ROMANIAN SOCIETY at the close of the 1980s was the product of more than forty years of communist rule that had two primary objectives--the industrialization of the economy at all costs and the establishment of socialism. Both of these objectives forced far-reaching changes in popular values, changes wrought by a highly centralized government that concentrated power in the hands of a very small political elite. This ruling elite brooked no opposition to its program for economic development and the simultaneous destruction of national values and institutions in favor of those dictated by Marxist ideology. Socialism's tighter political control made for more effective mobilization of the country's resources and, at the same time, initiated massive social mobility. Education, as the chief vehicle of upward mobility, was made widely available, and rapid economic growth created a tremendous expansion of opportunities. The result was a new social order that gave preeminence to the working class and to manual labor over nonmanual.
To be sure, the monopoly of power by an elite few was in large part responsible for the swift modernization that took place in the first decades under socialism. But such political centralism was accompanied by cultural centralism that severely curtailed the liberties of individuals and social groups. This restriction became particularly evident under the cult of personality that developed around Nicolae Ceausescu, who dominated politics after the late 1960s. Later years under Ceausescu marked Romanian society with a Stalinesque oppression that meant government regulation of the most minute aspects of daily life and growing police repression. In addition, largely because economic reality had been subordinated to Ceausescu's personal political goals, the promising degree of modernization achieved in the early years of socialism gave way to an almost bizarre process of demodernization that impoverished the nation. This process was accompanied by increased terror and repression, resulting in an atomized society in which people struggled to survive by turning inward to themselves and their families.
The regime's program of enforced austerity and resulting demodernization flew in the face of the greater equality and material wealth promised by socialism. Egalitarian values had indeed gained widespread popular acceptance. But even if claims of equal distribution of material benefits were true, they fell flat in light of the fact that there was very little to distribute. Moreover, evidence of unequal distribution abounded, as the political elite took greater rewards and were least affected by the deprivation their policies caused. Corruption was rampant, and only those who "knew someone" and had the wherewithal to bribe the appropriate person could obtain even the most basic goods and services. Claims of equalization of status also were suspect. Social ranking, as developed in the minds of individual citizens as opposed to the hierarchy proclaimed and directed by the regime, decidedly preferred nonmanual labor over manual and urban over rural occupations. In the late 1980s, the massive upward mobility experienced earlier appeared unlikely to be repeated, and society showed signs of a hardening stratification. Egalitarian values inculcated under socialist rule had created aspirations that the regime failed to meet, and discontent at every level of society was evidence of the growing frustration associated with that failure.
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