WILL Romania be the first post-communist monarchy? This scenario is not as nutty as it sounds - at least no more nutty than the current state of Romanian politics.
When most Americans last saw Romania, it was New Year's 1989, and the Romanians had just violently ended the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. We saw celebrations in the streets; orphans being adopted by Americans; and another country humming along the road to democracy.
But the revolution in Romania is far from having reached its end, and many of the historical evils that it was supposed to weed out thrive. The ruling National Salvation Front and its government have sidestepped all significant changes, particularly full-fledged democratization and bold economic reforms.
Outbursts of government-sponsored violence, including a number of miners' raids on Bucharest, have punctuated the disturbingly nonprocedural exercise of power by the presidential regime established after the May 1990 elections. The ruling regime, a reincarnation of the old Communist bureaucracy, won in 1990 because the opposition was in disarray. With few exceptions, like the ethnic Hungarian Party of the Peasants, the political parties were merely platforms for individuals' vanities, rather than instrum ents to articulate collective interests. The successful efforts of the ethnic Hungarians only triggered a backlash of Romanian-nationalist parties.
Following his own agenda is Romania's president, Ion Iliescu, a former apparatchik, who has reorganized the secret police as an instrument to carry out his directives. In September 1991, Prime Minister Petre Roman clashed with Mr. Iliescu and his camarilla. Forced to resign, Roman has become outspokenly critical of Iliescu. So in March 1992 the National Salvation Front split: The Roman faction claims to be social-democratic and radically reformist, while the pro-Iliescu group is populist and authoritaria n.
The infighting among the power elite helped the opposition get its act together - at least long enough to achieve significant success in the local elections. Made up of the principal opposition parties, including the National Peasants, the Liberals, and the Civic Alliance Party, the "Democratic Convention" managed to have candidates elected to several urban mayoral offices, including Bucharest. But after this victory the Liberals left the Convention. During the ensuing crisis among the Liberals, disencha nted members accused chairman Radu Campeanu of cooperating with Iliescu, and formed a rival party.
Meanwhile, the fight to expose the secret-police dossiers is as bitter and poisonous as in the other ex-communist countries. Revelations spill forth about the tainted past of public officials - and about journalists. Nobody knows whom to trust. Opinion polls indicate a widespread malaise, distrust of elected officials, and skepticism about the future.
Under these divisive circumstances, the visit of the long-exiled King Michael to his country this past April turned into a sea-change political event.
Although officially associated with the Easter ceremonies, the trip convinced many Romanians of the king's impressive personality. One prominent intellectual wrote that on this occasion the nation could experience for the first time in 45 years genuine love for a political leader.
King Michael is perhaps the only personality who can provide most Romanians with a sense of stability and hope. He has lived abroad for more than four decades and maintains a suprapartisan stance. In August 1944 he took the country out of its alliance with Nazi Germany and established a democratic regime. The Red Army and local Communists put an end to this short-lived democracy in 1947. King Michael - then 27 - was forced to abdicate. Many in Romania think that, once again, he could be the guarantor of the country's successful break with the authoritarian past.
With Romania's highly inflamed passions, with feverish factionalism and little experience of political justice, the monarchy could play as beneficial a role in Romania as it did in post-Franco Spain. The opposition parties say that if they win the September elections they will call for a referendum on the form of government.
King Michael has announced that he will consider returning to the country to help democratic developments. In turbulent Romania, constitutional monarchy may yet turn out to be the political structure able to arrest the country's slide into further political decay and a Yugoslav-like fratricidal strife.