The Christian Science Monitor – Friday, January 5, 1990
As Romanians settle into their first free new year, there are still grim reminders of the price paid for emancipation.
A park adjoining the famed Belu cemetery has been converted into a graveyard, and hundreds of men with picks and shovels are hard at work on ground blanketed with ice. Wrapped in dark peasant garments, they go about their work with the matter-of-factness shown by many Romanians during these difficult times.
Alongside the freshly dug plots are rows of bleached wooden crosses, marking grave sites for many of Bucharest’s young. The names of victims are sometimes accompanied by an epitaph: “Mi-hai, 1963-1989: He died for liberty.”
Everywhere there is a sense of guilt, a feeling that the young gave their lives to win freedom for their parents, who had been too frightened to act.
Not far away, at the agro-industrial complex, shoppers stocked their pantries with goods diverted from a formerly export-only treasure trove. Dan Stoica, a slight 13-year-old in a baseball cap, told about a 19-year-old acquaintance who jumped in front of him when the Securitate secret police opened fire at the university Friday morning. The acquaintance did not survive.
To Gheorghe Lica, a retired accountant waiting in line to buy meat, freedom meant the right to buy goods that Romanians produced but had not been allowed to enjoy. “Before, they exported everything. It was greediness – money for [the late dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu’s private account in Switzerland.”
The rage against Ceausescu was directed, too, toward the expensively produced volumes of quotations and historical tomes others wrote in his name. Glass littered the sidewalk in front of bookstores where the dictator’s books had been seized and burned. The books were heavily subsidized, while those everyone wanted to read were expensive or unobtainable.
For every hostile act, there was a gentle one. Young girls banged on the hatches of tanks, presenting food to soldiers inside. So many brought donations that there was no more room in the vehicles, and the recipients politely declined.
Every January the birthdays of both Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu preoccupied Romanians. Factory managers, party members, and other officials glumly celebrated the occasion – and their obeisance – by sending flowers to the palace. The holiday season always meant empty flower shops. This year they are full.
The government has announced a range of measures to quickly extend personal liberties. It abolished the death penalty, said Romanians would be free to travel, and legalized possession of foreign currency. Visitors will now be permitted to stay in private homes. The government also set a five-day work week, big news in a country where six- and even seven-day weeks were the rule.
Political parties continue to declare themselves, in anticipation of April elections. The National Peasant Party has been reborn. The group, which is of Christian democratic orientation, was in power in 1947, when ousted by the Communists. Then it had a 75 percent majority. Today it is likely to regain its position as the largest party with youth, intellectual, and religious components.
Among other things, party spokesmen are calling for a referendum on bringing back the monarchy of King Michael, who now lives in Geneva.
Artists, poets, and musicians, many under house arrest when Ceausescu ruled, have come to the studios of Romanian television to participate in the on-air revolution. Many of those who fled the Ceausescu regime have returned to join the festivities. Others, still in exile, are rehabilitated on tape: pan flute player Zamfir, a madrigal choir, the play-wright Eugene Ionesco.
A group of leading ex-dissidents announced the formation of a group for social dialogue. Philosophers, writers, poets, and sociologists will plan strategies for Romania’s short-term future and organize debates throughout the country.
“We want to be a bridge between the radical demands of the masses and the new central power,” one speaker said.
The panel was pressed about the vagueness of official explanations of the events of early days.
One ex-dissident’s response: “The events beginning Dec. 21 were made by Romanians in the streets. Why? Because Ceausescu forced it, making normal people into political people.”
Still, he concedes, “There are many hazy questions we, too, want answered. All I can say now is a dead dictator is better than a live dictator.”
At the television studios, still controlled by the ruling Council of National Salvation, the guard is heavy.
An Air Force captain who has been guarding the facility around the clock since the early days described his abandonment of Ceausescu. On Friday morning, word came that the minister of defense had committed suicide.
“We heard that he was a traitor,” said the captain. “But he wasn’t one. We were sure he didn’t commit suicide, but was killed. We hated Ceausescu even more then.”
The captain, who asked that his name not be used, had both hands swathed in bandages. One hand still had a bullet embedded in it. There has been no time to remove it.