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Salvation Front Defends Role

Front leaders reject suggestions that they `stole' the revolution and promise a draft constitution. ROMANIA

IT reads like a fairy tale. A crowd gathers outside the Romanian television studios. The employees open the doors of Studio Four. Direct from the street, the group announces the creation of a National Salvation Front.

Within a few days, helped by the Army, the Salvation Front has gained control of the country, named a new president, prime minister and government. Foreign countries recognize it as Romania's rightful ruler.

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This fairy tale is over. If it sounded too good to be true, some Western journalists and diplomats suggest that the tale of spontaneous revolution indeed is too good to be true. In their view, several ex-Communists conspired months ahead to set up the front. A plan was needed for the front to organize so well and so fast.

Some Romanians, meanwhile, are bothered by how a group of ex-Communists seem to have gained control of the front. At its inception, the movement brought together students, writers, and dissident party members. Now former party member Ion Iliescu has become president, Dumutru Mazilu vice president, and Silviu Brucan vice chairman.

``Iliescu, Mazilu, Brucan pushed themselves forward and anyone else out,'' said Valentine Gabrielescu, a 68-year-old former political prisoner who participated in the early formation of the Salvation Front before defecting to join the new Peasant Party. ``This revolution wasn't just against [President Nicolae] Ceausescu, it was against all the Communists.''

Students who played a prominent role in the demonstration held demonstrations against the front last weekend. They complained about lacking influence over decisions.

``The front has stolen our revolution,'' charged Vlad Enache, editor of the student newspaper at the Polytechnical Institute. ``We've become actors in a play which somebody else writes and directs.''

Front leaders reject these accusations. Mr. Brucan said Tuesday that Romanians would be able to consider a draft constitution and electoral law next week. ``We expect them to become the subject of wide public debate, and we shall include all pertinent suggestions in the final draft,'' Brucan said.

The leaders add they are committed to abolishing the worst abuses of the Ceausescu regime - including Draconianian food and electricity rationing - and to holding democratic elections this April. The critics are unrealistic, they say. In a power vacuum, somebody has to step in and make decisions.

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``Of the 11 members on the Salvation Committee, there are six students,'' says Brucan. ``The front brings personalities and politicians of different views.''

Brucan rejected accusations of long-developed plan to take power.

``I can't believe serious newspapers in the West are taken in by such stories that we set up a coup to overthrow Ceausescu six months ago,'' he argued. ``At that time, I was under house arrest, unable to meet anybody.''

Indeed, unlike Poland or Czechoslovakia, Romania never had a well-organized democratic opposition. Individual dissidents denounced the regime, but they remained isolated and with little impact.

At best, the future front leaders knew of each other through foreign radio reports. The feared Securitate (secret police) kept them from meeting - and created a mass paranoia.

``With Ceausescu, you couldn't tell anything to anybody, you just couldn't form a group of any kind, because you kept fearing that he would turn you into the Securitate,'' explained Danulu Boscu, a young doctor. ``We didn't have any friends, nobody. The only people I talked to was my husband and my parents.''

One opposition group, the Antitotalitarian Forum, boasts that it was created before the revolution. It numbered three families. ``If we took anybody else in,'' explained the group's leader Viorel Hancu, ``it would have endangered the group to the Securitate.''

Eyewitnesses in Romanian Television's Studio Four confirm they saw the front form before their eyes. The crowd entered, and in a confused, excited manner drew up its initial declaration.

``Everybody just got in front of the camera and started reading their declaration,'' said Gratiela Rapeanu, a television journalist. ``It was people who never met each other.''

At first, the student leaders, along with some well-known poets and actors, were most visible. Mr. Iliescu, Brucan, and the other anti-Ceausescu Communists arrived later at the television studio. Their political experience was soon visible. Today, they sit in well-guarded offices at the old Central Committee and Foreign Ministry buildings.

``You can't just run a country with poets and students,'' explained Adrian Dascalu, editor of a foreign policy magazine who also was present in Studio Four. ``If you have a car, you can't give it to people who don't know how to drive.''

The front's advantages are immense: It is the only mass political movement in the country, and by reversing Ceausescu's policies, even their critics admit they have won public gratification.

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