PROTEST has finally rocked Romania, despite President Nicolae Ceausescu's efforts to to seal his country from the political transformation surrounding it. Mr. Ceausescu, whose ruling clique includes his wife and son, flaunts the ``purity'' of his communism. He stands with China's hard-liners and South Korea's Kim Il Sung.
But unrest has been fanned by Ceausescu's cultural assault on Romania's Hungarian minority. His plan to raze villages - of whatever ethnicity - and replace them with agro-industrial collectives harks back to Stalin's attack on the Russian peasantry.
Recent demonstrations grew from a move to silence a clergyman of Hungarian descent, Laszlo Tokes, who criticized Ceausescu from his pulpit in the Transylvanian city of Timisoara.
Protest against the seizure and planned deportation of Mr. Tokes swelled to include thousands in his city and elsewhere. Romanians joined ethnic Hungarians in calling for Ceausescu's overthrow. Security forces responded with a hail of bullets into the crowds.
The courage of the protesters in Timisoara indicates Romanians' disgust with their imperious ruler. Benighted policies have turned what was once a breadbasket of Europe into yet another Stalinist basket case. Ceausescu's drive to erase foreign debt brought deprivation. Use of electricity is sharply limited. Basic foodstuffs are scarce.
During his 24-year hold on power, Ceausescu has woven a security web that reaches every corner of the nation. Reformist impulses - in official circles or at the grass roots - have been smothered. There's no activist church, as in Poland or East Germany, to nuture reform.
But there is ample discontent, and it's finding expression despite Ceausescu's iron fist response. What will happen if mass demonstrations occurred in the capital? Will the Army - as opposed to Ceausescu's security police - turn on the people?
Most observers say change won't come quickly to Romania.
Only a short time ago, however, the same could have been said of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria. History is catching up with Ceausescu's Romania.