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România Libera
Diary of the December 1989 Romanian Revolution
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Romanian Revolution

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Diary of a Revolution

17 November 1989

In the city of Timisoara, a small group of faithful followers forms outside the home of a popular Calvinist pastor called Laszlo Tökes. He has long been a thorn in the side of the Securitate for his criticism of the Ceausescu regime and finally his bishop has called in the police to evict him from his church-owned home - he has refused to take up a new post in a less "sensitive" rural parish. This intervention provokes the initial demonstration and some reports suggest that a picket continues outside his house through the following weeks. 15 December has been set as the deadline for his departure

27 November 1989

Ceausescu defiantly denounces the political changes sweeping across Eastern Europe at the 14th Congress of the Romanian Communist Party. None of the 3308 members vote against his re-election. However, security is tight, flags are flying and for a while the borders are sealed and international flights cancelled. The atmosphere on the streets is tense and there are a number of isolated incidents of defiance. In Cluj there is a brief panic when the words "Down with Ceausescu" are written in the snow of Piata Libertatii one evening. There are other minor incidents and an unusual feeling of excitement and expectation which largely goes unreported.

1 December 1989

Famous gymnast, and Olympic gold medallist, Nadia Comaneci, arrives in New York after defecting from Romania.

15 December 1989

Back in Timisoara, the deadline arrives for Tökes to be evicted. His parisioners gather outside and sing psalms and read prayers.

16 December 1989

The crowd in front of the Reform Church in Piata Maria swells to several hundred people including women and children. They are being watched by Securitate and Militia. Petre Mot, the mayor arrives at about noon. He tries to assure Tökes that he will not be evicted that day and asks him to calm down the protestors. Tökes asks them to disperse but they refuse to move and the crowd continues to grow through the afternoon, the original core of Hungarian-speaking Calvinists now far outnumbered by ethnic Romanians and others, ordinary people of all ages. Some of the people go into the town, to the university campus and the industrial zones to spread the news and encourage others to join them. The first troops attack the protestors but cannot break the crowd, and arrests have have been made and the first shouts of "Down with Ceausescu" are being heard in the square. There are cars burning and windows broken, and the back streets are filled with securitate officers and armed militia. In the evening an even bigger crowd marches into town shouting anti-communist and anti-Ceausescu slogans for the first time and demanding democracy. Trams are stopped in front of the Continental Hotel whilst another group marches on the town hall and the Communist Party HQ, where windows are broken and a communist flag is destroyed. The city streets are filled with waves of demonstators. The regime has lost control of Timisoara but the Army and Securitate have not yet opened fire on the crowd, they had not anticipated the scale of the uprising. During the hours of darkness armoured cars and tanks gather near the Parcul Poporului then begin to stream into the town. Meanwhile, Tökes and his wife are arrested by the Securitate and held prisoner in a farmhouse in the countryside.

Romania Libera


Birthplace of the Revolution
- Piata Victoriei
- Reformed Church
- Stay in Ceausescu's Villa
- 1989 Memorial Museum
- Monuments of the Martyrs

- Palace of Parliament
- Piata Revolutiei
- National Library
- former Central Committee building
- Ghencea Cemetery


Memorial Sighet
(former Prison of the Ministers)

Doftana Prison near Ploiesti
Petrosani, Pitesti


Red Horizons (Ion Pacepa)
The Lost Footsteps (Silviu Craciunas)
Looking for George
Land of Green Plums (Herta Muller)
The Passport (Herta Muller)
Kiss the Hand you cannot Bite
(John Sweeney)
The Life & Evil Times of
Nicolae Ceausescu (Edward Behr)
Stealing from a Depp Place (Brian Hall)
Once upon Another Time
(Jessica Douglas-Home)
In Another Europe (Georgina Harding)
The Long Shadows (Alan Brownjohn)
Theft of a Nation (Tom Gallagher)

Several titles are also available in
the Romanian Language


22 December 1989

17 December 1989

By morning the city looks like a warzone with broken windows hurriedly being repaired. The factories around Timisoara go on strike and the demonstrations continue. Ceausescu becomes aware of the situation and the failure of the army to act decisively. He calls a meeting of the Politburo, launches a scathing attack on the defence minister (General Milea) and chief of Securitate ( General Vlad) and threatens to dismiss them. Finally, after receiving a pledge that the army will shoot to kill, he embarks on a State visit to Iran, confident that the situation has been contained. Elena takes control. It should be noted that Ceausescu still does not realise that HE is the target of the demonstrations - he believes that they are the result of foreign spies and agents trying to destabilise the country - for many years he has been only fed with what he wants to hear!

Representatives with an order to shoot from Ceausescu himself arrive in Timisoara that afternoon. A large crowd has gathered in front of the Opera House which in time will fill the square - Piata Operei (now Piata Victoriei). Part heads to the administration offices andCommunist Party HQ to demand dalogue. Windows and doors are broken and the crowd enters, destroying files and throwing portraits of Ceausescu and Communist literature onto a bonfire they have made in the street. A shout goes up when a flag appears with a hole in the centre where the communist logo has been torn out - the Revolution has a symbol. At 17:00 water cannons and tear gas are used against the people, tanks and APD's enter the streets and the shooting begins at about 18:00. They fire indiscriminately into the crowd. Demonstrators fight back trying to block the tracks of the tanks and building barricades. Some are run over by tanks, others are shot, and many are arrested and beaten. The securitate begin to shoot at windows, balconies and staircases. This was the watershed of the Revolution - differentiating it from previous demonstrations such as strikes in the Jiu valley and the 1987 roits in Brasov. News spreads quickly, especially by foreign TV and radio transmissions from neighbouring countries. The scale of the massacre becomes more and more exaggerated with reports of up to 60,000 dead in Timisoara. The borders are closed so frustrated reporters cannot verify anything (actual figures later published were 97 dead and 210 injured in total).

18-20 December 1989

In Timisoara on the morning of 18 December people are asking for their dead or wounded. The city is occupied by troops forming cordons round sensitive buildings or walking in patrols lead by uniformed and plain clothes Securitate officers. The crowd of demonstrators in Piata Victoriei (between the orthodox cathedral and opera) is also growing, as is the number of securitate and militia dressed in civilian clothes. As the shooting starts again many people seek refuge in the park or the cathedral. A group of children sheltering on the steps of the cathedral are shot at from a passing vehicle and several die. Others are shot by armoured cars as they try to escape, or are brutally beaten. Other demonstrators building a barricade on the bridge are shot at. A young woman and child are hit by bullets and fall to their deaths in the river Bega.

Confusion about what is happening in Romania reigns in the West. The Romanian embassy in London are being elusive but advise that there are new visa requirements which require a delay of at least 20 days. Press reports liken Timisoara to the Tienamen Square massacre while fresh riots in Cluj and Iasi are reported. A crowd of some 50,000 in Timisoara continues to demand Ceausescu's resignation. One rumour broadcast by the BBC suggests that the workers at the Solventul petro-chemical complex have delivered an ultimatum to the military to leave by 15:00 or the plant will be blown up.

In order to cover their tracks the authorities order all bodies to be taken from the local hospital on the night of 18 December. They are transported in secret to Bucharest where they are burnt! Others had been buried in secret in the paupers' cemetery. Relatives are advised they must have escaped across the borders.

On the morning of 20 December a General strike is called and all workers march into town carrying revolutionary flags. Some climb onto the armoured cars and much of the military now joins them. A committee is created which makes the following demands from the authorities, the "Timisoara Proclamation": Resignation of the Government and Ceausescu, Free Elections, Investigation into the suppression of demonstrations in Timisoara, Criminal Court to try those that ordered the shooting, Release of all Political Prisoners, Families of victims to be given their dead relatives for Christian burial, Ceausescu to appear on TV to announce what had happened in Timisoara, Freedom of the Press, Teaching Reform. In front of 150,000 people Timisoara is proclaimed the first free town in Romania. The army withdraws and refuses to shoot even when Ceausescu returns from Iran and orders an immediate crackdown in the city. He decides to make a direct appeal to the people that evening. He talks of "international and terrorist actions by imperialist circles and foreign espionage agencies" designed to "provoke disorder and destroy the institutions" of the country. He ranted and rambled on praising the army for defending the homeland and suggested that no more than 10 people had been killed. Nobody was fooled. For the first time he was seen as weak and his admission enabled people to read between the lines - there was light at the end of the tunnel!

That night, workers from the main towns of Otenia (Craiova, Calafat, Caracal, Târgo Jiu etc) are taken from their jobs, dressed in the uniforms of the Patriotic Guards, and sent by special trains to Timisoara to stop the movement of the so-called "Hungarian Hooligans". These armed and hungry people arrive on the morning of 21 December and are welcomed at the Nord station by demonstrators, who feed them, and show them the truth of what is happening. Many return to Oltenia to spread the truth of the Revolution.

Meanwhile, the people of Lugoj rose against the communist system in support of Timisoara. Subsequently there were sporadic anti-Ceausescu riots in Arad, Cluj, Sibiu and Brasov. In all cases the authorities opened fire and there were casualties. Other cities followed.

21 December 1989

Ceausescu organises a rally as a massive show of support in the Piata Republicii in front of the Central Commitee Building. 100,000 supposedly loyal workers are bussed from their workplaces with banners and placards to hear Ceausescu speak, the tape recorders are set to blast out the chants and Party songs. Such stage-managed public rallies were once commonplace. However, shortly after he begins to speak, shouts of "Timisoara" begin to rise from the back of the crowd, the protest becoming louder with jeers, boos and whistles. Ceausescu hesitated but continued for a while. Now banners were being ripped up too. He slowly comes to a stop, losing his moment and waves. Confusion reigns on the balcony where Ceausescu is still being filmed. The live TV broadcast is cut but it is too late ... The "Conducator" who is whisked inside has appeared weak and vulnerable before the entire nation ... he is no longer an object of fear. The TV broadcast resumes showing the dictator now being applauded by the faithful. He rants on offering wage increases in desperation but people begin to walk away. However, the crowds in the city grow as more amd more people leave their homes and head into the streets burning posters and photographs of the dictator, overturning cars and chanting "Timisoara". Tear gas was was fired into the Piata Universitatii where many of the demonstrators were gathering but they just kept coming, ignoring the intimidating presence of tanks. Police, Securitate and the Army open fire on the crowds, the shooting continuing throughout the night, but the people returned in even greater numbers in the morning.

21 December 1989

Ceausescu has the Minister of Defence shot for not obeying his order for the Army to quell the uprising. Radio Bucuresti announces that Milea is a traitor and has committed suicide. Army units had already begun to defect to the side of the protesters as soldiers realised that Ceausescu is not worth killing for and now officers joined them. The cry "The Army is with us" resounds around the city. A disillusioned Ceausescu emerged once more on the balcony of the Central Committee building with a loud hailer and immediately became a focus for the rage of the crowd who stormed the building. Ceausescu, his wife, and entourage just manage to escape in an overloaded helicopter from the roof. The pilot takes them first to their villa in Snagov where Ceausescu makes a number of calls, still believing he can regroup and launch a counter revolution, They set out again for a military base at Titu but the pilot lands by a road short of the base claiming there is a problem with the aircraft because it was overloaded. A car is requisitioned and what remains of the party finally reaches Targoviste. The couple finally end up in an army barracks where they are turned over and detained.

Meanwhile, Securitate troops still loyal to Ceausescu continue to shoot at the demonstrators but the represenatives of the "Revolution" are already speaking from the balcony where Ceausescu had once stood and the television station is taken over and begins to broadcast that Ceausescu has been overturned. There are demonstrations in other cities, some of them peaceful, others such as Sibiu, more violent with opposition from the Securitate. Snipers continue to fire through the night leading to rumours that Ceausescu has released specially trained troops from other countries. Until it is announced that he has been captured there are rumours that he has fled to Iran or North Korea.

The Romanian tricolour with the despised communist insignia ripped from the centre quickly became the symbol of the "Revolution"

22-24 December 1989

An interim government of former dissidents, outspoken writers and poets emerges. It appears that this organisation, the National Salvation Front, headed by Ion Iliescu and Petre Roman, had been waiting for its moment and is accused of hijacking the Revolution. Later, many of the initial founders abandon it as being unrepresentative of a free Romania and containing too many Communists. Nevertheless, the party won free elections and stayed in power until 1996.

The fighting with the Securitate continued despite the news that Ceausescu had been captured,

25 December 1989

Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu are tried by a court set up by the newly created National Salvation Front. It lasts 55 minutes during which time the accused refuse to acknowledge it and are sentenced to death. They are taken outside and shot by a firing squad. Despite the trial being a farce and the outcome already decided most Romanians believe it was necessary to calm the situation in the country. The gunfire eases though the atmosphere remains tense for a couple of weeks and there are still sporadic outbursts as Securitate snipers continiue to be hunted down.

Useful Media Links: Romanian Revolution on YouTube

Click on the following links to view some very interesting footage on YouTube from and about the Romanian Revolution.
Note that some are in Romanian, some are amateur footage of events as they actually unfolded.
These are genuine footage of actual event so you may find some scenes disturbing:

Revolution in Timisoara - Footage from the beginning of the Revolution - Tiimisoara cathedral, 16.12.1989
Radio Free Europe - Early footage of the Revoluion in Timisoara with Radio Free Europe report
Revolution in Timisoara - Footage of events unfolding in Timisoara on 20.12.1989 - General strike and demands of the Timisoara Proclamation
Ceausescu's Final Speech - Nicolae Ceausescu's infamous last speech from the balcony of the Central Committee Building (Bucharest, 21.12.1989)
Operei Square Timisoara - footage from the opera balcony of the speeches and the crowds and torn tricolours on Piata Operei (now Piata Victoriei - 22.12.1989
Romanian Revolution Images - excellent selection of images charting the Romanaian Revolution
Tribute to the Romanian Revolution - summarty of the Revolution; nice aeriel views of Timisoara plus original footage
20th Anniversary - Report on the anniversary of the Revolution by ProTV 17.12.2009 - nice footage (Romanian)

The Aftermath

By mid January Romania had completely changed: the fear and paranoia had evaporated and there was joy, jubilation and celebration. Overnight the people had discovered the freedom of speech. However, much of the euphoria was short-lived as talk about a conspiracy became rife, and Iliescu was quickly elected in what was a completely rigged electoion. When students began to demonstrate against what they saw as a new pseudo-communist government, Iliescu invited his miners to town ... the so called 'Mineriade' ... they rampaged through Bucharest as thugs beating up anybody opposed to the Government. Prior to the election there had been calls by dissidents for any new government to adhere to the sensible demands set out n a document which was presented to the people in December 1989 as the Revolution raged in Timisoara. This simple document. the 'Timisoara Proclamation' eas published and posted before the elections, but even 21 years later much of it has been ignored by successive governments still manipulated by former Communists, So much for Democracy. Romania was once again shunned by the West and aid suspended, heralding the start of another dark era.

The result was extremely slow progress, especially when compared to other former Eastern Bloc countries, until the late 1990s when Constantinescu gained power and privatisation was accelerated. Iliescu and his neo-communist allies returned and there were even more reports of corruption and nepotism, while inflation rose once again. The EU and USA warned Romania about corruption but while the former communists clung on to power, and the gulf between the very rich few and considerably less fortunate majority continued to widen, the future seemed uncertain.

New Millennium: Dissillusionment, Corruption, Greed and the EU

The repression of the Ceausescu years not only affected the economy and infrastructure or Romania, but also the pysche of its population who came to accept that resistance to the Party and regime was futile. These attitudes do not fade overnight and resulted in a tolerance to corruption and acceptance of a party still ruled by old communists,
in particular on a local level where the PSD party "barons" still wielded considerable power and control until the 2004 elections. The SRI, the former Securitate, was very much active and dis-information was rife, particularly on state owned TV channel TVR1. An example was the much touted "Dracula Park" - a grandiose theme park project which was promoted heavily on television with daily announcements of prestigious western investors and even the support of Greenpeace. The investors didn't exist so state workers received shares in lieu of Christmas bonuses ... and Greenpeace? Well the "real" Greenpeace threatened legal action against the phantom "Greenpeace Romania" which counted among its members the prime minister! The Press was supposedly "free" though the State could control ink supplies and by early 2002 was proposing a bill to curb its powers in the wake of a series of anonymous reports entitled "Armageddon" which exposed specific examples of serious corruption and asked questions of certain ministers and their business interests. In December 2003, there was a demonstration in Timisoara by journailists following the beating up of one of their more outspoken colleagues and the earlier arrests of others. However, there had been selected progress with regards to the trials of various individuals, though very few at a high level, by the National Corruption Tribunal. Indeed, a special corruption hotline was created, theoretically enabling anybody to shop anybody else! There are still many questions to be answered.

Romania embraced the free market, in anticipation of EU entry in 2007, though many of the so-called reforms had been little more than lip service. They were warned in February 2004 that EU entry was in serious jeopary if certain steps were not taken to create an judiciary entirely free of government, and to address serious concerns regarding corruption and freedom of the press. The EU declared in October 2004 that Romanian has a functioning market economy, However, there were serious clauses regarding corruption and freedom/ independence of the press and the judiciary. On the day that this was announced a further two journalists were beaten up in the county of Vâlcea! Elections in November 2004 saw the ruling PSD (former communists) actively spreading propaganda and doing everything they could to hang on to power ... many were already saying publicly that these were the last dying throes of the "Old Guard".

The result in the presidential elections was a victory for the former mayor of Bucharest, Traian Basescu, leader of the coalition DA party, combining the liberals (PNL) and Democrats (PD). Despite the PSD holding the majority seats and received support from other parties to create a government and to inaugurate serious investigations into the former ruling elite in an attempt to bring in reforms and stamp down on corruption. It is still very early to say what is likely to happen but there had been cases of politicians and businessmen being arrested and exposed - for example the Chief of Police of Bucharest was asked to resign since it was exposed that he was responsible for burning the bodies of revolutionaries from Timisoara. However, most cases have to date been relatively minor and so far there have been no trials of major players in either national or local government. The degree of corruption varies in Romania - it doesn't require much intelligence to recognise that the amount of progress and investment in western cities such as Timisoara or Sibiu is in stark contrast to that further east (Vaslui, Botosani, Iasi etc) where corruption among local officials is rife and the only signs of change are often the number of lavish villas or expensive cars! A visitor to Iasi in 2005 reported, " Iasi has become a rather dirty neglected city, with huge potholes in the streets, beggars, beaten-up buses and trams and general neglect. On the other hand there seems to be no shortage of expensive cars and large new villas are springing up, particularly out in the desirable suburbs. It seems to be a case of private affluence and public squalor." In 2007 it was reported that all grants to a local hospital were being siphoned off ... no surprise there! There are signs of enormous cover ups over the last 15 years and as the truth begins to emerge it is hoped that the trickle will become a flood. Time will tell! However, for the time being Romania has still to embrace this issue, protests from western diplomats and politicians are increasing, and despite finally being accepted an a member of the EU, with Bulgaria, from January 2007 there are serious issues to be addressed. All efforts were being made at trhe time of EU accession to make the National Corruption Tribunal (DNA) fully independent enabling trials to commence charging the former prime minister Adrian Nastase, who has acquired considerable wealth and property, the former transport minister Miron Mitrea, and even the former President Ion Iliescu who still has a lot to explain about the events of the 1989 Revolution, and in particular the way in which it now appeared to have been spectacularly hijacked and for bringing in the miners to suppress democracy and as a consequence putting back the development of the country by as much as a decade.

The DA Alliance collapsed when the prime minister and Liberal leader, Calin Tariceanu joined the PSD and the ultranationalist PM in calling for the resignation of Basescu. Their objections were blatantly obvious to anybody: 1. Basescu's continued fight against corruption which will implicate many members of parliament (putting at risk the vast wealth they have acquired), 2. Basescu's request for Securitate files to be made public, 3. A declaration made by Basescu condemning the former Communist regime and finally acknowledging it's faults. There have already been calls by intellectuals and teachers against the overthrow of Basescu, and demonstations in hs support during April 2007. He is the most popular post revolution president and the only one who has actually begun to tackle the problems facing the country. Public support for the PSD and their cronies is limited to those who benefit from a corrupt regime, and does not embrace the vast majority of people who are seeing their optimism ar Romania joining the EU quashed. However, Tariceanu managed to reshuffle the government on 3 April with support from the former Communists and various shady characters implicated in ongoing corruption scandals effectively pushing out the Democrats. Even the Justice Minister Monica Macovei was removed despite her campaign to fight corruption having been at the forefront of reasons for Romania's accession to the EU. The government by then was no longer that voted in by the people, the President is still under serious threat along with democracy.

The EU didn't force sanctions in 2007 despite making another plea for corruption to be tackled. Sadly, without pressure the rich get richer, the poorer get poorer; those that want a better life continue to leave the country in droves while Romania risks becoming a laughing stock abroad. Basescu survived a vote to suspend him by calling a public vote. Despite large public demonstrations in his support the government is still ruled by former communists and the parties which now no longer represent the people or the country. In July 2007Adrian Nastase escaped once more from being found guilty of corruption and has even declared that he will be the future president - echoes of the past, echoes of a Banana Republic. The EU was already accused of a cover up before reporting back on progress with tackling corruption - it seems the EU are still reluctant to admit that it allowed accession too early and that Romania is now backsliding to such an extent that it is back where it was in 2003. See: ECONOMIST (03.07.2008). The EU have applied further pressure and sanctions could be introduced in the future if there has been no progress on high level corruption cases such as those against Nastase and Mitrea, The 2008 parliamentary election (30.11.2008) resulted in a near dead heat between the PSD (former Communists) and Democrats leading to a coalition government lead by Emil Boc. Basescu declared at the time that he couldn't understand how the populace had voted so many 'bad' people into power. The people of Romania still seem to be incapable of shaking off their murky past, even 21 years after the so-called Revolution. The economic downtown that has hist much of Europe during 2009 and 2010 has also affected Romania and particularly those that had relied on credit during the good times. Unpopular economic reforns have taken precedence over other reforms and it appears there may be little more than lip service regarding corruption trials, despitet the pleas from inside and out of the country. Ceausescu must be laughing in his grave! The BBC reported on the 20th anniversary of the Revolution that 99% of the wealthiest Romanian are all ex Party Members, while more recently Germany and France have threatened to block Schengen agreements with Romania inside the EU due to lack of progress regarding corruption and everything that goes with it. The Romanians are furious, and alredy blaming Hungary as the new agreements are set to approved during their term of EU presidency (Early 2011). The argument is one of whether a Romanian customs post could be trusted with guarding the Eastern borders of the EU and whether officials would be vulnerable to bribes. There are still a lot of people out there with a lot of dirty washing to cover up so a 'blame it on the Hungarians' smokescreen would be convenient . These arguments are likely to keep resurfacing until the demands about former Communists set by the Timisoara Proclamation have been answered and politicians such as Iliescu and others that allegedly hijacked the 1989 Revolution for their personal gain have been brought to justice. Meanwhile they continue to spread the myth that everything pre 1989 was down to Ceausescu and because he is dead everything has changed!

For up to date press reports please refer to the Romanian
HOTNEWS which also has links to Romanian newspapers such as Evenimentul Zilei, Ziua or Romania Libera
CLICK HERE for a recent documentary clip about corruption in Romania

UPDATE 2014 - as the 25th Anniversary approaches it appears that little has changed in political circles. Names of parties change, and key players change but despite EU membership they continue to vote for immunity against prosecution for what happened before 1989, while corruption is still rife. Time will tell but sadly, it seems that the comments made by Bismarck about Romanians a century ago still ring true with regards to a large section of the political elite!

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