This scuffling country of 23 million, long the redheaded stepchild of New Europe, received an unexpected and welcome jolt to its system this June, when a wave of youthful revulsion at government corruption rocked the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) in local elections, possibly paving the way for what could be Romania's most important political development since pro-government miners literally clubbed the anti-Communist revolution into near-submission 14 long years ago.Meanwhile, former Romanian intelligence official Ion Mihai Pacepa, writing in National Review Online on 20 July 2004, says Iliescu has now swung around to become an important U.S. ally.
Septuagenarian President Ion Iliescu may finally be driven from politics in this November's national elections. Iliescu, an old Communist hack who once doled out punishment against sympathizers with the crushed Hungarian rebellion of 1956 and eventually rose to the Romanian Party's Central Committee, manoeuvred his way into the presidency in December, 1989, won elections in 1990 and 1992, called in the miners to assault his political opponents in 1990 and 1991, stayed in opposition from 1996 to 2000, and regained the presidency four years ago.
Under his watch, the country has staggered down the path of economic and political reforms, flirted with noxious nationalism and successfully bargained itself into a post-Sept. 11 NATO while managing to become regionally synonymous with the word "corruption."
Now, blue Romania is in open revolt against Iliescu's mafia-style "Local Barons," driving the fat-cat ex-Reds from the city halls of large municipalities like Cluj and the capital, Bucharest, while openly mocking the ruling technocrats' ham-handed attempts at manipulating the media....
In the absence of quality media, news in the Romanian sticks travels by word of mouth, and retail politics takes on a surrealistic hue -- when I was in the south-central Romanian village of Visina Noua during the second round of the elections, word travelled that the increasingly desperate incumbent PSD mayor was offering anyone who would vote for him a useful gift -- a free coffin. (He's a coffin-maker ... and he won.)
In the big cities, by comparison, competitive newspapers describe the mechanics of corruption in pretty impressive detail, which the kids can then routinely cite. People generally know that the government attempts to influence newspapers and television by being one of the country's largest advertisers (spending millions on hyping such crucial monopolist services as the Romanian international airport's control tower); they know that Local Barons (such as the odious and recently defeated Bacua mayor Dumitru Sechelariu) threaten to "execute" journalists who uncover their dirty laundry; and they know specific cases of state assets being pilfered and/or stripped.
It's no wonder they're fed up with the generations that were raised under Communism.
Soon after the 1989 revolutionary wave changed the face of Europe, Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa headed for Washington to express their gratitude for the long and painful efforts made by the U.S. to bring Communism to its knees. Romania's new leader, Ion Iliescu, went to Moscow, where on April 5, 1991, he signed a treaty with Mikhail Gorbachev stating that in the future Romania would not belong to any military alliance that could be "detrimental to the Soviet Union."But all that had changed by 23 November 2002 when President Bush announced in Bucharest Romania's invitation to join NATO.