Romania's New Politics

Younger, reformist members of the Party of the Civic Alliance challenge the communist holdovers who control the National Salvation Front

IN other East European countries, old communist regimes vanished completely. But not in Romania. The Ceausescu clan and its cronies were overthrown in December 1989. Their successors, however, weren't long-harassed dissidents or representatives of the anti-communist parties. President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Petre Roman are from the same political family as the defunct dictator.The ruling party, the National Salvation Front (NSF), is linked to the entrenched bureaucracy and sabotages radical reforms; the main opposition parties are reincarnations of pre-World War II political actors with little appeal to younger Romanians. After June 1990, when the front brought vigilantes to smash its critics, the political scene seemed polarized - and paralyzed. For many it became clear that only a large civic movement would be able to challenge the front's hegemony. In November 1990, such a movement was founded under the name "Civic Alliance." Among its leaders there were outspoken opponents of the Ceausescu regime, trade union militants, and critical intellectuals. The front-controlled media's reaction was shrill. A slanderous campaign was waged claiming that the Civic Alliance was an attempt by a bunch of frustrated, anti-patriotic intellectuals to "de-stabilize" Romania. Still, the alliance gathered momentum and managed to establish a nationwide grass-roots network. Civic Alliance branches emerged in all Romania's counties. Demonstrations were organized in November and December - hundreds of thousands of alliance supporters demanded the resignation of the governm ent. Because of this growing pressure from below, the strategy of the Civic Alliance changed. In May, a committee was set up to prepare for the creation of a party. The mounting popularity of the movement, reflected in polls - one suggested that the Civic Alliance might get up to 30 percent of the national vote - indicated that there was an constituency among Romanians for such a party. In July 1991, the Party of the Civic Alliance (PCA) was formed. The initial movement has continued to exist as a large umbrella organization; the party represents the militant wing. The party's creation is a watershed for the future of Romania's politics. First, through its leaders, structure, and political style it is a party of modernity. Among its leaders one recognizes rectors of universities, doctors, trade union leaders, student activists, lawyers, and artists like the piano virtuoso Dan Grigore. One of the three vice-chairmen is Stelian Tanase, a well-known civic activist and editor of the weekly Acum (Now), with a print-run of more than 100,000. Members of the party's board include respected figures from all the important cities. The average age o f board members is indicative of the PCA's intent to represent younger Romanians who grew up during the last decades. Second, in a time of rabid nationalism (deviously promoted by the front and its proxies), the PCA advocates the country's opening to the West and protection for minorities. Its chairman, the 52-year-old literary critic and political columnist Nicolae Manolescu, has consistently opposed the autarchic policies of the front and is now a favorite target of the chauvinistic, government-manipulated media. Due to his intellectual clout - he is the editor of the Writers' Union main weekly Romania Literara (Liter ary Romania) and one of the most popular professors of the University of Bucharest - he enjoys wide esteem. During the Ceausescu era, Mr. Manolescu refused to join the Communist Party and pursued his own form of resistance: for decades he wrote weekly book reviews in which he defended moral values and denounced the regime's lackeys. Even members of the NSF recognize that Manolescu's charismatic presence at the helm of the PCA has changed the political landscape. Untainted by collaboration with the old regime, a symbol of cultural resistance, with a great sense of humor and remarkable oratorical skills, many th ink that Manolescu could become the Romanian counterpart to Vaclav Havel. What does the PCA propose? Unlike the NSF, it doesn't engage in promises of quick recovery. It is a party that says only a sweeping transformation of the economic system can resolve Romania's problems. It sees the solution to economic troubles in massive investments in tourism and service industries and the gradual disbanding of the Stalinist industrial white elephants. In addition, the PCA favors an independent television network and public control of the secret police. Simply, the PCA aims to create a state of law and a market economy in Romania. But, as the PCA champions the values of liberal democracy, one should not forget that for many, Romania nationalism has long been the only legitimate discourse. It remains to be seen whether the PCA is the herald of a new, more solid Romanian opposition or the last sigh of the hope that sprang from the ashes of the Ceausescu regime.

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