HCA Delegation Visits Romania

By Andrew Pakula, Sonja Licht | 1991-07-01 12:00:00

To our Helsinki Citizens' Assembly delegation, Romania appeared truly as the heart of darkness. Because of poor road conditions and total darkness, our trip of about 700 km from Belgrade to Bucharest took 17 hours. We entered Bucharest late at night along a wide and ugly boulevard built by Ceausescu.

Next morning we were accosted by a group of beggars, mostly women and children, who followed us all the way to our meeting.

The delegation, led by Sonja Licht of Yugoslavia, co-chair of the HCA, visited Romania from March 23 to March 28. Joining us in the van were Chris Corrie of Scotland, Daniel Goode of the United States, Milan Nikolic of Yugoslavia, Ann Snitow of the United States, and Tibor Sztan of Hungary.

We met first with representatives of the Civic Alliance, whose vice-president, Gabriel Andreescu, is national coordinator of the HCA. He insisted that the HCA has to reflect as broadly as possible the civil society in all member states.

The Civic Alliance, officially founded last December, draws together groups for individual human rights, rights of minorities, freedom and democracy. Unofficially the Civic Alliance dates back to the Brasov workers' demonstrations of 1987, the first sign of defection of the Ceausescu regime. After the revolution many new groups and more than 100 new publications swelled its membership. Our Romanian friends felt that the creation of these groups was the most important outcome of the revolution.

One member group is the Pro-Europe League in Tirgu Mures, which focuses on the promotion of ethnic tolerance. It was created after conflicts between Hungarians and Romanians resulted in six deaths. Another is Brasov's 15 November group, founded after the revolution with the goal of rebuilding civic consciousness. It still acts as a counter to the forces of the current regime.

The Civic Alliance is now attempting to start a journal and an independent TV station. It is helping small journals and groups to start across the country. The first such journal, whose aim is to promote ethnic tolerance, will soon appear in Tirgu Mures. The Alliance is also educating and training government leaders, and developing a charter of fundamental rights and freedoms modelled on the Czecho-Slovak Charter.

Although the Civic Alliance still does not have a concrete economic program, it provides trade unions with technical and organizational support, to help them avoid being coopted by the regime.

"The rules of the social game are very complex here," said one of our Romanian friends. Some of the activists of the civic groups are under constant threat. On the other hand, "the government is not the absolute master of the situation; they know that they are being watched."

The Romanian National Committee of the HCA therefore finds it absolutely essential to establish close relations with the major international organizations such as the CSCE, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the Group of 24. Through such contacts the West can give direct assistance and cooperation to Romanian civil society, without government interference. In this way state control, which in most of Eastern Europe represents the remnants of totalitarian regimes, can be reduced.

It is important to stress that the West still does not fully understand the complexity of the Romanian situation. Recently the Council of Europe awarded medals to the Prime Minister and other officials, not realizing how this simple gesture of courtesy could be exploited and manipulated. This incident was very painful to our Romanian friends in the different opposition groups.

Our visit covered much of Romania. We saw terrible ecological destruction around chemical and industrial plants, as well as large areas of deforestation. Elena Ceausescu fancied herself as a leading chemist; unfortunately for Romania she put many of her bad ideas into practice.

However, the Group for Social Dialogue established a task force for ecological cooperation and renewal which has become quite influential. The government has increased the proposed limit on deforestation by 50%.

Representatives of the Civic Alliance and other groups suggest that all environmental projects should be signed not only by governments but also by such NGOs as the Ecological Group for Cooperation.

As for the city of Bucharest, it is still a monument to the ego of a mad dictator. Once compared to Paris for its beauty, Bucharest is now a kind of nightmarish ghost city in those parts that were built by Ceausescu. He played a direct role in designing his enormous palace and the boulevards all around it, attempting to realize a bizarre "cultural revolution." The overall effect is inhuman and frightening. After seeing the videos prepared by the Civic Alliance, we concluded that the palace should be used as a museum of the dictatorship.

Tirgu Mures

Our next stop was Tirgu Mures in Transylvania where we met with a large group representing the Pro-Europe League and local media. According to Smaranda Enache, who organized the meeting, our discussion contrasted strongly with the paternalistic rhetoric typically used by foreign visitors. Enache, who is vice-president of the League, member of the board of the Civic Alliance, and of the presidium of the HCA, said there was a lively discussion and exchange of ideas, unlike anything they had previously experienced.

We discussed the central role of institutional lies in developing and maintaining the Ceausescu regime. These lies generated a societal schizophrenia which still prevents the truth from surfacing. No one yet knows who did the killing during the revolution. It has still not been in the official press since 1947 that 300,000 Jews were killed in Romania during the Holocaust. After the revolution, there was a campaign to rehabilitate Marshal Antonescu, who was responsible for the deaths of the Jews. In fact there is already a street in Oradia named after him and there was a plan to do the same in Tirgu Mures, which was stopped after a petition of the citizens.

Without knowing, there is no trust, and there can be no real pride or dignity. It was suggested that the HCA form a commission to deal with this issue and to question why people seem ready to be manipulated once again. The accomplishments of the Memorial Society of the USSR were mentioned as a possible model.

We asked what were the principal barriers facing the democratic opposition in Romania and preventing the creation of democratic institutions. The answer was very clear-lack of money and other resources, inability of Romanians to obtain visas and travel abroad, and lack of specialists and technical expertise.

The existing parties in opposition know what they are fighting against but not what they are fighting for. "They are immature, without strong personalities," or well defined platforms. Their focus is on individuals rather than policies and institutions.

There is also sabotage in the field of ethnic relations. A year after the incidents of ethnic violence in Tirgu Mures, the democratic opposition is still paralysed.

The insistence on national unity, together with extreme economic hardship, may lead to a new dictatorship. People are tired of politics and a growing number of them yearn for the "good old days" of an authoritarian, simple life, with well defined rules as in the times of both Ceausescu and the earlier fascist dictatorship.

Vatra Romanesca (Romanian Hearth), the extreme right-wing, nationalist organization, is exploiting these trends. While it defines itself as a cultural organization, it is probably the most powerful political force in Romania today. Among the members of Vatra are officers, judges, priests, and other influential people. The majority of the National Salvation Front, the present government, as well as some opposition parties have been close to Vatra.


After Tirgu Mures we travelled to Timisoara where we met with members of the Timisoara Society and several other groups. We all participated in an international conference on the theme of Power and Opposition, Foundations of Pluralism in East-Central Europe. The first conference of this kind held in Romania, it received intense press coverage-especially in the opposition media.

The conference was open, with a lot of local students in the audience. No one from Vatra or similar organizations was visible. However, some of the leading representatives of the Romanian civil society expressed fear about possible provocations by both Vatra and the police in the near future.

The conference representatives of the Civic Alliance proposed that members of different parties from East-Central Europe sign a Statement of Solidarity. The statement is attached to this report.

Several members of our delegation gave interviews, participated in the conference, and had other opportunities to discuss the HCA.

Some of us discussed the status of the Romanian Serbs with the Timisoara Committee of the Serbian Democratic Union. The Serbs have suffered like all the other minorities, perhaps even more because of Tito's break with Stalin and the Eastern Bloc. After the war, they had 54 schools but now only have two. They complained of the threat of complete assimilation. Their M.P. in the Romanian Parliament pointed out that they are a small minority caught in a conflict between two major ethnic groups.

On our return trip from Timisoara to Belgrade we got another taste of the Romanian experience. At the border, we were herded off the train. The Romanians, who were mostly going to Yugoslavia to work, were forced to wait in a downpour and in our presence one was severely beaten by a customs officer for no apparent reason.

Our journey was very worthwhile. We provided moral support to the activists of the Romanian civil society and had the opportunity to inform and involve them in the HCA. We recommend that additional initiatives be undertaken in order to keep an eye on the developments in Romania.

Statement of Solidarity

After the Second World War, our nations were compelled, by the force of arms and the alliances among the powers at that time, to support the most vast, painful, and useless historical experiment ever-communist totalitarianism. This common past of suffering and disappointment brings us together today, and requires us to seek in concert, in the interest of this part of Europe and each country in particular, the best and wisest roads that lead back to democracy, civilization, and normality.

The democratic forces gathered together in Timisoara in order to discover and amicably share their victories and failures declare their moral solidarity in their efforts to reinstate democracy and political pluralism in East-Central Europe. They also commit themselves to develop, for political use, the contacts developed on this occasion and to seek new forms of collaboration, in order to contribute more successfully to the integration of our own nations into a democratic Europe free of all danger from military conflict.

Timisoara, March 27, 1991

Union of Democratic Forces of Bulgaria Dimitrina Petrova, Antony Todorov, E. Nikova

Alliance of Free Democrats of Hungary Miklos Haraszti, Eva Kadar, Erika Torzsok

Civic Alliance of Romania Nicolas Manolescu, George Serban, Stelian Tanase

Social Democratic League of Yugoslavia Milan Nikolic, Sonja Licht

Social Democratic Party of Moldova Viorel Ciubotaru

Charta 77 Czecho-Slovakia Petruska Sustrova

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1991

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1991, page 8. Some rights reserved.

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