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May 12, 2011

Egypt's Revolution: The Romanian Experience

Scott Stockdale

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In December 1989 a series of riots and clashes led to the execution of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and the end of the Communist regime. Romania was the only country in the Eastern Bloc where the transition from the socialist state to democracy involved the forcible overthrow and execution of the country's leaders.

In the wake of violent clashes across the country, President Ceausescu abandoned power and fled Bucharest with his wife Elena. They were captured and tried by military tribunal on charges of genocide, damaging the national economy and abusing presidential power.  They were found guilty on all charges and executed on December 25, 1989.

Initially, there were high hopes for the National Salvation Front government under Ilon Iliescu, a former member of the Communist Party leadership and a Ceauşescu ally prior to falling into the dictator's disgrace in the early 1980s. The National Salvation Front, composed mainly of former members of the second echelon of the Communist Party, used their control of the media in order to launch virulent propaganda-style attacks against their new political opponents, the traditional democratic parties, which re-emerged after more than 50 years of underground activity.

In May 1990, partly due to the National Salvation Front's use of the media and of the partly preserved Communist Party infrastructure, to silence the democratic opposition, Iliescu became Romania's first elected president after the revolution, with a majority of 85%. These elections have been condemned as undemocratic by both Romanian traditional parties and by the Western media.

In the 2000 elections, Iliescu won a second term as president. The opposition frequently accused the government of corruption and attempting to control to press. The government was also accused of allowing local elected leaders to gain significant influence over the administration of their region, who allegedly used their newly-found power for personal interests.

Nevertheless, the Romanian economy witnessed the first years of growth after the 1989 revolution. The government also started several projects for social housing, restarted the construction of the motorway connecting Bucharest to Romania's main port, Constanţa, and began the construction of a motorway across the western region of Transylvania. These projects however only had limited success.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Romania backed the U.S. in its “War on Terror”, actively participating in the NATO war in Afghanistan. In 2004, Romania was accepted as a full member of NATO.

Presidential and parliamentary elections took place again on November 28, 2004. No political party was able to secure a viable parliamentary majority. There was no winner in the first round of the presidential elections. Finally, the joint PNL-PD (National Liberal Party – Democratic Party) candidate, Traian Basescu, won the second round on December 12, 2004, with 51% of the vote and thus became the third post-revolutionary president of Romania.

Romania joined the EU, alongside Bulgaria, on January 1, 2007, creating a favourable climate for foreign investment and the economy continued on an upward trend. Infighting between the various political parties in parliament continued throughout the decade, often resulting in coalition governments and accusations of fraud and cronyism.  In the late 2009 and 2010 Romania was heavily hit by the worldwide economic crisis, causing several massive protests organized by trade unions. The opposition and the press frequently accused the government of preferential allocation of funds to its members, as well as generalized corruption.

In many ways, the Romanian experience mirrors that of western governments, where questionable allocation of government funds, undue influence on the media, and allegations of fraud and cronyism are part of the political landscape. Because they haven't had as much experience with government, Romanian politicians are simply not as good at covering their tracks as western leaders. For all their faults, Romanian political leaders, do seem to be making some progress, and the system of government is a marked improvement on the many years of communist dictatorship Romanians suffered through since World War II.

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