Romanian Nationalism since 1965 untill 1989
by Olga Magdalena Lazin
Under the Ceausescu's (1965-1989), Romanians experimented with and have exhausted all nuances of nationalism. In the name of national interest, a central intelligence system (the dreaded Securitate) was created to recruit informers and plant agents in every voluntary association in the country, including trade/labor unions, universities, and even in peoples' houses. Students were informing on professors, children on parents and colleagues on superiors, in order to advance up the party ladder.
Ceausescu needed an enemy "of the nation", real or imagined, to justify the extreme "patriotic" measures taken by him and his clique. To make an analogy, the imaginary country Oceania (in Orwell's '1984') is a perfect metaphor for the 'enemy of the People', the combating of which justifies any arbitrary action of the government. It is the 'enemy' that didn't even exist but was invented to justify decision making control of minds and actions of the party. Hungarians and Americans were the enemies of Romanians. Hungarians because of their irredentist claims on Transylvania, and Americans because Romanians feared an "imperialistic invasion."
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The critical rise to power for Ceausescu came in 1968, when he refused to join in the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Ceausescu, who had succeeded the deceased Gheorghiu-Dej in 1965, proclaimed that Romania would forcibly resist invasion: the Communist Party thereby became truly popular and the cult of the personality of Ceausescu was born. Under Nicolae Ceausescu nationalism and authoritarianism came together in forced industrialization in the Stalinist manner; Ceausescu's brand of socialism consisted of devoting of the maximum percentage of the national product to investment. For him there had been no retreat from central planning in industry or agriculture.
A strong myth-building machine was set in function by the designers of Ceausescu's public celebrations. Parades became ritualistic eulogies of the Communist Party and songs and poems were all dedicated to "the brave, beloved 'conducator' Nicolae." As center of a small elite of loyalists who ran the country, Ceausescu's image was everywhere, and the banners proclaimed not only, or not primarily the Communist Party, but the name of Ceausescu. The servile writers and poets who supported Nicolae were then sent on trips abroad and were guaranteed momentary immunity.
The infamous Romanian 'Securitate' performed as the 'Thoughtpol': this 'eminence-grise' was ever-present and patrolled almost every street. Informers told the 'Securitate' who was listening to the radio 'Free Europe' and what professors were teaching in school. The irony of the term like 'Securitate' or Security was intuitively relevant to our lives. By the end of the regime computer-kept records could be revised with an ease that Winston Smith would not have been able to imagine. Members of the Security were invested with the cutting edge of technology' and arbitrarily were arresting anyone who was suspicious or had been "reported". Writers, potential leaders or defectors were brutally tortured, imprisoned, or mysteriously "vaporized". Much of the technology of the fictional "1984" was in all Nicolae Ceausescu's years in power. As in "1984," Ceausescu ordered that TV monitors be placed on each corner of major streets in central Bucharest so that the military could intervene! in an effective and timely way to prevent any popular uprising. Groups of more than 4 people were prohibited by law to assemble, unless under government control. Complete isolation from exterior influence was imposed as a measure of 'protection' of the Romanian nation from the imperialistic powers.
TV was limited for 25 years to a sole national channel, which reported with spurious accuracy false statistics and systematically distorted the people's ability to understand the miscontrolled economy. Nicolae and his wife Elena were shown as a happy presidential couple daily visiting towns, villages, and fields with the peasants. They were shown reviewing the 'socialist achievements' in the factories, holding children in their arms and expounding mealy-mouthed slogans about government benevolence and personal sacrifice made by the officials, the pain they underwent for the Romanian people. Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were so megalomaniac that painters, carpet wavers, and sculptors were ordered to imprint the Ceausescu's images everywhere. Elena Ceausescu's wardrobe contained as many dresses as that of Evita Peron. The couple had a palace in every city and resort of the country.
In their daily speeches the Ceausescu's were more Romanian than all Romanians, all science was 'Romanian', gymnastics and soccer were best Romanian, as were bread, butter and salt, everything good was Romanian. Nicolae Ceausescu became the supreme leader who told his people what to eat (food was rationed), what to wear (depending on the weather,) and how many children a family should have (abortion being punished with imprisonment).
The Palace of the People, built with enormous sacrifices by Ceausescu's order and in his 'honor' is still the second enormous building in Europe after Versailles.
After 1975 all foreign journals and magazines were banned from entering the country. Among the weekly laws promulgated by Ceausescu, one prohibited answering foreigners' questions. Foreign visiting relatives had to stay only in controlled hotels. This law was an absolute aberration for philology students or professors as no communication was possible in other languages than Romanian.
The academic milieu and curricula was infested with Marxist ideology. The following terminology dominated all life: "the new man" , "revolutionary", "socialist competition" , "multilaterally developed society." People addressed each other as "comrades". The continuing influence of socialism on the language of intellectuals and scholars was evident also in the textbooks, in every discipline. To Marx especially we owed the substitution of the term "society" for the "state." This circumlocution suggested that the actions of individuals can be regulated by some gentler and kinder method of direction than coercion. As a result, the Communist system rooted out civil society.
The Hungarian language University-Bolyaj was forcefully merged with the Romanian Babes, and nationalism was used by Ceausescu because it was seen as instrumental in carrying out party policy. Already in April 1964, the communist party's central committee had issued a declaration of independence from Moscow; every party in power was "entitled to decide for itself how to reach socialism"1.
Romania was for years the private office of the Ceausescu family (30 members in the government), who ruled by nepotism much as Trujillo's in the former Dominican Republic and the Somoza's in Nicaragua were ruled by nepotism.
In the Romanian variation of state terror, the nation could progress only under socialism; the party represents not the international working class but the nation. Party membership requires total devotion and loyalty to the leadership. The Communist Party hierarchy standing over the state and society, became a mass organization subordinate to the state. Party and state functions became much more extensively merged than in the Soviet Union. Romanians had to swear loyalty to both state and party.
The strongest fusion was at the top. Ceausescu was at once General Secretary of the Party, President of state, President of the State Council and Chairman of the National Defense Council on Socioeconomic Development. His personality cult was the strongest in the communist world exceeded only by that of Kim Il Song in North Korea.
To understand what Ceausescu meant for the Romanians, however, I have to concede his merit at the early stages of leadership. Ceausescu won popular support when he refused to take Romania into the Soviet run COMECON (Council for Economic Assistance), claiming that becoming subservient to COMECON was inadmissible for a Communist state, offensive to the pride as well as injurious to the Romanian economy. Ceausescu also asserted a limited independence in defense and foreign policy. He declined to let Romania participate in joint military maneuvers on Romanian soil and restricted military integration into Soviet military activity.
To solve economic crisis and acute political tension he would call the nation to rally against "foreign aggressors." Nationalism became a justification for exercising state terror.
In a 1989 coup, Ceausescu was toppled by Ion Iliescu amidst a confused bloody revolution.
The legacy of the fiercely nationalistic system, is that nationalists still hold important power in Congress, resisting privatization, so important for entering the globalization process. To fight this conservative nationalism, the current president Emil Constantinescu, used an international colloquium in Bucharest on "Morality and Government in the Transition period," on 12 February 1998 to tell investors that they have no right to talk about Romanian corruption as long as they do not dare to officially complain about it. He claimed that those investors in fact engage in "tacit collaboration" with those who are corrupt. Constantinescu said that totalitarian structures have been replaced by "democratic hybrids" rather than genuine democratic structures and that the "pillars" of the former system work hand in hand with organized crime to take over the new "fragile structures." He asked for the investors help to save democracy and prevent anarchy or a dictatorship that exploit's and builds upon the "national communist" version of nationalism.
To enter globalization, Constantinescu has sought to gain NATO membership for Romania, as well as to enter free trade blocs as well as attract foreign investors. Further he started to resolve existing tensions with ethnic Hungarians. Suddenly Romanians and Hungarians realized that they can be culturally themselves, yet belong to the new Romania which became less nationalistic as it becomes part of Europe.
1. "Romania After Ceausescu" by Tom Gallagher, Edinburgh University Press, 1995, p. 56.
Ph.D. in History at UCLA .
by Olga Magdalena Lazin
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