Sunday, May 11, 2008

And someday, maybe Burma will become like Rumania!

The NYT apparently every week has an "op-ed classic," where the paper "presents an essay from The Times's archive by a columnist or contributor that we hope sheds light on current news or provides a window on the past." This week's essay is in relation to the oppressive military regime in Burma, and the possibility of foreign intervention. It starts out:

While the U.S. invasion of Panama provoked a great deal of debate, there was no argument about possible French and Russian intervention in Rumania. And that raises an important question: Could big-power intervention – so often used in the past by Washington and Moscow to establish repressive regimes – now become a positive force wielded on behalf of democracy and human rights?

France offered to send troops if the Rumanian Army had difficulty overcoming the security forces loyal to the ousted and executed dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. And Secretary of State James Baker said America would support any move by the Soviet Union to intervene militarily.

Wow, talk about historical amnesia! (And not just for using an antiquated spelling of Romania.) While at the time the article might have made sense to its editors, in retrospect this is something that the Times should have been ashamed of publishing. First of all, they openly admit that what happened in Romania wasn't a revolution, but a coup d'état. Though the evil dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu might have been toppled, it's a mistake to assume that his enemies were America's friends, or even Romania's friends. After the fall of Ceaușescu's regime, Romania took over a decade and a half to become a stable, functioning democracy. For most of the period in between the events of 1989 and the first real liberal becoming president (Traian Băsescu in 2004), Ion Iliescu ran the country, and not very well. A simple search of the Times' archives (or twenty seconds with a real Romanian) would have sufficed to convince the Times that this was an absurd article, unless meant for its ironic value. Here's the Times, ten years later:

Ten years after a radio announcer exulted, ''The antichrist has been executed on Christmas Day,'' Romanians are still on a national quest to piece together what happened.

Who shot whom? Was it populist, or a coup by disgruntled Communists who months later legitimized it in elections held in a still traumatized country?

''The idea that the wicked witch and her husband the bad tyrant were taken down simply by the people rising up is a fairy tale,'' said Mark P. Almond, an Oxford history professor who studies Romania. [...]

But unlike the revolts in other Eastern European countries, where power passed to accepted heroes like Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel, Romania was taken over by a committee, the National Salvation Front, which quickly splintered into parties now playing what amounts to a national bloodsport: bickering over ''who betrayed our revolution.''

So what was the purpose of the Times story? Unless it was meant to be ironic (and there is no indication that it was), it seems to be legitimizing military intervention by citing the case of Romania. Which in my mind is dishonest and misleading, considering the average Times reader isn't going to know that this particular "revolution" didn't turn out as rosy as it's portrayed.


Anonymous said...

The first democratic president of Romania was actually Emil Constantinescu. While he wasn's a good leader, his election does have importance in that it marked a peaceful transition of power. Thank you!

Stephen said...

Very true – he was in power from 1996 till 2000, and I should have mentioned him, but I got lazy. For those of you who aren't so up on your contemporary Romanian history (and shame on you!), Constantinescu's term was followed by Iliescu (again), and was marked by a lot of infighting and stagnation, which is why I put the start of liberal democracy in Romania at 2004 with the election of Băsescu.