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Romania under communism: waiting it out

FORTY years ago this month the Soviet Union imposed pro-Soviet government on King Michael and the Romanian people. Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Y. Vyshinsky had come from Moscow to Bucharest to insist on a change of government. With Soviet troops in control throughout Romania and most Romanian forces fighting alongside the Soviets in eastern Czechoslovakia, Vyshinsky bluntly threatened the direst consequences if the King did not agree. The United States and the United Kingdom did not believe they could usefully help King Michael and his supporters. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had just met Joseph Stalin at Yalta in February 1945 and had more-serious concerns than who was prime minister in Romania.

Their first priority was to finish the war against Nazi Germany. They also foresaw -- in the absence of the atomic bomb -- a long grinding struggle against the Japanese. The occupation of Germany, the establishment of the United Nations, and the Polish question were among the political issues more important to the West than challenging Soviet wishes in Romania. Hence, King Michael had no alternative but to yield to Soviet pressure and appoint a pliable figurehead as prime minister and several Communists in key positions.

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Within three years, the Communists, despite rising American and British protests, destroyed the liberal, peasant, and social democratic opposition parties and forced the King to abdicate.

The Romanian Communist Party has had only two top leaders since then, Gheorghe Georghiu-Dej and Nicolae Ceausescu. As party leader, Gheorghiu-Dej presided over the transformation from capitalist to state-owned industry and from private to collectivized agriculture. The old ruling class was overthrown and replaced by a new class of Communists and opportunists. To Gheorghiu-Dej goes the credit for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Romania in 1958. He, too, fathered the Romanian decision in 1963 to reject Soviet plans for Eastern European economic integration which would have relegated Romania to a predominantly agricultural role.

Ceausescu, who succeeded Gheorghiu-Dej on the latter's death in 1965, consolidated and expanded Romania's limited independence from Moscow. On issues ranging from Warsaw Pact military exercises to economic relations and the unity of the world Communist movement, Romania pursued and defended its own view.

The Romanian people warmly welcomed the leadership's assertion of national goals at variance with Moscow policy. They enjoyed a rising standard of living in the 1960s and a period of liberalization after 1965. But in the mid-1970s Ceausescu increased ideological constraints, strengthened political and economic controls, and allowed a flourishing cult of personality in his favor. Soon, no praise of Ceausescu was too extreme, no flattery too servile. Romanian speakers, journalists, and writers ceaselessly lauded his name and achievements. His wife and one son were elevated to ever higher party offices.

Since the late 1970s Romanians have seen their standard of living fall considerably as a result of poor economic planning, excessively centralized decisionmaking, lack of economic incentives, and burdensome foreign debts. Ceausescu's glorification of the Romanian nation has also left ethnic Hungarians and other minorities with the feeling of being second-class citizens.

For the Soviet Union, Romania is a less than totally reliable Warsaw Pact and economic partner. But the Soviets seem patient. Political and economic pressures may some day compel Ceausescu or his heirs to compromise present Romanian policy and turn Romania into a Warsaw Pact team player.

For the US, Romania's nationalistic behavior and its determination not to bow automatically to the Soviet Union's every wish serve our anti-Moscow policy. But most of Romania's problems are too remote from our interests and not of the first priority to us.

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Romanian citizens now experience a corruptible, inefficient totalitarian political system combined with autocratic, patriarchal rule which may become hereditary. They are waiting the situation out, as history has taught them to do.

After 40 years of Marxism-Leninism Romanian-style, they are still alone and isolated in their weary struggle for a better life.

Nicholas G. Andrews, former director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs in the US Department of State, was a staff member of the US Military Representation to the Allied Control Commission for Romania, 1944-1946.

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