Leading Article: An incomplete revolution

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The Independent Online
ROMANIANS think of themselves as different - Latins amid a sea of Slavs and Magyars - and they are right. The Ceausescu tyranny was more nationalistic, more fascistic and more corrupt than Communist regimes elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The people's revolt against it, which began three years ago today, was the last and most violent revolution of 1989. It was still raging at Christmas, with which its moving coverage on Western television will long be associated. Who can forget the extraordinary moment when President Ceausescu realised that the crowd he was haranguing was not cheering but booing? His face collapsed. Like a trapped animal, he looked nervously around for help, and the screen went blank. Later came the terrible images of him and his equally hated wife, Elena, being dragged to their execution.

The trouble with the revolution was that it knew what it was against but not what it was for. All dissidence had been ruthlessly eliminated or silenced by the dreaded Securitate. There was no significant history of democracy to revive: martial law and political intimidation had prevailed for much of the inter-war period. Fear remained a factor, but now it was fear of change, fear of foreign contamination and fear of mass unemployment resulting from the rapid introduction of Western-style economic reforms. Ion Iliescu, a minister in the Communist era, played on all these fears, winning the 1990 election for the presidency by a landslide and this autumn's by a smaller margin.

It was in June 1990 that he made his fatal error by calling in hundreds of miners to smash up the opposition, even though he had already won the election. The televised spectacle of the miners' brutality, for which Mr Iliescu publicly thanked them, shocked the West and killed its desire to help. Since then Romania has remained in Eastern Europe's second division, along with countries such as Bulgaria, which is trying hard and deserves more help, Albania, Ukraine, and perhaps now Slovakia.

This does not mean countries such as Romania should be written off and denied all help by the West. It does mean that help should be associated with pressure for human rights and economic reform. The apparent stability of Mr Iliescu's Romania is deceptive. It conceals the simmering resentment of the substantial Hungarian minority of 1.8 million, still heavily discriminated against, and a gypsy community whose persecution has led many thousands of its members to exacerbate Germany's immigration problem.

The ethnic Hungarians are concentrated in Transylvania, where they have to contend with such neo-fascist figures as Georghe Funar, the mayor of Cluj. Mr Funar heads the ultra-nationalist Romanian National Unity party, and came third in the September presidential elections. His rabid oratory offers the Hungarians, who actually started the revolution, as a scapegoat to the uneducated and unemployed who feel nostalgic for the certainties of the Ceausescu years.

If Mr Iliescu wants to show the world he is a politician of stature, he should disavow the likes of Mr Funar and pursue a more outward- looking policy. As the West's response - first to the revolution and then to the tragedy of Romania's orphanages - showed, there is much goodwill towards the Romanian people. To reawaken it would not be difficult.