Category Archives: Romanian history

This is a history of Romania from 1900 to 2000. It is written in a quirky style and is fact packed.

The Republic of Romania.

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The Republic of Romania.

The National Salvation Front (hereinafter NSF) declared that it was not a political party and did not seek power for itself. The NSF stated that it was merely a caretaker administration seeking to organise elections. The NSF was an unlikely vehicle for reform seeing as it was made up almost without exception of senior ranking members of the previous regime. The NSF decided to contest the elections anyway. But any thoughts of continuing the old system were rapidly abandoned, the revolution had taken on a momentum of its own and the desire for authentic democratic change could not be stopped.

In Timisoara participants in the revolution demanded that RCP members be disbarred for holding elective office for ten years. This proposal never saw the statute book. About 20% of the adult population had been members of the RCP at its peak. This figure was greater the higher one went in any profession. If the Timisoara proposal had been given the force of law virtually everyone with any administrative experience would had been ruled out of governance and the country would have been rendered ruderless.

Even Securitate officers responsible for the most gratuitous violence escaped punishment almost entirely. A sign of the times was that the death penalty was abolished on 7 January 1990. Ceausescu’s henchmen who were facing trial must have breathed a collective sigh of relief. Dascalescu, who served as the last Prime Minister under Ceausescu was put on trial, was facing a host of charges. He was found guilty and sentence to life in prison. In 1996 he was released on the grounds of poor health.

Nicu Ceausescu was given a gaol term of 20 years for plundering the national wealth but he was set free in 1992.

Elections held in 1990 gave the NSF and unhealthily large majority – over 70%.  The NSF was basically the PCR in a new guise and was able to use the mainly still intact structure of the old party.  It seemed the changes since the Revolution had been mostly cosmetic. In 1990 hardship arguably exacerbated. Most disturbingly, the Mineriad took place. It is so called because it involved miners. Students who were dissatisfied with a government made up of Communist retreads took to the streets of Bucharest. They were exercising their democratic rights as guaranteed by the new dispensation. Freedom of assembly and freedom of expression were these rights. Old habits die hard. Disagreeing with the government could not be tolerated. The protestors called for genuine reform. Miners who were blindly loyal to the government were bussed in. They severely beat the recalcitrant students and at least one of the students died. The miners were even fed from gendarme vehicles. Why had Iliescu not simply ordered the gendarmerie to beat the protestors black and blue themselves? This at least was progress. The State would at least try and be one degree removed from brutalising its critics. Iliescu met with the miners and lavished praise on them for their patriotic spirit and laudable actions. He had this filmed and broadcast on national television. He plainly felt that he had nothing to be ashamed of, it was a warning to all those who might foolishly imagine that they were now fully free. What had he promised the miners to make them act so?

In September 1991 Iliescu used the miners for the same thing. At least three youngesters were killed by his rentamob.

The miners were to be bitterly disillusioned. In a few years many pits closed and the miners were, in many cases, out of work. Those miners who caused trouble for the government then were handed long stretches in prison. What goes around, comes around.

It seemed the state had not lost its totalitarian attitude. Many top Securitate officials retained high positions or came into great wealth. They knew how to access the bank accounts abroad. They had also been selected for their intelligence. It had attracted Romania’s best and brightest because the rewards for serving Securitate were great indeed.

Gigi Becali bought land from the Ministry of Defence for bargain basement prices. It appreciated in value massively and was sold as some of Romania’s most desirable real estate. He later acquired Steaua football club and founded his own New Generation Party. He preaches racial hatred against minoritieas despite being from the Aromanian minority. Aromanian means ”not Romanian.” This ethnicity are also known as ”Vlachs” and are scattered throughout this part of Europe.

The Romanian economy was like a supertanker. The economy was declining fast and even taking the right decisions to improve it, the economy would take some time to stop disimproving and a long time to start moving in the right direction.

There were many street children and orphans, abadoned victims of Ceausescu’s natalist policies. The foreign media focussed on the shocking neglect of these children in state institutions. The workers in the childrens’ homes bear little responsibility, they had an insuffiency of money and few resources to work with. Foreigners adopted orphans in large numbers. Contraception and termination were legalised. Gambling was legalised and the sex trade, though illegal, flourished. Previously the only hookers whom the police turned a blind eye to were those who were pumping foreigners for information.

Drug misuse crept in on a significant scale for the first time. The abolition of the police state was not all good.

The Ministry of the Interior troops were changed into Gendarmes as they had been before the Communist takeover.

Compulsory military service was ended.

Gheorghiu-Dej was disinterred from his position of honour in Carol Park and reburied in an ordinary graveyard. The Polytechnic in Bucharest dropped his name from its title.

The statue of Lenin was removed from the Spark House before a huge crowd in 1990. The building was renamed the House of the Free Press.

Restrictions on the cultural activities of minorities such as the Hungarians were lifted. They enjoyed a renaissance.

Many places were renamed in honour of those who had laid down their lives for the country’s freedom in 1989. They are often buried in Heroes of the Revolution cemetery.

Iliescu frantically tried to distance himself from a party he had been in for 45 years. He claimed to have been purged in the early 1970s, despite having gone on holiday with Ceausescu at the time.

Many of those who had sung the praises of the Leader for years backpedalled. Nationalists claimed that he was only a camel that they could use to carry their baggage. The most nauesatingly sychophantic such panegyrist was a racist loudmouth named Corneliu Vadim Tudor. He later founded a the Greater Romania Party calling for the reintegration of Bessarabia and northern Bucovina. He denounced everyone who was not Romanian and indeed most Romanians to. It is easier to define him by what he is against than what he is for. He hates Jews, Gypsies, Hungarians, gays, new religions, the EU –  you get the picture? He denounces every other politician as a thief.

A man named Gigi Becali bought a lot of land from the army in the Baneasea area, just north of the capital. This became prime property. He is the richest man in Romania and founded the New Generation Party. He expresses his saloon bar prejudices in trademark blunt style. He bought Steaua football team and became a daily fixture in the media.

Romania developed a free press and freedom of expression. Emigration was permitted and the gypsies were allowed to wander the country again. This was accompanied by a resurgence of anti-Ziganist feeling. Some gypsies lamented the passing of Papa Ceausescu.

The shortages of food and medicine eased in the early 1990s but the days of a guaranteed job for life were over. Some hankered back to the days of the dictator. The young had a chance to adapt but for the old this was difficult. There were many unemployed Russian teachers as people scrambled to learn English instead. Free market reforms came only slowly.

King Mihail was allowed back into the country but few people wanted to restore the monarchy. An opinion poll suggested it was only 15%.

In 1992 the FSN began to decline. Iliescu’s followers split from the FSN and set up the Social Democrats. The others in the FSN founded the Democratic Party. The National Liberal Party –  in the tradition of the pre-Communist era party – was also established.

Codreanu’s nephew refounded the Iron Guard but this made very little headway. Some attempted to rehabilitate Antonescu and a statue of him was even unveiled outside a church built on his orders. The statue was later removed after an outcry from the Jewish communion. Antonescu had a street named after him in his native city, Pitesti.

In 1992 the former Yugoslavia’s breakup degenerated into internecine warfare. This was a boon for Romania. A potential source of cheap goods, labour and raw materials was out of the running but that was only minor. There was a huge demand for one of the few things that Romania could produce in great number and at a high standard – arms. Romania surreptitiously sold weapons to Serbia despite the embargo on this. This was not due to a particular affection for Serbia or animus for Serbia’s foes. It was simply most convenient to do so as Serbia shared a border with Romania and none of the other belligerents did. It helped that Serbia was the largest of the protagonists and thus had not only the largest demand for weapons but seemed most likely to emerge the gainster. Moreover, it was surely prudent to have amicable relations with Serbia as she is Romania’s second largest neighbour. This trade provided some much needed hard currency in dark times. Besides, there is a very small Serb minority in Romania and it endeared the government to them.

Iliescu lost a presidential election to Constantinescu of the Democratic Convention. An entirely peaceful and democratic transfer of office from one man to another was a first in Romanian history.  But in 2000 he lost office and Iliescu returned to the presidency.

Many Romanians started to travel abroad because now they were free to go. Obtaining permission to enter foreign countries was not easy. Romanians particularly moved to Italy as the language is easy to learn for Romanians. Significant Romanian communities established a foothold in Germany, France, Spain, the US, the Republic of Ireland and the UK. Some went as legal immigrants and some as illegals. Some claimed asylum abroad on various grounds, even on the basis of being a royalist. In 1998 a Romanian man claimed asylum in the UK on the basis of being a homosexual, his lifestyle was illegal in Romania at the time. His claim was upheld. Only later did Romania legalise homosexuality although attitudes towards it remain very negative.

Romanians of the German and Hebraic ethnicities could now of course emigrate freely to their ancestral homelands. Many did so.

Many private universities were founded by some said that the quality of them was poor and a few of them functioned as little more than degree mills.

Romania made attempts to join NATO and the European Union. It eventually attained candidate status for the EU despite misgivings arising from corruption, poverty and human rights.

The New Right –  an ultra-nationlist party –  was founded. It preaches hatred towards Jews, Gypsies, Hungarians and gays. Its graffiti is seen all over –  Bessarabia is Romanian soil! It has little electoral success.

Many lament the decline in solidarity since the Revolution, the sense of duty. They say that selfishness, junk culture and crass materialism have taken over. People sometimes say that respectfulness has broken down. It is noted that very little public construction has gone on since the Revolution and many public works abandoned in 1989 are still incomplete.

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The Revolution of 1989.

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The Revolution of 1989.

In 1989 Communist regimes around Eastern Europe crumbled amidst massive unpopularity. These dictatorships came to an end with minimal bloodshed. Despite strict censorship, the Communist government could not completely jam the airwaves of BBC World Service, Radio Free Europe and Voice of America broadcasts. Ineluctabaly news filtered through.

In March 1989 six senior ranking veterans of the PCR wrote an open letter known as ”The Letter of the Six”. One of the signatories was the irrepressible Constantin Parvulescu. In it they denounced the Ceausescu regime from a left wing perspective. Their letter was smuggled abroad and broadcast on Radio Free Europe. They were of course interrogated by Securitate and kept under house arrest. The very fact that they dared to do this showed that Ceausescu’s grip on power was slipping but this was not so apparent at the time. The fact that they wer enot killed shwoed the regime was, at least towards elderly Communists, softening.

Romanian newspapers reported changes of government abroad but in merely a matter of fact manner. It was Romanian government policy not to express approval or disapproval of the domestic affairs of other sovereign states. This set some Romanians thinking that they ought to follow the example set by their neighbours. Even the advent of democracy in Bulgaria and Hungary had no effect on Ceausescu’s attitude. Tidor Zhikhov who had ruled Bulgaria for thirty years had been jostled from office. Gorbachev suggested that he step down in November 1989 but he refused to even consider doing so. That very month Ceausescu was re-elected to another 5 tear term as Secretary General by a resounding majority of the XIVth congress of the PCR. Whether this election was fully free and fair is very much open to question.

On 4 June 1989 the Chinese Army attacked largely peaceful student protesters in Tianemen Square and killed hundreds of them if not thousands. The Romanian government enjoyed very cordial relations with the People’s Republic of China. The RCP leadership was very much of the view that the Chinese government did the right thing in killing the protesters. This boded ominously for events that were to occur in Romania.

That July France celebrated with great fanfare the bicentenary of its revolution against a family dictatorship. Perhaps the francophile Romanians began to think of emulating this. The commemorations in France were attended by dignitaries from all corners of the world and were extensively repored in Romania. Indeed a street in central Bucharest is called the Fall of the Bastille Street.

Queues for staple foods grew ever longer and power cuts were the norm rather than the exception rather than the norm. It was common to arise at 4 in the morn to go and spend three hours queuing for flour, bread and sugar. People attempted to hand Ceausescu petitions but he passed these on to Ceausescu’s security detail. It is not known if he ever perused these epistles informing him of the miserable plight of his underlings. Official broadcasts and photos would show him entering shops jam packed with the choicest delicacies. Perhaps he even believed his own propaganda. He lived in a bubble as one of those dignitaries who thinks that the world smells of fresh paint. Every time he visited somewhere it was spruced up in advance. People wondered whether he was going senile. People were bombarded with claims that the Genius of the Carpathians had raised the quality of life to an unprecedented level. This most certainly did not reflect the experience of ordinary folk.

In December 1989 a series of events occurred in Timisoara that earned that place the title, ‘First Free City’. Laszlo Tokes, a Hungarian Protestant pastor, began denouncing Ceausescu in firey sermons from his church in Timisoara. The authorities prevented him from preaching in his church. His ration book was taken and he and his family had to eke out an existence on handouts from loyal parishoners. Securitate came to take him into custody but hundreds of well wishers gathered outside his flat to defend him. Tokes advised them to leave but his supporters would not accede to his wishes.

Many young people in Timisoara, especially undergraduates, picked up on this general oppositional mood. Many were native Romanians with no connection to Tokes’ Protestant church. Thousands of people openly protested against the regime in the streets of Timisoara. There were ransackings of RCP buildings and attempts to burn them down. It is often said that the protests were against poor living standards and not against the regime per se but the arson attacks on RCP buildings militate against this.

The security forces opened fire and dozens of people were killed in and around the main piazza. This was originally known as Opera Piazza but it is now named Revolution Square: a memorial to the martyrs stands at the outside of the opera house.

Rumours of these disturbances around the country. Ceausescu ordered troops to be sent in to quash all dissent. Workers from factories near Timisoara were sent in to combat ‘Hungarians and hooligans’ who were causing trouble. Ceasescu had crushed a similar outbreak in Brasov in 1987 and he was supremely confident that he could do the same again: so much so that he decided to proceed with a planned visit to Iran.

Madame Ceausescu was left to organise countermeasures. By many accounts she was more oppressive and more reviled than her husband.

When Ceausescu returned from his fleeting visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran early the protests had spread and intensified. Most alarmingly, soldiers sent to repress the demonstrators in Timisoara had gone over to the side of the demonstrators. They were to deal with the demonstrators, to fracture the fractious ones contrary crania. Sending workers to attack the protesters proved to be a serious miscalculation, the supposedly pro-Ceausescu workers also joined the protesters.

He attempted to rectify the situation by staging a monster meeting in the capital outside the Central Committee of the RCP building. On 21 December this took place. It was broadcast live on television and it is  estimated that 76% of the population had tuned in to watch this. There was only one television channel and it only broadcast for two hours per day. There were the usual trite and wearisome speeches by his lieutenants as a warm up act, delivered without any animation or apparent conviction. The surprising thing is how well the meeting went at first. Then Ceausescu came out to the podium. His oration  to the crowd of over 100,000 used the usual hackneyed phrases of windy Communist discourse. He castigated the disturbances that emanated from Timisoara, claiming that these were instigated by outsiders who were attempting to interfere in the internal affairs of Romania. He did not name this country or countries. At first the crowd responded with dutiful if muted applause. But then catcalls were heard and anti-Ceausescu slogans were chanted. The booing and whistling became too much to ignore. The stunned expression on the dictator’s face is seared into the consciousness of the world. Ceausescu stared aghast at the great assemblage before him. Mme Ceausescu hectored him: demanding that he continue to address the crowd. State television saw what immense damage this image must have done to the image of the all powerful dictator: they tried to cut the live broadcast and show some archive material of previous successful speeches. But they forgot to cut the sound. The nation heard the chaos that ensued. People knew something very significant had happened. Ceausescu and his wife fled from the balcony. Cries of  ”down withthe tyrant” and ”Ceausescu who are you?/ The criminal from Scornicesti” were heard.

The Ceausescu couple asked the Soviet Union to take them in but this request was denied. Gorbachev’s earlier prodding to step down had not been heeded. Perhaps Moscow had seen which way things were going to go. They would have no wish to be on bad terms with the incoming regime in Romania. Some believe that the KGB had a hand in the Romanian Revolution. From Gorbachev’s point of the view the Revolution was good news, it proved that there was no alternative to his policy of democratic reform. He was battling hardliners in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union who wanted to defend the one party state to the last ditch.

Securitate opened fire on the crowd and hundreds of people were hit. Ceausescu’s defenders say that there is no evidence that he ordered the demonstrators to be killed. However, he made no effort to stop this mass killing of unarmed people nor did he attempt to penalise those who had done this.

Demonstrators took over the centre of the capital from Piata Roman down to Piata Unirii. The army surrounded them and fighting broke out. Revolutionaries struck up choruses of ‘Wake up Romanian’: the old national anthem that was banned in 1947 and was readopted as the official national anthem after the revolution. Revolutionaries took Romanian flags and cut out the emblem of the PCR from the central bar of the flag and waved them defiantly. There were cries of ”Without violence” – the same as demonstrators had said in Leipzig a few weeks earlier when they had taken down the German Democratic Republic. The Romanian revolutionaries knew that if they used any force then the state apparatus would respond with the most grossly disproportionate violence. In fact there was some violence on the part of the revolutionaries and a lot more on the part of the state.  In desperation Ceausescu had a message broadcast over the radio announcing a 10% increase in salaries. This did not suffice.

It was announced that day that the defence minister Vasile Milea had been killed as a traitor to Ceausescu. It was later established that he shot himself in the chest, quite why is a moot point.

Fatally, Ceausescu decided to remain in the capital that night and to leave the next day. It seems at this point many ministers moved decisively to topple him. The new defence minister Stanculescu ordered soldiers back to barracks: this was against the wishes of Ceausescu. Stanculescu admitted that he did this fearing two firing squads: one sent by Ceausescu and another one by the revolutionaries. He seems to have calculated that the revolutionaries were more likely to win. This surely was tipping point for the regime. When even a man Ceausescu thought he could trust with the most important portfolio of all in the moment of greatest adversity turned against him the writing was on the wall. Many soldiers choose to fight against Securiate and Ceausescu loyalists. To a large extent the army stayed in barracks as Stanculescu commanded. Some soldiers went over to the side of the revolution. ”The Army are with us” chanted some demonstrators. There was an awful lot of firing but against whom? It has been suggested that Securitate, soldiers and police were firing into the air or into walls to create the impression of a gun battle. This explanation is rather thin because people just happened to die – in their hundreds.

Crowds burst into Securitate HQ, the veritable Bastille of the regime, and thoroughly trashed the building. This was probably partly rage by people who had endured years of oppression and partly a desire by informants to destroy all records of their guilty secrets.

It is often said that the Army was Revolutionary and Securitate was pro-Ceausescu. This is a simplification but it is, at base, correct. By the end it was obvious that Ceausescu was doomed, even Securitate deserted him. The police and the Interior Ministry troops are more difficult to place, they took little direct part. The Interior Ministry troops were supposed to be ideologically committed stalwarts of the regime, their failure to go down all guns blazing in defence of Ceausescu is telling. They acquiesed in his overthrow. They, after all, were his Praetorian Guard.

On 22 December he fled the Central Committee building by helicopter. The Ceausescus headed for their house in Snagov but the helicopter pilot feigned engine trouble and they landed. The couple hijacked a car but were eventually arrested by the police and handed over to the army.

The couple were held in an army barracks in Targoviste. Meanwhile much of the Ceausescu Cabinet proclaimed itself to be the National Salvation Front and that the PCR dissolved. The NSF declared Ion Iliescu, the former Youth Minister, to be President. In the first NSF meeting that was filmed that day the members of the NSF discuss the name of their new bureau and hit on National Salvation Front saying they had thought of that name several months before. This let slip that they had been plotting for some time. Yet still there was heavy fighting in the streets of the capital city. Pro-Ceausescu fighters attacked the television station while the NSF was meeting there. The pro-Ceausescu forces seem to have had inside information about where the NSF Cabinet was.

Iliescu was shrewd enough to include some dissidents such as Petre Roman in his Cabinet to show that the NSF was not just the usual suspects. Some such dissidents only first learnt they were in the Cabinet by hearing it on the radio. He even excluded some previously appointed ministers as the crowd booed the announcements of the names of old party hacks. Ilisecu appointed the geriatric Parvelescu to the Cabinet. Parvelescu wanted the NSF to publicly promise to remain a member of the Warsaw Pact. Parvelescu was nothing if not consistent, he had called for the Red Army to remain in Romania back in 1958. Here was a man attacking Ceausescu for being rather too liberal. Parvalescu patently thought that the Eastern Bloc had a long term future as a serious politico-military force. The fact that he was included in the NSF government shows that Iliescu had not exactly embraced western-style democracy.

On 25 December the couple were but on trial and this was filmed. They stood accused of attempting to flee the country with millions of dollars and being accessories to the murders of 60,000 of their compatriots. The prosecution said that people had died of cold and hunger due to the dictator and his spouse.  Ceausescu was roused to anger by this and denounced this accusation as an out and out lie. The accusations were often taken almost verbatim from ‘Red Horizons’, a book published by Ion Pachea, a very senior ranking Securitate officer who had defected to the US several years before. The position of the couple was to refuse to recognise the competence extraordinary military tribunal to try them. Ceausecu said he had been duly elected president and could not be put on trial. If he was legally deposed he would answer the charges he said. The Charles I defence was unpersuasive.

The defence lawyer even argued against his clients. The couple remained composed throughout and the Conductator even looked faintly amused at the proceedings.  Whatever else may be said in praise of the revolution, the Ceausescus most certainly did not have a fair trial. The jury of nine military officers retired to ”consider” their verdict for a few minutes. It was worried that pro-Ceausescu forces might rescue him at any moment. The soldiers on guard at the makeshift courtroom were under strict orders to summarily execute the couple should this happen.

The verdict was guilty on all charges with no possibility of appeal and the sentence was death by firing squad to be carried out forthwith. It is said that hundreds of soldiers leapt at the chance to kill Ceausescu and his wife but only three were selected. Three paratroopers entered the room to take away the condemned. At first the couple thought they were being rescued but then they were tied up. Mme Ceausescu railed at the soldiers to release her and her husband at once, to no avail. She berated the soldiers, ”I brought you up as a mother –  you are breaking my arms –  shame on you!” The couple were told they were to be executed separately, they demanded to be executed together. After some carping the soldiers relented and granted this last request. The old couple showed no fear. They were led outside into a courtyard and Ceausescu began to sing the Internationale. The firing squad opened fire without waiting for an order to do so. This was broadcast to the nation on Christmas Day. The names of the firing squad are a matter of public record and one of them has been interviewed in television about executing the Ceausescus. They have said that they no feeling of remorse, the First Couple deserve what they got according to the executioners.

The Ceasescus son Nicu and daughter Zoia were arrested. Nicu was paraded in handcuffs before the cameras in a television studio and badgered. He answered surlily and without fear. He and Zoia and arraigned on charges but after a few months they were released without trial. Their houses were confiscated on the basis that they had been misappropriated from the people. Nicu was sentenced to 20 years in prison for plundering the national wealth. He was released in 1992 because he had cirhossis of the liver from all his years of hard drinking. He died 4 years later.

The couple are interred at Ghencea cemetery in Bucharest. Admirers still tend and decorate the graves. The headstones were put up by the Romanian Workers’ Party, so the sign says. The Romanian Workers’ Party was the name for the PCR between 1948 and 1965. There is some doubt that the couple are indeed buried here and their son asked a court for permission to exhume the bodies to acertain whether these are the corpses of his parents. Permission was denied for years. In 2010 their son Valentin finally obtained permission for DNA testing on these mortal remains, he believes that these are not the cadavers of his parents. No result has so far been published. They are buried on opposites sides of the path.

Why were they executed with such indecent haste?

  1. To prevent those loyal to the couple from reinstating. Iliescu later said on television that it was an absolute necessity to kill Ceausescu in order to ensure the Revolution succeeded.

2. To sate a desire for revenge on behalf of the common people. This would hopefully draw a line under the past and prevent further recrimination.

3. To stop the couple from revealing secrets that may be embarrassing to the new rulers.

Fighting by those who were fanatical supporters of the ancien regime continued until 27 December. Indeed, about 200 people were killed in the clashes up to and including 22 December which is taken as they day of Ceausescu’s overthrow. A further 800 people were killed between 23 and 27 December. A furious battle raged in Otopeni airport between different military units. Later the two groups discovered that they were both anti-Ceausescu. They wore the same uniform and it had been impossible to tell if someone was a Revolutionary or Anti-Revolutionary. The dead from this battle are buried by the airport.  

The fact that fighting continued for two days after the slaying  of the President demonstrates the loyalty of some to the ancien regime. Why did some support the old system so trenchantly? Doubtless some had been taken in by RCP propaganda about foreigners conspiring to take over the country; some people genuinely liked Ceausescu; there was a privileged clique that had a vested interest in preserving the status quo; some officials were up to their neck in the crimes of the regime and they believed that if the revolution was successful they would be severely punished. It was not blatant that the revolution would succeed and since almost everyone had paid lip service to the regime it would be absurd to punish everyone: therefore safest thing to do was to at least appear to be on the side of the regime until its downfall was absolutely certain.

Why were the Ceausescus overthrown? There were two forces against them:

  1. a popular and spontaneous revolution
  2. Plotters inside the regime.

Why did certain high ranking persons who had been loyal to Ceausescu for decades suddenly decide to depose him? Perhaps they had decided he was doomed and if they supported him in the teeth of the revolution they were doomed too. This did not necessarily imply a profound change: the elite may have wished to simply replace one dictator with another and carry on business as usual. They may have become convinced that it was better to follow suit with the changes effected in neighbouring states. It could be a musical chairs coup d’etat with one leader replacing another and beyond that nothing changes. Indeed in the new constitution that Iliescu and his cronies drafted it implied that Romania would continue as a more liberal version of what had gone before under the guidance of the NSF.

To what extent was it a popular revolution and to what extent was it a palace coup? That the popular revolution played a part is unquestionable. Given the efficiency and brutality of Securitate, not to mention very cold temperatures of Romania during midwinter, it must have taken unbearable hardship and desperation to bring hundreds of thousands of people out onto the streets for the first time in their lives.

 It is said that conspirators within the regime had been hoping to mount a putsch against Ceausescu since as early as 1982 and in 1989 these plans were about to be activated: scheduled for New Year’s Eve but events forced the pace. This may be self-serving propaganda from Ceausescu’s acolytes who wished to save their own skins once their master had been killed.

If, when it mattered, Ceausescu’s lieutenants had decided to remain true to him then they could have saved him. The Tianemen Square option remained open to the regime. The wave of protests was survivable for the regime at least for a few months. However, it seemed that Ceausescu’s underlings were not willing to use repressive violence on an absolutely massive scale that would have been necessary in order to keep him in power.

It must be concluded that it was primarily the popular protests that brought Ceausescu down. Plotters within the regime were few and irresolute before the outbreak of protests by the masses. The revolution was an inside job only to a limited extent.

It would not be surprising if the CIA had a role in the Revolution. Maybe Ceausescu’s complaints of other countries interfering were not entirely fantasy. Deomcratisation was US policy. Communist Romania had a cordial relationship with the US, better than any other Communist state, but the downfall of Communism would be a lesson to the USSR that the old system could not persist.

For once the wish and strategic interest of the US and USSR coincided. Iliescu spent 5 years studying in Moscow in the 1950s. It is speculated that be befriended the young Gorbachev there and this led to the palace coup in time. There is no evidence to support this. It has never even been established that the two youths ever met at that time.

The KGB very likely knew something was afoot and chose not to inform Ceausescu, indeed, tipping a wink to the conspirators that Moscow would welcome regime change. Once plotters inside the regime seized power, Moscow lavished laud on the infant government. This was before Ceausescu had been punished with death. Of course the USSR could have offered him asylum to make it more attractive for him to effectively abdicate, thus securing the revolution. The trouble with that is that then the USSR might then be wrongly seen as sympathetic to Ceausescu and this could cause ill feelings between the USSR and the Romanian people. Ceausescu could always have been handed over to his own people to face justice.

There was an unusual number of Soviet tourists around Timisoara in December 1989. Hmmm….

Marin Ceausescu, brother of the dictator, was a diplomat serving in the Romanian embassy in Vienna. On 28th December 1989 he was founded hanged in the basement of the embassy. Austrian police ruled that it was suicide but others have their doubts.

The Socialist Republic of Romania.

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The Socialist Republic of Romania.

Ceausescu renamed the state the Socialist Republic of Romania in 1965.  This was part of the changes consequent upon the new constitution that was promulgated that year. The constitution announced that socialism had been achieved and that Romania was composed of two classes, the working class and the working peasantry. Of these the working class was to have the leading role, said the constitution. Mention of the intelligentsia, as in earlier constitutions of 1948 and 1952, was dropped. Mention of an alliance with the Soviet Union was also deleted and instead the constitution emphasised that Romania was absolutely independent. Further, in that same year he renamed the party as the Romanian Communist Party – officially the name had been the Romanian Workers’ Party since a merger with other parties in the wake of the Second World War.

Ceausescu encouraged a cult of the personality. He gratefully accepted the title Conducator or Leader, redolent of Antonescu. Indeed, he went one better! He was saluted as ”Conducator Suprem” –  Supreme Leader, no less! He published verse and was hailed as the Genius of the Carpathians. Many people had his portrait on their drawing room wall and his image was always on RCP posters. Television devoted much of its airtime to the actions of the president. People chanted as they clapped in unison,  ”Ceausescu PCR, Ceausescu PCR” as though the two were synonymous. A well known PCR song included the thunderous refrain, ”The Party, Ceausescu, Romania!” – this was the indivisible trinity to be exalted by the people. ”Ceausescu Romania” was another common chorus. Anything to indulge the megalomania of the shoemaker of Scarecinesti! This was ”the Ceausescu era, the golden age” said the propaganda.

He certainly did not cut a dash. He was an unwittingly comical figure with an Elmo Fudd voice. He was of average height and he was aware that he was not handsome. His Deputy Foreign Minister, Stefan Andrei, said that Ceausescu was unhappy with his own appearance. He was not a warrior nor a towering intellectual. He was a man of the people, maybe that made some people like him –  he was actually quite ordinary, one could identify with him. He wore rather drab clothes. He managed his image carefully. He did not allow images of him to be broadcast blinking, perspiring, eating, drinking, sneezing or mispronouncing anything. Towards the end of his life he was plagued by ill health and began to stammer words such as ‘poporului’.

He globe trotted, meeting world leaders. He seldom ate food provided by his hosts, fearing it would be poisoned. He normally dined in the Romanian embassy, supping upon food cooked by a chef who travelled with him. He even had a technician travelling with him who destroyed the Supreme Leader’s excrement lest some foreign foe run tests on the Supreme shit to determine the state of Ceausescu’s health.

When he returned from trips abroad he was greeted at the airport by a welcoming committee of little children from elite schools who would sing him songs, present him with bouquets of flowers and kiss his cheek. This children were first taken aside by Securitate to see that none of them had a cold, if they did they were removed from the welcoming committee on that occasion lest they pass on an illness to the Conducator.

No mention of Nicolae Ceausescu is complete without writing about his redoubtable bride: Elena. She was known as Madame Ceausescu internationally. She wielded almost as much power as her husband and held official posts. This mother of three was in fact three years older than her spouse but pretended to be his junior by a year. She had little formal education beyond a qualification in needlework but obtained a science degree in middle age. Many say this was by the simple expedient of requiring academics at Bucharest University to do her work for her. An ode was penned to acclaim her and was sung by schoolchildren. Its lyrics read risibly to those brought up in land’s where slavish veneration of leaders are not the norm, ”Comrade Elena Ceausescu/ Scientist of international esteem/ Chemistry’s greatest achievements are realised by you.” Another ode to her read, ”we love you, we want you”. In fact she was a better seamstress than a scientist. She had failed most subjects at school before leaving at 14. Her only strong subject was needlework.

Ceausescu’s independent minded foreign policy made him decide to link himself to great rulers of the Romanian past. He had himself likened to Mircea the Old, Stefan the Great and Mihai the Brave. A notion of Protochronism came out, that Romania had been a distinct nation from before the advent of recorded history. Ceausescu’s brother Ilie published books on theme as did other approved histortionists. Romania’s link to ancient Rome as stressed but also its suigeneris nature was underscored. This was to make Romania distinct from her Slavic neighbours.  Films extolling these warrior kings were produced with big budgets. Pageants were held to celebrate Romania’s glorious heritage. At the end of the show the performers applauded Ceausecu rather than the other way around.

Ceausescu’s image was to be seen everywhere – in railway stations, bus stations, classrooms, libraries, hospitals, army barracks, courtrooms, police stations, restaurants, shops and in many homes. He did not put his face on the money, this perhaps was one arrogance too many even for him.

The Ceausescu’s nepotism was derided as socialism in one family. His children attended Lycee Number 24, around the corner from the family’s residence on Spring Boulevard. This school was widely regarded as the best in the country and the children of the party’s elite attended it. This was a play on the old Russian 1920s slogan of socialism in one country. He appointed his younger son Nicu to various Cabinet posts in his 20s and was said to be being groomed to be the new Supreme Leader. Nicu was a very heavy drinker, wild driver and no scholar. The fact that Nicu was in contention for the highest office in the republic showed that the country really was run as the personal fiefdom of one family. Ceausescu’s brothers Marin and Ilie were appointed to high diplomatic and military posts respectively. His brother Andratu was a senior officer in Securitate.

Mrs Ceausescu sent Securitate to spy on her children. She even went to see her daughter walking on Herestrau Park with her boyfriend. Mrs Ceausescu selected a bride for her son Nicu. With the greatest of reluctance he wed the handpicked maiden then told her, ”go and live with mummy. She picked you, she’ll fuck you.”

Ceausescu’s attitude to the Romanian Orthodox Church was ambivalent. It is believed that he was an atheist as Communists generally are. Perhaps he recognised that the church was not necessarily hostile to his regime and it was wiser not to make it a focus for alternative loyalty. This seemed to be part of his attitude of not picking fights that he could easily avoid. He did not persecute the church and even visited churches on occasions. He even paid for a church to be built in his home town. On the other hand a Bucharest was needlessly bulldozed in the 1980s. Before Ceausescu the razing of churches had been much more commonplace. Orthodox clergy in full ceremonial rig were seen at PCR rallies chanting in unison with the other supporters of the regime. There was ample room to claim that Christianity and Communism had much in common –  Christ was the first socialist, he said the man with two shirts must give one shirt to the man who has none. The social justice message of Christianity could be said to chime with RCP policy. A few priests were Securitate informers, they had decided to render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s.

In 1968 the USSR attacked Czechoslovakia because that country decided to allow its people greater freedom. Romania was the only Eastern Bloc country to refuse to help the USSR in this. Furthermore, Ceausescu publicly criticised what the USSR had done. However, he stopped short of pulling out of the Warsaw pact. His extemporaneous speech from the Central Committee Building castigating the Soviet repression of Prague Spring probably marks the high tide of his popularity. It was an occasion he foolishly tried to repeat in 1989 with circumstances and repercussions that were very different.

From the late 1960s in the mid 1970s were the halcyon days of Ceausescu. Economic growth was steady; the country coquetted with East and West on the international stage.   Charles de Gaulle visited The Paris of the East and was given a reception with great fanfare. Foreign dignitaries were queueing up to visit Romania. It was ensured that they had a very warm welcome –  workers and pupils were sent from their place of employment or study to line the street and wave flags and cheer to greet arriving statesmen from abroad.

Major projects appeared to be succeeding such as the Bucharest metro which opened in 1979, the Iron Gates hydroelectric dam and the Transfagaras road. Electricity and telephones became more widely available. Free healthcare, free education and full employment were all very popular. Even the critics of Ceausescu tend to admit that the education system under him was enviable. It was didactic, discipline was strong and it was almost free of bribery. People were allowed to buy their own properties and this was very affordable.

Romania achieved success in the sporting arena especially in gymnastics. Tiriac also achieved glory for the socialist fatherland in tennis. On the domestic arena Dinamo was seen as the Securitate sports club. Talent scouts scoured the land for budding athletes. No effort was spared to cultivate this sort of talent. Sport was one of the few areas in which Romania could compete with big countries. This engendered a greater sense of national pride.

People were required to do patriotic work such as clearing the snow in front of their building. It is said that there was a considerable civic spirit and sense of community.

Ceausescu said that Communism was so good that only a madman could fail to appreciate its manifold merits. As the USSR did in its more enlightened periods the Communist regime in Romania decided to misuse medical science to deal with dissidents. Those who spoke out against the regime were  sometimes sectioned in mental hospitals.

Romania enjoyed cordial relations with many countries. Western governments saw Romania as potentially another Yugoslavia – a land that would puruse socialism at home but could be persuaded to leave the Soviet orbit and at least be neutral in the Cold WAR. Western governments were at pains to court Ceausescu. Romania received hefty loans from international funds. Richard Nixon visited Romania and pointed out that it was the first visit by an American president to a socialist country. Gerald Ford visited Romania and a plaque at Sinaia’s VIP railway station building attests to this fact. As for VIP railway stations – Ceausescu had a station built in Bucharest for his personal use. It is not in use now.

On the other hand as Romania bordered the USSR Romania could not afford to majorly offend the Soviets. If the Soviets invaded Romania it is very improbable that Western military assistance would have been forthcoming. Romania could not risk antagonising the USSR by demanding the retrocession of northern Bucovina and Bessarabia.

In 1973 OPEC countries stopped producing oil  for a few weeks as a means to punish the West for its support of Israel. As a result oil prices quadrupled. This was a major boon to the Romanian exchequer.

In 1975 the construction of the Black Sea canal began again. After several years  and not a few lives, the project was completed. It is questionable as to whether this was the best use of resources, human and otherwise, at the time. But it did instill a certain national pride. What is more, Ceausescu had succeeded where others had not.

A new national anthem, three colours, was adopted in 1977. It spoke of Communism.

School children were asked to volunteer to take in the harvest instead of going to school for a couple of weeks. By the late 80s this ”volunteering” became compulsory.

So eager were Western lands to befriend Romania that in 1973 Ceausescu was given a state visit to the United Kingdom and loaded with honours by the British government. Mrs Ceausescu was awarded a certificate of merit by the Royal Society in honour of her contributions to science. Ceausescu was a keen supporter of the Non-Aligned Movement. The NAM was an organisation of states that were supposedly neutral in the Cold War. This was not very convincing as its members included Cuba which was incontestably a satellite of Moscow.

Romania became a major arms exporter. Arab states and Iran were particular clients. Indeed Romania was crucial to the Iranian war effort in the Iran-Iraq conflict as a source of military hardware for the Iranian armed forces. Iranian air force pilots came to Romania at that time to train in new warplanes.

Romania expressed moral support for the Arab position in the Israel-Palestine dispute. Nonetheless, Romania had full diplomatic relations with Israel. It was hard for Jews to obtain the right to leave the country and settle in Israel. Israel had to pay for each person allowed to leave. So many people were anxious to leave that the synagogue authorities in Bucharest had to put a sign in their window indicating that no more converts would be accepted.

Ceausescu like to project an image of being a peace loving sort notwithstanding his policy of earning capital be selling weapons abroad. He organised a referendum to make a 5% cut in the defence budget: it was carried. There was compulsory military training for men and women under him.

Romania established full diplomatic relations with West Germany in 1968. Romanians of German stock were allowed to leave and settle in West Germany if West Germany paid a large ransom for them, $5 000 to $10 000. Despite Ceausescu’s loathing for Hungarians he had no hard feelings towards the Germans.

For other Romanians an exit visa for a short visit was very difficult to obtain. Securitate  had to vouch that a person was trustworthy. Securitate agents abroad kept an eye on Romanians who were spending time out of the country. If someone absconded whilst abroad this was enough to have that person’s relatives sacked. If a person expressed a wish to emigrate and they did not have a blood tie to Israel or West Germany they were normally dismissed from their job and subjected to harassment for several years but sometimes they were given an exit visa in the end.

Criticising the soi-disant Genius of the Carpathians was enough to have one sent to prison.

Ceausescu despised Hungarian nationalists and persecuted them with an especial zeal. They were sometimes subjected to ‘radu’: by bombaRding them with radiation such that a rapacious form of cancer set in. This condemned the victim to death within a matter of months. Hungarian-Romanians were not allowed to express their seprate ethnicity and cultural heritage. Publications and performances in that language, Magyar, were severely restricted.

Ceausescu followed a natalist policy. Abortion and contraception were forbidden to women unless they were close to menopause and had already produced four offspring – those was later raised to five offspring. There were taxes on those who had not reproduced whether wed or unwed if over the age of 25 years. Infertility did not obviate being liable to pay this tax. As a direct consequence of his policies many children were abandoned. Orphanages struggled to cope with the influx of unwanted children . Conditions in these state institutions deteriorated to such an extent that they became an international scandal when revealed to the world after the revolution.

Perhaps one exception to this prohibition on terminating pregnancies was when Ceausescu’s offspring Nicu got his girlfriend knocked up. The Supreme Leader disapproved of this young lady and he ordered his unborn grandchild to be terminated. It was done.

He also had a policy called systematisation. He wanted to make many peasants become urban dwellers. Rustic types were moved into high rise blocks. They could not take their dogs with them and so many curs were abandoned that now wander the streets of the capital.

A visit to North Korea in 1971 gave him ideas. The virtual deification of the Dear Leader of that country, Kim Il Sung, cannot have been unappealing to Ceausescu. When Kim Il Sung eventually died he was declared to be ”Eternal President” –  North Korea is the only country on record ever to have a dead man for head of state. Ceausescu was also very impressed with the notion of a total transformation of society. This inspired his July Theses, [ublished in 1971.  He went back to Stalinism, not in the sense of obedience to the Soviet Union but in the belief that the state must be outright totalitarian. A period of relative tolerance of a multiplicity of ideas was over. Abject obeisance to the cult of the personality was brought in was a bang.

A village north of Bucharest was named ‘Coreea’ in honour of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea. He wished to emulate the very broad sweep of boulevards and gargantuan public buildings of Pyongyang. THESE Statements in stone would express the grandeur and durability of the leader. 20% of Bucharest was levelled including many of the cities most historic and characterful buildings in order to make way for Ceausescu’s  new plan. Taking photos of the demolition was forbidden. There was no appeal or consultation allowed. Construction on the Palace of Parliament began in 1984 and workers  built in shifts – around the clock every day of the year. Many workers died. Ceausescu often visited the site of his pet project on Saturday morning and wanted to know about the minutiae. By the time of his ouster this mammoth complex was only half finished. His reconstruction of the capital city was largely conceived a vanity project: making Buluverdul Unirii 0.5m wider than Les Champs Elysees just as to upstage Paris. This boulevard was originally styled, ‘the triumph of socialism boulevard.’

Perhaps the most madcap notion of Ceausescu was his truly Caligulan decision to promote his dog Corbu to be a colonel in the army.

Not everyone was willing to be a public devotee of The Supreme Leader. At the 1979 Party Congress the 84 year old Constantin Parvulescu got up request to to make a speech. He was not on the order paper but Ceausescu graciously intructed that Parvulescu be permitted to take to the dais. Parvulescu told the esteemed comrades that he had been a member of the party for 60 years –  this brought a huge outbreak of applause. He informed the assembled people that he had never in all his years seen the party brought so low –  and it was degenerated by the selfishness of Ceausescu who was making himself a dictator and cheating in the election to the presidency. The audience listened flabbergasted. Open castigation of the Supreme Leader was unheard of. Then a Ceausescu loyalist shouted out, ”That’s not fair!”. ”That’s a lie!” cried another. Voice after voice heckled old Parvulescu until the comrades rose to their feet and burst out into a spontaneous chorus of ”Ceausescu PCR, Ceausescu PCR, Ceausescu PCR!” This went on for a couple of minutes. Somehow Parvulescu’s nerves of steel allowed him to stand impassive at the podium. When the catcalls died down he continued with his denunciation of Comrade Ceausescu from the rostrum. When he speech was over he was grabbed by Securitate and put under house arrest. It was said that only his advanced age  and six decades of  service to the party saved him from more extreme penalties.

Despite being in many ways a Stalinist Ceausescu persisted in his independent minded foreign policy. He maintained full diplomatic relations with Chile after General Pinochet became President of that Latin American republic. This dovetailed with his firm belief that one should not meddle in an internal matter in another country. Moreover, he condemned the Soviet aggression towards Afghanistan in 1979. He also sent an Olympic team to the Los Angeles Games in 1984: he was the only Eastern Bloc leader to do so.

In the late 1970s there were strikes by miners in Targu Jiu but these were fairly easily suppressed.

He still carried on domestic achievements. The Bucharest Metro opened in 1979.

In the 1980s oil prices slumped. This impacted on the Romanian economy seriously. Romania was very deep in debt – about $13 Bn – and Ceausescu considered honouring this debt to be a priority –  nobody else ever does. He did his best to pay it off by exporting goods to other countries for hard currency. Romanians had to do with second best and insufficient amounts of clothing, foodstuffs and consumer goods. It was said that few had more than three pairs of shoes. Electricity was down to a couple of hours a day. Likewise hot water. Many carried there shopping up ten flights of stairs to eat dinner by candlelight.

Ceausescu held a referendum to prevent the country from getting into foreign debt again. Unsurprisingly there was an exceedingly large majority for the yes campaign.

In 1987 there were large scale disturbances in Brasov. Ceausescu decided this did not need to be put down by force. He used minimum force, allowed it to burn itself out. Then he struck. Several hundred prominent protestors were arrested and given gaol terms. The paucity of basic comestibles was the salient issue. However, the grievance was strictly limited. Ideological matters seemed to have no bearing on the riots. If Ceausescu delivered a decent standard of living he could be popular again.

Ceausescu’s personal standard of living was high with a number of very comfortable houses around the country, one in Snagov, one by the coast. He had  gold bath taps. However, considering that he had total control of the country he could have indulged himself to a much greater extent.

In 1989 the foreign debt was finally paid off. Other countries very seldom pay off their debts. Surely it was time to ease the severe hardship of his people? But the export of food continued unabated.

The Romanian People’s Republic.

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The Romanian People’s Republic.

In 1948 a new constitution was promulgated that gave the country the constitutional title of the Romanian People’s Republic. Enshrined in the constitution were rights such as the freedom for the proletariat to assemble peaceably, freedom of expression and democracy. The constitution provided for the outlawing of fascist and anti-democratic forces and stated that punishment was richly deserved for such elements. What was the definition of these terms? In practice anyone who expressed doubt as to the utter goodness of Communism was liable to be pilloried as a crypto-fascist. The government continued to be headed by Petru Groza as Prime Minister. He may be seen by many as a patsy. He was a founding member of the Ploughman’s Front, a centre-left wing party. He grew up in a well-to-do  family. For his he was dubbed ”the red bourgeois.” His Premiership provided an illusion of moderation and democracy for the Communists to hide behind. He remained as Prime Minister until 1952. It was part of the tactic of entryism or the broad front – forming a coalition with middle of the road parties to enjoy a smokescreen behind which once could gradually construct a totalitarian state. Socialists were merged with the Romanian Communist Party. The merger was called the Romanian Workers’ Party –  the initials were ”PMR”. However, it was not a moderate socialist vein that dominated – it was a full-blown Communist Party. Similar strategies were adopted by Stalin’s minions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

Most would say that the freedoms granted in the constitution were a dead letter. These rights were blatantly breached by the government and not defended by the courts. Those who attempted to set up independent trades unions were abducted and severely beaten. Anyone who spoke out against these abuses was likely to be accused of anti-Communist agitation and of being a counter-revolutionary.

Nonetheless a nominal legal opposition existed that was allowed to contest elections. The PMR swept the board time after time. Some claim that the legal opposition was a dummy opposition designed to lend the regime a semblance of fairness and to provide the illusion to the outside world that Romania was a multiparty democracy. Thus the message of democracy could be broadcast to what Lenin had termed ”useful idiots” in the Free World.

There was a President and a Prime Minister but few doubted that the paramount position was that of General Secretary of the PMR. Sometimes would the General Secretary would be President or Prime Minister too. Gheorghiu-Dej for instance was General Secretary from 1944-54 and 1955-65 during which time he indisputably was top dog but he was only Prime  Minister for three years during that epoch and he held the presidential mantle only from 1961-65. A wesbite devoted to publishing panegyrics to him even calls him ”a dictator”. Ceausescu was General Secretary from 1965 till 1989 and he was President of the Council of State from 1965 until 1974 and President of Romania until he was pushed out of power.

It soon became abundantly apparent that the PMR was firmly in the saddle and was here to stay. Membership of the party  shot up from under 1,000 in 1945 to over 700,00 in 1948. It is fair to speculate that not a few of them did so out of careerism rather than due to a genuine conviction that scientific socialism would create the proletarian paradise. Membership of the party was indisputably and advantage in seeking promotion in most lines of work. Those who were members of the PMR prior to 1944 were not arrivistes as party membership was downright dangerous at that time.

The PMR was supposed to be an alliance between the peasantry, the proletariat and the intelligentisa. The intelligentsia in every country is the most politically outspoken and active segment of the people. Many of them were eager to enlist in The Party. In order to make reality match the theory the numbers of intellectuals permitted to join the party had to be kept down. For intellectuals it was difficult to join the party. The proletariat found it easy to join the party. The peasantry was the most politically disengaged and their views had very seldom been Communist before. If they wished to join the party it was very easy indeed. In fact the proportion of peasants who were party members declined over the decades. The small farmers tended to be the most religious section of the population and the least literate. This partly explains why few of them were drawn to Communism. Forced collectivisation on Stalin’s orders was greatly resented and was only put into reality with considerable violence.

The Gendarmerie was disbanded as soon as the Soviets took over. Its men often then joined the Directorate for Security troops which was modelled on the Soviet Ministry of the Interior troops. Soviet officers were given senior ranks in the Romanian Interior Ministry troops. The purpose of the Directorate for Security troops was to crush domestic opposition to the regime. They also guarded state buildings.

A secret police force was created in 1948 and it became known as Securitate. Securitate’s officers were recruited very heavily from the urban working class which indicates that this stratum of society was most fervent supporter of the PMR. The peasantry, by contrast, were very significantly underrepresented.  Its gaze was omnipresent. As well as Securitate officers many people informed on others for a variety of reasons: a desire for advancement, hard cash, a wish for revenge and indeed sincere devotion to the Communist cause. Former royal police were allowed to enlist and their expertise was gleaned over a few years. After that they were purged. Securitate’s mandate was to protect the People’s Republic and to quell ”anti-democratic forces” which meant anyone who questioned the much vaunted righteousness of the Communist regime.

The police were renamed ”Militia” rather than the normal Romanian word ”Politia.” Communists had long denounced the police as a weapon of the bourgeois state to be used to bludgeon the working class.

The state was violently intolerant of dissentients. Those who had views that were not at one accord with that of the PMR leadership were imprisoned and physical torture was commonplace. Opponents of the regime who fled abroad were tracked down and killed.

The police was also Communised. The very word police supposedly had bourgeois overtones –  the police was a weapon in the hands of the exploiting classes, allowing them to disinherit the workers. Therefore, the police was renamed ”Militia” rather than ”Politia.”

Communisitic modes of expression and terms of reference were introduced to pervade Romanian society. This was designed to inculcate Communist habits of mind. The forms of address such as Mister, Miss and Missus were expunged. In room of these appellations Comrade in its masculine and feminine forms was brought in. One was instructed to address anyone as ”Comrade Surname”, ”Comrade Teacher”, ”Comrade Policeman”, ”Comrade General” and so on and so forth. Authority was exalted. To complain about authority was very rare and very unwise. People learned to be more deferential than ever in this new ‘egalitarian’ society.

Military parades were held. Huge posters of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Gheorgiu-Dej were displayed with great pride. Red Army officers were present to inspect these parades as honoured guests.

A programme of torture of dissidents was begun in Pitesti prison in 1948. Prisoners were encouraged to brutalise fellow inmates. Religious believers were dubbed Catholics regardless of their actual denomination and doused in buckets of urine in a mock baptism. Prisoners were forced to denounce their families in such disgusting terms as to render and familial affection impossible in future. The torture became so horrendous that after a few years even Securitate disowned it, in 1952. In the year of grace 1954 the State executed some prisoners turned torturers. The prison has since been torn down and a plaque marks this lugubrious spot.

There was compulsory military service for boys and girls. Those due to enrol at university had to serve a shorter period. The army appointed spies within many platoons to report back on the doings and sayings of the other conscripts. Rather than performing militaristic duties these conscripts were often used as a reservoir of underpaid labour. The state was supposed to be utterly egalitarian but in fact the reverse was the case. The children of the party hierarchs formed a new aristocracy untempered by any notion of noblesse oblige. For those with connections is was possible to avoid military service by having a doctor certify one as being permanently medically unfit for such an activity. Senior ranking party members had access to the most commodious housing, more food, better education and the best jobs.

The Young Pioneers, a youth group, was established for the purpose of indoctrinating people in their impressionable years. Pioneers were encouraged to give free labour to the socialist state, they often did willingly, certainly in the early years. They were warned of the imperialistic machinations of the United States. The US was painted as a bourgeois-capitalist complex of ruthless robber barons. The Americans were said to be imperialists hell-bent on attacking Romania and stealing its resources, reducing the newly emancipated working class to the grinding drudgery of wage slavery, because that is what capitalism is all about. Romanians were taught to be on their guard –  to arm themselves against the militarist-colonialist-fascists of Washington.

The Fatherland Hawks was the chapter of the youth movement for very young children. They took part in fun activities and were subtly indoctrinated into Communist ways.

In 1948 banks and most enterprises were nationalised.

Images of Gheorghiu-Dej were omnipresent as were images of Stalin. Many of these busts and portraits may be seen in the basement of the Romanian Peasants’ Museum in Bucharest.  

Collectivisation was forced on the Romanian peasantry. There was fierce resistance to this. Those who held out were subjected to severe beatings or imprisoned in harsh conditions. Armed resistance to Communism that began during the Second World War continued in the mountains into the 1970s.

The Gypsy populace was no longer permitted to practise its itinerant lifestyle.

There was a drive to industrialise. A Danube to the Black Sea Canal was started in 1949, This was discontinued in 1953 by which time it is said that as many 40,000 political prisoners had died trying to build it. It was boasted by the regime that this was ”the graveyard of the Romanian bourgeoisie.” Some dubbed it, ”the canal of death.” People were sent to it for former membership of the Iron Guard, National Liberal Party, National Peasant Party, Social Democratic Party; Zionism or resisting the collectivisation of their farm. Priests of different denominations were punished by penal servitude on the canal. Construction was resumed in the 1970s and the project reached fruition.

There was some genuine enthusiasm for Communism. Many people, especially the young, believed that they were building a better world. Students in particular were often attracted by the daring and innovative message of Communism and would give up their holidays to work for a happier future of all mankind, as they saw it. They would volunteer to work unpaid on construction projects in the summer or to take in the harvest. Communism was new, radical, creative and exciting. Romania was part of a dynamic worldwide movement.

Soviet advisers were widespread in the government. It is often said that these advisers were more or less calling the shots.This situation was replicated across the Eastern European countries that were occupied by the Red ARMY. The Romanian Workers’ Party’s dedication to the Generalissimo in Moscow was shown when Brasov was renamed Stalin City. In Bucharest Carol II Park was renamed in honour of Stalin, there was Stalin Boulevard and a huge media building was thrown up in the Moscuvite style called ”J.V. Stalin House of the Spark.”  ‘The Spark’ was a Communist magazine with its name copied from the Soviet ‘Iskra.’  ‘Isrka’ was supposed to allude to the spark of anti-Tsarist resistance that would start a revolution.

A large statue of Lenin was place in front of J V Stalin House of the Spark. It was then the tallest building in the country.

Gheorghiu-Dej was himself a wannabe Stalin.

Romania joined the organisations that the USSR used to keep its satellite states in line: the economic group called Comecon, the cultural group called Cominform and the military alliance called the Warsaw Pact. Russian became the major foreign language in schools alongside French. It seemed that Romania was little more than a satrapy of Moscow. The Soviet embassy occupied an honourable position on Kiseleff Boulevard. Kiseleff was a Russian general who in the early 19th century had fought the Ottomans on Romanian soil. Some thought that the Soviet embassy was the real seat of government in Romania.

There were two factions of the RCP. One comprised Gheorghiu Dej and his  comrades who had served their time in penitentiaries under the Antonescu administration. Gheorghiu-Dej’s protégé was a certain N. Ceausescu Esq . who had shared his cell in Jilava prison. Others were those who had lived in exile during the years of anti-Communism – most prominently Ana Pauker. Pauker rose to be foreign secretary in 1948 she was the first female to hold such a post anywhere in the world. Pauker and those of her ilk were colloquially known as Muscovites. Stalin realised that the Muscovites had even less credibility that the other faction. Pauker and company  were seen as Soviet stooges pure and simple. Pauker and 192,000 were expelled from the RCP. The fact that she was a Jewess did not help Pauker’s case –  Stalin grew anti-Semitic in his declining years.

Gheorghiu-Dej was a strong Stalinist. When Stalin died in 1953 his policies were still faithfully carried out in Romania. A reformist line was adopted by Khrushchev (the new Soviet supremo) in 1956 and Gheorghiu-Dej was totally out of sympathy with this. At hat time Gheorghiu-Dej remained an unreconstructed Stalinist. In 1958 Soviet troops withdrew from the country, Romania had been required to pay for the upkeep of Red Army soldiers. Some, including sometime General Secretary of the Party, ConstantinParvulsecu, opposed the removal of the Red Army from Romania. The pullout of Red Army troops enabled Romania to dare to pursue a slightly independent foreign policy.

Gheorghiu-Dej was, up to a point, disenchanted with the USSR so he formed a closer relationship with China. The prominent Chinese embassy on Beijing Boulevard indicate the importance that the government attached to its relationship with the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese party high command remained fully committed to and out and out Stalinist policy. Mao Zedong was hyper-sensitive to any slight – real or imagined. He misinterpreted de-Stalinisation in the Soviet Union as an attack on his leadership.

In 1956 a Communist who believed in democracy assumed office in Hungary: his name was Imre Nagy, Nagy meaning ”Big”. Nagy was the Mr Big for young Hungarians who yearned for a more open society. The leaders of the USSR found the idea of Hungarian freedom to be absolutely intolerable and invaded. Romania offered to quell the freedom movement in Hungary but this offer was turned down by Moscow. Nonetheless Romania did play a role in this dolorous chapter, Nagy Imre (as Hungarians order his name) was held in a prison in Snagov, a little way north of Bucharest, for several months after he was deposed by the Red Army. Nagy was later returned to Hungary for a secret trial and execution by hanging. Some youthful Romanians were stirred to action by the example of freedom loving Hungarians and called for freedom in Romania too. A disproportionate number of these protestors were Romanians of the Hungarian ethnicity. They naturally took a greater interest in what was happening in Hungary, they understood what was broadcast in the Hungarian language and plus their community had been in disfavour since the Second World War. Securitate responded with dispatch and thousands were put into prison.

Gheorghiu –Dej became anxious about the groundswell of Hungarian nationalist feeling in Transylvania.  Hungarian nationalists were put into gaol and in 20 cases punished with death. It is notable that very few Hungarians enroled in the Romanian Workers’ Party. In Hungary there was no difficulty in recruiting people to the Communist party, it would seem that Hungarians were made to feel distinctly unwelcome in the PMR and when the applied for membership they were often turned down. The Hungarian-Romanian constitued 7% of the population but much less than 7% of the PMR. This was partly due to their own dislike of being made part of Romania, partly due to an inability to converse fluently in Romanian. Due to their lack of membership of the party very few of them advanced to positions of importance.

In 1962 collectivisation was declared to be complete. 77% of arable land was in state hands.

In the early 1960s Gheorghiu –Dej changed his tune about Stalinism and ironically he blamed Ana Pauker for Stalinist excesses of the 1950s. In  fact she had been purged on the orders of Stalin and Gheorghiu Dej had been promoted for his unflinching dedication to him.

In 1965 Georghiu-Dej died. There are rumours that he was poisoned by the Soviet secret service. He was succeeded by 47 year old from Olt county by the name of Nicolae Ceausescu as General Secretary. Ceausescu was at first thought to be the pawn of more senior figures who settled on him as a compromise, an empty-headed country lad whom they could easily manipulate. They had underestimated him severely.

Ceausescu was a longstanding confederate of his predecessor – indeed they had shared a cell together whilst imprisoned under the Antonescu regime. Ceausescu continued with Gheorghiu-Dej’s attitude of playing off the USSR against China in order to secure the maximum benefit for Romania. Moreover, he was a reformist Communist at first. His policy of no longer being the Kremlin’s yes man was exceedingly popular amongst the people of Romania. Ceausescu was no longer controlled by these shadowy powers behind the throne. He was his own man. Some PMR figures were alarmed at the new direction he was taking. Moscow certainly viewed this development with anxiety.

Elections were regularly held and bosses of factories and other workplaces were required to ensure that their employees went to vote.

Romania during the Second World War.

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Romania during the Second World War.

 

In September 1939 the war broke out. Romania was neutral but unofficially sympathetic towards the Allies due to long standing affection for France. There was a fear of Hungarian recrudesence given that Hungary had profited from German expansionism in 1938.

Pledges to support Romania from France and the UK seemed worth little. Czechoslovakia had been broken up by Germany without France intervening to save Czechoslovakia despite a French obligation to do so.

Poland was defeated by Germany in 1939 and many Polish government officials escaped by flying to Romania and claiming asylum. They were not interned but were allowed to leave the country, they mostly took refuge in the United Kingdom where they set up the Polish government in exile.

France and the UK were preoccupied with defending western Europe from Germany and there seemed little they could do to help Romania even if they wished to.

In August 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union had signed a pact agreeing to divided Poland between them. They also agreed that the Soviet Union had an ‘interest’ in Moldova. It was understood that this was giving the Soviets permission to annex it.

Germany under Hitler attacked many neutral states: Denmark, Norway, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg. In Eastern Europe there were only two powers to speak of: The Soviet Union and Germany. There was no point in being neutral it appeared. There was even less point in joining the losing side and the Axis side (Germany had her collaborators) seemed to be very much in the ascendant.

In July 1940 the Soviet Union demanded that Moldova and northern Bucovina be handed over to it. Romania was far too small to resist. Finland had resisted such threats and had been crushed by the might of Stalin’s Red Army –  Finland had lost the territory anyway and had a Communist government imposed on it. The Romanian government complied with Stalin’s demands. The Red Army and the Soviet secret police entered Moldova despite these territories having a clear majority of their inhabitants being ethnically Romanian and there being little or no desire on the part of the inhabitants to be part of the Soviet Union. Soviet soldiers were said to be astounded at the material wealth of these regions which contrasted starkly with the abject poverty that was the grim lot of Stalin’s  socialist minions.

The RCP of course justified this seizure of land. For them the USSR was the big daddy of the Communist world. Indeed, apart from Mongolia it was the only Communist country. Whatever benefitted the USSR was good for the rest of the world because it increased the chances of the imposition of Communism everywhere. Better for Moldovans to be ruled by Comrade Stalin than the bourgeois-monarchical regime in Bucharest. The RCP hoped for German victory. That was the Comintern line, to assist Germany’s victory over the reactionary imperialist regime of London run by its plutocratic parliament.

Given that Romania had laws that discriminated against its Hebrew community it is perhaps not a surprise that some Jews viewed the takeover by the Soviet Union as good news. Communists also believed that Communist rule, even by a foreign government, was preferable to liberal democracy. Some Romanians believed that Communism and Jewish domination were one and the same. The RCP’s leader at this time, Stefan Foris, was a Jew and this only served to reinforce this bigotry. Certain ethnic Romanians decided that the whole Jewish community deserved to be most severely punished for this transgression.

Moldova and northern Bucovina became subject to Stalin’s savage purges. Hundreds of thousands of people were arrested for their political views of simply because they were members of the intelligentsia. They were accused of that unpseakable horror, ‘bourgeois nationalism’. Families were broken up and in many cases they never saw each other again. Detainees were sent by cattle truck thousands of kilometres deep into the Soviet Union to set to work in slave labour camps. Tens of thousands of people were murdered by shooting normally without any pretence of a judicial process. Any who questioned the actions of the Red Army of NKVD even in a private conversation were likely to be arrested on a charge of ‘Anti-Soviet agitation.’

Moldovans were not permitted to self-define as Romanian. Their language was to be written in the Cyrillic and not in the Latin script. They were told that they spoke Moldovan and that this was a different language from Romanian. Russian and Ukrainians moved in in large numbers. They took over the homes of deported Moldovans.

In August 1940 the Vienna Award took place. Germany demanded that northern Transylvania be given to Hungary. Again Romania was alone and was in no position to resist. The territory was handed over. Hungary was a confederate of Germany and was gaining from this. The old alliance was back on. There had been Austria-Hungary and as Austria had been subsumed into the Great German Reich being an accomplice of Austria necessarily entailed by an accomplice of Germany. Two egregious atrocities took place carried out by certain Hungarian soldiers. At Treaznea and Ip scores of unarmed and unoffending Romanian civilians were deliberately done to death.

The Treaty of Craiova was signed between Bulgaria and Romania. Germany was backing up Bulgaria and Romania had to cede southern Dobrudja to Bulgaria. The heart of Queen Marie was buried there.

The loss of all this land without a fight fatally undermined the credibility of Carol II. All the work of the First World War had been undone.

Carol II the bugbear of the fascists was said to be influenced by Magda Lupsecu his mistress who was Roman Catholic of partly Jewish descent.

In 1940 Carol II abdicated the Throne and moved abroad. Carol II spent most of the remainder of his life in Portugal where he was initally buried. He married his mistress. Carol II was re-interred  in Curtea de Arges in 2004 but outside the church where the rest of the dynasty rest for all eternity. His son did not attend the ceremony.

Carol II’s son  nineteen year old Mihail became king and the Cabinet included fascists for the first time. A former army officer named Ion Antonescu became Prime Minister. He preferred to be addressed as Conducator or Leader. The Conducator’s ginger tinge to his locks in his youth and his ferocity in time of war had earned him the soubriquet of The Red Dog. He was never a member of a political party but he was of right wing views. He allied with the Iron Guard and agreed to form a National Legionary State. Their alliance was uneasy. They shared a stridently anti-Semitic cast of mind but as they agreed on ends they differed on means. The Iron Guard sought a rampage to grab whatever wealth they could from the Jews for themselves. Antonescu wanted to expropriate Jewish property in an orderly fashion and use it for state purposes. Hitler paid him a backhanded compliment, he said that ‘my anti-Semitic policy is far less radical than that of a man such as Antonsecu.’

Antonescu was a cavalry officer who had helped put down the 1907 peasants’ revolt. He hailed from Pitesti. In Pitesti there is a street named in his honour and on the motorway between Pitesti and Bucharest on the bridge the words ‘Antonescu national hero’ are written in grafitti. A book has been published in recent heaps that heaps high the laurels on the memory of ‘The Marshall’. Antonescu’s second wife had previously been married to a French Jew and she divorced him. Divorce was very unusual in Romania at te time and the Orthodox Church only countenances it in the most dire circumstances. Marrying a divorcee made many in Bucharest high society view Antonescu with distaste. The Iron Guard deprecated his choice of bride for moral reasons but also because they believed a man who would get into bed with a woman who had been abed with an Israelite must be a race traitor.

The Iron Guard got their own back on their nemeses. Laws were passed persecuting Jews. Greek and Armenian businessmen had wealth confiscated. Politicians who had opposed the Iron Guard were murdered in many cases.

Antonescu and the Iron Guard were pro-German. They invited German armed forces into the country. Otopeni airport first functioned as a Luftwaffe air base. Ethnic Germans in Romania were controlled by Germany rather than Romania and Antonescu gave his full approval to this arrangement. Romanians who were not pro-German often thought it prudent to co-operate with Germany. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ;em, they reasoned. Countries that co-operated with Germany had been rewarded at the expense of those that did not. By having a base in Romania Hitler greatly widened the front along which he could attack the USSR and he also gained access to oil when he was beginning to doubt his ready access to oil from North Africa.

In 1940 and early 1941 Bucharest was a nest of spies. Agents from both sides in the war vied to obtain sensitive information. Germany had troops in Romania so could insert spies easily. Antonescu assured Hitler in January 1941 that his nation would assist Germany in a future war against the USSR.

In January 1941 the Iron Guard attempted to oust Antonescu. The Iron Guard controlled the radio station and broadcast an appeal, asking peasants to come to the capital –  all true Romanians must liberate their land from the foul machinations of the Jewish cabal that was secretly running the country. This was an allusion to Marshall Antonescu’s Jewish in-laws. Some anti-Semitic peasants did answer this clarion call to arms. German troops backed up Antonescu as did the great majority of the Romanian military. After a few days fierce fighting in Bucharest Antonescu prevailed. During this fighting in Bucharest the Iron Guard had launched a pogrom and murdered about 120  Jews often in an especially repugnant fashion – killing Jews in a slaughterhouse in a manner reminiscent of kosher butchering. About 30 soldiers were killed. 9 000 Iron Guards were taken prisoner. The German Army staged a march past to salute Antonescu.

Why did Germany plump for Antonescu? He controlled the army. He was rooted in the Romanian state and not some lunatic fringe political sect. Antonescu had the support of the king and the establishment. The Iron Guard were too unpredictable. As principled ultra-nationalists they were anti-German, loathing the German minority in the country and disliking Hitler for helping Hungary and Bulgaria seize Romanian land.

In June 1941 German troops along the border with the Soviet Union asked some NKVD border guards to come to a bridge on the frontier for ”important consultations”. The Soviet troops were machinegunned to death. Hitler let slip the dogs of war. Germany attacked the Soviet Union. By this time there were 500 000 German troops in Romania and Romania was a major avenue of attack for the German military.  Given the sadistic reign of terror unleashed by Communists in Moldova and northern Bucovina most Romanians relished the prospect of hitting back at Stalin. Romanian soldiers very soon joined the fray – pushing the Red Army back and liberating Moldova. Romania’s number of troops on the eastern front was second only to that of Germany amongst the Axis countries. It seemed that Romania had entered a loyalty contest to Germany against Hungary. The hope was that the Vienna Award might be reversed. Antonescu in 1942 began planning for the imminent war to take back northern Transylvania from Hungary but that year fortunes turned in the Soviet Union and he decided that he must wait until victory was accomplished against the Soviets.

Romania supplied oil and food to the Axis. This was vital for the Axis.

In 1942 the Holocaust began in earnest. Hitler had earlier commented that Germany pursued a much less radical anti-Semitic policy than that favoured by a man such as Antonescu. Antonescu ordered for many Jews to be murdered and some Romanian soldiers and gendarmes participated in this. The murders of defenceless Jews took place even in the USSR. At Odessa, then under Romanian occupation, the killing of Jews was carried out more by Romanian servicemen than by Germans. At least 300,000 Jews were killed directly or indirectly by the Romanian state. The Romanian government acknowledged this fact in 2004. After Germany, Romania was responsible for the deaths of more Jews than any other country in the Holocaust.

The curious thing is that the majority of Romanian Jews survived the war. The implementation of genocide was patchy in Romania. In many places Jews were subject to the confiscation of money and good; forced labour; relocation and confinement in ghettoes. However, systematic murder was not a policy in the whole of the country, only in parts of it.

Gypsies were treated in a similar fashion and at least 12 ,000 of them were murdered. The Antonescu regime relied on age old anti-Ziganist prejudice. This has attracted far less attention than the genocide against the Judaic community.

In 1943 the Axis forces suffered a major defeat at the battle of Stalingrad. Many Romanians were killed and more were taken prisoner. Romanian produced very few heavy weapons and her troops were not well armed.

In 1944 the Allies were indubitably winning the war. The Allies began to bomb Romania. Pitesti and Ploiesti were particularly heavily bombed by the US Army Air Corps because these towns produced oil. Two memorials in Bucharest commemorate the US servicemen who fought in or over Romania.

Opposition politicians had endeavoured to open negotiations with the Allies in 1943. In the summer of 1944 the Red Army approached the border with Romania and efforts to abandon the Axis side assumed a new urgency. Stalin ordered that Foris be deposed as General Secretary of the RCP, Stalin handpicked Gheorghiu-Dej to replace Foris. The Red Army fell on Romania like a ravening lion.

On 23 August 1944 Antonescu was overthrown by Mihail and imprisoned. Mihail signed a ceasefire with the Allies and tried to bring his country over to fight alongside the Allies. However, some Romanians continued to fight on the Axis side. They formed the nucleus of an anti-Communist armed resistance that was not fully extirpated until the mid 1970s.

The Soviet Union behaved as though Romania was still an enemy country and instead of allowing Romanian troops to keep their weapons and fight on the Allied side the Romania soldiers were normally disarmed and sent to the USSR to be enslaved with brutal treatment. About a fifth of Romanian soldiers in Soviet captivity died from a combination of overwork, malnutrition, cold, insanitary conditions and want of basic medical care. It was only on 12 September 1944 that the USSR accepted Romania’s ceasefire and part of this was an agreement that northern Bucovina and Moldova should be taken over by the USSR again. The fact that the USSR did not trust the Romanian troops is partly justified by the inconstancy of the Romanian government over the preceding few years, although the same double dealing was practised in Moscow.

The German military continued fighting but was steadily forced out of the country. German military cemeteries may be seen in northern Dobrogea and other places. The father of former German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder was one of those who fell in action. A Soviet military cemetery exists in Bucharest by Aurel Vlaicu station. In fact most the Red Army soldiers who rest there died after the war presumably of natural causes.

The Romanian military participated in the effort to drive Axis forces from Romanian soil. In October 1944 this was finally accomplished to the fullest extent. Yet the Romanian military continued their westward drive till the end of the war and took part in the battle of Prague.

The Soviet Union pumped oil at a manic rate from Romania and severely depleted the oil reserves. The Soviet government was keen to impose a government on Romania that would be at the beck and call of Moscow. Churchill, the British Premier, visited Stalin in October 1944. Churchill scribbled out what her dubbed, ‘the naughty document’. In it he expressed in percentages the degree of influence in various eastern European countries to be alloted to the USSR and to the Westerm Allies. In the case of Romania he ascribed 90% of the influence to the USSR. Churchill offered to destroy the scrap of paper on which he had sketched out the percentages agreement but Stalin said, ‘No, you keep it.’ Perhaps this agreement was reached regarding Romania since Russia had long considered Romania to be part of its sphere of influence, the Tsars had styled themselves rulers of Romania and Wallachia had once been a Russian protectorate, a non-Soviet dominbated Romania might challenge for hegemony in Moldova. Churchill was prepared to exchange influence over Romania’s destiny in return for Western influence in places that he considered to be of greater strategic significance and indeed more defensible: principally Greece. It was a longtime British policy to keep the Russian fleet out of the Mediterranean Sea and  Red Navy base on the shores of Greece would have put paid to any notion that the White Ensign could reign supreme upon the waves of the Mediterranean.

King Mihail formed a coalition government including Romanians of nearly every point of view except fascists. The ban on the Communist Party lifted. Gheorghiu-Dej, Ceausescu et al were released from prison. Romanian Communists who had sat out the war in Moscow returned in triumph. Communists were appointed to key Cabinet posts due to Soviet pressure.

Many ethnic Germans were expelled from Romania. Tens of thousands of them were abducted by the Red Army and forced to work as slaves in the Donbas coal region of the USSR and even in Siberia. King Mihail protested that this was an arrant breach of international law but his protests fell on deaf ears. The USSR believed that this was in accordance with ‘socialist legality’, in reality a post-factum rationalisation of  raison d’etat fiat. The detention and intense exploitation of these unfortunate conscripts continued in many cases for five years. The USSR reasoned that these men had caused great destruction to the USSR and now it was time for payback, they must repair the damage that they had inflicted. In fairness to the USSR many lands kept prisoners in captivity after the cessation of hostilities for an unreasonably long space of time. For instance, some German Prisoners of War were kept working in the United Kingdom until 1948.

Ethnic Germans –  70,000 – were ordered to do forced labour. Many of those who could had retreated with the Wehrmacht. Some Germans were murdered for racist reasons. At the time this elicited very little sympathy.

As a reward for switching to the Allied side Romania was given back northern Transylvania. This raised the standing of the Communist party.

The Communists swiftly became the dominant political party in the land. This was achieved by a mixture of outright electoral fraud, intimidation and collaboration with fellow travellers in other parties. In March 1945 Groza was appointed as Prime Minister –  he was a member of the Ploughmen’s Front – a leftist party that sympathised with the Romanian Communist Party.

By the close of the Second World War Romania was suffering very badly. Its major cities had been the scene of a considerable amount of fighting. Over half a million youths had been killed in the war.

The Soviet Union suggested that trainloads of valuables be sent too the USSR ”for safekeeping”. Treasure and works of art were shifted east. Some time later the Romanian government requested that these items be returned. The Soviet government denied all knowledge of ever having received such chattels.

His Majesty King Mihail grew wary of the direction of events and decided to paralyse the government by declining to append his signature to laws. This was called the royal strike. Groza decided to get around this by carrying on irregardless.

On 8 November 1945 (St Mihail’s day) an anti-Communist demonstration took place outside the Royal Palace. Peaceful protesters were shot dead by Romanian soldiers loyal to the Groza government. The Red Army UNCHARACTERISTICALLY INTERVEneD TO halt the massacre.

The monarchy was increasingly emasculated. Legislation made it onto the statute book that Mihail disliked such as land reform and female suffrage.

A People’s Tribunal was established and tasked with bringing to book Antonescu and his merry mob. About 700 people were convicted of various crimes and dozens were punished with death. On 1 June 1946 Ion Antonescu, his Propaganda Minister Mihai Antonescu (no relation to the Conducator) and two other henchmen were executed by firing squad outside Jilava prison. This may be seen on a silent film in You tube. Antonescu wore a suit for the occasion, he looked resentful but not at all frightened.

In November 1946 the Communists and their fellow travellers claimed 80% of the vote in an election. Few would claim this result was anything near the truth. The Red Army was still occupying Romania and refused to treat Romania as a former Allied nation. There was no respect for legality and Foris, one time leader of the RCP, was kidnapped ad eventually beaten to death with crowbars on the orders of the RCP’s leadership in 1946.

Various Sov-Rom companies were established. Many would say these merely existed to thinly disguise Soviet plunder of Romanian wealth.

In 1947 Romania was the sole surviving monarchy in the Eastern Bloc. The Communist party was patently in the ascendant. They abolished the monarchy and the Hohenzollern-Sigmarignen family left the country. Mihail did not recognise the legitimacy of this abolition an thus he styled himself King rather than ex-King. He spent most of his time in the United Kingdom. He was stripped of Romanian citizenship and prohibited from returning to his native land. The Communist regime publicly accused him of purloining wealth from the country and squirreling it away in foreign bank accounts, a charge strenuously denied by His Majesty. King Mihail refused to meet his father Carol II for the remainder of his life. Carol II was not respected on the international scene, he approached American President Truman at a diplomatic function after the Second World War and asked Truman, ‘Do you speak French?’ to which Truman replied, ‘No, and very little English’ before turning his back on the erstwhile monarch.

Non-Communist parties were compelled to merge into the Romanian Communist Party (HEREINafter RCP). The National Peasant’s Party, heretofore one of the most popular parties, was accused of espionage on the basis that some of its members had met American officials. A show trial was held and leading lights in that party were awarded long terms of imprisonment. In time the National Liberal Party was persecuted as a group of so-called crypto-fascists and many prominent members were sent to penitentiaries such as Pitesti Prison.

Romania between the wars.

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Romania between the wars.

Romania between the wars was the largest that the Romanian state has ever been.  People speak of ‘Greater Romania’ and some people – especially the Greater Romania party, have a desire to return Romania to these frontiers. Greater Romania alludes to the territory of Romania at its maximum and to the period of Romanian history between 1919 and 1940. Some view this stretch of time as Romania’s zenith. Romania took part in the peace conferences after the war that imposed punitive peace settlements on former Central Powers countries. In 1920 the Treaty of Trianon, which the Allies signed with Hungary, formally recognised Romanian sovereignty over Transylvania, Banat, Bukovina and Maramures.

The Romanian Communist Party was founded in 1921.  It was declared to be illegal. Its members were frequently flung in prison. A disproportionately high number of its members were Jews. This is possibly because Communism, at least in theory, contempted racism whereas there was some racism on the right in Romania. The fact that many leading lights of the Communist Party was grist to the mill of anti-Semites. Communism is against religion and anti-Semites often said that Communism was part of the Jewish conspiracy to destroy the Christian faith. This was coupled with accusations that Jews were behind Darwinism, secularism and other movements that challenged the hegemony of established churches.

Romania had some difficulty readjusting to peace. Many soldiers and sailors were demobilised in the aftermath of the Great War and there were not enough civilians jobs for them to go to. People who had been employed making uniforms and munitions for the armed forces suddenly found themselves out of a job. Romania was heavily in debt after the war. The Central Powers were supposed to pay huge reparations to Alliesd countries but owing to financial crises and resistance to payment within former Central Powers countries, they paid no more than 20% of what they owed.

The German and Hungarian minorities in Transylvania, despite their accession to Romania, were in many cases discontented with their inclusion in Romania. They, on the whole, still looked to Vienna and Budapest respectively for their cultural and political inspiration.

Hungary was in a state of flux in the immediate wake of the Great War. Communists led by Bela Kun seized power in March 1919 and the government of Hungary evacuated out of Budapest. Kun and his right hand man Tibor Szamuely were both of the Hebraic ethnicity: leading anti-Semites to slam Hungarian Communism as yet another Jewish plot. Kun ordered his men to kill ‘class enemies’ who opposed Communism and he ordered his men to take back land from Romania. The Hungarian Red Army attacked Romania in April 1919 was these attacks were easily beaten off. The Hungarian Red Army was also attacking the newly formed Czechoslovakia at the same time.

Romania seized the initiative as the Hungarians were squabbling among themselves. Romanian troops advanced deep into Hungary – forcing their way across the river Tisza. This somewhat united the  Hungarians –  some joined the Hungarian Red Army not out of any devotion to the Red banner but simply out of a despite to defend the Hungarian homeland.

The Hungarian Reds had confederates in the shape of Russian Communists. Russian Communists attacked Romania in Moldova in April 1919 but this achieved only minor success before being repulsed.

In June 1919 the Communist regime made peace with Czechoslovakia and concentrated all its forces on fighting Romania. Neither Romania nor the Communists rulers of Hungary were willing to negotiate.

In August 1919 Romanian troops entered Budapest. Romania began to lose the moral support of its former Allied friends. They believed that Romania had occupied far more territory than could be justified by the wishes of the population. Romania was blamed for being greedy and unnecessarily prolonging the war.

Romania was able to occupy almost the whole of Hungary and Bela Kun fled – later reaching Russia. He was executed in 1938  along with Szamuely when the Soviet government began accusing foreign Communists of being traitors to the Communist cause.

Romania confiscated much war booty in terms of weapons, trains and foodstuffs. Romanian troops only completed their withdrawal from Hungary in March 1920. Admiral Horthy, a right winger, became Regent of Hungary. Horthy was given the title Regent because Hungary became a kingdom once more and the King of Hungary, Karoly VI by Magyar reckoning, was in exile in Switzerland. He had been stripped of his title and powers by the Allies as a pre-condition for the armistice in 1918. Until a way could be worked out for the Habsburgs to be restored Hungary without the Allies taking action against Hungary, then the Kingdom of Hungary would be ruled by the Regent, Horthy.  he punished the Communists who had brought Hungary to such catastrophe. This became known as the White Terror.

The First World War – as it affected Romania.

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The First World War.

In 1914 a Serb shot dead an Austro-Hungarian prince although this was not on the order of the Serbian government. He was Franz Ferdinand and his wife pregnant Countess Sophie Chotek. He was heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Franz Josef was then the Emperor of Austria-Hungary and had been counting on his nephew inheriting the Crown because Franz Josef’s own son Rudolf had committed suicide many years before owing to an impossible love affair.

Austria-Hungary ruled Bosnia-Herzegovina and most Serbs believed that Bosnia-Herzegovina ought to be part of Serbia. (The killing was carried out by Gavrilo Princip of Mlada Bosnia –  ”Young Bosnia”. This group wished to unite all the ethnicities of Bosnia –  Bosniak, Croat and Serb being the main ones –  against Austria-Hungary. Princip wanted to unite the south Slavs. He was not a narrow Serb nationlist as some claim nor a member of the Black Hand as is often said. Austria-Hungary made very severe demands of Serbia to prevent further attacks by Serbs on Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary rightly suspected Serb intelligence of having a part in the killing. In fact in 1916 Serbia executed some of those who had ordered it because this had caused such suffering for Serbia. In the event Princip was found guilty of murder. Being below 20 – he was 19 at the time of the murder –  he could not be sentenced to death. He was given 20 years imprisonment. He served his sentence in what is now the Czech Republic. As he lay dying of tuberculosis in the summer of 1918 he was asked if knowing back in 1914 that he would unleash a war that would cause more grief and pain than any war of all time, that would claim the lives of some twenty millions –  would he still do it? He said that knowing all this –  he would still have done it.)

The Serb government yielded to most but not all these demands. There was an outburst of horrific anti-Serb hatred. Many Serbs were physically attacked. A handbill went around in Vienna reading, ”Serbs must die.” Because Serbia had not agreed to every last one of the demands Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.Austria-Hungary felt confident in doing so because the German Emperor solemnly swore to Austria-Hungary that his country would fight on Austria-Hungary’s side not matter how bloody the war would be that followed.

Serbia had been a little defiant in order to appease anti-Austro-Hungarian sentiment among its own populace. The Serb government felt it could do so because it seemed as though Russia would fight to help Serbia. There was much fellow feeling between these two countries owing to linguistic similarities and a common devotion to Orthodox Christianity. Russia saw itself as the patron of the Slavic nations and some Serbs welcomed the prospect of being a satellite of Russia. However, many Slavs, especially Poles, saw the notion of Russian protection as being an ill-disguised excuse for Russian expansionism and oppression.

Germany demanded that Russia should demobilise its military. Russia refused and Germany declared war on Russia. Germany declared war on France without allowing France any opportunity to avoid war. Germany then demanded that the Belgian government allow German troops safe passage across Belgium so that they could attack France in the rear. Germany assured Belgium that as soon as the war was over Germany would withdraw immediately and allow Belgium to be fully independent again. Belgium did not trust such assurances and refused to permit German forces to cross their frontier. Consequently Germany declared war on Belgium.

At that time most of Asia, Africa, some of the Americas and the small islands of the world were under European rule.  France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy ruled large overseas colonies. As soon as a coloniser country such as France went to war this automatically meant that all French colonies were at war. Hence the First World War really was a world war.

The UK and Germany had signed a treaty in 1839 agreeing to honour the independence and neutrality of Belgium. The British government insisted that Germany pull its soldiers out of Belgium. Germany refused to do so and therefore the UK declared war on Germany.

Germany and Austria-Hungary became known as the Central Powers because of the central position that they occupied on the map of Europe. France, the UK, Russia, Belgium and Serbia became known as the Allies.

Over time more and more countries piled into this war. The Ottoman Empire declared war on the Allies in October 1914. Japan joined the Allies in late 1914. Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in 1915.

Romania initially decided to remain aloof from this conflict that had already claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of youths by the end of 1914. Romania was fairly sympathetic to France, its cultural model and there was a major ambition to bring Transylvania into Romania. Moreover, Serbia’s stance viz-a-vis Bosnia-Herzegovina was similar to Romania’s irredentist attitude towards Transylvania. Romania felt uneasy about the possibility of being on  the side of Russia because Russia ruled Moldova. To Romania eyes it seemed perhaps that both sides in the war were as good or as bad as each other. In October 1914 Carol I died childless and his German-born nephew Ferdinand succeeded to the throne. The Kaiser of Germany eagerly expected Ferdinand to come to the aid of the land of his birth, Ferdinand even shared a surname with the Kaiser to whom he was distantly related. However, all the crowned heads of Europe were relatives so this argument held little water. Wilhelm II was related to George V of the United Kingdom as first cousin, so should he take the British side? When eventually Ferdinand lead his realm against Germany Ferdinand’s name was struck from the register of Hohenzollerns by fiat of Wilhelm II.

Perhaps te greatest asset of Ferdinand I was his British-born doughty wife Marie. Described by the French ambassador as the only real man in Romania she inspired affection and respect like no other member of the Romanian royal family. This  granddaughter of Queen Victoria was instrumental in organising relief efforts in the First World War and published many books including some rivetting diaries. A Bucharest street name honours her memory. She is buried in Curtea de Arges. Her heart was buried in Romanian soil that is now part of Bulgaria but has since been reclaimed.

Romania saw what both sides could offer them. By 1916 the Allies were being pressed very hard by the Central Powers. France was in danger of cracking under the strain of a massive German attack on Verdun. The Russians launched the Brusilov offensive which did not push the Germans and Austro-Hungarians back much but did sufficiently distract the Germans to contribute to a German decision to call off their attack on Verdun.

France was still desperate to open another front against the Central Powers. Serbia had been completely overrun by that stage. France was willing to promise Romania anything just to achieve this. The Allies promised that they would recognise Transylvania as rightfully belonging to Romania. Apart from wanting Romania as an ally the Allies certainly did not want Romania as an enemy. As the German General von Hindenburg later wrote at that time Romania was perhaps the most powerful country in the world. Despite not being a big country Romania could decided the fate of the world by choosing which side to join.

In June 1916 the Russians launched a major attack and pushed back the Austro-Hungarians back hundreds of miles to the Carpathians.  The Romanian government was impressed by this – it seemed like the Allies were winning the war. Romania had better seize Transylvania while there was still a chance. Romania delayed to secure Russian approval of the annexation of Transylvania and to see that the Brusilov offensive was a success: this time lag proved a cardinal error. ON 27 August 1916 Romania declared war on the Central Powers –  just as the Brusilov offensive was petering out and Austro-Hungarian and German reinforcements reached the Eastern Front in large numbers.

The German General von Falkenhayn correctly predicted that Romania would join the Allies. He made a very detailed plan about how to beat Romania.

Romania faced enemies on two fronts. To the north were German and Austro-Hungarian forces. To the south were Bulgarian and Ottoman forces. Romania had up to 600,000 soldiers but some had only received a very little training.

Romania’s political imperative was to attack northwards – to recapture Transylvania which was after all the chief motive for entering the war. Defending the southern frontier made more military sense because the land to the south was flat and therefore easy to advance across. There was the Danube to the south which was something of a barrier but at least it was also a means of transportation.To the north lay the Carpathian mountains and it would be very difficult to move quickly. The enemy could easily hold off the Romanian Army in the narrow mountain passes. When a military and a political imperative clashed the political imperative was allowed to take priority. This was almost a fatal mistake.

The Central Powers allowed the Romanians to exhaust themselves attacking the Carpathians –  the Romanians made little progress. Once the Romanian troops were overwhelmingly concentrated in the north this left the south only lightly guarded.

German reinforcements had moved around to Bulgaria and they assisted Bulgarian and Ottoman troops in storming across the Danube on 1 September and attacking Romania’s southern flank. Constanta was quickly taken by the Central Powers. Romania faced enemies on all sides and had no access to supplies through the Black Sea. As Romania transferred troops to the south the Central Powers took the opportunity to counterattack in the Carpathians.

The Central Powers moved forward steadily and much less Russian help was forthcoming than had been promised to Romania. Romania was slowly squeezed out of the Wallachian plains. Romania had little industry and could not produce many weapons or much ammunition.

In December 1916 German soldiers entered Bucharest and the government was evacuated to Iasi. The Central Powers cried victory prematurely. Romania had lost about half its troops yet Romania held out in the hills around Iasi. Romania even managed to participate in another Russian offensive in May 1917.

In November 1917 a Communist revolution in Russia caused Russia to stop fighting.  Communists in Russia and elsewhere adopted a red flag as their symbol and became known as Reds. As Romania had no Allied countries adjacent to it Romania could not import arms. Romania’s military position was, by then, hopeless and so in December 1917 Romania signed an armistice. If Romania had entered the war in 1914 or 1915 the outcome might have been different but by 1916 there was only one Allied country helping Romania and this country, Russia, and Romania and Russia felt suspicious of each other because of the Moldova dispute.

In April 1918 Moldovan representatives voted by a convincing majority to join Romania.

On 7 May 1918 Romania was compelled to sign the Treaty of Bucharest. This recognised Romania as being solely responsible for starting the war between herself and the Central Powers. Romania lost control of passes in the Carpathians – having to to hand them over to Austria-Hungary. Romania had to return southern Dobrudja to Bulgaria. Romania had to pay an enormous sum in compensation to her former enemies. Moreover, all the oil produced by Romania had to be to given to Germany for free for the next 90 years. This was vital in sustaining the German war effort over the next few months. There was one positive aspect of this  treaty for the Romanian nation –  Moldova was added to Romania. This was easy to accomplish because Russia had collapsed into turmoil, civil war and secession.

The Prime Minister signed the Treaty of Bucharest but Ferdinand I did not – leading some to claim that the Treaty was not binding.

Germany later overextended itself with attacks in France. American troops reached France in large numbers in 1918. Germany was being starved out by a British naval blockade. German troops began to desert and mutiny. Communist ideas from Russia spread to Germany and some Germans called for a Communist revolution in their homeland. Germany’s partners in the war were worn out and one by one they signed armistices with the Allies.

On 10 November Romania re-entered the war. On 11 November Germany signed an armistice. One the conditions of this was that Germany void the Treaty of Bucharest. The only part of this treaty that was still held to be valid was the incorporation of Moldova within Romania.

Although the war was officially over fighting continued sporadically between Romania and Hungary in the Carpathian mountains

On 1 December 1918 the union of Transylvania with Romania was proclaimed at Alba Iulia. This town was chosen for the proclamation because it was here that the union of Transylvania with Romania had been proclaimed in 1599 and Alba Iulia celebrates this in a major festival. This had been called for by representatives of Romanians in Transylvania and this was later recognised as an act of self-determination by the Allies. This is celebrated annually. The German community also in Transylvania agreed to Transylvania joining Romania.