Because of a transcription error, the name of an adviser on foreign policy to Romanian President Ion Iliescu was incorrect yesterday. His name is Ion Pascu. (Published 6/21/90)
BUCHAREST, ROMANIA, JUNE 19 -- The U.S. decision to boycott President-elect Ion Iliescu's swearing-in ceremony Wednesday illustrates growing disillusionment in the West with Romania and concern that the democratic revolution that began six months ago here may be thwarted.
Technically, the United States is staying away to protest Iliescu's approval of the use of coal miners who rampaged through Bucharest last Thursday and Friday beating anti-government protesters and generally intimidating the weak opposition. But the deeper worry in the West seems to be that in blocking democratic protest, Iliescu may be pushing the country back toward the kind of personal dictatorship that marked the regime of his predecessor, Nicolae Ceausescu.
This bleak analysis may be overdrawn at this point. Much of the turmoil here during the past 10 days may reflect mistakes on the part of the Iliescu government and its supporters rather than any systematic counterrevolution. But the U.S. boycott illustrates how far Romania's international standing has fallen since the initial worldwide sympathy that followed the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime in December.
Iliescu's American-trained foreign policy adviser acknowledged today that government errors last week gravely compromised Romania's effort to encourage democracy and gain international respectability and crucial foreign aid. Adviser Ian Pascutascu, in an interview, admitted "extraordinary inconsistencies" in government statements and actions before and after Iliescu called for the miners to defend the government. But he pleaded for the West to give Romania a chance to "change its bad image" and prove its commitment to democracy.
As an earnest of Romania's desire to make amends, he noted that the violence had prompted the government and National Assembly to open separate investigations.
In addition to the miners' strongarm tactics, Western diplomats here have been troubled by Iliescu's oratory denouncing his opponents as latter-day devotees of the pre-World War II fascist Iron Guard -- a favorite Ceausescu flourish.
Without massive foreign help this government, which oversees what may be the most devastated of East European economies, stands little chance of long-term survival, in the view of many diplomats.
Yet a surprising fact in Romania's current crisis is that if accurate public opinion polls existed, they might well show that few Romanians would have opposed the government's decision last Wednesday to end the 53-day democracy sit-in outside Bucharest University.
The still murky sequence of events that began with the police clearing of University Square tarnished the credibility of Iliescu's 85 percent presidential landslide in the country's first free elections in a half-century and the two-thirds majority that his ruling National Salvation Front captured in both houses of parliament.
The most innocent interpretation of the violence argues that the regime should have let well enough alone. The protesters were dwindling in number and becoming isolated in their self-styled "neo-Communist-free zone," even though they continued to embarrass the government by blocking traffic on a major thoroughfares.
As violent anti-government street demonstrations began proving within weeks after Ceausescu's ouster, the Salvation Front lacked an organized crime control force on which it could count. The police were too compromised by the Ceausescu era to risk sticking their necks out for the Salvation Front's inner circle, which for the most part is a curious mixture of retreads from the former regime.
The army had "saved the revolution" by chasing Ceausescu out of Bucharest, but felt guilty about having shot and killed hundreds of demonstrators in the western city of Timisoara, where the uprising began Dec. 16. Many officers reportedly were determined to stay out of domestic politics.
In any case, little love was lost between the armed forces and police and the first visible result of the turmoil last week was the army's success in obtaining the ouster of Gen. Mihai Chitac, the interior minister in charge of the police.
Nor should the miners' behavior come as the surprise that Romanian officials claim it did.
Back in February, when anti-government demonstrators threatened to overthrow his government, Iliescu and his fellow Salvation Front leaders called in the miners, whose loyalty was ensured by hefty pay increases. In a dress rehearsal for last week's events, the miners marched through the streets in a warning to the opposition National Liberal and National Peasant parties.
But less innocent conspiracy theorists suggest that forces within the loose Salvation Front coalition purposely baited the trap in the hope of embarrassing Iliescu.
In retrospect, Iliescu should have known better. Why, for instance, did the police abruptly turn and run Wednesday afternoon when anti-government demonstrators, enraged by the pre-dawn clearing of the sit-in from University Square, took to the streets? Officials insist that the government could rely on only 2,000 inexperienced police cadets, who buckled under the well-organized demonstrators' assault and proved incapable of preventing attacks on the Interior Ministry and the state television station.
Again, why did Iliescu take such a risk, knowing he had no reliable police backup?
The most likely explanation is that Iliescu, who long served Ceausescu before falling out with the dictator, could not accept the idea that anyone would challenge his authority after such an impressive election victory.