Romania, fearing Polish-type strife, warms up to other bloc allies
With one anxious eye on Poland's rollercoaster politics, the usually independent-minded Romanian leader Nicolai Ceausescu is cosying up to his other East European allies.
Mr. Ceausescu is uneasily aware that the public pressures underlying Poland's difficulties have parallels within his own country. Hence his sudden chumminess with some other bloc leaders, a warmth not visible since the early 1970s.
Last week, for instance, he joined with the Kremlin's most loyalist, conformist lieutenants in Prague in firmly supporting a Soviet-proposed summit conference of all bloc leaders. This is a first for the Romanian leader; and he accepted the idea with few of the reservations he has enumerated on similar occasions in the past.
The Soviet proposal is for an additional conference within the framework of Comecon --Comecon's annual meeting is already set for June. The new conference will gather party leaders for wide-ranging political discussions, possibly to undertake some far-reaching structural or other moves.
Mr. Ceausescu endorsed this proposal during talks with Czechoslovak President Gustav Husak -- the first after years of coolness between Prague and Bucharest. A few months earlier he had flouted the idea of such a get-together.
The special conference will undoubtedly review the first decade of the integration program adopted in 1971; it has been a major disappointment in many ways. But the agenda's main item will be how to involve all Comecon members in greater production cooperation. Multinational enterprises are being mentioned in this connection.
This all emphasizes the likely "political" nature of the meeting. Presidents Husak and Ceausescu made this clear when they said that "strenghtening cooperation and solidarity" among all the communist countries is "the main prerequisite for the successful building of socialism in each of them."
The Romanian leader also joined in support for the earlier Brezhnev proposal for East-West talks on European disarmament and preventing deployment of new missiles in the area.
In foreign policy, this was a new note, reflecting what he had said May 8 when he pointedly named NATO and the United States as the states from whom "public opinion" was awaiting constructive moves on arms reduction.
Previously, he always saddled East and West with equal responsibility, sometimes adding an innuendo that difficulties laid more with the Soviets. Now he seems to put more onus on the West.
The last few years have been a testing time for Romania. Its industrialization program proved much too ambitious. Recent government changes highlighted critical shortcomings in planning, energy, and finance. Among the East Europeans, Romania's foreign debts (around $8 billion) are second only to Poland's.
But this is not the only area where Ceausescu might see disquieting similarities with Warsaw's troubles. Miners' strikes in 1977 and a general surfacing of consumer discontent were almost a preview of the pattern that emerged in Poland. So was the recent confession that agriculture has been wrongly sacrificed to industry.
The 1977 troubles were quickly quashed by a regime that has excluded meaningful reform or real regard for civil liberties as severely as any other in Eastern Europe.
But Romania, more than any of its other East-bloc allies, presents, only just below the surface, the same problems as lurk behind Poland's crisis. From the start, therefore, Mr. Ceausescu was as ideologically arbitrary in his attitudes toward the new Polish unions as colleagues in East Berlin and Prague.
But he has shown himself aware that it was largely the failures of the Polish party itself that precipitated the crisis.
It is a dual approach. On the one hand, he berates communists with warnings that party membership carries no privileges. Some 30,000 apparatchiks apparently have been purged for thinking otherwise. More than 100,000 bureaucrats are facing transfer from comfortable office jobs into direct production "to turn out material goods instead of paperwork."
Mr. Ceausescu still stands firmly by his claim for the right of all communist parties to solve their own problems without outside interference. But, like the other bloc hard-liners, he sees Poland's Solidarity as primarily an instrument being used by "reaction to undermine working class unity" and the authority of the party.
The Communist Party, he makes clear, is firmly in control in Romania and will remain so, and no one (which means the Russians) need worry about "socialism" there.
This seeming fear of a possible Polish-type "August" (period of strikes and ferment), coupled with the domestic pressures, dictates the quieter line vis-a-vis Russia and acceptance of closer economic ties within Comecon.
In energy alone, Romania has suffered severe setbacks. Once an oil exporter, it now imports half its requirement. There were high hopes for a deal with Kuwait whereby that Arab state would have financed and supplied the crude for a massive new petrochemical complex, but Romania's terms proved too high.
Last year, for the first time, it asked the Soviet Union for oil. Now it is seeking 1.5 million tons annually on the special, below-world-price terms allowed other East Europeans. Concessions like that obviously have their own price.