193. Intelligence Information Cable1



  • Romania


  • Appraisal of Situation: Goals and Problems of Ceausescu’s Romania on the Eve of his Fourth Visit to the United States (DOI: March 1978)


  • [1 paragraph (5 lines) not declassified]


1. This is an assessment of Romania’s political situation on the eve of President Ceausescu’s visit to the United States. It focuses primarily on internal political factors within the economic and social framework of the country and also discusses foreign policy and military considerations. Trying to assess those problems with which the regime will have to deal over the next five years, this paper is necessarily weighted toward the negative side rather than toward the regime’s past accomplishments. For example, instead of discussing the considerable improvements in living standards, the paper focuses on the mounting pressures from rising expectations. Similarly, there are important segments at all levels who believe in the system and have no desire to change it. This paper, however, while acknowledging this group’s existence, concentrates on the factors which have the potential to force the regime off its current course in the next few years.

2. The denouement of the leadership situations in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union may affect Romania in decisive ways but is not discussed here as our knowledge of these situations is conjectural.

Summary and Conclusions:

3. President Ceausescu runs a highly centralized power system with its main objectives being to maintain as high a degree of independence from the Soviet Union as is possible and reach a competitive level of industrialization as fast as possible. It is symbolized by a personality cult so intense that a Soviet diplomat in Bucharest recently said that his country had witnessed nothing quite like it even under Stalin. At [Page 580] the same time, both Ceausescu and his wife have several relatives in the power structure. The regime is stable. Short of his accidental death, Ceausescu seems likely to be around for the foreseeable future. At 60, he is the youngest East European leader, is in apparent good health, and has no known political opposition. The population is kept on a short leash, even by East European standards, although Romanian leadership could substantially relax present internal controls without risking Soviet retaliation. It is evidently Ceausescu’s belief that, to attain difficult development goals, the population must be strictly controlled. As a result, there is little freedom of expression, people are afraid to deviate from the official line, officials avoid responsibility, and people are generally cynical.

4. Internal problems are those brought about by rapid industrialization at the price of insufficient supplies in the consumer sector. Social tensions are rising and muted, but serious dissatisfactions exist among the workers, the national minorities (especially the Magyars), and the intellectuals. Although these problems are real, the regime will be less and less able to count on a docile population, and Ceausescu may have to rearrange his priorities. There is no indication that any one problem will become a danger to the regime’s continued existence in the next few years.

5. Well known for its flexible foreign policy, Romania has been successful at establishing political and trade relations with an unusually diverse group of countries in its attempt to obtain support from all directions for its relatively independent views from the Soviet Union. Romania is a weak link in the Warsaw Pact alliance as it participates in Warsaw Pact activities to a minimal extent, it has only limited loyalty to its alliance with the Soviet Union, and its armed forces are relatively untrained.

6. Ceausescu is an able tactician who, without changing his goals, has shown a certain amount of personal flexibility in handling difficult situations. He will probably attempt to solve crises on a case by case basis and, where there is a conflict, by removing the symptoms rather than altering Romanian external or internal objectives in any substantive way. Whether he is successful will depend in part on external factors over which he has no control and on a race between attaining industrial development and the demands of a population rapidly growing in sophistication.


7. While skillful in producing impressive statistics (Romania has claimed the highest rate of production increases in Eastern Europe for years), in terms meaningful to the population, Romania is also the poorest East European nation, except for Albania. For example, its level [Page 581] of personal consumption is only two-thirds the level of Bulgaria and one-half that of East Germany. Housing is cramped (especially since the earthquake in March 1977), wages are among the lowest in Europe, high-quality consumer goods are extremely scarce, and there is no letup in sight at least through the next five year plan (1985) when Romania is supposed to leave the ranks of the “developing” nations.

8. Romania’s forced draft industrialization has brought the country to an economic crossroad. The country is entering a new era of tightening resource constraints. It can no longer throw more labor, or capital, at economic problems and hope to solve them. It is running out of both. Depending mostly on labor intensive methods, it has a labor shortage (a program to transfer office workers to “productive” work in factories and fields was begun last year). Although it is an oil producer, Romania has recently become a net energy importer, mainly because its in-ground crude oil and gas reserves are 20 percent depleted leaving only about a 10-year supply. [Headquarters comment: Using current technical procedures and equipment, it is difficult to extract any more than 25 percent of the reserves contained in a deposit.]2 It must switch from extensive to intensive development, that is, it must increase efficiency and generally improve the ingredients in the economic formula.

9. There is evidence that the leadership is recognizing these problems, as it has announced some measures of decentralization and improved quality controls. It will take some time, however, before the speeches are translated into concrete directives at the factory level. A problem in implementing any changes is the lack of a consultative mechanism with the workers. Although government and party personnel changes announced on 8 March appear to be aimed mainly at the economic sector, it seems doubtful that substantive reforms will take place in the near future.

10. It is not at all clear, however, that the leadership is ready to deal with the important strains in the country’s social fabric brought about by rapid industrialization. Since the beginning of World War II, the population has been told to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of the collective good. These sacrifices continue, as Romania has an extremely high rate (one-third of its national income) of reinvestment. Although living standards have improved, Romanians generally give credit not to government policies but to improvement of world living conditions in general. Many have relatives in the West and know that, by comparison, life in Romania is primitive. Although Romania is a net food exporter, shortages of staple foods are constant, and we have heard about villages stopping meat-exporting trucks near the border. [Page 582] Although education is free and medical and social services are cheap, it is often difficult to overcome the necessary bureaucratic obstacles without bribing each petty and not so petty official in the chain leading to the service in question. Because housing and services are inexpensive, Romanian workers can often save some money. But frustration rises as money income outpaces supplies of popular consumer goods. Salary increases scheduled during the rest of this five year plan then will be two-edged swords. It appears as if the new policies discussed above would, if implemented, first cause a drop in real productivity and wages, which would only increase popular frustrations.

11. Last year’s Jiu Valley worker unrest, with which the general population sympathized, points out that there is a limit to the workers’ passivity. Their success will not be lost on workers of other industrial complexes in the country.

12. While Romania was primarily a rural country before and immediately following World War II, its work force has been rapidly changing over to industry (74 percent of the working population worked in agriculture in 1950 while only 35 percent did so in 1976); along with industrialization comes heightened political awareness and realization that there are more similarities than differences between the current system and its Ottoman and monarchist predecessors. As seen by many workers, high party and government officials appear to enjoy the same privileges as their predecessors. When these officials’ homes or offices are in buildings formerly occupied by members of the royal family, the basic lack of social progress is blatant.

13. Every day the Romanian population suffers total immersion in statistics put out by the media which are designed to prove the success of party policies and to show the country’s economic achievements. An increasing number of people are wondering when they will begin to benefit directly from these improvements. The regime cannot spur economic growth indefinitely at the expense of the population’s standard of living without creating a deep well of frustrations.

14. The factors discussed above are converging, and Ceausescu may be forced to reorder his priorities to give the consumer a better break if violence is to be avoided before Romania joins the ranks of “developed” countries.


15. The recent appearance of a former high Romanian Communist Party official to publicize the situation of the minorities in Romania is a reminder that, internally, Romania is not quite the maverick it often appears to be. As Jean-Francois Revel wrote in a recent issue of “Foreign Affairs”: “Derussification is not democratization. . . The most totalitarian of all the popular democracies of Eastern Europe is Romania, which [Page 583] as a nation-state is the one that least follows Soviet foreign policy. Nonalignment is a concept that has to do with the will of the leadership to be all-powerful and not with the will of the people to be free.” The brief existence of an intellectual dissident group, and several work stoppages last year are symptoms of serious domestic discontent. That there are not more “dissident” activists is probably because of fear, the efficiency of the security organs, and the passivity of the Romanian character, and not because of harmonious internal conditions. In a society where listening to Radio Free Europe (RFE) is against the law (one which is unevenly applied as 61 percent of Romanians do listen to RFE) and can be punished by a fine of up to 5,000 lei (about two and one-half times the average monthly salary), there is no place for a phenomenon such as Warsaw’s illegal “flying universities.” Without determined leadership or cooperation among the various groups, however, dissidents will continue to have limited impact.


16. According to its own measures, Romania has an overbalance of intellectuals, that is, persons with no vocational or directly productive skills per se. The regime views its people primarily as productive units and believes that it is the individual’s first goal to serve the needs of society as perceived by the leadership. Historians (there is no place for philosophers outside the strict confines of Party dialectics) and artists, who both depend on the state for their salaries, are kept busy with propaganda projects designed to justify official policies and exhort the working population to greater effort. Some intellectuals are reportedly doing solid work in their fields; however, since creative prose can be dangerous to the author, many writers turn to translating foreign classics into Romanian. Among the things that the intellectuals share with the general population are their repugnance for Ceausescu’s personality cult, for nepotism at many levels of the hierarchy, and for the privileges enjoyed by high Party and government leaders.

17. As a group, intellectuals are passive; their dissidence quotient is low. They seek to accommodate themselves to the current ruling class’s whims and dictates in such a way as to ensure a safe and comfortable life.


18. The Hungarian minority in Romania (which will be referred to as Magyars hereafter), comprising roughly 10 percent of the population, is the largest national minority in Europe. There are also about one-half million Germans but only enough Romanian Jews to fill a good-size stadium. These two groups are less vocal, however, preferring to emigrate or otherwise solve their problems with the help of influential external sovereign sponsors. The Magyars, not encouraged [Page 584] to emigrate by Hungary which would have great difficulties absorbing them, wish to retain the manifestations of their ethnic origins in their everyday life while also enjoying equal opportunities. They strongly believe that not only are their human rights being denied but that it is Romanian policy to eradicate them as a distinct group. Although many Magyars were purged from government positions during late Party leader Gheorghiu-Dej’s strict nationalities policy in the 1950s, Ceausescu is being more cautious. The objective, creating a unified state in which national differences are either forgotten or at least minimized in favor of unswerving allegiance to Romania, remains the same. But there are still several Hungarian-language newspapers and periodicals, a large number of locally published books, and state-subsidized theaters, radio and television programs. In Transylvania there are Hungarian-language primary and secondary schools, and some university courses are taught in Hungarian. Nevertheless, the trend is toward integration of Magyar with Romanian institutions, dispersal of Magyars to non-Magyar areas, and importation of ethnic Romanian workers for new industries being opened in Transylvania.

19. To the extent that people are being moved successfully, the plan is working. Once practically 100 percent Magyar, the Transylvanian capital of Cluj is now only 40 percent Magyar, and Hungarian-language street signs have disappeared. As Magyar families are forced to move to other areas to find work, their children will increasingly grow up in a Romanian environment. Magyars, however, are proud of their heritage, resent the minimal role allowed their ancestors in official Romanian history, and in fact tend to believe that they come from a superior culture. As they do not particularly hide this feeling, they get little sympathy from Romanians, some of whom still nurse a sense of grievance over 19th and 20th century Hungarian attempts to “Magyarize” ethnic Romanians. Some have fresher and personal bitterness over the harsh treatment accorded to Romanians during World War II before Romanian jurisdiction over Transylvania was reestablished in 1945.

20. As gradually as Ceausescu tries to move on this issue, he will run into problems. After a lifetime of personal sacrifices and seen against the backdrop of an entire population which has just been told (during the December 1977 Party Conference) that life will be at least as difficult for another eight years, the Magyars must carry the extra burden of their nationality. But, given the low quality of life anywhere in Romania, even the Magyars (unless they receive help from outside) will probably continue to give priority to personal economic survival over the flourishing of their culture.


21. It is in this field that Romania is best known. The most basic reality for Romanian policymakers is the country’s geographic location [Page 585] on the Soviet Union’s southern border. But, except for its periodic polemics with the Soviet Union over Bessarabia and North Bukovina (annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940), all of Romania’s foreign policy efforts have been aimed at making everyone forget or overlook its “little brother” relationship to its northern neighbor and its membership in the Warsaw Pact Treaty Organization.

22. Although Romanian diplomats can be found pursuing their nationalistic policies in many international forums, they seem to have concentrated their efforts on establishing relations with Peking, Washington, and the Third World in order to balance Romania’s relations with the Soviets. In the Third World, they have succeeded in carving a niche for Romania as a quasi-nonaligned state without, however, being able to gain formal acceptance to the nonaligned movement (NAM). Although there seems to be growing disillusionment on the part of African countries over their relations with Romania, as well as with the quality of Romanian goods received, there is no indication that Romania intends to cool its ardor in seeking Third World friends and markets. In fact, it is renewing its campaign to become a full member of the NAM in preparation for NAM meetings scheduled this year and next, and it is allocating a larger ratio of its foreign trade to the Third World. Interestingly, trade figures also show a projected larger share for the East European Economic Organization (CEMA). Increases in both the Third World and CEMA will be at the expense of trade with the industrialized countries, reflecting probable Romanian disappointment that its opening to the West has not paid off in economic terms as rapidly as it had hoped.

23. Having apparently played a role in arranging the first U.S. contacts with the People’s Republic of China in 1972, Romania has kept its taste for middleman situations, most recently having played a role in Sadat’s visit to Israel. There were some apparently unfounded rumors in Bucharest earlier this year that Ceausescu was exploring the possibility of stepping into the Moroccan-Algerian Sahara problem, and there are similar rumors now concerning the Cambodian-Vietnamese conflict. Romania takes obvious pride at having good relations with all countries regardless of their politics, and Ceausescu has a well-known penchant for wishing to build up his own and his country’s prestige (which in Gaullist fashion he probably does not separate) by involving himself in such go-between roles. Given these two ingredients, Ceausescu may be given somewhat more credit than he deserves in the face of scarce information on these situations.

24. Along with its semi-independent foreign policy, Romania has an extreme aversion to being overlooked on such questions as MBFR and is very active at disarmament and other international forums (for example, recently at Belgrade), and at promoting its ideas behind a [Page 586] smokescreen of fighting for the rights of the small countries in the face of the overbearing nature of the great powers.

25. At the same time, the Romanian leadership is always conscious of the great power factor in any situation which somehow touches Romania. The regime is quick to point to the problems of others and even quicker to blame its own failures on external or uncontrollable events such as the 1975 flood or the 1977 earthquake. This leads to occasional overinterpretation of real or imagined signals, to blaming the Ottoman Empire for countless current Romanian problems, to imagining that visiting American scholars and the few Romanian dissidents are spies, and to seeing the Soviet hand in the current Hungarian minority problem. Admittedly, there are historical precedents for the last example.


26. In keeping with Romania’s wish to be as independent as her politico-geographical situation permits vis-a-vis the Soviet Union, it participates as little as possible in Warsaw Pact activities. There are no Soviet troops on Romanian soil; neither do Warsaw Pact troop maneuvers take place in Romania. In the same way that the Soviet Union would like Romania to be more fully integrated into CEMA, so has it been trying to move Romania closer to its military alliance. That the Soviet Union is not trying harder is probably a reflection of the Soviet view of the current and foreseeable threat on its southern flank. Should the Soviet perception of this threat change, there is no question that Romania would have little choice but to play the game according to Soviet rules. Although there would be initial armed resistance to a Soviet invasion of the type seen in Hungary in 1956 or Prague in 1968, the regime would be forced to give Soviet troops transit rights if the Soviet Union believed it needed to send troops to Yugoslavia or Bulgaria. Depending, on the circumstances, however, it seems probable that the USSR would transit Romania only as a last choice, preferring instead to overfly Romania, to take the Black Sea route, or to go through Hungary. At the same time, Romania would probably be more agreeable to a transit request if the final destination were Bulgaria rather than Yugoslavia, with whom it has more in common and whose own relative independence from Moscow is an important prop to Bucharest’s go-it-alone attitude in foreign affairs. If the Soviet Union wanted to station troops on Romanian soil against a foreign (non-Romanian) threat, however, Romania would probably accede. Such an occupation would not be popular, but, as it has done before through countless occupations (and in a way as it is doing now under Ceausescu), the people would concentrate on surviving rather than on fighting back. That Romania has been able to become and remain a national entity [Page 587] is more a result of the cleverness of its diplomats than of the might of its armies.

27. To a large extent, the relative loyalties of the armed forces tend to reflect those of the population but, as it receives more ideological indoctrination, probably at a somewhat higher level of intensity. Since loyalty to the country is highest, the regime has skillfully promoted Ceausescu and the Party as synonymous with Romania. Loyalty to the Warsaw Pact is the weakest link in the loyalty chain.

28. In terms of ability, the technical services (that is, Navy, Air Force, and Air Defense) are far better trained than the Army, essentially a vast labor pool which receives little training above the small-unit level. It is the assessment of the Bucharest Embassy Defense Attache that any Warsaw Pact operation would be far better off without a Romanian Army unit during a combined operation.

29. Mistrust of the minorities is reflected by their status in the armed forces. There are very few minorities represented in the officer corps, for example. Enlisted men from ethnic groups are almost automatically placed in engineer units where they are little more than unskilled labor troops.

30. [less than 1 line not declassified] the Ambassador has read this report [less than 1 line not declassified] he considers it “a comprehensive statement which highlights the main problems and current areas of potential conflict in the Ceausescu regime’s management of Romania.” In the Ambassador’s view, however, “the report’s skepticism concerning Romanian achievements and possibilities is somewhat overdrawn, and it leans toward the lowest available estimates of quality of life/standard of living in Romania (i.e., vis-a-vis Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and the USSR, where other estimates show Romania equal or ahead). This penchant extends also to judgments on politics . . .” where, the Ambassador believes, “there is an underestimation of Ceausescu’s potential, and that of his regime, for development in both the political and economic/social spheres.”)

31. [less than 1 line not declassfied]

32. [less than 1 line not declassified]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Office of Analysis for the Commonwealth and Eastern Europe, Office Subject Files, 1965–1980, Lot 92D412, Box 2, Romania—Ceausescu Visit. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. Carlucci forwarded the cable to Brzezinski on April 13. (Ibid.)
  2. Brackets in the original.