Since 1989 Romania has gone from communist isolation under the megalomaniac Nicolae Ceauescu to being a key player in America's war against terrorism. Because of this strategic location it has become a front-line state for nervous Western governments keen to secure oil routes from the Middle East. It joined NATO in 2004 and is due to enter the European Union in 2007-08 despite its economy being unprepared to meet the competition challenges from established members. Tom Gallagher analyses how the country is seeking to recover from a disastrous period in its history while many of the key legacies of dictatorship remain. Having lynched the discredited Ceauescu in 1989, former acolytes have spent the past fifteen years trying to retain a monopoly of control behind the facade of a Western-style democracy. They combined their political ambitions with acquiring the control of vast amounts of private property denied to them by Ceauescu. Political institutions were given a facelift, as in the case of the intelligence services which became a crucial power-base for the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD). The state continued to be used to serve narrow private interests.
Replacing the communist dynasty of the Ceauescus, there is now an oligarchy drawn from the PSD and its satellites in the bureaucracy, major industries, and the intelligence world which grew wealthy through insider privatisation and the looting of the country's banks. Romania is now at a crucial turning-point. In 2004 the mobilisation of civil society contributed to the narrow victory of Traian B sescu in presidential elections. It is unclear whether he can win control over the key levers of state necessary to stem the corruption and abuse of power which have blighted Romania's hopes of breaking free from its communist-era legacy. The PSD is now led by Mircea Geoana, the son of a general in Ceauescu's Securitate. He has recruited a string of Western politicians to block pressure for meaningful change from Brussels and to ensure that accession to the EU occurs without serious reform.