Romania

By Keely Freund

Romania Flag .png

Flag of Romania

 

I. Introduction
Snuggled between Bulgaria and Hungary, Romania is located in the cultural rich, southeastern Europe. According to Reporters Without Borders, an organization devoted to promoting and defending the freedom of expression, Romania has “excessive politicization of the media, corrupt financing mechanisms, and editorial policies subordinated to own interests and intelligence agency infiltration of staff.” Romania is ranked 46 on the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, only three slots below the notoriously “free” United States of America. Romania has improved its rank among the 180 countries. Since being ranked 52nd in 2015, the country has improved its freedom index ranking enough to be six slots higher than the previous years.

II. Historical Background
Romania is an Eastern European country with a rich and lengthy history. The first signs of man living in the territory are cave painting found in northwest Transylvania that dates back to 10,000 BC. Fast forward to the 12th century, German Saxons began to settle in towns after being invited by the Hungarian king, who ruled the area at the time. In the 16th and 17th century, the area was under attack by the Turks who had previously gained control of Hungary. Wallacehia, Moldova, and Transylvania are able to continue operating by paying tribute to the Turks. The Nation state of Romania is formed in 1862 when Wallachia and Moldova unite.
By 1914 Romania has long been in dispute over land with Austria and Hungary; especially in regards to the ethnically Romanian Transylvania that belonged to Hungary at the time. In 1916, Romania joined Britain, France, and Russian forces against Germany and Austria-Hungary in WWI. “Seeing Russia’s success against Austria on the battlefields of the Eastern Front during the summer of 1916, Romania hoped to make an advantageous entry into the war in order to realize long-held dreams of territorial expansion and national unity” (history.com). Romania is successful and takes back the territory of Transylvania in 1918. Due to the increase in land, the Romanian population also grows significantly. Due to the many Governments and poor leadership, the 1930’s were an era of political instability. “They made tactical errors, like permitting Prince Carol II to reclaim the thrown in 1930 and forming an ‘alliance’ with the Iron Guard for the 1937 election, by which they hastened the collapse of the budding Romanian democracy and its replacement with a dictatorship” (Georgescu, 192).
King Carol II became even more unpopular after, once again, losing Bessarabia to Russia and northern Transylvania to Hungary. In 1941, Antonescu, a veteran, made himself into a dictator position for which he made Romanians refer to him as “Conducător” or “leader.” He would rule for two wartime dictatorships and eventually be executed for war crimes (Watts, 171). After WWI, Russian troops were stationed in Romania, making a communist takeover inevitable.
In 1947 the first president of the communist country, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, was eager to begin his totalitarian reign. He signed a Treaty of Friendship, promising cooperation between Romania and the Soviet Union. Gheorghiu-Dej ruled until 1965 when Nicolae Ceaușescu took his place as the communist leader for the duration of the era. It was during this time period that citizens faced the greatest amount of censorship and restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. After 42 years of communist control, the regime suddenly collapsed. Ceausescu and his wife were shot Dec. 25, 1989, and Romania began its challenging transition to a democracy.
Since becoming a democracy, Romania has joined NATO and became a member of the European Union. The county currently has a population around 21.6 million, with a growing economy.

III. Free Speech
While Romania has one of the longest and richest histories around, the country’s most prominent restriction on free speech was not too long ago. During the communist era, both Gheorghiu-Dej and Nicolae Ceaușescu enforced strict centrists on the public free speech. The purpose of the censorship was to strengthen the Communist Party’s ideology. By eliminating all publications, art, history, and literature that denounced communism, the thought was Romanians would be engulfed and have no choice but to embrace the communist culture. It was deemed punishable to say anything that strayed from the communist ideology. Speeches, slogans, and political propaganda were excessively produced and distributed to the public. “Language emerging from the main ideological texts and slogans repeated in speeches and articles. the control and limitation of vocabulary and imagery making safer (and thus faithful) the messages distributed to the masses” (Cambridge, 135). It was thought that by limiting the ideas society could have, communism would grow stronger.
In addition to the public’s restricted vocabulary, the cultural expression was also strictly limited. Television shows, art, and music had to be approved by the leader, making material predictable and limited. Newspapers were altered to enrich the communist party and the president, often making them look more powerful and good than they were. School teachings were altered and history books removed. The government wanted as little outside influence as possible and even wanted citizens to forget their own pre-communistic rule. Any literature, art, or other expressions of speech that did not align with the communist ideology, was strictly prohibited. The boring repetition of political slogans, restrictions on expression and lack of genuine culture was one of the many reasons the public eventually fought back against communism.
Modern-day Romania now has constitutional laws protecting the freedom of expression and press. However, violations of public and private surveillance still occur. While the Romanian media environment is considered free and pluralistic, most of the more prominent outfits are controlled by wealthy businessmen and are often subjugated to bias and political influence.
From 2014 to 2017 there has been an increase in moderation involving online chatrooms in efforts to diminish hate speech. “Beyond its effort to monitor the flow of comments on the website, the team from Gazeta Sporturilor has developed a Regulation on rules for comments’ publication and moderation, entitled The Rules of the Game” (annual report, 38). This initiative discourages anonymity, by requiring users of the chatrooms to log in to either Facebook or another personal account. The main weakness of this new moderation is that much like how users overlook the “I agree with the website terms and conditions” checkboxes, users often overlook these new poorly advertised regulations. As published in the Annual Report on Hate Speech in Romania, a major problem with these anti-hate moderations are the “[l]ack of warning of the users on the legal consequences entailed by the messages inciting to hate or violence” (pg. 41). Romania has ramifications for those participating in hate speech, but there is a generality in the definition of the users right which is subject to arbitrary interpretation.

IV. Free Press
Likewise to the restrictions on speech and expression, the press was also strictly controlled. Due to its innovation, the influence of press hit new landmarks after the WWII. “In a wider context, the post-war culture can be characterized in general as marked by the evolution of technology and production, reproduction, and distribution of information. Written press has been enriched by a wide range of visual messages, increasingly complex, development of the radio, cinema and later television. changed the process of mass communication and mass impact and influenced significantly post-war culture” (Cambridge pg. 132). The blossoming of more efficient means of the press allowed for political leaders to reach a larger audience, with more information, faster. It was through media and press that the communistic ideology was more efficiently spread.
The communist political system also abused the press to spread propaganda. “Similarly to the rest of the countries in the Communist bloc, the new monolithic press was to Mirror/reflect the new -rapidly improving- realities, actually offering… content designed to socialize the audience to the ideas and values of Communism” (Cambridge, 133). The press was essentially used to distort the Romanian reality and fill the audience’s mind with “ideologically correct” symbols and values.
The press was extremely censored during the communist regime. Ordinary people were prohibited from being able to publish their work and only a minority of strictly controlled and approved institutions were entitled to publish. The limitation of press barred critical thinking as well as the spread of any new or opposing ideas.
B. Unfortunately, there are still issues of corruption in the press and media of Romania today. According to Reporters Without Borders (RWB), in 2016 there are reports of “excessive politicization of the media, corrupt financing mechanisms, editorial policies subordinated to own interests and intelligence agency infiltration of staff.” These biases impact the media by allowing for such outlets to become political propaganda tools, which according to RWB, “has been particularly visible in election years, including 2014.”
Independent media are active and allowed to publish a variety of views without legislative restriction. However political figures usually own or control numerous media outlets at both the local and national level. It is because of this corruption that the public can’t be sure that the news they are receiving is factual or just published for political gains.
Romania’s media also has a limitation on “insulting state insignia; religious defamation; denying the Holocaust; using fascist, racist or xenophobic symbols; commemorating individuals who have committed crimes against mankind; or promoting fascist, racist or xenophobic ideologies apply to the print and broadcast media as well” (Vaseline). Although meant with good intention, restrictions on hateful or sensitive subjects is still a restriction of the free press.

V. Critical Comparison
In 1944, just a few years before Romania would enter its communist era, Judge Learned Hand presented a speech to an audience of immigrants in a naturalization ceremony in which they would become American Citizens. Hand emphasizes that these newcomers have chosen to come to America, and why he asks? “We sought liberty – freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom to be ourselves… Liberty lives in the hearts of men and women” (Hand). The freedom that America was founded upon is one of, if not the most influential reasons behind immigration to the states. Americans place a great deal of value on constitutional right of freedom and as Hand stated, the liberty needed to be deep in the culture and the heart of society in order for the constitution to have any standing. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the people’s freedom of religion, speech, press, right to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. If the American people don’t feel and believe they are liberated, there is something wrong.
In contrast to Romania’s strict speech laws during the communist era and even present-day restrictions on sensitive public speech, the United States has almost always held the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and expression to the highest priority. In the case of Texas v. Johnson, Johnson publicly incinerated an American flag as a means of protest. The court ruled that Johnson’s expression of flag burning was intact protected by the First Amendment. You need to explain why.
During the communist era, which had controlled Romania just 40 years prior to Johnson’s case, there would have been serious punishment for anyone who defamed the communist symbols like Johnson had done to the U.S. flag. While the communist government wanted there to be as little expression of emotions outside that of communist ideology, the American courts understand that even if an audience finds an idea or demonstration to be offensive, there still shouldn’t be a prohibition on speech. Although some language might be offensive to some, its better to allow all speech and expression and let the public and culture deem whats appropriate or not, instead of the government deciding what “correct” speech is.
While Romania has improved its free speech laws substantially since the fall of its communist regime, there is still a moderate amount of surveillance and regulation. In efforts to diminish hate speech and sensitive topics like racism, some forums for expression like online chatrooms, have rules and moderators limiting said expression. In contrast, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that even unpopular ideas like racism should be protected and allowed, as long as the speech is not directed at producing immediate violence or other lawless actions.
The evolution of press took place simultaneously in most of the developed countries worldwide. However, how the countries chose to use said resource varied by nation. When media and press improved its production and distribution efficiency, the western countries were able to send more information to more people. Because of this, diversity in the press flourished and more ideas were spread. Communist countries, however, used this innovation as a tool to spread more propaganda faster. The Romanians increased access to “press” actually just meant being able to access a political agenda easier.
If Americans ever experienced government restrictions, censorship of freedom of speech, expression, and or press, like the Romanians did, American citizens would have the right and duty to first express grievances to the government. In such cases that the executive branch of government abuses its power and or tries to take away citizens first amendment rights, responsibility would fall on the legislative and judicial branches of government to resolve the issue. A strength of having three branches of government is their checks and balances system to hold each branch accountable to the others. The American distribution of power also prevents one branch growing too strong, like what happened in Romania prior to the nation’s transition to its present day democracy.

VI. Conclusion
While the territory of Romania has been the home of inhabitants dating all the way back to 100,000 BC and has officially been established since 168 BC, it certainly has come a long way from the censorship of communism. While it still doesn’t beat the relatively new United States of America when it comes to free speech and press, Romania has made drastic improvements in becoming a relatively free country. To continue improving its worldwide freedom rank from its current spot at 46, the nation’s politicians need to have less of an influence on media and the nation needs to accept all types of speech, no matter how sensitive a topic may be.

 

Works Cited
Abraham, Florin. Romania Since the Second World War. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. Print

Baddorf, Zack. “Romanians reflect on life during communist era.” Made for Minds., 21 Nov. 2009, http://p.dw.com/p/Kb0C

Brandenburg v. Ohio.” Oyez, 29 Mar. 2018, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1968/492.

Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Press, Propaganda, and Politics. Newcastle: 2013. Print

Georgescu, Vlad. The Romanians, A History. Ohio State University Press, 1991. Print

history.com Staff. “Romania enters World War I.” history.com., 2009. Retrieved from http:// http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/romania-enters-world-war-i

Ionescu, Ghita. Communism in Rumania.Westport: Greenwood Press,. Print.

Kubik, Jan. Postcommunism from Within. New York University Press: New York, 2013. Print

Lewis, Anthony. Freedom for the Thought That We Hate. Basic Books: Philadelphia, 2007. Print

Martino, Francesco. “Romania: Less hate, more speech.” Osservatorio balcani caucaso transeuropa., 22 March 2017

Meijers, Gea. “Secularism in Romania: When the freedom of speech is undermined through social pressure.” International Humanist and Ethical Union., 03 June. 2016

Net Rangers Against Intolerance. Annual report on Hate Speech in Romania 2014-2014. Retrieved from http://www.activewatch.ro/Assets/Upload/files/annual%20report%20on %20hate%20speech%20in%20romania%202014%202015.pdf

“PRESS FREEDOM INDEX 2017” 2018, Reporters Without Borders., Retrieved from https:// rsf.org/en/romania

Texas v. Johnson.” Oyez, 29 Mar. 2018, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1988/88-155.

Vasili, Oana. “Analysis. Press freedom: How does Romania fare?” The Voice of Romanian Real Estate., 03 May 2017

Watts, Larry L. Romanian Cassandra. Boulder: East European Monographs, 1993. Print

This essay was last updated April 30, 2018.

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