After the Revolution

This afternoon I had a brief exchange with a friend about the long-term effects of the Romanian revolution, probably the most bad-ass revolution of all the 1989 revolutions.

As you can see from the following excerpt, I was much more positive in my assessment, stressing the progress that has been made in Romania. But I do quite frequently hear dissatisfaction, particularly with the lack of criminal convictions of those responsible for the killing of protesters during the revolution as well as for the Ceaușescu dictatorship in general, but also with the political system, the media and the way parties work.

Romanian revolution unfinishedI think this level of criticism and skepticism is healthy and useful, although, as I point out in the conversation above, I find it natural that a revolution runs out of steam once the primary objectives have been achieved. It’s much harder to explain why people should take to the street about changing the law of admitting new parties than it is to motivate people to rise up against a regime that leaves them hungry, cold and destitute.

Coincidentally, later today I was reading Ryszard Kapuściński’s Shah of Shahs, a most insightful book about the revolution in Iran in 1979 (yes, that’s the kind of book I read for fun), and came across the following passage:

“When thinking about the fall of any dictatorship, one should have no illusions that the whole system comes to an end like a bad dream with that fall. The physical existence of the system does indeed cease. But its psychological and social results live on for years, and even survive in the form of subconsciously continued behavior. A dictatorship that destroys the intelligentsia and culture leaves behind itself an empty, sour field on which the tree of thought won’t grow quickly. It is not always the best people who emerge from hiding, from the corners and cracks of that farmed-out field, but often those who have proven themselves strongest, not always those who will create new values but rather those whose thick skin and internal resilience have ensured their survival. In such circumstances history begins to turn in a tragic, vicious circle from which it can sometimes take a whole epoch to break free.”

I am curious to hear from my Romanian readers, particularly those who remember the time of the revolution, what you think about this.

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Books, History, Iran, Philosophy, Politics, Romania and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to After the Revolution

  1. renxkyoko says:

    Unfortunately , the bad in the culture of dictatorship has become, more often than not, institutionalized and deeply ingrained into the people’s psyche. It’s not enough that the head is cut off, the people have to cut off the tentacles as well.

  2. List of X says:

    There is another reason why revolutions run out of steam and don’t normally work as in the movies – because after the majority of the nation overthrows a dictator, it suddenly becomes obvious that there is a multitude of groups each with a different idea what the dictatorship should be replaced with, so all those former allies become enemies, each one often less popular that the revolution itself. This is what happened in Egypt, for example, where after the departure of Mubarak, there were Islamists, secular democracy forces, and other dictator wannabes all vying for power.

    • Very good point, thank you!
      This is actually also what happened in Iran in 1979. The Islamists were only one the groups protesting against the Shah, but as the most ruthless and maybe also the best organized one they won the upper hand over liberals, democrats, social democrats, communists, socialists and so on in the ensuing power struggle.

  3. Robert Miner 123mail says:

    Dear Andreas,

    Even if you don’t respond to e-mails, which I fully understand, I’d like to let you know that I was traveling for years into Romania to assist the persecuted churches and Ceausescu, including on my honeymoon in 1980 with my first and still loving wife!

    Yes, I’ve seen the “before” and the “after” of this revolution, as well as several others in the meantime in the Arab World, where I live and work. I agree explicitly that the revolutions are but a beginning. When the head of state falls, there’s still the entire state apparatus, which kept him in power and from which he drew his dictatorship.

    Innumerous friends in Iraq and Syria tell me how they long back for the days of their respective “strong men”, who despite their human rights records, managed to assure security and stability for their countries, along with some degree of cultural and economic progress. All of this relative progress has been lost in both countries.

    We could add Libya and Yemen to this list, with Egypt and Tunisia still waiting to be seen.

    Do not respond to this, but keep your interesting blogs coming. And, don’t stop reading!

    Robert, still expecting you in Amman, Jordan

    • Oh, I DO respond to sensible and interesting comments.

      What a coincidence that I now live where you were on honeymoon a long time ago! I will post more photos from Romania in the next months, maybe you will recognize and remember some of the places. Where in Romania were you back then?

      I am still cautiously optimistic about Tunisia. Egypt is like under Mubarak, it seems to me, maybe worse. If Mubarak hadn’t had a son, he probably would have wanted Sisi as his successor anyway.

      I am unhappy however about the dichotomy between “before and after the Arab Spring” if it is understood as if there is no other alternative than either a brutal military dictatorship or war and mayhem. I very much blame the rest of the world for that because we stood by passively when the Arab Spring happened, even though it was in part carried forward by people who share our liberal and democratic ideals. We did nothing to support them, and often propped up the dictators instead.
      Of course I don’t know what exactly would have happened if we had intervened, but I assume that we could have militarily stopped Assad’s bombing campaigns and we could have supported the rebels of the Free Syrian Army, so that people who want to fight against Assad don’t feel that ISIS and al-Nusra are the most effective rebels.
      I also believe we could achieve a lot for human rights (including freedom of religion and conscience) in Egypt, if we were to suspend all support and aid to a government which is in effect a military junta.

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