The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
THE possibility of negotiating a full settlement with the Soviet Government has been the subject of searching inquiry on both sides of the Atlantic. It was made an issue in the British elections, and was debated at the last meeting of the United Nations Assembly in Paris. The President of the United States has expressed the hope that if our strength increases, a final settlement may be reached. But there is no consensus in the matter. Many believe that all such discussions are idle. How, they ask, can we reach an agreement with men who test the good faith of their actions by criteria which we abandoned almost two thousand years ago? Others feel that if an agreement can but be reduced to writing, and signed, the long-sought goal will be at hand, forgetting that it is not the promise but the fulfillment that is important. Of this, the current history of Rumania provides mournful illustration and example.
Unlike the neighboring states of Bulgaria and Jugoslavia, Rumania is not Slavic in race or language. Unlike Bulgaria, her foreign policy has never been oriented toward Russia. There has never been the slightest disposition on the part of the great majority of Rumanians to collaborate with Russia on a military, economic or political plane. Accordingly, what we witness in the country today is the direct imposition of Soviet controls on a people whose race, language and previous politics give no indication that such controls are desirable or acceptable. It was accomplished, moreover, under an Armistice Convention, i.e. a negotiated settlement, the expressed purpose of which was to safeguard the "independence and sovereignty" of the country.[i] The experience is a warning to all free peoples against trusting in pacts with the Soviets.
Any attempt to analyze the Rumanian débâcle must commence with the events of August 23, 1944. On that date King Michael, in conjunction with a number of Rumanian military leaders and the support of the leaders of the National Peasant and Liberal Parties, effected a successful coup d'état. The King acted forcefully and bravely, outfaced Marshal Antonescu, and ended by imprisoning him in the Palace. The army followed the King to a man. The not inconsiderable German forces in the Bucharest area were taken by surprise, and in a brief but spirited campaign were driven to the Hungarian frontier.
The Antonescu régime was succeeded by a government headed by General Sanatescu, who had served before the war as military attaché in London. Though this government was hastily established, it nevertheless contained representatives of all political parties. It lasted until shortly after the execution of the Armistice Convention on September 21, 1944.
It was at this stage that, in company with other American representatives on the Allied Control Commission, I first arrived in Rumania. We flew in from Athens, and landed at Baneasa airport, just north of Bucharest, on October 25, 1944. Our Russian and British colleagues were already on the scene.
General Sanatescu had succeeded meanwhile in forming a second coalition government, in which all political elements of the Rumanian electorate were represented. Undoubtedly he intended well, but the Communist opposition was strong, and he had little personal support throughout the country. No one expected his second government to last long. A crisis developed in the latter part of November, and on December 2, 1944, the King called upon General Nicolae Radescu, an old soldier and an uncompromising anti-Fascist, to form a new government.
Prior to General Radescu's term of office, all left-wing elements had been engaged in a vigorous attack on the Sanatescu régime. The cabinet meetings were torn with dissension. Proposals made by the National Peasant and National Liberal leaders were criticized by the Communist Ministers in the most intemperate terms. Accordingly, when the Government fell there seemed no possibility of forming a coalition government in which the Communists would be willing to participate. Nevertheless, to the surprise of some observers, the Communists again accepted portfolios in the Government and endorsed Radescu's program. A cardinal principle of this program required all Ministers "to cooperate in order and discipline with the Prime Minister."
The term of the Radescu Government may be divided into two periods. The first lasted from his appointment as Prime Minister until January 24, 1945, when the Communist leader and Minister of Communications, Gheorghiu-Dej, returned from an official visit to Moscow. Until then the political cauldron had been quiet. Communist press attacks against the Government had almost entirely ceased, and there was little criticism even of the leaders of the traditional (National Peasant and National Liberal) parties. General Radescu had used a firm hand against radicals who were attempting to usurp administrative powers in the provinces, and his administration appeared to grow stronger every day.
Upon returning to Bucharest, however, Gheorghiu-Dej issued a scathing statement attacking what he called the "anti-democratic" elements in the country. He repeated his charges a few days later in a speech before the Union of Railroad Workmen. At the same time a coalition of left-wing parties, called the National Democratic Front (F.N.D.),[ii] appeared to swing, surprisingly enough, to the Right. The National Democratic Front published a new party platform and appealed vigorously for public support. On its face, the new program seemed far less radical than a previous platform, published three months before. In particular, the National Democratic Front no longer proposed the nationalization of banks or large industries. In an unpublished address to the railway workers, Gheorghiu-Dej stated expressly that the National Democratic Front expected to coöperate with all industrialists who would make their capital available for the reconstruction of Rumania; left-wing elements were apparently seeking conservative support.
The publication of the new platform was the signal for renewed criticism of the Government by the Communist press, and the period of political serenity came abruptly to an end. The Communist leader, Teohari Georgescu, attacked not only the "antidemocratic" elements in the country but the policies of the Government itself. His action was significant since he occupied the post of Undersecretary of the Interior, and his attack was patently contrary to the understanding which all Ministers had entered into at the time the Radescu Government took office. The traditional parties came actively to the support of the Government and attempted to publish manifestoes of their own. They were prevented from doing so, however, by the Communist-controlled printers' unions which refused to print any newspapers carrying the texts. Viitorul, the official newspaper of the National Liberal Party, continued to appear, but, perforce, without the program of the Liberal Party. The official newspaper of the National Peasant Party, Dreptatea, suspended publication rather than accede to the printers' demands.
In this state of affairs General Radescu announced that he would make a public address at the Scala Theater in Bucharest on February 11, 1945. When I arrived at the theater, the Communists were already in full control. They had, in fact, occupied the building the previous night and refused to leave. To avoid public disturbance, the Prime Minister chose to deliver his address at the Aro Theater nearby. In it he severely criticized the action of the printers' unions, charging that their attempt to censor political publications amounted to a denial of freedom of the press. He considered the question of land reform at length, and announced that the Government would take no action with reference to the division of large estates at that time. He gave two reasons: first, that the contemplated land reform would interfere with the maximum production of wheat and corn, required of Rumania under the Armistice Agreement, and secondly, that soldiers then at the front had the right to be consulted and to participate in any measures designed to redistribute the land.
The National Democratic Front joined issue on the question of immediate land reform and called for a mass street demonstration against the Radescu Government on February 13, 1945. This was the first of a series of such demonstrations organized by the Communists. I saw them all, and the pattern was always the same. The labor unions attended in force, being marshalled to their places by organizers of the National Democratic Front. It seemed to many of us that approximately 25,000 people participated in this particular demonstration. They paraded down the Calea Victoriei to the King's Palace, and dispersed without disorder. Though there was no untoward incident, political and social unrest evidently was increasing sharply throughout the country. Shortly thereafter, the Communists made a number of abortive attempts to seize the governmental prefectures in the provinces. In Bucharest a series of disorders culminated in an armed attack on the Malaxa Steel and Locomotive Plant on February 20, 1945.
This plant had been under the direction of self-installed Communist elements for several months, as had other industrial establishments. To combat these tactics, the National Peasant Party had commenced a campaign to enlist industrial workers among its own members, and its efforts in this regard had extended to the Malaxa plant.
On February 20, the workers at the plant attempted to hold an election to designate their bargaining representatives. When it appeared that left-wing leaders would be defeated, a group of several hundred armed workers from adjoining industrial establishments demonstrated in front of the gates. Soon they attempted to enter, and shots were exchanged with workers within the plant, who meanwhile had possessed themselves of arms. During the course of the mêlée the labor leader Apostol, who had led the demonstration, was wounded by rifle fire.
The Communist press seized upon the disorders as the work of "Fascists" and "saboteurs of the Armistice," and called for a second mass demonstration to be held in Bucharest on February 24. This time approximately 50,000 people, assembling as before, paraded down the Calea Victoriei. The parade was without incident until the first marchers reached the building housing the Ministry of the Interior, directly across the square from the King's Palace. At this stage, a group of approximately 500 men detached themselves from the marchers, advanced against the building, and attempted to force an entrance. Soldiers posted near the entrance repelled the men with rifle fire. While the soldiers appeared to be firing over the heads of the crowd, bullets ricocheted from adjoining structures and a number of casualties resulted. Meanwhile the demonstrators had fled in panic.
That night the disorders continued. Members of the National Liberal Party attempted to demonstrate in front of the Ministry of the Interior on behalf of Premier Radescu, but were fired upon without warning by unidentified assailants. The next morning the Communist press charged that the Radescu Government, by provocative action, had created the disturbances and had utilized them as an excuse to fire upon the populace. The sequence of events and the happenings of the day were completely misrepresented and the Government was viciously attacked. General Radescu in turn spoke out hotly against the Communist leaders.
Russian support of the National Democratic Front, heretofore passive, now became active and direct. From Moscow, by press and radio, came a completely distorted picture of the events of February 24. The Russian dispatches strongly attacked the traditional parties and openly demanded the ouster of the Government.[iii] By direction of the Russian military, a number of measures were taken to disarm the Bucharest garrison. The Russians insisted that the Rumanian forces in rear areas greatly exceeded the requirements of security and constituted a threat to the Russian armies at the front.
Still another mass demonstration was called by the National Democratic Front to be held in Piata Natiunei, in Bucharest, on March 8, 1945. Reliable reports at this time indicated that workmen were being armed, particularly by the militant Communist organization, Apararea Patriotica. It was evident that the security of the Government was directly threatened, for (as a result of the Soviet measures) no armed forces were available to prevent the occupancy of public buildings. To many of us it seemed that the possibility of a Communist coup d'état was very great indeed.
At this juncture Andrei Vishinsky, then Soviet Deputy Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and Marshal Malinovsky, Chairman of the Allied Control Commission, arrived in Bucharest. In the most militant terms Vishinsky demanded that the King dismiss General Radescu. Otherwise, he said, he would not be responsible for the continued independence of Rumania. He terminated the audience abruptly, and on leaving slammed the door with the greatest violence. I remember that the King later pointed out, somewhat ruefully, the resulting damage to the plaster on the wall.
The King yielded to the show of force. A mandate was first tendered Prince Barbu Stirbey, elder statesman and former Premier, who proved unable to form a government. At Vishinsky's suggestion, a limited mandate was then given to Dr. Petru Groza authorizing the formation of a coalition government only. It appeared almost at once that Groza could not obtain the support of either the Liberal Party or the National Peasant Party and that coalition under Groza of all political elements in the country was not feasible.
Nevertheless Groza did not return his mandate but presented to the King a list of Ministers which contained no representatives of the traditional parties. Again the King protested, and again Vishinsky intervened. The King's approval was given reluctantly during the late afternoon of March 6. The Government thus formed was not a coalition government but was composed entirely of left-wing elements. The Prime Minister, Groza, did not call himself a Communist, but the leader of a small political party termed the Ploughmen's Front. But both before and after his designation as Prime Minister, Groza and his followers consistently followed the Communist Party line.
The Soviet Government lost no time demonstrating its confidence in Groza and tendering his Government active political support.[iv] Groza predicted at his first cabinet meeting, on March 7, 1945, that Russia would shortly agree to the return of Rumanian administrative control in northern Transylvania. Ever since the Armistice, all Rumanian officials had been excluded from the Transylvanian area by Russian military authorities. The Rumanian Administrator for Transylvania, Ionel Pop, appointed by General Radescu, had never been permitted by Soviet authorities to exercise the functions of his office. Of course, the return of full control over Transylvania was considered a cardinal issue in Rumanian politics.
Groza's prediction proved accurate, and the return of Rumanian administration to the province was formally observed in ceremonies at Cluj on March 14, 1945, attended by most of the members of the Rumanian Council of Ministers and by Russian officials on the Allied Control Commission. At this time, neither the American nor the British Government had taken any steps to recognize the Groza agreement or express approval of it; hence, neither the American nor the British representative on the Allied Control Commission attended the ceremonies at Cluj.
At the first cabinet meeting of the new Government steps were taken to consolidate administrative control in the provinces. Prefects, with F.N.D. affiliation, were appointed in all administrative districts throughout the country. A small percentage of the newly appointed officials were Socialists (whose party had joined the National Democratic Front), but the remainder were Communists, or members of putative "parties," such as the Ploughmen's Front, whose members always followed the Communist line.
Selection of the prefects was under the direct supervision of the Communist, Teohari Georgescu, who had become the new Minister of the Interior. These officials directly supervised the conduct of all Rumanian elections and had immediate charge of the Rumanian police in their districts. All administrative reports to the National Government passed directly through their hands. The appointment of Communist prefects effected, therefore, a revolutionary political change in the local administration of the country.
Within a week of the inauguration of the Groza Government, evidence was irrefutable that arrests for political purposes were being made. A concentration camp was established at Caracal for political opponents of the Government and of the Communist Party. The anti-Communist labor leaders who participated in the disturbances at the Malaxa plant the preceding February, for example, were sent there, as were the printers who, during the preceding March, attempted to revive the National Peasant newspaper Dreptatea. On May 10, 1945, two Ministers in former Rumanian National Governments, who were also members of the National Peasant Party, were arrested at Timisoara. On June 13, 11 leaders of the National Peasant Party in Bucharest were seized. The arrest of General Radescu at this time was averted only when he asked for, and received, asylum from the British Mission. All arrests were made by officials of Sigurantza, the national police, which had been completely reorganized and staffed with Communists and other F.N.D. sympathizers. Conspicuous among the newly appointed officials were men who held like posts under the totalitarian régime of Marshal Antonescu.
Arrests of the leaders of opposing political elements continued steadily throughout the months following. In June, the Chiefs of the National Peasant organization at Touci and Braila were arrested, together with one of the four Section Chiefs of the National Peasant organization in Bucharest. Emil Hatigeanu, the National Peasant Party leader in Transylvania, was placed in custody, as was also N. Caradine, formerly editor of the newspaper Dreptatea. All these men were seized without proper legal process; no Rumanian court ordered their arrest and they were not brought before a magistrate within the period required by Rumanian law.
General Schuyler, the chief American representative on the Commission, called formally to the attention of the Commission the facts surrounding this breakdown of law. He urged the establishment of a Joint Board of Enquiry to determine the conditions under which Rumanian leaders of opposing political views were being imprisoned by government agents. His action was endorsed immediately by Air Vice Marshal Stephenson, the chief British representative. No action whatsoever was taken by the Soviet authorities, nor was the slightest attempt made to remedy the conditions. The explanation is implicit in the way in which the Allied Control Commission was organized and permitted to function.
The Armistice Convention had been signed by the United States, Great Britain and Russia, and only their representatives were members of the Allied Control Commission. Upon their arrival in Bucharest, the British had proposed that the Commission be organized along the general lines adopted during the war by the British and American Combined Chiefs of Staff. In effect, their suggestion called for direct participation by all three Powers in the work of the several sections of the Allied Control Commission--Army, Navy, Economic and Air. This proposal was rejected by the Soviet Chairman of the Commission, who suggested nothing to take its place. Instead, the four sections of the Commission were established unilaterally by the Chairman, and staffed with Soviet personnel. Soviet section heads were appointed, who reported directly to the Chairman of the Commission.
It is true that combined meetings of the Chief Representatives of the Soviet, British and American Missions were held regularly at stated intervals. At these meetings the British and American representatives listened to reports of the Soviet section heads, presented the respective points of view of their governments, and urged particular action on the part of the Commission on matters in which they were interested. But the functions of the British and American representatives were at all times advisory only. The Soviet Chairman reserved full authority to commit the Allied Control Commission to any policy or any course of action.[v]
It must not be thought that these conditions were in any degree acceptable to the British or American representatives. General Schuyler, who was able and astute, objected strenuously in meetings of the Control Committee and in reports to Washington, and pressed the American claims for greater participation. The question was taken up at the Potsdam Conference in midsummer of 1945, but though a number of inconsequential changes in the organization of the Committee took place as a result, and American representatives on the Commission did gain the right to travel throughout Rumania (on two days' notice to the Soviet Chairman) without being accompanied on the journey by a Soviet Liaison Officer, the actual situation was not changed in the slightest.
Along with its efforts to terrorize political opponents, the Groza Government maintained rigid control of the opposition press. The measures it employed were as bad as anything experienced by the press under the Antonescu régime.By December 1945, the Government had succeeded in suppressing all of the newspapers which supported the National Peasant and National Liberal Parties. Other so-called independent newspapers were suspended periodically for the slightest violation of the censorship rules; for example, the newspaper Semnalul was suspended for one day for failing to print a headline as directed by the censor.
The Propaganda Minister (occupying a post for which there had been no counterpart in the Radescu Government) held weekly press conferences at which he outlined the general propaganda line. All newspapers were expected to obey his instructions. At the press conference on June 9, 1945, for example, he directed that the large land and factory owners throughout the country be charged in the press with responsibility for the prevailing inflation in Rumania. He also directed that the amount of space accorded Prime Minister Churchill's speeches be reduced, on the ground that Churchill was attempting to sow discord among the members of the United Nations.
All newspapers in Bucharest received daily from the Minister of Propaganda a bundle of material they were required to print. There could be no variation even in the titles of articles, and the size type to be used was frequently specified. The Propaganda Minister was in constant touch with the Soviet press representative in Bucharest, and the material delivered daily to the newspapers was strictly in accordance with Soviet over-all policy.
In August 1945, a number of youthful members of the National Liberal Party were charged by the Communist Minister of the Interior with forming "terrorist" organizations to oppose the Groza Government, and were incarcerated in the prefecture at Bucharest. The provisions of Rumanian law to the contrary, they were not then, or later, brought before a magistrate. The Communist newspapers, acting in concert, reiterated and embroidered the charges and accused the arrested men and women not only of conspiring to assassinate a number of personalities in the Administration but of plotting against an Allied victory in the war. There is little doubt that those arrested opposed the policies of the Groza régime. But no evidence was adduced at the trial, or otherwise, that they plotted against the Allies or contemplated violent action of any kind against the Government. Significantly the Social Democratic newspaper Libertatea considered the charges so unfounded that it refused to print the Government communiqué containing them.
When the trial of the 33 defendants opened on September 10, 1945, its political motive was at once apparent. In the first place, the Government instituted the proceedings before a Military Tribunal under Rumanian Law 236 of September 6, 1941. This Law, enacted under the Antonescu régime, appeared to be contrary to the Rumanian Constitution in providing for a double penalty whenever any defendant convicted under its provisions was a Jew or Communist. Counsel for the defendants took the position that the law was in fact repealed by the Decree of the King on September 2, 1944, abrogating all laws enacted during the Antonescu régime which were in conflict with the Rumanian Constitution. It certainly seemed to come within the category of discriminatory legislation which Rumania was required to repeal under Article 6 of the Armistice Convention. Nevertheless, the defendants' objections on these grounds were overruled.
When the trial began, the Military Tribunal of three was headed by General Cretulescu. He was thereafter replaced at government direction by Alexandru Petrescu, who had acted as President of a similar tribunal under the Antonescu régime. The remaining members of the original Military Tribunal were also replaced by the Government before the conclusion of the trial. Defendants' counsel (more than 70 volunteered their services) naturally took the position that the change of judges in the midst of the proceedings was unprecedented in any country and specifically contrary to Rumanian law. The proceedings continued notwithstanding.
No evidence of a conspiracy against the state was offered at the trial except the confessions of a number of defendants. The only overt act was the publication in Rumanian of the life of Abraham Lincoln! The defendants had indeed confessed but, as it developed, under varying forms of coercion and torture. Each of the defendants whose confession was introduced into the record took the stand and related the physical beatings and, in some cases, indescribable forms of torture he was forced to undergo. Some of the defendants still bore the marks of their treatment. There can be no question of the facts. I had directed an American sergeant, attached to the Mission, who spoke Rumanian, to attend the trial and report his findings. When the first defendant was examined by his own counsel the Court ordered the room cleared of all spectators. The sergeant, however, stood his ground; after heated argument he was permitted to remain and his knowledge of the proceedings was acquired at first-hand.
The trial was concluded on September 13, 1945. Three defendants were acquitted, and 25 convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from one month to seven years. No verdict was returned against the remaining five defendants, who were released with the statement that the state reserved the right to re-try them at a later date. As intended, the proceedings constituted the most direct warning to all opponents of the Government that continued political activity would be ruthlessly punished. The trial was a travesty of justice.
Although Groza remained at all times the titular head of the Rumanian Government, Communists in his administration provided the driving force from the beginning. Governmental action was initiated by members of the Communist Executive Committee through the Communist Ministers in the Council, among whom were Ana Pauker and Laszlo Luca. Both were Rumanian citizens who had spent many years in Russia before the war; both had been charged by General Radescu with initiating the turbulent rioting in Bucharest on February 24, 1945. The principal Communist leaders in the Government itself, in addition to the Minister of the Interior, Teohari Georgescu, and the Minister of Communications, Gheorghiu-Dej, already mentioned, were L. Patrascanu, Minister of Justice, and the Secretary of the Presidency of the Council, Emil Bodnara. The influence of the latter derived largely from the fact that he served on the Communist Executive Committee. He also was a Rumanian citizen who had taken up his residence in Russia before the war and returned under Russian auspices.
The Social Democratic Party had been a member of the National Democratic Front since shortly after the coup d'état of August 23, 1944, but it was entirely without influence. Its representatives on the Council of Ministers held the relatively unimportant posts of Minister of Education and Minister of Mines and Petroleum; the Minister of Labor was appointed as a Socialist but his allegiance to Social Democratic principles was short-lived.
At this time, the program of the Socialists was anything but Communist in character; their leader, Titel Petrescu, likened it to that of the Labor Party in England. Shortly before the inauguration of the Groza Government, he had taken steps to preserve the integrity of his Party and disassociate it from Communist measures. He came out against the expropriation of land without legal authority, the removal of prefects and other local administrative officials by citizens' committees, and the enforced censorship resulting from action of the Communist-controlled printers' syndicates. He also declared that the entry of the Social Democratic Party into the National Democratic Front did not involve a merger with any other party, or any change of the political principles of the Socialists.
In the months following Groza's appointment, Petrescu grew increasingly critical of the Government, and by May of 1945 he no longer attended meetings of the National Democratic Front. The Communists looked upon him as "unreliable" and sought an opportunity to supplant him. They found a willing instrument in the Socialist Minister of Labor, Lothar Radaceanu, who had gained control of a dissident, radical wing of the party. The leaders of the traditional parties hoped that Petrescu would withdraw the Socialists from the National Democratic Front, and that this would bring about the reconstitution of a government representative of all political parties. But though Petrescu spoke up forthrightly against various government measures, he took no action, and working through Radaceanu, the Communists succeeded in splitting the Socialist Party and rendering it powerless. In the national election held in the fall of 1946 only the radical wing of the Party led by Radaceanu supported the Government and the balance of the Party, still led by Petrescu, followed the National Peasant Party and the National Liberal Party into political obscurity. The end came in 1948 when Petrescu was placed under house arrest.
The National Peasant Party was by far the largest political party in Rumania. The Communists sought, therefore, to weaken it in every way and to profit from its total exclusion from the Groza Government. The leader of the Party, Iuliu Maniu, was unremittingly attacked as a "Fascist" and a "Nazi collaborator." Actually, he was one of the most influential members of the group who organized the coup d'état of August 1944 which brought Rumania into the war on the side of the Allied nations. But his opposition to Communist domination of Rumania was absolute and unalterable. He could neither be intimidated nor cajoled. He had a great following throughout the country and escaped imprisonment until the summer of 1947 only because his arrest was considered too risky.
According to their customary tactics, the Communists first tried to reach and influence Maniu's followers by a campaign of calumny and abuse against him. And in the early part of July 1945, they organized a dissident National Peasant group, which commenced its activities by announcing that a "General Congress of the National Peasant Party" would shortly be convoked. They appointed a committee to advise the electorate of the aims and purposes of the movement. On this committee were several former members of the National Peasant Party who had already foregone their party allegiance by accepting office in the Groza Government: Anton Alexandrescu, Minister of Coöperatives, Professor A. Potop, Undersecretary of Education, Mircea Niculescu, Undersecretary of Public Works, and Ion Simion, Secretary General of the Ministry of Coöperatives.
The dissident movement failed to prove a substantial division in the party's ranks, however, and never became an effective political force. It had relied heavily on the fact that the party's orthodox organization did not participate in the Government, and that Alexandrescu and other members of the dissident Committee were in a position to dispense patronage in the name of the National Peasant Party. But Maniu's hold on the affections of his followers was strong, and there was never the slightest indication that his leadership of the rank and file was threatened.
The President of the National Liberals, the other traditional party, was C.I.C. (Dinu) Brătianu. However, dissident elements in the party had long followed the leadership of Gheorghe Tatarescu, who had become Vice-President of the Council of Ministers and Foreign Minister in the Groza Government. On July 1, 1945, after much publicity, the Tatarescu followers held a "General Congress of the National Liberal Party" in Bucharest. Supporters of Brătianu did not attend and deprecated the importance of the proceedings, but a substantial number of the National Liberal district leaders throughout the country did put in an appearance. Tatarescu's followers counted on and received full Soviet support, and expelled from their own ranks any who could not stomach the excesses of the Groza régime. But Tatarescu's subserviency gained him nothing. As soon as the Communists had consolidated their power he was dropped from the Government and his place as Foreign Minister taken by the Communist Ana Pauker. Thereafter his movements were restricted by government direction and he shortly found himself under arrest.
It must not be supposed that the Government of the United States remained unaware of the character of the Groza Government or was uninformed of the means by which it came to power. The Groza Government had not been recognized at its inception, and communications were maintained with the greatest reserve. Not unexpectedly, therefore, the American Government announced, on March 17, 1945, that it would require discussion of the Rumanian political situation in the spirit of the Yalta Agreement. While reference to the statement in the Rumanian press was censored by governmental authorities, the announcement created the greatest interest in all political quarters.[vi] The Government of Great Britain promptly gave notice that it was prepared to commence such discussions. The Government of the U.S.S.R. maintained an ominous silence. Nevertheless, the National Peasant and Liberal Party leaders were greatly heartened. With a hopefulness that was warranted by nothing in the text of the announcement, they expected that there would be direct American and British intervention in Rumanian politics. At once they became open and vocal in their opposition to the Groza Government.
But the Soviet Government succeeded in blocking any discussion of Rumania's status until the Conference at Potsdam in July of that year, and prevented any real settlement of the issues at the Conference. However, the communiqué issued at the end of the Conference directed the newly-created Council of Foreign Ministers to negotiate a peace treaty with Rumania, as well as with Bulgaria, Hungary, Finland and Italy, and stipulated particularly that negotiations should be undertaken with "recognized democratic governments" of these countries.
The comment on the Potsdam communiqué in the controlled Rumanian press was favorable enough. All Bucharest newspapers professed to interpret the declaration as an indication that the United Nations proposed to extirpate all vestiges of Fascism throughout Europe and to encourage the development of free and democratic institutions. But it was noteworthy that none of the journals discussed the status of the Groza régime as a "recognized democratic government." The leaders of the traditional political parties, however, seized upon the quoted text of the communiqué as an indication that the Groza Government would have to go. They again voiced the often-expressed hope that no Rumanian Government would be recognized which did not include representatives of their organizations.
Their hope that Russia had shifted her policy proved of short duration, however, for the Soviet Government, acting independently, recognized the Groza régime at the beginning of August 1945. This action was immediately characterized in the Communist press as a Soviet gesture of good will and friendship for the Rumanian people.
The response of Britain and the United States was immediate and direct. Upon the specific instructions of the State Department, the Acting United States Political Representative in Rumania advised the King, as well as the leaders of the National Peasant, National Liberal and Social Democratic Parties, that the Groza régime was not representative within the meaning and intention of the Yalta Agreement. He endeavored to transmit the same message also to the leader of the Communist Party but was informed by Party members that no Communist could be designated to hear the message until the matter had been referred to Moscow! At the same time the British Political Representative made a similar statement to the King.
Of course, these declarations greatly heartened the opponents of the Government, since they were construed to mean that no peace treaty would be concluded with the régime. Rumanian non-Communists urged the King to withdraw the mandate tendered to Groza the preceding March. The King conferred with Groza on August 19, 1945. He advised Groza that in view of the developing political crises, and in accordance with his constitutional obligations, he proposed to consult the leaders of all political parties on a possible change of government. Conferences with all political leaders were in fact held by the King on the two succeeding days. On August 21, on the advice of the majority of the leaders of the Rumanian political parties, the King demanded that Groza resign. Groza's refusal was immediate and final, and was given on behalf of all the members of his Government.
The resulting position of the Government was without precedent in Rumanian history. Groza's refusal to surrender his mandate at the King's request was in direct violation of the requirements of the Rumanian Constitution. It deprived his Government of legality and amounted to a usurpation of political power. According to the Constitution, the King would have been justified in proclaiming the illegality of the Government, advising the highest judicial officer in the country of the illegal seizure of political power, and, as Commander of the Rumanian Army, taking whatever steps were necessary to enforce compliance with Rumanian law.
However, the King did none of these things. Instead he requested the joint intervention of the United States, Great Britain and Russia under the terms of the Yalta Declaration. As conceived by the King and his advisers, the Yalta Declaration required the United States, Great Britain and Russia to consult together and act jointly in a crisis of this sort. The United States and Great Britain had already indicated that the Groza Government did not meet the express requirements of the Potsdam communiqué, and the King believed that the issue had been directly raised.
Although the American Government evinced its willingness to discuss the question with the other signatories of the Yalta Agreement, and the Government of Great Britain also agreed, the Soviet Government, replying directly to the King, announced simply that the Government of Petru Groza, as then constituted, was democratic and entirely representative and met the requirements of the Yalta Declaration in every way. No separate discussion of the problem among the Governments of the United States, Great Britain and Russia ever took place.
Nevertheless both the American and British Governments raised the issue directly, as it affected both Rumania and Bulgaria, at the London Conference in September 1945. The result was the complete disruption of the Conference. Of course, the Soviet Government chose to terminate the Conference on the procedural question of whether France and China were entitled to participate in the discussions, but this was unmistakably a pretext to conceal Russia's unwillingness to debate in public the implications of her Balkan policy. The failure of the Conference etched in sharp outline the opposing policies developing in Eastern Europe. If the American public did not know before the London Conference that a conflict had arisen between Russia and the Western Powers they were not thereafter left in doubt.
Meanwhile, although the Groza Government had not resigned, it functioned with considerable difficulty. The King refused to sign decrees and forebore to participate in most official ceremonies. When he did participate, it was with obvious reluctance and only as a result of Soviet pressure. The resulting difficulties were soon accentuated by the resignation of the Minister of Finance. The Undersecretary of Finance had strictly limited powers, and a valid appointment of a new Secretary required the King's signature. From that time forward the legal authority upon which the Government's expenditures were based became increasingly dubious.
On November 8, 1945, the Rumanian populace celebrated the anniversary of the King's Name Day. Early in the morning crowds began gathering in the Palace Square, waving Rumanian flags, singing the Rumanian national anthem and cheering the King. Military patrols placed at all entrances to the square by the Groza Government checked identification papers and turned many demonstrators away. Later in the forenoon, when the demonstration before the Palace had reached its height, a Communist counter-demonstration was begun. Several trucks, filled with Communist sympathizers, appeared in the square and were driven rapidly back and forth in an attempt to disperse the crowds. Before noon two of the trucks had been seized by the demonstrators, overturned and set afire, and street fighting had become general in the area.
Soldiers of the Tudor Vladimirescu Division (composed largely of former Rumanian prisoners of war, who had been recruited, indoctrinated and trained in Russia), who had arrived in small units, commenced to arrest a large number of demonstrators and take them to the nearby Ministry of the Interior. Shortly thereafter, that part of the crowd nearest the Ministry rushed the entrance--possibly to liberate the individuals arrested--and were met by gunfire from troops stationed on the premises. A check made of the Bucharest hospitals and morgue on November 9 established that the casualties from gunfire were heavy.
The Communist Minister of the Interior promptly assigned full responsibility for the events occurring on November 9 to the leaders and the rank and file of the traditional political parties, and instituted a series of repressive measures against them. A governmental communiqué, published in all Bucharest newspapers on November 9, gave an entirely distorted version of the facts. On that day and the day following, several hundred members of the National Peasant and National Liberal Parties were arrested.
This, then, was the state of affairs when the Foreign Ministers of the United States, Great Britain and Russia met in Moscow in December 1945. They had gathered to consider, among other matters, the objections raised by the Governments of the United States and Great Britain to the non-representative character of the Rumanian Government. The Foreign Ministers agreed that the Rumanian Government would be broadened by the inclusion in the Council of Ministers of one representative of the National Peasant Party and one representative of the National Liberal Party. A Commission consisting of the American Ambassador to Russia, W. Averell Harriman, the British Ambassador to Russia, Sir Archibald Clark-Kerr, and the Russian Deputy Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Andrei Vishinsky, was directed to proceed to Bucharest and assist in the selection of representatives. In addition, the Groza Government was required to give assurances that free and unfettered elections would be held at an early date and would guarantee to the Rumanian electorate freedom of press, speech, religion and assembly. On the basis of these assurances, the communiqué issued at the end of the conference indicated that such a Rumanian government would be recognized by the United States and Great Britain.
This way of disposing of the British and American objections to the character of the Rumanian Government was received with dismay by the leaders of the traditional parties. They realized at once the significance of the concessions that had been made by America and Britain. They had hoped that the existing governmental impasses would be resolved in accordance with the terms of the Yalta Convention. The inclusion in the Government of one representative of each of the two largest parties in Rumania hardly seemed in keeping with the language of that pact, or likely to bring about freedom of press, speech and assembly, and the end of political terrorism. They awaited the arrival of the special Commission in Bucharest with misgivings.
This Commission did indeed secure the appointment in the Groza Government of two Ministers representing respectively the National Peasant and National Liberal Parties. The Ministers accepted office, without portfolio, largely in the hope that they could improve the desperate plight of their party members. These hopes proved illusory almost at once. After a brief lull, the same political tactics of menace and compulsion were introduced and were employed until election time. The representatives of the Liberal and National Peasant Parties in the Government found themselves entirely without influence or authority; official action was taken without their participation or knowledge.
Prior to the Moscow communiqué, the feeling was general in Bucharest that although the policy of the United States in the Balkan area had been slow in taking shape, it had assumed definite direction in the declarations of the Acting United States Political Representative which preceded the demand for Groza's resignation. Now all was uncertain again. The action of the Harriman-Clark-Kerr-Vishinsky Commission greatly strengthened the hand of the Government in its conflict with the King, resulted in the reëstablishment of official relations with him, and hence freed it of the charge of usurpation and illegality. The Communist Minister of the Interior remained in power, and hence in charge of the police and of all administrative officials in the districts. The Peasant and Liberal leaders knew what effect resumption of political terrorism, combined with the presence of large concentrations of Soviet troops in the country, would have on the elections. They were certain that if the elections were free, the Communist and other extremist elements in the country would be overwhelmingly defeated, as they were in Hungary in 1945. And they foresaw that, if the elections were not free, the Groza Government could insure its continuance in power, as had comparable régimes in Jugoslavia and Bulgaria. The traditional parties urged early elections; the Groza Government sought by delay to consolidate its power.
What was so long expected came at last to pass. The Government fixed November 19, 1946, as the election date, but only after a new electoral law had been enacted which disenfranchised thousands of Rumanians. Once the election date had been announced terroristic practices were directed with full force against all political opposition. Meetings of the National Peasant Party and the Liberal Party were broken up by organized gangs. Conservative Party leaders were beaten and otherwise terrorized. Both Maniu and Brătianu protested the palpable fraud in the preparation of the electoral registers. During the electoral campaign the Government of the United States criticized officially and publicly the tactics of the Groza régime.
Before the elections took place I had been assigned to other duty, having been relieved on February 9, 1946, by Captain Armit Thomas, U.S.N., who was succeeded, shortly thereafter, by Captain Eugene S. Karpe. The latter's tragic death, in 1949, upon the completion of his duty, has never been explained.[vii] But full and firsthand accounts of the elections make it plain that they were farcical. They did not have even the appearance of being free. On election day the American Mission in Bucharest was stormed by thousands who had been denied voting cards. With apparent indifference the Groza Government announced an overwhelming Communist victory. It appeared to have allocated to itself 75 percent of the votes cast. The elections so eagerly sought by the opposition had resulted merely in consolidating Communist controls throughout the country.
The rest of the story may be briefly told. Rumania soon lost every vestige of sovereignty. The National Peasant Party was formally suppressed in 1947, and the leaders tried for espionage and conspiracy against the state. Both Maniu and Mihalache were sentenced in November of that year to solitary confinement for life. On December 30, 1947, the King, who had fought a valiant but losing battle against Soviet encroachment, was compelled to abdicate. Rumania was proclaimed a "popular republic."
In all respects the new Constitution bears a striking resemblance to its Soviet prototype: new administrative subdivisions are created on the Soviet model and sovereignty is vested in the Praesidium of Parliament. Even the country's ancient name is not secure, for though the world's press still reports the fateful happenings in "Rumania," the Communist papers in Bucharest extoll, without surcease, the newly discovered glories of the R.P.R.--"Republica Populară Romănă."
In 1944, Rumania had been urged to cast off the German chains, and had done so. She had waged a belated but nevertheless costly war against her former German and Hungarian allies. She had hoped to work her passage home and to earn the freedom and independence the Armistice Agreement had promised her. But after the elections of November 1946 the people of Rumania found themselves bound in the tightest serfdom which the country has ever known.
[i] The Armistice Convention was signed on September 12, 1944. The Peace Treaty which superseded it did not become effective until September 15, 1947, long after the Soviet conquest had been substantially completed.
[ii] This was the name given by the Communist Party to a hastily organized coalition of putative "political parties" whose policies and organizations were subject entirely to Communist direction and control. In every Balkan country, a similar "front" was organized and in each country the attempt was made to induce the Socialist Party to adhere to it. In Rumania, the latter tactic was successful.
[iii] I remember attending a meeting of the Allied Control Commission in Bucharest many months later at which the happenings on February 24 were recounted by General Vinogradoff, then Deputy Chairman of the Commission. General Vinogradoff was not the least coöperative Soviet official with whom we were in contact in Rumania: in many respects, he was the most. Nevertheless he misstated the facts and misrepresented the events of that day completely. He knew that we had both been in Rumania at the time. But the fact that he knew that I knew that what he had to say was the very antithesis of the truth did not appear to embarrass him. He seemed to take for granted that I could distinguish between truth and policy.
[iv] In the summer of 1944, Prime Minister Churchill and the British Foreign Secretary initiated discussions with the Russians relative to the extent and compass of the respective activities of their governments in the Balkans. The agreement reached in October was not made public at the time. In substance it made Rumania and Bulgaria the primary concern of Russia, and accorded the British the initiative in Greece. The United States Government had been notified, and objected to any division of the Balkans into spheres of influence. In the end, it seems to have approved the arrangement, but only as a wartime measure and for a limited period of three months (cf. "The Memoirs of Cordell Hull," Vol. 2, p. 1453 et seq.). This agreement did not initiate the Russian conquest of the Balkans, but it undoubtedly encouraged and aided Soviet designs in this regard and may have served also to strengthen Russian claims at Yalta.
[v] Under the provisions of Paragraph 18 of the Armistice Convention of September 12, 1944, the Allied Control Commission performed its functions "under the general direction and orders of the Allied (Soviet) High Command." This cryptic and otherwise undefined phrase proved in practice to refer to the Soviet High Command and nothing else. Although the Government of the United States did not participate actively in drafting the text of the Convention, it seems to have been aware of the over-all direction accorded the Soviet High Command.
[vi] Under the Yalta Agreement the three Allied Powers agreed jointly to assist the people in any European liberated state or former Axis satellite "to form interim governmental authorities broadly representative of all democratic elements in the population," and agreed to consult together on the measures necessary to discharge their joint responsibilities in this regard.
[vii] Captain Karpe had boarded the Arlberg Express in Vienna, on his way to Paris and thence to Washington. His mangled body was found the next morning in the Pass Füg tunnel into which he had fallen or been thrown.