Where Communism Lives

October 16, 1992

Communism may rise again in Eastern Europe, if the transition to democracy and capitalism is too painful, too long, too destructive of people's living standards and hopes. This is clearly a concern in Russia, Ukraine and Poland. It is what divided Slovakia from the Czech Republic and, to some extent, Serbia from Croatia and Slovenia. But in Romania, the story is different. There, communism never gave up.

Except in name. The Communist Party was outlawed, by Communists ruling as the National Salvation Front. What was destroyed at the end of 1989 was the personal dictatorship of Nicolai Ceausescu, not the Communist machine he had betrayed. Ion Iliescu, a Communist stalwart of the Ceausescu regime, was elected president in May 1990. He has just decisively won re-election. But in earlier parliamentary voting, the result was fragmented, with his party the strongest of five but far short of a majority. Some form of coalition is mandatory. Not only is Mr. Iliescu's party, the Democratic National Salvation Front, really a fragment of the old Communist Party, but so is the separate Front for National Salvation of former Prime Minister Petre Roman, now his rival.

There is no doubt that Romania has changed some. A Michael Jackson concert filled the Bucharest soccer stadium. But the secret police still exist. Refugees who fled in the bad old days fear to return. And now President Iliescu, on winning re-election, promises to maintain the transition to market economics by slowing it down, perhaps to a halt.

Romanians fear unemployment and price inflation, hallmarks of the transition everywhere else. A vote for Mr. Iliescu was a vote for price control and a job. Romanians still fear to give up the supposed securities of life under communism. If the shock of transition in other countries goes on too long, Communists by whatever label will make comebacks. What's most troubling about Romania's outcome is not that it is the power of the past, but that if the transition elsewhere is not successful, it could also be the wave of the future.

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