Romania: If At First You Don't Succeed ...

One year after the revolt that toppled Ceausescu, many Romanians feel the country needs a second revolution

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The same threadbare clothes on the backs and scuffed boots on the feet of the protesters, the same anger on their faces as they trudge through the winter slush in a dozen Romanian cities, the same shouted slogans and crumpled banners demanding the government's ouster. In the year since a spontaneous eruption of fury on Romanian streets toppled the Communist regime, only the names on the lips of the marchers seem to have changed. Whereas last year the demonstrators called for the ouster of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, now they are demanding the resignation of President Ion Iliescu and his Prime Minister, Petre Roman.

That there were protests rather than celebrations on the anniversary of Ceausescu's downfall reflects a growing belief that the bloody revolution of 1989 has brought little change to Romania. Not only are food shortages as severe as they were under Ceausescu, but the government is promising even tougher times ahead as part of its planned economic reform. There is resentment too that few of Ceausescu's aides or members of the Securitate secret police have been brought to trial and that the ruling National Salvation Front, which won more than 80% of the vote in elections last May, is composed largely of former Communists.

Such disaffection has boosted the popularity of ex-King Michael, who was forced to abdicate in 1947 when the Communists came to power. Now a retired businessman living in Switzerland, the 69-year-old former King returned to Romania for the first time on Christmas Day to spend 24 hours visiting family graves. Although Michael and his family passed unhindered through Bucharest airport, the party was later stopped on a highway and expelled next morning . from Romania. Government spokesman Bogdan Baltazar called the visit a "cheap stunt." Back in Geneva, Michael said the Salvation Front "seemed frightened about everything."

That observation was difficult to dispute. The lingering discontent seems basically a cry from the heart of a confused and unhappy country that is still unwilling to accept that there are no shortcuts to the prosperity everyone craves. Facing strikes by truck drivers, factory workers and students, the government has already backed away from introducing a second phase of market- oriented reforms that would decontrol prices of such essential commodities as bread and milk. It has also been forced by trade unions to reconsider a restrictive strike law and look again at raising unemployment benefits.

The widespread hostility to the Front's economic reforms helped persuade it to enter into discussions two weeks ago on the possibility of forming a coalition government. Opposition leaders rejected a coalition last May, but the Liberal Party, the third largest political group in parliament, now backs a government of national unity. After recent talks with Liberal leader Radu Campeanu, Iliescu said he hoped the party would persuade other rival groups to join.

While formation of a coalition government might temporarily ease political tensions, it would be unlikely to silence demands for a purge of all former Communists. Said George Serban, president of the Timisoara Society, a radical opposition movement in the city where the revolution began: "The new leaders are old figures in different clothing."

Serban was one of 5,000 people who recently marched to Timisoara's Opera Square, where troops and Securitate agents opened fire a year ago on demonstrators protesting the arrest of the ethnic Hungarian pastor Laszlo Tokes. "Resign, Resign!" and "Help us get rid of the Front!" the marchers chanted.

Tokes, now a bishop, has called for a "second revolution," stressing that unlike last year's, it should be peaceful. He also has praised the newly formed Civic Alliance, a Bucharest-based movement that is trying to bring disparate groups together to oppose the Salvation Front.

The Civic Alliance, which claims hundreds of thousands of supporters, backs Campeanu's call for a coalition government. It also proposes early elections, currently scheduled for 1992 and wants a referendum on whether Romania should be headed by an elected President or a constitutional monarch.

In addition, the Alliance supports popular demands for the speedy prosecution of Ceausescu aides and Securitate agents who attempted to suppress last year's revolution. Only a handful of trials have been concluded, and thousands of former agents are not only still at large but have also found employment with a newly created intelligence service, which has some functions similar to the old Securitate. Intelligence chief Virgil Magureanu insists that the 6,000 former Securitate officers hired for new intelligence duties are all "uncompromised" agents. But his statement only heightens opposition concern that last year's revolution has been hijacked by longtime Communists intent on retaining power by any means possible. "Nothing has changed," said Elena Iotcovici, 47, a widow whose only son disappeared last year during the revolution. "Why haven't the Securitate men who took him been punished?" It is a question that many of Iotcovici's countrymen fear she may still be asking a year from now.