Silviu Brucan

Romanian envoy and dissident
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Saul Bruckner (Silviu Brucan), diplomat and writer: born Bucharest 18 January 1916; ambassador to the US 1956-59; ambassador to the UN 1959-62; Director, Romanian State TV 1962-65; Alexandra Sidorovici (one daughter); died Bucharest 14 September 2006.

When Silviu Brucan spoke up in support of workers' protests against conditions in President Nicolae Ceausescu's Romania in 1987, his voice carried a defiant message in a country where dissent had been almost completely silenced. Brucan's challenge was all the more remarkable as it came from within the Romanian Communist Party (RCP) establishment.

As a former diplomat and senior official in the state-controlled media, he had been part of the privileged bureaucracy - though by the time he launched his criticism of the Ceausescu regime he was living in semi-retirement as a part-time university professor.

Silviu Brucan was already 71 years old when he began his career as a dissident, for his statement in support of the workers marked only the beginning of a fresh - and at times - dangerous phase of political activity. A little over a year later he was instrumental in getting five other Communist Party veterans to sign an open letter to Ceausescu which accused the leader, or Conducator, of pursuing policies that had discredited the socialist system.

Brucan was punished by being put under house arrest - and it was from there that he emerged at the start of the anti-Ceausescu revolution of December 1989 to become one of the leading figures in the National Salvation Front (NSF), the initially broad-based organisation which took power amidst the chaos. He was widely regarded as the grey eminence within the NSF and the key theoretician of the new regime that was preparing Romania for democratic elections.

Yet, less than 10 weeks after Ceausescu's overthrow, Brucan resigned from the NSF's leadership over policy differences and in the aftermath of a controversy he had created by making incautiously élitist remarks. He remained, though, an influential figure for another year or two - and a regular commentator on Romanian and post-Communist societies for the rest of his life.

Born Saul Bruckner into a well-to-do Jewish family in 1916, he saw his carefree childhood come to an abrupt end when his father's wholesale fabric business went bankrupt in the aftermath of the Great Crash of 1929 and they were evicted from their comfortable home.

In the mid-1930s Brucan became interested in left-wing causes, and soon afterwards joined the tiny Communist Party. By then he was working as a journalist; and during the Second World War he was busy writing for the Communists' underground press.

When Romania changed sides in 1944 and joined the Allies, the Communists immediately became, with Soviet backing, one of the main political forces, and then embarked on eliminating all their opponents. Brucan joined the staff of Scinteia, the Party's newspaper, and over the next decade rose to the top of the editorial hierarchy. His writing skills and clear thinking were in heavy demand - so much so that he was asked to ghost-write articles for the semi-literate Ceausescu, who was already one of the most senior figures in the leadership.

However, it was a chance encounter with Roswell Garst, an American farm lobbyist touring Eastern Europe to boost grain exports, that secured for the urbane and multi-lingual Brucan the post of ambassador in Washington after Garst had complained to Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, Romania's leader, that the incumbent Romanian ambassador did not even speak English. Brucan spent six years in the United States, with the second half of his stay as Romania's representative at the United Nations. He was trusted by Gheorghiu-Dej, who asked him to draft foreign policy documents for discussion in the RCP's policy-making Politburo.

Following his return to Bucharest in 1962 Brucan was appointed the Director of Romania's newly established state television network. He earned the disapproval of conservative members of the Politburo, who complained that by showing Western imports, including detective series such as The Saint, starring Roger Moore, he was corrupting Romania's youth.

Ceausescu's rise to the top in 1965 spelt the end of Brucan's career in the official hierarchy: hostility between the two of them went back to the time when the sophisticated Brucan was writing the poorly educated Ceausescu's articles. However, Ceausescu respected Brucan's knowledge of the West, and, after Brucan took up a professorship in Bucharest, he was accorded the rare privilege in Communist Romania of being allowed to lecture in the West and publish books in English on international relations and politics. Few of his books could be published in Romania itself because they did not fully fit the propaganda requirements of the official ideology. Yet Ceausescu arranged for Brucan's books to be translated into Romanian and to be circulated among the RCP's top echelons.

Initially, Brucan reciprocated, albeit grudgingly, Ceausescu's respect for him, not least because of Ceausescu's opening to the West and his distancing of Romania from the Soviet bloc - policies that were accompanied by rising living standards at home. From the early 1970s onwards, though, Ceausescu began to pursue increasingly megalomaniac projects which led to the emergence of an extraordinary cult of personality surrounding the Conducator and his wife, Elena, along with Romania's impoverishment and the stifling of dissent.

For Brucan the crunch came in November 1987 when the Romanian authorities used the security forces to repress workers' demonstrations in the industrial city of Brasov against redundancies and the worsening economic conditions. Brucan came to the protesters' defence, declaring in a statement made available to the Western media: "The cup of privations is now full and the working class no longer accepts to be like an obedient servant."

Brucan had been encouraged to go public by the new policy of perestroika, or restructuring, that Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, was pursuing at home and encouraging the rest of the Communist bloc to follow. Yet it took considerable courage to speak out against Ceausescu and Brucan was put under house arrest for a while. Further punishment was to follow when Brucan and five other veteran Communists published a wholesale denunciation of the Ceausescu regime in March 1989. They were evicted from their homes in an exclusive residential district and moved to the outskirts of Bucharest without functioning water or electricity supplies.

When Romanians' desperation finally turned to anger, and the demonstrations against the Ceausescu regime got under way just before Christmas 1989, Brucan joined the fledgling NSF that took power and became one of the 11 members of its Executive Bureau. He justified the summary trial and execution of the Ceausescu couple on Christmas Day - which was repeatedly shown on TV - on the grounds that it helped put an end to resistance by Ceausescu loyalists in the Securitate secret police.

During those heady days, Brucan, who was in charge of the NSF's committee for foreign affairs, appeared frequently in the media and was always on hand to speak to foreign journalists. He was also an influential figure behind the scenes where along with the NSF's leader, Ion Iliescu, he represented the ex-Communist forces that favoured a managed transition to democracy and a very gradual shift towards a market economy. In early February 1990 he stepped down from the NSF's Executive Bureau, saying he had become disillusioned with the rising tide of careerism and faction-fighting among his colleagues.

There was also another reason for Brucan's resignation. It followed widespread republication in the Romanian media of remarks he had made to The Independent in which he implied that the role of the masses in Romania's new democracy would be to vote for their intellectual betters. In the face of mounting controversy, Brucan disowned those comments. However, they were in line with his general quasi-Marxist theories about the changing importance of different social classes in the era of the new information revolution, which favoured the educated élite over the workers.

Brucan also earned notoriety with his declaration that Romania would need 20 years for democracy to take root. Since then many Romanians have come to agree with that assessment - including President Traian Basescu, who said so in his eulogy after Brucan's death. Brucan's bold and critical analyses of Romania's post-Communist development helped earn him respect even among political opponents and secured him a regular slot on television until close to his death.

Gabriel Partos