... and Floundering Romania [ cf. A Year Later: Panama ]

ON Dec. 22, Romania marks the first anniversary of the overthrow of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. A year later, the country remains deeply troubled. The ruling National Salvation Front won a resounding victory in May elections. But it has squandered goodwill by its heavy-handed treatment of the opposition and the large number of former Ceausescu appointees still in office.

The front's biggest blunder was in June, when it sent coal miners into the streets of Bucharest to beat up students and sack opposition-party headquarters. Government behavior has improved since then. There is a free press and demonstrations are permitted. But the legacy of distrust remains.

Opposition parties Saturday united to form the National Convention for the Introduction of Democracy. On Sunday, 10,000 people in Timisoara marched against the government. Calls are mounting for the government's resignation. Discontent among ethnic Romanians and minorities continues.

The economy's desperate state has forced President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Petre Roman to introduce the most liberal economic reforms anywhere in Eastern Europe. But the price increases they entail have fueled popular unrest.

It seems clear that the government cannot implement the policies needed to salvage the Romanian economy without opposition support and more trust from the man on the street. This will probably require formation of a coalition government with the opposition. Until change occurs, both sides should take care to avoid violence.

The government should also replace more officials from the previous regime. But it would be unrealistic to cashier people who were merely nominal Communist Party members: The country needs the services of all competent citizens.

Repelled by the brutality in June, the West has held off on economic aid to Bucharest. But the country is in dire need. Democracy cannot grow and flourish in a bankrupt economy, in Romania or elsewhere. The United States for years gave Ceausescu credits and most-favored-nation tariff status. It should do the same for his successors, who are far more acceptable.

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