Hardships like Poland's are nothing new in tightly controlled Romania

Not many Romanians get to Poland in the best of times, and their newspapers tell them little about it, particularly just now. What they know they learn from Western radio.

But it is easy for them to imagine Polish life as it is under martial law.

Their own communist system, which is among the most orthodox in Eastern Europe, has always been tougher than Poland's. Their industrialization-minded leaders have always made far fewer concessions to consumer needs than anyone else.

Romanians know from experience what queuing for life's basics is like. Their living standards are the East bloc's lowest.

In 1977, conditions were bad enough to touch off miners' strikes - quickly repressed - in western Romania.

Last year the grumbling in long lines for meat, fish, and dairy products got so bad that the lines were dispersed by police.

Bread rationing followed because peasants lacking ordinary fodder bought up bread to feed animals.

Romania, a food-grains exporter throughout the 1970s, is now a big importer.

Internally, the regime remains essentially ''Stalinist,'' with an autocratic command structure from the center that does not limit its control to economic matters.

Power is held by a smaller group at the top than anywhere else in the bloc. This group is dominated by Communist Party and state chief Nicolae Ceausescu. His wife plays a unique role, and the others owe their places to family or other personal ties with the leader.

It was Mr. Ceausescu's Stalinist predecessor, Gheorghiu-Dej, who blocked Nikita Khrushchev's notion that Romania should serve primarily as one of Comecon's major breadbaskets. Before he passed on, Gheorghiu-Dej asserted Romania's claim to its own independent economic course.

Mr. Ceausescu skillfully pursued the concept and gained considerable credit in the West for ''standing up to the Russians.'' But he matched it with such severe orthodox communist controls that no fears stirred in Russian breasts about heretical political developments as in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and in Poland in the past 18 months.

For a long time, the policy commanded strong national - and highly nationalistic - approval. But in recent years popular support has been eroded by steadily declining living standards and disaffection stemming from the ''personality cult'' assumed by Mr. Ceausescu, extraordinary even by communist standards.

Party slogans proclaim him ''our esteem and pride,'' ''most worker of all workers,'' and ''most peasant of all peasants.'' They call his wife ''the most just woman in the world.''

Behind this facade, the realities of Romania look uncomfortably like Poland's. They include:

* An external debt of some $12 billion that is expected to reach $16 billion by year's end.

* The falloff in industrial growth rates and stagnation of agriculture. And agriculture, despite the country's industrial ambitions and recent food imports, is Romania's best long-term hope for foreign exchange earnings.

* Declining oil production, which will not meet domestic needs for more than another decade. Already, Romania must import heavily (and pay for its purchases from the Soviet Union in hard currency) to keep its massive, export-oriented petrochemical industries going.

Supports like the recent International Monetary Fund loan for $1.3 billion and $300 million from the US Export-Import Bank will help, but they won't solve the problems.

These are inherent in the system and in the stubborn refusal to change or modify it as other East Europeans - most notably Hungary - have done to obvious advantage.

All too often in Romania the answers offered for the nation's problems are limited to the shuffling of ministers and officials, announcement of new committees and wordy programs, and continued unrealistic goals for industry and agriculture combined with endless exhortations to everyone to work harder.

Popular feeling is there, but it does not make itself felt. It should not be overestimated as a political factor.

The traditionally ''national'' Orthodox Church perforce finds its own interests tied to those of the communist state. There is no ferment among intellectuals. The few outspoken dissidents have been quashed or exiled.

In Romania, therefore, the pertinent question is whether the economic pressures themselves will finally force its leadership to try some of the reforms the Hungarians have already made and the Poles, despite martial law, will still find unavoidable.

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