Childhood & Early Life
Ion Iliescu was born on 3 March 1930 in Oltenița, Călărași, Romania, to Alexandru Iliescu. His father was a railroad worker with Communist views who went to the Soviet Union to take part in the Communist Party Congress of Moscow when Ion was a small child. He was arrested upon his return.
He attended the Industrial Polizu High School, Spiru Haret High School and Sfantul Sava High School. Inheriting his father’s passion for communism, he joined the Union of Communist Youth in 1944.
Iliescu studied fluid mechanics at the Bucharest Polytechnic Institute and was accepted as a foreign student at the Energy Institute of the Moscow University.
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He began working as a designer engineer at the Energy Engineering Institute in Bucharest in 1955. He was also active in politics during this period, having joined the Communist Party in 1953. He founded the Union of College Students’ Associations of Romania in 1956.
He was a protégé of the powerful communist politician Nicolae Ceaușescu and greatly benefitted when Ceaușescu was elected the party general secretary in 1965. Iliescu became a member of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party the same year.
Over the ensuing years he gained considerable power within the Romanian Communist Party and at one point of time he served as the head of the Central Committee's Department of Propaganda. From 1967-71, he was the Minister for Youth-related Issues.
Iliescu’s rising political stature, however, disturbed Ceaușescu who started feeling threatened. By 1971, Ceaușescu began marginalizing Iliescu who was by now being viewed as his heir apparent.
In 1974, Ceaușescu became the President of Romania. During this time, Iliescu was made the president of the Iași Council. By this time he had fallen out of favor with Ceaușescu who divested Iliescu of all major responsibilities. When Iliescu started opposing the president’s increasingly harsh rule, he was expelled from the Central Committee in 1984.
The late 1980s marked a very tumultuous period in Romanian history. The Romanian Revolution began in 1989 in which Iliescu played a leading role. The violent revolution overthrew Ceaușescu’s government following which he was arrested and executed.
After the revolution, a political organization National Salvation Front (FSN) was formed which became the governing body of Romania. Iliescu was made the leader of the organization, and the acting President of Romania on 22 December 1989. The following year, he became Romania's first freely elected head of state after winning the 1990 election.
A new constitution was formed in 1991, and the following year he was re-elected to presidency. In 1992, Iliescu and many other members left the FSN and created the Democratic National Salvation Front (FDSN), which eventually developed to the current Social Democratic Party (PSD).
Even though he received much support as a revolutionary during the beginning of his term, his popularity began to wane as he was unable to bring about an atmosphere of economic and political stability. He lost the 1996 elections.
He still remained active in politics and authored several books during the 1990s including ‘Revolution and Reform’ (1993), ‘The Revolution as I Lived It’ (1995), ‘Moments of History’ (1996), ‘Political Life between Violence and Dialogue’ (1998), and ‘Whereto, Romanian Society?’ (1999).
He ran again in the 2000 presidential election and won against Corneliu Vadim Tudor. During his second term he was able to gain entry for Romania into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. His term as the president ended on 20 December 2004.
His presidency was marred by several scandals including allegations of connection with KGB, the main security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 until its break-up in 1991. He was also criticized for pardoning several criminals convicted for corruption or other economic crimes.