In December 1989, Bucharest was a depressing place. Darkness reigned over Romania. The people suffered from lack of food, heat and electricity due to a rationing policy imposed by the totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceausescu in order to finance foreign debt and his megalomaniacal construction projects. Free media were silenced. There was no freedom, only fear, along with repression, international isolation and a pervasive cult of personality.
Dissident voices or efforts to build political alternatives that could threaten the Ceausescu regime were monitored, punished and deterred through one of the most all-encompassing communist tyrannies in Central and Eastern Europe. But even the most repressive measures could not stifle Romanians' hope and longing for freedom. When the winds of change started to blow in the last months of 1989, the Romanian people took to the streets in Timisoara and Bucharest and many other cities throughout the country.
In a sweeping wave of courage, Romanians' long-restrained thirst for freedom and democratic governance mobilized them to overthrow dictatorship, regain dignity and seek a better life. The army was ordered to stifle the revolution, but it refused. Instead, the military took the side of its brothers in the streets and freedom prevailed, although not without sacrifice. But once the Romanian people had the will to stand up firm and united, the edifice of dictatorship collapsed in hours.
More than 13 years later, Romania is going through a challenging, yet irreversible and beneficial, process of integration into the community of democratic nations. Freedom has not come without a price: economic hardship, unemployment and a painful reduction of average Romanians' ability to feed their families. But nobody in Romania seriously doubts the fundamental choice made in December 1989: to live in democracy and freedom and build a functioning market economy. The sacrifices we made to pass from totalitarianism to democracy have not been in vain. After years of recession, our economy has grown steadily since 2000, inflation has eased substantially and investments are expanding. Privatization, restructuring and economic modernization are advancing. Last year in Prague we were invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. We are negotiating our accession to the European Union, and the Copenhagen summit of last December called on us to be prepared to join the EU in 2007. But most important, Romania's transformation has restored self-esteem and dignity to our nation.
Ceausescu, with all his repressive powers, did not threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction. Nor did he invade his neighbors. But his vicious cruelty alone was enough to drive Romanians into the streets. We will never forget the legacy of his tyranny and the sacrifices necessary to tear it down. For Romanians, any attack against freedom in Europe, the United States and throughout the world is unacceptable.
Romania supports all U.N. resolutions calling for Iraq's disarmament, resolutions that the Iraqi regime has so far chosen to ignore. As a member of the United Nations, Iraq has the obligation to observe the resolutions of the Security Council. Failure to do so has serious consequences, including the use of force.
Romanians, who lived, as did all Europeans, through two terrible world wars, still prefer peaceful diplomatic solutions. But they also understand the need for the international community to act against the threat of weapons of mass destruction posed by a regime that endangers international peace and stability. As President Bush said in Bucharest, we "know the difference between good and evil because we have seen evil's face."
Romania has good relations with Arab countries and with Israel. We have profound respect for the cultural heritage and identity and the religious faith of the peoples between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Iraqi people are educated and talented and have unlimited potential that can be released if they have the chance to live in freedom. Romania had many economic projects and thousands of engineers, specialists and workers in Iraq before the Persian Gulf War. Thousands of Iraqis have studied in Romania. Many of them have witnessed, together with us, Romania's democratic rebirth and have chosen to continue to live in our country.
Some dictatorships decay over decades, some crumble in months. But some dictatorships disintegrate in hours when the people are aware of their right to live in freedom and wish to make their voices heard. This is what the recent history of Romania has shown. We are convinced that in their specific conditions, a rapid rejoining of the community of democratic and peace-loving nations can occur for the Iraqi people.
The writer is president of Romania.