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")
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.
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.