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Proclamation of Timisoara and Building an Open Society in Post-totalitarian Romania


Proclamation of Timisoara and Building an Open Society in Post-totalitarian Romania

By David Kilgour and Lidia Melinte,
text for speech at the Law Faculty, Targu Jiu, Romania,
June 1-3, 2007

Henry Bergson, the philosopher who originally developed the concept of an open society, contends that in open societies, government is responsive and tolerant and political mechanisms are transparent and flexible. The state keeps no secrets from itself in the public sense; it is a non-authoritarian society in which all are trusted with the knowledge of all. Political freedoms and human rights are the foundation of an open society.  

Karl Popper, in his book The Open Society and Its Enemies, defines an "open society" as one which ensures that political leaders can be overthrown without the need for bloodshed as opposed to a "closed society" in which a bloody revolution or coup d'état is needed to change the leaders. Democracies are examples of an "open society", whereas totalitarian dictatorships and autocratic monarchies are examples of a "closed society".  

Under its communist regime, Romania was an excellent example of a closed society. To what extent is Romanian society open now, after 45 years of communism and 18 years of struggling to become an authentic open society?  

After 1989, Romanian society found itself in ruins: a broken economy, a 'justice' or police administration controlled by the securitate (the communist secret service), the moral-spiritual dimensions of the Romanian people severely altered. What is sometimes the most difficult to restore is moral damage.  

The communist period, which practiced a system fundamentally out of sync with human nature, has caused continuously in its evolution critical changes in normal human thinking. Thus, a norm-deviated society was created, in which the basic relationships among people were controlled by the specter of fear. Fear of being arrested by the securitate, fear to express openly what one thinks, even fear to live normally, etc. Human beings were supposed to forget their essence and become the “new person” completely obeying the party. The soil where this seed had to germinate was poverty because poor people are easier to control.  
After 45 years of communism, such damage is difficult to undo, especially whether there is no strong unanimous will for this to happen. With a weakened consciousness and a dependent mentality, many people do not realize how important is to play actively a role in this change and not wait for the government to do it.  

Communism appears to have its own ways to survive after being declared dead. If individuals wait passively for things to change, we should not wonder why critical problems were merely cosmetically altered and not fundamentally changed.  

I think I am not wrong when I say that the first steps towards an open society in Romania were started by the Revolution in Timisoara, in December 1989. No matter what happened with the Revolution few days later, if it was or not transformed into a putsch by the former party activists in their desire to seize political power. The Revolution of Timisoara, that paid a costly price in human lives, remains a symbol of resistance against totalitarianism across the world.

I still recall being with hundreds of Romanian-Canadians and others at the Romanian embassy in Ottawa the night in December, 1989, when the Ceausescu regime fell thanks to the brave thousands of residents in Timisoara, led by Rev and Mr. Laszlo Tokes.
What was the significance of this Revolution that spread in Bucharest afterwards, and then in the whole country?  

It was not a fight directed only against a dictator, but one directed against communism and all its connotations: tyranny, disrespect for the human being, rejection and strong loathing for active consciences, spiritual values, etc.  

After four decades of exclusively communist education and propaganda, prejudices engendered by this ideology perhaps still haunt all Romanian consciences. The existence of such prejudices is not the bearer's guilt. Nevertheless, their manipulation by groups interested in resuscitating communism and bringing it back to power is a deeply anti democratic act.  

That is why in March, 1990,  the Timisoara Society issued The Proclamation of Timisoara, “the most important political text after ’89 and, in fact, the only coherent program of changing the communist Romania into a democratic society” said Ana Blandiana, poet, dissident,  and co-founder of the Civic Alliance Foundation.  

As stated in The Proclamation, “a succession of occurrences in Romania, especially since January 28, 1990, have come to contradict the ideals of the Revolution of Timisoara”, so the signers expressed liberal-democratic goals,which they saw as representing the revolutionary legacy. The best-known requirement was the document's 8th point, calling for all former Romanian Communist Party nomenklatura and Securitate cadres to be banned from holding public office for a period of ten years (or three consecutive legislatures), with an emphasis on the office of President (Lustration). Questioning the status of the governing National Salvation Front (renamed later Social Democrat Party-PSD), the Proclamation argued that the latter primarily represented a small group of Communists who, were Nicolae Ceauşescu's enemies,  but had their own power interests and had subsequently monopolized power.  
Over the following months, the document was recognized and advocated by hundreds of civic associations, while almost four million citizens signed appeals in favor of incorporating the 8th Point into the electoral law. The latter was also one of the main requests of the Bucharest ‘Golaniad’ – which was a protest in the University Square, Bucharest initiated by students and professors at the University of Bucharest and which was violently repressed during the third ‘Mineriad’ (miners’coming in Bucharest) in June of the same year.

Proclaiming class solidarity, the text opposed "the typically communist method of domination by spreading feuds among social classes". While expressing the will of "not copying the western capitalist systems with their drawbacks and inequities", the 10th Point of the Proclamation argued in favor of privatization (expressed ideally under the form of "distributing the stocks equally among the workers, the state keeping only those funds that may ensure the control of the activity") and immediate investments in the public sector (as a means to prevent the consequences of inflation).  

The text also expressed a hope that members of the Romanian Diaspora who had left the country under the Communist regime would return to their homeland and contribute to the society, together with the traditional parties and set itself against the portion of the public "who, instigated by obscure forces, abused the returned exiles” , naming them “those who sell the country”.  

The document stated opposition to all forms of "chauvinism", depicting Timişoara as the paramount representative of "the spirit of tolerance and mutual respect, the sole principles reigning in the future European House", and so, a similar call for solidarity was expressed in regard to ethnic relations and a multi-party system based on free elections was endorsed, with the exclusion of "extremist parties, be they leftist or rightist".  

For those leaders who accused the Proclamation of causing a “dangerous witch-hunt”, the end of the Proclamation clearly explains:

“In Timisoara people did not die so that the second and third rank communists should go to the front line, or that one of the participants in the mass murders should be promoted by the latter as Minister of the Interior.

People did not die so that the social and national feuding, the personality cult, the censorship of the mass media, misinformation, written and telephone threats, and all the other communist methods of coercion should be practiced openly, while we are requested to stay passive on behalf of social stability. “

The British historian Dennis Deletant has argued that lustration was intrinsically connected with the necessity for publicizing Securitate files kept by the CNSAS and the Romanian Intelligence Service. He also contrasted the manifest delays in Romanian procedures with the similar processes in three other former Eastern Bloc countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary).  

We know that open societies are characterized by:
· the rule of law;
· respect for human rights, minorities,  diversity of opinions;
· democratically-elected governments;
· market economies in which business and government are normally separate; and
· an active civil society that helps keep official abuses in check.

When Romanians compares these principles with what is happening in the country, some feel discouraged. But complacency is the worst enemy in any democracy. Even if the situation is difficult, some courageous steps have been taken in the direction of an open society. Romanians should continue to support these attempts rather than wait as spectators for things to be changed externally. What might be done to strengthen Romania as an open society with a strong civil society?

1. Acceptance of diversity and respect for others in spite of differences. Considering that a society is made up of all of its members, a return to normalcy implies first a change at the level of each individual. Under totalitarian regimes, the individual is taught that he or she is unimportant. They do not matter. Their opinions do not count. This view must be unlearned by all.

For building an open society after a long totalitarian period, a first principle to be taken into account is that human society represents a wholesome diversity in which each individual has important distinctive features and roles, just like the differently coloured pieces in a very complex mosaic. The more each individual is valued for their own particularities and the more they are encouraged to contribute to the harmony of the whole, the more significant becomes the entire mosaic. The acceptance of diversity is a key first step, together with the respect for others and the others' opinions.

2. Understanding the truth and an acceptance to change mentality. How in practice can change in individuals take place? Positive real change in a society cannot take place until the individual can understand the reality he/she lives in and the fact that she/he must change their mentality. For this, they must be aware of and understand the truth. Here each individual should know about the crimes of communism, the crimes committed in its prisons in Romania in the past, and today in other countries. Access to the true history of the country is essential. Young people should study the history of communism and learn that communism can never be a solution. Communism and fascism are virtually indistinguishable in practice.

3. An authentic renewal in attitude based on values, including personal integrity. What is perhaps worst of all, worse even than its crimes, is that under communism a people’s moral consciousness is compromised severely. Under oppressive conditions, people are more prone to lie, hide, cheat, betray, flatter. Moral depravity becomes second nature; only a few persons can remain truly vertical, often at the cost of their freedom or lives.

Obviously, we cannot ask for society to be sound and righteous if we, as individuals, lack ethical development. Only if each individual becomes aware of how important is to be honest and does their work correctly, without cheating or harming the others in the environment where he/she is, if they understand that to respect the others and remember to help others more, will significant change come about in any society. Here, early, teenage and adult education must play an important role.

4. Promotion of sound values in general.
For too long, bad values were promoted in Romanian and other totalitarian societies. People must therefore relearn what is positive, constructive and creative. They should understand that neither a strong economy nor an open society can be built if based on bad values. On the other hand, Romanians have many examples of exemplary people who dedicated and sacrificed their lives for noble causes and ideals. They should be promoted and made known as models for the younger generations.

Such names as the following come to mind:

Corneliu Coposu – was a private secretary of the Ministry of Iuliu Maniu (one of the most respected prewar politicians, he himself was an anti-communist dissident and prisoner)  who was sentenced to 17 years of hard prison labour for his anti-communist convictions. He is a symbol of unyielding opposition to communism.
Petre Tutea - a profound thinker, one of those rare personalities for whom thinking, speaking and acting are one and the same. He is an ethical and intellectual example where we can find fundamental virtues: courage, patience, moderation, piety.
Alexandru Zub -known as the greatest historian alive; also essayist and academic;  he was a political prisoner and dissident during the early years of Communist Romania, a man of great honour.
Ana Blandiana - is a great contemporary Romanian poet and essayist. In the late 1980s, assuming risks of reprisals from the communist regime, Blandiana started writing protest poems in answer to the increasingly harsh demands of the system in general. After the 1989 Revolution, she entered political life, campaigning for the removal of communist partisans remaining in administrative offices, as well as for an open society. She founded Sighet, the Memorial of the Victims of Communism and anticommunist Resistance ("Memorial Sighet") that comprises a Museum and an International Study Centre.
Doina Cornea – noted dissident and intellectual. Together with intellectuals like Ana Blandiana, Mihai Şora and Mircea Dinescu, Cornea continued her outspokenness against the government of Ion Iliescu, (president of Romania until his defeat by Emil Constantinescu in the 1996 election, but still ‘ruling’ in the view of some offstage). She was co-founder of the Democratic Anti-totalitarian Forum of Romania.

They, together with the young victims of the 1989 revolution and with all the victims of communism, are examples of people who are and were ready to die rather than to bend under a doctrine incompatible with their consciences.

5. Educational programs to help young people to develop civic spirit. Schools, NGOs, local communities, ministries of education, justice, etc, and all of civil society should be involved in developing educational projects and programs which will help children and youth to become responsible citizens.

6. Educational programs to help young people develop themselves in accordance with sound values such as honesty, truthfulness, respect for others, altruism and tolerance. Despite the fact that cynicism, lack of scruples and brazenness are displayed at every level of society, young people should de educated that this is not the way to personal success and high self-esteem.

7. Elected officials should be a selected with great care by voters.
The uninominal vote (it’s not a vote that you give not to an entire party, but a vote that you give to any person you want, putting the stamp exactly on that person, not on the entire party that he represents) should be introduced. People should know whom they choose, and should have access to candidates’ detailed biographies.

8. An electoral law should deny former  Communist party workers and Security officers the right to be nominated as candidates on any list- as stated in The Proclamation of Timisoara. In order to survive, some of these persons hid their totalitarian concepts and roots, refined their methods of social manipulation, posing as dissidents and promising to build democracy in the country. But their presence in the country's political life is the chief source of the tensions and suspicions that trouble many in Romanian society today.
9. A special clause of the electoral law should ban former Communist party activists from running for the position of President of country, (-according to 8th Point of The Proclamation), for the Senate and for Parliament. Romania's presidents ought to be “symbols of the country’s divorce from communism. “  

10. Immediate investments are necessary, for instance, in the fields of education and the public services of health and sanitation.
This is a priority to build a minimum standard of educated nationals.  

11. Former dissidents, political ex-detainees and people who demonstrate that they are active in the development of society should be encouraged and supported to participate in elections and other decisional offices.  

Many of them who nowadays live abroad left the country following political persecution and even long terms of imprisonment. Besides, the Romanian culture will be complete only after the culture of the exile has been re-integrated back into Romania. 

12. Strive to make justice available for all Romanians equally. For this, purging corruption is a prerequisite.

13. Politically independent police, prosecutors and judges.
At the same time, justice must have nothing in common with the ex-communist ‘courts as theatre’ model.

14. Independent judges selected by a Judicial Commission to avoid partisanship in appointments.  

15. The Judicial Commission should be comprised of persons beyond reproach who would recommend only the best qualified men and women to be judges.

16. Promoting of young but professional magistrates who are not politically involved and would not be partisan or otherwise dependent.

17. A statute should forbid security and other officials of the former undemocratic government of Romania to have any political or judicial office
. At the same time, the Securitate’s files should be made public. In fact, President Basescu and Monica Macovei (the former Minister of Justice) have both been fighting against corruption, for exposing the securitate’s files and for trying to separate justice issues from political influence. One wonders why was Monica Macovei was dismissed and President Basescu was suspended? Can Romania's Parliament ignore the Constitutional Court that had ruled that the president did not abuse the constitution and make its own decision about suspension?

18. The constitution should be modified to accord to new realities. What other constitution in a democracy allows an elected President to be suspended, against the decision of the Constitutional Court for condemning corruption whereas another former president was not even contested when he evidently called the miners (Mineriad) to put down a students’ protest?

19. Forming a mechanism that should restrict the current influence of very wealthy people in law-making. These people can favour through some laws companies in which they have major holdings.

20. Civil society should help in creation of such safety mechanisms. It might also have a role in the control of the secret service.

21. Political control over the media should cease to exist.
Ideally, no political or financial interest should affect the impartiality of press, television, radio etc. The role of the media ideally should be to inform, not to serve political interests. It should also inform people about the realities in Romania and their consequences in a post-totalitarian Romania. Germany, after its Nazi period, can provide a good best practice in this respect.

22. The media should have an educational role. They should promote specific ideas for an open society and demonstrate its advantages. Of course, its commercial interests should be taken into account, but it also should be an open door to culture and traditional values. If, before 1989 there was a grotesque party culture, since 1989 we can talk about a sub-culture, dominated by bad values. We should not neglect that in this sub-culture the open society is identified as an 'enemy of the people'.

23. Civil society should inform people about past and present Communist atrocities, using media, conferences, seminars, etc. If it’s true that knowledge is power, it is also true that people should learn from mistakes in the past to avoid making them in the future. Romanians have China as a living example about what would have happened if communism had survived. Terror would have taken more subtle, hidden forms, harder to detect. The report of David Matas and myself available in Romanian at says more about ‘a new form of evil on our planet’. We refer to the killing of Falun Gong practitioners- people who believe in the principles of truth-benevolence-forbearance- and harvesting their organs for commercial purposes.

24. Both civil society and the media should inform the public about the real values that brought prosperity, human rights, diversity, pluralism and the rule of law to democratic societies. Post-communist ones still have difficulty in appreciating democratic societies. This attitude is inherited from the totalitarian period when the party ideology claimed that western societies are loose in morals, rich in drugs, prostitution and, in spite of politeness, people are concerned only with their own business. Romanian society should not forget that among the first things it ‘borrowed’ from West after the revolution were such things in its desire to pose as a free society. What Romanian society has perhaps failed to understand and what should be learned now is that among the best things western societies enjoy are their active civil societies and the rule of law.

Every Romanian should be aware that a post-totalitarian society without the rule of law, without ethical values, without a determination to fight for both, will never heal its wounds and become a genuinely open society.
In the last century, human dignity has been continuously assaulted by two ideologies remarkably similar in practice: Nazism and Communism.
Both were unrelieved catastrophes for Romanians and all other peoples they ruled. The record of Communism in Europe between 1944 and 1989 includes: 
‧       The abuse and much worse of tens of millions of innocent people during almost half a century, 
‧       Continuous economic failure, 
‧       The persecution of faith communities and the creation of what has been called a "crisis of the soul", little realizing that these groups would play a major role in its eventual downfall, 
‧       Causing hard-working farmers to give up working fertile soil by forcing them into collectives, which seized both their land and animals, 
‧       Making it a crime to talk about representative democracy in order to protect incompetent, violent and otherwise criminal dictatorships in Romania and elsewhere. 
‧       Communism twisted the noble concept of human equality into a shield for the special privileges of party officials, the nomenklatura. 
George Orwell penned his most famous line about the betrayal of the people in the Russian Revolution of 1917: "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." 
‧       Communism removed all rights of workers' unions, including the right to exist in any meaningful form and to bargain collectively, demonstrating that nowhere where it governs does it care about the rights of workers. 
‧       It destroyed any concept of the rule of law and the independence of judges. 
‧       It turned art and culture into a sterile propaganda, thus forcing many artists and writers into exile. 

The now late cellist/conductor/composer Mitislav Rostropovich, who, like many artists and writers, played such an important role in toppling the dictatorship in Russia, put it well: "Conscience is the great motivator of creativity." 

We democrats around the world must be neither complacent nor over confident. There are still about 45 dictatorships in the world, which do much harm to human beings and the natural environment. 
Consider, for example, the roles the government of China is playing in Sudan/Darfur, Burma/Mynamar, Zambabwe, North Korea and in undermining democracy across much of Asia and elsewhere. 
Look at what that government is doing to its own people, including independent journalists, human rights activists, democrats, religious communities, Uyghurs, Tibetans and many others. Two of us Canadians have concluded to our dismay in  our recent report that the government of China is even killing Falun Gong prisoners of conscience withour any form of judicial process and selling their vital organs for high prices to transplant tourists from abroad. 
It is the government which will host the Olympic Games in August 2008 in Beijing. It is the same city in which during 2001 the administration was torturing Falun Gong practitioners like Ming Zhou  - presumbly in a different part of the city – and forcing them to work as many as sixteen hours a day producing products illegally for export. 
Why should not Romanians revive the creeds of The Proclamation of Timisoara, now when they are in the European House and will have its support? You owe this to the pure-hearted youth who preferred death to shameful compromises. Your government, your civil society and the ones elsewhere, citizens generally – we owe humanity generally the continued spread of democracy, pluralism and human rights. Human dignity is ultimately indivisible across our shrunken world today. 
Thank you.


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