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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Romania: On Lessons Past, Present

Octavian Paler, a particularly erudite leader of Romania's political opposition, commented recently that the country would reelect President Ion Iliescu last Sunday because of "people who fear the unknown and who fear change".

Why else would they vote for a former politburo member who, to this day, cannot bring himself to condemn communism's role in Romania as a mistake?

Even so, early returns show that Iliescu won his runoff vote against a liberal opponents last weekend, comfortably.

If you think about it, most elections anywhere are won by fear of the unknown. People do tend to vote conservatively and with their pockets. The British, to name but one example, did not vote for John Major because of his sparkling personality. They were just too worried about what the Labor opposition, so long out of power and so poorly led, might do to the economy.

And in Romania, as in Russia or Georgia, the average voter has a great deal more to fear.

The Georgians dabbled with radical change by electing the fire breathing historian Zviad Gamsakhurdia to power, but soon rued their mistake. They too then went for the stable option, Eduard Shevardnadze.

But with war raging in the west Georgian region of Abkhazia and the republic in militant chaos, Shevardnadze's past as the republic's Communist Party leader seemed suddenly insignificant. Last Sunday, Georgians voted to keep him in office.

When he seized power after the 1989 revolution, Romania's Iliescu even declared himself to be still good communist

- on TV. He promptly won 85 percent of the vote and the opposition comforted itself with the notion that the people did not know any better. After a year or two they would learn, so the thinking went.

Nearly three years later most Romanians, apparently, still have not learned. Iliescu promises to clamp down on reforms, maintain subsidies and keep a lid on prices

- and still they vote for him.

In fact, one big Romanian steel town, Galats, voted real, live unrepentant communists into the local government. The communists were the only one's prepared to defy the laws of the market and promise to keep 37, 000 unprofitable jobs at the steel plant alive.

Should one be surprised? Or more to the point, will it be a disaster?

In Romania's case, one suspects not. In a country where the Gypsies still drive horses and carts, the West is a long and painful journey off and there is probably time to allow for a shellshocked people's fears. .