After the coup of August 23, 1944, in which King Michael ordered the arrest of Romania's pro-German dictator, Ion Antonescu, Soviet troops entered Bucharest and found an interim Romanian government ready to negotiate peace. From the armistice Joseph Stalin fashioned a legal framework for the Soviet Union's political and economic domination of Romania; he secured this through the imposition of rule by the Romanian Communist Party (RCP). On March 5, 1945, a pro-Soviet government came to power and used the country's political structure, trade unions, and educational system to make Romania completely subservient to the Soviet Union. A vital step was the dissolution of the major democratic parties in the summer of 1947, and the indictment and imprisonment of their elderly leaders, Iuliu Maniu and Constantin Bratianu, as "agents of Britain and the United States." Both died in communist prisons, along with many of their associates. Their trial was followed by the enforced abdication of King Michael on December 30, 1947.
The RCP moved swiftly to transform Romania, following the Soviet model and employing Stalinist norms and practices. All private enterprises were nationalized in June 1948, and in March 1949 the ownership of land was completely removed from private hands without compensation. The confiscated land was used to create state farms or organized into collectives. Peasant resistance to collectivization resulted in some 80,000 imprisonments, with 30,000 peasants tried in public. Collectivization was finally completed in 1962.Police terror is an intrinsic feature of totalitarianism, and communist rule in Romania confirmed this. The destruction of an existing society and the creation of a new one were achieved by a single mass party composed
The Securitate's most potent weapon was fear, and the depth of its inculcation in the Romanian population was the principal reason for its success. In Romania police terror was used in two stages: first, to eliminate opponents in the drive to consolidate power and, second, to ensure compliance once revolutionary change had been effected. The first stage, broadly speaking, encompassed the years from 1945 until 1964, when there was a period of general amnesty for political prisoners, and the second ran from 1964 until December 1989, the date of Ceausescu's overthrow. There was a noticeable relaxation in the degree of repression exercised by the regime after 1964, which resulted from Gheorghiu-Dej's need for internal support following his political rift with the Soviet Union. Until the final year of the Gheorghiu-Dej era terror was inflicted on the whole of Romanian society, in the search for actual or potential opponents of totalitarian conformity, and many citizens began to feel as if they were being personally hunted down. After 1964 Romanians were marked by a deep-rooted fear of the government, rather than the terror exercised by the Securitate, and the Ceausescu regime, for all its appalling abuses of human dignity and disrespect for human rights, never repeated the tactics of mass arrests and wholesale deportations that were a feature of most of Gheorghiu-Dej's rule.
Repression under Gheorghiu-Dej
The Securitate was the blunt tool of repression of the Communist Party. It was established according to a Soviet blueprint and under Soviet direction. In the building of a people's democracy, the Securitate were called on to eradicate existing political institutions and social structures. Police coercion and intrusion became part of everyday life and a feature of existence that generated pervasive fear, a state of mind which revolutionized not just society's structures, but also personal behavior. In public places the furtive whisper became second nature. Fear induces compliance and is therefore a tremendous labor-saving device. Records indicate that in 1950, two years after its creation, the number of officers and other personnel in the Securitate totaled almost 5,000. In 1989 this number had risen to 14,259, according to figures published after the revolution in December of that year. These numbers do not include the army of informers whom the Securitate, by exploiting fear, was able to recruit. By the same token, it was a mark of the Securitate's success in instilling fear that Romanians came to widely view so many of their fellow citizens as active collaborators with the Securitate, and but a small part of the larger network of officers and informers. The Securitate became as much a state of mind as the instrument of national terror. At the time of the 1989 revolution there were alleged to be more than 400,000 informers (out of a population of 21 million) on the Securitate's books.
The Communist Party set the machinery of terror in motion to carry out the mass deportations of Serbs and Germans living in the area of the Banat adjacent to Yugoslavia. These groups were considered a security risk when tension between Yugoslavia and Romania grew following Marshal Tito's rift with Stalin in June 1948. The deportations began in the summer of 1951: 40,320 persons were targeted, more than half being former landowning peasants. They were moved by train and truck to the southeastern part of Romania. The deportees were only allowed to take what belongings they could carry, and on arrival they were allocated makeshift clay-walled huts with straw roofs in special settlements. Others, even on the Securitate's own admission, were literally deposited in the middle of nowhere. The same reports talk of a lack of drinking water, but despite such deprivations, the deportees erected simple houses of clay and wood, and coaxed the soil into producing crops.
Romania's principal ethnic minority, the Hungarians of Transylvania (numbering approximately 1.6 million in 2002), escaped the fate of the Serbians and Germans of the Banat. The contiguity of Hungary coupled with the size of the Hungarian minority made, and continues to make, the treatment of the Hungarian minority a sensitive issue for both states. During the communist period integration or, as Ceausescu often termed it, homogenizationn extension of the strategy of consolidation of the newly enlarged state pursued by Romanian governments in the interwar periodas accelerated by the drive for industrialization undertaken by the communist regime after 1948. It increased the urbanization of the population as a whole and led to the massive migrations of workers, usually from Romanian areas into those with a Hungarian population, thus diluting the proportion of Hungarians and changing the cultural aspect of traditionally Hungarian-dominated towns.
The depths of terror under communism were plumbed in the prison at Pitesti, situated some 75 miles northwest of Bucharest. It became notorious for an experiment of a grotesque nature that originated there on December 6, 1949. Termed re-education, the experiment employed techinques of psychiatric abuse designed not only to instill terror in opponents of the regime, but also to destroy their individual personalities. The experiment lasted until August 1952 and was conducted in other prisons as well, albeit on a smaller scale. The victims, estimated at one thousand, were mainly anticommunist students arrested in 1948.
Nothing illustrated more graphically the coercive nature of the centralizing policies pursed by the communist regime than its use of forced labor. Just as Beria was, at Stalin's death in 1953, the second largest employer in the Soviet Union, so too the Ministry of the Interior in Romania was effectively charged with managing part of the economy. Forced labor was formally introduced in June 1950 although it had been practiced for more than a year in a prestige project involving the construction of a canal shortening the passage of the river Danube to the Black Sea. By the spring of 1952, 19,000 political prisonersncluding many peasants and studentsere used on the canal. In addition, 20,000 voluntary civilians workers were employed together with 18,000 conscripted soldiers. Many of the prisoners endured appalling conditions in Romania's fourteen labor camps. The shortage of water and medicine, and primitive sanitary conditions, led to disease and death. An official report of the Securitate admitted that "many prisoners were beaten without justification with iron bars, shovels, spades and whip. . . . Many died as a result of the blows received." The project was abandoned in 1954. A 1967 Securitate investigation into deaths at the camps put their number at 1,304.
This highlights the problem of compiling accurate statistics on the number of persons arrested during the communist period, and the number of those in detention who died, either as a result of execution, abuse, neglect, or natural causes. First, no Securitate statistics on the number of prisoners who died while in detention are available. Second, the Securitate statistics on the numbers arrested are themselves contradictory. Third, the only independent statistical studies are fragmentary. One Securitate report states the following: In the 10 years from 1948 to 1958, 58,733 persons were convicted of a multitude of crimes, all of which were of a political nature. They included conspiring against social order, belonging to subversive or terrorist organizations (including the former democratic political parties and extreme right-wing Iron Guard), illegally crossing the frontier, failing to report a crime against the state, crimes against humanity and "activity against the working class," treason, espionage, distributing forbidden leaflets, sabotage, and "hostile religious activity." Most of those convicted received sentences ranging from one to ten years imprisonment. A total of 73,310 persons were sentenced to imprisonment during the period from 1945 to 1964; of these, 335 received the death penalty (for several the sentence was commuted). An additional 24,905 were acquitted or had the cases against them dropped. Another 21,068 were sent to labor camps during this same period. The number of those who died while in detention is estimated at 3,847; of these 2,851 died while serving their sentence, 203 under interrogation, 137 as a result of execution, and 656 in the labor camps. Independent sources have produced quite a different set of figures; an examination of court records from the period indicates that from 1949 to 1960, 134,150 political trials took place involving at least 549,400 accused.
Ceausescu Era: 1965 to 1989
Gheorghiu-Dej's successful harnessing of Romanian ambitions of autonomy from the Soviet Union and development of internal support for the RCP in the early 1960s were further developed by Ceausescu who claimed for himself and the Party legitimacy as defender of the national interest. The corollary of this was that any criticism of the Party or its leader from Romanians, whether inside or outside the country, could be branded as treachery against the nation, a charge that was to be leveled in the early 1970s against dissenting voices, in particular, Paul Goma. In the 1980s a small number of Romanians displayed remarkable courage in defying the regime by publicly calling for a measure of democracy, among them Doina Cornea, Ionel Cana, Vasile Paraschiv, and Radu Filipescu. They were all rounded up by the Securitate and detained or imprisoned for varying lengths of time.
In Romania the brutality of some of the beatings administered to opponents of the regime was evident from the fate of Gheorghe Ursu, an engineer from Bucharest, who was arrested on September 21, 1985, for keeping a diary and writing correspondence critical of Ceausescus. He was held at Securitate headquarters on Calea Rahovei, where he was beaten by two criminals, acting on orders from senior officers in the interrogation directorate of the Securitate. As a result of his injuries, Ursu was moved to the hospital at the Jilava jail. He died there on November 17th. An official inquiry in March 1990 revealed that Ursu had died as a result of repeated blows with a heavy object to his abdomen. As of 2003 the Securitate officers involved have still not been brought to justice.
The degree of Ceausescu's interference with the lives of his citizens was most potently illustrated within the realm of family planning. To increase the declining birthrate, he introduced punitive additional taxation for all childless couples over the age of twenty-five. In 1986 he raised the minimum age for women allowed an abortion (from forty to forty-five) and lowered the age at which girls could marry (from sixteen to fifteen). As a result, there was a dramatic increase in "backstreet" and self-induced abortions, especially among young working women, despite the harsh penalties. The statistics for deaths among Romanian women resulting from the antiabortion law are the single most powerful indictment of the inhumanity of Ceausescu's regime. In the twenty-three years of its enforcement, the law is estimated to have resulted in the death of over nine thousand women from unsafe abortions. The majority died from postabortion hemorrhage and blood poisoning.
That Ceausescu would not stop short of murder to maintain his grip on power became evident during the December 1989 revolution. When anti-Ceausescu protests were mounted in Timosoara on December 17th, Ceausescu issued orders to the army to open fire on the demonstrators. Those orders were relayed by General Ion Coman to the senior officer in Timosoara, General Victor Stanculescu, who instructed units under the command of General Mihai Chitac to carry them out. At the time the rumor spread that some 60,000 people had been shot dead in Timosoara, but subsequent investigations showed that the true casualty figures were 72 people killed and 253 wounded on December 17th and 18th. In the Transylvanian city of Cluj, 26 demonstrators were shot dead by army units on December 21st. That same evening Securitate troops and army units in Bucharest killed scores of anti-Ceausescu demonstrators. On the following day Ceausescu and his wife Elena fled the capital city, but were arrested outside the town of Târgoviste. After a summary trial on Christmas Day before a tribunal selected in part by Stanculescu, one in which due process was patently lacking, they were found guilty of the genocide of 60,000 Romanianshe alleged number of dead in Timosoarand immediately executed by a firing squad. A parliamentary commission concluded in 1995 that 1,104 died in the revolution throughout the country (162 between December 16th and December 22nd, and 942 in the days following Ceausescu's flight). In Bucharest alone 543 persons were killed and 1,879 injured.
After Ceausescu's overthrow Romania's transition to democracy was checkered. The constitution of 1991 defined Romania as a republic with a multiparty, bicameral parliamentary system. Economically speaking, the country was a middle-income, developing nation in transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy. But the vestiges of the communist mentality were evident in the attempts by former communistsany of whom dominated the political and economic arenao oppose transparency in public affairs. This attitude also colored attempts to shed more light on the abuses of the communist past. The unreliability of witnesses, bureaucratic inertia, and the desire to protect vested interestshe post-1989 presidential bodyguard, the Serviciul de Paza Protectie (SPP), contained former Securitate officersxplains why the investigations into the deaths of the revolution's victims were not completed, and why relatively few charges were ever brought. Nevertheless, some senior Securitate officers were prosecuted. The first was Iulian Vlad, the last head of the security force, who was arrested on December 28, 1989, on the charge of "complicity to genocide," which carried a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. A military court later reduced the charge to "favoring genocide," and Vlad's sentence was subsequently reduced to nine years, which was to run concurrently with two other lesser terms. Both Stanculescu and Chitac were charged in January 1998 with "incitement to commit murder" for their part in events in Timosoara. They were each sentenced by the Romanian Supreme Court on July 15, 1999, to fifteen years in jail. Both generals lodged an appeal against their conviction. The Supreme Court upheld their sentences on February 25, 2000. After Ion Iliescu was elected president in December 2000, they appealed once again and on this occasion their appeal was upheld by a reconfigured court.
SEE ALSO Nationalism
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