It’s been nearly a quarter century since the fall of the Ceausescu dictatorship in Romania, and still many aspects of what happened in December 1989 and immediately afterwards remain a mystery. Many people in the country hesitate to call what happened around Christmas of that year a “revolution.” They suspect that the collapse of the Communist regime was actually a managed transition orchestrated by insiders. But the relevant documents are either missing or remain classified. And official investigations have dispelled only a small amount of the fog. So the events of 1989-90 in Romania continue to generate speculation, frustration, and a wealth of conspiracy theories.
In 1989, Smaranda Enache was living and working at a puppet theater in Targu Mures. She had already come to the attention of the authorities when she attempted to stage a thinly veiled puppet allegory about the corruptions of the Ceausescu family. She was also actively involved in the protests that later took place in the Transylvanian town after residents heard about the unprecedented demonstrations that had taken place in mid-December in Timisoara.
A number of people were killed in Targu Mures during the uprising against the authorities. But despite a number of investigations, no one was found responsible. “This is a very painful reality,” Enache told me in her office at Liga Pro Europa in Targu Mures in May 2013. “After the collapse of the Ceausescu regime on December 22 and his execution on December 25, 1989, a series of ridiculous explanations were presented: that some of the protestors were nervous and attacked the soldiers and then guns were accidentally discharged. In fact, as far as I know, nobody went to prison or was condemned for what happened in Targu-Mures. The new government preferred to reward the victims than to punish the criminals. After the revolution there was a whole process of giving compensations and awards to the families of the victims and declaring people heroes of the revolution. People received certificates and some material benefits. And it was shocking to see that some of the people responsible, even leaders of the local Communist Party and the army, were rewarded just like the families of the victims.”
More discouragingly, tensions didn’t subside in Targu Mures. The town, by the late 1980s, was almost evenly divided between ethnic Hungarians and ethnic Romanians. Enache had been invited to work on cultural issues for the local branch of the National Salvation Front, the political entity that took over the functioning of the government. She was disturbed to see that many of the old Communist functionaries remained in place in the new structures. Equally disturbing was the rising nationalism.
“Another phenomenon that I registered very quickly, because my husband was Hungarian, was that there were people saying that there are too many Hungarians around,” Enache recalled. “But we were in a region where half of the population was Hungarian. For me this was normal. So, this new ethnicist melody circulated in the corridors captured my attention.”
Further to the east, inter-ethnic tensions had already exploded into violence in the Soviet Union, and Enache was worried that something similar could happen in Targu Mures. She expressed her fears in an interview with a Romanian TV journalist. “I said what I thought about the rights of minorities, that we were not enemies, that we had to build up a new society together, and that we should be very careful not to let things go in a bad direction. I said that I hoped that our city didn’t go in the same direction as Nagorno-Karabkh. Already a serious conflict [between Armenians and Azeris] was going on there. ‘We have to avoid another Nagorno-Karabakh in Targu-Mures,’ I said.”
When the interview was broadcast nationwide, Enache received a tremendous response. “We had no telephone at the time,” she told me. “After 10 minutes, my neighbor came over and said that someone would like to speak with me. They’d already tracked down the telephone number of my neighbor! Then my father came over and said, ‘Come fast to our home, because there are so many people calling you.’ A lot of people were calling me and congratulating me and saying, ‘Finally, it’s wonderful to hear a democratic voice.’ But others were calling me and saying, ‘You bitch. You deserve to be killed. You should die. You’re a traitor to the nation.’”
The response was swift from the National Salvation Front as well. Enache was removed from the list for the May 1990 elections. Then she was kicked out of her job.
“The commission of the NSF, of which I was part, invited me to a professional discussion,” she remembered. “I’d been the artistic director of the puppet and youth theater of Targu Mures for many years. This theater received many professional awards. It was a well-known and artistically recognized theater, not because of my management but because there were many valuable and talented artists working there, whom I tried to serve. And they did wonderful things. I was brought to this commission in May 1990, and they told me that I do not correspond any more to the criteria to be a director, that I was professionally inferior. From June 1, I would be dismissed from my function. In addition, and this was ironic, they said also that the reason was that I had been a director during the Communist times. I was the only theater director from the Communist period to be dismissed at that time.”
It had been a rapid reversal of fortunes – from thwarted producer of a dissident puppet allegory to autonomous participant in the December uprising to victim of the new puppet masters of Targu Mures. Ultimately, however, these were only the first dramatic twists and turns of Enache’s career. We talked about her contributions to two of the most important organizations of civil society in Romania – the Group for Social Dialogue and Liga Pro Europa – and her stint as Romanian ambassador to Finland. We ended by talking about the continuing challenges of running an NGO in Romania today.
“The small organizations working on combatting extremism need active support, including financial support, for projects focused on young people,” she concluded. “It’s sad to see how much Romanian young people are going in the direction of conservative fundamentalist ideas. And Hungarian young people also. The future depends so much on them.”
Do you remember where you were and what you were thinking when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?
I was home, and I was following all the events on Radio Free Europe (RFE). In fact, we were all the time updated by RFE. We — my family and my group of friends — followed always with great hope and commented on these events as well as the events that came before including Solidarnosc. I remember the moment of the fall of the Wall as an event that marked my life. It was the last in a long series of events that gave us, Romanians, the hope that maybe things would change in Romania as well.
You mentioned a play you wrote before 1989? What motivated you to write the play?
On the one hand a feeling of guilt. We had a number of very respected dissidents. I was always thinking about also taking the responsibility and the risk to speak out about what was going on in Romania. But I was not in a close relationship with the well-known dissidents. My husband Elek was a political detainee before, and he always told me that it’s not a romantic time to spend in a Romanian prison, so I need to think twice before taking risks.
Once I told him that, since we had an old Groma typewriter of my uncle’s, let’s type up some manifestos and distribute them.
He said, “You will end up in prison. So try to do something different.”
So then I said, “Let’s try to contact Doina Cornea in Cluj.”
He said, “You know that the Securitate is around her house. So you will be free just to arrive there. Then you have to think about your life.”
I had this feeling of guilt not doing enough. I was doing things, of course, just as many other people working in the theater and the cultural field were. We organized cultural resistance to the politics of Ceausescu’s nationalist Communist views. But I felt that it was not enough. Even my son, Stefan, a college student at that time, sometimes said to me ironically: “mom, your dissidence is limited to the kitchen, listening to Radio Free Europe”.
The idea of an open protest came to me in the form of using animal tales, some of them very famous and some of them Romanian, and turn them into a children play, but also meaningful for adults. I started to read animal tales. I selected six of them to illustrate the situation in Romania, with forced labor and the pressure of the Party. As an intermezzo to the piece, two actors visit an imaginary kingdom and discover how absurd it all is. The kingdom was ruled by Asinus, his wife and their son, which was a clear allegory of the dictator Ceausescu, his wife, and his preferred son Nicu. In my play, the Asinus family generates all the absurd ideas to exploit people, and the private discussions between them illustrate their lack of education and their primitive thinking.
For me, it was very challenging to write this play. At that time, I was working in the puppet theater here in Targu-Mures. The puppet theater was a place where the party apparatus used to exile those cultural personalities who were resisting their politics. Even though we were a small institution, we had a very good composer, a good scenographer, and a very good art director, all of whom had been working before in the most prominent cultural institutions in Targu-Mures. Because of their opposition to the official proletkultist line, they were exiled to our puppet theater. Together we succeeded to stage my animal play. As usual at that the time, before being presented to the public, a censorship committee of the county’s Communist Party had to approve the show.. Perhaps someone had informed them in advance that the play was a transparent allegory of the Ceausescu dictatorship. Therefore a high-ranking ideological secretary for County Mures came to see the play.
I must explain that I was not a writer. I was a militant, and I wanted my play to be a direct protest against the dictatorship.. Because also of my lack of writing experience, the script was very clear, and the allegory was too transparent. The ideological secretary understood immediately and she was very irritated. She told me, “Comrade Enache, tomorrow you must come to headquarters of the Party to discuss this with us.” But in fact, she never received me. She sent one of the subordinates to harass me and to pressure me to change the play. They also stopped the public presentation immediately.
The Party man visited the theater several times and insisted to me that, “You cannot present this play to the public unless you change it.” In fact they were afraid to report to Bucharest that they had failed in their repression of all kind of protests and a local theater had staged an allegory about the regime.
My husband, who was very supportive, gave me the idea to ask the Party activist what to change in the play. My husband told me, “They know what you need to change, but they won’t take the risk to tell you. Therefore they will never tell you exactly what to change. And you will play the naïf. And you will always ask what to change.”
The play was stopped by censorship in May 1989. The public did not see it. Until September, I was subject to daily forms of subtle harassment. The activists from the Party came to the theater to “discuss” with me. Sometimes, they just invited me to have a coffee in the city. But each time their message was clear: I must make changes in my play. I don’t think, on the other hand, that they wanted to make a big deal out of this. They were responsible for what was happening here. I don’t know if they ever informed their superiors in Bucharest about censoring our play. Anyhow they tried to keep it low profile.
The play was not presented to the public until after the fall of the regime. It was in January 1990 when we finally presented the play. The theater performed it twice only. We had an audience, but it was not the public that we’d expected. In those days, the Romanian revolution with the people on the streets and all the big changes was a much stronger play than this small allegory.
The theater preserved the puppets for a long time. But now they have totally disappeared. Luckily we have the text. And all the elements. We never talked about performing it again. It was not actual. It was just a gesture. And this gesture has nothing to do with the realities of today. Recently however, the current director of the theater intends to organize an event related to “resistance through culture,” and my play will be presented as a public presentation in the evening.
In December 1990, had you heard what was going on in Timisoara?
Yes, we heard about the military intervention because our daughter Klara, was a student in Timisoara. We knew already on December 15 from RFE that something was happening in Timisoara, that a Reformed pastor (László Tőkés) was protected by peaceful protesters against the forced eviction from his home. It was an unprecedented protest, and we immediately called Klara. Calling her was not so easy as it is today — there were no cell phones. But she had an aunt in Timisoara, so she went to her aunt’s house, and we arranged a telephone call. She told us that it was very dangerous what was happening there and the “chickens” were dying on the streets. She spoke to us in a kind of code, but we were able to understand what was going on due to the news broadcast from RFE. We understood about the imminent spread of the situation from Timisoara all over Romania. Ceausescu was just coming back from a state visit in, I think, Iraq or Iran. In a televised intervention he called the protesters “enemies of the nation.” He warned against hostile foreign intervention, and he decided to send the army to Timisoara. The Party was initiating a situation of war against the people.
On December 19, it was already very clear that there were civilian victims in Timisoara, young people mainly. At that moment, I and other people felt that enough was enough: it was impossible to accept that people were killed on the streets in peacetime by the Romanian army. I immediately contacted several people from Targu-Mures, writers and artists whom I knew were opposed to the regime, and I tried to convince them to start an opposition movement immediately. One of them replied to me, “We don’t have any backing so we won’t start anything.”
“But you see that some Hungarian writers have already made some gestures.”
He said, “Yes, but they have Hungary backing them. We are alone, so we will not start anything.”
I remember in detail the day when the revolution started in Targu-Mures. On December 20, our theater had a premier of Carlo Gozzi’s The Love of the Three Oranges. Before the premier, there was a very peculiar atmosphere in the theater. Everyone was very concentrated and silent. Everybody was expecting something to happen. The premier was suspended by the Party committee. An activist called to tell us that they were in danger at the Party headquarters. On the same evening already, at our workplace, some of the actors were writing protest placards. It was clear that they were ready to go on the streets. In the theater, we were getting ready to take the risk whatever happened. We knew that there was no way back. The army was coming out on the streets, and we knew that they were killing people.
Already in those days, my personal feeling was that we must all go out to protest on the streets, but it would be better if our Hungarian colleagues did not join us. Already Ceausescu interpreted the revolutionary events as the “deeds of bands of hooligans,” that it was all the action of foreign forces. We’d already heard about these foreign forces, which were usually said to be Hungarian. In addition to the capitalist world, our Hungarian neighbors were our preferred official enemies. So, on the evening of the revolution I thought it would be a better idea if Hungarians didn’t join us on the street. But then I met them at the center of town – they hadn’t listened to this absurd advice!
I remember sewing my ID card onto my breast pocket. I thought: if I am killed it should be easier for my family to identity me. But I was not the only one. That’s the feeling we had: whatever happens, we have to be on the streets, we have to change what is going on. They were killing people, and it was unacceptable.
Was there violence here in Targu-Mures as well?
Yes, in the evening of December 21. In the afternoon, people started to gather in the center of the city. They stood in front of the soldiers aligned to protect the Party headquarters. We spoke with the soldiers, telling them to be careful, don’t shoot, because we protestors are also Romanians. At the beginning it was a very relaxed atmosphere between the army and protestors. Some of the protestors gave flowers to them. And cigarettes. One of the young men was asking for cigarettes. At that time we had the best cigarettes, BT, Bulgarian Tobacco, so we gave them that.
We gathered in the center until around 9 in the evening. It looked like it would continue with people staying all night long, protesting peacefully. With one of the actresses, I went home to prepare dinner for our children – and then we returned. On our return, when we were not far from the center, we heard the shooting. Six people were killed on the spot and many others were injured. The shooting created a lot of panic, and the people dispersed. On the 22nd, in the morning, the workers started to march from the factories to the center. Some Party activists and Securitate officers tried to prevent them from reaching the center, but the workers were well organized. They occupied the entire central square protesting against the killings from the previous evening and against the Ceausescu regime. At that moment we were already convinced that the regime would collapse. The total number of victims from Targu-Mures was more numerous because we had people from our city killed in other cities too, including as soldiers in Timisoara.
Was there an investigation into who was responsible here?
Yes, the investigations went on for a period of time. In fact, no one was found responsible. This is a very painful reality. After the collapse of the Ceausescu regime on December 22 and his execution on December 25, 1989, a series of ridiculous explanations were presented: that some of the protestors were nervous and attacked the soldiers and then guns were accidentally discharged. In fact, as far as I know, nobody went to prison or was condemned for what happened in Targu-Mures. The new government preferred to reward the victims than to punish the criminals. After the revolution there was a whole process of giving compensations and awards to the families of the victims and declaring people heroes of the revolution. People received certificates and some material benefits. And it was shocking to see that some of the people responsible, even leaders of the local Communist Party and the army, were rewarded just like the families of the victims.
Year after year, on December 21, which was the day when the Revolution started all over the country, when we were gathering in city center to commemorate the events, the authorities were not present. They couldn’t afford a confrontation. When the new Communists stabilized their power, they imposed the 22nd as a commemoration day. In fact the 22nd was the day when Ceausescu and his wife left the Party Central Committee in Bucharest. Slowly, however, the 21st disappeared and now we have the 22nd as the official commemoration day. On that day the army, the priests, the authorities, and the families of the victims all gather together. The victims and the killers commemorate together on the same day. Very sad.
Every year there are a few persons protesting against the participation of the army and the authorities. But the public of Targu-Mures doesn’t participate anymore. We gather in the center of the city around the small monument. For the city it doesn’t mean so much any more. It’s only a few people protesting, and they are seen as somehow peculiar: ill persons who can’t accept the reality that we must now forgive and forget. And this is one of the most difficult situations in Romania. We never had a clean page. The people responsible never paid for what they did. Even on the anniversary of the day when the people went on the street and protested when it was still risky to protest there is no official celebration. This is the foundation on which our democracy rests.
A few days later you watched the execution of Ceausescu on television. Was that a complete surprise?
It was Christmas day. It was not a surprise. Already, the official TV and radio and newspapers informed us that he had been captured with his wife and they would be judged, that there would be a trial. It was a preparation. On the one hand I felt that it was a very fast execution, which contributed very much in a way to seal his guilt and the Communist Party’s responsibility toward Romanians. On the other hand, he deserved it. It was very unfortunate because I never felt in my life that someone should have to pay with their life for something. I have always been against the death penalty. But in those days, in my head there was such a dilemma over what should be done. After his execution and his wife’s execution and when we also saw what was allowed for us to see on TV — the trial itself, the summary trial, the unprofessional trial — it was such an offense to democracy and justice. It was a very unfortunate decision to execute him. But some people say even today that it was very good to execute him because if not, in five years, he would have returned to power in Romania.
So many people felt that our dreams of democracy were not fulfilled after the revolution to the degree that we were thinking. A very bureaucratic commemoration of the revolution, a very superficial analysis of Communism, a very superficial de-Communalization on top of an insufficient de-Nazification: everything was very frustrating in the end. His execution was just another mistake for democracy.
How long did you continue to work in the theater?
Until the end of April 1990. I was then dismissed from my position. I had a couple months of unemployment. All this happened because of my public positions. It all started the day, during the revolution in December 1989, when two delegates from the provisional leadership of the county, from the National Salvation Front (NSF), came to my office, and they invited me to join this council. I joined the council in January 1990 and as a cultural manager I was subordinated to one of the vice presidents of the county NSF. This was a Hungarian lawyer who had defended László Tőkés when he was harassed by the Securitate in Timisoara. His name is Előd Kincses. He was involved in the events in Targu-Mures in the years to come. I continued to work as artistic director of the theater, and at the same time I went every day to the council of the NSF. I was assisting some of the meetings. I was also watching the transfer of power because the headquarters used by the National Salvation council was the same county headquarters of the Romanian Communist Party and the same building. All the administrative apparatus of the Communist leadership was in place. It was in a way normal, because they were fast typists and good drivers.
On the other hand, they were in charge of taking minutes during the sessions of the council, of the new power, and some of the information appeared the next day in the media, especially in one of the newspapers, which was called the Red Star up until the fall of Communism and the Free Word afterwards. They were the same Communist journalists who had been condemning the revolutionaries as the so-called “enemies of the nation” until the last moment. And then they changed totally. I was very shocked to see the information from the council in this newspaper. I asked, “Why don’t you change everybody, the whole apparatus, because this is a new power and the information should be the truth, not distorted by an apparatus still loyal to the ancien regime.” Everybody was busy with the important priorities. Nobody was interested in these details. Then I saw some former Communist leaders like the secretary for the economy just coming and going in the corridors of the new power. I asked what this person was doing there. This secretary, Movila was his name, even on December 22, had been trying to stop the workers from coming to the center of the city. Another phenomenon that I registered very quickly, because my husband was Hungarian, was that there were people saying that there are too many Hungarians around. But we were in a region where half of the population was Hungarian. For me this was normal. So, this new ethnicist melody circulated in the corridors captured my attention.
The discussion about the rights of the minorities started in Romania as early as January 1990. The Hungarian community already organized itself officially in a political union, the UDMR (Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania). They were saying, and I thought it was normal, that now that the Ceausescu regime was finished, they would like to have back their rights, which had been limited by the national Communist regime. I participated in quite heated debates about the status of different schools. At the end of these debates, a young reporter from the local TV asked me for an interview. I said what I thought about the rights of minorities, that we were not enemies, that we had to build up a new society together, and that we should be very careful not to let things go in a bad direction. I said that I hoped that our city didn’t go in the same direction as Nagorno-Karabkh. Already a serious conflict [between Armenians and Azeris] was going on there. “We have to avoid another Nagorno-Karabakh in Targu-Mures,” I said.
I received a public profile because of that interview, probably through Hungarian channels, because it was in a way in favor of the Hungarian minority. The interview ended up in Bucharest where it was shown on national TV on a day when everyone was watching. It was January 28, when there was a huge demonstration against Communism and Ion Iliescu in Bucharest. I was not informed that this interview had been sent to Bucharest. I was at home watching TV with my husband and my son. At once the national TV 1 broadcast of the big meeting from Bucharest was interrupted, and the presenter said, “We will broadcast now an interview with a lady from Targu-Mures who is advocating in favor of good relations between Romanians and Hungarians.” And I saw myself on TV.
We had no telephone at the time. After 10 minutes, my neighbor came over and said that someone would like to speak with me. They’d already tracked down the telephone number of my neighbor! Then my father came over and said, “Come fast to our home, because there are so many people calling you.” A lot of people were calling me and congratulating me and saying, “Finally, it’s wonderful to hear a democratic voice.” But others were calling me and saying, “You bitch. You deserve to be killed. You should die. You’re a traitor to the nation.”
After January 1990, I was taken up by this growing tension in Targu-Mures. Although I very much wanted to contribute to reduce tensions and explain to people what was going on, I had no opportunity to have an interview in the Romanian media, nothing at all. I was cut off totally from communicating through newspapers, radio, TV. The former Red Star was not willing to explain what it was all about or to write about how we could build a good future together by respecting minority rights and keeping our identity as well, by having a consensual democracy and not allowing conflict. I began to see that this conflict was being prepared by professionals to make it possible for the Securitate and the former Communists to stay in power by demonstrating that they were the good patriots. But I also felt that, after Nagorno-Karabakh and what was starting to happen in Yugoslavia, this was a Soviet scenario — the Soviet Union hadn’t collapsed at the time – to prevent us from joining the family of democratic nations.
In the end, there was retaliation against me for that interview and what I did during the revolution and afterwards to prevent the conflict. I was on an election list. I wanted to run in the elections in May 1990 for the first free parliament in Romania. But the local court admitted a challenge by 160 people from Targu-Mures against my candidacy and that of several others including the lawyer I mentioned before, Mr. Kincses. There was no way of recourse against this decision. I had not even been informed that there was a trial on my candidacy. It took place on a Saturday, when the courts were not even supposed to meet. I met by accident a friend of mine who was a lawyer and he said, “Do you know that the court convened under exceptional circumstances and you have been removed from the list for parliament?” Later on, several people among the 160 who challenged my candidacy declared to the media that they’d never signed such a paper, and some had even been abroad.
Then the commission of the NSF, of which I was part, invited me to a professional discussion. I’d been the artistic director of the puppet and youth theater of Targu Mures for many years. This theater received many professional awards. It was a well-known and artistically recognized theater, not because of my management but because there were many valuable and talented artists working there, whom I tried to serve. And they did wonderful things. I was brought to this commission in May 1990, and they told me that I do not correspond any more to the criteria to be a director, that I was professionally inferior. From June 1, I would be dismissed from my function. In addition, and this was ironic, they said also that the reason was that I had been a director during the Communist times. I was the only theater director from the Communist period to be dismissed at that time.
You were dismissed by the NSF?
That’s interesting in and of itself.
Yes. But the NSF, when they dismissed me, was already different. Already we’d had this unfortunate conflict on March 19-20 here in Targu-Mures. Then, Előd Kincses, the vice president of the NSF, received mysterious threats and left Targu-Mures. He was afraid for his life and moved to Hungary to live for five years before coming back.
I was not dismissed by the so-called political leaders. I was one of the culturally responsible people, and I understood that I was no longer useful for the Front. The meeting included a lady who’d been working in the theater academy. She was also the wife of a judge from the previous period. Two actors were also there. It didn’t look like a political decision but rather a real professional decision that I was not meeting expectations. But there was no explanation. At that time, we had these work certificates that mentioned our workplaces. It was important which article from the labor code was used when you were dismissed, for possible reemployment. I was dismissed under a very offensive clause: for being professionally inferior and unfit for the job. I spent a few months unemployed.
Then I had a chance to be invited to become a member of the Group for Social Dialog (GSD) in Bucharest, which was a reward, so to say, from the Romanian dissidents and pro-democratic intelligentsia because of my stances. They heard that I was unemployed and I had no salary. They paid me, and for a short period I was the executive director of the GSD. Meanwhile we already had our organization, Liga Pro Europa, founded in December 1989. But we had no resources. We were all volunteers. Then we received the first grants from the United States so that, by the end of 1990, we had our first computer and our first Xerox machine due to the support of Irena Lasota, director of IDEE Washington. We started immediately to publish the only independent weekly newspaper, Gazeta de Mures, a militant weekly in Targu-Mures. We started to organize more institutionally our role and activism in Romanian society. At that point I returned home to work here. And I worked at Liga Pro Europa until 1998 when President Constantinescu sent me to Finland to be an ambassador, where I remained until 2001 when Ion Iliescu returned to the presidency of Romania. Iliescu immediately recalled 18 ambassadors appointed by President Constantinescu, and I was among them. I returned to Targu-Mures in 2001 and continued to work here.
I want to go back to March 1990. Already in January, you wanted to avoid a Nagorno-Karabakh situation here in Targu-Mures. By March, that event was on everyone’s mind. Was it a gradual process of building tensions, or did the March events seem to come from nowhere?
It was a gradual process, and this was making us very anxious. Since the days of the December revolution, practically every day something happened in the city to stimulate the growth of tensions between the Romanian and Hungarian communities. On one hand, there was the growing militancy of Hungarians demanding their rights. They were asking for the immediate separation of schools on the basis of language. In fact, they wanted back one of their historic schools, the Bolyai Lyceum, which had always been symbolically a Hungarian school for several centuries but was mixed with Romanian classes during Ceausescu’s time. There were also protests at the university of medicine where the Hungarian students conducted strikes to get back their own faculty. Historically, from 1948 to 1962, that university was a Hungarian language university, created especially to satisfy the needs of the Hungarian minority, as part of a post-World War II agreement according to the Communist arrangement for minorities. In 1962, Ceausescu, at that time the secretary responsible for ideology, imposed a Romanian language line that year after year took the place of Hungarian language teaching.
On the other hand, there was the birth of a strange organization, Vatra Românească, the Romanian Cradle, a nationalist extremist movement composed of judges, prosecutors, and people from the army who presented themselves as the only support for the abandoned Romanians facing the danger of losing Transylvania to Hungary. Tensions, protests, and confrontations between the new power and the dissatisfied revolutionaries were going on in Bucharest, in Timisoara, everywhere in the country, and the central authorities were focused on those events. Some of the Romanians in Targu-Mures, having had a negative personal experience of the previous autonomous region of Hungarians created by the Communists and dominated by Hungarian-speaking Communists, recalled memories of Romanians being persecuted at that time. They felt abandoned. Vatra Românească came as an angel to rescue them, though it was formed mostly by elements of the former repressive institutions.
Here in Targu-Mures at the beginning of March 1990, in one of the parts of the city with newer buildings, a Hungarian pharmacist added the Hungarian name next to the Romanian name for the pharmacy. Already there were fights around this pharmacy. Some people were injured. A car came from nowhere and injured two or three people. Everything was reported on in the former Communist organ, The Red Star, renamed The Free Word, which became the mouthpiece of the new democracy It printed very frightening scenarios about how Transylvania would be integrated into Hungary, how Romanians would be repressed, how Romania would become a humiliated nation as during the Austro-Hungarian days. All this was going on every day. There was no public voice to oppose this. The radio, the local television, they were contributing every day to the tensions.
The tensions were already present in everyday life. Before, in those new buildings, neighbors would always knock on each other’s doors to ask for eggs or a little bit of cooking oil or to babysit a child for a couple of hours. It was not a problem who was Romanian and who was Hungarian. But already in these buildings, some kind of tension was growing. People became reserved and suspicious about their neighbors. We had cases of children beating each other up in February and March on the basis of who was Hungarian and who was Romanian. After many years and many testimonies, we know that it was instrumentalized. This conflict had roots in the collective memories of our nations, but the direct conflict was induced from outside. So, it was not such a big surprise when people started a real war in the center of the city.
It happened on March 19, 1990. Peasants from a remote mountain area of this county, where they were living in a compact Romanian community and had a historic suspicion of Hungarians, were informed by the Orthodox priest and the mayor that Hungarians had started to kill Romanians in the city. They organized busses and they came to the city and attacked the headquarters of the Union of Hungarians in Romania and also the newly refounded parties – the Liberal, Peasant, and Social Democratic parties. They injured a writer who was very respected in the Hungarian community – András Sütő. The Hungarians too started to protest in the center of the city. It was mostly a peaceful protest, and they were asking for President Iliescu to come. We know today from testimonies from the members of the Timisoara Society, who were invited to Bucharest because of the Timisoara Proclamation in March, that Mr. Iliescu was informed every half an hour about the growing tension in the center of Targu Mures and the fact that people were waiting for him to come here and intervene. He never showed up.
The same peasants that came to Targu-Mures by busses entered the Hungarian crowd and injured some people. The physical confrontation started on March 19 and continued the following day when Hungarians attacked the Romanians. More than 10 people died and hundreds were injured. It happened like a fire. And then, after two or three days, everything stopped. It was very interesting that the bloody event happened and then it stopped. The need for the former rulers was just to have one bloody event for a couple days. That was enough for those who organized it. The people in the community did not continue the conflict. Today, we have quite clear information that those who started to beat each other in the center were not the inhabitants of the city but were nervous and misled Hungarian peasants and Romanian peasants coming by busses. The conflict was not taken up by the inhabitants of the city, and then it stopped.
What do you think the purpose was if it was instigated by people on the outside? To send a warning to the Hungarian community? To provide a release valve for the extremist Romanian sentiment?
My Liga Pro Europa colleagues and I were all the time sitting and discussing the events. It was provoked, on the one hand, to send a warning to the Hungarians and give satisfaction to extremist Romanians and align them behind the NSF. But we also had a feeling that it was a geostrategic play. What was the most important result of the Targu Mures event? The most immediate result was the return of the Securitate, which had been disbanded during the revolution. For three months, the Securitate had been integrated into the armed forces. After the events in Targu Mures, one of the first steps taken by Mr. Iliescu’s leadership was to restart the activity of the Securitate under a new name [the Romanian Intelligence Services]. But most of the people were the same.
Looking back every year at these events, I believe that those who at that time were in power did not sincerely think about a deep change in Romania. They wanted to create instruments to divide the people of this country along ethnic and professional lines or between former owners and the actual people living in the homes of the former owners. They wanted to use these divisions in society to preserve their power. Even today in Romanian politics, when there is a deep economic crisis or when the government is not able to solve real problems connected to health, education, corruption, and so on, there are always two or three cards under the table that can be used to reorient the discussion in society. The Hungarian card is used all the time when it is necessary. Another card is: “the old owners are coming back to take everything from the poor people.” A third card is the miners against the intellectuals. They were creating divisions in those first days, that first year after the revolution, and those divisions are still used today.
I say “they” because I never felt part of the post-Communist forces of Romania. Of course, I am also critical of the historic parties, which never recognized their errors from the past and had some right-wing aspects that I don’t like. But the political forces leading today in Romania mostly come from the tree that was in power before 1989.
What do you feel were your major challenges and major accomplishments at Liga?
The most important was that we were part of a larger movement in Romania, a larger coalition of civic and political forces to change the post-Communist regime in 1996. From 1990 to 1996 we were dealing with issues like the Romanian-Hungarian division, trying to build bridges of confidence between the communities, with a lot of grassroots activity, lobbying politicians from the two communities to come together, and even, at the beginning, promoting reconciliation between the two countries. Our main mission was to contribute to consolidating genuine participatory pluralistic democracy in Romania. In such a complicated city and region, we tried to be a voice, sometimes stronger and sometimes weaker, of a different kind of thinking. Although we had a lot of difficulties of all kinds, Liga Pro Europa has been a voice throughout these times.
Sometimes the simple act of surviving in this complicated environment was also an accomplishment. We had periods when we lacked resources. And we never became a real force. This was because of a fear at the beginning in the 1990s, for which I take personal responsibility, of opening up Liga Pro Europa and making it a very large organization, with a headquarters and a lot of branches around Romania — like the Civic Alliance. Of course, we were part of Alianta Civica. So we didn’t need to create something different. But then when the Alliance decreased, we felt that we should have a movement. But so many parties and movements and organizations had been infiltrated such that from one month to another, we saw shifts in our colleagues’ attitudes or in our free media or in a political party that we trusted before. Better we thought to stay smaller and try to do what is important here.
And we have done a lot: hundreds of seminars, meetings, summer camps, publications, and support and training for younger people. For 15 years, we had a college of democracy, which took young people from the best colleges in Targu Mures, students with both good democratic views, but also others with extremist views, and tried to educate them in mixed groups about democracy, about taking responsibility, about civic courage. Some of them today are judges, journalists, politicians, even a member of Parliament. But these very important programs all decreased with the years. The financing of civil society in Europe changed very much, particularly after our accession to the EU in January 2007. This is my greatest sadness. We see a bureaucratization going on in Europe, and the financing reflects this. Much of the grassroots are dying out because the funding comes in large amounts. If you want a grant, you have to think of thousands of euro. Small organizations are not able to spend so much. They don’t need so much, and they can’t co-finance these projects. Something is very wrong. I was thinking of trying to convince our civil society colleagues who are members in the European Parliament to organize a discussion on this.
Liga played an important role, considering that we are living in the provinces and the media is not so interested in what happens here. For many years, we were able to do things that meant something for the changes and to educate a new generation of people. Even now, in very difficult conditions, we are not ready to totally give up, though our activities are at a much lower intensity than before. We maintain a militant, activist position. We continue to take the risk of maybe not having so many supporters.
What was it like to go from an activist position to becoming a representative of the government, as ambassador to Finland?
It was a special government that we supported coming to power. It was “our government,” so to say. The image of Romania and the capacity of Romanian politicians to be devoted to democracy and democratic ideas and pluralism were very negative at that time. After the miners and all the disenchantment about Romania, we were not so interesting any more for some of our allies. We felt that there was a need to speak of Romania and the democratic potential of Romania in positive terms.
I was very happy to go to Finland. When I was young, I really wanted to be a diplomat. But at that time there were different criteria and a different selection process, so I didn’t even try. For me it was important to represent this democratic government of President Constantinescu and my country and to give Romania a fighting chance in the competition to become a member of EU and NATO. But it was also a difficult personal exercise. When you are militant you are very outspoken. And you are responsible for what you say in your name, or your organization’s name (and Liga Pro Europa was a small, consensual organization). But as a diplomat everything can be interpreted in different ways, so I was not so outspoken publicly. But in bilateral discussions, I tried to be, and I triedto explain things. I was received with good will in Finland. They liked having women in prominent positions. And they’d also been informed of my activities on minority issues and pluralism, which is a very sensitive issue in Finland.
I also had a lot of support from Finnish institutions for Romanian integration. It was a good mandate. We were working hard to see Romania start negotiations. This was also a great moment for me personally. I was still in Finland as ambassador when Romania began negotiations for EU.
Also, it was the way we were supposed to work. I was in Bucharest for the summer meeting for ambassadors when President Constantinescu told us that we were ambassadors of a free country and we were also free individually. He told us that we would not be reported on by the driver or other people at the embassy, which had been the case before. We should not lie for our country. We should say yes, we know that we do a lot of things in a wrong way. But we already know this ourselves, and we will do better. And we are on a positive trend. This encouragement and the backing from Bucharest was very good. We had nothing to fear that our initiatives would be amended or judged or rejected in Bucharest. The only very difficult moment was the miners’ march on Bucharest in 1998 when many people were already thinking that Romania would shift again and the government would change.
I was happy to be an ambassador. I was satisfied to have this job in connection with the government. I also saw the weaknesses of the government and its inability to solve some of the economic problems. We had huge inflation, over 200 percent. We had corruption. We didn’t open the files on the revolution.
Iliescu came back. Do you think that what changed between 1998 and 2001 became institutionalized? We’ve seen major fluctuations in governments and yet many problems continue, such as corruption. But have any of the achievements of that period remained?
It was the time of the big changes in the sense that political pluralism was functioning, which was not so obvious until 1996. We had many laws adopted for the functioning of those institutions at that time. We had good initiatives with historical reconciliation with Hungary and also an opening and reconciliation with Ukraine. We started a new relationship with Moldova, which meant supporting Moldova but not in a nationalist way. In the region, our policy with neighbors was positive. Also inside the country, many things happened in everyday life. The autonomy of universities, privatization — many things started at that time and they continued from 2000 to 2004. Although, there was a return of the former Communists, which became the Socialist party, that government continued some of the good directions because they had a very strong interest in consolidating our membership in the EU and NATO.
But they didn’t continue the whole philosophy behind the reforms and changes. I’m not the only Romanian to feel that. After integration into the EU on January 1, 2007, the democratic processes slowed down. We have an excellent record of adopting new legislation and new institutions. But they often look like forms without content. This democratic content — the mental commitment of our leadership, the economic and political embrace of democratic values — is still very superficial. The society looked much more mobilized until we entered the EU and NATO. And then there was no pressure any more from the outside. Now that we’re inside, what is going on in Romania reflects the level of democratic thinking of the leadership. This leadership has perpetuated a paternalistic model. People, when they started initiatives, were punished during those years. They went back to the mode of submission or silence. They only went onto the streets when it was about money. When it’s about principles or solidarity or democracy – when it’s about values — we can’t mobilize people. This is very painful.
You mentioned that you have fewer resources and it’s very challenging to work with the EU. It’s also a challenge to face a somewhat apathetic population that comes out on the street on economic issues but not on principles. So, at this moment in Romanian history and with your limited resources, what is the best way of having an impact? What’s the best strategy to pursue?
For us, the best strategy is to continue to be a voice, to speak out when there is corruption, injustice, nepotism, and induced divisions in society. It’s important for us to hold press conferences, and to be present as a voice about what is going on around us. And we should focus on the main things, not just the small things, even if the media might not be so interested.
The other thing we do with our modest means is to continue to build bridges between communities and support vulnerable groups. In the last years, we have focused on the Roma community and combatting the anti-Roma discourse and anti-Roma discrimination. We have worked to give a chance to the millions of Roma living in this country to live normally. We try to have a balance with Hungarians as well, but I have to say that that has been more difficult recently because of the Hungarian government’s rhetoric and right-wing orientation as well as the fact that it has been silent about anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and anti-Roma sentiment. Sometimes they have even encouraged these movements. And this is transmitted somehow to Transylvania.
We have this complicated situation right now with Romanian citizens of Hungarian background receiving the citizenship of Hungary, which is presented as a gift by the government of Viktor Orban. It is presented as a package: loyalty to his party along with the protection of the minority. We agree about the protection of minority rights, because this is a human rights issue. But we have fears about how to manage the rest of it.
This is where I feel the need to speak pro domo. The small organizations working on combatting extremism need active support, including financial support, for projects focused on young people. It’s sad to see how much Romanian young people are going in the direction of conservative fundamentalist ideas. And Hungarian young people also. The future depends so much on them, and we don’t see a strong middle in there. Perhaps there is. But where is this middle when there are incidents or provocations? We don’t see young organizations that have taken positions against these extremists.
In the next two or three months, we have to find a very small headquarters because we can’t afford this luxury office any more. But we will continue to maintain the commitment we started 25 years ago. Nobody obliges us: we want to do it. It’s our responsibility. I was living in a dictatorship until I was 40. I know how insidiously it can take over a society. I don’t want to facilitate the return of fundamentalism, be it ideological, religious or ethnic or whatever.
When you look back to your perspective in 1990 when this organization was founded, has anything changed in your thinking as a result of 20-plus years of experience?
I am the same. I have not rethought any of the philosophy or the principles, only some of the methods. What we didn’t know at that time, coming out of a monolithic dictatorship, was that freedom and democracy are also very complicated. And you have to adapt your means and instruments to a free society. This is challenging and difficult. But I think we have the same principles and commitments, and we won’t change as long as we are still functioning.
Targu Mures, May 20, 2013