THE COLLAPSE OF COMMUNISM: ROMANIA VS CZECHOSLOVAKIA 7
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The Collapse of Communism: Romania Vs Czechoslovakia
The revolutions of 1989 were one of the most famous revolutions inwestern and eastern European. The revolution and the demonstrationswere driven by the desire to end one party system and to endcommunism. Romania and Czechoslovakia were two countries that wererocked by the revolution demonstrations in 1989. The revolution inRomania and the one in Czechoslovakia had both similarities anddifferences. Both countries were single party states and were underthe culture of communism (Kenney, 2004). However, the oppositionleaders and majority of the people were opposed to single party stateand communism. It is evident that Czechoslovakia had attempted apolitical liberalization in 1968 but was defeated. The wave ofrevolution in 1989 presented an opportunity to opposition groups andintellectuals in both countries to advance their course to endcommunism and the oppression and repression that the single partygovernments.
Comparison between fall of communism in Romania and Czechoslovakia
One of the arguments made by Kenny with regard to the revolution andthe fall of communism in both the countries is the root cause of theprotests that led to the fall of communism. It is evident that thesingle party government in Czechoslovakia was oppressive and did nottake the opinions of the minority who were against communism toaccount (Rosenzweig, 2007). It is abundantly clear from research thatthe single party government was devoid of democracy and people wereruled by a system that resembled dictatorship (Kenney, 2004). Thislack of democracy and the oppression for the people and the minoritywas a key driver of the protests and demand for end of communism andthe single party system. In Romania, the same case was witnessed. Thegovernment of the day led by Nicolae Ceauşescu was repressive anddictatorial. The people were opposed to this form of governance andorganized numerous protests (Rosenzweig, 2007).
It is also clear that the process which led to the fall of communismin both countries was largely led by intellectuals and members of theopposition. Human rights activists were also involved in the protestsand were largely focusing on the mistreatment that the governmentswere subjecting the people. In Czechoslovakia, the protests weremainly led by university student unions, professors and writers. Theywere in the frontline demanding for democracy and end to oppressionfor the minority. In Romania, students were also part of the protestswhich finally ousted the leadership of Nicolae Ceauşescu. Anothermajor comparison between the falls of communism between the twocountries is the time that the protests and demonstrations occurred.It is abundantly clear that the protests occurred on the eve of 1989(Kenney, 2004). This is a period when countries in eastern andcentral Europe were shunning communism and one party form ofgovernance and were adopting democracy. Power was transferred fromthe communist leaders to the new reformers in December of 1989 inboth countries.
The fall of the communist governments in both countries allowedvarious parties to operate freely. In Romania, for instance, newcenter right parties were allowed to enter parliament and becameactive in the political scene without being repressed by thegovernment of Ion Iliescu which was less repressive compared to theprevious government of Nicolae Ceauşescu. However, Kenny has pointedthat this government was also dictatorial, but allowed freedom ofspeech and multiparty operation in the country (Kenney, 2004). Acoalition government took power in Czechoslovakia led by theplaywright who had just been released from jail. The result of thefall of communism was multiparty democracy and freedom for theopposition in the country (Rosenzweig, 2007). It is also abundantlyclear that the both struggles in both countries achieved their goals.The objective of both the demonstrations and protests to endcommunism and allow multiparty democracy were achieved. However, asit will be discussed below, absolute democracy was hardly attained inRomania.
Contrast: Fall of communism in Czechoslovakia and Romania
Whereas the fall of communism in Romania and Czechoslovakia occurredalmost at the same time, it is abundantly clear that there were somedifferences with regard to the way the revolutions were conducted andthe achievements they made. One of the primary and most significantdifferences between the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia andRomania is the absence and presence of violence during the revolutionrespectively. In Romania, the protests and demonstrations bystudents, human rights activists and workers were met with resistanceand violence from the police. There were numerous people who killedwhen police opened fire on protestors after being ordered to do so bythe leader of the communist party, Nicolae Ceauşescu. There werenumerous arrests and abuse of protestors during the revolution forchange in 1989 (Kenney, 2004). The communist government of NicolaeCeauşescu was extremely repressive and any protests against thepolicies of the government were met with extreme resistance. Forinstance, the protests that were triggered by the transfer of humanrights leader and a pastor, Lazslo Tökes, from Timisoara triggeredprotests from the minority Hungarians who were joined by the studentsand workers. This angered Nicolae who order for a massacre on theprotestors on December 17th 1989 which resulted in thedeaths of over 97 people (Rosenzweig, 2007). This is a single caseindicating the level of violence that the protestors were met with bythe government.
On the other hand, the protests by playwrights, students and otherintellectuals in Czechoslovakia were peaceful and transfer of powerto the coalition government led by Havel who had been released fromjail. However, it is essential to state that the protests inCzechoslovakia would turn violent at times and the protestors werearrested. One of the protestors who were arrested was Václav Havel,a playwright and a strong dissident was jailed for nine months forleading and participating in the protests (Rosenzweig, 2007). Theserevolutions in Czechoslovakia came to be known as the velvetrevolution as a result of the non-violent nature of the protests. Therevolutions, as Kenny argues, took a long time to accomplish, it isabundantly clear that the protests and demand for change inCzechoslovakia started way back in 1968 and the 1989 protests andrevolutions were a culmination of the events of 1968.
Another primary contrast between the fall of communism inCzechoslovakia and Romania is the resulting form of governance. InRomania, the resulting government was a less repressive but stillauthoritative government led by a person who was part of thecommunist government of Nicolae. Ion Iliescu of the NationalSalvation Front (FSN) was now the leader of the new government whichclaimed being the national government after the fall of theleadership of Nicolae and his execution on December 25th1989 (Kenney, 2004). In other words, people have argued that thecommunist government was not brought down completely in Romania butthe revolution seemed as a coup on the existence government. However,in Czechoslovakia, the communist government was completely overthrownand power was handed over to the opposition coalition governmentunder the leadership of Václav Havel.
It is also clear from the argument of Kenny that the two revolutionsin both countries were driven by different reasons but aimed toachieve a similar goal. In Czechoslovakia, the protests started withthe demand by intellectuals to commemorate the self immolation of aCzech student, Jan Palach, who was protesting the invasion of hiscountry by the Warsaw pact. This made the government to respond withviolence against the protestors. This led to the arrest of playwrightVáclav Havel for nine months for his participation in the protests.A similar protest on November 17th 1989 by students unionsto commemorate the death of a Prague student who died 50 yearsearlier fighting the Nazis was received with violence by thegovernment at Wenceslaus Square. Rumors went round that a couple ofstudents had been killed by the police and this attracted massiveprotests.
On the contrary, the protests in Romania were driven by the choiceof the government to transfer a popular and famous human rightsleader and pastor Lazslo Tökes, from Timisoara to another parish.This triggered protests which were being championed by the minorityHungarian community, the students and the workers. The repressive andoppressive nature of the government, as well as its approach toprotests through violence was a key reason that led to the revolutionand the fall of communism in Romania.
It is abundantly clear from the discussion above that the wave ofrevolution in eastern, central and Western Europe was unstoppable in1989. The communist form of governance was a thorn in the freshamongst the people and demand for change was inevitable. The approachto the revolution in both Romania and Czechoslovakia was the samethrough protests and demonstrations (Rosenzweig, 2007). However, thelevel of violence, as it has been discussed in the paper wasdifferent with Romania’s protests being extremely violent andresulting in numerous deaths of the protestors.
Kenney, P. (2004). A Carnival of Revolution. Princeton:Princeton university press.
Rosenzweig, R. Making the history of 1989. (2007). INTRODUCTORYESSAY: Czechoslovakia. Roy Rosenzweig Center for History &New Media. Retrieved from: http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/exhibits/intro/czechoslovakia
Rosenzweig, R. Making the history of 1989. (2007). INTRODUCTORYESSAY: Romania. Roy Rosenzweig Center for History & NewMedia. Retrieved from: http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/exhibits/intro/romania
1Credit where credit is due: thank you to Michael Denner for sharing this with me. Michael Denner, Cover Sheet, private communication, 21 August 2014.