Mellon Professor Led Fantastic

November 1, 1997

In 1988, Silviu Brucan went on a trip that would change his country.

In 1988, Silviu Brucan went on a trip that would change his country. The professor of social sciences and international relations at the University of Bucharest packed a suitcase and left his native Romania, bound for Washington, D.C., London and Moscow. But Brucan, a former high-ranking official in the Communist Party, wasn't sightseeing. He was plotting a coup d'etat.

On Nov. 21, Brucan, 82, will bring the remarkable experiences of his life to the lectern as he delivers this year's Mellon lecture, "From Party Hacks to Nouveaux Riches." This semester Brucan is also teaching the course "Social Change in Russia and Eastern Europe." Social change in Eastern Europe is a subject Brucan knows well, probably because he has personally been responsible for part of it. Brucan is the man most often credited with the 1989 overthrow of Romania's Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.

"Have you ever had a fish bone in your throat? You cannot spit it out, you cannot swallow it in," Brucan told the Boston Globe in 1988. "Well, I was the fish bone in Ceausescu's throat."

After working in Romania's anti-Fascist underground during World War II, Brucan became editor of Scinteia, the country's leading Communist newspaper. In 1956, Brucan accepted an appointment as Romania's ambassador to the United States, a move that would change his life forever. Within three years he was appointed the country's ambassador to the United Nations. In all, Brucan spent seven years living in the United States.

"That was when I realized the great faults of communism," Brucan recalls. "It was during the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, with Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin's crimes. Being in Washington, I could read Khrushchev's text , which was not available in Romania. And being a political scientist, I realized that when a man like Stalin could for so many decades run the country and the party, there must be something rotten in the system. And that is when I began to change my ideas."

Brucan returned to his native country in 1962 to become chairman of Romanian television, but resigned his political posts in 1966 to join the faculty of the University of Bucharest. The reason for his departure was the rise of the relentless Nicolae Ceausescu, whose administration was marked by depression, food shortages, energy crises and cruel repression.

When, in 1987, Ceausescu brutally put down a Romanian workers' uprising and embarked on a major investigation to discover the demonstration's organizers, Brucan had had enough. "I heard about Ceausescu's action and decided to take a public stand against it," Brucan recalls. "That was my first public criticism of dictator Ceausescu. I invited the correspondents of the BBC and UPI to my house and I gave them a statement in which I called the demonstration a watershed and warned Ceausescu against repression."

Brucan was the first well-known Romanian political figure to criticize the government, and his remarks created a sensation when they were published in the West. More importantly to Brucan, the BBC, Radio Free Europe and Voice of America each broadcast his comments to the Romanian people. The very next morning, Brucan awoke to find militia stationed at his door. He was under house arrest.

"The telephone was completely cut," explains Brucan. "Foreign mail was cut. I was not allowed to go out except to buy bread in the morning. That was all that was permitted."

After approximately six months of isolation and confinement, pressure from the United States resulted in Brucan's release. It was then that Brucan embarked on his well-publicized trip. In Washington, he met with State Department officials; in London, he met with Foreign Office representatives. In Moscow, he sat down with Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. In each meeting, Brucan described in detail the strategy of the National Salvation Front--Romania's pro-democracy forces--to overthrow Ceausescu, and asked the three nations for their support. He got it.

Returning to Bucharest, Brucan issued what has become known as "The Letter of Six." In this open letter to Ceausescu, which was published internationally and broadcast in Romania by the BBC, Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, six former Communist Party officials demanded that Ceausescu reverse the course of his policies. Brucan was immediately arrested as a spy.

In the end, Ceausescu decided against bringing him to trial, fearing international reaction to Brucan's imprisonment. Instead of imprisonment, Brucan and his wife were evicted from their home and forced to live in a shack on the outskirts of town, with no heat or running water. It was there Brucan stayed until Dec. 22, 1989--the day of the revolution. The National Salvation Front, with Brucan on its executive board, captured Ceausescu and seized control of Romania.

On Dec. 25, after a brief military trial, Nicolae and Helen Ceausescu, his wife, were executed. Brucan remained a member of the executive bureau for two months. In February 1990, he resigned his position to resume teaching and writing full time. He is regarded as one of the world's leading experts on politics in Eastern Europe, gaining wide acclaim for his prophetic commentary. In a 1987 article for the International Herald Tribune, for example, Brucan wrote, "By 1990, a new political generation will be in command all over Eastern Europe."

To date, Brucan has published six English-language books on the politics of Eastern Europe. In addition to teaching and lecturing around the world, Brucan is a contributing editor to the WorldPaper and hosts a weekly news program in Romania.

"I try to explain what happened the previous week in Romanian politics," Brucan explains. "I have to teach people the meaning of those political developments. So by commenting on the events, I am also trying to educate. "I participated in two revolutions," he adds. "The first one failed miserably. Now I want to use my knowledge and experience to see to it that the second one doesn't have the same result. Today, that is my raison d'etre."

Citation information:

Page accessed: Sunday, May 29, 2016
Page URL:

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000