Iliescu, Ion (Romania)

Reference work entry


Ion Iliescu became Romanian President in Dec. 2000. From 1989 to 1996 he served as the first head of state after the revolution that removed Nicolae Ceauşescu and the communist regime. A former member of the Communist Party Central Committee and ally of Ceauşescu, Iliescu was removed from office in 1971 after criticising Ceauşescu. Iliescu’s dissatisfaction with the incumbent regime subsequently increased and when popular discontent exploded in Dec. 1989 he was an obvious choice as leader.

Early Life

Iliescu was born on 3 March 1930 in Oltenita, south of Bucharest. Having joined the Communist Youth Union in 1944 and founded the Union of High School Students in 1948, he was educated at the Bucharest Polytechnic Institute and then at the Energy Institute, Moscow. He joined the Communist Party in 1953 and from 1955 was employed as a researcher at the Bucharest Institute of Energy Studies. In 1956 he founded the Union of Romanian Students’ Associations. His wife Elena is an engineer.

As an ally of Ceauşescu Iliescu’s stock rose when the latter became the communist’s secretary general. In 1967 Iliescu was appointed minister of youth, remaining in the post for 4 years, and in 1968 became a full member of the central committee. Following ideological disputes between the two men, Iliescu lost much of his influence.

Between 1971 and 1979 Iliescu served as a regional party secretary, first in Timişoara and then in Iasi County. From 1979 until 1984 he was chairman of the National Waters Council before taking over as director of the National Publishing House for Technical Literature until 1989. Having been accused of ‘intellectual deviation’ by Ceauşescu, Iliescu was placed under intensive securitate (secret police) surveillance for several years.

In mid-Dec. 1989, as anti-communist feeling swept the Eastern Bloc, protests against the Ceauşescu regime broke out in Timişoara and quickly spread through Romania. On 22 Dec., with Ceauşescu deposed, Iliescu was asked to front the provisional government, the National Salvation Front Council. Free multi-party elections were held on 20 May 1990 and Iliescu was elected president with 85% of the vote.

Career Peak

Taking office at a time of post-communist euphoria, Iliescu was unable to deliver the radical reforms Romania needed. The economy continued to struggle and remained over-centralized. Despite this Iliescu was re-elected on 11 Oct. 1992, winning 61.5% of the vote. However, discontent with his rule grew. He was unable to rid state institutions of corruption and was criticized for his refusal to dismantle the state security framework.

Iliescu left the National Salvation Front in March 1992 to form the Democratic National Salvation Front. In the second round of presidential elections in Nov. 1996 Iliescu was defeated by the centre-right reformer Emil Constantinescu and his Democratic Convention. After elections in Dec. 2000 Iliescu was returned as president. Confronted with the challenge of kick-starting reform of Romania’s social and economic institutions, his job was hindered by galloping inflation. His other priorities included reform of the military followed by NATO and EU membership. In 2002 Romania was given a target date of 2007 for entry into the EU and was one of seven countries invited to join NATO in 2004. Romania duly gained membership of the EU on 1 Jan. 2007. Iliescu stepped down on 20 Dec. 2004 after completing his maximum two terms in office.

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