No. 754

766.00/9–1251: Despatch

The Chargé in Romania ( Gantenbein) to the Department of State

secret
No. 79

Subject: Developments in Rumania

Internal Political Situation

The most noteworthy characteristic of the internal political situation in Rumania during recent months has been its continued stability. For the most part, the same leaders have remained at the same jobs. Although the Minister of Cults, Mr. Stanciu Stoian, was relieved of his duties in June, presumably because of the slow pace at which the final touches were being placed on the nationalization of the Catholic Church (we do not know what his subsequent fate has been) and while there have been persistent but unconfirmed reports for some weeks that the Minister of Public Education, Mr. N. Popescu-Doreanu, has been in official disgrace (he attended an official reception as Minister of Education, as recently as August 18), the principal leaders in both the Government and the Communist Party have continued on, with still no indications of any imminent major purge. Mr. Gheorghiu-Dej was again conspicuously recognized as the country’s No. 1 leader during the August 23 celebrations,2 notably when Marshal Voroshilov clearly indicated him as such and when the marchers in the parade by their banners and yells gave him the foremost position among the Rumanian chieftains. The publication by Pravda 3 on September 4 of a long article of his entitled, “Revolutionary Vigilance of the Peoples in the Fight for Socialism,” reprinted locally on September 6, offers fresh evidence that he continues to sit well with the Kremlin.

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With respect to Mme. Pauker, she appeared to be in good health and spirits at the August 23 reception, and the fact that Western diplomats now rarely see her and that she is apparently seldom in the Foreign Office is generally interpreted as simply indicating that she has been spending even more time than formerly on top Party matters. Vice Premier Iosif Chisenevschi is still believed to be one of the most important figures behind the usual scenes and to be particularly influential in major questions of foreign relations, but his health is reported frail.

Even the figureheads President Parhon and Premier Groza seem as secure in their sinecures now as they have been in the past. As the Legation has reported, Marshal Voroshilov in his August 22 speech went out of his way to mention Mr. Groza as the head of the Government, and this, together with the publication of an article, “Rumania on a New Path” written by him and printed in Izvestia 4 on August 23 (reprinted here on August 28), must be construed as a Communist answer to the Western press and radio stories that he was in the process of liquidation.

While a standard-type espionage-sabotage trial is staged here from time to time, these exhibitions during the past year have concentrated rather on alleged activities of foreign diplomatic missions than on former high personages in the Government. Thus, the present trial, involving the Italian Legation and the former Nunciatura,5 does not involve any high political leaders; and the “British [Page 1511]Legation trial” a month ago,6 although including the former head of the Air Force and several former important businessmen, did not involve any of the real Communist hierarchy.

The Legation has heard comparatively few reports of resistance incidents recently, despite the fact that the crop-collection period of the year has in the past been a time when such reports were frequent. Possibly one reason is that the progressive drying up of the contacts of the Western missions results in fewer reports in general; another reason may be that the bountiful crops this year have served to ease the severity of the Government’s collections. Perhaps still another reason is that the authorities, having been impressed with the force of the past resistance to the farm collectivization program and having relaxed somewhat the forcing of peasants into the collective structure, have avoided some of the difficulties encountered last year. (For the slowing-up of the agricultural collectivization movement and the comparatively small progress that it has thus made, reference is made to the Legation’s despatch No. 70 of August 27, 1951.7) However, there was strong evidence that the sudden and remorseless evacuation of many thousands of farmers and townsmen from the Western frontier region to other parts of the country in June and July produced a situation in the Banat bordering on unrest and causing the Government considerable concern (Legation’s telegram No. 52 of July 31, 1951.7)

Nationalization of the Catholic Church

One of the serious preoccupations of the Government in recent months has been the difficulties in the final nationalization of the Roman Catholic Church in Rumania, and as stated above, these likely caused the removal of Mr. Stoian last June. The Department will recall that the middle of last March the regime staged a show purporting to resurrect the old Catholic “Status”, whereby handpicked “representatives” of the clergy and laity went through the motions of holding a special meeting and entrusting to a steering committee the matter of working out details to bring the Church within the framework of the Government; i.e. nationalization. However, insofar as is known, the committee has not during the six months since its creation worked out a feasible plan. Probably the chief difficulty has been that, despite the regime’s efforts to soften [Page 1512]up the clergy by numerous and continuing arrests and persecutions, either the committee or the implementing authorities have run into a stronger core of resistance than was anticipated.

Meanwhile, a great deal of confusion now prevails within the Catholic Church in Rumania, where there are understood to be about 1,400,000 members. In Bucharest, where there are around 40,000 Catholics, there are reported to be only seven or eight dissident priests left, and only one in the Cathedral, and it is understood that those priests who have gone over to the Communist side have been excommunicated. All the bishops are under arrest, and as apparently none is disposed to consecrate new bishops, the regime has not thus far found a way to control the Church by setting up puppet bishops. However, it is quite possible that drastic action of some kind will be taken as a sequel to the present trial.

Military Situation

The Legation has no present evidence of unusual or heavy troop movements within the country. Rumors of such movements last spring turned out, as was anticipated, to be confused with normal seasonal maneuvers. In this connection, it is important in interpreting developments here to keep in mind that, unlike the situation in the United States, where troops are customarily stationed in the same area throughout the year, Rumanian forces are garrisoned in towns and cities during the winter for logistic reasons and moved to other areas for seasonal maneuvers, with the result that movements away from garrisons sometimes have the appearance of unusual operations.

Nor have there been the other indications that would be expected if war operations were imminent, such as air-raid directives to the public, placement of anti-aircraft guns in and around Bucharest and restrictions on travel of Rumanians within the country (the only known restrictions of this kind are for travel to the Yugoslav frontier region). It is also reassuring that the “Tudor Vladmirescu” Division is back in Bucharest after summer maneuvers; this is the only Rumanian armored division and would be required for any attack on Yugoslavia (it would probably take about a week for it to move from Bucharest to the frontier.)

As to the increase of the Rumanian armed forces, the Pentagon’s estimated increase of the Regular Army from the estimate of 186,000 a year ago to about 204,000 at present is considered reasonable by the Military Attaché, who also agrees that the Frontier Guards are likely still about 26,000, making a total of 230,000 (compared with an estimated 212,000 a year ago) and that the Militia is likely still around 70,000. However, the Military Attaché does not agree with the Pentagon’s decrease of the estimate for the armed [Page 1513]Security Police (excluding the plainclothes Secret Police) from 40,000 to 13,000; he thinks the figure is nearer 30,000 and is so reporting to Department of the Army. There are also to be mentioned the Armed Workers Brigade, 5,000 of whom marched in uniform in the August 23 parade (total number unknown), but which, although given arms for occasional drills and parades, is not considered a formidable military unit; and the uniformed Labor Corps, roughly estimated at 200,000, which does not march with arms but which may be an important force for engineering and similar purposes.

The vehicles and equipment shown in the August 23 parade are reported to have been substantially the same in types and quantities as a year ago.

With respect to the Rumanian Air Force, the estimate a year ago of 350 old World War II and pre-war planes remains good, with the exception of 15 jets, which have been acquired in recent months but which are old-model Yak–15’s and are considered simply “propaganda planes.”

Concerning the Soviet forces in Rumania, there are still two full Soviet divisions, one in the Timisoara-Arad area, and the other in the Galatz-Braila area. Parts of one of them engaged in maneuvers near the Iron Gate last spring but returned to their base. In addition, there are supporting forces, including air units, in different parts of the country, which probably add up in numbers to the equivalent of another division. The Soviet air forces in Rumania have been strengthened by equipment with jet MIG–15’s and by the further development of the two strategic air bases at Otopeni and Ianca.

Relations with the United States

There have been no essential changes in Rumanian relations with the United States in recent months.8 The underlying official enmity of the Government has not diminished and is reflected in the daily propaganda attacks, which, while undoubtedly following general lines determined by the Kremlin, have appeared to go even further in their scurrility than the papers of Moscow. One of the developing aspects of these attacks is to depict in detail conditions [Page 1514]claimed to exist in the United States which are faithful descriptions of the Communist regime’s own methods of repression, such as terrorizing the population, conducting unfair court trials, torturing prisoners, holding fraudulent elections, etc. While this general scheme has long been a characteristic of Communist propaganda, the detailed approach is a more recent development. The epithets applied daily to the President, Secretary of State, and other high officials of the United States have appeared to reach new lows of vilification from week to week, and are constant reminders of how deeply we have become immersed in the cold war.

At the present moment, the Legation is going through a period of relative calm in the matter of harassments. The biweekly courier arrangement has been functioning well; we have not had serious delays in securing visas for new personnel; our personnel have had no difficulty in obtaining frequent permits to visit the mountain resorts and even Eforia (although we were unable to secure permission for office-business visits to Fagaras and Targu Mures); the Legation has not been directly involved in an espionage-sabotage trial since the spring of 1950 (although on the fringes of the present trial); and while we have had threatened difficulties respecting housing for new personnel who have taken over the house of predecessors, and while this matter is always a Sword of Damocles, it seems for the present to be quiescent. It might be added that although the Yugoslav Chargé d’Affaires was slighted by not being invited to the August 23 function here, I received invitations (notwithstanding that the Yugoslav government is, according to the propaganda, a puppet of the American Masters). However, there must be mentioned the arrest last July of Mr. Montrezza’s chauffeur (who has not been subsequently heard from), new secret-police demands in recent months for periodic reports from the mission’s Rumanian personnel, the harassment of Mr. Bissell’s cook (who was placed in jail for a few days following Mr. Bissell’s departure), and the imposing of a 30-day jail sentence and a fine on Mr. Bissell after he left for failure to submit his motorcycle to periodic inspection. Also, a period of relative calm here is always regarded with particular suspicion as a possible prelude to new difficulties; in particular, there is the possibility of an impending trial involving among others Mr. Supinski, who for this reason was transferred from here last April (the British Legation has not as yet been subjected to any new harassments as a result of the trial here a month ago involving former members of that mission, and perhaps a trial regarding former personnel of this Legation would not cause it further difficulties). Moreover, the present espionage trial, in which some emphasis is being placed on exchanges of information among members of different Western Missions, combined with constant [Page 1515]newspaper articles calling for greater vigilance (including the aforementioned Pravda article of Mr. Gheorghiu-Dej on September 4), may be the harbingers of new restrictions on the Western missions.

Economic Situation

As the economic welfare of the country rests principally on agriculture and petroleum, the 1951 bumper crops and the probably gradually increasing oil production should mean a basically healthy economic situation. While there are no indications of the exact size of this year’s crops, they are referred to officially as the largest in the country’s history. If this were not the case, it would hardly be in the interest of the regime to make it appear so and to make itself even more vulnerable to attacks that much of the agricultural production is being syphoned off to the Soviet Union and other satellites. As to petroleum, such fragmentary evidence as is obtainable, coming mostly from petroleum contacts of other Western missions, indicates that with the obtaining of new equipment from the Soviet Union, the drilling of new wells in Moldavia, and the gradual readjustments required by the reorganization that followed the industry’s nationalization, there has been an upward trend of production, although whether it is as great as claimed is doubtful. The present production rate is probably someplace between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 tons per year (as compared with a little under 4,000,000 tons in 1947 and with a high of 8,700,000 tons before the war).

To what extent this increased wealth is being dissipated by uncompensated exports and deliveries to other curtain countries is impossible to say. It seems fairly certain that large amounts of cattle have been leaving the country (credence is given to reports of trains of cattle seen bound for the East), and this is generally considered the reason why so little meat is available to the public (the people of Bucharest have been able to buy meat legally only five or six times since the beginning of the year). However, there does not seem to be any existing shortage in Bucharest of various other foodstuffs, including milk, eggs, bread, vegetables and fruit.

As to the standard of living, the people on the streets of Bucharest appear in general to be a little better dressed this summer than a year ago, particularly the women. Whether any such improvement will be noted after the advent of the cooler weather with demands for woolen clothes remains to be seen. Despite the lack of meat, there are few evidences of serious malnutrition in the streets of the city, and there are very few beggars. On the other hand, it is the members of the old middle and upper classes that are suffering the most now as their remaining personal effects [Page 1516]available for being converted into necessary foodstuffs become fewer and fewer, and these people are seen less on the streets than the more fortunate persons who are able to obtain jobs in the State commercial and industrial enterprises, in the Party and in the Government.

Western Diplomatic Corps

One of the noteworthy developments since my arrival here a year ago has been the continuous contraction of the Western branch of the Diplomatic Corps (reference is made to the Legation’s despatch No. 288 of March 7, 19519). This has necessarily had a detrimental effect on the Legation’s work, because with the almost complete cutting off of our own contacts with the Rumanian people, we have become increasingly dependent for information on the other Western missions which are able to maintain some avenues of contact. The latter includes the Israeli Legation, which, although it has had to be extremely cautious, has an extensive source of information in the large number of Jews (5,000–8,000 monthly) whom it assists in migrating to Israel; the Italian Legation and Turkish Embassy, which see numerous nationals of their respective countries residing in Rumania; and several of the smaller countries, which, because considered more neutral, are given somewhat greater latitude in maintaining contacts.

The Israeli Minister, who left here last spring, has not been replaced, and, although Mr. Halevi, the First Secretary, who departed shortly afterwards, has been replaced by a counselor (chargé d’affaires ad interim), who arrived here over a month ago, the latter has not as yet called on the members of the Western Diplomatic Corps. However, the Legation has continued to maintain cordial relations with Mr. Loker, a First Secretary of the Israeli Legation.

The Italian Legation will probably lose Mr. Puri-Purini, who, it is assumed, will be declared persona non grata as a result of the current espionage trial. That will be a particular blow to this Legation, as Mr. Puri-Purini has been one of the best informed members of the Western missions and has been unusually cooperative with this mission. Also, Mr. Spinedi, the Commercial Attaché, who has been here for four years and who has also been a valuable contact, is departing shortly for his new post at Ankara and will probably be replaced by an employee of clerical status.

In the Swedish Legation, the former Minister, Mr. Allard, perhaps the best informed of the Western diplomats, left for his new post at Praha last June and has not been replaced, although the [Page 1517]Swedish Ambassador at Moscow is to be accredited as Minister to Rumania.

In the British Legation Mr. Watts, the First Secretary, who has worked closely with this mission, is leaving within the next few days for an assignment in the Foreign Office at London, and his departure will also be a substantial loss. He is to be replaced, but the Rumanian Government has not yet granted a visa for his successor, although the visa was applied for six weeks ago.

Mr. d’Hondt, the Belgian Chargé d’Affaires, who left at the end of last spring, has not been replaced. The young attaché of the mission who has been acting as Chargé has now been called to Brussels, and there is some doubt as to whether he will return.

James W. Gantenbein
  1. Romanian National Liberation Day.
  2. Daily newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
  3. Official daily newspaper of the Government of the Soviet Union.
  4. Ten Roman Catholic priests and laymen, including Eraldo Pintore, an Italian citizen employed as a clerk in the Italian Legation in Romania, were arrested and tried before a military tribunal in Bucharest, September 10–17, on charges of espionage and anti-State activity. The ten defendants, all of whom were alleged to have “confessed”, implicated the former Papal Nunciature in Romania and the Italian Legation as well as the U.S., British, and French Legations in Romania. All of the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

    Telegram 76 to Bucharest, September 18, stated that in view of the implications of the arrest and imprisonment of Italian clerk Pintore, and in order to discourage a trend which might result in other such cases, the Department of State believed that the Romanian Government ought to be put on notice that the Western nations would not accept such action passively. It was noted that the U.S., British, and French Foreign Ministers had agreed at their meetings in London in May 1950 to coordinate possible countermeasures in cases involving action against missions in Eastern Europe. The Legation in Bucharest was asked to discuss with the Italian, British, and French Legations the possibility of joint action in the Pintore matter. (601.6556/9–1151) Telegram 1482 to Rome, October 2, asked the Embassy in Italy to discuss the matter with the Italian Foreign Ministry. (601.6566/10–251) Telegram 1593 from Rome, October 5, reported that the Italian Foreign Ministry agreed with the American proposal for joint action by the Western Powers in the Pintore case as a method to discourage further mistreatment of Western diplomatic personnel in Eastern Europe but desired to await further development in Romania before agreeing to a joint démarche. (601.6566/10–551) Telegram 1743 from London, October 9, reported that the British Foreign Office doubted that concerted Western action in the Pintore case would prove fruitful and wished to delay any action in the matter Pending agreement by the Italian Government. (601.6566/10–951) There was no joint action taken by the Western powers in the Pintore case.

  5. Four Romanian citizens, including the former head of the Romanian Air Force, were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death in July by a Romanian court for alleged espionage on behalf of the British intelligence service.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Not printed.
  8. In despatch 381 from Bucharest, April 20, Chargé Gantenbein reported that Corneliu Bogdan, former head of the Western Political Office of the Romanian Foreign Ministry and recently named Counselor of the Romanian Legation in the United States had called at the Legation by appointment. Gantenbein stated that this was perhaps the first visit at the American Legation in Bucharest by a Romanian diplomatic official since 1947. The 20-minute visit was reportedly friendly but no controversial subjects were raised. Gantenbein suggested that the visit indicated a Romanian desire to give at least a semblance of observance of diplomatic courtesy in official relations with the United States. (601.6611/4–2051)
  9. Not printed.