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Did Nicolae Ceaușescu Call for Military Intervention Against Poland in August 1989?

Did Nicolae Ceaușescu Call for Military Intervention Against Poland in August 1989?
Did Nicolae Ceaușescu Call for Military Intervention Against Poland in August 1989?


CWIHP e-Dossier No. 60 

Note: See also Mark Kramer's response in CWIHP e-Dossier No. 61


List of Documents

Translated by Larry Watts 

Document 1

8 July 1988 - Proposals of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party on Improving the Organization and Democratizing the Activities of the Warsaw Pact Organs

Source: Romanian version at “Romanian Proposal for Warsaw Pact Reform: Letter of the CC of the Romanian Communist Party,” 8 July 1988 at Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact (PHP),, by permission of the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich and the National Security Archive at the George Washington University on behalf of the PHP network.


Document 2

21 August 1989 - Transcript of Meeting of the Executive Politburo of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party

Source: Stenograma şedinţei Comitetului Politic Executiv al C.C. al P.C.R. din ziua de 21 august 1989, Arhiva Nationale Romanesti, Fond CC al PCR, Sectia Cancelarie, Dosar Nr. 57/1989, f. 1-6.


Document 3

22 August 1989 - Report of the Embassy of Romania in Warsaw to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 0145 hr 

Source: Document 72 in Dumitru Preda and Mihai Retegan, 1989 – Principiul Dominoului: Prabusirea Regimurilor Comuniste Europene, Bucharest, Editura Fundatiei Culturale Romane, 2000, pp. 164-167; AMAE, Varsovia/1989, vol. 3, f. 57-63


Document 4

24 August 1989 - Information of the Romanian Embassy in Budapest to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1415 hrs

Source: Document no. 74 in Dumitru Preda and Mihai Retegan, 1989 – Principiul Dominoului: Prabusirea Regimurilor Comuniste Europene, Bucharest, Editura Fundatiei Culturale Romane, 2000, pp. 170-171; AMAE, Budapesta/1989, vol. 5, f. 130-132.


Dennis Deletant

By the time Mikhail Gorbachev visited Romania in May 1987, a remarkable 180-degree turn had occurred both in Romanians’ perception of the Soviet Union and its relationship to Romania, and in the West’s view of Nicolae Ceaușescu. This change in attitude hinged on the evolution of Nicolae Ceaușescu himself: if in 1965 Ceaușescu presented a young, dynamic face of Communism compared with the ageing, reactionary Brezhnev, now, 22 years later, it was Gorbachev who had assumed Ceaușescu’s mantle and the latter that of Brezhnev. In a speech broadcast live during his visit to Bucharest on 26 May 1987, Gorbachev presented to the Romanian public his concepts of glasnost (‘openness’) and perestroika (‘restructuring’) – and in so doing offered implicit criticism of Ceaușescu’s resistance to reform. The enthusiasm for reform could be seen in the queues, witnessed by this author, that formed in July 1988 in front of the Aeroflot offices in Bucharest as Romanians were admitted five at a time—not to purchase airline tickets, but to pick up free copies in Romanian of the Soviet leader’s report to the nineteenth conference of the Soviet Communist Party, coverage of which had been restricted in the Romanian media to those measures which had already been taken in Romania. Ceaușescu, the arch-nationalist, had succeeded in making some Romanians look to the Soviet Union for hope.

At the same time, Gorbachev’s ascent significantly diminished the Romanian leader’s value to the West as a thorn in the side of the Soviets. Whilst Ceaușescu continued to argue for reform of the Warsaw Pact and a reduction in its budget, his internal policies attracted widespread international criticism. It was the deteriorating human rights situation in Romania that threatened US-Romanian relations in the early 1980s. The resulting US alienation from Romania in 1987 and Ceaușescu’s growing irritation with American expressions of concern about his treatment of his opponents led him in February 1988 to renounce Most Favored Nation status before suffering the indignity of having it withdrawn by Congress or by President Reagan. Ceaușescu’s action showed that he would not submit to pressure from any direction, west or east. He appears, however, to have cherished hopes that Reagan would grant MFN treatment without the Jackson-Vanik amendment but in doing so completely failed to appreciate how negative his image had become in Congress as well the constitutional impediments facing the US president.

Ceaușescu had declared defiantly in December 1982 that he would pay off all foreign debt by 1990, and to achieve this introduced a series of austerity measures unparalleled even in the history of East Central European Communist regimes. Rationing of bread, flour, sugar, and milk was introduced in some provincial towns in early 1982, and in 1983 it was extended to most of the country, with the exception of the capital. The monthly personal rations were progressively reduced to the point where, on the eve of the 1989 revolution, they were in some regions of the country one kilo of sugar, one kilo of flour, a 500-gram pack of margarine, and five eggs. At the same time, heavy industry was also called upon to contribute to the export drive, but because its energy needs outstripped the country's generating capacity drastic energy saving measures were introduced in 1981, which included a petrol ration of 30 litres per month for private car owners. Other strictures stipulated a maximum temperature of 14 degrees centigrade in offices and periods of provision of hot water (normally one day a week in apartments). In the winter of 1983, these restrictions were extended, causing the interruption of the electricity supply in major cities and reduction of gas pressure during the day so that meals could only be cooked at night.

It is perhaps not surprising that scholars of Cold War History, inured to the indignities imposed by Ceaușescu upon his people, read sinister motivations into his concerns over the entry of Solidarity into the Polish government and the appointment of its representative Tadeusz Mazowiecki as prime minister in August 1989. Ceaușescu’s expression of those concerns were in stark contrast to his mantra of "no external involvement in the domestic affairs of others," a constant slogan displayed on banners at his public engagements in Romania. Indeed, the principle had been invoked nine years earlier during the Polish crisis of 1980. At the meeting of the Warsaw Pact’s Political Consultative Committee in Moscow on 5 December, Leonid Brezhnev declared that the gathering demonstrated that "we all back the Polish leadership in its efforts to overcome the crisis which appeared in this country." But, he warned, "if the situation in Poland does not stabilize . . . much to our regret all of the measures taken to help Poland of which we spoke about before [i.e. economic assistance] will not yield the desired results."[1]

Ceaușescu had been more guarded in 1980. He spoke at the time of the delicate problems facing the Polish government and argued that they should be addressed by the Poles themselves. In his view, the most important requirement before the Polish Party

should be to regain the trust of the working class, of the popular masses, to organize them and, together with the working class, to act against the antisocialist and counterrevolutionary forces, using all of the means at the disposal of the socialist state.[2]

The Polish crisis had been a major item on the agenda of the meeting of the Committee of Defense Ministers of the Warsaw Pact, held in Warsaw on 2–4 December 1981. The majority of ministers argued that the problem had only one solution: military intervention. The Romanian defense minister, Constantin Olteanu, with the backing of his Hungarian counterpart, Lajos Czinege, was opposed to such action: "What is happening in Poland is strictly a domestic problem of this state… Romania is not in favor of military intervention there.’[3]

Gorbachev, at the meeting of the Consultative Political Committee of the Pact held in Bucharest on 7–8 July 1989, spoke of reforming the alliance; he underlined the need "to respect the independence of fraternal parties" and ruled out "the use of force or the threat of force." For his part, Ceaușescu expressed his concern about events in Poland and about the fact that the Polish Party was losing its grip on the situation.[4] At the same meeting of the CPC he called upon

the socialist state members of the Warsaw Pact and all socialist countries to analyze and solve together the present problems of socialist construction, the means to better collaborate in preparation for crisis and ensuring the economic and social development of all peoples on the path of socialism.[5]

On 19 August, what the Romanian embassy in Warsaw termed "the considerations of the party and state leadership of the Socialist Republic of Romania, respectively those of comrade Nicolae Ceaușescu, general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party and President of the Socialist Republic of Romania ….in connection with the present situation in Poland and the formation of the government of the Polish People’s Republic" were relayed to the Polish ambassador in Bucharest and a similar message sent to the Hungarian Party.[6] The replies received from both Warsaw and Budapest suggest that Ceaușescu had proposed a joint action of the Warsaw Pact "using all means to prevent the elimination of socialism in Poland."[7] Both governments disputed Ceaușescu’s reading of events in Poland and firmly rejected his alleged proposal of Pact action.

The Polish reply pointed to the common position adopted at the Warsaw Pact meeting in Bucharest in July, one agreed in the final communiqué by Romania, in which it was stated that "there is no universal model of socialism and no one has a monopoly of the truth."[8] There was consternation in both Warsaw and Budapest at the new position taken by Bucharest, one which contradicted Romania’s traditional stance within the Pact. In the Hungarian reply this about-turn was emphasized:

The Romanian point of view cannot be understood if we bear in mind, in particular, the systematic public promotion by Romania of the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs, the sovereignty, [and] the relations between the socialist countries. The present Romanian position is in total contradiction to the view expressed by the above principles, which provided the basis upon which, for example, Romania established her policy in 1968 regarding the events in Czechoslovakia.[9]

The controversy over Ceaușescu’s call for Warsaw Pact "action" is fuelled by the absence of an original official document in Romanian conveying Ceaușescu’s appeal, a lacuna which allows a range of speculative interpretations. The four documents presented by Larry Watts, three of which have been published previously (albeit not in English, while one of them is an incomplete version of Bulgarian provenance), and the response from Adam Burakowski seek to inject some clarity into the discussion. Watts argues that "the documentary evidence provides little support for taking Soviet, Polish, and Hungarian affirmations of Romania’s advocacy of military intervention at face value."[10] However, neither he nor Burakowski consider the recently published report of the meeting between Ceaușescu and the Soviet ambassador to Bucharest Evghenie Mihailovic Tjazelnikov. Invited by the Romanian leader to his villa at Snagov, some 20 miles north of Bucharest, at 11 pm on 19 August 1989, and in the presence of Romanian Foreign Minister Ioan Totu, Tjazelnikov was asked by Ceaușescu to transmit to Gorbachev his appeal for "urgent measures" to be taken to prevent "the liquidation of socialism" in Poland. Ceaușescu claimed that the entry of Solidarity into the Polish government "played into the hands of the United States and NATO" and that therefore he requested Gorbachev to see his way to meeting him on the following day. The reply came from the Soviet Politburo, transmitted by Eduard Shevardnadze to his counterpart Totu, in which it considered the best course to be to allow the Polish Workers’ Party to resolve the situation itself.[11]

Watt’s argument would gain traction if a Romanian document proving his contention were to surface. Without such corroboration it is difficult not to interpret Ceaușescu’s appeal to Gorbachev for "urgent measures" as support for some sort of Warsaw Pact intervention in Poland. It was the direct challenge to Communist domination by political change in Poland that led Ceaușescu to see the value of the Warsaw Pact. His conversion to a form of the "Brezhnev doctrine," and his aversion to perestroika and glasnost widened the gulf between him and Gorbachev. In private, Gorbachev made no secret of his distaste for Ceaușescu, whom he called "the Romanian dictator," and when the two men meet for drinks at Ceaușescu’s residence during Warsaw Pact gathering in Bucharest in July 1989, the two leaders traded barbs and Raisa Gorbachev had to intervene to calm spirits.[12]

Dennis Deletant is Visiting Ion Ratiu Professor of Romanian Studies at Georgetown University and Emeritus Professor of Romanian Studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College, London. An officer of the Order of the British Empire (since 1995) for his services to British-Romanian relations and a recipient of the Romanian Order of Merit with the rank of commander for services to Romanian democracy (since 2000), he is the author of several volumes on the recent history of Romania, including Ceauşescu and the Securitate: Coercion and Dissent in Romania, 1965-89 (1996), Romania under Communist Rule (1998), Communist Terror in Romania: Gheorghiu-Dej and the Police State, 1948-1965 (1999) and Ion Antonescu. Hitler’s Forgotten Ally (2006).

[1] Mircea Munteanu, The Beginning of the End for Détente: The Warsaw Pact Political Consultative Committee, e-dossier no. 24, CWIHP,    

[2] Dennis Deletant and Mihail E. Ionescu (eds), Romania and the Warsaw Pact, 1955–1989. Bucharest: Politeia-SNSPA, 2004, p.315.

[3]Dumitru Preda and Mihai Retegan, 1989. Principiul Dominoului. Bucharest: Editura Fundației Culturale Române, 2000, p.16.

[4] Ibid., p.26.

[5] Larry Watts, Cei dintâi vor fi cei din urmă [The First Will Be the Last], Bucharest: RAO, 2013, p.652 (author's translation).

[6] Dumitru Preda and Mihai Retegan, 1989. Principiul Dominoului. Bucharest: Editura Fundației Culturale Române, 2000, pp. 164-65.

[7] Ibid., p.170 (author's translation).

[8] Ibid., p.167.

[9] Ibid., p.171.

[10] In an extensive study of Romania’s relations with its Warsaw Pact allies Watts contended that the claim that Ceaușescu called for military intervention in Poland "has been repeated so often and in so many publications that it has already acquired the status of 'common knowledge.' The fact that the assertions were launched and confirmed by the same group of former members of the Warsaw Pact, principally former Soviet, Polish, and Hungarian sources, in the absence of Romanian proof, has not concerned the community of analysts marked by cognitive prejudices and influenced by overwhelming disinformation" (Cei dintâi vor fi cei din urmă [The First Will Be the Last], Bucharest: RAO, 2013, p.653, note 3 (author's translation).

[11] Stefan Karner, Mark Kramer, Peter Ruggenthaler, Manfred Wilke (eds), Der Kreml unde die Wende 1989. Interne Analysen der sowjetischen Führung zum Fall der kommunistischen Regime, Innsbruck, Wien, Bozen: StudienVerlag, 2014, docs 71, 72; see Mark Kramer’s presentation of the original documents in Russian and his translation in CWIHP e-Dossier No. 61, published in response to this e-Dossier.

[12]  Gorbachev’s translator in conversation with this author, Paris, 4 December, 2009.

 Ceaușescu’s Military Intervention against Poland

Larry Watts

This e-dossier presents four documents previously unavailable in English regarding the contentious issue of Romanian advocacy of military intervention to defend socialism in Poland in August 1989. Two documents have appeared in Romanian in a publication sponsored jointly by the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Romanian Cultural Foundation.[1] One is available in the Romanian original on the Parallel History Project website.[2] And one is reproduced here for the first time.[3]

In the final months of 1989 Soviet, Polish and Hungarian sources alleged that Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu had reversed his country’s quarter century old policy against foreign military intervention in reaction to the election of the Solidarity government and the appointment of its non-communist prime minister. Proponents of this hypothesis argue that it is proven by the verbal communication delivered separately by the Romanian Foreign Ministry to the diplomatic representatives of the USSR, Poland, Hungary, the GDR, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria on the night of August 19/20, 1989.[4]

According to the Polish version of that communication, the Romanians declared that the developments in Poland “concerned all of the socialist countries,” which “must take a stand and insist that that Solidarity not be entrusted with the mission of forming a government.” The Romanian leadership therefore decided “to appeal to the PUWP [Polish United Workers Party] leadership, to political bureaus, [to] the leaders of many Warsaw Pact countries and other socialist countries to express grave concern and to act together to prevent the serious situation in Poland, on the defense of socialism and the Polish people.”[5] Thus, the Romanians sharply condemned the Polish moves, warned of the wider threat to socialism and announced their intention to appeal to the “Warsaw Pact countries and other socialist countries” in order to preempt the imminent collapse of socialism in Poland.

Verbal and written affirmations of various Soviet bloc officials – especially in the USSR, Poland and Hungary – confirm an aggressive militaristic interpretation of Romanian intentions. Ceaușescu, supporters of this hypothesis claim, was “demand[ing] a Warsaw Pact military intervention in Poland”; Romania was “secretly urging” the other Pact members to join it in such an operation; and the Romanian dictator was even “advocating military intervention across the East Bloc.”[6]

The fact that the Brezhnev Doctrine also cited the “defense of socialism” to justify the military invasion of Czechoslovakia rendered the charge plausible. So, too, did the alarmist terms of the Romanian appeal for “urgent action,” which suggested an acceptance of drastic, even military, measures. And Ceaușescu’s distaste for “Solidarity,” which he considered an “agency of foreign imperialism,” was public knowledge. [Document 2]

*          *          * 

However, the hypothesis is less plausible when viewed against the backdrop of Romania’s long-standing policy opposing foreign military intervention and advocating the withdrawal of foreign troops, which it continued to maintain in domestic and international forums including within the Warsaw Pact without interruption. That principle, deemed fundamental to Bucharest’s security policy, was reaffirmed at the Romanian Communist Party Plenum of November 1989, where the it took up almost a third of Ceaușescu’s speech, and at the December 1989 meeting of Warsaw Pact leaders in Moscow as well as at every other official gathering in the last four months of the regime.

Plausibility is also strained in light of the fact that the Romanians did not, in fact, actually call for “military” intervention. Nor did they advocate the use of armed force in any of the versions of the verbal communication that have appeared to date.[7] Instead, Romania’s advocacy of military intervention must be “interpreted,” first from the fact that the perceived threat was the same as that justifying the Brezhnev Doctrine and, second, from the rather ambiguous “urgent action” for which Romania was calling (and against the backdrop of Ceaușescu’s general rejection of any liberalizing tendency).

The absence of any mention of such a proposal during the meetings of Warsaw Pact foreign and defense ministers that October and November further undermines the military intervention hypothesis. Given the public and private willingness of Polish and Hungarian authorities to lambast alleged Romanian aggressiveness, the failure of both to make even passing reference to it in meetings hosted by them would have been remarkable had there been any substance to the allegation.[8]

The hypothesis further suffers in that all of the sources cited for Romania’s advocacy of military intervention to date are non-Romanian. That would be problematic enough if observable behavior was being evaluated. It is doubly so since unimplemented intent is under evaluation. As of this writing absolutely no evidence has surfaced indicating that such a contingency was ever raised in internal Romanian party or military discussions.[9] Nor have any hints of it surfaced in any of the lengthy depositions taken from the twenty-nine surviving members of the Political Executive Committee of the Romanian Communist Party that were arrested and tried shortly after the December 1989 Revolution.[10]

Reliance on the veracity of Soviet, Hungarian and Polish officials regarding an improbable discontinuity in Romanian policy is especially problematic because all three were known to prevaricate, to foreign and domestic audiences alike, in their descriptions of Romanian policy and intent. For example, a campaign spearheaded by Budapest during May-July 1989 alleged Romania to be (1) building a nuclear weapon and threatening its use against Hungary; (2) acquiring ballistic missiles to deliver said nuclear device; and (3) asserting claims to Hungarian territory and threatening military invasion, before it was soundly debunked by U.S. analysts and U.S. officials in the last half of July 1989.[11]

According to Ryszard Kuklinski, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s chief asset on the Polish General Staff, General Wojciech Jaruzelski systematically misrepresented Romanian policy and intent to the Polish civilian leadership in Warsaw:

The Romanian signals, which I personally transmitted from Romania, and which indicated that they expected the Poles to take a more independent position at the Warsaw Pact forum, Jaruzelski considered these nearly a plot or counter-revolutionary move and discarded the idea with contempt. Without batting an eye he allowed himself, however, to be dragged in by Russians into a “solidarity” campaign against the Romanians at the meetings of the Committee of Defense Ministers. Moreover, he expressed dissatisfaction when the members of the Polish delegation established any kind of closer social contacts with the Romanians. In the reports submitted to the then political and Party leaders of the Polish Peoples’ Republic (Gierek, Jaroszewicz) he distorted and downgraded the Romanian position.[12]

Nor was this the first attempt to portray Ceaușescu and Romania as advocating military action against Poland. The consistency with which this line was transmitted by East European sources in 1980 and 1981 persuaded the CIA to include the allegation that Ceaușescu “privately” supported military intervention in Poland in the National Intelligence Daily that it prepared for the White House.[13] Meanwhile, internal Hungarian and East German reports described Romania’s single-handed opposition to preparations for a Warsaw Pact military intervention in Poland in December 1980; and its repeat performance in December 1981 (when Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria had already confirmed their intention to participate in such an operation).[14] When the Romanians attempted to insert a “categorical rebuff of intervention” in the declaration of the Warsaw Pact’s 1983 Political Consultative Committee (PCC) meeting in Prague, by stipulating Polish domestic affairs to be “purely a matter for Poland, not for the fraternal socialist states,” their proposal was rejected by the Polish delegation.[15]

The misrepresentation of Romania as an “aggressive armed camp” had in fact been a staple of Soviet disinformation operations in the interwar period and was used to justify the ‘necessity’ of invading, occupying and annexing portions of it during World War II. This campaign was resuscitated in Soviet historical writing during the 1960s.[16] Among the most extravagant in a long line of Soviet misrepresentations was the “howler” disseminated by Evghenii Primakov that “Ceauşescu demanded that Soviet troops be sent to Romania” during the December 1989 revolution.[17] In fact, the Romanian dictator lodged protests with Moscow and threatened to take action against an influx of Soviet and other bloc “tourists” that, Ceaușescu insisted, were all agents of anti-Romanian espionage.[18]

Two other elements of relevant context merit inclusion in any consideration of Romanian intent and the possible reversal of policy in August 1989. One was Romania’s attempt during the late 1980s to convene a conference of “all European socialist states” to deal with the problems and prospects of “socialist construction.” Ceaușescu returned to this theme at the July 1989 PCC in Bucharest, calling for “active cooperation with all of the socialist countries, and in the first place with our neighbors, for advancing social and economic development of our countries on the path of socialism.” His opening speech to the Bucharest PCC meeting on July 7, 1989 called upon all socialist countries to jointly consider and address crises, very much like the appeal of August 19/20:

We are of the view that it is especially important for the socialist member-states of the Warsaw Pact and for all the socialist countries to jointly analyze and jointly establish the current issues of Socialist construction, how we can better work together, preparing the ranks for crisis and securing the social and economic development of every people on the socialist path.[19]

In July Ceaușescu had insisted on the urgency of the this measure, demanding that such a meeting be held as soon as possible, by October 1989 at the latest. Applying Occam’s Razor, the “urgent” appeal to “the leaders of many Warsaw Pact countries and other socialist countries to express grave concern and to act together” to address the crisis and prevent the collapse of socialism in Poland in August 1989 is less likely to have represented a call for military intervention and an abrupt “about-face” in long-standing security policy than another attempt to convene a long-sought meeting of all European socialist states.[20]

A second element of necessary context concerns Romania’s continued pursuit of radical reform within the Warsaw Pact. Formally submitted to Moscow on July 1, 1988 and sent by letter to the other Pact members, the reform diminished Soviet control and transformed the Pact from a military-political to a political and socio-economic alliance, downgrading its military aspect and reducing the authority of senior Soviet officers. [Document 1][21] Moscow promptly instructed the other Pact members to avoid discussion of the proposal.

Although Soviet officials told other Pact members that the reform would strengthen the military character of the Warsaw Pact, they clearly did not believe that to be the Romanian intent. As Eduard Shevardnadze and Vadim Medvedev explained, along with converting the PCC “into a consultative body of the European socialist states on matters of political and economic cooperation,” Romania was seeking changes “providing for collective decisions on military development and the common use of the armed forces in wartime,” thereby “weakening the now existing system of the alliance’s military organization.”[22]

Romania, according to East Germany’s chief of staff, sought both “to make the preparation of collective resolutions regarding basic issues of military structure and the assurance of uniform planning for the mobilization of the armed forces in wartime more difficult,” and to end “the continuous leadership of the armed forces of the Warsaw Treaty by a Soviet supreme commander.”[23] This, the East German general pointed out, was fully “in keeping with the past position of Romania not to allow any strengthening of alliance structures.”[24]

Hungarian officials likewise noted that “in stark contrast” with the other Pact members, all of whom wished to “strengthen” the alliance, Romania efforts weakened the alliance by opening up the PCC to “all the European socialist countries (i.e. Albania and Yugoslavia included),” refocusing it towards “political and economic cooperation,” and “democratizing the mechanism of military cooperation” through equal access to command positions.[25]

Ceaușescu clearly restated all of these aims in his opening speech to the July 1989 PCC in Bucharest:

We must improve the work of the Warsaw Pact. Many proposals have been put forward. Of course, we are in favor of dissolving this Pact, but as long as it exists, it must work under good conditions...[26]

From this meeting forward, our PCC should make it its duty, apart from military questions, to analyze problems of economic and social development more comprehensively so that they become, as the circumstances allow, leading issues...

Naturally there is another question that we have always supported – that the Supreme Commander be elected every year or two years from the representatives of [all] the member states. I believe that that should be the case.

I understand well that the Soviet Union needs continuity. The [Soviet] chief of the High Command staff of course offers this possibility, this continuity, but it can also take other forms; for example, with respect to that part of the Soviet army in the alliance, one of the deputies of the Supreme Commander could always be a representative of the Soviet army. One could find other acceptable solutions as well.

Decisive is the need to create real trust and mutually to establish limits to our armed forces, under the assumption that the protection of independence is guaranteed as long as there are difficult situations. One must aim at democratization, as one understands the term.[27]

As if to underscore the reason why they were unreliable sources for Romanian intention and behavior, the other Warsaw Pact allies went out of their way to conceal the proposal from public view while misrepresenting Romanian policy as something quite different. The East German report on the PCC meeting denied that Ceaușescu had ever raised the topic of reform, instead claiming that Romania “did not repeat its ideas contained in the letter from the RCP to the fellow parties on reorganizing the Warsaw Pact.”[28] Although Ceaușescu repeatedly stressed in his opening speech that Romania was “in favor of renouncing Europe’s division into military blocs” and “dissolving” the Warsaw Pact, the Bulgarian foreign ministry claimed instead that Ceaușescu had “changed” his position and now “voiced his disagreement to the disbandment of the Warsaw Treaty Organization.”[29]

The Israeli Ambassador in Bucharest was told by an otherwise unidentified “East European source attending the July PCC meeting” that “when Gorbachev declared that ‘the era of the Cold War is over’”, Ceaușescu riposted “that the Cold War still existed” and then “surprised the participants” by allegedly calling for a renewal of “the validity of the ‘Brezhnev Doctrine’.”[30] However, according to the East German transcript of his speech, Ceaușescu actually declared that “the politics of Cold War” had been defeated jointly through the “infallible policy of the socialist countries” and the struggle of “the people of the entire world.”[31] Together, he announced, they had achieved “the transition to a policy of détente, to the solution of the difficult and complicated problems of international affairs by means of negotiation.” In other words, Ceaușescu reaffirmed long-standing Romanian policy, surprising no one.

*          *          * 

In the evening of August 21, 1989, less than 48 hours after receiving Romania’s August 19/20 verbal communication in Bucharest, foreign policy officials in Warsaw gave their official response to the Romanian ambassador. Polish authorities complained that the appeal contradicted Romania’s long-standing principle of “non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states” (enshrined yet again in the July 1989 Bucharest Declaration).  “The Romanian leadership,” Warsaw continued, “has always expressed this principle with special force regarding their own country, an unequivocal example being the non-participation of Romania in the intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968.” [Document 3][32]

Warsaw thus established a linkage between the principle of non-interference – first invoked by Bucharest to condemn the Comintern’s liquidation of other party leaderships in the 1920s and 1930s – and the alleged reversal of Romanian policy against foreign military intervention, which also implied a reversal of its stance against foreign military bases and for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. Although Warsaw did not directly accuse Romania of advocating military intervention, the allegation that Romania had reversed its policy on “non-interference” in the context of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia certainly implied it.

Earlier that same day, August 21, 1989, Ceaușescu explained the origins of and motives for the appeal to the other members of the Romanian Communist Party’s Political Executive Committee, a body of 33 persons, with an additional three invited to take part. Neither Ceaușescu nor they made any reference to or hint of military, armed or other coercive measures whatsoever, much less foreign military intervention. At the start of the meeting the participants were read the communication delivered to the Soviet Ambassador as well as Mikhail Gorbachev’s response and the Romanian draft reply to that (these documents have yet to surface in the Romanian archives). As Ceaușescu recounted, the ad hoc communication, cobbled together in consultation with a few “comrades that could be found immediately” that Saturday (August 19), was intended first of all for the Soviet leadership since only they, “if they will agree, can persuade the Polish United Workers Party to take a firmer position.” [Document 2][33]

The issue was not whether “Solidarity” representatives should be accepted into the Polish government which, the Romanian leader noted, “could be a solution,” but that the PUWP seemed prepared to hand over the entire government to them, and they were doing so with the encouragement of Moscow. Indeed, Ceaușescu demonstrated more sympathy in the meeting for the position of the PUWP, which had “pronounced in favor of maintaining an important role in political life,” than he did for that of the CPSU, which he viewed as urging the Polish leadership to cede all of its positions. Ceaușescu was not very optimistic given that the Polish orientation was not only “in accord with that of the Soviet Union” but – he believed – “one could say even more, namely, that it is even taken on the advice of the Soviet Union.” [Document 2]

During the reading of the draft reply to Gorbachev, Ceaușescu reiterated the appeal for a conference of all European socialist parties to address the crisis facing socialism. Thus, before Warsaw and Budapest had accused Bucharest of advocating military intervention, Ceaușescu told his party’s leadership that convening “such a meeting would also constitute a powerful demonstration of the unity of our socialist countries, the affirmation of their solidarity and decisiveness for strengthening that solidarity.”[34] In expressing Romania’s wish for the Poles to surmount their current crisis, Ceaușescu made reference to his country’s assistance to Poland when the latter was invaded and divided between German and the Soviet Union 50 years earlier.  [Document 2]

Three days later Budapest also delivered its official response to the Romanian ambassador. Having evidently coordinated their response with Warsaw (and probably Moscow), Hungarian authorities insinuated that, in calling for “urgent joint action” and the use of “every means in order to impede the liquidation socialism in Poland,” Romania was in fact advocating military intervention. [Document 4][35] Both Warsaw and Budapest were careful to elide over Romania’s repeated obstruction of Warsaw Pact intervention planning and preparations against Poland in 1980 and 1981 as well as Bucharest’s effort to consecrate the principle that Poles were solely responsible for their internal arrangements in 1983.[36]

Romania’s appeal, Budapest claimed, was an unprecedented call for military intervention:

The validity of one country’s interference with military or any other means in the internal problems of another definitively lost its validity with the end of the so-called Brezhnev dictatorship. …

The Romanian point of view is incomprehensible if we take into account, especially, the systematic public approach of Romania towards the principles of non-interference in domestic affairs, sovereignty, and of the relations between socialist states. The Romanian position is now in total contradiction with the point of view expressed by the abovementioned principles, on the basis of which, for example, Romania also established its policy in 1968, referring to the events in Czechoslovakia. [Document 4]

This time, however, the Romanian ambassador immediately riposted. Interference as described by his Hungarian interlocutor, the ambassador insisted, was not at all what Bucharest was advocating and his country continued to stand by its long-established principles:

I insisted, at once, to clarify to my interlocutor that we could not accept accusations that the RCP, that its leadership, has the intention to interfere in the domestic affairs of Poland and that through this it was renouncing the principle of noninterference in the domestic affairs of other states, and of sovereignty, as affirmed in the message of the HSWP [Hungarian Socialist Workers Party].

Likewise, I took a firm position against the speculative interpretations that are being made on the margins of the RCP message, demonstrating that Romania has not given anyone lectures, nor has it stigmatized the fraternal countries and parties.

The Romanian Communist Party and the Romanian Government have placed the unmitigated respect for the principles of full equality of rights, of sovereignty, of independence and of noninterference in the domestic affairs of other states at the foundation of their foreign policy.

The message of our party and state leadership sprang from concerns produced by the recent events in Poland, a fact also recognized in the response letter of the Hungarians. [Document 4]    

The documentary evidence provides little support for taking Soviet, Polish, and Hungarian affirmations of Romania’s advocacy of military intervention at face value. Were it not for the quantity of hearsay testimony from interested parties concerning Bucharest’s allegedly aggressive intent there would be no “evidence” of it at all.

In contrast, there is considerable evidence that Romania was placing renewed emphasis on the non-interference principle. Before, during and after Ceaușescu’s midnight call upon the Warsaw Pact state representatives on August 19/20, the RCP leadership was preparing policy presentations for two major events on the Romanian political horizon. The most important was the 14th RCP Plenum in November, involving a process of documentary drafts and redrafts extending from the beginning of July 1989 through October 1989, which consistently and explicitly stressed the principles of non-interference and the non-use of forces in interstate relations.[37]

The second-most important event (judging from the man-hours devoted and the amount of paper produced) was the 44th Session of the UN General Assembly, set to begin on September 19, 1989. Again, the Romanians presented proposals  policy for: “The promotion of a new manner of thinking and approaching the solution of international problems, with the unabated respect for the principles of relations between states, especially equality of rights, independence and national sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs, no recourse to force and the threat of force, mutual advantage.”[38]

Further discussion of its UN initiatives at the beginning of September 1989 indicate that the RCP leadership saw in the principle of non-interference a possible defense for the continuation of the communist regime in Romania. Specifically, it called for:

The respect and practical application by all states of the principle of peaceful coexistence between states with different social orders, the elimination of any act and form of intervention seeking to change of social-political order in other states... The proposal will be made to the United Nations to request the states implicated in this type of action, to cease and desist any acts or measures in interstate relations that seek to impose changes in the domestic policies of other states, to strictly respect and to implement in fact the policy of peaceful coexistence between states with different socio-political systems and orders.[39]

The same trend of placing greater stress on non-interference in other states’ domestic affairs is reflected in Romanian Political Executive Committee meetings during the late summer and autumn of 1989.[40] Rather than suggesting any renunciation of the principle of non-interference, the evidence of internal RCP documents from the beginning of August confirms a heightened preoccupation with the necessity of that principle, especially regarding possible foreign interference to overthrow domestic social orders.

There is still much that needs explaining about the period immediately prior to (and during) Romania’s December 1989 revolution. Clarification demands a judicious consideration of longer-term relationships and parti prix interests within the Soviet bloc when evaluating the reliability of information from one Pact member about another. Presuming veracity on the part of the other Pact members in their reporting of Romanian aggressive intent may well prove to be as imprudent as seeking objective information on Tel Aviv from Damascus.

Given that the advocacy of foreign military intervention would have represented both an historical discontinuity and an improbable change in Romanian policy – one that directly undermined its fundamental security interests, strategy and planning – claims that Bucharest was engaged in such advocacy need to be treated with extreme caution, and the evidence for them subjected to rigorous scrutiny. In proceeding otherwise the analyst risks simply replacing one set of myths with another.

Larry L. Watts is associate professor at the National School for Political Studies and Public Administration and teaches Cold War History at the University of Bucharest. He served as security sector reform advisor to Romania’s Presidential Counselor for National Security and the Romanian Defense Ministry during 1991-2004, and to Romania’s Senate Committee for Defense, Internal Order and National Security during 2005-2009. He is the author of With Friends Like These: The Soviet Bloc’s Clandestine War Against Romania (2010); Extorting Peace: Romania and the End of the Cold War 1978-1989 (2013), and Incompatible Allies: Romania, Finland, Hungary And The Third Reich (2014). His books have been translated and published in Romanian. He is currently working on Romanian Mediation In The Vietnam War, which will be published in 2015.

[1] Documents 3 and 4 are from Dumitru Preda and Mihai Retegan, 1989 – Principiul Dominoului: Prabusirea Regimurilor Comuniste Europene [1989 – The Domino Principle: The Collapse of the European Communist Regimes], Bucharest, Editura Fundatiei Culturale Romane, 2000.

[2] The Romanian original of Document 1 is at Romanian Proposal for Warsaw Pact Reform: Letter of the CC of the Romanian Communist Party, 8 July 1988, Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact (PHP),, by permission of the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich and the National Security Archive at the George Washington University on behalf of the PHP network (hereafter: PHP). The English version provided on Parallel History Project’s website as of this writing was not a translation of the Romanian original but rather that of a significantly altered Bulgarian document.

[3]Document 2 is from the Romanian National Archive (RNA), Stenograma şedinţei Comitetului Politic Executiv al C.C. al P.C.R. din ziua de 21 august 1989 [Transcript of RCP CC Political Executive Committee meeting of 21 August 1989], Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party Collection, Chancellery Section, File No. 57/1989, pp. 1-6. The author’s attention was draw to this document by historian Ioan Scurtu’s article, “Nicolae Ceauşescu şi Evenimentele din Polonia (1981, 1989)” [Nicolae Ceaușescu and The Events in Poland (1981, 1989)], Clio 1989 (Bucharest), no. 1-2 (2005): 168-170.

[4] The Polish version of the communication is reproduced in “Dokumenty Polska-Rumunia,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 29 September-1 October 1989. Although the Romanian original has yet to surface, the appeal was discussed in the RCP newspaper the following day. “De la Varşovia” [From Warsaw], Scânteia, 20 August 1989. See also Florin Anghel, “Considerente asupra România în discursul public din Polonia, în 1989” [Considerations of Romania in Public Discourse in Poland in 1989], Institutul Revoluţiei Române Din Decembrie 1989 [Institute of the Romanian Revolution of December 1989], Caietele Revoluţie [Journals of the Revolution], no. 4, vol. 6 (2006): 45-53.

[5]Gazeta Wyborcza, 29 September-1 October 1989. The last sentence in the Polish rendition is: “Kierownictwo RPK postanowiło zwrócić się do kierownictwa PZPR, do biur politycznych, do kierownictw partii krajów UW i innych krajów socjalistycznych, by wyrazić poważne zaniepokojenie oraz aby wspólnie zadziałać w sprawie zapobieżenia poważnej sytuacji w Polsce, w sprawie obrony socjalizmu i narodu polskiego.

[6] Anatoly Dobrynin, In Confidence: Moscow’s Ambassador to Six Cold War Presidents, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1995, p. 632; Raymond L. Garthoff, The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War, Washington D.C., Brookings Institute, 1994, p. 604; Jacques Levesque, The Enigma of 1989: The USSR and the Liberation of Eastern Europe, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1997, pp. 119-121; Philip Zelikow and Condoleeza Rice, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1998, p. 69; Mark Kramer, “The Collapse of East European Communism and the Repercussions within the Soviet Union (I),” Journal of Cold War Studies, vol. 5, no. 4 (Fall 2003): 197-198; Mircea Munteanu, “The Last Days of a Dictator,” Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) Bulletin, no. 12/13 (Fall-Winter 2001): 217.

[7] As of this writing (December 2014) the Soviet version of this communication transmitted by the Soviet ambassador in Bucharest to Moscow, and Moscow’s response, both discovered by Prof. Mark Kramer, was still awaiting publication. [Ed. - see CWIHP e-Dossier No. 61 published in response to this e-Dossier]

[8] See e.g. “Romania has called for military intervention in Poland,” Polityka Weekly News Roundup, Warsaw, Polityka in Polish, no. 38, 23 September 1989 (excerpts), p. 2, JPRS-EER-89-130, 27 November 1989: 19. The Warsaw Pact’s Committee of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs met in Warsaw on October 26-27, 1989 and its Committee of the Defense Ministers met in Budapest on November 27-29, 1989.

[9] Larry L. Watts, Extorting Peace: Romania, The Clash Within The Warsaw Pact, And The End Of The Cold War, Bucharest, RAO, 2014, chapters 15 and 16.

[10] Of the thirty-six participants in the August 21, 1989 meeting that discussed the appeal, three had been non-committee members, and the Ceaușescu couple had been executed. Of the arrested Political Executive Committee members, one was declared mentally incompetent and released and another was excused for less transparent reasons.

[11] Douglas Clarke, “The Romanian Military Threat to Hungary,” RAD Background Report/130, Radio Free Europe Research, 27 July 1989; “Rumanian Threat Discounted,” New York Times, 11 July 1989.

[12] See Colonel Kuklinski’s Q & A briefing to the CIA, “Jaruzelski’s Attitude, Behavior and Style,” (Released in Part, Exemption: HR70-14, 19 August 2008), p. 47, in “Preparing for Martial Law: Through the Eyes of Colonel Ryszard Kuklinki,” at

[13] “Poland” in National Intelligence Daily, November 7, 1980, pp. 5-6 and “Special Analysis: Romania: Repercussions of the Polish Crisis” in National Intelligence Daily, April 11, 1981, CIA. For the opposing State Department view see Lawrence Eagleburger, “Ceaușescu’s Views on Outside Intervention in Poland,” as cited in Matthew J. Ouimet, The Rise And Fall Of The Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy, Chapel Hill and London, University of North Carolina Press, 2003, pp. 282, footnote 150.

[14] According to Budapest, Ceaușescu stressed the “very serious dangers” of military intervention and “pointed out that Poland had to solve the problems on its own.” János Tischler, “The Hungarian Party Leadership and the Polish Crisis of 1980-1981,” CWIHP Bulletin, no. 11 (Winter 1998): 83. GDR officials reported the “Romanian objection against a military relief campaign.” Michael Kubina, “Moscow’s Man in the SED Politburo and the Crisis in Poland in Autumn 1980,” CWIHP Bulletin, no. 11 (Winter 1998): 93. For allied intention to participate in an intervention see Mark Kramer, The Kuklinski Files and the Polish Crisis of 1980-1981: An Analysis of the Newly Released CIA Documents on Ryszard Kuklinski, Washington D.C., Cold War International History Project Working Paper No. 59, March 2009: 18-20.

[15] See the note prepared by Poland’s Foreign Minister, M. Dmochowski, in Polish Preparatory Report for the PCC Meeting, Prague, 3 January 1983, PHP.

[16] See e.g., “Yazkova on the Little Entente: Hungarian and Rumanian Response,” Radio Free Europe Research, 10 February 1969, Open Society Archives, Box 65, Folder 2, Report 219, p. 4; Paul Lendvai, Eagles in Cobwebs: Nationalism and Communism in the Balkans, Garden City, NY, Doubleday and Company, 1969, p. 343.

[17] Yevgheny Primakov, Russian Crossroads: Toward the New Millenium, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2004, p. 131.

[18] See e.g. the documents in Munteanu (2001) and the transcript of the 17 December 1989 Political Executive Committee meeting reproduced in Mircea Bunea, Praf in ochi: Procesul celor 24-1-2 [Dust in Your Eyes: The Trial of The 24-1-2], Bucharest, Editura Scripta, 1994, p. 34.

[19]Records of the PCC Meeting in Bucharest: Speech by the General Secretary of the PCR (Nicolae Ceauşescu), 7 July 1989, German language version, pp. 151-152, PHP. Unfortunately, this portion of Ceaușescu’s speech is replaced by ellipsis in the English translation on the PHP website.

[20] Peter Siani-Davies, The Romanian Revolution of December 1989, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2005, p. 49.

[21] Other aspects of the proposal repeated Romanian calls over the previous quarter century for the Pact’s transformation into a genuine coalition with rotating command positions. See e.g., The New York Times, May 8, 11, 16-18, 1966. The English version posted on the Parallel History Project’s website is translated from a Bulgarian “summary” rather than the Romanian original, leaving out key elements of the proposal, failing to mark their absence with ellipsis and inserting small but extremely significant edits. For example, “political and military” is substituted for the original “political and economic” as the goal of proposed alliance transformation and the proposals to open the PCC to all European socialist states and to annually rotate presidencies for both the PCC and the newly proposed Military Defense Committee are missing altogether. Compare Document 1 with the English translation at Romanian Proposal for Warsaw Pact Reform: Letter of the CC of the Romanian Communist Party, 8 July 1988, PHP.

[22]Romanian Proposal For Warsaw Pact Reform: Information Regarding The Romanian Proposal, 8 July 1988, p. 3, PHP

[23]Evaluation of the Romanian Proposal for Reform of the Warsaw Pact in Preparation of the PCC Meeting, by the East German Minister of Defense (Heinz Kessler), July 1988, PHP

[24] Ibid.

[25]Joint Memorandum of the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of National Defense on the Future of the Warsaw Treaty, 6 March 1989, p. 7, “Hungary and the Warsaw Pact,” “National Perspectives,” PHP. Not much had changed since the mid-1960s, when Budapest complained that, regarding “military questions, it became clear that there had been no change in the Romanian attitude since the July 1966 meeting in Bucharest. The Romanian party and state leadership continues to oppose the more active work and better coordination of the Warsaw Treaty military organs.” Report to the Hungarian Politburo and Council of Ministers on the Politburo Meeting, March 9, 1968, PHP.

[26]Records of the PCC Meeting in Bucharest: Speech by the General Secretary of the PCR (Nicolae Ceauşescu), 7 July 1989, English version, p. 13, PHP.

[27] Ibid. East German version, pp. 26/160 and 27/161, PHP.

[28]East German Summary of the PCC Meeting, 11 July 1989 (Excerpts), p. 2, PHP; Vojtech Mastny and Malcom Byrne, editors, A Cardboard Castle? An Inside History of the Warsaw Pact, 1955-1991, Budapest, Central European Press, 2005, p. 652.

[29]Records of the PCC Meeting in Bucharest: Speech by the General Secretary of the PCR (Nicolae Ceauşescu), 7 July 1989, English version, pp. 6-7, PHP; Report to the Bulgarian Politburo by the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs (Petar ToshevMladenov) on the PCC Meeting, 12 July 1989, p. 5, PHP. The plausibility of this disinformation resided in Ceaușescu’s allowance that a “unilateral” dissolution of the Pact was not desirable, possibly as a sop to Soviet fears. Ceaușescu and his predecessor, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, insisted that the Soviet bloc would not suffer ill effect if it unilaterally reduced troops, arms and budgets and unilateral troop withdrawals.

[30] Yosef Govrin, Israeli-Romanian Relations at the End of the Ceaușescu Era, New York, Routledge, 2002, p. 113. Ambassador Govrin was chief of the Israeli Foreign Ministry department that dealt with Eastern Europe from the late 1970s until 1985. He then served as Israeli ambassador to Romania during 1985-1989 before returning to Tel Aviv as his ministry’s secretary general.

[31]Records of the PCC Meeting in Bucharest: Speech by the General Secretary of the PCR (Nicolae Ceauşescu), 7 July 1989, German language version, pp. 2/135-3/136, PHP.

[32] “The Report of the Romanian Embassy in Warsaw to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” 22 August 1989, 0145 hours, Document 72 in Preda and Retegan (2000), p. 164-167; Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Warsaw/1989, vol. 3, pp. 57-63. The meeting had taken place a few hours before, in the evening of the previous day, August 21, 1989.

[33] Ceaușescu’s approach to the same issue in his private meeting with Gorbachev on December 3, 1989 was remarkably similar: “I believe that the Soviet Union, and I am referring primarily to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, could have a certain role – not by force of the military – to help produce a better orientation [in Warsaw].” Minutes of the Meeting between Nicolae Ceauşescu and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Moscow, 4 December 1989 in Munteanu (2001): 217, 220.

[34] There is no suggestion in the discussion that Gorbachev had accused the Romanians of advocating or favoring military intervention. However, as noted above, Gorbachev’s reply is yet to be located.

[35] “Information of the Romanian Embassy in Budapest to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” 24 August 1989, 1415 hrs, Document 74 in Preda and Retegan (2000), pp. 170-171; Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Budapest/1989, vol. 5, pp. 130-132.

[36] Nor did Warsaw or Budapest reference Romania’s continual condemnations of the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan since December 1979 and its admonitions for the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

[37] This emphasis appears in all four versions of Ceaușescu’s report to the 14th Plenum produced during August-October 1989. They can be found in RNA, Romanian Communist Party (RCP) Central Committee (CC) Collection, Chancellery Section, File no. 76/1989, pp. 1-159

[38] RNA, RCP CC Collection, Chancellery Section, File no. 56/1989, pp. 57-64. These principles were likewise stressed in the preparations for the Conference of Non-Aligned States set to open in Belgrade on September 4, 1989, with preliminary meetings beginning already on September 1, 1989. Ibid, pp. 51-56.

[39] RNA, RCP CC Collection, Chancellery Section, File no. 56/1989, pp. 60, 62. This was presented at point 151 of the agenda in collaboration with the non-aligned states as “The Proclamation of a Decade of Human Rights.”

[40] See e.g. RNA, RCP CC Collection, Chancellery Section, File no. 60/1989, 12 October 1989, p. 31.

 Ceaușescu’s Appeal to the Sister Parties

Adam Burakowski

Ceaușescu’s appeal to the fellow communist parties of the Soviet bloc in August 1989 was one of the very few moments when Bucharest tried to influence other countries and to play the role of leader in the region. It was also one of the even rarer moments when the Romanian dictator showed any interest in the affairs of Poland. We should thus take into consideration that it was a very unusual move and virtually the only one of its kind during the whole communist period in Romania.

Ceaușescu tried to influence the other countries of the Soviet bloc only a few times. The most important and well-known was his firm stand against the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia on 21 August 1968. Romania did not take part in that military operation and Ceaușescu openly condemned the invasion during a popular rally in Bucharest. His speech was not a direct intervention in other countries’ affairs, but nevertheless it was a strong voice in the Soviet bloc, so de facto it was an attempt to play the role of leader in the region. But it was the first andthe last time, at least for a couple of decades. Over the next few years, Ceaușescu rather tried to play the role of "maverick" in the Soviet bloc; nevertheless he played it cautiously, trying not to break ties with the rest of the countries under Moscow's influence. He knew his limits perfectly and never really crossed them. When criticizing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he was not as defiant as in 1968 and did not want to entice other communist countries to follow him as the other countries were involved in the operation and it was impossible to attract them. The only exception was Yugoslavia, but Tito played his own game and Romanian leader knew it perfectly. Later on, Ceaușescu isolated Romania from other Central Eastern European countries and even posed - in burlesque style - as the one who questioned the existence of the Warsaw Pact.

This all changed when Gorbachev came to power in the Kremlin. It was clear from the very beginning that Ceaușescu was at odds with the new policy promoted by Moscow and that he tried to remain more orthodox than his Soviet comrades. Yet he was not alone in the bloc; Bulgaria's Todor Zhivkov, Czechoslovakia's Gustáv Husák and (from 1987) Miloš Jakeš, and the GDR's Erich Honecker also had serious doubts about perestroika and glasnost and wanted to keep the communist system more or less unchanged. Ceaușescu counted to some extent on them even if he was not able or did not want to form any "conservative" caucus.

In opposition to the interwar period, during the Cold War Romania did not have very extensive relations with Poland. Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej maintained only standard relations with the Polish People's Republic. In the late sixties, Ceaușescu tried to warm up relations with Warsaw, but since Poland was rather reluctant about this initiative, he finally gave up this idea and never returned to it. When Jaruzelski introduced martial law in Poland, Ceaușescu was visibly pleased, because he insisted that this conflict should be solved by the country's own internal means. In 1982 Jaruzelski visited Bucharest and his talks with Ceaușescu were very open (as both sources - Polish and Romanian - suggest), because both of them had similar policies at that time. Jaruzelski's visit was followed by two to three years of cordial mutual conversations, but without any visible results. This period of slightly warmer relations ended abruptly with the promotion of Gorbachev. Jaruzelski quickly followed all of the new trends emanating from Moscow, all of which Ceaușescu opposed.

Nevertheless, even in times of slightly closer relations, i.e. in the late sixties and early eighties, Romania was not very well informed about political and economic developments in Poland. Bucharest never examined the situation sufficiently, as is shown by, for example, the discussions in the Executive Political Bureau of the Romanian Communist Party about the introduction of martial law. Ceaușescu and his people did not pay much attention to the situation in Poland. This attitude was deepened in the late eighties, when Romania became more and more isolated and its diplomatic personnel were preoccupied rather with the situation in the bordering countries of the USSR and Hungary, and did not worry much about changes in more remote Poland. When we are discussing Ceaușescu's August 1989 appeal we should take this into consideration.

The events of 1989 did not surprise Nicolae Ceaușescu much, but the nomination of non-communist Tadeusz Mazowiecki as Polish prime minister was probably considered by him a point of no return. At that moment some action had to be taken by the whole Soviet bloc and since no other leader was ready to take the initiative, Ceaușescu did it himself. His appeal issued on 19 August 1989 was a call for broader consultations among the communist parties of Central and Eastern Europe, not only among the members of the Warsaw Pact.

This appeal was largely seen as a call for action of some kind, not excluding even military intervention similar to the one in Czechoslovakia in 1968. As Larry Watts rightly points out, this perspective was promoted especially by the Polish side, which used it both for domestic and external reasons. Internally it was presented as pressure from "die-hard" communists to block the reforms; it presented Polish communists, advocates of "national agreement," in a very positive light. Externally it was a clear sign that the Polish People's Republic followed the path of perestroika and was really committed to implementing it, even against foreign demands. The Hungarians promoted this version of Ceaușescu's alleged call for military intervention for similar reasons, but in the Hungarian context we should also add the tense mutual relations with Romania at that time. This opinion was then largely spread through the mass media of many countries. I agree with Larry Watts that the mentioned appeal did not directly imply any aggressive moves against Poland or any other country of the Soviet bloc.

It seems that Ceaușescu was obsessed with the idea of broader consultations among the communist parties of Central and Eastern Europe. He repeated this idea during his famous conversation with Gorbachev in Moscow on 4 December 1989. He tried to convince his Soviet counterpart to organize such a meeting and even to create an "initiative group," but Gorbachev answered that he did not see any specific reason to hold an extraordinary conference of the parties.[1] Similar answers came from the capitals of Central and Eastern Europe half a year earlier, in August 1989, when Ceaușescu brought his appeal to them.

Larry Watts argues that Ceaușescu did not want any military intervention in Poland and I may agree with his thesis. Yes, the appeal did not directly mention any military action. Yes, it was in the interest of Warsaw and Budapest (and partially of Moscow) to present it that way. Yes, Romanian diplomats denied that the Romanian Communist Party was advocating for military intervention and yes, even Ceaușescu himself suggested that it was rather a call for discussion.

But Ceaușescu was definitely prepared to defend communism (and his rule) by means of military force. He did not hesitate to order massive repressions against protesters in Timișoara and in Bucharest just half a year after his August 1989 appeal. The Romanian army took part in those bloody events and nobody denies the fact that the order came from the President of the Socialist Republic of Romania, the chief of the armed forces, i.e. Nicolae Ceaușescu in person. We could not imagine that in half a year he changed from a peaceful leader into a bloody dictator. Although the evidence is unclear, we would rather suppose him to be ready to defend communism by military force in August 1989.

As I stated before, Ceaușescu was not very well informed about the course of events in Poland. By convening a broad meeting of communist parties he wanted to examine the situation in detail, to hear others' positions on the issue, and to decide jointly about further steps. If the "die-hard" fraction would be stronger than the "reformist" one, the meeting could probably end with a decision for some kind of action to prevent the fall of communism in Poland. The other parties might have decided to launch a military intervention or not according to their own interpretation of the events in Poland. But the military solution was definitely one of the possible results of such a meeting and Ceaușescu undoubtedly was aware of that. There were no means to prevent such a development if the meeting really took place, which of course it did not.

Summarizing this discussion, I would propose that Larry Watts is right when he claims that military intervention was not automatically the aim of Ceaușescu's appeal and that this view was imposed by Poland and Hungary for their own reasons. Nevertheless, it is also not justified to claim that Ceaușescu did not take into consideration the military solution as the ultimate result of the meeting of the communist parties that he tried to convene.

Adam Burakowski (b. 1977) - Ph.D. in political science, works in the Institute of Political Studies of Polish Academy of Sciences, for the Polish Radio, the public national broadcaster and for the Euranet Plus, an European radio project. In 2003 he was an intern at the Cold War International History Project. Author of many books and articles, among others: "Carpathian Genius. The dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu 1965-1989" (Polish edition 2008, Romanian edition 2011), "1989 - The Autumn of Nations" (together with Aleksander Gubrynowicz and Paweł Ukielski; Polish edition 2009, Romanian edition 2013, Hungarian edition 2014), "India. From Colony to Superpower 1857-2013" (together with Krzysztof Iwanek; 2013), "The Political System of Contemporary Romania" (2014).

[1] The whole transcript of the meeting on 4 December 1989 was published here: Ș.Săndulescu: Decembrie '89. Lovitura de stat a confiscat Revoluția Română, București 1996, p. 283-298


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