Eras Journal – Ivanes, C. Abstract

Abstract of Ivanes, C. “Streets and Crowds in (Post-)Communist Romania: Opportunity, Collective Action and Human Emotions”.

The Romanian revolution of December 1989 does not fit the traditional mold of social movement schemes and theories. The conditions that most theories of collective action depict as necessary for social movements to arise were not present in Romania in 1989. Rational choice theory also proves particularly puzzling, as Romanians deliberately chose to take to the streets knowing that, unlike other Eastern bloc countries, the regime controlled the military and was ready to employ them. As a consequence of the above factors, this article analyzes the Romanian revolution from a rather unconventional perspective.

Few efforts have been made to consider the psyche, the emotions, and the inner mental processes of individuals themselves. It is essential to focus on political opportunity, mobilization, and framing. Romania presents unique characteristics amongst the ex-Soviet bloc countries, which had a crucial impact on the Romanians’ decision to engage in collective action. Domestic political opportunity, for example, was created by the complete lack of legitimacy of the Ceausescu régime, and the terrible misery and frustrations Romanians were experiencing : people simply could not lie to themselves anymore, as the cost of doing so became higher and more painful than risking their own life by engaging in collective action. True, foreign influence (in this case lack of direct intervention) brought the state under pressure, but the main stimulus was the modification of people’s disposal to accept high risks by undertaking collective action, surpassing a revolutionary threshold by publicly expressing their private preference. This led to a decisive challenge to the autonomy of the Communist state vis-à-vis its own society.

A two-fold occurrence transpired during that fateful December of 1989: on the one hand, a group of second and third tier nomenklatura members, in cooperation with some retired Army generals and Securitate officers, who had been plotting against Ceausescu for some time, seized the moment of that which, on the other hand, was a spontaneous popular uprising originating in Timisoara. The regular Army and to a lesser extent the Securitate repressed contre-ceur until they realized the regime could not be saved. This is a key aspect of Romania’s bizarre exception from Eastern European rule.