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Communism settled in in Central and Eastern Europe in the same way, but, when it fell, it fell differently
Communism settled in in Central and Eastern Europe in the same way, but, when it fell, it fell differently. The first were Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the countries where communism was toppled without violence and with no human victims. The second category included the German Democratic Republic and Bulgaria, where violence was limited. One last category was that of Romania, where Communism fell violently and with victims. The case of the former Yugoslavia, where the bloodiest fall of Communism occurred, is a special case that has several implications.
1142 dead, 3138 wounded and 760 arrested; that was the bloody record that the Ceausescu regime left behind. In the 30 years that have passed since the 1989 Revolution, historians have tried to understand why Romania was special as compared to the other central and east-European countries. We asked historian Dragos Petrescu, a professor at the Political and Administrative Studies Faculty of Bucharest University if, looking at Romania as it was in the 1980s, somebody could have guessed that the regime change would be a violent one:
"It's easier to make a post-factum analysis, but there are some elements that show us, with the help of compared political theory, that the truth is extremely simple. Those types of communism that were independent or which were trying to go along a line that was independent from Moscow broke out violently from the regime. And we are not talking only about Romania, we include here both Albania and Yugoslavia. In Yugoslavia, the separation from Communism was followed by a civil war and by ethnic cleansing, and terrible things happened there."
Violence was a constitutive element of communism and very few countries were capable of giving it up. Dragos Petrescu believes that are two possible explanations for what happened in Romania in December 1989:
"I believe there are two fundamental elements that can explain this violent exit from communism, which occurred not only in Romania, but also in Albania and Yugoslavia. As regards Romania, it had a monolithic ruling elite. Let's not forget that in November 1989, at the 14th Communist Party Congress, Ceausescu was unanimously re-elected, although everybody knew back than that communism had fallen in Poland, Hungary, East Germany and things were not that good in Czechoslovakia either. Despite all that, the Romanian communists decided, in an act of collective opportunism and subservience, to reelect Ceausescu. That was a clear indication of the fact that there was no reformist faction, not even like the one in Bulgaria, where immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Todor Jivkov was replaced by a supporter of the Gorbaciov regime, the former foreign minister Petar Mladenov."
The second explanation would be the existence of a sort of independence from Moscow. There were leaders, such as Ceausescu, who would defy anything coming from the leadership of the Soviet Union. To Ceausescu, the beginning of this attitude of defiance was August 21st, 1968, when he condemned the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact armies, who wanted to remove the reformist regime of Alexandr Dubcek. Here is Dragos Petrescu:
"The second aspect was that independence from Moscow, which Ceausescu cultivated as of August 21st, 1968, his charismatic moment. Ceausescu had his hour of glory when he managed to do something that nobody believed it was possible in Romania, namely to render the Communist party legitimate in the eyes of the population. But that legitimacy was not a real one, it was based on a sort of consensus between the population and the leader. The living standard in Romania had grown back then, and as of 1967 Romanians were allowed to travel abroad, under a more relaxed legislation. There would be many things to stress here, but what is certain is that in Romania's case, thinks unfolded differently from the other countries."
The slogan: "no interference in a country's domestic affairs", which Ceausescu turned into a foreign policy principle, isolated Romania even further. Romania's turning towards the third world, closing the borders and resuming the Stalinism of the 1950s, while denouncing the reforms promoted by the Soviet leader Mihail Gorbachov, left no room for intervention when Romanian people's economic and spiritual situation became dramatic. Here is Dragos Petrescu one more time:
"The independence from Moscow and the monolithic party leadership made Ceausescu believe he could do whatever he wanted in his country. And the first thing he did when the protests started in Timisoara was to order the army to shoot at the protesters, using real, war ammunition. There followed the operation under which the revolutionaries' bodies were carried to Bucharest to be incinerated and thus erase any trace of the slaughter that had occurred in Timisoara. That was a very clear sign that Romania could not break away from Communism in a peaceful way."
In December 1989, Ceausescu's communist regime fell down violently and with a lot of noise. And the victims were the price that Romania had to pay in order to escape the vicious circle of communist dictatorship.
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