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Between External Constraint and Internal Crackdown Romania's Non-reaction to Soviet Perestroika

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Abstract

This chapter analyzes the reaction of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime to the Soviet quest for an internal reform of the communist system. Was the Romanian choice not to follow Mikhail Gorbachev’s advice inevitable? And how was it perceived both at home and abroad in the second half of the 1980s? Over the last two decades, a large literature has explored the neo-patrimonial turn, the nationalist pervertion, and the repressive practices of the Ceaușescu regime.1 The few recent archival-based accounts of the Soviet–Romanian relationships offer useful insights into the “inevitable conflict” between the anti-nationalist and supra-national Soviet reform path, and the dogmatic nationalism promoted by Ceaușescu.2 However, less attention has been paid to the financial and social constraints that late communist Romania had to accept from its Western creditors.3 On the basis on a wide range of new archival evidence, I argue that it was firstly the debt crisis of the early 1980s that pushed the Romanian communist regime toward self-isolation, after its vaunted independence from Moscow had been jeopardized by the Western-imposed fiscal consolidation. The same international financial institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) that Romania had proudly adhered to in 1972 as the first Warsaw Pact country member and had long benefited from before the second oil crisis of 1979–80, suddenly became an instrument of political pressure.4 Meanwhile, Western countries were beginning to show greater interest in the poor human rights record of the 154 Stefano Bottoni Ceaușescu regime. This multiple legitimacy crisis helps explain why the Ceaușescu regime reacted negatively after 1985 to the Gorbachev plans to reframe existing socialism. As I will analyze in the second part of the chapter, the Romanian leader looked with suspicion on what he perceived as an entangled (Western and Eastern) threat to his rule. It was not an ideological committment, but rather the fear of being overthrown by a Sovietled conspiracy that made him so vocally unreceptive to perestroika.

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Worldwide, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) plays a role that is somehow similar to the role played by central banks at the national level. According to the Bretton Woods agreements signed in 1944, which set the rules for commercial and financial relations among the main industrialized countries, the IMF was established one year later — initially with 25 member countries, now with 185 members — with the following main objectives: a) facilitate international monetary cooperation and avoid imbalances in international trade; b) help the countries with difficulties in the balance of payments (BOP), by way of granting them assistance funds; c) support the order in international payments by favouring the stability of exchange rates.
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