It was a scene of jubilant chaos. When Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu fled his presidential palace on Dec. 22, ending his brutal 24-year reign, Romanians celebrated in the streets, congregating below the balcony of the Central Committee building in Bucharest. Later, at the national television station to the north, an unruly crowd of freedom fighters, artists and disenchanted Communists and military leaders boisterously took turns in front of the cameras to denounce the Ceau§escu regime. Out of that confusion emerged a coalition calling itself the National Salvation Front. And last week, the front began appointing a provisional government with 59year-old Ion Iliescu, a former senior Communist party member who had fallen out of favor with Ceau§escu, as president.
Outrage: At least 20 countries, including Canada, recognized the new leadership last week, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev sent a message congratulating Iliescu, whom he first met as a student in Moscow, for taking “charge of the country at a difficult moment.” But some Romanians expressed outrage because so many of the new leaders are still Communists. On Dec. 26, a crowd of angry Romanians, raising clenched fists and waving national flags with the familiar tom centre where the Communist party emblem had been, demonstrated outside party headquarters in Bucharest’s Palace Square, shouting “No more Communists!”
For their part, leaders of the provisional government insisted that they were making a complete break with the past. “Romania is no longer a Communist country,” Dumitru Mazilu, vice-president of the provisional government, declared last week. “We will create a real democracy.” Iliescu repeatedly stressed that his administration was only temporary and promised to hold free elections next April. But Western observers said that four months may be too short a time to form credible opposition parties. Under Ceaucescu’s repressive rule, only a handful of dissidents dared to oppose the dictator openly. As a result, there was no organized opposition like Poland’s Solidarity
trade union movement. “This is one of the tragedies of Ceau§escu,” said Aurel Braun, a political science professor at the University of Toronto and specialist in Soviet-Eastern European relations. “He destroyed political alternatives, and there is now a leadership vacuum.” Smash: Western commentators also pointed out that it would be difficult to exclude all Communists from government because no fewer than 3.8 million of Romania’s 23 million population are party members. Added Braun: “The only people who have political experience are Communists or former members of the party.” Still, last week, at least 10 new political parties emerged. Doina Cornea, one of Romania’s leading dissidents, reportedly helped to found the Christian Peasant party. Another fledgling party, the Romanian Democratic Party, announced its formation on Christmas Day, and the party’s leader, Viorel Craciuan, pledged to smash the Communists’ hold on power. But when some members of the party went to the national TV station on Monday afternoon, army members refused to give them access. Complained Dr. Christian Radulescu: “These are the first days of liberty, and already
_ they are suppressing us.”
Only on Tuesday, after party members protested in Palace Square, did the front allow the Democratic Party to make a TV statement.
The highest-ranking members of the new provisional government have long-standing connections with the Communist party. New Prime Minister Petre Roman, a 43-year-old professor of engineering, is the son of a ; prominent Romanian Com; munist, who was chief of staff = in the Romanian army and > telecommunications minister
before falling out of favor with the party leadership. Roman is married to the daughter of a former Romanian ambassador to Switzerland.
Vice-President Mazilu is also a Communist and former diplomat who was put under house arrest in 1986 after he prepared a report for a UN human rights commission in which he was sharply critical of Ceauçescu. Mazilu said that the new government will not include people who collaborated with the old regime. Added Mazilu: “Such people who are not clean, we will not work with them.”
Hunt: But others took a more conciliatory line. Minister of State in the Foreign Ministry Corneliu Bogdan appealed for calm and asked Romanians not to turn against bureaucrats just because they had worked for the Ceauçescu government.
“They are not all criminals,” Bogdan said. “We must try to avoid a witch-hunt at any cost.” Bogdan was an ambassador to the United States in the 1970s, but fell into disfavor in the early 1980s after his daughter, who had married an American citizen, decided to remain in the United States.
Iliescu himself was a staunch Ceau§escu supporter in the 1960s, when he was head of the Communist youth organization and a member of the top party leadership. But he was demoted in 1971 following disagreements over the dictator’s style and his pace of reform. He attended Moscow State University with Gorbachev in the early 1950s. As far back as 1985,
Western experts said that Gorbachev was secretly trying to promote Iliescu as a successor to Ceau§escu. Iliescu had been under house arrest since last March, when six senior party officials, with whom he was closely associated, signed an open letter to Ceau§escu, criticizing him for betraying Marxism.
Pleaded: In a speech last week, Iliescu pleaded for national unity. “If we do not manage to consolidate the unity brought about by this spontaneous process of the masses,” he said, “then naturally this will be our great weakness.” But he may find that unity elusive. Western experts said that Iliescu, like many of the new government leaders, is a reformist
Communist in the mould of Gorbachev. “They may be pragmatic,” said the U of T’s Braun, “but they may not be interested in abandoning communism.” And, he added, “I doubt that the population, putting an end to the Ceau§escu regime with this great sacrifice, would accept a government that is only reformist.” Romania’s provisional government will likely find that the people, like their counterparts in other Eastern European countries, will demand a definitive end to Communist rule.
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