Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lessons of history

Recently COAST had reason to be refreshed on Romanian history, encountering someone who lived through the Communist oppression, then the overthrow of Nicolae Ceauşescu and the turn to democracy.  

It caused us to peruse the web on the reign and fall of Ceauşescu.  From that, we were greeted with some video and reportage of some of the most remarkable moments in world history, certainly that have been captured on film.

First, some background.  Ceauşescu rose to power in 1967, some 20 years after the communists had seized power in that County.  Among the thugs behind the iron curtain, he was among the most pro-western, opposing the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, recognizing western Germany as a nation, joining the International Monetary Fund and entering into trade agreements with the west.

To reward their "good behavior" and to induce a further split with Moscow, the west loaned Romania some $13 billion to finance economic development programs; but in that debt lay the seeds of destruction for Ceauşescu.  The interest and principal re-payment, for money that was squandered through the socialist system, was a burden on the economy.  After realizing the drag that placed on their centralized economy, Ceauşescu later outlawed foreign debt in the Constitution, and engaged in an aggressive strategy of re-paying the debt, by exporting much of the country's agricultural and industrial products. This generated domestic shortages reflected in the daily life of his citizenry as a battle for survival with food rationing and heating, gas and electricity blackouts.

That, in turn, led to the events of late 1989.   In the City of Timişoara, small protests began over an otherwise insignificant fight with ethnic Hungarians.  But Romanians joined the demonstrations, and on December 17, troops fired on and killed demonstrators.  Clueless as to the unrest boiling over around him, Ceauşescu made a two-day state trip to Iran.  When he returned, the matter needed to be addressed, and quickly.

That's when Ceauşescu made his most critical mistake.  On December 21, 1989, misreading the mood of the people, he spoke in Revolution Square in Bucharest.  Here is a description from Wikipedia of what happened next:

He had seriously misjudged the crowd's mood, and several people began jeering, booing and whistling at him. Others began chanting "Ti-mi-şoa-ra! Ti-mi-şoa-ra!" Ceauşescu's uncomprehending facial expression as the crowd began to boo and heckle him remains one of the defining moments of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. He tried to silence them by raising his right hand, and when that did not work, he announced that they would receive a raise of 100 lei per month. Failing to control the crowds, the Ceauşescus finally took cover inside the building, where they remained until the next day. The rest of the day saw an open revolt of the Bucharest population, which had assembled in University Square and confronted the police and army at barricades. The unarmed rioters were no match for the military apparatus concentrated in Bucharest, which cleared the streets by midnight and arrested hundreds of people in the process.
And here is that dramatic video from YouTube.Com:

Note the adoring throngs with chants, signs and posters in the front of the crowd.  Those are paid government thugs.  Then, hear the protests from the crowd, watch the expression on Ceauşescu's face, and listen to the pleas of he and his wife, when confronted with the crowd, who, after 22 years of iron-fisted Communist rule showed how out of touch, how autocratic Ceauşescu had become.

Finally, when he realizes that he has lost the support of the masses, he promises increases in the minimum wage, the benefit paid for each child, and pension payments.

Four days later, Ceauşescu and his wife were arrested, summarily tried (a 2-hour proceeding), taken to a courtyard and shot to death.  

Here is the video of his execution:

The people of Romania were free to pursue their own destiny.

1 comment:

  1. Romania has a pretty fascinating history. For a follow up to the revolution, 12.08 East of Bucharest is an interesting movie. It's basically a comedy but it still has a message (& is funny as hell).
    And just for some sadistic fun check out Istvan Bathory @ Timişoara.....


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