mikhail Gorbachev. With Iliescu in power, the former secret police, Securitate, changed its name and with a few internal rearrangements remained behind the new authorities.
What followed was a travesty of justice and democracy. Economically, the former communists ripped off the country. That meant faked privatizations to suit their interests, embezzlements, traffic of influence, nepotism and acts of corruption at the highest level.
By taking over the economic reins, they also managed to manipulate the political elections. At the same time and to protect themselves, the new authorities cultivated a pro-American image and courted Western businesses to engage in profitable operations in Romania. Consequently, for a long while the population was quiet, but underneath the surface the dissatisfaction was boiling.
In 2015, Romania elected a new president who had not been a communist. The population was again enthusiastic hoping that this time the country was finally on a course correction. However, soon after his election, President Klaus Iohannis fell under the influence of those who manipulate the power behind the scene. Then, following the December 2016 parliamentary elections, the Social-Democrat Party (PSD, former communists) won a plurality and designated Liviu Dragnea as prime minister. But Dragnea had a suspended prison sentence for corruption and was not eligible for the position. As chief of the PSD, he appointed Sorin Grindeanu as prime minister to act as his proxy.
Late, during the night of 31 January the newly sworn-in government secretly approved a controversial ordinance (Ordonanta de urgenta 13/2017) that would pardon certain crimes and would modify the Penal Code. The ordinance amnestied many previous cases of corruption and watered down the current law, decriminalizing any case involving less than about 48 thousand dollars. (The average monthly salaries in Romania are 300 to 400 hundred dollars. For most Romanians, $48 thousand is a huge amount). This decree triggered the current furor and numerous rallies of protest. Wisely, President Iohannis sided with the protesters announcing that he would challenge the decree in the Constitutional Court.
The government tried to contain the demonstrations, but when it did not work, rumors were spread that Romania is under threats of dismemberment and the protesters are weakening the country. Indeed, the new pro-Russian Moldovan president alluded recently, in a threatening way, to the Romanian-held part of the historic Principality of Moldova. At the same time, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin paid a visit to Budapest and inferred support of the Hungarian claims over Romanian Transylvania. Yet, the protesters did not budge. On February 6, seven days into rallies, the Guardian interviewed many protesters and published a well-documented article. According to the British newspaper, the protesters, the majority of them young people, would not trust the government and cited as causes 27 years of corruption, as well as huge unemployment, deteriorating public education and a very poor public health system.
After several days of demonstrations and confronted with a situation in a way similar to the 1989 revolt that toppled Ceausescu, the prime minister announced that he would rescind the decree. In his words, the government would send a proposal to the Parliament for debate and review of the case. The protesters would not believe him and demanded the resignation of the entire government. And the slogans and signs they have been carrying speak for themselves: ‘PSD is communism,’ ‘the only solution is another revolution,’ and an English sign reads ‘Make Jilava great again.’ Jilava is a big prison near Bucharest. (I know it because I was held there as a political prisoner).
It is hard to compare the current revolt with the 1989 revolution. In 1989 the West pursued and helped to bring about radical changes in Eastern Europe, probably in anticipation of the globalization process that followed. Now, the West wants only cosmetic changes to fit the policy and interests of the European Union. Many Romanians disagree with some of the EU laws and rulings, but they do not want to leave the organization. As for the policy of the United States, people are worried because of the allegedly good relations between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin. In this regard, the Romanians are waiting apprehensively to see how the future American-Russian relations are going to evolve and affect Europe.
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 of the online-conservative-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.