213. Telegram From the Embassy in Romania to the Department of State1

3629. Subject: Vulnerability of Ceausescu Regime to Destabilizing Forces or Events. Ref: State 38873.2

1. (S-entire text).

2. Summary: We conclude that Ceausescu administration in Romania is facing no challenge so severe as to threaten regime stability now or in immediate future and that so far it has demonstrated the requisite flexibility to defuse successfully those pressing problems that require response. Principal internal stains stem from total centralization of party/state power and forced-draft program of rapid industrialization, but to date (except in isolated instances) economic discontent has not been translated into overt protest or other political action, and we do not expect that it will do so. Conflict could arise if, in 1985 when Romania is supposed to attain “medium-developed” status thereby vitiating regime demands for continued sacrifice, relaxation of tight controls and provision of visible and significant material benefits does not ensue. Groups with ability to cause most significant internal disruption are the sizeable ethnic Hungarian minority and an increasingly class-conscious industrial proletariat, followed by a sullen internal security apparatus. Several social problems may also force themselves into forefront, including redefinition of tradeoff between personal competency and political reliability for rising professional/technical group and resolution of centuries-old abysmal situation of gypsies. Finally, we see no significant external forces or actors which presently affect Romanian internal affairs, although Hungary and Soviet Union could exert destabilizing influences. In unlikely event of outright Soviet military invasion, all bets are off. End summary.

Internal Political and Social Strains

3. Principal internal strains faced by Ceausescu regime stem from centralization of state and party power and forced-draft program of rapid industrialization which GOR has been pursuing for at least fifteen years and which is designed to make Romania a “medium-developed” nation by 1985. Willful political decision was made to forego any rapid increase in living standards and material consumption in favor of accumulation and reinvestment (approximately one-third of national [Page 674] income in 1978), and this decision has been pursued relentlessly. Regime believes, possibly correctly, that necessary concomitant is what Ceausescu terms “order and discipline”, i.e. maximum party/state direction of the process and control over social forces unleashed by modernization process to avoid any disruption of maximum national effort required for rapid development in a hostile world. Net result is a paternalistic authoritarian state whose official rhetoric is heavily flavored with appeals to all to produce and over-produce for the sake of the country and future generations, and whose repressive apparatus stands ready and is occasionally used to coerce recalcitrants into line.

4. While inefficiencies, misallocations, and uncertainties of industrialization program have triggered massive grumbling, apathy, malingering, passive sabotage and corruption among Romanian populace, except in such isolated instances as the Jiu Valley coalminers strike in August 1977, economic discontent has not to date been translated into overt protest or other political action. In spite of some indications to contrary (see labor section, para. 17), we do not believe it will do so in foreseeable future, at least to point of endangering regime stability. Part of explanation lies in “Romanian character” formed over centuries. Tradition of democracy as we know it, or of citizen initiative and individual action, is very weak here; on contrary, Romanians have learned the hard way to accommodate to demands of whatever regime is in power and to do the minimum necessary to keep the authorities off their backs. It is the ability of Romanians to outwit, distort, and subvert government edicts that makes life human and livable under this and previous regimes. In short, this is a nation of survivors, not heroes.

5. Massive economic failure caused either by domestic mismanagement, which we view as unlikely, or by external factors would create a new and much more explosive situation, especially if living standards actually began to drop instead of rising as they are now, albeit at a snail’s pace. More pertinently, a GOR failure to start providing workers and others with respite from constant government pressure upon and supervision over individual lives as well as visible and significant material benefits in 1985, the year Romania allegedly attains its “medium developed” status, could also lead to important instability unless GOR could convincingly put blame on external forces or circumstances such as a world-wide economic crisis.

6. Neither population growth nor urbanization constitute significant stress factors now or in foreseeable future. The former is low in spite of active GOR encouragement of bigger families, and the latter is rigidly regulated through an effective system of internal migration controls by a regime determined to avoid hazards of uncontrolled growth.

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Ceausescu’s Leadership Style

7. During the fourteen years Nicolae Ceausescu has been in power, he has centralized decision making in his own person, extended party/state control over all sectors and aspects of Romanian life, consolidated his own position so that today he is the unchallenged master of the entire party/state apparatus, moved systematically to prevent any rival groups or persons emerging as viable contenders for power, and established a cult of personality unrivaled within Warsaw Pact area in its extent and intensity since Stalin. Such a picture has led some observers (e.g. RFE Background Report 212, September 27, 1978)3 to conclude that Ceausescu has thus isolated himself from Romanian reality, is insensitive to changing conditions, and may therefore be unable to cope successfully with future destabilizing forces and events.

8. We do not agree. We view Ceausescu as an extremely able and pragmatic politician who has shown the requisite flexibility, including concessions and backtracking when necessary, to defuse potentially explosive situations (e.g. Jiu Valley), maintain power, overcome opposition, and advance his own policies. Strategies to meet new challenges are today being incorporated into preliminary planning for Quinquennial Party Congress scheduled for late 1979. Role he has defined for himself is the classic one of enlightened but absolute despot, and Romania has had predominately despotic governments since time immemorial, although many rulers were neither enlightened nor Romanian. We are reliably informed that Ceausescu really does read position papers, absorb details of projects, and listen to advice. Persons out of favor are not purged, killed, disgraced, or otherwise turned into martyrs, but are isolated in some honorific job with no important functions (General Ion Ionita, Emil Bobu) or are otherwise buried in the system (Trandafir Cocirla, Constantin Babalau); indeed, it is not unusual to find such persons eventually returning to important positions after serious reverses in their careers (e.g. new Party Secretaries Ilie Radulescu and Dumitru Popa). Ceausescu’s blend of fervent nationalism coupled with foreign policy independence and activism is still widely endorsed by most Romanians even if it may be wearing thin for some. Personal popularity in Western sense of public opinion ratings of a leader’s performance is not a relevant consideration here except within extremely broad limits, and Ceausescu’s personal standing among populace [garble] could plummet drastically without seriously [Page 676] affecting either his basic acceptability as despot or his ability to govern. He is honest, works extremely hard, is omnipresent, engages in frenetic activity (sometimes we suspect for its own sake), all of which creates an image of concern, of things happening, and of forward movement. Countless mass rallies and provincial trips promote what Ceausescu terms “socialist democracy” and are designed to give important groups and citizenry in general a sense of identification with regime and Ceausescu personally, while total control is retained. Ceausescu has carefully nurtured a number of separate and sometimes competing systems to provide information from grass roots to him, result of which is that he is probably as well informed as any ruler can be within limitations of a 24-hour day. Yet he has also institutionalized a mechanism whereby ordinary citizens can address petitions for redress of grievances directly to him, thereby furthering the useful image that he is just and will see that justice is done if only a way can be found to bypass the stupid and perhaps venal advisors around him who keep the “truth” from him. Finally, he has successfully implanted belief among all Romanians, perhaps also wearing a little thin, that price for Romania’s foreign policy independence from Soviets is internal orthodoxy: While we view this as a myth and believe Ceausescu could liberalize substantially without incurring Soviet wrath, such a premise is extraordinarily helpful in muffling dissent and insuring the “order and discipline” he feels necessary to achieve his ambitious economic goals. Some senior advisors (e.g. PM Verdet, FonMin Andrei) are now privately expressing a variant, arguing that present controls must be maintained until economic development has been attained, and implying that realization can take place thereafter.

9. Withal, Ceausescu has his weaknesses, but we do not consider them either singly or in combination as overly dangerous to stability of his regime. He is vain; he can make shoot-from-the-hip snap judgments and decisions which adversely affect achievement of goals he seeks to accomplish; reliability of information on domestic developments and policy alternatives he is provided depends on candor of his advisers, a trait his style does not encourage; his toleration of son Nicu’s aberrations vividly illustrates adage that, in this society of alleged equals, there are those who are more equal than others. In his major departure from pragmatic politics, he fervently believes in creating the new Communist man—a person technically competent to perform in a modern economy but ideologically motivated by the tenets of “revolutionary communism”. This is a tough task anywhere, and more so here where Romanians have historically been generally indifferent to ideologically based doctrines of human behavior; while the education system and the creative arts have suffered, most Romanians do not take this element seriously and have shrugged it off as a personal idiosyncrasy of their otherwise quite rational ruler.

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A Post-Ceausescu Romania

10. In any political system heavily centralized around a single strong leader, question inevitably arises as to effect of the leader’s disappearance. This is particularly acute for Communist systems in which there is no agreed mechanism for transferring power from one leader to the next. In Romania, we believe that such a transition would be less difficult and destabilizing than in most other similar systems. While admittedly Ceausescu has made no provision for his own succession and there are no heir apparents, there is a group of a dozen or so third-string leaders (there is no second string) of approximately same age (around 54), outlook and experience whom we would expect to form a genuine, albeit temporary, collective leadership, using RCP Political Executive Committee (POLEXCO) as a framework and pledged to carrying out the policies of the fallen leader and to honor his memory. Mrs. Ceausescu would be a member of this group but, in spite of her undeniably immense influence today and probably ambitions for tomorrow, we would not expect her to inherit her husband’s mantle since we consider her power derivative rather than autonomous. She is also loathed by nearly all other major power actors. Eventually a new strong leader would emerge from this group and would probably become something like the new despot. We believe that this person is today a full or candidate member of POLEXCO and that anyone who is not stands no real chance of winning succession sweepstakes. We have pointed out earlier (Bucharest 1224)4 the remarkable homogeneity, relative youth, and excellent health of present 41 members of POLEXCO (with a couple of exceptions), and we conclude that, barring political accident, most of these persons will hold significant positions for the next fifteen years. This is striking stability at the top leadership level. Who, specifically? With due regard for hazards of prediction, we suggest, Ilie Verdet, Virgil Trofin, Paul Niculescu, and Cornel Burtica as most likely with Ion Iliescu and Gheorghe Pana as our favorite dark horses.

Opposition Forces

11. There are no opposition forces to current regime, either in country or expatriate, of any importance. There are probably some individuals, including some in relatively high party/state positions, who may not be totally enchanted with each and every policy of Ceausescu and who [Page 678] would do some things differently if they had the opportunity, but we consider it highly unlikely that any of these persons could or would mount a challenge to Ceausescu. There are no expatriates of political significance, and it seems to be rule here that expatriation rapidly causes loss of whatever influence the person may have had within Romania (e.g. dissident author Paul Goma, now neutralized and sputtering impotently in Paris). Only individual of real stature not part of current regime or neutralized by it is former Prime Minister Ion Gheorghe Maurer who, at 77 and in fragile physical (but not mental) health, is universally considered to be too old to play a major role in Romania’s future.

Security Forces

12. Security forces in Romania consist basically of regular military, para-military internal security (Securitate), and uniformed police (militia). Regular military is most important and seems to accept party control and civilian supremacy as embodied in POLEXCO and Ceausescu. Military are deeply involved in internal Romanian affairs and play a substantial and visible role in economic and social life—harvesting crops, supervising construction of Danube-Black Sea Canal and Bucharest metro, indoctrinating a largely conscript army in essentials of nationalism/patriotism. We have looked in vain for evidence of military’s political role and its influence upon internal decision making, but we assume it must be substantial albeit perhaps passive. Lack of hard information in this area is probably single biggest gap in our knowledge of Romanian internal political dynamics.

13. Internal security forces, as distinguished from professional military, constitute one of few potential elements of institutional disloyalty and therefore instability. Ceausescu’s principal power rival in mid-1960’s, Alexandru Draghici, headed this organization; after Ceausescu’s triumph, with support from uniformed military, Draghici’s supporters were replaced by Ceausescu loyalists and entire organization has suffered a continuing and notable diminution in its power since then, accelerated in last year by Pacepa defection. Nevertheless, internal security forces should be considered armed and dangerous. Ceausescu still does not trust this organization—nor is he pleased with its work, as shown by relatively frequent and sharp Presidential criticism—and it is kept on a short leash. In spite of general anti-Soviet bias of most Romanians, including security officials, and constant stress on organization’s role in preventing internal subversion, Securitate resentment at erosion of its pre-Ceausescu status of a state within a state, coupled with greatly reduced opportunities for personal plunder of its members, could provide elements which Soviets or some future Romanian contender for power could potentially mobilize and use, although any such attempt would likely result in major and active conflict with the military. Similarly, and decision by Ceausescu, [Page 679] unlikely as it seems now, to “unleash” the Securitate would be an invitation to conflict.

14. Militia as an organization is not now and is unlikely to be in the future a significant power group. Nevertheless, given fact that every hamlet in Romania has its town policeman or two, often the only governmental authorities permanently on the scene, acquiescence by militia in government policies is essential for internal administration.

Mass Media

15. All Romanian mass media are totally under party and, therefore, Ceausescu control and consequently constitute no destabilizing threat. Because of the resulting towering dullness, incompleteness, and distortion, however, Radio Free Europe (RFE) has won here the highest percentage of listenership in any East European Country and is the USG program with single most significant impact on Romania. RFE’s power to make Romanians aware that there are viable alternatives to present regime policies, even within a Communist system, as well as its news broadcasts on domestic events not covered by Romania media, terrifies Ceausescu regime concerning RFE’s potential to instigate, focus, and mobilize anti-regime discontent, and causes Romanian officials even now to regard RFE as a major destabilizing force. To an extent they are right.

Labor Groups

16. Official labor organizations are totally tame and are under complete party/state control; their only real function is to act as moderately important transmission belts of orders and policies from top down. There is no threat here, even under extreme circumstances.

17. Nevertheless, as Marx correctly noted and Jiu Valley miners have demonstrated, industrial workers have potential for militancy. GOR’s industrialization program is now two decades old, and first influx of workers in new industries who were fresh-from-the-farm peasants dazzled by bright city lights are beginning to be replaced by their less rustic children who could form a classic industrial proletariat. GOR officials are increasingly aware of this situation, but regime has yet to develop effective policies to deal with it although year-old “new economic mechanism,” still only partially implemented, is designed in part to meet some worker concerns. Grievances of kind familiar to Western trade union leaders do already exist, and ad hoc organizations could spring up to seek their redress, as in Jiu Valley affair and more recent “free trade union” (SLOMR) incident. As shown by both examples, however, GOR would have quickly and efficiently to defuse situation and destroy any incipient organization capable of serving as vehicle for expression of complaints of workers and others. While we therefore believe that in immediate future GOR [Page 680] will face from labor sector no challenge that it cannot control, regime may be in race with time to complete industrialization/development program and begin disbursement of substantial material rewards before embryonic worker militancy flowers and spreads as it has, for example, in Poland.

18. Scientists, academicians, technicians, sub-managers, career bureaucrats, and other professionals are crucial to success of Romania’s modernization effort. Aware of this, regime has been generally successful in providing them with status, facilities, promotion opportunities, and material rewards. Nevertheless, there are indications that at least some of these persons feel their talents are underutilized and insufficiently recognized, especially in a situation in which political reliability is still a more important criterion for advancement than individual competence in situations where one of these two elements is missing. Consequently, while Romania’s late start at intensive modernization-cum-industrialization has probably postponed the conflict between technocrats and apparatchiks generally predicted for this type of society, as emphasis switches more and more to quality rather than quantity this problem could become more acute. June 7 appointment of Elena Ceausescu as President of National Council of Science and Technology will not help.

19. Peasants traditionally have constituted most exploited and most explosive element in Romania (e.g. 1907 Peasant Revolt), but postwar industrialization program has changed situation radically and sapped countryside of its destabilizing potential. Agricultural labor force now consists preponderantly of women and old men, as young male (and many female) workers have been absorbed by industry. Further, conditions in the countryside today are light years better than they have ever been, with schools, health care, decent housing, roads, electricity, and potable water systems extended into all areas of the country.

Youth and Students

20. Communist Youth Organization (UTC) and Communist Students Association (UASCR) are all-encompassing organizations controlled by the adult party for which they serve as a principal training and recruitment ground. In spite of some differences in style and outlook, they have shown little tendency to strike out on their own as party youth movements have in other countries; they probably could not do so here even if they wanted to. Nor have we detected any inclination to form ad hoc groups outside UTC/UASCR framework around specific issues or personalities. As a rule, Romanian youth/students are not a volatile element as compared to similar groups elsewhere. Concerned about career opportunities and a job assignment system rigorously based on academic achievement, most Romanian students have neither time nor energy to become involved in non- [Page 681] conformist activities which could jeopardize their entire future. Further, Romanian system can generally absorb and reward its high school and university graduates—especially those trained in technical/scientific skills, as most are—so that there are no more than isolated problems of the unemployed, and therefore restless, intellectual.

Religious Groups

21. Leadership of all fourteen recognized denominations follow rule of “rendering unto Caesar”, except that in Romania Caesar’s share is significantly larger than elsewhere. In return, religious leaders become, de facto, coopted into the ruling establishment and are therefore unlikely to challenge it seriously. Moreover, Romanian Orthodox Church, which is the overwhelmingly dominant denomination, has no tradition of militancy on temporal issues and an unbroken record of accommodating itself to whatever government is in power. Dissidents within established denominations, particularly Baptists and other proselytizing neo-Protestants, do have some potential for causing disruption and are more difficult to coerce or buy off, but GOR, often acting through official denomination leaders, has been successful so far in confining religious dissidence to limited and generally harmless manifestations. While there are a few unrecognized and therefore technically illegal denominations, they exert little influence and have not been so grossly persecuted as to engender a revenge mentality. Largest group in this category is Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church, which was officially abolished by GOR in 1948 and forceably merged into Orthodox Church; although scattered pockets of sub rosa Uniates still exist, they are quiescent and show no tendency to attempt to reclaim by force what was taken from them. Finally, in spite of fact that legion of Archangel Michael/Iron Guard, the principal grass roots organization Romania has produced this century, combined religious mysticism with jingoistic nationalism and fascist ideology, we view this organization as a product of 1930’s whose conditions are unlikely to be duplicated again; attempts by “court poet” Adrian Paunescu to parlay similar elements into a political mass movement nominally loyal to Ceausescu have met with limited success at best (of 77 Bucharest A–81).5

Ethnic Minorities

22. Hungarians. Major unrest and insurrection among Romania’s two million ethnic Hungarians is the single most important possible source of domestic strife, as ethnic conflict between Serbs and Croats could tear Yugoslavia apart. History of Romanian-Hungarian conflict, [Page 682] size of Hungarian minority, its concentration in geographical center of country, its distinct language and culture, its ties to separate religious denominations, and its psychological perception of being discriminated against by Romanian majority provide potentially combustible ingredients of which GOR is keenly aware. We detect no serious effervescence in Hungarian areas at present, no embryonic “liberation” or other organized movement, and no charismatic leaders capable of fanning grievances into political flames. We further doubt that spontaneous combustion would take place, barring a major and unlikely change in present circumstances such as a gross reversal of GOR’s minority policy. Nevertheless, a relatively rapid deterioration could occur, especially if such outside actors as the Governments of Hungary and Soviet Union were actively involved.

23. Germans. Ethnic German community, while numerically significant (circa 350,000), is not now a factor for instability. Once a source of Hitler’s SS divisions as well as an effective and active FLT column for Nazi Germany, German community was shattered by wartime losses and immediate postwar repression including deportations, and today is dispirited, demoralized, and interested primarily in emigration to West Germany. As long as issuance of emigration passports continues at a substantial rate, as it has for last two and a half years, there should be no problem.

24. Gypsies. As elsewhere, Gypsies in Romania constitute a true underclass—loathed by all other elements in society, ignored by outside world, relegated to most menial tasks, and butt of real and serious discrimination. None of this is qualitatively new in centuries-old saga of Gypsies and their wandering, and record of Ceausescu regime toward them is probably as good as any previous Romanian Government. There is no overt sign of restiveness in Gypsy community or of political mobilization to correct grievances, but it is doubtful if any non-Gypsy, including GOR leaders, has any real idea of what Gypsies are doing or thinking. There is not even any good estimate of their actual numbers, although there is a universal belief that birthrate among Gypsies is significantly higher than among any other ethnic group. Consequently, while we see little present danger to regime from Gypsies, we do see an increasing social problem which will probably get worse before it gets better (if it does).


25. While interrelationships of policies and groups is a complex social and political phenomenon, we wish to note three points which strike us as especially significant: (a) there is a close tie between religious affiliation and ethnic membership; (b) unlike such Communist countries as Poland, there is no discernible worker-intellectual linkage here; and (c) GOR will not tolerate existence of any organization, irre [Page 683] spective of origin, not totally under party/state control, especially if it could serve as vehicle for expression of accumulated grievances of diverse groups (e.g. “free trade union” group), and on past record it will move quickly, efficiently, and ruthlessly if necessary to destroy it before it can take root and spread.

External Influences

26. There are many external influences on formulation and execution of Romania’s “independent” foreign policy, but very few lap over into internal policy or affect domestic stability. Internally, only Hungary and Soviet Union could play important roles, but there is no compelling evidence that they are doing so.

27. Hungary and Transylvania are linked together by history, race, and culture (as Transylvania is also similarly linked to classic Romania), and interest of Hungarian Hungarians in situation of their ethnic brethren is as natural as Romanian interest in Bessarabia, a region heavily populated by ethnic Romanians which is now the Moldavian SSR of Soviet Union. Given centuries of Romanian-Hungarian conflict and repeated shifts in ownership of Transylvania, however, Romanians interpret this Hungarian interest as a thinly veiled lust for recovery of this “lost” territory, probably at Soviet instigation. Realization that Hungary internally is now in many ways a more attractive place to live than Romania adds to Romanian concern about Hungary’s appeal to Transylvanian Magyars and the “subversive influences” emanating from Budapest. While we agree that GOH could exert a serious destabilizing force if it desired, we see present Kadar regime as essentially cautious on this issue, generally limiting official actions and keeping Hungarian nationalist firebrands under control.

28. All Romanians claim to see Soviet hand behind any internal disruption, but hard evidence is lacking. Still, as our study on Soviet leverage in Romania (Bucharest 138)6 concluded, one goal of Soviet activities within Romania must be identification and recruitment of individuals who could if necessary form a puppet regime imposed by the Red Army. Soviet Union has unquestioned military ability to subjugate Romania and has demonstrated in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the political will to do so if it became convinced that vital security interests were seriously threatened by events in Romania. A Soviet invasion, unlikely as it seems now, would create so totally different a situation here as to render this analysis of regime stability inoperative.

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Box 11, Bucharest. Secret; Roger Channel.
  2. Not found.
  3. In a September 27, 1978, Background Report on Romania, Patrick Moore of Radio Free Europe argued that Romania was facing a crisis of leadership, compounded by Ceausescu’s preference for fast, immediate solutions rather than more considered responses. (Open Society Archives, Records of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute, Publication Department, Background Reports, Box 52, Folder 5, Report 56. HU OSA 300–8–3–52–6–56, Budapest, Hungary)
  4. In telegram 1224 from Bucharest, February 26, the Embassy reported on the prospects of the Romanian Communist Party leadership. The Embassy suggested that outside of accidents or unexpected illness, the top echelon of the party leadership was likely to remain in power for the foreseeable future. “If they are removed,” the Embassy concluded, “it will be because of political reasons, most likely associated with the relative favor they enjoy with Ceausescu, rather than because of death or sickness.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790088–0028)
  5. Airgram 81 from Bucharest, July 25, 1977. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P770121–0954)
  6. See Document 212.