I’m writing from Bucharest, Romania. The Romanians haven’t shown a lot of interest in what’s happening in Ukraine. Oh, they’re following it, but it doesn’t seem to grab their imagination. Part of this, I think, is because they’re distracted — they have a big election of their own, for Parliament and the Presidency, this weekend. And, too, Romanians consider themselves “part of Europe”, while Ukraine is seen as outside. But whatever the reason, they don’t seem too interested.

Except for one detail.

Apparently Yanukovic and his supporters have been busing thousands of coal miners into the capital. Every Romanian that I’ve talked to has commented on this.

Why? Well, you have to know a little recent Romanian history.

Bucharest, 1991:

The “National Salvation Front” government took control of Romania after the fall of Ceausescu in December 1989. The NSF presented itself to the world as a group of plucky revolutionaries. In reality, it was a group of Communists from the second rank of the nomenklature. They were led by Ion Iliescu, a former friend and colleauge of Ceausescu who had fallen from favor some years earlier. For the next couple of years, Romania had a government that’s been described as “Communism with the serial numbers filed off” — new faces at the top, but otherwise the same people sitting in the same offices, running the same centrally planned economy.

Once the first flush of post-Ceausescu enthusiasm was over, a lot of people didn’t like this. Liberals wanted a real, reformist, democratic government. Monarchists wanted the king back. Everybody wanted some sort of house-cleaning. Students from Bucharest’s universities developed the annoying (to Iliescu) habit of gathering in Bucharest’s squares and protesting loudly and more or less continuously.

So, in the spring of 1991, Iliescu started bringing busloads of coal miners into Bucharest.

The first time was bad. The miners rioted, smashed windows, looted, and beat dozens of students. They went particularly after “liberal” opponents of the NSF regime, sacking the headquarters of the opposition party and targetting the houses and offices of opposition leaders. Afterwards, Iliescu appeared publicly and thanked the miners for the “patriotism” and “forbearance”.

The second time was much worse. This time the miners ran riot for three days throughout central Bucharest. Eleven students were killed, the city was shut down, and the Prime Minister — who had been showing irritating signs of independence — was forced to resign. And Iliescu got to write a new constitution, which put him in charge for the next four years.

(This is why, if you go to University Square in the center of Bucharest, you’ll see two sets of monuments. The official ones are for the martyrs of 1989, when Ceausescu’s secret police opened fire on the demonstrators. The crude, unofficial ones are for the dead of 1991, when the miners started beating students to death with clubs.)

So, while Romanians generally aren’t too interested in Ukraine, that one detail makes them sit up and take notice.

Let’s hope they’re wrong.

9 thoughts on “Miners

  1. Funny, I had the same association: that those miners reminded me of what happened in Romania. But I had forgotten about the details, and had not realised the resemblance was so strong. Thanks for this update!

  2. To understand some measure of the trumatic historic associations of recent events for Ukrainians, recall that on genocide, Stalin was Hitler’s mentor, in scale and chronologically speaking: http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM

    “A Man-Made Famine raged through Ukraine, the ethnic-Ukrainian region of northern Caucasus, and the lower Volga River region in 1932-33. This resulted in the death of between 7 to 10 million people, mainly Ukrainians. This was instigated by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and his henchman Lazar Kaganovich. The main goal of this artificial famine was to break the spirit of the Ukrainian farmer/peasant and to force them into collectivization. The famine was also used as an effective tool to break the renaissance of Ukrainian culture that was occuring under approval of the communist government in Ukraine. Moscow perceived this as a threat to a Russo-Centric Soviet rule and therefore acted to crush this cultural renaissance in a most brutal manner. . ” – from: http://www.infoukes.com/history/famine/

    Stalin set out the Soviet policy for category killing in a speech on Agrarian Policy made on 27 December 1929, which contained that infamous commitment: ” . . we must smash the kulaks, eliminate them as a class. . . ” – from: http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/111stalin.html

    Btw Stalin had no reservations about signing up to a Friendship Treaty with Nazi Germany on 28 September 1939, when Britain and France were already at war – see Norman Davies: Europe (OUP 1996) p.1001.

    Last year, Ukrainian exile communities in many places around the world commemorated the anniversary of the terrible famine of 1932/3: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3229000.stm

    Stalin has been moulding in his grave since March 1953 but his soul goes marching on . .

  3. The sequel to those two events Doug is mentioning is another round of miners heading to Bucharest in January 1999 as a result of restructuring economic measures announced by the newly appointed government. It was a national emergency type of situation and the PM at that time – Radu Vasile – met the protesters at Cozia (a monastery 200 km away from Bucharest). Things cooled down afterwards and the good news is that some of the miners’ leaders (Miron Cozma is one of them – the same leader as in 1990 and 1991) were trialed and sentenced for this. Word is in town that these days Iliescu wants to free MC – good behavior as an official reason and saving his a** back in 1990 and 1991 the unofficial.

    As for Ukrain – it is not as similar as in the Romanian case since in the Romanian case it was an internal affair between the ex-communistst and the rest. In Ukraine unfortunately my guess is that the big Russian brother has an important word to say.

  4. Before I heart anything about the role of the Ukrain miners in the conflict I had a strange feeling about the question: do we know enough of the programs of both the candidates. I certainly did not myself but I read very little in the blogosphere or newspapers about it either, except for some very general remarks on being pro-west or pro-russia.
    Now when I read about the miners I think that a lot of people in Romania and Ukrain are familiaur with the name Scargill (for the younger readers: this was the miner union guy who stood up against Thatcher’s plans to close down most of the GB mines (and lost)).
    An overnight transformation to a completely free market system most probably means closing down of most of the mines. If Yushenko is not clear about the future of the miners this could be a serious source for “opposition” against his opposition.

  5. Frans, indeed.

    Bob, I read that according to newer research, the big Ukrainian starving wasn’t started with genocidal intentions. What happened was that the Soviet agricultural reforms led to a big fall in produced volume, which in turn meant that to feed the Army, the government increased demands for wheat and meat to farmers still producing. But since these farmers had a hard time too, many refused or didn’t give enough. Authorities then responded with forced requiration, which developed into bureaucratic insanity.

  6. I saw a map of the recent electoral results that showed provinces/states with about one half of Ukraines’ population (basically the south and east, where mining, pipelines and heavy industry exist and many Russians are interspersed among the population)voting opposite the west … if these regions vote as strongly for their “eastern” candidate as the northwest does for their “western” candidate, they could well elect the president in another vote.

    What will the result be then? Does the western Ukraine have a plan to placate the east if a western candidate wins? Do most of the southern and eastern provinces want to stay with the Ukraine if a western candidate wins? Or would Donetsk and Luhansk push for autonomy at all costs-and what states wouyld follow them?

  7. There is a very well done documentary about the 90′ Bucharest University Square demonstration and the miners. It is called “Piata Universitatii” and was directed by Setere Gulea (a well know romanian film director). It ran in the cinemas one or two year later, and with a little research probably one can find videos with the movie somewere in Bucharest. It is a realy good movie. If anybody hear of a DVD release, please let other people know. It helps understand what have hapenned recently (or could have hapenned) in Kiev too.

    Marian Soare