By S. Sivathasan –
“Precise dates, picturesque outbreaks, these are the conventions and conveniences of history; and history is a process too subtle for such methods” – Le Ferber.
A brilliant quote for us when we were students. It was thrilling to repeat, but we had to discern the mind of the author. The French and Russian revolutions were always cited to illustrate the long period of gestation needed for an eruption of historical import. While conceding it as true and correct, yet one may see the precision of date and time and the graphic circumstances surrounding the revolution in Romania. Perhaps videography has made such an experience possible and internet conveys it anywhere.
In Romania mismanagement of state enterprises resulted in economic inefficiency. It caused disaffection which was met with suppression of any unrest. Discontent building up in the seventies, escalated in the eighties and came to a boil by late 1989. It was at this time that the grip of Warsaw Pact was loosening and the countries were domino fashion getting independent or were on the verge of becoming so. Romania locked up in a dictatorship, lurched to be free. When the cinder was dry, only a spark was needed. It came in a very unlikely form.
The eviction of a pastor Tokes from his residence for remarks critical of the government evoked protests which snowballed into massive demonstrations. They ignited the pent up feeling of antipathy till it became aflame as revolution on 22 December 1989. It was an unorganized uprising with no specified target. Two years back the world saw the dawn of Arab Spring and the collapse of entrenched dictatorships, with a single act of immolation in Tunis. A century earlier according to Trotsky, the Russian revolution started under the belly of the horse. So he characterized the way Cossacks fraternized with the revolutionaries. As things obtain in Sri Lanka, IF conditions are ripe, a wrong rub can create a spark. With stakes severely at odds, dire forebodings are not to be ruled out. Again IF numbers overwhelm, the military meant to overawe can get awestruck. There may be scope for the imponderable.
Outbreak of Revolution
It was on 22nd December 1989, at 7.00 am that huge columns marched on the Party Headquarters. They overwhelmed the cheering squads. The Romanian revolution had broken out. At 10 am Ceaucescu the dictator of Romania deserted his seat of power in the Head Quarters of the Communist Party. He went into space in his helicopter. Bereft of authority, he was brought down to earth and at 3.30 pm, face to face with revolutionary justice of the people. On 25th December the lives of Ceausescus were extinguished and a new phase dawned for the people. But before that a tragic destruction. The Central University Library with 500,000 books and 3,700manuscripts was burned down.
For 200 years from 1789 in France to 1989 in Romania, history endevoured to educate. Yet the obdurate refuse to learn. The 25 years since 1989, illustrate it pointedly, but without success. Years from 2015 cannot be any different in Sri Lanka or elsewhere. Perhaps there is an unalterable destiny. Mahabharatha tells us about Duryodhana, “he will never listen, inevitable fate conceals the path to destruction”. If revolution be the final convulsion, what lead to it? An understanding of Romania’s recent history is helpful and the antecedents prior to unseating the dictator are enlightening. People in the mass on the threshold of an upsurge can then better appreciate the likely unfolding of events.
Recent History in Brief
In the course of World War II, Bucharest the Capital of Romania being occupied by the Red Army in September 1944, marked an important phase. In a contest for power between the forces of democracy and the movement for communism, the latter won on account of Stalin’s support. A pro-communist regime was in place in March 1945 and the Romanian People’s Republic was proclaimed in December 1947. From 1948 to 1960, foundation was laid and strengthened for a totalitarian regime. The communist party established the Securitate as security network and intelligence apparatus. In the economic programme, central planning, heavy industries and forced collectivization loomed large.
Nicolae Ceausescu who assumed power in 1965, inherited a state imbued with features of communism. To his credit is assertion of individuality in moving away from dependence on the Soviet Union. In foreign policy his predilection was to be independent. The first overt display was to denounce the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, though Romania was a signatory to the Warsaw Pact of 1954 and even as the nation maintained its membership in it.
July ‘Chinthana’ 1971
The “July Theses of 1971” unleashed the Personality Cult of Ceausescu. Family rule became a dominant feature and Personality Cult assumed the fount of dictatorship. Soon to follow was the control of all mass organisations. The state never withered away. It rigorously and vigorously displayed the pervasive personal authority of the dictator. State ownership together with management by family and the party were the hallmarks of the “July Theses”. “I am the State” became a veritable manifestation though Louis XIV might not have been consciously quoted. The people squirmed and were moving away from the ruler. In turn the ruler isolated himself further and turned into megalomania. He called himself ‘Leader’ and ‘Genius of Carpathians’.
As state ownership, soviet stereotype in economic enterprises, family rule and party dominance led to continuing inefficiency, foreign debt piled up to $10 billion. It started growing in the seventies. To liquidate it, in 1982 he ordered export of agricultural and industrial products to the exclusion of domestic needs. The people were denied food, nutrition, fuel and electricity for heating and lighting. Disaffection became complete and reached a climax in the eighties.
It appears it is the way of all dictators, when economic pressure suffocates, to get into flights of fancy, embrace profligacy and to go in for extravagance and the grandiose. This happened to Ceausescu when pressure mounted in the early seventies, he went to North Korea in 1972, saw the exploits of Kim Il Sung and got the germ of the idea of the ‘People’s House’. Gestation was for 12 years and construction commenced in mid 1983. It was nearing completion in late 1989. The Palace of Parliament for both chambers of Parliament and several other units. It is the world’s largest civilian building.
A few statistics will give an idea of the immensity of the palace. The building measures 240 metres (m) long, 270 m wide, 86 m high and 92 m underground. It has 1,100 rooms. The floor space measures 3.6 million sq. ft. Architechts for designs were 740. Workers numbering 20,000 worked in shifts for 24 hours, seven days a week. 1 million cubic metres of marble and 2million sq. ft. of woven carpets were used for the building besides several other items of absolute luxury and ultimate in ostentation.
Stone before butter was irksome to the citizenry. Would the people have endorsed it if free expression was allowed? Some facts are: one/fifth of Bucharest was razed, 30,000 houses demolished and lakhs were moved out.
The incumbent President of Sri Lanka has gone the way of most dictators and there is no halting or reforming. Propensity for the dazzling, glamorous and the ludicrous is writ large in Mahinda Chinthana. Personality cult is similarly spelt out. The urge for dynastic succession is strong. Thought about nation’s prosperity is absent. Ceausceau paying back the massive loan in a short while is to his eternal credit. In Sri Lanka it is growing mightier ever more. Of siphoning off state funds into personal receptacles, Ceausecu was seldom accused or credibly charged. Perhaps that accounted for his tenure of 24 years. Sri Lankan’s impatience for regime change may lie in this difference besides many others.
What makes a dictatorship? It is not the name of the party wielding political power; bourgeois, proletarian or other. Pervasiveness of authority spreading geographically across the land, penetrating every pore of political pursuit, economic activity and social engagement. More damning is inescapability from its iron grip. Towards this end all levers of power in Romania were in the hands of a single dictator and his family. Closer home, power is concentrated in a single dictator who shares the reins with three of his charioteers knit together by familial ties. What was blasted by Romanians in 1989 is being clamped on Sri Lankans unobtrusively from 2006.
In the fifties SWRD swerved from extremes to remain centrist. His stance was described as “Not too Right and not too Left is the Middle Path”. Today the chosen path of the rulers in Sri Lanka is, the worst of both the worlds. The extremes of fascism and of communism in approaches to human rights and personal freedom. In the North it is oppression following on suppression of a struggle. In the South it is oppression now with suppression to follow. In between is ethnicity to separate them both and to confound the sinister.
Home Ground Situation
Why draw an analogy between Romania and Sri Lanka separated by a quarter century? That too within a week of drawing parallels with Germany of a three quarter century ago. Certainly no proclivity for pessimistic delight. The threat is real and some are more alive to it than others. Circumstances are very similar in both countries. Besides, the disposition of both leaders is very much alike. They have a penchant for the grandiose. Nero the tyrant too embarked on a grand Rome with no treasury to support. Ceausescu’s rule was called ‘Sultanistic Regime’ to designate paternalism. In Sri Lanka the regime exhibits the same characteristics.
When the time comes, speedy are the ways in which compulsions move. The leaps of the hour hand overtake the spurts of the minute hand and rewrite history. The nation sees a revolution. Ceauscescu was General Secretary of the Communist Party in his country for 24 years. In 21 of them, he was President of the country. On 24 November 1989, he got a further term of 5 years. On 22 December 1989, the people rose en masse to unseat him. His rule was terminated the same day and his life in 3 days. Will unrelenting fate spare other rulers of the same ilk? Arab Spring does not confirm.
Yet, of the 7 Warsaw Pact countries excluding Russia, virtually all except Romania had non-violent and peaceful transitions. The revolution in Czechoslovakia was velvety soft. So was the Solidarity one in Poland. Wall-breaking in East Germany and fence cutting in other borders also were smooth. In such an environment in Europe, Why should there be so much of bloodletting and killing of the Head of Government only in Romania? Long years of suppression and woeful deprivations would explain. Ruling beyond one’s welcome is fatal. They give a clue to a stubborn struggle likely in Sri Lanka and to the outcome, consequent on the elections.
Poets, seers and seekers of truth among ancient Tamils, placed eternal faith in Dharma. Ethics and morals were sacrosanct. Arthashashtra wrote about a King’s victory at whatever cost. To Machiavelli, pragmatism was all too important to make a Prince Supreme. To Tamils in earlier times ARAM = (ethics + morals + virtue + dharma) was invaluable for lasting triumph. This truth is transcendental. There is no ethnic divide. In 2000 years to date, when we Tamils deviated we crashed. Then we bemoan our discomfiture. If the incumbent regime can think of the people’s well-being?