New's letter Editor Research Forum French Geopolitics

Second part - Romania from 1990-2001, by Dr. Catherine Durandin,

writer and historian. Interview by Pierre Verluise

For several years after 1989, a sort of robber-baron-capitalism dominated the economy, largely dominated by the heirs of the communist period. Because they maintained their networks, control of the State industries, and the banks…The former Communist nomenklaturists became the "nouveaux riches" of today, the post-communist middle classes.
Key words: catherine durandin, romania from 1990-2001, romanian society, political life, democratic system, political parties, gorbatchevian and post-gorbatchevian forces, democratic coalition, emile constantinescu, ion illiescu, vadim tudor, liberal democracy, market economy, ideological confusion, former communist nomenklaturists, anti-werstern sentiment, pragmatism, ethical consideration, euro-atlantic structures, international monetary fund, united states of america, european union, generational conflict, individualism, orthodoxy.   < First part

Pierre Verluise: What is the periodization of Romanian political life since the end of the Ceausescu system in December, 1989?

Catherine Durandin: As there is now an institutionalized democratic system, the chronology of the last decade can be seen in terms of the competition between the political parties, within the framework of the institutions progressively put in place around the 1991 Constitution, which was approved by a referendum.

The first, long period extended from 1990 to 1996, was dominated by Gorbachevian and post-Gorbachevian forces. Then, in 1996 a democratic coalition took power, led by President Emile Constantinescu, an academician strongly supported by intellectuals. He governed the country in cooperation with a mixed coalition of democratic, liberal, centrist, and socialist forces. The programs of the government were sometimes blocked by the lack of solidarity within this coalition.

The Return of Iliescu

This disorganized coalition managed to maintain power until 2000. Then they made possible the return of Ion Iliescu to the center of power, along with his colleagues from December 1989. His return to power was assisted by a general mobilization against an extreme-right-wing (or left) candidate, Vadim Tudor. This gave to Romania the veneer of being strongly European….In December 2000, most of the democrats, socialists, and ex-communists chose Iliescu as the lesser evil, over Vadim Tudor, who was swerving toward fascism.

In May 2002, the government—that did not by itself command a majority—stayed in power thanks to alliances with a party that represented the Hungarian majority in Romania, "The Democratic Union of Romanian Magyars." This group concluded a "non-aggression" policy with the "Social Democratic Party" (PSD) which remains in power along with its president, Ion Iliescu.


On the surface, the system seems to be working smoothly. There have been no major scandals since the outcome of the elections, which in itself is a positive thing for a country that endured forty years without any democratic government. Also, the habit of voting has been quickly embraced. It should also be noted that Romania has experienced an impressive rate of electoral abstentions, nearly a third of the possible voters, an evidence of disillusionment on a European scale.

P. V. How has the society evolved?

C. D. In fact, there was a huge misunderstanding in 1990. Most of Romanian society believed that by overthrowing N. Ceausescu that they had automatically, magically, entered into being a "liberal democracy" and a "market economy." These concepts became stereotypical expressions, without any specific content other than becoming a new "political correctness." Actually, there was an ideological confusion. For several years after 1989, a sort of robber-baron-capitalism dominated the economy, largely dominated by the heirs of the communist period. Because they maintained their networks, control of the State industries, and the banks…The former Communist nomenklaturists became the "nouveaux riches" of today, the post-communist middle classes.

Disillusionment nourished an anti-western sentiment

Romanian society, after having been stuffed into a political model it did not understand, became very quickly disappointed. The Romanians felt that they had been tricked by the West. This resulted in an anti-western sentiment which quickly became very important. As one can easily see, at the time of the 2000 elections, surrounding the large vote totals for Vadim Tudor, there was a very violent anti-western, anti-capitalist, xenophobic line. The xenophobia centered on the theme of "the western, capitalist, kikes who want to rob Romania, destroy its morality, and infect it with AIDS." Similar themes in Vadim Tudor’s platform went far beyond the stand of the leadership of his party, "The Party of Greater Romania," and supported the belief in the presence, for the Romanians, of a hazily defined menace.

In Romania, the years 1990-2000 were characterized by a painful disillusionment and a great feeling of being deceived.

Pragmatism has its limits

Since 2000, the government has claimed to follow a line based solely on pragmatism. That is to say that they are not living in accord with their rhetoric of liberal democracy and the free market. This pragmatic, opportunistic tendency seems to me to be dangerous in the middle term, because it removes the Romanian people from any ethical considerations.

In effect, the government offers its citizens the following model of behavior: " It’s like this, there is no alternative. We must enter the Euro-Atlantic structures, there are no alternatives. Here are the requirements of the International Monetary Fund, there are no alternatives." This can create a situation in which the population is at the same time apathetic and resigned to its fate, which can explain the development of the brain drain, the flight of young people abroad, the demographic catastrophes currently affecting the Balkans and Russia. At the same time, the have-nots of the transition are more and more caught up in a barely concealed anger.

P. V. Can this developing apathy become the source for the re-entry of extremism in political life ?

C.D. Absolutely. There has been an abdication of responsibility, since all of the perspectives and choices are seen as being defined from abroad, by "the others," which is to say the United States and the European Union. To have a so-called "normal" identity Romania must abide by the directives given by the IMF during negotiations on economic and financial plans.

In a certain, way this absolves the government from any responsibility for anything. The government has no choice but to follow the policies of the IMF and negotiate agreements to do the least harm to the people, while gaining from time to time, the right for a higher budget deficit than previously imposed.

Nevertheless, there is something very disconcerting and very dangerous in the long term. Effectively, politics have returned through an abstention—which is to say "we don’t want to play this game"—or through violence, such as that which was seen in 2000 in the speeches of Vadim Tudor. These talks were extremely brutal in their content and their implications, but one can see an attempt to provoke a national and patriotic revival among the electors and those who would like to regain control of their own lives, even though they don’t know how to do that: thus they reject all of which is proposed to them today.

P.V. Aside from politics, how have attitudes changed ?

C. D. In the period between 1990-2002, there has been a major change in opinions. They are drawn sharply along the fracture line of generational divide between those who are mature and open to the changes after 1989 and the group aged 45-55. This age group is extremely frustrated; after having seen their lives eaten away during the hard core communist years of the 1980s, they find themselves in 2002 without a sufficient standard of living to allow them to live a decent life.

Generational Conflict

Those people in their forties and fifties are very bitter. This bitterness comes from the violent conflict of the generations, for example, in the universities in the relationship between the young assistants and the professors. This latter group cling to its position as the mandarins in the system. Further, most of them either through weakness, routine, or cowardice cooperated with the Ceausescu system. Their relationships with the younger generation, which wants grants to study abroad, who are advocates of new ideas, are difficult. This system of the mandarins and the assistants had been brutally held in place before 1989, when the possibility of another way was briefly seen. The brutality has changed in its style but it endures. The manic individualism remains.

P.V. How do the Romanians see their future ?

C.D. The Romanians are not optimistic Part of the youth wants to leave the country and live somewhere else. All of the levels of population want to take a bus, to search for some adventure. Since 2001 December, the Romanians have not needed visas to enter France. All that is needed is to have 100 Euros a day for seven days to risk everything. A large number of young men, even those having a university education, dream, for example, to enter the French Foreign Legion. They hope to save enough money in their eight or ten years in the Legion to re-launch their lives in a transformed Romania. There is a huge disconnect between the pragmatic line, serene line of the political direction and the disengagement, this flight of the Romanians toward something else, anything else, which would be promise, hopefully, a less difficult life.

A Moderate Return to Orthodoxy

The decade of the 1990s has been equally notable for a sort of return to traditional religion, which is difficult to analyze. It comes from a need to fill the ideological void left by the end of communism and by the collapse of the patriotic model constructed during the 1960s. At the time of the visits of General Charles de Gaulle and President Richard Nixon, the Romanians felt honored by the presence of these world leaders and appreciated by the outside world. During the post-communist years, they have lost the commonly held sentiments of prosperity and the belief in progress. The return to the Church is tempting, as religious, Christian, Orthodoxy is at the same time a return to Orthodoxy and something else. There is now a search for community, spirituality, a search for identity through culture and tradition. Young people increasingly observe fasting during Lent. They carefully study and observe the rituals of the sacramental ceremonies such as baptism and funerals. They openly flaunt their identity that allows them to bring together in their esthetic senses and their spirituality a form of rediscovered values.

This is interesting, but must not be over-estimated. This is not an exclusionary Orthodoxy that we see. The visit of the Catholic Pope—Jean Paul II—in May 1999 was an extremely important event in this transitional period. This visit was not seen as an ecumenical event, but as an honor for the country. Part of public opinion believed that "The Vatican is the greatest Western power and the Pope has decided to come to Romania. This is his first trip to an Orthodox country." This understanding of events produced a true euphoria. The Pope’s visit to Bucharest was a powerful and joyful moment.

A Guarded Posture

To understand the foreign policy situation of Romania in May 1999, it must be understood that this visit came about at the same time as the strengthening of NATO’s policies toward Serbia, and particularly toward Kosovo: something the Romanians were not in accord with. Pope John-Paul II spoke of peace, with the Patriarch Teoctist. The reception of John-Paul II was equally a way of expressing opposition to NATO, while remaining in the Western camp. They were with the West, but through the Pope they were against NATO’s attacks on the Serbs.

Catherine Durandin

Translate by George F. Jewsbury

Copyright october 2002-durandin-jewsbury/


First part

  February 2003


Forum     Write :P. Verluise ISIT 12 rue Cassette 75006 Paris France

Copyright october 2002-durandin-jewsbury/