Journal of Cold War Studies 6.2 (2004) 102-104
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Yosef Govrin, Israeli-Romanian Relations at the End of the Ceauqescu Era: As Observed by Israel's Ambassador to Romania,1985-89. London: Frank Cass, 2002. 354 pp. $57.50.
Nicolae Ceauçescu's Romania occupied a unique status in the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. Ceauçescu staked out positions in foreign policy that in some cases deviated from the line set by the Soviet Union. Yosef Govrin, who was Israel's ambassador to Romania during the critical period of 1985-1989, stresses that Ceauçescu pursued an autonomous foreign policy because it enhanced his status and prestige not only in the international arena, but also inside Romania (p.38). A flexible course in foreign policy served as a legitimation mechanism for the Ceauçescu "socialist dynasty." It also appealed to certain basic themes in Romanian political culture such as nationalism. Govrin argues that Ceauçescu's foreign policy was based on the principle that small states should play a more active role in world politics (p.86). The Romanian leader claimed that this would contribute to the democratization of international relations and would reduce the ability of great powers to dominate their smaller neighbors.
According to Govrin, the Ceauçescu regime was repressive but not Stalinist. Nonetheless, Ceauçescu constructed one of the most elaborate and bizarre personality cults in Eastern Europe, the legacy of which is still, more than fourteen years after his death, an impediment to democracy and a market economy in Romania. Although the mysteries surrounding the revolution of 1989 have not yet been solved definitively, Govrin seems to accept the version presented by a former senior party official and diplomat, Silviu Brucan, that the revolution was the result of a conspiracy involving generals as well as disaffected elements of the party elite such as Ion Iliescu, the current president of Romania (pp.54, 116). Brucan claimed that Mikhail Gorbachev knew about the conspiracy to overthrow Ceauçescu but had informed theRomanians that the Soviet Union would not interfere. Moreover, at a Warsaw Pactmeeting in 1986, Gorbachev supposedly advised Ceauçescu that Ion Iliescu, rather than Elena Ceauçescu, should be the next leader of the country (p.53). According to Israeli sources, Iliescu had attended law school at Moscow State University withGorbachev in the 1950s, and the future Soviet leader greatly admired the Romanian who had graduated at the top of his class. In any event, Ceauçescu unsuccessfully tried to mobilize the conservative forces in the bloc to resist the kinds of economic and political reforms that were taking place in Poland in the late 1980s (p.54). For example, at a Warsaw Pact meeting in Bucharest in July 1989, Ceauçescu argued that the Cold War had not ended and that the Brezhnev Doctrine should be resurrected (p.113).
One of the more valuable aspects of the book is Govrin's discussion of the special relationship that existed between Israel and Romania. In Govrin's view, Ceauçescu cast [End Page 102] himself in the role of a regional peacemaker because he believed that the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis could lead to a broader war involving the superpowers. Govrin also notes that Romania's special position in the region may have served Soviet intelligence interests as well (p.3). Romania was in a good position to function as a mediator because of its balanced relationship with both the Palestinians and the Israelis (p.138). The Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat visited Romania at least once a year, and Govrin observes that Bucharest provided the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) with material aid (p.89). Ceauçescu claimed that Arafat was moderating the PLO's position, and the Romanian leader intensified his efforts to bridge the gap separating the Israelis and the Palestinians (p.166). Ceauçescu consistently encouraged the Israelis to engage in direct negotiations with the PLO within the framework of an international conference that...