Frontline World

Romania - My Old Haunts, October, 2002

Synopsis of "My Old Haunts"

On the Road in Romania

Exclusive Article and Archival Diary

House of Tudor

Examination, Interview and Quiz

Facts and FAQs about Romania

The Revolution, "Gypsies," Background




Images of Romanian people and architecture

• Romania borders on the Black Sea between Bulgaria and Ukraine in southeast Europe.

• Romania is slightly smaller than Oregon.

• Romania's total population is 22.4 million.

•  By ethnicity, Romanians are: Romanian 89.0 percent, Hungarian 7.1 percent, German 0.5 percent, Ukrainian, Serb, Croat, Russian, Turk and Gypsy 2.5 percent.

• Romanians speak Romanian, Hungarian and German.

• The Romanian People's Republic was created in 1948.

• Romania was ruled by communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu from 1965 until his execution in 1989.

• Romania is currently a constitutional democracy -- more than 200 new political parties sprang up after 1989. The current president is Ion Iliescu. Elections are scheduled for 2004.
• Romania, one of the poorest countries in Central and Eastern Europe, began the transition from communism in 1989 with a largely obsolete industrial base. The country's main exports are textiles and footwear (26 percent), metals and metal products (15 percent), machinery and equipment (11 percent), and minerals and fuels (6 percent). Forty percent of the working population makes a living through agriculture.

• Ninety-eight percent of the population is literate, and there are 600,000 Internet users in Romania.

• Nearly half (44.5 percent) of Romanians live below the poverty line. The average monthly salary in Romania is 3.3 million lei -- about a hundred dollars. There were demonstrations in the fall of 2002 protesting widespread poverty and governmental handling of the economy.

• Over the past decade, economic restructuring has lagged behind that of most other countries in the region. The standard of living has continued to fall: Real wages have dropped more than 40 percent since the 1989 revolution. In 2001, the inflation rate was 30 percent.

• The European Union ranks Romania last among candidates for membership, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development rates Romania's transition progress as the region's worst.

• Romania received a score of 2.2 on Transparency International's 2002 corruption perceptions index, with 10 being "highly clean" and 0 being "highly corrupt."
Why are there so many Romanian orphans?

After the 1989 revolution, stories abounded of Romania's abandoned and abused children, and a rush of foreign adoptions began. CLICK HERE for a clear-eyed report on "shopping for Romanian babies."

Who was Nicolae Ceausescu?
The megalomaniac dictator was born in 1918, the son of peasants, and became active as a young man in the Romanian communist movement. In 1967, he became head of state of Romania.

As supreme leader, Ceausescu promoted industrial and agricultural development as well as stronger ties with the People's Republic of China. His rule was marked, however, by frequently disastrous economic schemes, and he became increasingly erratic, repressive and corrupt.

Under Ceausescu, as many as one in three Romanians was an informant for the secret police, the Securitate. Writers suspected of dissident tendencies were summoned to Securitate offices and given lethal doses of radiation. Typewriters had to be registered with the police, and television was limited to two hours of propaganda a night. The authorities mandated how many light bulbs could be used in each house, how many children a woman should have and which conversations had to be reported to the Securitate.

Rumors circulated that Ceausescu, who needed blood transfusions, would take boys from villages, drink their blood and have them killed. Ceausescu and his wife Elena were executed on Christmas Day 1989, after being overthrown in a violent uprising and army coup.

Why does such a poor country have so many huge buildings?
The former dictator was a man of massive and narcissistic ambition. Ceausescu wanted Bucharest to properly reflect the greatness of Romanian communism, so he demanded the demolition of almost a quarter of the old town center -- streets, churches, monasteries, hospitals and schools. At one point he traveled to North Korea to admire Kim II Sung's construction of a new political and architectural center. He then began a competition with North Korea to see who could create the most grandiose monument.

The focal point of what locals dubbed "Ceausima" is the enormous 12-story, 3,100-room Palace of Parliament, the second-largest building in the world. (The largest is Hong Kong's Container Freight Station.) After the revolution, many Romanians wanted this white elephant demolished, but in 1994, the government decided to use it to house the Parliament.

Why are there so many wild animals in Romania?

Romania is wilder than most of Europe, partly because Ceausescu forbade hunting by ordinary citizens. Today Romania has 13 national parks, including the Retezat Mountains in the Carpathians, and more than 500 protected areas. The Carpathian Mountains are home to 60 percent of Europe's bears, 40 percent of Europe's wolves and 35 percent of its lynx. The hills are alive with stag, wild boar, badger, deer, fox and rare birds; the Danube Delta shelters small pygmy cormorants, the white grey egret and the white-tailed eagle. The Carpathian Mountains also boast the least-spoiled forests in Europe, rich in beech, sycamore, maple, poplar and birch. And some 1,350 floral species have been recorded in the Carpathians, including the yellow poppy, Transylvanian columbine, saxifrage and edelweiss.

What happened after the overthrow of Ceausescu?

Many claim that the "revolution" in Romania was hijacked by former communist leader and Ceausescu associate Ion Iliescu, who had quietly discussed post-Ceausescu scenarios with some of Romania's top military leaders months before the uprising. Iliescu was elected president in 1990, despite widespread charges of election fraud, and continued to govern using many of Ceausescu's former civil servants, members of the secret police and Communist Party functionaries.

In 1996, democratic opposition forces helped elect President Emil Constantinescu, the rector of Bucharest University. Constantinescu and his allies, inexperienced and saddled with huge economic problems, had difficulty implementing reforms. In December 1999, Constantinescu signed a limited law opening the secret police files that Romanians hope will at least begin to uncover the past. In 2000, Iliescu took power again.

Meanwhile, Romania's economic crisis continues, as does widespread discontent with a government unable to provide for its citizens. Opposition parties ranging from the main ethnic Hungarian party to the Uniunea Democratica Maghiara din România (UDMR) to Vladim Tudor's Greater Romania party are organizing for the forthcoming elections in 2004.

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CIA Worldfactbook, 2001, United Nations, U.S. State Department, United States Library of Congress, Associated Press, National Bank of Romania, Multinational Monitor.