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Reassessing the Communist Takeover in Romania: Violence, Institutional Continuity, and Ethnic Conflict Management

Written by Stefano Bottoni, this article appeared on the first issue of Vol. 24 of the journal East European Politics and Society in February 2010.
 
The article analyzes the communist takeover in Romania as the successful outcome of a long-term policy aiming to make the Romanian Communist Party (PCR) a national force. Such an attempt deserves a new analytical explanation of the highly controversial notions of institutional continuity and of “nationalization” of its membership. While mainstream explanations still focus on factors of change motivated by external (Soviet) pressure and stress that violence, coercion, and intimidation have been main instruments used by the Communist Party to implement its goals, the author argues that a reevaluation of the real extent of popular support is needed. PCR became a national mass party immediately after the coup d’état of 23 August 1944. At that time a marginal political force, traditionally ruled by non-Romanian elements and devoted to the strict­est internationalism, turned national without falling into discrimination against minor­ity groups, with the exception of the Germans. In multiethnic Transylvania the ethnic power balance consciously created by PCR with Soviet assistance helped the party to strengthen its political legitimacy among different national and social groups. Unlike the Romanian historical parties and the Hungarian nationalists, the PCR and the Petru Groza–led coalition government behaved as a transnational body and pursued integra­tive policies. In the troubled context of postwar reconstruction, this call for cooperation and peaceful ethnic coexistence distinguished the PCR and its allies from the opposi­tion parties and significantly contributed to make early communist rule more accepta­ble to large masses of Romanians and non-Romanians, as well.

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