Brasov Mayor Recalls Revolution in Romania

Transition toward democracy has been rapid, but reformers face food shortages and disappointed hopes of workers

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

FROM far away, the red, yellow, and blue Romanian flag with a big hole in the middle can be seen hanging from the Brasov City Hall tower. The flag, with its communist hammer and sickle torn out, is a symbol that democracy has come a long way here. In fact, this city of 300,000 people high in the wild Carpathians claims it has progressed faster and farther toward democracy than any other city since the Romanian revolution last December.

It did not come easily. It took two revolutions.

Florin Crisbasan, Brasov's new mayor, has a bullet hole in the wall behind him in his office to prove it. Next to it, there is a poster proclaiming ``God is with us,'' ``Free Romania.''

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He was not mayor when the hole was made. A high Communist Party official was. But he sits here now, the result of a bloody revolution and a democratic election.

Mr. Crisbasan was teaching at the local university when the revolution began. He had never been involved in politics. He was a member of the Communist Party, but so was every other Romanian who wanted a decent job. Previously, he had worked in foreign trade and had once visited Pittsburgh many years ago to study the steel industry.

This is his story of the revolution in Brasov:

``It started, peacefully, at noon on Dec. 21, when the workers from the helicopter factory Ica-Ghimbav walked out of the factory and marched into Brasov, some seven kilometers [4.3 miles], demanding [dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu's resignation. `Timisoara, [the city where the revolution started], we are with you,' they shouted.

``The next day, workers from lots of other factories marched into the center of Brasov, between 70,000 and 100,000. All was still peaceful. The windows of the buildings were full of television sets showing Ceausescu and his wife Elena leaving Bucharest in their helicopter. People occupied the Securitate [secret police] headquarters in Brasov. Everyone was very happy.

``But at 2:45 a.m. Dec. 23, the shooting started. The Timpa mountain [a steep, forested mountain rising like a wall on one side of the city] was set on fire and burned. I came back to city hall around 4:30 a.m., and guns were distributed.

``The whole time, the Army was with the people. There were probably only between 20 and 30 terrorists, but they had had good training, while the soldiers were not so well trained.

``Seventy died, officially, in Brasov, but the correct figure is probably 100.

``The shooting died down after Ceausescu and his wife were executed, but it continued sporadically until Dec. 26. Troops from the Securitate helped the Army defend City Hall.

``The first president of the Salvation Front here in Brasov was a general. No one elected him, he put himself in charge. I was not part of this, but the first front contained many members from the old nomenklatura, many former Communist Party members.

``But things were not going well for the city. On Jan. 11, when I had become vice president of the Salvation Front at the university, we formulated a seven-point questionnaire, asking the general and his men what they were doing, demanding a list of the dead and a free press. A delegation went to Bucharest to present our grievances.

``On Jan. 12 and 13, the second revolution began here. There were new demonstrations, and on the second day the Salvation Front at the university met with 37 enterprises from the region. We formulated an eight-point platform, demanding democratic elections of the people who were to run the city. The general was dismissed, and others resigned.

``On Jan. 19, we met with 83 enterprises and suggested a new council of unity for the city, and on Jan. 23, at a big meeting with every factory and institution represented, the first council of unity in Romania was elected democratically, with secret ballots. Timisoara did the same a week later.

``On Feb. 5, the new council with 59 members received representatives from the other political parties and elected me mayor.

``There are five people in prison, who will be tried for what they did during the Ceausescu years. One of them is the former head of the Communist Party in Brasov.

``Now we have to rebuild our social life, our economy. We have a food shortage, so we've had to ask other regions for help. Ceausescu was an idiot, who destroyed the economy and the agriculture and blocked our mentality. We have no idea what democracy is. Ceausescu destroyed the conscience of the people. There is a crisis of conscience in Romania.

``Now, we have to give a new direction to the development in Brasov. ... We need courage to do things, to do something unusual.''

Crisbasan has lots of ideas. On his initiative, Brasov has a new, independent television station, giving the city its first-ever local news program. It is run by a group of young volunteers down the hall from the mayor's office. It still only broadcasts two hours a week, but it's a start. A new radio station is also to follow.

But for the workers at the Red Flag truck factory in the outskirts of Brasov, the revolutionary spontaneity somehow does not seem to be enough. They want concrete improvement in their daily working lives.

``Nothing has changed in the plant. We're sick of the lies and the promises, promises,'' say Maria Ghita and Zaharia Ibolia, two young women who have worked at the factory for six and five years respectively.

They argue vehemently with the technical director, Stefan Munteanu, when he happens to come by their workplace. They hope for and expect so much more, they say, a better standard of living, higher pay, better work conditions and tools. ``Look at these gloves,'' Ms. Ibolia says, showing a pair of badly torn gloves.

Now, they want the plant to keep its promise to introduce the five-day week. They plan to have free elections among the plant's 20,000 employees, who produce 14,000 trucks a year. And for the first time, they can choose between two different unions.

``I will leave if there are no changes here,'' insists Ibolia with great emphasis. ``We hope for democracy - we know what we want.''

Crisbasan is aware of the impatience in the city for quick results. He can only go so fast, he says. There is so much to do.

But in the long run, he hopes Brasov, with its ethnic mix of Romanians, Germans, and Hungarians, its beautiful houses and old churches, its mountains for skiing and hiking, can become the premier tourist center of Romania. Before that can happen, the city needs new roads, better train service, maybe an airport in the vicinity, and new hotels.

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