In Memoriam: Ion Ratiu

17th January 2008

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(6 June 1917 – 17 January 2000) Lawyer, journalist, writer, politician, businessman and philanthropist, Ion Ratiu died eight years ago, on the 17th of 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 political struggle against the remnants of the communist ruling class. Was elected Member of the Romanian Parliament for Cluj and then Arad (both in Transylvania), vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies (the Lower House of the Romanian Parliament), runner-up for the presidency of Romania, ambassador and negotiator for Romania’s integration in NATO’s structures. Ion Ratiu was born in Turda, Transylvania, on the 6th of June 1917. After studying Law and joining the army, he joined Romania’s Foreign Service in April 1940. He was sent to London as a chancellor at the Romanian Legation under Minister Viorel V. Tilea. Shortly afterwards, as a result of Romania’s alignment with the Axis powers, the young Ratiu resigned his post and obtained political asylum in Britain. He then won a scholarship to study economics at St. John’s College, Cambridge. In 1945 Ion Ratiu married Elisabeth Pilkington in London. In 1975, he decided to devote all his energy to the pursuit of a free Romania, and he played a key role in setting up the World Union of Free Romanians, which elected him president at its first congress in Geneva (1984). 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, the failure to win the presidency was a grave disappointment. Even nowadays, on Romanian streets, Ion Ratiu is often referred to as the best president Romania never had. After a short illness, Ion Ratiu died in London on the 17th of January 2000, surrounded by his family. In accordance with his wishes, he was buried in January 2000 in his home town of Turda. His funeral was attended by over 10,000 people. We present below fragments from an interview on Radio Free Europe, 19 May 1986. Ion Ratiu was answering the questions of Vlad Georgescu, Free Europe’s director at the time. In addition to his other views on Romania’s situation and Soviet policies regarding it, Ion Ratiu explained what the World Union of Free Romanians stood for and what his vision for a future Romania was. “Immediately after the World Union of Free Romanians was established in 1984, we had the opportunity to act. Minister Gheorghe Oprea [n.n. from Ceausescu’s government] came to West Germany to perfect a commercial treaty. Our rapid intervention, appealing to all, from the German federal president to the Chancellor and the specialised ministers, was to point out that it would be a crime, from the West’s point of view, to accept food and other goods from Romania when considering that these goods are lacking or are rationed over there. The interesting part was that we had an immediate response. And when Ceausescu came to visit Bonn, we organised a public demonstration. When the Danube-Black Sea Channel was opened, we pointed out all the facts about this gigantesque endeavour, including its original purpose [n.n. as gulag for political opponents]. Also, when Romania took part in the Los Angeles Olympics, we came again to explain the situation over in Romania. We had the chance to show that Romanians perform magnificently despite the hardships in their country. In other words, whenever we had an occasion to do so, we intervened. In Ottawa, when the Helsinki treaties and agreements were verified last year [n.n. 1985], we brought about a petition to support the rights of 309 people from Romania we knew were persecuted. We always stand up for the Romanians who are persecuted by the government. This is our mission. We also liaise with the governments of the Free World, we take a stand in all important problems regarding Romania, and help individual Romanians. If we are able to act, we take action. [...] A political man needs to try and foresee the future. Otherwise, he is not a politician. I would not dare to say more than what I wish would happen in the future, what I would like to see happening. I see a free, independent country, in the sense of independence a country can have in the modern world. I would like to see a democratic country which would give all citizens equal rights, no matter what their nationality, ethnicity, social status or religion is. I would like to see a Christian country, and a country where social justice is put into practice. Private property should be restored and re-established. Economic development should be related to the actual resources, to the country’s natural wealth – this can give good results, since Romania has many resources. This is the way I foresee things.” In 1979, Ion and Elisabeth Ratiu established The Ratiu Foundation in London. The main objective of the Foundation is to promote and support projects which further education and research in the culture and history of Romania and its people. Projects, undertaken in Romania, are encouraged in different subjects, such as patrimony, civil society, democracy, civilisation and environment protection. The Foundation maintains offices in London, Turda and Bucharest. More details on