Country Listing

Romania Table of Contents


The Intelligentsia

Traditionally the Romanian intelligentsia--the educated elite of society--had been the children of the landed aristocracy who had moved to cities to become poets, journalists, social critics, doctors, or lawyers. Given the country's overall backwardness, any education beyond the elementary level accrued special privileges and high social status. The intelligentsia played a leading role in the life of the nation, providing a humanistic voice for major social problems, shaping public opinion, and setting value criteria. After 1918, as the aristocracy declined, the class of intellectuals and professionals grew stronger. Throughout the interwar years, many of them occupied high political positions and were quite influential.

During the first decade of communist rule, the old intelligentsia were all but eliminated. They lost their jobs, and their possessions were confiscated. Many were imprisoned, and thousands died or were killed. Those who survived the purge were blackmailed or frightened into submission and collaboration with the new regime. The intellectual arena was cleared of any opposition to communist power and policies, leaving the ruling party free to create a new intelligentsia--one that would be unquestionably loyal, committed to the communist cause, and easily manipulated. The traditional role of the intelligentsia had been irreversibly changed.

The party set out to educate a new intelligentsia that would meet the needs of the crash program of industrialization. The number of people with secondary or higher education rose dramatically. From 1956 to 1966, the total number of Romanians with a higher education increased by 58 percent, and the number of students enrolled in universities more than doubled. A quota system that favored the children of peasant and proletarian families ensured the desired social composition of this rapidly expanding student population. Children of middle-class families were kept to a minimum by a selection system that allocated more points for social origin than for academic qualifications. At the same time, the establishment of the new political system, with its many institutions necessary for administering the centrally planned economy, required an ever-increasing number of white-collar workers. The regime was eager to pull these workers from the ranks of peasantry and proletariat, regarding them as more politically reliable. By 1974 more than 63 percent of nonmanual workers were sons and daughters of proletarian families. This prodigious social advancement produced a highly diverse intelligentsia. The intellectual elite was composed of two main subgroups--a creative elite similar to the traditional intelligentsia involved in scholarly and artistic pursuits, and a new technocratic elite involved in industrial production and management.

In contrast to the interwar period, when the intelligentsia shared the political stage with the ruling establishment, the role of intellectuals in socialist Romania became one of total subservience to the ruling elite. This reversal was particularly stifling for the creative intelligentsia, whose new mission was to paint a picture of socialism that was pleasing, reassuring, and convincing to both the masses and the regime. Under such conditions, freedom of expression and creativity evaporated. As a reward for conformity and demonstrated ideological commitment, the new members of the creative intelligentsia received social and material privileges. Despite reduced wage differentials between white- and blue-collar workers and despite the regime's emphasis on the more technical professions, the new intellectual elite exhibited a marked disdain for manual labor. The intellectuals showed a marked preference for the same fields their predecessors had most highly regarded--philosophy, history, literature, and the arts. It was toward these endeavors that they encouraged their children. The interests of the intelligentsia were strikingly at odds with party canon, which maintained that the intelligentsia was not a class but a separate social stratum working in harmony with the proletariat and performing the leading creative, executive, and administrative roles.

As the technical intelligentsia grew larger and had a more powerful voice in management, its members too were seen as a threat to political authority. Although increasing the quality and quantity of industrial production was the goal of both the PCR and the technical intelligentsia, the means to that end was common cause for disagreement between loyal but technically incompetent apparatchiks (party careerists) and the younger, better educated technocrats. Indicative of the rancor between the two was the latter's undisguised contempt for General Secretary Ceausescu.

Until the late 1960s, the PCR leadership, despite some mistrust and aversion toward intellectuals, acknowledged that the cooperation and participation of skilled professionals was critical for the country's economic development. But with Ceausescu's rise to power, hostility toward the intelligentsia grew. In the early 1970s, an anti-intellectual campaign was launched to eradicate "retrograde values." Ceausescu criticized the intelligentsia for their bourgeois and intellectualist attitudes. Members of the technical intelligentsia were accused of resisting party policy, and thousands were dismissed from research and administrative positions and reassigned to more overtly "productive" work. Writers and artists were denounced for works that did not proclaim the achievements and goals of socialism and aid in the creation of the new socialist man. The Writers' Union purged members who did not show renewed commitment to ideology and patriotism.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, as the Ceausescu personality cult permeated society, cultural conditions became increasingly repressive. The media were reorganized to allow for more stringent control, and the number of correspondents sent abroad was sharply reduced. (By 1988 there were none in the United States.) Western journalists increasingly were refused entry, and those who were admitted had very limited access to information. Foreign journalists who dared to be critical were kept under police surveillance and frequently expelled.

As nationalistic overtones grew more strident, restraints on scholars wanting to study in the West increased. The length of time permitted for research was reduced from ten months to three months. In later years, the regime consistently refused to allow students or scholars to take advantage of academic opportunities abroad. The number of United States lecturers in Romania under the Fullbright program dropped from ten to five, and the number of Romanian lecturers in the United States decreased from thirty-eight in 1979 to only two in 1988.

As the anti-intellectual campaign continued into the 1980s, intelligentsia membership in the PCR declined sharply. In the late 1960s, before the onset of the ideological campaign, roughly 23 percent of PCR members were from the intelligentsia. By 1976 the figure was only 16.5 percent. At the end of the 1980s, the intelligentsia was the least satisfied of any social stratum. Probably neither the technical nor the creative elite would have argued for the more heroic version of socialism, with its devotion to egalitarianism and the disappearance of class differences. On the contrary, members of the intelligentsia strongly believed that they deserved certain privileges. They were especially unhappy with salary levels, the party's stifling control over their careers, and their insecure position in society.

Despite the high level of discontent among the intelligentsia, there was relatively little overt dissent against the regime. In 1977, following the Helsinki Accords, a dissident movement involving several intellectuals under the leadership of the prominent writer Paul Goma did surface. After publicly condemning the regime's violation of human rights, many members of the group were arrested, interrogated, or confined to psychiatric hospitals. Later that year, Goma was exiled to the West. In the 1980s there were sporadic cases of dissent, but most intellectuals expressed their dissatisfaction by withdrawing into their private lives and avoiding, as much as possible, participation in institutionalized forms of public life.

Data as of July 1989

Country Listing

Romania Table of Contents