Further Questions


As I mentioned in my piece Why is Romania so poor? and other articles, there is a curious piece of the puzzle missing when understanding how historical forces led to modern Romania being such an impoverished, ill-governed country suffocating under onerous amounts of red tape and a surprising lack of economic performance.

I’m close to finalizing my research so you’ll have to wait a bit longer for my answers but today I wanted to ask some further relevant questions.

Why wasn’t there a revolution in 1990?

Any Romanian can tell you the story of what happened at the end of 1989, how protests in and around Timisoara led to a nationwide revolution. Despite a brutal crackdown by the military and police, the street protests continued and in just two short weeks Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena swept into the dustbin of history.

That’s the known part of the puzzle. But as I wrote in the Unclean Spirit, exactly four months after the anti-Ceausescu protests began, a second wave of massive demonstrations began in Bucharest. Ion Iliescu, who was then just the self-appointed “interim” president until elections could be held, appeared in the state-run media and denounced the protests in almost identical language as Ceausescu had done just four months earlier.

While we here today can note the historical similarities between Iliescu and Ceausescu’s speeches, these would’ve been immediately obvious to anyone alive in 1990.

Don't hate the player, hate the game!

Don’t hate the player, hate the game!

Thirty days later, nationwide elections were held and yet the protests continued in strength. In June, less than six months after the 1989 revolutionary protests began, Iliescu called in the miners and used lethal force to break up the demonstrations. There are enough YouTube videos online from those days to see that these events were widely broadcast to the entire nation, much as the initial anti-Ceausescu protests were in 1989.

So why did the anti-Iliescu protests fade away by August 1990? Why didn’t the Mineriad prompt a nationwide “second” revolution against the Ceausescu clone and veteran Communist, Ion Iliescu?

As I mentioned in my article First We Must Remember, the 1989 protests might’ve been started by young students (with “nothing to lose”) but rapidly involved people from all walks of life, including the elderly, infirm people (such as the man in a wheelchair in my original post) and middle-aged men and women with children and families and everything to lose.

I think it’s safe to say that the entire spectrum of Romanian society participated (in one way or another) in the 1989 revolution. So why was the country ready to risk everything to protest against Ceausescu but unwilling to lift a (virtual) finger less than six months later when a different Communist, speaking and acting almost identically to Ceausescu, refused to implement basic democratic reforms, including a widely popular lustration law?

Why was a lustration law never passed in Romania?

I already wrote a lengthy article on the history of lustration laws in Romania, who opposed them and when and how it all went down. But all of that is just the description of what happened and doesn’t really explain why.

After all, beginning in April 1990 all the way to the 2009 presidential elections, there have been calls for a lustration law to pass. So why hasn’t it happened? Why was there never enough general demand in society to press politicians and courts into passing and approving a lustration law?

How did Ceausescu last so long in power?

Everyone knows Nicolae Ceausescu was the supreme ruler of Romania for a long time (almost 25 years) but how did he do it?

It seems to most people as though it “just happened” but that’s far from being the case. After all, in post-war Europe, only one other Communist leader lasted as long.

Using Wikipedia, I did a little tabulation of each European Communist country and counted how many supreme leaders (their titles varied from “president” to “first secretary”, etc) each one had from 1945-1990:

Albania – 3
Bulgaria – 6
Czechoslovakia – 5
East Germany – 6
Hungary – 6
Poland – 10
Romania – 2 (Gheorghe-Dej, Ceausescu)
Soviet Union – 6 (Stalin, Kruschev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, Gorbachev)
Yugoslavia – 13

The only European Communist country comparable to Romania in this period was Albania, dominated by Enver Hoxha, who reigned supreme from 1944 until 1985 (41 years).

So why did Enver Hoxha and Ceausescu last so long and those other countries have such a (relatively) high level of turnover, especially Yugoslavia and Poland? Is there a connection between what Ceausescu and Hoxha did (and Stalin before them, ruling for 30 years) and the other Communist leaders didn’t do?

Is there a parallel in Communist China, where Mao Zedong ruled for 31 years but there have been six different leaders in the last 38 years (for an average of 6 years in power apiece) since his death?

Why are Romanians such flagrant scofflaws?

I see it everywhere I go, everything from people wantonly tossing trash on the ground to parking their cars anywhere they feel like (including in the middle of “zebra” pedestrian crossing areas). Both “little” and “medium” laws and rules, whether legal ones (such as able-bodied people parking in a spot reserved for handicapped drivers) or just general moral ones (such as frowning on spitting or blasting music from your mobile phone) are regularly infringed.

If I were a traffic police officer and was paid a bonus of 10% from all fines levied against motorists who broke the law, I’d be fabulously wealthy in a single day. The challenge in Romania isn’t finding an illegally parked car but one that is parked legally and correctly, without its tires over a painted line or jacked up on a sidewalk.

Other violations are ubiquitous, everything from selling expired food in stores to tax evasion scams, “shark” taxi drivers and people riding the bus (or train) without a valid ticket.

Why do Romanians regularly flaunt social and legal codes? Is there a connection between all of the questions I’ve asked today and other topics such as endemic corruption, a resource-rich country being (materially) poor and all of the the post-revolution Romanian governments being laughably incompetent?

I think there is. And soon I’ll be able to tell that story.

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6 Responses »

  1. My theory is that while in the west laws from created from the bottom up, in Romania they were imposed from the top by the (foreign) rulers of the day (which were put there to exploit them) and thus people resented rules and regulations in general.

    Obviously this is armchair philosophy, and although it’s an interesting question, I don’t think obsessing about answering it or similar ones (a common Romanian pasttime) will help as along. It seems to me that the law is applied arbitrarily without any sense of educating about why we have laws and why they are good, which is why the lawless mentality is so persistent.

  2. Din 1945 pana in 1952 Romania a fost condusa de Petru Groza. Deci, am avut in total 3 lideri comunisti.

  3. My theory is that the 1989 and 1990 revolutions were violent, and depicted as violent, and that it made a big difference. More comparable to the 1989 situation in China after Tien An Min, then to other Central and Eastern European countries.

    As for the low number of succeeding dictators, Ceaucescu moved to the top at a relative young age and against a lot of odds – most others only reached party leadership at and advanced age, Hoxha and Stalin being notable exceptions. Except for Hungary 1956 and Czechoslovakia 1968 none were forced down, and all of them grew too old for office.

    I don’t believe in ethnic temperament theories, and decades or even centuries weighing down on how people think. That leads to rgeneralizing and stereotyping. You know, like all Americans do. ;-)

  4. Great reading! thanks! And the stray dogs? I will feed my stray dogs and encourage them to attack all others who accidentally exist nearby, especially children. And speaking of children, even when they are in a crosswalk Romanian-driven cars will blast right into the zebra stripes and imperil human lives. And the drivers get all indignant, blasting the horn and yelling as if it’s their goddamned right to kill and maim. It’s one of the least happy nations in Europe, statistically via surveys and ya gotta admit, empirically with lots of glum faces all around. I’m riveted to your serial here, have been wondering recently about Iliescu myself. I had this sneaking feeling that’s a key item to understand, and I’m trying to ferret out more. Also have a theory about the BOR in all of this… but I’ll wait for your saga to continue. Again,… let ‘er rip!

  5. Ii credem pe austrieci si germani ca fiind foarte civilizati. Si asa si sunt in buna masura.
    Dar exista multe marturii istorice care demonstreaza ca civilizatia le-a fost impusa cu forta, folosind pedepse serioase de catre regii lor.
    Timp de sute de ani.

  6. Modest IQ and a docile, gentle nature? More civilized nations tend to have had a warrior past (vikings, merceneries etc) and a lust for conquest. That probably lead to stronger instititions for whatever reason.

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