For Romanians, it's more austerity for the '80s

Austerity continues as a way of life for the Romanian people, who have borne the lowest living standards in the East bloc for more than three decades. Most outside experts agree that in economic planning an industrialization, the Romanian government has consistently made heavy demands on the country's resources and human capabilities.

Recently, outlining a strictly disciplinarian "mobilization" for the 1980s, party and state chief Nicolae Ceausescu called for liquidation of all foreign debts -- including $5 billion to $6 billion in the West -- by 1990, "so we may no longer need to take [foreign] credits."

He inveighed against present energy "waste" and ordered savings through new technologies designed to cut consumption up to 50 percent, pending development of new fuel sources which he hoped would be available by 1985.(Mr. Ceausescu had already demanded energy self-sufficiency by the end of the decade).

He ordered reduced imports of costly machinery -- except in return for exports of Romanian equipment and goods -- because, he said, "We have no other means of payment." This proportion is not likely to please Western partners, who find business throughout the East bloc impeded by insistence on barter.

Mr. Ceausescu desires massive and rapid industrialization in Romania, whatever the cost in human effort. This attitude, in addition to his doctrinaire and firmly centralized control system, which restricts initiative at any level below the top, is doubtless the cause of many of the country's difficulties.

Yet Mr. Ceausescu sharply criticized bureaucrats "sitting in Bucharest," and those who would attribute delays in meetv ing projected deadlines to pressures of world recession and rising prices or, in agriculture, to the weather.

Of the latter, he said: "Let nobody come with excuses abut the weather. We will not accept it. In any circumstances, working day and night, with all forces in every county, the harvest must be gathered in the minimum time."

Romania is among the less advanced of the East European nations. It is, however, more ambitious than most of its neighbors, and is the only East-bloc nation to have its own oil.

But resources are running out quickly. Last year saw the lowest production for a decade.

Not only must Romania import almost as much oil as it produces so as to keep its refining export capacity going, it has also had to join the East European queue for Soviet oil. Its 1979 quota was 2.8 million barrels, but this year Romania would like to buy at least 7 million barrels.

Inevitably, the Soviet Union remains its first trade partner, and lately Mr. Ceausescu's relations with the Soviets have been influenced by crucial energy and other raw material needs, especially those required to support his country's export-oriented petrochemical industry.

There has clearly been accomodation with Moscow. Nonetheless, Romania continues its active Western contacts, including a recent tariff-cut agreement with the European Community -- while the Russians' own contacts have been frozen by Western reactions to Afghanistan.

But Romania's difficulties in the 1980s lie, as always, in its consumer background as much as in the problems of energy and East-West relations.

Three years after the miners' strikes, incentives are still so lacking that last year one region's coal output was 6 million tons short of target.

In addition to the persistent food problems, ordinary items like pots and pans, coat hangers, and grills have virtually disappeared, as the small local enterprises providing them were given over to larger ones which then stopped production.

The shortage of services and of spares for television and other electrical household goods is so severe that a newspaper commented that repair shops suggested that everyone had decided to put their TV sets in permanent storage.

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