Ion Iliescu


Ion Iliescu

Infobox_President
name= Ion Iliescu


born=March 3, 1930
birthplace=Oltenita, Romania
nationality=Romania
order=8th President of Romania
1st President of Post-Communist Romania
term_start=December 22, 1989
term_end=November 29, 1996
predecessor=Nicolae Ceauşescu
successor=Emil Constantinescu
order2=10th President of Romania
3rd President of Post-Communist Romania
term_start2=December 20, 2000
term_end2=December 20, 2004
predecessor2=Emil Constantinescu
successor2=Traian Băsescu
death_date=
profession=Hydroelectric Engineer
party=none during the presidency
Social Democrat Party
spouse=Elena (Nina) Şerbănescu

Ion Iliescu (born March 3, 1930) is a Romanian politician. He was the elected President of Romania for eleven years (three terms), from 1990 to 1992, 1992 to 1996, and 2000 to 2004. His first and second terms were separated from the third term by the presidency of Emil Constantinescu. His successor is the former Democratic Party leader Traian Băsescu. Currently, Iliescu is Senator for the Social Democratic Party (PSD), which is the largest single political party in Romania. The PSD was one of several parties formed after the breakup of the National Salvation Front, in the early 1990s.

Iliescu is widely recognized as the predominant figure in the first fifteen years of post-1989 Romanian Revolution politics. During his terms Romanian politics stabilized, and Romania joined NATO. However, he is often accused by political opponents of retaining communist convictions and allegiances, as well as tolerating corruption in the party he led (successively named FSN, FDSN, PDSR, and PSD) and his administrations.

In 2005, investigations began that could eventually lead to Iliescu's trial on a number of charges, including crimes against humanity, related to considerable abuses of power he allegedly committed during the years 1989-1990, especially during the Romanian Revolution and the violent miners' riots of the early and mid-1990s. Iliescu and his supporters claim that the investigations are an instrument of political vengeance by his opponents currently in power.

Family background

Iliescu's father, Alexandru Iliescu, was a railroad worker with Communist views during the period in which the Romanian Communist Party was banned by the authorities. In 1931, he went to the Soviet Union to take part in the Communist Party Congress of Gorikovo, near Moscow. He remained in the USSR for the next four years and was arrested upon his return, dying in prison in 1945. During his time in the Soviet Union, Alexandru Iliescu divorced and married Mariţa, a chambermaid.

Early life

Born in Olteniţa, Iliescu studied fluid mechanics at the Bucharest Polytechnic Institute and then as a foreign student at the Energy Institute of the Moscow University. During his stay in Moscow, he was the secretary of the "Association of Romanian Students" it is alleged that he knew Mikhail Gorbachev, although Iliescu always denied this. New York Times, "Upheaval in the East: A Rising Star; A Man Who Could Become Rumania's Leader", 23 December 1989, p. 15] President Nicolae Ceauşescu, however, probably believed a connection between the two existed, since during Gorbachev's visit to Romania in July 1989, Iliescu was sent outside of Bucharest in order to prevent any contact. ["România Liberă". "Gura lumii despre România", May 8 1990, quoting Paris Match]

Iliescu married Nina Şerbănescu in 1951; they have no children, not by choice but because they couldn't, as Nina had three miscarriages. [ [http://ziua.net/news.php?data=2008-09-06&id=12256 "De ce nu a avut Ion Iliescu urmasi"] , "Ziua", 5 September 2008]

He joined the Union of Communist Youth in 1944 and the Communist Party in 1953 and made a career in the Communist nomenklatura, becoming a secretary of the Central Committee of the Union of Communist Youth in 1956 and a member of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party in 1965. At one point, he served as the head of the Central Committee's Department of Propaganda. Iliescu later served as Minister for Youth-related Issues between 1967 and 1971.

However, in 1971, Ceauşescu felt threatened by Iliescu - as he was seen as Ceauşescu's heir apparent - and he was marginalized by and removed from all major political offices, being assigned vice-president of the Timiş County Council (1971-1974), and later president of the Iaşi Council (1974-1979). In 1984, he was excluded from the Central Committee, and until 1989 he was in charge of Editura Tehnică publishing house.

1989 Coup d'etat

The 1989 Romanian Revolution began as a popular revolt in Timişoara, but after Ceauşescu was overthrown (and eventually executed), Iliescu and a few other second-rank communists seized power and created an organization named National Salvation Front (FSN: "Frontul Salvării Naţionale"). Iliescu was quickly acknowledged as the leader of the organization and therefore of the provisional authority.

Iliescu proposed multi-party elections and an "original democracy". This is widely held to have meant the adoption of "Perestroika"-style reforms rather than the complete removal of existing institutions; it can be linked to the warm reception the new regime was given in Mikhail Gorbachev and the rest of the Soviet leadership, and the fact that the first post-revolutionary international agreement signed by Romania was with that country.

Iliescu did not renounce the communist ideology and the program he initially presented during the revolution included restructuring the agriculture and the reorganization of trade, but not a switch to capitalism. These views were held by other members of the FSN, such as Silviu Brucan, who claimed in early 1990 that the revolution was against Ceauşescu, not against communism. Iliescu later evoked the possibility of trying a "Swedish model" of socialism.

Many Romanians allege that the Romanian Revolution was in fact not aimed at a full regime change following the catastrophic decades of comunist rulling but merely as a change of political leadership in the context of a revised, perestroika-like socialism / comunism. Controversy persists around the idea of how the "popular revolt" of December 1989 errupted and whom was it initiated by and for what purposes. Many in Romania believe that Iliescu had in fact organized what they describe to be a coup d'etat with the help of high ranking Army Officials and has ultimately managed to manipulate the public anger towards the oppressive Ceausescu regime in his own favor to install himself as a new leader. In this video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOt_0XzOBmo] Iliescu is seen in December 1989 as condemning Ceausescu's regime for having "damaged the image and true meaning of scientific socialism".

Huge controversy surrounds the abnormally brief trial put together in very inapropriate cirumstances for the Ceausescu couple. Many Romanians thought the former dictator and his spouse were unjustly prosecuted and in fact murdered - and not executed as it was claimed by Iliescu's National Salvation Front - in a rush to cover beforehand potential trouble stemming from a Ceausescu previously aware of a coup d'etat attempt against himself and his regime. In this youtube video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKyO2G8kGM0] Ceausescu is seen answering to the "tribunal" judging him and referring to some of its members - among which Army General Victor Atanasie Stanculescu and future Romanian Secret Service head Virgil Magureanu - as "traitors". In this same video Ceausescu dismisses the "tribunal" as ilegitimate and demands his Constitutional rights to answer to charges in front of a legitimate tribunal. It should be noted that while most Romanians shared a lot of anger against Ceausescu's regime, they recognize their former Dictator's trial as a brief, totally inapropriate one that can only be linked to an urgent desire of the alleged coup d'etat perpetrators to get rid of Ceausescu.

It should be also noted that many in Romania, primarily intelectuals in well-off urban areas, hold Iliescu responsible for the sluggish progress Romania made after December 1989. Combinations of ambiguos foreign policy that kept the county somewhat isolated in the first half of the 1990ies decade and controversial internal policy aimed at quietly and skilfully protecting high-end corruption in the country are claims that paint Iliescu's actual political role in the post 1989 Romania in not-so-positive colors.

According to his own statement, Vladimir Bukovsky is in possession of a document containing the following address of Gorbachev to the Bulgarian leaders:

One of the Bulgarian leaders, Petar Mladenov, said: "Iliescu is very good for us, in Romania". Gorbachev answered: "Yes, but let's not speak about this in public. We would do him great harm, let's keep silence" [Cotidianul, [http://www.cotidianul.ro/index.php?id=5173&art=12469&diraut=226&cHash=a5821d426f "Bukovski: "Băsescu este un preşedinte slab"] , "Bukovski: 'Băsescu is a weak president'", May 9, 2006] [Ziua, [http://www.ziua.ro/display.php?id=199186&data=2006-05-09 "Iliescu KGB"] , May 9, 2006]

After the 1989 Coup d'etat

The National Salvation Front was originally meant to be organizing the free legislative elections on 20 May 1990, and afterward disband itself - however, it eventually ran in the elections, which it won with over 70% of the votes.

As a founding member, Iliescu followed the Front in its new avatars: the NSDF (National Salvation Democratic Front), then the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), then the Social Democratic Party (PSD) (see Social Democratic Party of Romania). Progressively, the Front lost its character as a national government or generic coalition, and became vulnerable to criticism for using its appeal as the first institution involved in power sharing, while engaging itself in political battles with forces that could not enjoy this artificial status (nor the credibility). Iliescu himself came to be seen as hostile to a proper civic society, and more committed to a revised version of democratic centralism.

Under the pressure of the events that led to the Mineriads, his political stance has veered with time: from a proponent of the "Perestroika", Iliescu became a neophyte social democrat, aligning himself with the Western European political spectrum. The main debate around the subject of his commitment to such ideals is linked to the special conditions in Romania, and especially to the strong nationalist and autarkic attitude visible within the Ceauşescu regime. Most critics have pointed out that, unlike most communist-to-social democrat changes in the Eastern bloc, Romania's tended to retain various cornerstones (sometimes expressed with scandalous traits - to the Mineriads themselves can be added the slogan of Iliescu supporters in the early 1990s, "Noi nu ne vindem ţara!" - "We will not sell off our country!").

The new Constitution was adopted in 1991, and in 1992 he won a second term when he received 61% of the vote. According to Romanian political analysts such as Daniel Barbu or Dan Pavel, his election was based almost exclusively on the rural population and disoriented lower class industrial workers, controlled through manipulation from the state-controlled media ("Televiziunea Română", the state television, was the only wide-scale TV channel until 1993). He ran for a third time in 1996 but, stripped of media monopoly, that of virtually all urban citizens and even of some traditional votes, he lost to Emil Constantinescu. Over 1,000,000 votes were cancelled, leading to accusations of wide-spread fraud.

In the 2000 presidential election Iliescu ran again and won in the run-off against the ultra-nationalist Corneliu Vadim Tudor. He began his third term on December 20 of that year, ending on 20 December 2004. The center-right was severely defeated during the 2000 elections due largely to public dissatisfaction with the harsh economic reforms of the previous four years as well as the political instability and infighting of the multiparty coalition. Tudor's extreme views also ensured that most urban voters either abstained or chose Iliescu.

In the PSD elections of 21 April 2005, Iliescu lost the Party presidency to Mircea Geoană.

Controversies

Mineriads

Allegations against Iliescu

He, along with other figures in the leading FSN, was allegedly responsible for calling the Jiu Valley miners to Bucharest on 28 January and June 14, 1990 to end the protests of the citizens (mainly students) gathered in University Square, protests aimed against the ex-communist leaders of Romania. The pejorative term used to describe this demonstration was the Golaniad (from the Romanian "golan", rascal). The miners descended on the capital, armed with wooden clubs and bats and attacked the protesters. They trashed the University of Bucharest, various museums, and the headquarters of opposition parties, claiming that they were havens of decadence and immorality - drugs, firearms and munitions, "an automatic typewriter", and fake currency [http://www.avmr.ro/media/Mineriada_Iliescu_1-4.avi] the miners had claimed as evidence later proved to be either non-existent, or (according to case) black and white copiers, or compressed air rifles used for target practice.Fact|date=February 2007 The miners' violence led to an official figure of at least 6 dead (some sources estimate figures between 200 and 300 dead), with at least 5,000 injured. Miners shouted slogans such as "Moarte intelectualilor!" ("Death to intellectuals") or "Noi muncim, nu gândim" ("We work, not think!").

Official explanations

The official motives gathered from press reports stated that the crowd gathered in University Square held not only an unauthorised demonstration, which was still allowed to go on for days, but that these demonstrators were wielding un-democratic ideals and anarachist slogans, as well as being a danger to public health. At least this last part is verifiable, University Square being brought to unsanitary condition by the long and protracted demonstration that lasted for almost two months.Fact|date=February 2007

Iliescu later thanked the miners:

I thank you [miners] for all you've done these past few days, in general for your attitude of high civic conscience.
He expanded on this, declaring a right-wing liberal neo-fascist international conspiracy to have attempted the usurping of legitimate power and the destruction of the progressive left within Romania.

According to his lawyer and the military prosecutor Dan Voinea, Ion Iliescu has been recently placed under criminal law investigation (the official term for prosecution) with regard to the events that occurred in June 1990 in Bucharest. If convicted on all charges (that include crimes against humanity, accessory to murder and revolt, censorship), he faces life imprisonment.

Constitution violations

Iliescu is accused by his opponents of having held three terms in office (four, counting the one between December 1989 and June 1990), although the Constitution, adopted in 1991, during his first mandate (1990-1992), was not to allow it. Before his unsuccessful campaign of 1996, the Constitutional Court of Romania ruled in favor of his third candidature and henceforth of his third presidency, begun in 2000. In view of this, the accusation can be described as biased, since it ignores the illegitimacy of "ex post facto" legislation within the framework of Romanian constitutionalism. The situation is fairly similar to those in Russia (Boris Yeltsin), Ukraine and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the same time, taking into account that Ion Iliescu had a shorter first term and that he had a break during the second and the third term.

In 1995, the procedures of impeaching the president Ion Iliescu were started by the Romanian Democratic Convention, following a press interview in which Iliescu appeared to deny the owners' rights as a whole to properties nationalized during the communist period. The Constitutional Court agreed on the unlawfulness of the declaration, but the Members of Parliament rejected the proposal of impeachment.

In the 2004 electoral campaign he actively supported the Social Democratic Party of Romania (PSD) and their candidate Adrian Năstase, despite Romanian laws forbidding the President from engaging in partisan politics. He dismissed accusations that he was violationg these laws by remarking that he was "not the chief of state in Switzerland" (and thus inducing the image of that country as excessively neutral). He argued that, since he was also a PSD candidate for the 2004-2008 Romanian Senate (the upper chamber of the Parliament), he had the right to campaign for his supporting party, thus increasing the doubt that his actions as President had been marked by a conflict of interest. Another 1996 decision of the Constitutional Court had ruled that the president in term, even not as a party member, may run on a party list at the end of his mandate. The topic of the president's involvement in party politics is still a sensitive issue in Romania, largely because of the legal precedent created by Iliescu, but also because of several contradictions in the laws themselves (coupled with issues posed by the cautions of Romania's semi-presidential system, many times perceived as ambiguous).

Alleged KGB connections

In 1995, the "Ziua" newspaper published an interview with an ex-KGB officer who declared that Ion Iliescu was a KGB inductee. Iliescu denied any involvement, and "Ziua" journalists began to investigate the topic in detail. However, only a few days later, "Ziua" alleged that its employees were being placed under the surveillance of the Romanian Intelligence Service – the official explanation was that the secret service was in fact watching a spy that lived nearby.Fact|date=February 2007

The scandal on his alleged connections continued in 2003, when Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who had been granted access to Soviet archives, declared that Iliescu and most of the Salvation Front members were KGB agents, that Iliescu had been in close connection with Mikhail Gorbachev ever since they had allegedly met during Iliescu's stay in Moscow, and that the Romanian Revolution of 1989 was a plot organized by the KGB - in order to regain control of the country's policies (gradually lost under Ceauşescu's rule).Fact|date=February 2007

Pardons

On 15 December 2004, a few days before the end of his last term, Iliescu pardoned Miron Cozma, the leader of the miners during the early 1990s, who had been sentenced in 1999 to 18 years in prison in conjunction with the 1991 Mineriad. This has attracted harsh criticism from all Romanian media. The United States Embassy released a press statement calling the pardon "a surprising and worrying act".

For the pardon to be legal, it had to be countersigned by Adrian Năstase, the incumbent Prime Minister. However, when asked by the press, Năstase first stated that he was not aware of the planned pardon, then that he did not approve of it and that his signature was ultimately a mere formality. Upon returning from Brussels, he stated that he wasn't aware of what he had signed, and that he placed his trust in the President, to the point of approving papers without reading them. Iliescu's party, the Social Democratic Party, stated that it could not be associated with the President's decision, neither constitutionally, nor politically. Furthermore, they did not support the decision and asked for its revocation, a position later adopted by Adrian Năstase himself. Finance Minister and Party vice-president Mihai Tănăsescu said he would resign his Party position if Iliescu would return as leader of the Social Democrats early in 2005.

Also pardoned other 46 convicted criminals, most controversial being:
* Vasile Buşe, former vice-president of the International Religion Bank - convicted for abusing his powers in granting a loan of over 1 million USD
* Ioan Corpodeanu, former help of chief of police in Timiş - convicted for the deaths of several protesters during the Revolution of 1989 (through coincidence, the pardon took effect exactly 15 years after the Revolution's beginning in Timişoara)
* Petre Isac, former presidential adviser - convicted for corruption
* Mihai Gheorghe - convicted for embezzlement
* Horia Grigoriţă - convicted for fraud
* Valentino Acatrinei, former judge in the Bucharest Court of Appeals - convicted for influence peddling and bribery.

On 17 December, Iliescu and Adrian Năstase, while still in Brussels, 'signed' a revocation of the pardon. Due to the fact that in order for it to be legal it had to be the original, handwritten document, press speculated it was signed even before the two left for Brussels. According to legal experts, however, the revocation was not legal, an individual act can only be revoked as long as it is not already in effect - in this case, only if the convicts would not have been not released. This would equate with a person being convicted twice for the same crime. This legal opinion prevailed in courts as on June 2005, Miron Cozma was freed from prison on the basis of Ion Iliescu's pardon. The legality of the pardon decree is still under scrutiny.

Cozma was taken back into custody minutes after the presidential spokeswoman announced the President's intention, on the dubious basis that he had not been able to identify himself during a police checkup, and then sent to Bucharest because "there are documents there regarding his detention". Finally, the official statement stated that he was being detained in connection to crimes he committed while in prison, along with the same person that picked him up when he was first released, previous cell-mate Fane Spoitoru.

The EU Delegation's head in Bucharest, Jonathan Scheele, said "I am as surprised as anyone by the President's last decision!". Internally, the pardon may have had further serious consequences, as the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania cited this as the reason behind its move to disengage talks with the Social Democrats for forming the new parliamentary majority.

In 2002, Iliescu signed a pardon for George Tănase, former Financial Guard head commissionary for Ialomiţa, who had been convicted for corruption, only to revoke it days later due to the media outcry.

Another controversial pardon was that of Dan Tartagă - a businessman from Braşov that, while drunk, had ran over and killed two people on a zebra crossing. He was sentenced to three years and a half but was pardoned after only a couple of months. He is currently serving a two-year sentence for fraud.

On account of revoking pardons, it serves to point out that it is not legally possible to issue a new presidential edict that would revoke the previous one, as the Constitution of Romania and specific criminal laws do not allow it.

Others

In the last days of his President mandate, he awarded the National Order "Steaua României" (rank of ceremonial knighthood) to the ultra-nationalist controversial politician Corneliu Vadim Tudor, a gesture which drew criticism in the press and prompted Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, fifteen Radio Free Europe journalists, Timişoara mayor Gheorghe Ciuhandu, song writer Alexandru Andrieş, and historian Randolph Braham to return their Romanian honours in protest. The leader of Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, Béla Markó, did not show up to claim the award he received on the same occasion. The current president, Traian Basescu, revoked the award granted to Tudor in 2005.

Quotes

* "Nicolae Ceauşescu tarnished the noble ideals of Socialism" — Iliescu on national TV, 22 December 1989, shortly after Ceauşescu had fled.
* "...and I thank "comrade" Adrian Năstase.." during a National PSD Congress in 2004. The press was astonished at the use of such a word, reminiscent of the communist regime.
* "You animal!" Iliescu shouting to Paul Pârvu, a journalist in Constanţa and colleague of Radu Ştefan Mazăre, the future mayor of the city (Mazăre was to eventually join the PSD himself).
* "The lawyer is the devil's advocate. Lawyers' profession is one of private interests not of morality. He is paid, he pleads for his clients. Such is the logic and morality of a lawyer." Ion Iliescu, trying to defend his own lawyer on June 9, 2005. [ro iconZiua, [http://www.ziua.net/display.php?id=178379&data=2005-06-14 "Iliescu nu regretă ca a chemat minerii" (Iliescu doesn't regret calling the miners (to come to Bucharest))] , June 14, 2005]

See also

* Politics of Romania

Notes

Further reading

* Vladimir Alexe — "Ion Iliescu - biografia secretă: "Candidatul manciurian" (Ion Iliescu - The Secret Biography: "The Manchurian Candidate"); 2000; ISBN 973-581-036-0
* [http://www.catavencu.ro/pdf/supliment_Iliescu.pdf The supplement dedicated to Iliescu] (in Romanian), published by Academia Caţavencu, 22 December, 2004

External links

* [http://web.archive.org/web/20041021002732/http://www.presidency.ro/index.php?_RID=htm&id=4 Ion Iliescu official biography]
* [http://ioniliescu.wordpress.com/ Ion Iliescu's blog]
* [http://www.osaarchivum.org/db/fa/205-4-70-1.htm RFE/RL Romanian Subject Files] Open Society Archives, Budapest


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