Gheorghiu-Dej's Defiance of Khrushchev

Romania Table of Contents

Khrushchev consolidated his power in the Soviet Union by ousting the so-called "anti-party" group in July 1957. A year later Gheorghiu-Dej, with Chinese support, coaxed the Soviet Union into removing its forces from Romanian soil. Khrushchev's consolidation freed his hands to revive Comecon and advocate specialization of its member countries. Part of his plan was to relegate Romania to the role of supplying agricultural products and raw materials to the more industrially advanced Comecon countries. Gheorghiu-Dej, a long-time disciple of rapid industrialization and, since 1954, a supporter of "national" communism, opposed Khrushchev's plan vehemently. Romanian-Soviet trade soon slowed to a trickle. With no Soviet troops in Romania to intimidate him, Gheorghiu-Dej's defiance stiffened, and his negotiators began bringing home Western credits to finance purchases of technology for Romania's expanding industries. Khrushchev apparently sought to undermine Gheorghiu-Dej within the PMR and considered military intervention to unseat him. The Romanian leader countered by attacking anyone opposed to his industrialization plans and by removing Moscow-trained officials and appointing loyal bureaucrats in their place. The November 1958 PMR plenum asserted that Romania had to strengthen its economy to withstand external pressures. Industrialization, collectivization, improved living standards, and trade with the West became the focal points of the party's economic policy.

The Sino-Soviet split, which Khrushchev announced at the PMR's 1960 congress, and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis increased Gheorghiu-Dej's room to maneuver without risking a complete rupture with Moscow. At a Comecon meeting in February 1963, Romania revealed its independent stance by stating publicly that it would not modify its industrialization program for regional integration. In subsequent months, the Romanian and Albanian media were the only official voices in Eastern Europe to report China's attack on Soviet policy. Also Gheorghiu-Dej and Tito established a rapprochement and broke ground for a joint Yugoslavian-Romanian hydroelectric project. In 1964 the PMR issued the "April Declaration," rejecting the Soviet Union's hegemony in the communist bloc and proclaiming Romania's autonomy. After the April Declaration, Romanian diplomats set out to construct loose alliances with countries of the international communist movement, Third World, and the West. China and Yugoslavia became its closest partners in the communist world; Hungary and the Soviet Union were its main communist opponents.

At home, the PMR maintained a firm grip on authority but granted amnesties to former "class enemies" and "chauvinists" and admitted to its ranks a broader range of individuals. Gheorghiu-Dej ordered "de-Russification" and nationalistic "Romanianization" measures to drum up mass support for his defiance of Moscow and deflect criticism of his own harsh domestic economic policies. Bucharest's Institute for Russian Studies metamorphosed into a foreign-languages institute, and Russian-language instruction disappeared from Romanian curricula. To promote Romanian culture, official historians resurrected Romanian heroes; the PMR published an anti-Russian anthology of Karl Marx's articles denouncing tsarist Russia's encroachments on Romania and backing Romania's claim to Bessarabia; workmen stripped Russian names from street signs and buildings. Cultural exchanges with the West multiplied; jamming of foreign radio broadcasts ceased; and Romania began siding against the Soviet Union in United Nations (UN) votes. The Romanianization campaign also ended political and cultural concessions granted to the Hungarian minority during early communist rule; subsequently Hungarians suffered extensive discrimination.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress