In Memoriam: ION RATIU

16th January 2009

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(6 June 1917 – 17 January 2000) Lawyer, journalist, writer, politician, businessman and philanthropist, Ion Ratiu died nine years ago, on 17 January 2000. Ion Ratiu was the most outspoken and consistent opponent of the communist dictatorship in Romania, and of Nicolae Ceausescu, whose regime he opposed for years as the democratically elected leader of the World Union of Free Romanians. Journalist, broadcaster and author, he was also a highly successful businessman in shipping and property. He returned to Romania in 1990, where he continued his war of words against the remnants of the communist ruling class. Ion Ratiu was elected Member of the Romanian Parliament for Cluj and then Arad (both in Transylvania), and vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies (the Lower House of the Romanian Parliament). He also was a runner-up for the presidency of Romania, and ambassador and negotiator for Romania’s integration in NATO’s structures. Ion Augustin Nicolae Ratiu was born in Turda, Transylvania, on 6 June 1917. After studying Law and joining the army, in April 1940 he entered Romania’s Foreign Service. He was sent to London as a chancellor at the Romanian Legation under Minister Viorel V. Tilea. Shortly afterwards, with Romania’s alignment with the Axis powers, the young Ratiu resigned his post and obtained political asylum in Britain. He won a scholarship to study economics at St. John’s College, Cambridge. In 1945 Ion Ratiu married Elisabeth Pilkington in London. After the communists came to power in Romania in 1947, Ion Ratiu remained in exile in London. Even from the beginning of WWII, he joined the fight against totalitarianism of any political colour, helping to organise the Central European Student and Youth Society. In the late 1950s, he started publishing the Free Romanian Press, a weekly news bulletin. He also contributed regularly to the BBC Romanian service, Radio Free Europe, or The Voice of America. In 1957, Ion Ratiu published his successful critique of Western attitudes towards the Soviet Union and communism, ‘Policy for the West’. In 1975, the year he published ‘Contemporary Romania’, he decided to devote all his energy to the pursuit of a free Romania. He played a key role in the setting up of the World Union of Free Romanians, of which he was elected president in at its first congress in Geneva (1984). Shortly after this, he started publishing The Free Romanian / Romanul liber, a monthly newspaper in English and Romanian. In Ion Ratiu’s own words, the paper was “the place where we could present Romanian problems; we attacked all major issues, discussed them and presented them to the free world. The Free Romanian was received, and is still received [in 1990], by all Western chancelleries and all great newspapers, and we had plenty of coverage of what we were publishing”. After his return to Romania in 1990, Ion Ratiu was nominated the presidential candidate on behalf of the National Peasant Party-Christian Democrat (PNT-CD) in the first free elections after the fall of the communist regime. Although he became a member of the Romanian Parliament, and he was to serve his country well for many years, his failure to win the presidency was a disappointment to him. Even nowadays, on Romanian streets, Ion Ratiu is remembered fondly by people, and often referred to as the best president Romania never had. With his gentle and open approach, elegant and impeccable manners, and his British-like style – not to mention his ideals and tireless work for the good of the country – Ion Ratiu cut a very special figure in the Romanian political landscape. Many people took a liking to him as well due to his habit of always sporting a bow tie. He was a true devotee of this wonderful piece of apparel, so much so that he was affectionately known and recognised everywhere in Romania as ‘Mr Bow-Tie’. But ‘Mr Bow-Tie’ was also highly regarded for his assuredness and power to impose calm and respect, as proved in September 1991, when miners demonstrating against the government had occupied the Chamber of Deputies. After a short illness, Ion Ratiu died in London on 17 January 2000, surrounded by his family. In accordance with his wishes, he was buried in his home town of Turda. His funeral was attended by over 10,000 people. In 1979, Ion and Elisabeth Ratiu established The Ratiu Foundation in London – a generous initiative that, in 2009, celebrates 30 years of support for independent thought and the pursuit of cultural excellence. The main objective of the Foundation is to promote projects which further education and research in the culture and history of Romania and its people. The Ratiu Foundation offers 100 annual grants, principally for postgraduate courses. The Ratiu grants are awarded to Romanian students to study a wide range of subjects in the UK. The Ratiu Foundation also offers annual seed funding for innovative projects, which foster Romanian arts and civilisation, heritage, civil society, democracy, and environmental protection. The Foundation maintains offices in London, Washington, Turda and Bucharest. More details on NEW ADDRESS!: The Ratiu Foundation • 18 Fitzhardinge Street • London W1H 6EQ