Communist Romania

Communism was one of the most powerful disasters that stroke Romania during its long history. Brasov has been suffering from it heavily too. Called for some years Stalin, the city suffered from forced industrialization, thousands of peasants being moved from villages to work in the large factories the communists built.

Find out more on the sad history of communist Romania.

The seizure of power

During the three years after the overthrow of Ion Antonescu , a struggle for power took place between the democratic parties, which held fast to the Western political tradition, and the Communist Party, which was committed to the Soviet model. The communists, though they had few supporters, came to power in the spring of 1945 because the Soviet Union intervened forcefully on their behalf. The decisive factor was the Soviet leader Joseph Stalinís approval for a seizure of power given during a visit to Moscow in January 1945 by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, the leader of the so-called "native" faction of the party (composed mainly of ethnic Romanians), and Ana Pauker, who headed the "Muscovites" (those who had spent their careers mainly in the Soviet Union and were not ethnic Romanians). Extraordinary pressure by Soviet authorities forced King Michael to appoint a procommunist government led by the fellow-traveler Petru Groza on March 6.

Between the installation of the Groza government and parliamentary elections in November 1946, the Communist Party used its control of the security apparatus and other key government agencies to suppress the opposition. The democratic forces were led by Iuliu Maniu, the National Peasant Party leader. Maniu had the king as an ally, but he despaired of success without vigorous intervention by the American and British governments. These indeed protested the communists' tactics, but, when they officially recognized the Groza government in February 1946 in return for the promise of early elections, they gave up any remaining leverage they might have had. The communists postponed the elections because they lacked adequate support among the population and needed more time to cripple the opposition. When elections finally took place on Nov. 19, 1946, the official tally gave about 80 percent of the vote to the communists and their allies, but strong evidence indicates that the results were falsified in order to hide a substantial victory from the National Peasants.

The year 1947 was the final year of modern Romania: liberal political and economic structures and individualist mentalities nurtured during the preceding century gave way to a collectivist model of development and an alien ideology. With the signing of a peace treaty in February 1947 that ratified the terms of the 1944 armistice and returned northern Transylvania to Romania, Western influence in the country came to an end. The Communist Party proceeded to eliminate the remaining opposition in a campaign that culminated in show trials and condemnations of Maniu and other democratic leaders to long prison terms. The final act was the forced abdication of King Michael and the proclamation of the Romanian People's Republic on Dec. 30, 1947. The communists were now able to accelerate the Sovietization of public life, which was to result in isolation from the West far more complete than that which the Romanians had experienced at the height of Ottoman domination.

Imposition of the Soviet model

From 1948 to about 1960, communist leaders laid the foundations of a totalitarian regime. They provided themselves with a formal political structure in 1948 by adopting a Soviet-style constitution that reserved ultimate authority to the party. Governmental institutions served merely as the machinery to carry out party decisions. The party also established the Securitate (Romanian political police) the centerpiece of a vast security network. It dissolved private organizations of all kinds and severely curtailed the ability of churches to perform their spiritual and educational tasks. In their place, and mainly in order to mobilize public opinion, it created mass organizations in every sphere of activity. A further step in the consolidation of power was the purge of Ana Pauker and the Muscovites by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej in 1952.

In reordering the Romanian economy, the party adopted Stalinist principles: rigid central planning and direction and emphasis on heavy industry at the expense of consumer goods. It also undertook the forcible collectivization of agriculture, a campaign completed in 1962.

In cultural and intellectual life, the communists expected Romanian artists and writers to subordinate their creativity to party directives and to contribute works that were relevant to contemporary society. A particular aspect of Romanian cultural life in the 1950s was Sovietization, or Russification. Soviet accomplishments in all fields were held up as models to be emulated, and a massive effort was undertaken to make Russian the second language for Romanians. This campaign, however, failed to wean the Romanians away from their Western sympathies and, instead, intensified their traditional Russophobia.

The Soviet Union formalized its domination of Romanian affairs through various devices: the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), created in 1949 to coordinate economic activity within the Soviet bloc; the Warsaw Treaty Organization (or Warsaw Pact), formed in 1955 to counteract the Western allies' North Atlantic Treaty Organization; and Soviet "advisers" throughout the Romanian party and government. Integration into the Soviet sphere was evident in Romania's unstinting support of Soviet foreign policy.

National communism

The decade of the 1960s brought a period of relaxation at home and defiance of the Soviet Union in international relations. Although no genuine political liberalization took place and there was no retreat from the fundamentals of the Stalinist economic model, the intrusiveness of the regime in individual lives was curtailed. The availability of consumer goods and housing improved, and such social services as health care, education, and pensions--all positive accomplishments of the communist regime--became more generous. Change was especially evident in cultural and intellectual life, as scholars were permitted to broaden the scope of their researches, and writers dealt with subjects that previously had been forbidden. A notable innovation was the flourishing of cultural exchanges with the United States and Europe, which signaled the resumption of old ties with the West and an end to Russification.

The source of this relaxation lay in the emergence of Romanian national communism, which was accompanied and in part stimulated by growing friction with the Soviet Union. Strains in the relations between Gheorghiu-Dej and Soviet party leaders came to the surface in the late 1950s. Gheorghiu-Dej feared that the de-Stalinization campaign launched by the new Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev might force him from power, since he had been (and continued to be) one of the most rigid of Stalinists. But he also objected to Khrushchev's insistence that Romania abandon its headlong drive to industrialize and, instead, accept the more modest role of supplier of agricultural products and raw materials to the designated "industrial powers" of Comecon. Tension between the two leaders culminated in a so-called "declaration of independence" by the Romanian Communist Party in 1964.

After Gheorghiu-Dej's death in 1965, his successor as head of the party, Nicolae Ceausescu, redoubled efforts to lessen the country's dependence on the Soviet Union. Ceausescu sought to expand economic relations with the West and skillfully played on the widespread anti-Soviet sentiments of the population in order to mobilize support for the Romanian party. The high point of his "independent" foreign policy was his denunciation of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The reaction of Soviet leaders to Romania's "independence" was relatively benign. Ceausescu's challenges--even his refusal to allow Warsaw Pact maneuvers on Romanian territory and his stubborn opposition to the economic division of labour within Comecon--did not seem to them dangerous enough to require military intervention. They calculated, correctly, that Ceausescu knew the limits of defiance. Especially reassuring for them was Ceausescu's contempt for Western institutions and values, his maintenance of the party's monopoly of power, and his continued membership in the Warsaw Pact.

In domestic affairs, Ceausescu brought the period of relaxation to an end with his July theses of 1971, in which he demanded a return to rigid ideological orthodoxy and reasserted the leading role of the party. In the nearly two decades of "neo-Stalinism" that followed, the Communist Party intensified its control of mass organizations and intruded more deeply than ever before into the daily lives of citizens. Ceausescu promoted a cult of personality that was unprecedented in Romanian history and that served as the foundation of a dictatorship that knew no limits. To prevent the emergence of other power centres, he continually rotated officials in both the party and the government and relied increasingly on members of his family (notably his wife, Elena) to fill key positions. His adherence to the Stalinist economic model had disastrous consequences: both industry and agriculture fell into disarray, and the standard of living steadily deteriorated. In foreign affairs, the West withdrew financial credits and commercial advantages that it had earlier granted to Romania as a reward for its independence, and, in order to keep the economy afloat, Ceausescu was obliged to turn once again to the Soviet Union. This act was doubly painful for him, because it not only increased his dependence on an old antagonist; it did so at a time when its new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, was promoting reform--a course utterly repulsive to Ceausescu.

Collapse of communism

By the late 1980s, Ceausescu had transformed Romania into a police state. Institutions and organizations, even the Communist Party itself, had been eviscerated and had become mere instruments for carrying out his will. The Securitate had become the chief prop of his rule. Physical hardship and moral despair overwhelmed society. Yet the Ceausescu dictatorship, which had come to seem unassailable, was overthrown in the course of a single week, Dec. 16-22, 1989. Minor incidents in the Transylvanian city of Timisoara led to violence, which quickly spread to other cities. Ceausescu was forced to flee Bucharest and then was arrested, tried, and executed on December 25. No formal dissolution of the Communist Party took place: it simply melted away.

The Romanian "revolution" of 1989 appears to have been a combination of spontaneous uprising by the general populace and conspiracy against Ceausescu organized by reform communists and disaffected elements of the Securitate and army. A loose coalition of groups opposed to Ceausescu quickly formed the Natioanal Salvation Front (NSF) to lead the country through the transition from communism to democracy, but, by the spring of 1990, fundamental differences had arisen within this group over the direction and pace of change. Those who favoured the removal of all former communists from positions of authority and the rapid introduction of a free-market economy left the NSF. Those who remained, the majority of them former communists, transformed the NSF into a political party that showed little enthusiasm for Western economic practices.

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