Balkans joining EU and NATO - (part 2): Romania - Ending of an era

Following a week of huge protests, Nicolae Ceaușescu had been betrayed by his military and the generals he had appointed. It all ended on Christmas day 1989, after a quick drumhead military tribunal, Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena Ceaușescu were convicted on all charges, sentenced to death and immediately executed. Ceausescu’s last words before being shot to death, were “Long Live the Socialist Republic of Romania, ­independent and free”.

Leading up to this event part of the military had switched sides, after the Minister of Defense Vasile Milea had committed suicide amidst the heavy protests, and Ceausescu had appointed Victor Stanculescu as the new Minister of Defence. Victor began playing a double game, pretending to support Ceausescu, while in fact he was pulling the military back, which made it possible for the protesters to gain the upper hand. The situation was made even harder for Ceausescu because the airspace was closed over Romania, due to the fact that radar screens began to show thousands of enemy airplanes approaching, which seemed to originate from neighboring countries. These airplanes later proved to be non-existent, and were part of an electronic warfare campaign of unknown origin. This could have been one of the reasons for Ceausescu, wanting the helicopter that should have carried him to safety, to land in the middle of nowhere, later resulting in him getting captured.

Nicolae Ceaușescu

The protests that had started this turmoil was ignited after the Romanian-born Hungarian pastor, László Tőkés was set to be evicted from his home for slandering the state. Back in 1981-82 László had contributed to Ellenpontok(“Counterpoints”), a Hungarian dissident periodical published in Romania. Because of his opposition to the state and church authorities, he was set to be transferred to another city, which he refused and was then fired from the Protestant priesthood. The issue was brought up in the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which led to his re-appointment as assistant pastor in the city of Timisoara, but due to his continued criticism of state and church authorities, he was set to be evicted from his home in late 1989, which led to local protests in Timisoara and spread to Bucharest with the help of “Voice of America” and “Radio Free Europe” which led to the fateful Christmas day. Today László Tőkés is a member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Hungary. He also served as Vice President for the European Parliament from 2010 to 2012.

Moving away from communism and joining NATO

After Ceausescu’s fall in late December 1989, the new year started with bringing back a newspaper that had been closed down not long ago, “Romania Libera” was re-setup with U.S. Government money but pretended to be a local newspaper. It was part of a hybrid campaign to move Romania away from communism and into NATOs arms. Richard A. Virden (Counselor for Public Affairs USIS 1990-1993) recollects as he, together with his team at the US embassy in Romania, spent a lot of time, pushing, encouraging and otherwise supporting Romanians who were trying to set up “independent” broadcasting entities. Richard had seen that in Romania and earlier in Poland, television, not religion, was the true opium for the masses. Setting up a newspaper was easy, but broadcasting on TV was much harder because it required a change in Romanian law, which had made broadcasting a state monopoly. So Richard worked at various levels to get reform legislation drafted and passed into law. Eventually he did succeed because U.S. had made it one of their conditions for granting Romania “Most Favored Nation trade status”. With all the new media outlets favoring Romania going west, it wasn’t hard to imagine that, the Romanian people would elect a pro-western government, so when election time came at the year 2000, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) won the largest amount of seats at the parliament, and the pro-western candidate Adrian Năstase was chosen as Prime Minister.

When Romania attended the NATO signing conference in 2003, Adrian Năstase was the prime minister of Romania, later in 2012 Adrian was sentenced to 2 years in prison for misusing public funds relating to his time as Prime Minister in 2000-2004. In what was believed to be a desperate attempt to evade justice Adrian shot himself in the neck, it was reported that the bullet barely touched him, so he was able to face his prison sentence. When Adrian was released new charges were being brought forward, this time the Supreme Court, found him guilty and sentenced him to a 4-year prison sentence for bribery and a 3-year prison sentence for extortion, the prison sentences were set to be run concurrently.

Romania Joined NATO in the spring of 2004 and signed an accession treaty to join the EU, even tho the PSD government was plagued by allegations of corruption, it didn't hinder the country joining NATO and signing up for EU.

Democracy did not guarantee wellbeing, but maybe EU will

The allegations of corruption were a significant factor in the Social Democratic Party (PSD) losing the upcoming election, but the road was set and the new government composed a coalition of National Liberal Party (PNL), Democratic party (PD), Democratic Alliance of Hungarian in Romania(UDMR), and the Conservative Party, was more than willing to continue on the road to EU. Practically every political party in Romania had it as a main goal to join the European Union.

Romania had signed its Europa agreement in 1993 and submitted its official application for membership in 1995. Together with the application Romania had submitted a declaration signed by all fourteen major political parties declaring their full support for EU membership. With basically all media outlets disseminating pro-EU values, it was impossible for any candidate to get elected with anything but full support for the EU, and willingness to implement the reforms required to enter EU.

Romania was admitted to the EU January 1st. 2007, much like Bulgaria, Romania was not admitted as a full member, but had restrictions on working in other member states until 2014, 7 years after its accession to the EU.

Today in 2018, Romania is still plagued by huge demonstrations against corruption and low living standards. Many people are even worse of today than they were under communism.

See also:

Balkans joining EU and NATO - (part 1): Bulgaria - Turning the tide

Balkans joining EU and NATO - (part 3): Albania - Ideology made it hard to make friends

Balkans joining EU and NATO - (part 4): Serbia - Once were Yugoslavs

Balkans joining EU and NATO - (part 5): Kosovo - The long way to independence

Alexander Awayez

Alexander Awayez is an investigative journalist and researcher of Bulgarian/Iraqi descent who grew up in Denmark and later moved to Bulgaria.