Sitemap

Select language:

In English

Home > Database > Romania > Historical Overview > 1947-1965

Get Informed

Print this article

1947-1965

Communist Romania refers to the period in Romanian history (1947-1989) when that country was a single-party communist state in the Eastern Bloc led by the Romanian Communist Party, the sole legal party. Officially, the country was called the People's Republic of Romania (Romanian: Republica Populară Romînă; RPR) from 1947 to 1965, and the Socialist Republic of Romania (Republica Socialistă România; RSR) from 1965 to 1989. After World War II, the Soviet Union pressed for inclusion of Romania's formerly illegal Communist Party in the post-war government, while non-communist political leaders were steadily eliminated from political life. King Michael abdicated under pressure and went into exile in December 1947, and the Romanian People's Republic was declared. During the early years, Romania's scarce resources after World War II were drained by the "SovRom" agreements: mixed Soviet-Romanian companies established in the aftermath of World War II to mask the looting of Romania by the Soviet Union, in addition to excessive war reparations paid to the USSR. A large number of people were executed or died in custody; while judicial executions from 1945 to 1964 numbered 137, deaths in custody are estimated in the tens of thousandsor the hundreds of thousands. Many more were imprisoned for political, economical or other reasons. There were a large number of abuses, deaths and incidents of torture against a large range of people. Romania remained the only monarchy in the Eastern Bloc by 1947. On December 30 of that year, the Communists forced King Michael to abdicate. The Communists declared a People's Republic, formalized with the constitution of April 13, 1948.

The new constitution forbade and punished any association which had "fascist or anti-democratic nature". It also granted the freedom of press, speech and assembly for the working class. In the face of wide-scale killings, imprisonments and harassment of local peasants during forced collectivization, entire private property nationalization and political oppressiveness, the Constitution of 1948 and the subsequent basic texts were never respected by governments or the new judges appointed during dictatorship. The Communist government also disbanded the Romanian Greek-Catholic Uniate Church, declaring its merger with the Romanian Orthodox Church.

The early years of Communist rule in Romania were marked by repeated changes of course and by numerous arrests and imprisonments as factions contended for dominance. The country's resources were also drained by the Soviet's SovRom agreements, which facilitated shipping of Romanian goods to the Soviet Union at nominal prices. In all ministries there were Soviet "advisers" who reported directly to Moscow and held the real decision-making powers. All walks of life were infiltrated by agents and informers of the secret police.

In 1948 the earlier agrarian reform was reversed, replaced by a move toward collective farming. This resulted in forced collectivization, since wealthier peasants generally did not want to give up their land voluntarily, and had to be "convinced" by beatings, intimidation, arrests and deportations. On June 11, 1948, all banks and large businesses were nationalized. In the Communist leadership, there appear to have been three important factions, all of them Stalinist, differentiated more by their respective personal histories than by any deep political or philosophical differences:

  • The "Muscovites", notably Ana Pauker and Vasile Luca, had spent the war in Moscow.
  • The "Prison Communists", notably Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, had been imprisoned during the war.

The somewhat less firmly Stalinist "Secretariat Communists", notably Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu had made it through the Antonescu years by hiding within Romania and had participated in the broad governments immediately after King Michael's 1944 coup. Ultimately, with Joseph Stalin's backing, and probably due in part to the anti-Semitic policies of late Stalinism (Pauker was Jewish), Gheorghiu-Dej and the "Prison Communists" won out. Pauker was purged from the party (along with 192,000 other party members); Pătrăşcanu was executed after a show trial.

Gheorghiu-Dej, a firm Stalinist, was not pleased with the reforms in Nikita Khrushchev's Soviet Union after Stalin's death in 1953. He also blanched at Comecon's goal of turning Romania into the "breadbasket" of the East Bloc, pursuing a program of the development of heavy industry. He also closed Romania's largest labor camps, abandoned the Danube-Black Sea Canal project, halted rationing and hiked workers' wages. Further, there was continuing resentment that historically Romanian lands remained part of the Soviet Union as the Moldavian SSR. These factors combined to put Romania under Gheorghiu-Dej on a relatively independent and nationalist route. Gheorghiu-Dej identified with Stalinism, and the more liberal Soviet regime threatened to undermine his authority. In an effort to reinforce his position, Gheorghiu-Dej pledged cooperation with any state, regardless of political-economic system, as long as it recognized international equality and did not interfere in other nations' domestic affairs. This policy led to a tightening of Romania's bonds with China, which also advocated national self-determination.

Gheorghiu-Dej resigned as the party's general secretary in 1954 but retained the premiership; a four-member collective secretariat, including Nicolae Ceauşescu, controlled the party for a year before Gheorghiu-Dej again took up the reins. Despite its new policy of international cooperation, Romania joined the Warsaw Treaty Organization (Warsaw Pact) in 1955, which entailed subordinating and integrating a portion of its military into the Soviet military machine. Romania later refused to allow Warsaw Pact maneuvers on its soil and limited its participation in military maneuvers elsewhere within the alliance. In 1956, the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced Stalin in a secret speech before the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Gheorghiu-Dej and the leadership of the Romanian Workers' Party (Partidul Muncitoresc Român, PMR) were fully braced to weather de-Stalinization. Gheorghiu-Dej made Pauker, Luca and Georgescu scapegoats for the Romanian communists' past excesses and claimed that the Romanian party had purged its Stalinist elements even before Stalin had died.

In October 1956, Poland's communist leaders refused to succumb to Soviet military threats to intervene in domestic political affairs and install a more obedient politburo. A few weeks later, the Communist Party in Hungary virtually disintegrated during a popular revolution. Poland's defiance and Hungary's popular uprising inspired Romanian students and workers to demonstrate in university and industrial towns calling for liberty, better living conditions, and an end to Soviet domination. Under the pretext that the Hungarian uprising might incite his nation's own revolt, Gheorghiu-Dej took radical measures which meant persecutions and jailing of various "suspects", especially people of Hungarian origin. He also advocated swift Soviet intervention, and the Soviet Union reinforced its military presence in Romania, particularly along the Hungarian border. Although Romania's unrest proved fragmentary and controllable, Hungary's was not, so in November Moscow mounted a bloody invasion of Hungary. Romania and Yugoslavia both offered to take part in the military intervention in Hungary in 1956, but Nikita Khruschev rejected them.
After the Revolution of 1956, Gheorghiu-Dej worked closely with Hungary's new leader, János Kádár, who was installed by the Soviet Union. Romania took Hungary's former premier (leader of the 1956 revolution) Imre Nagy into custody. He was jailed at Snagov, north of Bucharest. After a series of interrogations by Soviets and Romanian authorities, Nagy was returned to Budapest for trial and execution.

In Transylvania, the Romanian authorities merged Hungarian and Romanian universities at Cluj, putting an end to the Hungarian Bólyai University, and also worked on gradually eliminating Hungarian education in middle schools by transforming them into Romanian ones. Under the pretext of calling numerous ethnic Hungarians "irredentists" who were "dangers to Romania's territorial integrity", the communist regime led by Gheorghiu-Dej jailed a large number of Hungarians, as well as executing some. During his 2007 visit, Hungarian president László Sólyom asked for the rehabilitation of the politically persecuted Hungarians, among whom were numerous poets, writers, university teachers. The Hungarian president also mentioned that 20 Hungarians were executed and that over 40 thousand years of jail were given in total to ethnic Hungarians. The request for rehabilitation of the politically persecuted Hungarians was not taken into consideration by the Romanian side. Gheorghiu-Dej spread fears about Hungary wanting to take over Transylvania. He took a two-pronged approach to the problem, arresting the leaders of the Hungarian People's Alliance, but, under Soviet pressure, establishing a nominally autonomous Hungarian region in the Székely land.

Romania's government also took measures to allay domestic discontent by reducing investments in heavy industry, boosting output of consumer goods, decentralizing economic management, hiking wages and incentives, and instituting elements of worker management. The authorities eliminated compulsory deliveries for private farmers but reaccelerated the collectivization program in the mid-1950s, albeit less brutally than earlier. The government declared collectivization complete in 1962, when collective and state farms controlled 77% of the arable land.

Despite Gheorghiu-Dej's claim that he had purged the Romanian party of Stalinists, he remained susceptible to attack for his obvious complicity in the party's activities from 1944 to 1953. At a plenary PMR meeting in March 1956, Miron Constantinescu and Iosif Chişinevschi, both Politburo members and deputy premiers, criticized Gheorghiu-Dej. Constantinescu, who advocated a Khrushchev-style liberalization, posed a particular threat to Gheorghiu-Dej because he enjoyed good connections with the Moscow leadership. The PMR purged Constantinescu and Chişinevschi in 1957, denouncing both as Stalinists and charging them with complicity with Pauker. Afterwards, Gheorghiu-Dej faced no serious challenge to his leadership. Ceauşescu replaced Constantinescu as head of PMR cadres. Some Romanian Jews initially favored Communism, in reaction to the anti-Semitism of the Fascists during World War II. However, by the 1950s, most were disappointed with the increasing discrimination of the Party and the limitations for emigration to Israel. Harsh persecutions of any real or imagined enemies of the Communist regime started with the Soviet occupation in 1945. The Soviet army behaved as an occupation force (although theoretically it was an ally against Nazi Germany), and could arrest virtually anyone at will, for perceived "fascist" or "anti-Soviet" activities. The occupation period was marked by frequent rapes, looting and brutality against the civilian population.

Shortly after Soviet occupation, ethnic Germans (who were Romanian citizens and had been living as a community in Romania for 800 years) were deported to the Donbas coal mines. Despite the King's protest, who pointed out that this was against international law, an estimated 70,000 men and women were forced to leave their homes, starting in January 1945, before the war had even ended. They were loaded in cattle cars and put to work in the Soviet mines for up to ten years as "reparations", where about one in five died from disease, accidents and malnutrition. Once the Communist regime became more entrenched, the number of arrests increased. All strata of society were involved, but particularly targeted were the pre-war elites, such as intellectuals, clerics, teachers, former politicians (even if they had left-leaning views) and anybody who could potentially form the nucleus of anti-Communist resistance. The existing prisons were filled with political prisoners, and a new system of forced labor camps and prisons was created, modeled after the Soviet Gulag. A futile project to dig the Danube-Black Sea Canal served as a pretext for the erection of several labor camps, where numerous people died. Some of the most notorious prisons included Sighet, Gherla, Piteşti and Aiud, and forced labor camps were set up at lead mines and in the Danube Delta.

The prison in Piteşti was the epicenter of a particularly vicious communist "experiment" during this era. It involved both psychological and physical torture, resulting in the total breakdown of the individual. The ultimate aim was to force prisoners to "confess" to imaginary crimes or "denounce" themselves and others, therefore prolonging their prison sentences. This "experiment" resulted in numerous suicides inside the prison and was ultimately stopped. The Stalinist measures of the Communist government included deportation of peasants from the Banat (south-east Transylvania, at the border with Yugoslavia), started on June 18, 1951. About 45,000 people were given two hours to collect their belongings, loaded up in cattle cars under armed guard, and were then forcibly "resettled" in barren spots on the eastern plains (Bărăgan). This was meant as an intimidation tactic to force the remaining peasants to join collective farms. Most deportees lived in the Bărăgan for 5 years (until 1956), but some remained there permanently. Anti-communist resistance also had an organized form, and many people opposing the regime took up arms and formed partisan groups, comprising 10-40 people. There were attacks on police posts and sabotage. Some of the famous partisans were Elisabeta Rizea from Nucşoara and Gheorghe Arsenescu. Despite a large number of secret police (Securitate) and army troops massed against them, armed resistance in the mountains continued until the early 1960s, and one of the best known partisan leaders was not captured until 1974. Another form of anti-communist resistance, non-violent this time, was the student movement of 1956. In reaction to the anti-communist revolt in Hungary, echoes were felt all over the Eastern bloc. Protests took place in some university centers resulting in numerous arrests and expulsions. The most organized student movement was in Timişoara, where 3000 were arrested. In Bucharest and Cluj, organized groups were set up which tried to make common cause with the anti-communist movement in Hungary and coordinate activity. The authorities' reaction was immediate - students were arrested or suspended from their courses, some teachers were dismissed, and new associations were set up to supervise student activities.



Facts

  • Romanaia lost over 500,000 citizens as a result of Communist occupation.
  • Romania remained the only monarchy in the Eastern Bloc by 1947

Literature