Sunday, November 25, 2007

Death to intellectuals

Ion Iliescu, former president of Romania (1990-1996, 2000-2004), now has a blog. Of course, after the ever ridiculous Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got his blog, this may not sound so shocking. But, trust me, this 77-year old Romanian blogger really is special.

To my international readers: if some stories (in particular, the miner story) seem just too much to be true, let me assure you -- they are entirely true, and accepted history.

Communist years. Iliescu got his political training in Moscow during the first years of Romanian communism, and compensated for being homesick by contributing editorials to the Romanian state-run newspaper (Scânteia) . The topic was of course the contrast between the primitive capitalist imperialist cannibals, and the new glorious communist society.

Back to Romania, he quickly advanced in the nomenclatura to be a minister. In the 70s he was seen by everybody as Ceauşescu's heir, which began to freak out the dictator. As a result, Iliescu was sent to be prime secretary in various remote counties.

The revolution. The Romanian revolution is a unique event in European history. Unlike the velvet revolutions in other communist countries, this one was not about throwing three stones and breaking two windows: at the end, more than 1100 people were dead, and 3300 wounded. We know who these people are: demonstrators who were assailing government buildings. But unlike other bloody conflicts in recent memory, we have no idea who shot these people and why. The official reports indicated that "unidentified terrorists shot the demonstrators." (rather sensitive choice of a word, isn't it?)

One must find it truly remarkable that to this day we have no plausible explanation. In similar cases, we always have a very plausible official version (say, Bin Laden), which conspiracy theorists choose not to believe. Personally, I seldom count myself among conspiracy theorists, but faced with the lack of an explanation, I have to become one.

Many (most?) Romanians have suspected that Iliescu and other leading party members seized the opportunity of public unrest to stage a revolution, and seize power. The secret service was ordered to shoot enough people to make the revolution credible, without actually stopping the demonstrators. NB: it seems clear that a militaristic communist state had enough bullets, grenades and tanks to keep demonstrators out of the presidential palace, especially with several days' notice.

Conspiracy theory aside, the fact is that high-ranking communist officials, led by Iliescu, emerged as leaders of the anti-communist struggle (!!), and obtained control of "revolutionary party." In the days after the revolution, Iliescu was an inspiration to democracy fighters with statements like:

  • Let's build a Communism with a humane face! (eternul "comunism cu o faţă umană")
  • Ceauşescu tarnished the noble ideals of Communism ("a întinat nobilele idealuri")
  • The multi-party system is a backwards concept ("sistem retrograd")
Hooligans. When the communist turned-revolutionary party (FSN) announced that it would participate in the elections it was organizing, this was too much for politically-aware Romanians. Bucharest intelligentsia, led by professors and students, took the streets, and occupied one of the main squares in Bucharest (hence, the movement was soon known as Piaţa, "The Square"). They staged a sit-in that lasted several months, featuring some hunger strikers, and, rather uniquely, lots of singing. The demands were that former communists not run in an election they were organizing, and that national media be granted political independence.

The authorities (aka the revolutionary party) turned the propaganda machine against the demonstrators, aided of course by control of the media. On some days, Iliescu would call the demonstrators worthless hooligans, who might as well remain on the streets. On other days, the demonstrators were fascists, probably infiltrators from the West. A remarkable quote by another leading party member (Brucan) was "Of course we will not talk to them; how can you talk to someone who doesn't eat? My only advice is that they should have a steak."

The response of the demonstrators was to proudly adopt the name hooligans (esp. in the Romanian form golani). A song of those days, which over the years has gained moving overtones, proclaimed that "I'd rather be a hooligan, than a party activist/ I'd rather be dead, than again communist." Song on YouTube.

Miners. Unable to address the Piaţa problem, Iliescu decided to take drastic measures: he called the miners from the Petroşani region to "protect the democracy." Armed with identical fighting clubs and a mob mentality, some 12000 miners boarded special trains for Bucharest. Stopping briefly in Craiova (where I lived), they managed to trash a neighborhood in half an hour, with apparently no good reason.

Reaching Bucharest, they immediately attacked the demonstrators, shouting two infamous slogans:
  • Death to intellectuals! (Moarte intelectualilor)
  • We work, we don't think! (Noi muncim, nu gândim) -- in line with the standard communist doctrine that the working class is the only legitimate ruler of a country.
The attack was extremely violent, despite the fact that the demonstrators were defenseless. Official counts of the Iliescu regime put the number of victims at 8 dead. Since then, the numbers have been revised to 200-300 dead and thousands wounded. Several mass graves have been discovered, in which a crushed skull is the common cause of death.

That night, students wrote on the university wall adjacent to the square "TianAnMen II."

In the following days, the miners roamed the streets looking for potential revolutionaries (i.e. beating up people with a beard or long hair). To encourage democracy, they also trashed all opposition parties, making a famous report that they had found intoxicating drugs that the opposition was going to use to influence voters, capitalist propaganda materials, "and a typewriter."

At the end, Iliescu came down among the miners and (in a live broadcast on national TV) thanked the miners "for being a strong force, one with an attitude of high civic conscience."

Years later, Iliescu denied that he had anything to do with the violent actions of the miners. In another remarkable quote, he said "I had called the miners to plant pansies in university square" (să planteze panseluţe) after the demonstrators retreated.

Here is a video capturing key moments of those days. It should make sense even if you don't speak Romanian.

Then, Mr. Former President, I can only suggest that you decorate your new blog with pansies. Welcome to the blogosphere, where I can assure you that your feelings towards the intellectuals are entirely reciprocated.


Anonymous said...

The blog seems to be entirely in Romanian.

elad said...

Great post!

Does the timing also have something to do with the actions of the Putin regime in Russia?

Anonymous said...


As a fellow intellectual, I would like to join you in welcoming our former President, Ion Iliescu, to the blogosphere, and wish him a hearty La multi ani! among the intellectuals and other people who now have the chance to write to him in person and converse with him without the fear of STONES being hurled at their heads.
You need not be so upset with him for wishing death upon those who think and publish for a living. If Iliescu himself is an intellectual (one has to be to graduate from a University in Moscow, get published in "Scanteia," and lecture at US Universities such as Columbia, NY) --well, he himself was putting his life (at least as an intellectual) on the line. I think it's safe to say he DISQUALIFIED himself as an intellectual once he indorsed/provoqued the miners' violent actions. Iliescu was, however, head of the Romanian state, as were the miners CITIZENS of the same state. Do you see the deeper problem here? A violent Romanian minority (frustrated, uneducated men with clubs and stones) resorted to violent actions against another Romanian minority --the intellectuals.
To this day, if you should walk the streets of Cluj-Napoca, main location of the Babes-Bolyai University (55.000 students, Romanians and international, biggest state university in Romania, entering the TOP 500 universities of the world) you can read grafitti writings with VLAD TEPES FOR PRESIDENT.
My question for you, Mihai, is: would you choose Iliescu or Tepes as your President? Would you rather have a Moscow-educated intellectual or a former Turkish prisoner (as Vlad was) to usher Romania into a democratic era?

Anonymous said...

I think Iliescu did the best he could with the little he was given. Let's face it: was Emil Constantinescu better? How long did he last against the pressures of the Securitate?
Are you happy with Traian Basescu? Are you happier with a ship commander? Do you want Romania to be ruled with an iron/manly fist?
More importantly, will Becali be elected President? Do you want a Christian Orthodox sheepherder for President? Have you voted yesterday?

Anonymous said...

Wow --do you think if were a student in Bucharest in those times (early 1990) you would have been among the ones in Piata Universitatii? Or, do you personally know someone who died there, or in Timisoara, or in Cluj? I know you were just 7 years old. I remember those days...I was not scared then, but now I could cry thinking of those children, those students. There were others shot dead (executed) in 1956 in Timisoara for showing solidarity with the Hungarian Revolution. Those students (the ones who served jail time, but were not sentenced to death) are now retired old people, and their sentences have not been annuled by the Romanian State.
If only the ones who are now in their twenties and students would petition the current government to do something about it: it's such ***SHAME***for the Romanian state that this is till so.
Mihai, if you really care, if YOU really are an intellectual, you should try to do more than show your rightful anger and bitterness on your blog. Why not write to Basescu himself? Iliescu is just a tired old chap at the age of memoir writing. He's a slice of history. I, for one, would be interested in reading his memoirs.

MiP said...

Elad, the Putin regime certainly does things of the same flavor... One can see the shared background of these people (the Moscow political school).

Putin is actually better at this: he has managed to create a straw opposition, something that Iliescu never succeeded to do. Perhaps it is a function of how much money they had available. I have heard opinions that Putin would not survive in a poor Russia.

MiP said...

@anon 2: I would definetely choose Vlad Tepes :) I guess this puts me in the mainstream of political thought among Romanian intellectuals (which, I find, are mostly right-leaning liberals).

MiP said...

@anon 4: It seems almost certain that as a student in Bucharest, I would have sympathized with the movement. Would I have been in the square when the miners attacked? It's a matter of luck; I'm certainly glad I wasn't :)

I don't personally know anyone who got killed (think of the age difference), but I know people who were there. If anecdotical evidence is anything to go by, a lot of them live in Canada now.

The point of the blog post was something like "we will never forget, Mr President." I am not lobbying for anything related to historical matters -- while I have a lot of respect for people doing this, I think I should spend my own time lobbying for more urgent things. If I write to Băsescu, it will be about the university system in Romania.

MiP said...

@anon 3: The Constantinescu regime was simply incompetent. There is really not much more that one could say about it.

While I'm not a Băsescu-follower, I often support his decisions. Plus, I have some amount of personal appreciation for the guy, since I am going through the same thing every day :) -- people respect him for what he does (objectively speaking), and hate him for what he is, how he behaves, his personal lifestyle etc.

Overall, I am certainly happier with the current government, since I adhere to the Clintonian motto "it's the economy, stupid." They can quarrel all they want as long as the economy is booming.

Mariana said...

Dear Mihai Patrascu from Craiova,

My then-19-year old son WAS THERE in the Petrosani Valley when the miners took off for Bucharest, clubs and helmets in hand, on their heads. Marius was part of the cadet corps ordered on the site to cordon off the miners.

Please allow me to PROFOUNDLY DISAGREE WITH YOUR ARTICLE. YOU, DEAR BOY,WERE NOT THERE. Why slender former President Ion Iliescu for the way he managed a internal state crisis which was unfolding as you were watching it from your neighbourhood window with your 8 year old eyes, guarded by what I imagine are your vigilent, loving parents?
Since you move quite freely in the world of THEORY AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (I got to take a look at your cv; not bad; but not impressive) maybe you should keep your judgements pertinent to that area.
If you care enough about CIVIC DUTY, not just SCIENTIFIC SERVICE, you would be well advised to finish your Ph.D, publish it, let us know if there is anything we should be awaiting with interest (we, meaning not just the scientific community, but the citizens of the world at large).
And, one more thing, as a mother, scientist/professor, and fellow Romanian citizen: Vlad Tepes a luat teapa si Tara Romaneasca a avut de suferit enorm. Mai bine emuleaza-l pe Stefan cel Mare (zestre culturala, aport demografic, aliante diplomatice). Daca tot te cheama cum te cheama, ai grija, nu-ti pierde capul, nu-l sfida pe Ion Iliescu ca blogorist; si, mai ales, daca tot nu se mai face acum stagiu militar, asigura-te ca ai un corp sanatos, un spirit onorabil, si o lectura la zi a cotidienelor principale ale lumii.
Succes, si scrie-ne, te rog, ceva ce putem sa si citam, nu numai sa citim.

Mariana Stroescu

Anonymous said...

What Mihai has written seems completely coherent and logical. It should happen more often that rational thought be applied to politics and such issues rather than social engineering, trickery and exploitations of the human brain deficiencies.

The proof is there for everyone to see that the Revolution was staged to allow the coming to power of Iliescu who is a communist.

Anonymous said...

Right: hats off to the MIT intelligence, regardless of their personal mishaps; they rarely take center-stage in a world of scientific progress with immediate impact on the supporting community.

Never has there been a doubt about the potential for recovery and advance in the cooperative worlds of science and the arts --actually, I would thing the two are perfectly circumscribed into one another --constantly morphing one another.

If we could just see more of the truly self-expressive side of Mihai (not apologies, defense, corrections, addenda). Qui s'excuse s'accuse ('those who excuse themselves accuse themselves,' the French would roughly-paraphrased have it). I think it's evident that Mihai has been given a clean slate to imprint on: that would pretty much be his Ph.D. research work. That's what we're intent on looking at, with confidence and hope that it will be a rewarding reflection of all of Mihai's work up to now (even through much work still lies ahead).

Liberalism said...


IN REGARD TO: "Yeah, but what is Mihai himself?"

Your whole argument collapses, because you are using flawed logic.


The credibility of a single person is independent with the truth of a statement.

Liberalism said...

Sorry, the message above should have read: "THIS IS A TRUE COMMENT, UNLIKE THE OTHER LAST COMMENTS."