Obituary: Professor Ghita Ionescu
Saturday 06 July 1996
The vagaries of international politics determined the directions of his earlier career, and his mastery of the subject of politics marked the achievements of his later years. Educated at the University of Bucharest, he joined the diplomatic service but stayed abroad when the Communists took over the government.
He lived in England and the United States in the early post-war years, serving as Secretary of the Romanian National Committee, an emigre organisation supported by the United States, and then went to Munich to head Radio Free Europe's Romanian service there. He was successful in the quality and effect of his broadcasts but much less so in holding his own amid the ambitions and intrigues of his American bosses, and not really happy in the role of paid and controlled propagandist.
Not reluctant to give up his job at RFE, Ionescu moved to London, became a British subject (his wife was Scottish), and set out to make his way in the academic world. He had already been given an assignment by Chatham House to write a book on Romania, which he now completed. Communism in Romania (1965) was a classic, probably the best study of how the system worked in any of the East European countries. He followed it in due course with three shorter books on Eastern Europe, one of which, The Reluctant Ally: a study of Communist neo-colonialism (1965), frankly recognised Romanian tendencies, under the Communists, to put some distance between Bucharest and Moscow, at least in foreign policy.
A major milestone in Ionescu's life was his decision in 1965 to launch Government and Opposition, a quarterly devoted to politics, one which would be useful to both scholars and politicians. Some friends were sceptical but he persisted. The magazine slowly established itself and grew in stature and recognition; never flamboyant, it was solid and often original. Its distinguished board of editors and international advisors helped to make its name, but the guidance, not to mention the burden of just plain work, was always that of Ionescu himself.
At the same time he was teaching both at Manchester University and at the London School of Economics and Political Science, shuttling constantly between the two cities. He also found time to play an active role in the International Political Science Association, serving as president of its research committee on European unification.
Unity in Western Europe, indeed, was one of his ideals. Freedom for Eastern Europe was the other. But those ideals in simplified form were not enough to satisfy his urge to explore the essence of politics. The books he wrote in his later years bear witness to his continuing search. A moderate conservative, he found democracy a necessary historical agent in the regulation of co- existence of human beings, but it was often corrupted by ideologies, whether Marxist-Leninist, liberal-utilitarian, or other. He saw them as helping to eliminate the necessary commandments of duty and virtue. He urged for the "disideologisation" of political judgement in a book, Politics and the Pursuit of Happiness (1984), which received far less public or academic attention than it deserved.
This and Ionescu's other works illustrated how far he had come from being a specialist on Communism or on Romania. Several of his books dealt with both the underlying and the passing problems of European integration (Between Sovereignty and Integration, 1973, Centripetal Politics, 1975, and The European Alternatives, 1979). Another, more difficult and perhaps less successful, was an effort to assess and compare in style the achievement several prominent political leaders. The book was Leadership in an Interdependent World (1991); the subjects were Adenauer, de Gaulle, Thatcher, Regan and Gorbachev. Many a historian will have another go at these particular leaders later on.
After an absence of half a century, following the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime in Romania, Ghita Ionescu was invited to pay a visit to his native country, where an honorary degree was duly conferred on him by the University of Bucharest. It was an event he greatly appreciated.
He leaves no survivors. His wife Valence predeceased him by some three months.
George Ghita Ionescu, political scientist: born Bucharest 21 March 1913; General Secretary, Romanian Commission of Armistice with Allied Forces 1944-45; Counsellor, Romanian Embassy, Ankara 1945-47; General Secretary, Romanian National Committee, New York 1955-58; Director, Radio Free Europe 1958-63; Nuffield Fellow, LSE 1963-68; Professor of Government, Manchester University 1970-80 (Emeritus); married 1950 Valence Ramsay de Bois Maclaren (died 1996); died London 28 June 1996.
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