BUCHAREST, ROMANIA — A LIBERATED Romania shakes itself and begins to go about the business of life after the dictatorship the country has known for so many years. With a remarkable calm, average citizens have entered the power vacuum.
On virtually every street, young Romanian civilians are in control, checking identity papers and searching people. Even under the strain of little sleep and the sporadic gunfire of commandos, most remain painstakingly courteous, even apologizing for the inconvenience. The American ambassador drives through a checkpoint and the crowd waves.
On Christmas Day, Romanian television for the first time in four decades played Christmas carols and showed religious scenes. These were interrupted to announce that dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena had been found guilty of killing 60,000 people in a secret trial and sentenced to death, and that the sentence had been carried out.
Also on Christmas Day, the offices of Romanian television were reportedly invaded by terrorists, but the insurgents were said to be captured. Meanwhile inside, soldiers with gunpowder burns on their hands had decorated an improvised Christmas tree using only the newborn newspapers of a free Romania, bullets, candles for the many who had died, and the new flag of Romania - the old colors with the insignia of the socialist state cut out of the center.
Young boys handed out copies of several dozen newspapers born of liberty. Reporters for those papers proudly asked foreign journalists what they thought of the Romanian accomplishments in the past days.
A television announcer apologized for having lied to viewers in the past. From now on, he pledged, ``I will tell you only the truth.''
The world reached out to help. From all directions, trucks rolled in from neighboring countries: Hungary, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union. From Bulgaria, they were laden with toys, from Poland, with supplies of blood. On the streets, Romanians approached foreign reporters, eager to tell their personal stories of a life of repression and thought control.
``Elderly people have told me, `You should be proud of what you are doing,''' said a student. They told him that, because their generation lacked the same courage, Ceausescu was able to maintain his rule.
The TV flashed a photo of a child handing bread to soldiers leaving Bucharest to do battle elsewhere.
Public depictions of Christmas trees or Santa Claus had been banned for the past three to four years. Televison broadcast previously banned Christmas-themed cartoons.
``St. Nicolae is gone,'' said the announcer, ``but Santa Claus is here.'' Television showed a poster of Ceausescu with a Hitler moustache drawn in.
Crowds surrounded a foreign reporter on a walk through the streets.
Pauna Raluca Enescu, an engineer who is chief of a fine machines and tool factory, introduces herself, speaking with the ironic humor many Romanians now use in talking about the Ceausescu regime: ``I am an instigator, I'm a traitor because I went with my workers and friends between tanks. We fought from the first day. My family was suffering very much. Our beautiful house was destroyed for his royal palace. I'm an engineer, but I have nothing in my refrigerator. It is so expensive to buy something to eat.''
At a traffic circle stood a large decorated Christmas tree. Admiring it, a man said, ``Maybe next year we will have bananas. These years they don't import oranges or anything.''
``I couldn't figure out why they had to suffer so much for so long,'' said Anthony Vitale, an American clothing designer who has spent much of the past four years in Romania. ``In front of my company president and top officials, I told them you are killing the people. You make them work 12 hours and then they are sleeping on top of their machines.''
Signs warn that there should be no opportunists in the democratic government. Jubilant crowds chant ``no communists.''
Dragos Vaida, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Bucharest, told how he had published a book on computer science, but was obligated to change the title because it referred to programming languages. Elena Ceasescu, who was in charge of technology, was against computer science, he said, because it gave the people technical knowledge that could be used against the dictatorship.
A former Romanian television reporter who had been banned for five years spoke about the priorities of a post-Ceausescu era. ``These days we have forgotten to speak about food, the subject which preoccupied everyone until a few days ago. Now we're talk about the most important things, freedom and democracy.''