Author’s note: written for a ‘Theories of European Integration’ class at the University of Toronto, from February-March 2004.

Trenchant Legacies, Trapping Pitfalls:

The Case of Post-Communist Romania and EU Enlargement

By Peter E. Bjel

15 March 2004

(pubished on www.ceausescu.org w. express permission of the author)

The year 2004 will mark the fifteenth anniversary of communism’s collapse in Central and Eastern Europe; at the same time, it shall also serve as a decisive year for the European Union with the accession of ten new member states, of which eight are former communist countries.1 Certainly, this represents a huge leap forward for both the EU’s priority of enlargement eastward, and also for these countries to become part of a long-standing tradition of Western liberal democracy. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that it is all so honky-dory, for there remains, on the outer edges of Europe, those countries with lasting legacies of communism that failed to make it into the current round of enrollment; it includes most of the former Yugoslavia, most of the former Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria and Romania.

In December 1989, much of the now-former Warsaw Pact and the West watched as Romanians rose up against its equally reviled and feared Communist rulers in what was by far the most violent of the ‘revolutions’ that took place in Europe that year; on Christmas Day, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were both summarily tried and executed by a hastily-improvised military tribunal. It seemed that, with the death of this draconian couple, Romania had freed itself of the shackles of its sickle-and-hammer rule and at last had the opportunity to rejoin itself and leave the isolated confines of peripheral status behind. Fifteen years later, that hope has been all but dashed, with Romania’s prospects for democratization and developmental prospects barely above what was to be found in the darkest years of Ceausescu’s rule, save that the so-called Conducator and his wife are absent. But much that came with communism—human rights violations, economic and political pandemonium, widespread corruption, the old nomenklatura in government, as well as the omnipresent shadow of the old State Security Service, or Securitate—remains entrenched in the country. Though officially invited to begin EU accession in December 1999 (in Helsinki), Romania’s prospective date of entry has been pushed ahead to 2007, if it is lucky, no doubt in light of the above-listed issues.

The EU, however, are in a predicament of their own, too. Brussels has virtually opened its doors to the country’s admission, which ensures that, eventually, Romania will and must join, as the EU cannot renege on its pledge. All the while the country is still fighting a pitched battle with its myriad problems. With the question of Romania’s admission no longer able to remain on the back burner, this will prove to be a serious and daunting challenge for the EU. The entrenched communist past in Romania is a trap, made even bigger by the now-ensnared enlargement-oriented officials in Brussels; the EU will have to face up to the reality of having a disorderly hornet in its bonnet of liberal democracy.

This paper, therefore, sets to examine three matters: (1) Romania’s Communist experience, particularly the role of Ceausescu himself in entrenching it into the country’s national psyche; (2) Romania’s ingrained and lasting Communist legacy (manifested through political pandemonium and the ‘return’ of the old nomenklatura to office, the murky status of the Securitate, contemporary human rights abuses, and the nature of Romania’s economic problems); and (3) how this legacy is now inescapably intertwined with enlargement, and why the new Romania has manifested as the EU’s most formidable challenge. This case will no doubt serve as a lesson for Eurocrats in how to best deal with other such countries still wrestling with their democratizing transitions, if and when they undertake further eastern enlargement.2

The Nightmare Years, 1944-1989—an Overview

It is crucial to have a basic understanding of Romania’s Communist experience, as it would prove to be overwhelming to shake off compared to many other European countries that endured communist rule. It officially lasted from the end of the Second World War in Romania, right up to 1989, and it can be broken down into two periods, corresponding to the two main leaders who ruled the country. The first period lasted from 1944 to 1965 under the leadership of Gheorghe-Gheorghiu-Dej. The second, far more entrenching period, was under the leadership of Nicolae Ceausescu, from 1965 to 1989.

Outlawed in its early years, many of the Romanian Communist Party’s leaders and officials, notably Dej and Ceausescu, spent time in and out of prison, yet this confinement proved to their benefit, as it enabled them to organize themselves and plan out a potential comeback (it also, it should be noted, enabled the barely-educated Ceausescu to further his studies in Marxism-Leninism). In 1944, King Michael I oversaw the removal of Ion Antonescu, the pro-Axis leader, from power; from there, Romania changed its sides in the war and fought against Nazi Germany, but was occupied by the Soviet army. Dej, by this time a free man, was the undisputed general secretary of the RCP. With help from Moscow, he assumed official leadership of Romania when King Michael was forced out of the country in 1948, and undertook a scheme to develop Romania’s economy, though eventually began towing a more independent line from that of Moscow, an act that bode well with Romanian nationalism and gave hints of legitimacy to the Communist regime, which hitherto had been seen as a foreign presence in Romania—for example, the majority of its officials, not including Dej and Ceausescu, were overwhelmingly of Russian, Hungarian or/and Jewish ancestry.3 This is why the party consistently tried embracing aspects of Romanian nationalism, a hallmark that continued far into Ceausescu’s tenure: “Under both Gheorghiu-Dej and Ceausescu, the party suffered a painful inferiority complex: its leaders were perfectly aware that their coming to power—in 1944, as a group that then numbered no more than 1,000—was the result of Soviet diktat and that they lacked any genuine popularity and legitimacy in Romania.”4

Dej’s rule was characterized by a de-Sovietization process, spurred further by Stalin’s death in 1953 and Khrushchev’s subsequent de-Stalinizing proclamations, though Stalinism itself was never revoked, according to Matei Calinescu and Vladimir Tismaneanu.5 Indeed, Dej’s regime was “vicious and repressive” with all the earmarks of Stalinist brutality, such as forced labour, penal colonies and harsh prisons that outdid Communist brutality in places like neighboring Poland and Czechoslovakia.6 The drift away from Moscow, however, played into Romania’s hands, initially, as the West looked favourably upon the country; there was a good rate of economic growth, it had Western links almost on a par with Tito’s Yugoslavia, and by 1964, Dej had begun releasing political prisoners and undertook some liberalization.7 Dej, however, succumbed to inoperable cancer and died on the afternoon of 19 March 1965.8

Nicole Ceausescu was his successor; the ease of his ascendance owed to the close relationship he had with Dej, and also that, from 1955, his boss had placed him in the position of “overseeing Party organization and cadres within the Central Committee” whereby Ceausescu controlled “all promotions within the Party bureaucracy.”9 As Edward Behr has written: “It was a job after his own heart and one that virtually guaranteed further advancement for himself. In his new role Ceausescu was, through patronage, able to build a personal power base on a nationwide scale.”10 In March 1965, he became the new general secretary; at first, he towed the line of Dej and it appeared that he would continue along the path of liberalization by rehabilitating some past ‘state opponents,’ reinstating former individuals that had fallen out with the regime, or by keeping an independent line from Moscow, by this time run by the neo-Stalinist Leonid Brezhnev; Romania kept links with Israel after the 1967 War, and condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.11 It won him more praise from Western governments, who seized the potential opportunity to groom another Tito-style dictator—the list of foreign officials that lauded him included Charles de Gaulle, Richard Nixon, the Queen of England, Jimmy Carter, Pierre Trudeau and, as late as 1983, Vice-President George H. W. Bush, to name a few.12

Ceausescu’s “dictatorial propensities” were slowly growing.13 This heaping Western praise enabled him to act more swiftly in silencing domestic dissidents as those who were trying to anvil “national cohesion and unity.”14 With his wife, Elena, he made trips to China, North Korea and North Vietnam in June 1971, where he became so obsessed with cultural and social engineering that he wanted to invoke the same in Romania; he was particularly impressed with Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” and the uniformity found in Kim Il-Sung’s national capital of Pyongyang, though it all carried a degree of Ceausescu’s personal preferences, including “intensified political education, persecution of liberal intellectuals, vicious attacks on ‘cosmopolitan’ forces, and an unbridled cult of the leader, including mass processions worshipping the president.”15 The damage that ensued was immense, and altered Romania in three major aspects.

Political Aspects

The political atomization of Romania, so to speak, came partly because of the nature of Communist rule, though it was deeply mauled by Ceausescu’s dictatorship. Upon his return from East Asia in July 1971, Ceausescu published a “theses” for “the improvement of ideological activity,” which became official legislation later that November; in effect, it was “re-Stalinization” of the Romanian polity, which eventually encompassed both Ceausescu and his wife into a mass personality cult.16 Initial supporters of Ceausescu were fired, and a whole new body of sycophants came into play who fed his increasingly-megalomaniacal ideas, as did his wife after 1979.17 “Unconditional loyalty to the president,” says Malinescu and Tismaneanu, were the only ways by which one could politically advance; with this kind of artificial encouragement, he appointed close friends and family members into high party positions to ensure his lasting imprint on the polity.18 Ordinary Romanians ended up seeing corruption as “the rule” in politics, and retreated into a deep political malaise of “depoliticized cynicism” that never abetted.19

Economic Aspects

Economic pandemonium ensued under Ceausescu’s rule, owing mainly to his combination of incompetence and naivety, as well as his clouding ideological drives that complicated an already-challenging situation. For instance, by the early 1970s, he began making gestures to the developing world partly because Romania was also facing its own issues of (under)development, and while he took the approach of a non-aligned party, sought to outdo Romania’s other Warsaw Pact neighbours—a tactic that initially proved a success, until the Romanian economy began to sputter, though it did not stop Ceausescu from using Romania as an economic and aid-oriented showpiece.20 Foreign loans poured into Romania, owing much to Ceausescu’s anti-Soviet stances, though while economics may have had the illusion of grandeur, the quality of life for ordinary Romanians slowly deteriorated and these loans went to financing bogus projects and factories that, invariably, produced shoddy products by Western standards.21

A reformist economist named Alexandru Birladeanu was demoted at this time, probably because he did not see eye-to-eye with Ceausescu; consequently, those who replaced him placed obedience to the Stalinist Ceausescu before reform, a creed that emphasized “centralized planning, in the precedence of heavy industry over agriculture, and on economic autarchy regardless of economic cost.”22 Ceausescu built up heavy industries based largely on Romania’s oil reserves without thinking of energy consumption and conservation, so that when oil prices went up in 1975, the industries became “caricaturally uneconomic” and were compounded further by Soviet restrictions on the importing of Soviet oil to Romania, leaving the oil-based economy to eat up the budget.23 To pay off the massive foreign debt, Ceausescu, in the late 1970s, earmarked as many Romanian products for export, which resulted in serious shortages of the basic necessities, with rationing and quotas commonplace—no more than one 40-watt bulb per room, the imposition of gasoline and electrical rationing, regular incidences of cutting power happened often, even in the dead of winter; by 1986, a program of horse-breeding to substitute cars had begun.24 To quote Tony Judt: “In Romania an economy based on overinvestment in unwanted industrial hardware switched overnight into one based on preindustrial agrarian subsistence.”25 Not surprisingly, in an atmosphere of this kind of dissoluteness, corruption grew everywhere and flourished, as the opportunities (and the role models in government, again) for it only increased over the years.26

Societal Aspects

Romanian society, psychologically and physically, bore the harshest consequences of Ceausescu’s imposed depravity and humiliation. Much has been written on Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu’s material excesses and degenerate tendencies for mega-façade: an illiterate woman who was also a mediocre student, Elena made herself into the head of Romania’s Faculty of Science, heaped herself with doctorates in the field, and placed her name on science books written by others, though her interests did not span further than gold, mink coats and prestige; this led to the low morale and “a state of hopeless passivity among intellectuals.”27 As written above, society grew passive and pessimistic about politics upon hearing of these things. Ceausescu’s interest in social management, while honed on his trip to Southeast Asia, stemmed back to 1966. With an idea of increasing the population of Romania, he banned abortions for women of child-bearing age (under the age of 40, with fewer than four children, though the age went up to 45 in 1986), which resulted in the birth of unwanted children who were invariably placed into the now-infamously managed state orphanages (about 100,000 children were/still are institutionalized).28 Illegal abortions took place which, without sound medical supervision, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 10,000 women; compulsory medical examinations which were humiliatingly presided over by Party representatives, were compulsory just to make sure that no abortions were taking place; if an abortion just happened to be approved, such a procedure could only take place in the presence of the same such representatives.29

After a disastrous 1977 earthquake that damaged parts of the country, Ceausescu seized the moment to implement “urban renewal” and began pressing for the elimination of a potential “breeding ground of bourgeois liberalism” in the big cities in place of a North Korean-style uniformity which would eliminate both the trouble of controlling his citizens and eliminate the barrier between city and country.30 Villagers were forced out of their homes (which were subsequently demolished) and placed in “abysmally built” apartment blocks; historic churches also bore the same “renewal” treatment, as did a sizable chunk of historic Bucharest, much of which was set aside for the building of a grandiose House of the People and a three-kilometer-long “Avenue of Socialist Victory,” which eliminated 9,300 homes.31 The Romanian Secret Police, known as Securitate, pervaded everyday life and kept people fearful because it had a sinister aura that even the KGB did not have; though Ceausescu did not deport ‘dissidents’ to gulags, the very thought of Securitate was a form of psychological terror, an intrinsic factor that kept Ceausescu in power for so long, as one defector put it: “It was psychological terror that paralyzed the Romanian population, and the most outstanding piece of disinformation was the rumor, deliberately spread by Securitate itself, that one out of every four Romanians was a Securitate informer.”32

Contending with Ceausescu’s Ghost

Those who claimed that Romanian Communism died outright on Christmas Day 1989 with Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu’s hasty ‘trial’ and execution were fooling themselves and others. What viewers witnessed was only the elimination of the two top manifestations of criminality, decadence and all that had gone wrong in Romania during the Cold War. The structure, personalities, legacies and habits from the past all remained in place, albeit in a different setting and with different names. It is here that Romania’s entrenched and lasting Communist legacy shall be examined; it will become a crucial base from which to understand the entrapping pitfalls now at issue with the EU’s moves on the country.

Political Pandemonium

The legitimacy of the new post-Ceausescu government immediately came into question; indeed, for the next fifteen years, the Romanian polity ended up seeing a continuation of the nomenklatura in government, followed by a centre-right coalition coming to power under Emil Constantinescu (whose government altered three times in four years), and yet again, a return of Ion Iliescu’s party in December 2000, now renamed the Party of Social Democracy (though still, in effect, the same National Salvation Front, known by its Romanian initials as the FSN).

Following the flight of Nicolae and Elena, a National Salvation Front was assembled on 20-22 December 1989 under the leadership of Iliescu, who had been an official in Ceausescu’s government in the past, but had fallen out with him in 1971; probably over the ideological restructuring that Ceausescu began implementing at this time (see above). Its murky origins left questions unanswered and speculation circulated that the FSN had seized the popular uprisings against Ceausescu to move itself into power in place of the Conducator. As Daniel N. Nelson as written: “With Ion Iliescu and Petre Roman [his deputy and later Prime Minister] at the forefront of the FSN, its linkage to Ceausescu’s Communist Party was been widely inferred—in their personal histories, policy choices or leadership behavior.”33 Probably the starkest confirmation of this scenario was the spring and early summer of 1990, when student protesters and opposition supporters began demonstrating in Bucharest over the presence of many Ceausescu-era personalities in the new FSN government; Iliescu denounced them all as “hoodlums” and tried using police dogs and truncheons to get the protesters away, to no real avail. Elections that May, notwithstanding apparent fraud, the lack of viable political alternatives and the divisions within the opposition, gave Iliescu 85.1 percent of the vote. Securely in office, Iliescu then moved against the remaining strikers, first with (ineptly discontent) police, whose moves provoked only a violent outburst, and then with the help of “extra-legal force” in which the FSN had coal miners from the Jiu Valley mines bussed in to Bucharest to terrorize both protesters and anyone suspected of being an opposition supporter.34 This incident, which was repeated again in the next few years, seriously tarnished Romania’s image abroad and, even this early on, marred the country’s process of democratization. Iliescu was elected in two elections, in 1990 and 1992; the trend was by now quite rooted, as Alina Mungiu-Pippidi has written: “Once elected, these institutions operated in principle within the framework of procedural democracy, but in practice often broke the rules and norms accepted in the West as characteristic of liberal democracy.”35 The clashes in which coal miners were utilized to break up protests and terrorize alleged opposition sympathizers (and who also trashed opposition party offices) were the prime exponents of this trend.

According to John Lloyd, the initial Iliescu years were characterized by little economic reform.36 Indeed, those years prompted bewildered Romanian voters to change the country’s government in late 1996, from the remnants of the FSN to a center-right loose coalition of parties led by Constantinescu, a former university rector; his coalition was known as the Democratic Convention of Romania, or CDR. The looseness of this coalition became all-too-apparent when Constantinescu’s government spent more time bickering amongst themselves in the legislature rather than address the pervading and pressing issues of Romania’s transition. It was an effect of Ceausescu’s legacy, since under Communism and the repressiveness of his regime, any sliver of civil society and oppositional development would have been either foiled or quashed by the authorities—except for politically impotent groups like literary or artistic organizations; a “muzzled and mutilated” civil society, if any, was left after Ceausescu’s fall and execution.37 In addition, it was only the RCP officials that had the skill and experience in politics, however deeply flawed an experience it was, unlike other parties and their leaders.38 Though the CDR was a center-right government, former communists still held sway in influential places like the judiciary, which made the 1997 anti-corruption campaign practically inept because they resisted these kinds of reforms.39 The effects on society, of course, were calamitous; Parliament became the most unpopular institution for its lack of accountability (Constantinescu harped about stopping corruption yet it imbued his government, for example) and its lackadaisical approach to reforms, which were only spurred by outside powers, as shall be seen.40 In December 2000, two sets of elections (general and runoff) were held in Romania, which saw the ascendance of Iliescu (the same) to power, whereby he relinquished his chair of the Party of Social Democracy (PDSR, the old FSN) to Adrian Nastase, his Prime Minister, while Constantinescu’s popularity reached the lowest ebb and his coalition disintegrated, so that he did not even bother to run again—it is Iliescu as President and Nastase’s party that runs Romania to this day.41

What Happened to Securitate?

Both Iliescu and Constantinescu, as the only two individuals that held Romania’s presidency after Ceausescu, came under criticism within and outside Romania for their lack of sufficiently answering this question, which is tied in to the above discussed question of the political transition in the new Romania. Constantinescu himself went so far, on 24 June 2002, long after his defeat, to declare that Iliescu’s administration had rehired former Securitate officials, extending them into the highest echelons of the government, including the Presidential and Prime Minster’s offices, an accusation which the Romanian government refused to comment on.42 What precisely happened to the Securitate—the same dreaded secret police that was an intrinsic method of imposing communist control in Romania, as elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc—became one of the defining symbols of how far Romania had traveled from its dark history.43 In the Romanian case, the call is for its government to be more transparent with its citizens as to what happened to the old organization during the country’s transition, specifically by disclosing old Securitate archives and also exposing those officials in government who were either members of the force, or were one of their copious informers. There is also an emphasis on trying some of the former Securitate officers for their crimes during Ceausescu’s regime, notably in the last years of its life, when there were several instances of Securitate forces opening fire on crowds of protesters.44 The results have predictably been mixed. The FSN leadership were one of the first individuals to go through old archives, retrieve and destroy their Securitate files, evidently for political expediency and to hide anything that could have been used against them.45 Because of the lack of such transparency, the whole question and, indeed, the stigma surrounding the murky Securitate’s status and role in the new Romania, has proven to be a fertile (and cloud-inducing) group upon which politicians fed to use as ammunition to blacken the characters of their political opponents, often without sustainable grounding.46

What has happened to the Securitate itself, however, is far from optimistic. It made the transition into post-Ceausescu Romania fairly easily by becoming part of the “system” of the FSN, though “window dressing” did take place to make it look as if it had been disbanded.47 Those individuals jailed for their part in killing approximately 1,000 demonstrators (in total) during the anti-Ceausescu upheavals were subsequently released.48 Owing to yet another Ceausescu-era legacy, the Securitate had the opportunity for economic advancement after 1989 because the Conducator gave them huge stakes in controlling foreign trade. As Dennis Deletant has written: “Securitate officers, with their specialist knowledge and their foreign contacts, triggered the creation of a veritable economic mafia.”49 In the governmental structure, the old Securitate was divided up into nine specific services that revolved around “the nucleus of a former Securitate directorate or unit.”50 So while the Romanian security services (their Romanian initials are SRI) appear to be legitimate and like their Western counterparts, the lack of accountability and thorough investigation into past and sometimes present governmental abuses and scandals in which the shady role of the security services is suspect but never proven shows to what extent just how “deeply the old Securitate mentality was inculcated in the structures of the security services. This mentality was shown to be embarrassingly archaic, and sat incongruously with claims that the security services had been democratized.”51

There recently was an attempt under Constantinescu’s administration to pass a freedom of information act on Securitate files, whereby individuals could access their own Securitate files (as it held dossiers on anyone it suspected of harbouring dissent) and a new historical organization, the ‘National Council for the Study of the Archives of the former Securitate,’ to also have “unfettered access” to all documents except those pertaining to national security; in its passage through the Romanian Senate, it suffered several setbacks and long delays in implementation, the biggest of which was the condition of leaving control of these files under the SRI.52

Romania’s Economic Woes

Ceausescu’s insistence on heavy industry, while later much of the country reverted back to a form of agrarian economics in light of the darkening economic situation in Romania ravaged the country’s state-run economy. After 1989, it was left with a dilapidated, inefficient and polluting industrial base that was largely obsolete. Ordinary Romanians to this day shy away from the thought of economic reform, since they fear that their standards of living will drop further, with the thought of long-term improvement hardly being a spur.53 As it stands, the official poverty rate in Romania is a shocking 44.5 percent—the official Romanian statistic, which makes it safe to assume that, by Western standards, poverty is higher.54 As in other societies enduring the depravities that came with communist rule (think Russia), reforms have been marred by the fact that the old nomenklatura yet again succeeded, during privatization programs, to sell the best enterprises to themselves while leaving the worst ones for someone else to take; in Romania, the ones not taken by the security services or members of the old regime were the uneconomic, polluting ones.55 Pyramid schemes, promising a ‘get-rich-quick’ scenario, were common; one particular scam, according to Judt, involved almost one in five Romanians at its peak.56 As on the political level, corruption flourished and continues to do so—it is the EU’s most corrupt candidate country.57 All of this left Romania as the slowest-reforming EU candidate country; officials in Brussels declared it still does not have a “functioning market economy.”58

Certainly, the transition from a state-controlled to market culture will be problematic and a long process, as in Romania’s case, since communism’s imprint was so deep. Mugur Isarescu outlined three of the initial points surrounding economic reform that was emphasized and announced by the Iliescu government in May 1990:

  • The dismantlement of central planning bodies and their control on economic variables (prices, wages, etc.)

  • Privatization programs.

  • Construction of a viable social safety net, due to Romania’s low living standards.59

However, in light of the present, it is clear that the privatization schemes were highly faulty; that Romanians were greatly resisting economic reform because tighter fiscal management would involve the initial slashing of their meager social safety nets; and, with Brussels’ confirmation of this, Romania has evidently not dismantled its central planning bodies and does not even warrant the title of “market economy.”

One sign of Romania’s economic underdevelopment is in an examination of its earning sectors, compared to its labour force by occupation; the tables are outlined here. Upon examination, one will find that, though agriculture accounts for only 15 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product composition, 40 percent of the country’s labour force is engaged in agricultural businesses.

Some Contemporary Human Rights Abuses

The safekeeping and guarantee of basic and universal human rights is almost certainly a pillar of democracy—and also a requirement for eventual entry into both the EU and, at least theoretically, the NATO alliance. Romania’s transition has not changed the specter of human rights abuses for the better; indeed, they remain a matter of pressing and vital concern. It cuts across the country’s ethnic makeup, which will be discussed below, but also in other areas. A recent journalistic investigation found that the sex trade industry is thriving in Romania; indeed, one investigative journalist, Paul Cristian Radu, reports that the police, in the presence of the human traffickers, are lax, secretive and complacent, even though there supposedly are tough laws against the harsh and appalling industry in Romania.60 In other instances, journalists in Romania have reported that there is now increased hostility and attacks on them, especially when reporting on governmental corruption scandals—mostly in light of the coming 2004 elections.61

Ethnic tensions, however, are another aspect of Romania’s problem of human rights violations. Romania is not ethnically homogeneous; this itself would not matter, if it were not for those within Romania itself that would exploit this diversity to achieve political ends or turn it into a means of leveling culpability for the country’s discontent. Keeping in mind that Romania’s population is just over 22 million, the following table breaks down Romania’s main ethnic groups:62

Issues with the sizable Hungarian minority, found mostly in northwestern Romania, in the region of Transylvania, have been relatively stable, although a few isolated incidents certainly did flare up in the past, as in the inter-communal violence that took place in Tirgu Mures in March 1990.63 Anti-Semitism has traditionally been a constant in Romania, especially among the often-suspicious peasantry, though the number of Jews now in the country does not number more than 14,000—a very small number out of such a huge population for anyone hate-minded to really notice.64 Those who bear far higher degrees of marginalization, discrimination and outright hostility are the Gypsies of Romania, who prefer to be called Roma; indeed, Romania has the highest Roma population in all of Europe.65 During the Cold War, many communist regimes treated the Roma as a social problem that could be fixed through proclamations of “class unity” and discouraged them from admitting or acknowledging their identity, according to James A. Goldston: “Motivated by subtle—and not so subtle—racism, communist-era policies such as segregated education and the sterilization of Roma women were premised on the assumption that a backward and degenerate people had to be either forcefully dragged into the modern age—or prevented from making the trip.”66

In a country where the ordinary populace itself suffers massive deprivations, illiteracy rates are highest among the Roma, as is a lack of adequate education—a great many Roma children, on the basis of their identity alone, have been placed in special education classes for the mentally challenged on the basis that they lack the skills that ‘ordinary’ children would have.67 Police complicity and committing of abuse of Roma in Romania is widely reported; indeed, an infamous 1993 incident in the town of Hadareni bore this point well. Following a fight where an ethnic Romanian was killed, a mob stormed the Roma community’s dwellings in this village, lynching two men and burning 19 homes in the process before driving all the Roma out. The police just watched it all happen, even taking part in the assault; no one was brought to trial for the Hadareni case.68 In a separate case, Ion Rotaru, the mayor of Piatra Neamt, a town in northeastern Romania, around the fall of 2001, seriously contemplated a plan to construct a compound on the site of an old chicken farm which would serve as a ghetto for the community’s Roma, where they would be watched by police and made to work, as Rotaru himself said: “The Roma will be put to work and forced to learn, and they will be completely separated from the rest of the town. We are just trying to discipline them.”69 The plan was never actually enacted, though it speaks loads about such egregiousness in Romania in that it was actually contemplated.

Romania and the European Union: A Hornet in the Bonnet

In light of Romania’s daunting communist past and lasting legacy, it is imperative to examine the third objective of this paper, that is, to examine how the new Romania—in light of its trenchant legacy—can and may well turn out to be the EU’s most formidable challenge in terms of its enlargement and integration objectives. There certainly are other countries in Europe’s outer peripheries that are worse off than Romania, economically and politically; the difference is that they have not been offered membership and the go-ahead to begin admission proceedings into the EU, so dealing (or delaying) with these outer peripheries is far easier. The predicament with Romania’s case is very much similar to that of Turkey and the EU; though it too has been given a de facto boost in eventual EU membership and, unlike Romania, has no communist past and has been in the NATO alliance for decades, the country has mega problems that touch all areas of economics, politics, human rights and its society, particularly the issues pertaining to its Kurdish citizens.70 The fact that it is a hugely-populated and predominantly Muslim country has also raised issue with some of the more conservative (Christian) polities in the EU. But the pledge of eventual membership in the EU, though no dateline has yet been set, cannot be ignored, nor can it be disputed that Turkey, faulty or not, will eventually have to be admitted; it is an issue some Eurocrats would, again, rather ignore, but no longer can, hence why it is another issue confronting the ever-expanding EU.

Why must Brussels have to eventually admit Romania? Because, “without such a willingness to extend its benefits to those who actually need them, the union is a mockery—of itself and of those who place such faith in it.”71 Tony Judt has also emphasized, in his article, that the only chance for Romania to break out of its cycle of paralysis is for it to join a more lenient Brussels “as soon as possible,” even though the country certainly will not meet all EU standards. He continues: “But there is no alternative in Romania’s case. Romanian membership will cost West Europeans a lot of money; it will do nothing for the euro; it will expose the union to all the ills of far-eastern Europe. In short, it [that is, admission of Romania] would be an act of apparent collective altruism, or at least unusually enlightened self-interest.”72 Hence, here is the nature of how Romania has proven to be, in essence, the EU’s ensnarement. The shockwaves will be felt in the already-existing EU; if the case of 38.5 million-strong Poland’s coming accession has already raised their eyebrows, then something predictably-similar will transpire in Romania’s case, especially in regard to the financial question marks, as Noel Malcolm has humorously depicted mega-Germany’s likely stance: “So far, Germany’s involvement with ‘Europe’ looks rather like the action of a jovial uncle at a children’s party who, to show goodwill, allows his hands to be tied behind his back. It is not a posture that he will want to stay in for long, and his mood may change when he becomes aware of innumerable little fingers rifling through his pockets.”73

With the benefit of hindsight, it is evident that this trap could have been avoided. In a recent article, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi emphasized that what enlargement officials should have undertaken was a program not calling for immediate membership, but one that would bring Romania (as well as other future candidate countries) “to the level where the Central European countries were prior to starting their European accession,” specifically the adoption of EU rules and regulations “only after countries have largely completed successful transitions…[original emphasis]” She also warned that attempting to effectively place the EU’s economic cart before the horse would only hinder transitions.74

A long enlargement process is, according to Jacques Rupnik, a potential Pandora’s Box (for a country like Romania) since it can “undermine the democratic transition precisely where it is most fragile.”75 We have seen just how the Romanian authorities have attempted to sugar-coat their unsightly national appearances (e.g. in covering up the Securitate’s modern role, or in quickly enacting more rules and looking enraged upon hearing of the flourishing sex industry taking place in Bucharest’s back streets, etc.). On 16 June 2003, Prime Minister Nastase announced that he was cutting the number of governmental ministries from 23 to 14, stating that a “streamlined administration” would be more efficient at rooting out key problems in Romania, while critics like the journalist Cornel Nistoescu, believe the reshuffling is all about “improving the government image” before general elections are to be held 76 The few fiscal reforms actually implemented by the government have also been done similarly to impress officials in Brussels.77 The results are and will be that the “window dressing” being done in order to just impress outsiders without attacking the rooting and fundamental sources of Romania’s woes will only exacerbate the situation in the long run; the problems will only get bigger if constantly swept under the proverbial carpet. Malcolm has emphasized that attempts to solve an EU candidate country’s existing internal problems, like corruption and ethnic rifts, would only be exacerbated: “…the whole ‘European’ project furnishes a classic example of the fallacious belief that the way to remove hostility between groups, peoples, or states is to build new structures over their heads. Too often that method yields exactly the opposite result.”78 With the issue of both Romania and Bulgaria in context, Martin Walker expanded on this idea that enlargement there “is a polite way of indicating that the EU will be in the development aid business for a generation to come.”79

The closely-related issue of enlarging the NATO alliance would first appear to merely compliment the goals and objectives of the EU; the former being a military and security alliance, the latter being a political and economic union. However, Romania’s overtures to both NATO and the EU, particularly in light of the tense global situation following the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States, would be another source of headaches and tensions for Brussels. The US under George W. Bush is no longer so concerned about transitions and only democratic states being admitted into the alliance, as evidenced by his hobnobbing with Iliescu, where he said Romania “brings moral clarity to our NATO alliance” (Romania is also a NATO candidate country).80 Other new potential (and sinister) candidates include the likes of Islam Karimov’s Uzbekistan; backing of US policies seems to be what is more important in NATO expansion now. Romania’s pro-American stance, including backing of the recent campaign in Iraq, among others, has caused some stirrings. “In August [2002], Romania was the first country to agree to exempt US troops from prosecution under the provisions of the International Criminal Court. The EU criticized Bucharest for not having waited until Europe had determined its collective opinion on the issue.”81 From Romania’s perspective, NATO accession would not only solve the country’s security dilemmas but also would endorse its Western stances and give it a further “measure of domestic legitimacy” and potentially help heighten chances for quicker EU accession.82 All of this would muzzle the need for the fundamental reforms and democratization the country needs so badly, while at the same time would aggravate an already-knotty situation with Brussels—though the primary victim would certainly be the legitimacy of the NATO alliance itself by rapidly accepting members like these.83

Romania already stands as a formidable challenge to Brussels and EU enlargement; in the time that it has delayed accession and reform, yet another problem in Romania’s internal affairs has begun to grow: the rise of populism. Such parties are a phenomenon throughout all of Europe and the world. Their growth is quite logical, mostly stemming from populations that happen to be disenfranchised and disappointed at the current democratic institutions in place, or by a “widespread sense of disillusionment with the way democracy works.”84 More often, populists “trade profitably on a growing sense among electorates left and right that economic and cultural change is coming fast and no one is minding the national store.”85 With less emphasis on the nation-state in Europe these days, it is no surprise that these parties flourish.86 Usually, they remain quite marginalized and are popular among minority numbers, getting smaller numbers of votes. In the December 2000 elections, Romanians got Iliescu back for President; his opponent, a populist by the name of Corneliu Vadim Tudor who runs the Greater Romania Party (Partidul România Mare, or PRM), had openly espoused anti-Semitism in his campaign and spoke lacerating words against ethnic Hungarians and Roma in the country.87 The catch in Romania, however, was an alarm: he received 33.16 percent of the runoff vote, making the PRM the second most powerful party in Romania.88

Tudor did so well because of his play and attacks on the “social fears” issues plaguing Romanians, especially the peasantry (i.e. issues of corruption, dissolution of authority, foreigners and foreign influence, etc.).89 This is strange for a man who once used to compose glorifying odes praising Ceausescu, but leapt at the opportunity to change from “lefty” to “righty” after 1989; even still, his party mixes elements from both the left and right, some elements from Christianity, and openly glorifies (in) famous Romanians in history like Vlad the Impaler, Ion Antonescu and, yes, Ceausescu.90 Tudor’s popularity is allegedly rising (certainly an embarrassment for Romania and the EU), a signal that Brussels must quicken its pace if it is to avoid confronting a much bigger hornet in its neck of the woods—the prospect of Romania falling back “into a slough of resentful despond.”91 For a long time, Eurocrats ignored the issue of Romania, leaving the issue to scorch on the back burner; they cannot wait any longer. That is the lesson of populism’s rise in Romania; it certainly will be interesting to watch the results of the country’s upcoming elections later this year, as both Nastase and Tudor are planning to run.


In examining the EU’s current predicament with Romania, and the eventuality of it having a disorderly country in its ranks, it was necessary to first examine, in some detail, the nature of Romanian Communism and Nicolae Ceausescu’s trenchant policies, as they are among the prime reasons for Romania’s current and dark state of affairs; examining these affairs was a second objective here. The third objective of this paper was to demonstrate how and in which ways, in light of the aforementioned issues, Romania became a guaranteed thorny issue for EU enlargement and integration. What happens next can only be explained by speculation, as this process is ongoing to the present. The words of E. M. Cioran, writing about the story of Romania in the last century, ring with foreboding: “There are others for whom nothing succeeds and whose very triumphs are but failures. When they try to assert themselves and take a step forward, some external fate intervenes to break their momentum and return them to their starting point.”92 Cioran could easily have been talking about the potential future not only of the new Romania, but also the EU in this century, if this dilemma is to remain unanswered and if Eurocrats stay teetered in the middle ground for much longer.


1 The ten new countries to be admitted into the EU in May 2004 are: Cyprus, Malta, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia. On the decisiveness of EU enlargement eastward, see William Horsley, “Analysis: Eastern Europe reborn.” BBC News World Edition (31 October 2003), accessed at http://news.bbc.co.uk.

2 Some Eurocrats have already begun talking about admitting such former Soviet states as Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine—even Russia itself, along with the remaining former Yugoslavia, provided they meet the qualifications. The Caucasus—Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan—have also not been totally overruled.

3 On this, see Tony Judt, “Romania: Bottom of the Heap.” New York Review of Books (1 November 2001). Gheorghiu-Dej became the general secretary of the RCP, according to Judt, precisely because he happened to be one of the few ethnic Romanian Communists; his leadership and own identity, it was hoped, would lend gravity to the regime’s legitimacy.

4 Matei Calinescu and Vladimir Tismaneanu, “The 1989 Revolution and Romania’s Future,” in Daniel N. Nelson, ed., Romania after Tyranny (Boulder: Westview Press, 1992), pp. 11-44, at p. 18.

5 Ibid.

6 Judt, “Romania.”

7 Calinescu and Tismaneanu, “The 1989 Revolution and Romania’s Future,” pp. 18-19.

8 Edward Behr, Kiss the Hand you Cannot Bite: The Rise and Fall of the Ceausescus (New York: Villard Books, 1991), pp. 134-135.

9 Ibid., p. 126.

10 Ibid. Though, by 1964, Ceausescu became more self-assured and assertive to his boss, Dej saw that he embodied the traits of a true loyal follower, “a modest, dedicated, self-effacing, hard-working, and profoundly loyal lieutenant” (p. 136).

11 Calinescu and Tismaneanu, “The 1989 Revolution and Romania’s Future,” p. 19. See also Behr, Kiss the Hand, pp. 158-159. There is an interesting sub-story at work here: while Ceausescu openly criticized the Soviets for their conduct, Brezhnev allowed such insubordination of a Warsaw Pact country deliberately to keep alive the illusion that these countries really were free from Moscow’s whims.

12 For more on this Western hobnobbing, see Ibid., and also Judt, “Romania.” The part about Pierre Trudeau I have added; apparently, his praise for Ceausescu came when the dictator visited Ottawa.

13 Calinescu and Tismaneanu, “The 1989 Revolution and Romania’s Future,” p. 19.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid., p. 20.

17 Ibid. One of those demoted (though not quite fired), as will be mentioned again, was Ion Iliescu, currently the Romanian President.

18 Ibid. One of those prominent people was Ceausescu’s youngest son, Nicu, who was killed not long after his parents had been ‘ousted’ from power in December 1989.

19 See Michael Vachon, “Bucharest: The House of the People.” World Policy Journal 10, 4 (Winter 1993/1994), pp. 63, 59.

20 Behr, Kiss the Hand, pp. 162-163, 167.

21 Ibid., p. 165, 201. Besides foreign financial institutions, one of Ceausescu’s biggest donors of aid was, until 1976, the Shah of Iran, who also ensured a supply of cheap oil to Romania’s oil-dependent economy. When this source dried up, disaster was spelled.

22 See Ibid., pp. 165-166.

23 Ibid., pp. 166-167.

24 For details, see Judt, “Romania.”

25 Ibid. He also adds: “The return journey will be long.”

26 Behr, Kiss the Hand, p. 200.

27 Ibid., p. 184, and elsewhere for details on this kind of (limitless) kitsch.

28 Judt, “Romania,” for details on this.

29 Ibid. Note that the population of Romania never did increase, but what did go up was the death rate of women, as mentioned, as well as that of children—birth certificates were not issued until a child had survived their fourth week.

30 See Behr, Kiss the Hand, pp. 219-221; also Vachon, “Bucharest,” p. 59, for details on this.

31 Behr, Kiss the Hand, p. 221; and again, Vachon, “Bucharest,” p. 59.

32 Quoted in Behr, Kiss the Hand, p. 233.

33 Daniel N. Nelson, “Post-Communist Insecurity and the Romanian Case,” in Nelson, ed., Romania After Tyranny, pp. 169-170.

34 For details of Iliescu’s 1990 conduct described here, see Calinescu and Tismaneanu, “The 1989 Revolution and Romania’s Future,” pp. 30-32.

35 Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, “The Return of Populism—The 2000 Romanian Elections.” Government and Opposition 36, 2 (April 2001), pp. 230-252, at p. 230.

36 John Lloyd, “Just Another Western Journalist.” London Review of Books (15 April 1999). The majority of this article chronicles Lloyd’s times among the coal miners of Romania.

37 Calinescu and Tismaneanu, “The 1989 Revolution and Romania’s Future,” p. 21.

38 Elizabeth Pond, “Romania: Better Late than Never.” Washington Quarterly 24, 2 (Spring 2001): pp. 35-43, at p. 37.

39 Mungiu-Pippidi, “The Return of Populism,” p. 242.

40 Ibid.

41 For a discussion of this election, and all of its players, see Pond, “Romania: Better Late than Never.”

42 Marian Chiriac, “Romania: Secret Police Sins Cast Long Shadows.” Balkan Crisis Report 345 (26 June 2002), accessed at www.iwpr.net.

43 Dennis Deletant, “Ghosts from the Past: Successors to the Securitate in Post-Communist Romania,” in Duncan Light and David Phinnemore, eds., Post-Communist Romania: Coming to Terms with Transition (London: Palgrave, 2001), p. 36.

44 Ibid., pp. 36-37.

45 Behr, Kiss the Hand, p. 241.

46 Chiriac, “Romania: Secret Police Sins Cast Long Shadows,” contains descriptions of this phenomenon.

47 Deletant, “Ghosts from the Past,” p. 37.

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid., p. 40.

50 Ibid., p. 42.

51 Ibid., p. 49.

52 Ibid., pp. 55-56, for details of this legislation.

53 Judt, “Romania.”

54 See economic details for Romania in the 2003 CIA World Factbook, accessed at www.cia.gov.

55 Judt, “Romania.”

56 Ibid.

57 Marian Chiriac, “Romania: Bid to Meet EU Norms Questioned.” Balkan Crisis Report 439 (20 June 2003), accessed at www.iwpr.net.

58 Ibid.

59 Mugur Isarescu, “The Prognosis for Economic Recovery,” in Nelson, ed., Romania After Tyranny, pp. 149-168, at p. 149.

60 On this and more on the topic of the Romanian sex slave/trade industry, see the shocking report by Paul Cristian Radu, “Freedom at Midnight: Human Trafficking in Romania.” Balkan Crisis Report (January 2003), accessed at www.iwpr.net. (A Balkan Investigative Report). This investigation involved the rescue of a girl from the sex trade; she later reported that her captors had stabbed her with a knife, beaten her with a chain, and forced her to sleep naked while chained up inside a dog cage. It was only after a loud international outcry that the Romanian authorities began a new wave of crackdowns. On this, see Paul Cristian Radu, “Romania: Trafficking the Traffickers.” Balkan Crisis Report 407 (17 February 2003), also accessed at www.iwpr.net.

61 Daniela Tuchel, “Romania: Media Complain of Intimidation.” Balkan Crisis Report 481 (19 February 2004), accessed at www.iwpr.net.

62 For space considerations, I have combined some smaller statistics; ethnic Germans, Russians, Ukrainians and Turks have all been put together as ‘others.’

63 Calinescu and Tismaneanu, “The 1989 Revolution and Romania’s Future,” p. 33.

64 For this number: Elli Wohlgelernter, “Romania’s Jews unfazed by far-right victory.” Jerusalem Post online edition (10 January 2001), accessed at www.jpost.com.

65 Dragos Popa, “The Roma: A Challenge to the EU Enlargement.” Paper presented at the conference Bigger and Better? The European Union, Enlargement and Reform (Toronto, 31 May 2002, mimeo), p. 4.

66 James A. Goldston, “Roma Rights, Roma Wrongs.” Foreign Affairs 81, 2 (March/April 2002), p. 148.

67 Belinda Cooper, “’We Have no Martin Luther King’: Eastern Europe’s Roma Minority.” World Policy Journal (Winter 2001/2002), p. 75.

68 For this account, see Cooper, “’We Have no Martin Luther King,’” p. 71; and Goldston, “Roma Rights, Roma Wrongs,” p. 146, 156.

69 Marian Chiriac, “Romania: Gypsy Ghetto Controversy.” Balkan Crisis Report 293 (2 November 2001), accessed at www.iwpr.net.

70 See “Country Profile: Turkey,” BBC News World Edition, accessed at www.bbc.co.uk.

71 Judt, “Romania.”

72 Ibid.

73 Noel Malcolm, “The Case against ‘Europe.’” Foreign Affairs 74, 2 (March/April 1995), p. 66.

74 For details, see Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, “Beyond the New Borders.” Journal of Democracy 15, 1 (January 2004), pp. 48-62, at p. 51.

75 Jacques Rupnik, “The Postcommunist Divide.” Journal of Democracy 10, 1 (1999), HTML version.

76 See Chiriac, “Bid to Meet EU Norms Questioned.”

77 Marian Chiriac, “Romania Lags Behind on EU Accession.” Balkan Crisis Report 467 (6 November 2003), accessed at www.iwpr.net.

78 Malcolm, “The Case against ‘Europe,’” p. 66.

79 Martin Walker, “Post 9/11: The European Dimension.” World Policy Journal (Winter 2001/2002), p. 3.

80 Zoltan Barany, “NATO’s Peaceful Advance.” Journal of Democracy 15, 1 (January 2004), pp. 63-76, at p. 72.

81 Chiriac, “Romania: Bid to Meet EU Norms Questioned.”

82 Barany, “NATO’s Peaceful Advance,” pp. 69-70.

83 Ibid., p. 75.

84 Mungiu-Pippidi, “Beyond the New Borders,” p. 58.

85 Tony Judt, “TRB from Washington: Disunion—The Growth of National Populism in Europe.” New Republic (13 December 1999), p. 6.

86 Ibid.

87 For details, see Judt, “Romania.”

88 This number can be found in the entry for Romania in the 2003 CIA World Factbook.

89 See Mungiu-Pippidi, “The Return of Populism,” p. 236.

90 See Judt, “Romania.” Tudor’s name certainly did crop up several times in the historical works consulted for my paper.

91 Judt, “Romania.”

92 E. M. Cioran, “Petite Théorie du Destin,” as cited in Judt, “Romania.”

Works Cited:

NOTE: Press reports dealing with Romania have been drawn from the Balkans section of the London-based

Institute for War and Peace Reporting (URL: www.iwpr.net) as well as the BBC News World Edition

web site (URL: www.bbc.co.uk) and are included in the endnotes.

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_____. “Western Civil-Society Aid to Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union.” East European Constitutional Review (Fall 1999). See: www.ceip.org.

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Judt, Tony. “TRB from Washington: Disunion (The Growth of National Populism in Europe).” New Republic (13 December 1999), p. 6.

_____. “Romania: Bottom of the Heap.” New York Review of Books (1 November 2001).

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_____. “Beyond the New Borders.” Journal of Democracy 15, 1 (January 2004): pp. 48-62.

Pond, Elizabeth. “Romania: Better Late than Never.” Washington Quarterly 24, 2 (Spring 2001): pp. 35-43.

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_____. “Concluding Remarks.” Journal of Democracy 15, 1 (January 2004): pp. 77-81.

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Talbott, Strobe. “Why NATO Should Grow.” New York Review of Books (10 August 1995).

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Vachon, Michael. “Bucharest: The House of the People.” World Policy Journal 10, 4 (Winter 1993/1994): pp. 59-63.

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