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Ion Iliescu ( ; born March 3, 1930) served as President of Romania from 1990 until 1996, and from 2000 until 2004. From 1996 to 2000 and from 2004 until his retirement in 2008, Iliescu was a Senator for the Social Democratic Partymarker (PSD), whose honorary president he remains.

He joined the Communist Party in 1953 and became a member of its Central Committee in 1965, however beginning with 1971 he was gradually marginalized by Nicolae Ceauşescu. He had a leading role in the Revolution of 1989, being elected as Romania's first post-communist president in 1990. After a new Constitution was approved by popular referendum, he served further two terms as president, 1992 to 1996, and 2000 to 2004, separated by the presidency of Emil Constantinescu.

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 NATOmarker.

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 Unionmarker to take part in the Communist Party Congress of Gorikovo, near Moscowmarker. 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

1965 political poster
Born in Olteniţamarker, Iliescu studied fluid mechanics at the Bucharest Polytechnic Institutemarker and then as a foreign student at the Energy Institute of the Moscow Universitymarker. 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. 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.
Ion Iliescu in 1976 together with Elena Ceauşescu
married Nina Şerbănescu in 1951; they have no children, not by choice but because they couldn't, as Nina had three miscarriages.

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 Revolution

The 1989 Romanian Revolution began as a popular revolt in Timişoaramarker, 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 by Mikhail Gorbachev and the rest of the Sovietmarker 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 "Swedishmarker model" of socialism. In this video Iliescu is seen in December 1989 as condemning Ceausescu's regime for having "damaged the image and true meaning of scientific socialism".

Many Romanians allege that the Romanian Revolution was in fact not aimed at a full regime change following the catastrophic decades of communist ruling but merely as a change of political leadership in the context of a revised, perestroika-like socialism / communism. Controversy persists around the idea of how the "popular revolt" of December 1989 erupted 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'état 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 favour to install himself as a new leader.

After the 1989 Revolution

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 Romaniamarker). 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!").

Iliescu and George W.
Bush in 2002

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 widespread 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, but was elected as honorary president of the party in 2006, a position without official executive authority in the party, created just for him.



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 Bucharestmarker, 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 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. 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, we don't 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 Squaremarker being brought to unsanitary condition by the long and protracted demonstration that lasted for almost two months.

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.

In 2005, investigations began that could eventually have led to Iliescu's trial on a number of charges that could have earned him life imprisonment. These included crimes against humanity, accessory to murder and revolt, and censorship—abuses of power he allegedly committed during the Mineriads. Iliescu and his supporters claim that the investigations are an instrument of political vengeance by his opponents currently in office. In June 2009, all charges were dropped for a variety of technical reasons, including lack of evidence to prosecute, one charge being ex post facto and the statute of limitations having expired on three charges.

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 Russiamarker (Boris Yeltsin), Ukrainemarker and the Federal Republic of Yugoslaviamarker during the same time, taking into account that Ion Iliescu had a shorter first term and that he had a break between 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 Romaniamarker (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 Switzerlandmarker" (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.

The scandal on his alleged connections continued during 2003-2008, 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). The only hard evidence published was a discussion between Gorbatchev and Bulgaria's Aleksandar Lilov from May 23, 1990 (after Iliescu's victory in the May 20 elections) in which Gorbatcev says that Iliescu holds a "calculated position", and that despite sharing common views with Iliescu, Gorbatcev wanted to avoid sharing this impression with the public.


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 Statesmarker 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 Brusselsmarker, 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:

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 Braşovmarker that, while drunk, had run 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.

Decorating Vadim Tudor

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, Timişoaramarker 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 Băsescu, revoked the award granted to Tudor on May 24, 2007, but a lawsuit is ongoing even after Băsescu's decree was declared constitutional.


  • "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 PSDmarker Congress in 2004. The press was astonished at the use of such a word, reminiscent of the communist regime.
  • "Mircea Geoană acted like a foolish person..." during a meeting of the PSD sentators in 2005. Due to this remark of Iliescu, the characterization "foolish" was used by Geoană's political opponents repeatedly in his career afterward. Iliescu was referring to Geoană's stance before the 2004 presidential run-off, when Geoană declared that the Hungarian minority party, UDMR, will join a PSD-led government. According to Iliescu's analysis, this declaration alienated the Romanian ultra-nationalist electorate who voted for Traian Băsescu, thus costing Adrian Năstase the 2004 presidential election.

See also


Further reading

  • Vladimir Alexe — Ion Iliescu - biografia secretă: "Candidatul manciurian" (Ion Iliescu - The Secret Biography: "The Manchurian Candidate"); 2000; ISBN 973-581-036-0
  • The supplement dedicated to Iliescu (in Romanian), published by Academia Caţavencu, 22 December, 2004

External links

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