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National Exhibit
National Exhibit
Unflinching Stalinism: Communism in Romania

The April 1964 RCP declaration on the main problems of world communist movement summed up the RCP’s new philosophy. The Romanian communists broke with the Soviet concept of socialist internationalism and emphasized their commitment to the principles of national independence and sovereignty, full equality, noninterference in the domestic affairs of other states and parties, and cooperation based on mutual advantage. The same year, Gheorghiu-Dej issued a series of decrees releasing thousands of political prisoners from jails and deportation sites. Nevertheless, the party Secretary and his comrades never acknowledged any personal responsibility for the country’s earlier plight.

Gheorghiu-Dej was diagnosed with lung cancer in February 1965. A few days after his death (March 19), Nicolae Ceauşescu became the party’s general secretary. Ceauşescu had remorselessly accepted the Comintern’s anti-Romanian policy and obediently carried it out. He was directly involved between 1948-65 in the forced collectivization of agriculture, the successive purges of the party and the army, and in the persecution of intellectuals and students. After his appointment, he postured as the apostle of Romanianism and attempted to invent a self-styled national communism.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, Nicolae Ceauşescu, soon to become the country’s president, was described by Western media as something of a maverick. The year 1968 was crucial in determining the future of Romanian communism and its evolution into “dynastic socialism” (the concentration of power in the hands of the Ceauşescu clan).

In August 21st, 1968, Nicolae Ceauşescu addressed a crowd of over 100,000, vehemently condemning the Warsaw Pact intervention a few hours after the invasion of Czechoslovakia. This moment became a national-communist legend and it was eulogized by many as a gesture of heroic proportions. The skillfully crafted myth presented the Romanian David valiantly defying the Soviet Goliath. It was in fact nothing but a masquerade: a power-obsessed neo-Stalinist leader without the slightest democratic inclinations succeeded overnight in awakening popular enthusiasm and gaining enthusiastic credit from a population convinced that Romania would follow the line of liberalization and rapprochement with the West. An obtuse and ultra-authoritarian model of personal dictatorship was sustained and reinforced.

At the 1969 RCP’s Tenth Congress, Ceauşescu insisted that the fundamental goal of the party’s strategy was the creation of a “multilaterally developed socialist society”. This concept, the Romanian counterpart to the Soviet ideological shibboleth of “actually existing socialism”, was presented as a major theoretical breakthrough. It was considered far more comprehensive than the Soviet vision both from a social-economic and a ‘human-civilizational” standpoint. By 1972, it became obvious that such rhetoric camouflaged a radical re-Stalinization and the emergence of an unprecedented cult of personality surrounding, first, Ceauşescu and then, after 1974, his closest political partner, his wife Elena.

Dissent in Romania, a country where “revisionist” Marxism never came to maturity, was reduced to quixotic stances. In January 1977, the writer Paul Goma openly expressed his solidarity with the Czechoslovak Charter 77 group. He also wrote an appeal demanding that the provisions of the Helsinki Conference regarding human rights be observed by the Ceauşescu regime. His initiative fell mostly on deaf ears.

Other Romanian dissidents, such as Dorin Tudoran, Mihai Botez, Doina Cornea, Dan Petrescu, Liviu Cangeopol, Mircea Dinescu, Gabriel Andreescu, and Radu Filipescu, experienced similar isolation and lack of support. The party responded to civil disobedience with draconian measures, and religious and national minorities were harassed. Furthermore, a cross-class alliance, in the intellectuals’ support for the Jiu Valley miners’ strike of August 1977 or for the Braşov protest of November 1987, did not develop.

Between 1964 and 1977, owing to the regime’s skillful association of industrialization and nationalism, the “new social contract” functioned well. The aggravation of the economic situation after 1975 and the regime’s failure to cope with the challenges of modernization accelerated the maturing of a sociopolitical crisis in Romania.

By 1985, Ceauşescu was being stigmatized as a communist pharaoh whose vanity seemed boundless. To Ceauşescu’s misfortune, this cult of personality proved bogus, concocted by the ideological nomenklatura and propped up by the ubiquitous Securitate. To achieve Ceauşescu’s irrational goals, including the complete payment of the country’s foreign debt, Romanians were forced to suffer cold and starvation. Ceauşescu bluntly rejected Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms which he branded as “right-wing opportunism.” By the end of his rule, Ceauşescu had become an embarrassment for both East and West.

The Romanian revolution of 1989 began in Timisoara on December 15, sparked by a small group gathered around the house of the Reverend Lázsló Tökés. The following days, thousands took to the streets with slogans against the dictatorship. Despite bloody repression, the city essentially fell to the protesters.

On December 21st, in Bucharest, Ceauşescu attempted to re-enact his grandiose performance of August 1968. He tried to obtain the support of the large number of people present in front the Central Committee building the same way as he did twenty years earlier. This time, however, the old trick did not work: Ceauşescu was angrily booed and had to leave by helicopter together with his wife Elena. They were soon arrested and executed on Christmas Day under charges of genocide, huge foreign bank accounts, etc.

The legacy of the communist regime in Romania, raised to irrational levels in the last years of Ceauşescu’s rule, was characterized by despotism, destruction of traditional values, social, political, cultural, and religious injustice, and, culminating in self- destructive autarchy. On December 18, 2006, in front of the country’s Parliament, the democratically elected Romanian president, Traian Băsescu, on the basis of the PCACDR’s Final Report, officially condemned the communist regime as illegitimate and criminal.



Author Bio:

Vladimir Tismaneau is a professor of politics at University of Maryland (College Park). He is also President of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania. Author of "Stalinism for All Seasons: a Political History of Romanian Communism" (University of California Press, 2003). Tismaneau is editor of the forthcoming volume "Stalinism Revisited: The Establishment of Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe" (2009, CEU Press). He is currently working on a book on democracy, memory, and moral justice.

Click for sources of the victims of communism

Location:  Eastern Europe
Capital:  Bucharest
Communist Rule:  1947 – 1989
Status:  Fall of Ceausescu - 22.12.1989
Victims of Communism:
435 000