Celebrating 25 Years of Scoop
Special: Up To 25% Off Scoop Pro Learn More



Cablegate: Breaking with the Past: President Basescu Issues

DE RUEHBM #1908/01 3631225
P 291225Z DEC 06





E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/19/2016

Classified By: PolCouns Ted Tanoue for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary. At a special parliamentary session, President Traian Basescu publicly condemned the communist regime that ruled the country between 1945 and 1989 as &illegitimate and criminal8 and tendered a formal apology to its victims. The event marked the release of a report drafted by a presidential commission headed by U.S. political scientist Vladimir Tismaneanu on the crimes committed under communist rule. The event was marred by disruptive tactics on the part of Corneliu Vadim Tudor’s extremist nationalist PRM with the tacit support of the Social Democrat PSD. Analysts and the public generally agree that this was a long-overdue break with the past in a country that for years after the 1989 Revolution remained in the grip of former communists.Basescu’s embrace of the anti-communist agenda has discomfited opposition PSD head Mircea Geoana since it forced him to close ranks behind former leader Iliescu rather than adopt a more forward-looking reformist stance. End Summary.

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.

2. (SBU) In a week when Romanians commemorated the 17th anniversary of the December 1989 overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu, President Traian Basescu presided over a special parliamentary session on December 18 that categorically condemned the communist period in Romania. Characterizing the communist epoch as "illegitimate and criminal," Basescu said communism had robbed Romania of five decades of modern history. He added that the communist system was based on repression, intimidation, humiliation and corruption, and he tendered a formal apology on behalf of the Romanian state to the victims of the communist dictatorship.

3. (SBU) The session marked the release of a 663-page report of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Communist Dictatorship in Romania. Established in April 2006 and led by Romanian-born U.S. political scientist Vladimir Tismaneanu, the commission included prominent writers, historians, and sociologists including many leading dissidents from the communist period. Following the major themes of the report, Basescu described a litany of crimes of the communist regime including, inter alia: abandoning national interests in ceding control of Romania to the Soviet Union in 1945; destruction of competing political parties; liquidation of pre-communist elites; persecution of ethnic, religious, cultural and sexual minorities and peasants who opposed collectivization; forced deportations; harsh reprisals following anti-communist protests in 1956, 1977, and 1987; Ceausescu’s demographic policies; and the massacre of citizens during the December 1989 revolution.

4. (SBU) Basescu also endorsed several follow-up steps recommended by the commission, including establishing a Memorial Day and national monument for the victims of communist repression and construction of a National Museum of the Communist Dictatorship. He also agreed on the need to nullify politically-based criminal sentences and to restore citizenship to individuals expelled by the communist regime. Basescu endorsed access to communist-period archives and the creation of a textbook on the communist period, based on the commission report. However, Basescu refused to urge parliament to adopt a lustration law as recommended by the report’s authors.

5. (SBU) The commission report also named prominent perpetrators, including former communist party leaders Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and Nicolae Ceausescu, and listed Ion Iliescu, former secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist party and a Minister of Youth in the early 1970s, as a leading “communist ideologist.” Iliescu was a central figure of post-1989 transition, serving as President from 1989-96 and 2000-04 and was a founder (and now honorary president) of the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD). The report also noted that the “golden age” of Ceausescu,s leadership was supported by a vast propaganda apparatus including “court poets” Adrian Paunescu and Corneliu Vadim Tudor–both prominent figures in post-1989 Romanian politics. Paunescu is now a senior PSD senator, and Tudor heads the extreme nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM).

6. (C) Several political parties with lineages linked to the communist regime–including the PRM, PSD, and Conservative Party (led by ex-Securitate agent Dan Voiculescu), denounced the report as a “political” document expressing the point of view of the President and not the views of the Romanian parliament. During the hour-long presidential address, PRM members orchestrated from the Parliament’s floor by Tudor booed, blew whistles, and shouted catcalls in an attempt to drown out the President’s speech. The PRM’s disruptive tactics appeared to have the tacit support of Senate Speaker Nicolae Vacaroiu (PSD), who declined to call parliament to order or eject the troublemakers. (note: in a conversation with PolCouns, PSD Secretary General Corlatean reiterated his party’s opposition to the report, arguing that Basescu had attempted to split the PSD by trying to force its new leadership to side against Iliescu. Corlatean insisted–somewhat disingenuously–that Vacaroiu did not restore order in the Senate chambers because “he feared for his own personal safety.”)

7. (C) In a subsequent meeting with Ambassador and Polcouns, commission head Tismaneanu agreed with the Ambassador’s characterization of the parliamentary fracas as “Soviet style”, adding that it was evidence that Romania still had far to go to remove all residue of communist patterns of behavior from politics, business, and the media. Tismaneanu said the incident had all the earmarks of a “well-planned” event, as the conspicuous absences of PSD President Mircea Geoana and PNL Lower House President Bogdan Olteanu suggested that they had known about the disruption in advance. Tismaneanu argued that the attempted disruption of Basescu’s address was a miscalculation on the part of the PRM and the

PSD, since Basescu gained credibility by standing his ground. Incoming PSD leader Geoana had also failed to seize an opportunity to distance himself from Iliescu and instead found himself in the role of Iliescu’s “trumpet.” Noting that it was Iliescu who previously awarded PRM founder Tudor with Romania’s highest civilian honors–the “Star of Romania”–Tismaneanu said the episode underscored that it was sometimes difficult to differentiate the extreme right from the extreme left in Romanian politics.

8. (C) Tismaneanu said the Romanian Orthodox church had also strongly attacked the report. The security services had been loathe to allow Commission members to see files on Orthodox church activities, but eventually revealed incontravertible evidence of “100 percent collaboration” between the church and the communist regime. Describing Basescu as a late–even reluctant–convert to the decommunization agenda, Tismaneanu said that a visit to the Holocaust Museum had been a turning point for the President. Once Basescu was personally convinced of the necessity of the effort, he enthusiastically backed the Commission. Tismaneanu concluded that the Presidential condemnation of the communist period was a watershed event that underscored Basescu’s desire to “normalize” Romania by coming to terms with the communist past.

9. (C) Comment: President Basescu’s formal condemnation of communist misrule was welcome, if long overdue; previous attempts by leading Romanian political reformers had quickly foundered in the post-Communist shoals. And such a frank assessment of Romania’s past was never in the cards under Iliescu’s multiple presidencies and PSD rule. While this was in fact a watershed event for Romania, the backlash from the PRM, PSD, Conservative Party and other players including the Orthodox church underscores the continuing sensitivity of the issue and suggests that the de-communization effort has a long way to go. Many of Romania’s mainstream political parties, intelligence services, judiciary, local and central administration, and other sectors including the media and clergy continue to be dominated by former party apparatchiki, Securitate officers, and other representatives of the pre-1989 elite. On top of its obvious merits, Basescu’s embrace of the anti-communist agenda also made good political sense, as he has again put the rival opposition PSD on the defensive. For the past two years, the PSD under “reformists” such as Mircea Geoana has tried to rebrand itself as a post-modern euro-socialist party. Basescu’s unveiling of the commission report put Geoana into the complicated calculation of either publicly distancing himself from the PSD’s communist heritage or closing ranks behind “honorary” PSD president Iliescu. He apparently opted for the latter, disappointing many who had held out hope for a bolder political approach. As Christian Tudor Popescu, one of Romania’s top media figures, told us privately a few days after the Parliamentary session: “I have been friends with Mircea (Geoana) for twenty years, but he hurt himself. It is the same problem as always — he is indecisive.”

End Comment.

© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
World Headlines


Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.