Topics covered in this section:
- This Year's Rulers
- Exiled King Michael
- Romania: Ceauşescu
- Russia: Gorbachev
- Pronunciation Help
This Year's Rulers
- Socialist Republic of Romania:
President: Nicolae Ceauşescu (Dec 1967 - Dec 1989)
Prime Minister Constantin Dăscălescu (May 1982 - Dec 1989)
Gen. Secretary: Nicolae Ceauşescu (Mar 1965 - Dec 1989)
Securitate: Departamentul Securităţii Statului (1978-1989)
Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-1991)
Exiled King Michael
On 24 January 1988, exiled King Michael and Queene Anne celebrated the 129th anniversary of the union of Wallachia and Moldavia as guests of the Romanian community in Southern California. Thousands of Romanian immigrants greeted the exiled king and queen in Los Angeles.
By 1988, Ceauşescu had nearly completed his systematic subjugation of non-Romanian minorities in the country. This affected primarily the two largest minorities in Romania — the Hungarians and the Germans.
In 1988, Romania's international reputation was badly damaged by its conduct at the Vienna Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. After failing in its attempt to strike human rights provisions from the conference's final document, the delegation from Romania declared that it was therefore not bound by the agreement. Their action was condemned by both the West and by some of the Warsaw Pact states as well.
Human Rights Violations
One of Ceauşescu's primary goals was to assimilate all of Romania's many ethnic groups into one single, homogenous group. In other words, he wanted the entire population to be Romanian, whether or not they were in fact Romanian. The tactics he used to achieve that goal grew progressively harsher during the 1980s and further tarnished the country's international image.
The effects of this campaign were felt most strongly perhaps in Transylvania, where the Hungarian community numbered nearly two million Romanian citizens. This made the Hungarian minority the largest national minority outside of Soviet Europe. And Ceauşescu's demeaning and controversial treatment of this very large minority inflamed relations with Budapest.
The other predominant minority in Transylvania were the German citizens. However, a great many of them had already emigrated to Germany, filling Romania's coffers with bribes they had paid to obtain their visas.
Hymn to Romania
But this campaign had been going on for quite some time. The "Hymn to Romania" propaganda campaign, which had been originally launched back in 1976, glorified the historical contributions of ethnic Romanians, while minimizing or ignoring key Hungarian or German heros. And if a non-Romanian hero was too popular to completely dismiss from the history books, Romanian historians simply portrayed them as Romanians.
Of course, to be fair, the Hungarians did something similar by rewriting their early histories so that the Hungarians gained historical precedence over the native Romanian people, who at the time were largely peasants. Politics back then was controlled by the Hungarians (or Szeklers) and contributions by Romanians were minimized or ignored. Such has "history" been presented throughout the Balkans where history was often rewritten to glorify one particular ethnic group over another.
One prominent hero, for example, who was morphed into an ethnic Romanian was János (Janos or John) Hunyadi (c.1387-1456), a Hungarian general in King Sigismund's court and later the governor of Transylvania. But in Ceauşescu's rewritten histories, he appeard as Iancu de Hunedoara (an acceptably ethnic Romanian name).
I've already covered many of his exploits in these web pages in the Romania Burrow's History Department ... particularly as he interacted with two actual Romanian cousins — Vlad Ţepeş (Vlad the Impaler, commonly known as Dracula) of Wallachia and Stephen the Great (Ştefan cel Mare) of Moldavia.
As part of this campaign, German and Hungarian place names were "Romanianized." For example, the large German town of Kronstadt, which looks similar to most of the towns in Germany of the same time period, was renamed Braşov and the Hungarian town of Kolozsvár (Kolozsvar), which is as Hungarian as it is Romanian, was renamed Cluj (later they added the Roman name for the city, so that it's now called Cluj-Napoca).
Today the traveler sees many of the place names in Romanian, Hungarian, and German. Of course, some people still complain because their ethnic name isn't listed first on the signs. And when I was vacationing in Transylvania several years ago, there were several times that we'd stop to ask directions only to discover that the ethnic Hungarians we asked didn't understand the Romanian language.
Minority Languages Repressed
Ceauşescu severely curtailed all publishing done in German or Hungarian. And all radio and television broadcasts in German or Hungarian were suspended. Minority students who wanted to be taught in their native language found it nearly impossible in Transylvania.
This too has changed in present-day Romania. There are a small number schools and universities in Transylvania that cater to ethnic Hungarian students.
By 1988, Hungarians who hoped to work in their ancestral communities encountered hiring discrimination. If they wanted to work, they discovered, they'd have to relocate among ethnic Romanians where it was hoped that they'd blend in with the predominant Romanian society and be "converted" into good Romanians.
This was quite easy to enforce since the Communist Party was the sole and only employer in the entire country. Everyone, no matter what their ethnicity, worked for the Party.
Systematizing the Countryside
Conceived back in the early 1970s, Ceauşescu's 1988 campaign to "systematize" the countryside threatened to destroy half of the country's 13,000 villages, including many ancient ethnic Hungarian and German settlements.
Allegedly, the program was designed to gain productive farmland by eliminating "nonviable" villages. But often, what kept them from being viable was simply that Hungarians or Germans were the ones working the land, not Romanians.
Hungarian Villages Bulldozed
Romanian authorities routinely showed up at a village with heavy construction equipment and simply bulldozed the entire village, burying peoples' precious belongings under the rubble. Large numbers of Hungarians were forced to flee their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs. When word reached their families across the border in Hungary, large anti-Ceauşescu demonstrations erupted in Budapest.
Hungarian Consulate Closed
In retaliation for daring to criticize his infallible name, Ceauşescu closed the Hungarian consulate in Cluj-Napoca, the focal point of the Hungarian community in Transylvania.
United Nations Assembly
In a 1988 speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Gorbachev declared that the people of Stalin's empire were free to go their own ways. "Freedom of choice," he said, "is a universal principle which allows no exceptions." Of course, by "go their own ways," he meant that if they didn't change their tune to dance to his way of thinking, they'd be removed from office.
Communist Party Conference
At the 19th All Union CPSU Conference, which met in Moscow on 28 June through 1 July 1988, Gorbachev introduced a new definition of democracy. Gorbachev encouraged an atmosphere of open expression and debate among the delegates, who eventually voted to adopt several resolutions. The most significant resolution called for "democratization of Soviet society and the reform of the political system."
The resolution put the Party on record as favoring a restructuring of the political system, though it provided only a bare outline of what that meant. Not everyone agreed, but those who didn't soon found themselves out of a job.
The main thrust of the political reform was to remove the Party from the day-to-day supervision of the country's affairs in order to allow it to concentrate on matters of broad policy. The day-to-day activities were to be handled by various commissions set up by the Central Committee.
Party secretaries were instructed to stop interfering in the day-to-day affairs of the republics and the economy. However, few party secretaries actually followed the new policy and poked their noses into local politics wherever they could.
Warsaw Pact Summit
In July 1988 Gorbachev called a summit conference of the Warsaw Pact countries. The Pact leaders in attendance were: Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet Union; Erich Honecker, East Germany; Milos Jakes, Czechoslovakia; Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland; Nicolae Ceauşescu, Romania; Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria; and Rezso Nyers, Hungary.
You're On Your Own
With the Soviet Union in political and economic turmoil, Gorbachev notified the attendees that they were on their own in facing the economic problems. And if they faced an internal resurgence of nationalism, they could no longer count on Soviet military intervention to crush revolts.
Of course, by that time all of the Balkan communist states were crippled economically and had been suffering from internal nationalist tensions for decades. "Life changes," Gorbachev said as he threw his former allies to the wolves, "and this [Warsaw Pact] alliance will also be transformed. Alliances are not forever."
In late November 1988, Gorbachev submitted his reorganization plan to the Supreme Soviet. It created a 2,250-member Congress of People's Deputies to be elected by competitive ballot. The Congress was to elect a Chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet (informally, President of the USSR) and establish a two chamber Supreme Soviet (legislature). Gorbachev's goal was to transfer a partial share of the power from the Party to a popularly elected legislature.
At the same time, he created strong ties between himself and the legislature that would guarantee his continued influence in the political course of the Soviet Union. And at the same time, partially free himself from having to constantly consult with other members of the Politburo. It would be easier for him to push through his pet projects.
Elections will take place in the following year.
After years of unrest, Lech Walesa's Solidarity labor union, which had been outlawed back in 1982, was once again legalized in Poland.
To help American readers, the following pronunciation guide to Romanian words used above is provided. The sounds shown are only approximations, however.
- Braşov. (Brasov) Brah-shohv.
- Ceauşescu. (Ceausescu) Chow-shehs-koo.
- cel. chehl.
- Cluj. Kloozh.
- Constantin. Kohn-stahn-teen.
- Dăscălescu. (Dascalescu) Duhs-kuh-lehs-koo.
- Departamentul. Deh-pahr-tah-mehnt-ool.
- Dracula. Drah-koo-lah.
- Hunedoara. Hoo-neh-dwahr-ah.
- Iancu. Yahn-koo.
- Mare. Mahr-reh.
- Moldavia. Mohl-dah-vyah.
- Napoca. Nah-poh-kah.
- Nicolae. Nee-koh-ligh.
- Securităţii. (Securitatii) Seh-koor-ee-tuht-see.
- Statului. Stah-tool-wee.
- Ştefan. (Stefan) Shteh-fahn.
- Ţepeş. (Tepes) Tsehp-ehsh.
- Vlad. Vlahd.
- Transylvania. Trahn-seel-vahn-yah.
- Wallachia. Vah-lahk-yah.
At this point, you have a couple of options:
- Return to the History Department to choose another timeframe.
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