Rewriting the Revolution (1997): Chapter 8 , “Unsolving” December
Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on April 7, 2009
In the last chapter, we analyzed how media and political elites in post-Ceausescu Romania have dealt with the question of the “terrorists’” existence.This revealed the tremendous extent of convergence between Securitate and opposition accounts, in fact the degree to which opposition accounts mirror the Securitate’s revisionist and false history of those events.This illustrates the Securitate’s enduring institutional interest in the December events in spite of its post-Ceausescu fragmentation and its enduring ability to influence the behavior of political and civil society elites in the post-authoritarian era.The roots of this lingering and problematic influence lie, as we have seen, in the institutional role of the Securitate in the Ceausescu regime.
In this chapter, we turn to the question of the identity of the “terrorists” rather than merely the question of their existence.We will examine whom domestic and foreign observers believed to be the “terrorists” during and immediately after the events.We will then ask whether or not these original suspicions have been corroborated during the post-Ceausescu era.Finally, we will turn to a much overlooked clue to figuring out the identity of the “terrorists”:the available ballistics’ evidence they left behind.
The significance of the “terrorist” issue for understanding the Romanian transition can be seen in the impact of this issue upon the analysis of other key aspects of the December events:the role played by disinformation, the character of the destruction left by the events, and the circumstances surrounding the trial and execution of the Ceausescus.These three elements have been chosen in part because it is the current understanding of these issues which appears to have most encouraged non-country specialists to accept revisionist views of the Revolution.For example, Linz and Stepan discuss all three of these issues and the issues appear to play some role in encouraging them to countenance the idea that the December events included “an element of staged counter-revolution” and that “of all the narratives, that of the scripted revolution allows the fewest ambiguities and contradictions.”Therefore, it is important to tackle the myth and disinformation which has come to permeate coverage of these three questions.
Who Were the “Terrorists?”:Evidence at the Time
During and immediately after the December 1989 events, observers both inside and outside Romania had little doubt that the “terrorists” existed or that they were members of the Securitate.On 24 December 1989 while the “terrorist” offensive was still raging in Romania, a former Securitate officer who had defected to the United States earlier that summer told the New York Times that he suspected the “terrorists” were men of the Securitate’s Fifth Directorate (numbering between 1,000 and 1,500 men), and its closely-affiliated, special anti-terrorist unit, the USLA (numbering approximately 1,000 men).He described them as exceptionally well-trained and well-equipped, but also–as the numbers he used suggest–relatively small in number.On 30 December 1989, the Washington Post cited an unnamed Western diplomat who maintained that the chaos and death had been caused by that part of the Securitate which had not given up after the flight of the Ceausescus:what he referred to as the approximately 2,000 men of the USLA and Fifth Directorate.In December 1989, outsiders thus had a reasonably clear idea of who the “terrorists” were.
Equally important, we have indications that inside Romania suspicions turned towards the Fifth Directorate, and especially the USLA, while the fighting was still in progress.As we saw in chapter seven, in his televised statement on the evening of 22 December, Army General Tudor specifically identified the “terrorists” as the Securitate’s “anti-terrorist troops.”Interior Minister Tudor Postelnicu, who was arrested in the CC building that same evening, is quoted as having responded to the question of who was shooting:“Who do you think?The USLA!”Mihai Montanu, a former Front member involved in many of the key events during these days, has alleged in the pages of the Ceausist Europa that Brucan and Militaru are responsible for the loss of life during this period:“In the context of the general chaos, these two insisted that the terrorists could only be from the USLA and Fifth Directorate.”Former Securitate officers have made the following accusation:“[Militaru] had a criminal contribution in placing the DSS [i.e. the Securitate] outside the law, twice giving the order for the personnel of the former Fifth Directorate and USLA to be executed for so-called ‘terrorist activities.’”The historical reference conjured up by the former Securitate in this regard is telling of their anti-Soviet obsession:they accuse Militaru of having wanted to perpetrate another “Katyn.”
Comments by regime officials during January 1990 about those suspected of being the “terrorists” and those who had been arrested as “terrorists” also suggest that those to whom they were referring were members of the Fifth Directorate and USLA.When the new Interior Minister, (Army) General Mihai Chitac announced that 800 Ceausescu loyalists had been arrested, he referred to the actions of “special units.”On 19 January 1990, Deputy Prosecutor General, Army General Gheorghe Diaconescu, drew a distinction–similar to that drawn by General Tudor in his televised statement on 22 December–between different components of the Securitate:
Securitate units have nothing in common and cannot be confused with those special [emphasis added] security forces and terrorist elements secretly trained by the dictator…, who were used as urban guerillas and who took action against the Romanian people during the revolution.This can be proved conclusively by the fact that these other units sided from the beginning with the revolution.
During this same month, Anton Socaciu, the military prosecutor investigating the bloodshed in the central Transylvanian town of Sibiu–which had been the fiefdom of Ceausescu’s son Nicu, “the little prince”–affirmed that those who had fired in Sibiu were “USLA men” brought to Sibiu by plane on 20 December at Nicu’s request.Ironically, Nicu Ceausescu himself supplied confirmation for Socaciu’s initial charges in a June 1990 interview in which he contrasted the different phases of his court case:
Therefore, during the first part of the judicial inquest, they were from the Interior Ministry.After that, during the second phase of the judicial inquest, when the USLA and those from the Interior Ministry began to pass ‘into the shadows’ so-to-speak…they turned out to be everyday people.
Cryptically, in the same interview Nicu related how on the evening of 20 December after the plane from Bucharest had arrived in Sibiu, he–the party secretary of Sibiu!–was solicited to “find lodging for a group of tourists”!
Indicative of the degree to which the climate changed during 1990 are the contradictory comments of Socaciu’s successor as prosecutor in the Sibiu case, Marian Valer, in September 1990:
During the December 1989 events in Sibiu, the Army found a map of Securitate safehouses located around the military units in the city, in which Securitate personnel were to be placed in order to act against the Army in the event that the Army defected from the Ceausescu regime.Based on the investigations carried out, it has been established that military units were fired upon from these safehouses beginning on the afternoon of 22 December after the overturning of the Ceausescu regime….[T]here were many Soviet tourists staying in the hotels in the center of Sibiu….I’ll mention that from these respective hotels the demonstrators and Army were fired upon….As concerns the unidentified passengers [who arrived by plane from Bucharest on 20 December], I believe there are two possible versions, either they were USLA fighters sent to aid Nicu Ceausescu, or they were Soviet agents sent to act in the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime [emphasis added].
Significantly, Interior Minister Tudor Postelnicu admitted at his trial in January 1990 that on 20 December Nicu Ceausescu had phoned him requesting “’some troops’” and that he had announced Securitate Director Vlad of this request.
Evidence Since December 1989
Since December 1989, three former Front officials who played critical roles during the December events–Silviu Brucan, General Nicolae Militaru, and Dumitru Mazilu–have maintained that the “terrorists” did indeed exist and that they were members of the Securitate.It is important to point out that all three were marginalized from the new regime soon after the December events:Mazilu was hounded out of the leadership of the National Salvation Front in late January 1990, Brucan was forced to resign in early February, and Militaru was replaced as Defense Minister in mid-February 1990.It is also important to note that between Mazilu on the one hand, and Brucan and Militaru on the other, there has been genuine and continuous animosity since December 1989.They agree on very little ideologically or politically.Nevertheless, they have remarkably similar things to say about the “terrorists.”
The first specific revelations concerning the identity of the “terrorists” came in a celebrated interview with Brucan and Militaru which appeared in the pro-Front daily Adevarul on 23 August 1990.Although Brucan had publicly declared in January 1990 that the “terrorists” were Securitate members, he had not specifically identified which units they came from.In this new interview, Brucan and Militaru argued that four special units of the Securitate (numbering approximately 4,000 men in total) had been trained as snipers:the USLA (800), the Fifth Directorate (450), the Bucharest Municipal Securitate (600), and the Securitate’s Baneasa military academy headed by Ceausescu’s brother General Nicolae Andruta Ceausescu (2,000).According to Brucan:
all these snipers [were] trained in the techniques of urban guerilla warfare and equipped with the most modern types of submachine guns (with infrared sights), which explains why they acted only at night.
Asked whether it was safe to assume that not all of the 4,000 men trained in such tactics had taken part in the “terrorist” activities of December, Militaru suggested that it was difficult to state with certainty how many of them had actually participated.However, Militaru added:
What is certain is that, from the very first moments, these people acted in accordance with a pre-arranged plan for the event of a popular uprising, a plan which entailed securing the main strategic units (including the surrounding buildings where they should deploy their guns), the civilian and military means of communication and transportation, ammunition depots, and various meeting places, including the underground tunnels, which they could enter or leave with great mobility.Some officers had two identities and keys to two apartments with supplies of food, civilian clothes, ammunition, and so forth.They were called terrorists because in the evening of 22 December they occupied positions in the buildings surrounding the party Central Committee, the Radio and Television, the Ministry of National Defense, and so forth, from where they shot indiscriminately into soldiers and civilians alike and, in some cases, tried to enter the Television headquarters, the Ministry of Defense, and other buildings.
Thus, Brucan and Militaru were confirming that the initial suspicions about the identity of the “terrorists” were correct.
Silviu Brucan returned to give another interview to Adevarul on 21 December 1990, because, as he argued, in the meantime he had come into possession of Interior Ministry Order No. 2600 from 1988.As he pointed out, although the document had been invoked by the military prosecutors at many of the trials during 1990, this would be the first time the public would learn of its contents.Brucan thus now suggested that there was documentary evidence to confirm the existence and actions of the Securitate “terrorists” in December 1989, and he highlighted the role accorded to the USLA by the document.
In 1991, Dumitru Mazilu, who had sought exile in Switzerland the previous year, published excerpts from his memoirs.Mazilu has few kind words for his former Front compatriots, Brucan and Militaru.Nevertheless, Mazilu claims that during the events, “at least seven times they were informed that the ‘Guarding Directorate’ [the Fifth Directorate] had been trained in guerilla warfare.”Mazilu elaborates:
From the evening of 22 December it turned out that the units and soldiers who continued to shoot in the population belonged to the Interior Ministry….this is confirmed by the following findings:
a) the places from which the population was shot belonged to the Interior Ministry with certainty (as in the case of the Central University Library, which belonged to Ceausescu’s Guarding Directorate) or with probability (the apartments of the building across from the work offices of the tyrant; the apartments in the vicinity of the villas of Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu, as well as those near objects of strategic or political importance, such as the Defense Ministry, Romanian Television and Radio, etc.);
b) the use of special equipment, especially simulators, specific actions of guerilla warfare in order to confuse the revolting population;
c) the actions of snipers with nightscopes around objects of major interest from the inside of neighboring buildings, where the access to other persons was almost non-existent;
d) the organization of commando actions, such as what happened at the command post of the Central Committee building on the night of 23/24 December when many suspects were found with four or five identity cards on them–a procedure used by the Interior Ministry.
Mazilu’s allegations are thus remarkably familiar.
Since these initial revelations, General Militaru in particular has reiterated and expanded upon the allegations concerning the significance of Order No. 2600 and the central role of the USLA.In December 1992, Nicolae Militaru was asked if the “terrorism” of December was part of a plan to counter the revolution and he responded:
There is no doubt about it.After the events of Brasov in 1987–in June 1988–Order 002600 was decreed.In this order, it was specified exactly how to organize a response to any unrest which were to take place on Romanian territory.Plans of this nature were drawn up in every county as well:which forces were to take part, who was to coordinate them, what objectives they were to watch over.You know, that one of the objectives of these plans was the army.The army had to be neutralized.
In this same interview, when asked if he did not know who the “terrorists” were, Militaru replied defiantly and unambiguously:“On the contrary, we know [well].They were USLA men–in their entirety.”Testifying at a trial in May 1995, Militaru maintained that the significance of Order 2600 had first been related to him by Dumitru Ion Pavelescu, deputy commander of the uniformed Securitate troops in December 1989.Significantly, General Militaru observed in his testimony that “only the Interior Ministry was equipped with the special weapons with which the majority of people were killed after 22 December.”
What the Ballistics’ Evidence Tells Us
Indeed, perhaps the easiest and best way to solve the controversies of whether the “terrorists” existed at all, and who they were, is to examine the available ballistics’ evidence.If, for example, the “terrorists” used an unusual caliber of ammunition, the ballistics’ evidence might serve as something of a “calling card.”Had the Romanian judicial system (including the military courts) or the Romanian media made any concerted attempt to piece together the various evidence on the ballistics’ question, it is doubtful that today there would be so much controversy surrounding the very existence of the “terrorists” and their identity.
In February 1991, in the course of his trial, former Securitate Director Iulian Vlad made the following important, if easily neglected statement:“The Securitate had the same weapons as the Army, [but] only the Fifth Directorate and the USLA possessed some Stecikin semi-automatic weapons [emphasis added].”Earlier that same month, Tudor Artenie, a journalist at Romania Libera, had quoted from a training notebook of the Fifth Directorate (dated 15 March 1989) which described the characteristics of these Stecikin (also spelled Stetikin) guns.According to the manual, the Stecikin guns were of a 9 mm caliber.Artenie described the Stecikin gun as
…a gun of whose characteristics we remember from the days and nights of the revolution, during which were clearly heard the [distinctive] rattlings–having a less frequent cadence than a machine gun and emitting a sound more stifled than that of a machine gun–of an unknown weapon.
Artenie asked:“…aren’t the immense quantities of reddened shell casings found in the places where the so-called terrorists were suspected of shooting from not somehow identical to those used for STETIKIN guns?”
It is interesting to compare this information with some first-hand accounts on the December events, touched upon in the preceding chapter.In March 1990, Dr. Sergiu Tanasescu told a reporter that one of the first Securitate officers he came across in the building was a major (likely of the Fifth Directorate) caught changing into civilian clothes, armed with a “‘Stecikin’ 9 mm caliber rifle with 20 cartridges.”In its report on the deaths of its students outside the Defense Ministry on the night of 22/23 December, a commission of the Military’s Technical Academy noted that the students had been shot by sophisticated equipment designed for night-shooting.According to Army Major Mihai Floca and Captain Victor Stoica, on the morning of 23 December a bullet removed from one of the deceased students killed by sniper-fire was of a “9 mm caliber, a bullet unfamiliar until then to military personnel.”Interviewed in a different context about the incident in which the seven USLA officers were killed the following night at the Defense Ministry, Army Captain Gheorghe Tanase maintained that inside the USLA vehicles Army troops found short-barreled machines guns with twenty cartridges, 9 mm guns, and infrared nightscopes, objects which he described as “absolutely new to us.”Thus, there is evidence both that the Fifth Directorate and USLA were the sole possessors of this 9 mm Stecikin weapon prior to the events and that such guns were used during the events.
The 9 mm bullet was not the only unfamiliar bullet found during the events.The so-called “vidia” or “grooved” bullets of a 5.5/5.6 mm caliber were also used.Asked in March 1991 about the ammunition used by the “terrorists” against the Army, then Defense Minister General Stanculescu made the following unexpected and almost coy admission to the reporters:
…I have here two bullets with vidia [grooves].Our Army does not use this type of ammunition.It is of caliber 5.56.As you can see, the bullet has a jacket that got deformed, while its core remained intact.
As if emboldened by Stanculescu’s admission (to which he refers), Gheorghe Balasa recounted to journalist Dan Badea of the opposition weekly Expres what he and a group of Army officers and civilians had found in the Fifth Directorate’s headquarters on the night of 23/24 December.Among the things they saw were:the 25 cm thick training manual of the USLA; a file detailing the tunnels running under Bucharest; cabinets of false passports; a file listing those under the surveillance of the USLA; guns with nightscopes; and “special bullets, 5-6 cm in length and a little fatter than a pencil.”According to Balasa, “outside of the DUM-DUM cartridges they found, everything was of a West German make.”Balasa adds:
In the former Central Committee building all those shot on the night of 23/24 December were shot with special bullets.It is absurd to search for such bullets in the corpses of those shot when such bullets can penetrate a wall.
Given such revelations it is interesting to note the comments of some other participants in the December events.Engineer Dan Iliescu, an employee of the Museum of National Art located in the old Royal Palace across from the CC building, alleged in December 1990 that those who fired from the museum into the square below on 22 and 23 December
…had weapons which sounded different.They had a healthy cadence.The next day [23 December 1989] and over the following days I found bullets in the Museum.They were not normal bullets.They had a rounded head.They appeared to have a lead jacket.It was of a caliber between five, five something.The USLAsi did not want to leave us a bullet.I asked them to leave me at least one as a memento.They did not want to.They said that they needed them for the purpose of identification.They noted where they gathered them from.
Similarly, Nicolae Stefan Soucup maintains he found bullets of a 5.6 caliber on 23 and 24 December 1989 in the vicinity of the Television station.Tying together these observations and Balasa’s claim about the bullets found in the headquarters of the Fifth Directorate is Major Mihai Floca’s statement on 5 January 1990 that according to specialists, those who had fired from the villas surrounding the Television station had used “a Heckler-Koch gun of 5.6 caliber with a cartridge which burns away completely allowing the bullet to have a great penetration capability.”During the trial of Nicolae’s brother, Nicolae Andruta Ceausescu, head of the Securitate’s Baneasa academy, it was also disclosed that at his home “a gun with a night-sight and 695 cartridges of 5.6 mm bullets were found.”
Moreover, 5.6 caliber weapons and bullets show up in other major flashpoints of the revolution.In Brasov (where 100 people died and 250 were wounded), a “terrorist” wearing a black jumpsuit was captured on 23 December opening fire with a “5.65 caliber Thomson auto-matic rifle.”In Braila (where 42 died and 95 were wounded), Lt. Major Ionut Voicu told the military prosecutor of what he found while on a mission in the Stejarul forest on the night 23/24 December:
Again I heard the sound of bullets.They had a specific whistle, I figured they were of a reduced caliber (the next morning this hunch was confirmed when I found bullets of a 5.6 caliber).There wasn’t any flash from the mouth of their gun-barrels.Thus, they [must have] had a silencer over it.
Finally, there are the intriguing comments of Army Captain Mircea Apostol, who participated in the defense of the airport in the southwestern town of Caransebes, to a reporter in February 1990:
Apostol:No, we only found blood stains and that was it.We didn’t even find shell casings, because these melted away after firing.It sounds incredible.It was a real battle.From our ranks there were a few victims shot precisely in vital organs by bullets with a “vidia” tip, which were not in the arsenal of our Army, but we don’t know against whom we fought.A fact which the enemy uses now.
Reporter:The enemy?But the fighting is over!
Apostol:The armed fighting, yes.But presently there is taking place another war, a very dangerous one:that of rumors meant to destabilize things.There has begun, among other things, [an attempt] to compromise the Army morally…
Undoubtedly, similar evidence can probably be found from other sites where there was fighting in December 1989.
The Role of Disinformation
In their discussion of the Romanian transition, Linz and Stepan note the “[r]umors of deliberately poisoned water supplies, of 10,000, 60,000, even 100,000 dead, filled the news channels and streets” and conclude that “disinformation played an important role in the events.”They have in mind, however, the idea that this disinformation was disseminated in order to help the Front seize power.This, of course, echoes the dominant view on this theme.As we saw in the preceding chapter, both Securitate and opposition sources maintain that disinformation pervaded the December events, and they uniformly attribute it to the Front and the Front’s supporters at television, and, in some cases, to foreign actors such as the Soviet Union.
Yet there has been very little effort to investigate the context in which particular rumors originated and the relationship between actual events and those rumors.Take, for example, this rumor alleging the poisoning of the water supply which is so frequently invoked by both domestic and foreigner observers.To what are they referring?Around 3 p.m. on the afternoon of 22 December–therefore approximately three hours after the Ceausescus had fled Bucharest–television commentator Teodor Brates began to issue periodic, sometimes frantic reports about fighting between the Army and the Securitate in the city of Sibiu and about rumors that the water supply had been poisoned by the Securitate.Here are some excerpts of what Brates said on television on that afternoon:
One moment, please…from Sibiu it has been communicated to us that the army no longer has ammunition and the Securitate troops continue to attack military units….We want to inform you that in Sibiu, military units are urgently requesting help…We are constantly receiving communications…of course, we do not have the possibility to verify their authenticity…but we ask for your attention…It is said that these enemy elements, the securisti, have poisoned the water in Sibiu, in Timisoara,…the water must be boiled before being consumed.
How far from the truth were Brates’ statements?To answer this question, we must examine what was going on Sibiu at that hour.Although throughout most of Romania the unexpected flight of the Ceausescus had left the Militia and Securitate flat-footed and searching for ways to drop out of sight, the fact that Nicu Ceausescu was party boss in Sibiu inevitably complicated matters and set Sibiu apart from the rest of the country.Indeed, at about approximately the same time Nicu’s parents were lifting off from the Central Committee building in Bucharest (several minutes after noon), gunfire between the Securitate and the Army erupted in Sibiu and it continued intensely for the next four hours.Although this may not have been directly associated with the “terrorist” offensive which began after nightfall throughout the country (including in Sibiu), the tactics and the protagonists were clearly a precursor of things to come.
As we saw earlier, as many as eighty USLA personnel had been transported to Sibiu by plane on 20 December 1989 after Nicu requested more troops.In this context, it is interesting to note the following exchange in November 1990 between Colonel Aurel Dragomir, commander of the Army’s officer school in Sibiu at the time of the events, and the reporter for the Army daily, about the events of this day in Sibiu:
Dragomir: Events began to unfurl quickly on 22 December.In the morning some of the students posted in different parts of the town began to observe some suspect individuals in black jumpsuits on the roofs in the lights of attics of several buildings.
Reporter:The same equipment as the USLAsi killed out front of the Defense Ministry….
Around noon while a delegation of Army officers and demonstrators was entering the Militia’s Inspectorate to confirm that all civilians arrested the previous night had been released, a group of men in these “black jumpsuits” and in the uniforms of the civilian “patriotic guards” suddenly opened fire on those gathered outside the Inspectorate.In addition, there was shooting from the Inspectorate itself.Civilians were gunned down, two students from Dragomir’s military school (UM 01512) wounded, and one student was killed.
When gunfire re-opened approximately twenty minutes later it came not only from the Inspectorate but also from the surrounding buildings.Dragomir ordered the Army to open fire in response.Commander Dragomir was called repeatedly from Bucharest and claims he was given diametrically-opposed orders depending upon with whom he spoke. Nicolae’s brother, Army General Ilie Ceausescu (Deputy Defense Minister), yelled at him to cease fire and “surrender if necessary!”On the other hand, General Stanculescu told him “defend yourselves!”Thus, it would seem that there was a legitimate basis to Brates’ statements that the Army had come under attack from the Securitate in Sibiu and fierce fighting had ensued.
Significantly, according to Dragomir the attacks against the Army were accompanied by the spreading of rumors suggesting that he, Dragomir, had surrendered, and that the Army was on the verge of collapse.There were also the reports on television suggesting that the Army was running low on ammunition.None of these were true.In fact, as Dragomir maintains, the Army still had enough ammunition to hold out for several days.Dragomir’s comments on such rumors, however, are enlightening:
The telephone would not stop ringing.We received information that enemy columns were heading towards Sibiu.Among them was to be a parachutist detachment from Oltenia.There were other indications that tanks, helicopters, and airplanes which, however, never materialized.Nevertheless, we felt ourselves to be in real danger.Now [after the fact] it is very easy to say [that this was] “disinformation.”At the time it was not [emphasis added]….I don’t know what minds unleashed all this, but I must tell you, in their own way, they deserve admiration….
This suggests that to the extent that those appearing on television were broadcasting disinformation, they were doing so as unwitting accomplices.The very real attacks transpiring in Sibiu and the fear that forces loyal to Ceausescu might attempt to launch a counter-revolution–an instinctive, but as it turned out, well-founded fear–made both the Army and those at television extremely vulnerable to disinformation which under the circumstances seemed eminently plausible–such as the idea that the Army was running low on ammunition.Moreover, it is important to point out that Brates informed the television audience when the fighting had ceased in Sibiu, when supplies of bottled water were on their way to Sibiu, and when the competent authorities verified that the water in Bucharest was safe to drink.Such actions directly contradict the idea–embodied in allegations that he and others purposely disseminated disinformation–that he was consciously attempting to panic the population.
Brates’ description of what transpired at television on the evening of 22 December suggests that after a time those at television did begin to realize that some of the information they were being bombarded with was deliberate disinformation.However, once these rumors were accompanied by real “terrorist” attacks and their volume increased, it became extraordinarily difficult to separate real information from the disinformation.According to Brates, the climate changed drastically after during the televised mass rally called by Front leaders in Palace Square gunfire broke out (sometime after 6 p.m.):
In this newly-created and extremely serious situation, where there had been gunfire exchanges witnessed by millions of spectators for tens of minutes, the content of the messages received by telephone directly into the studio or through couriers to the eleventh floor changed radically.Most of them spoke of fighting, attacks, and terrorist actions.Meanwhile, the places in which such news was being received multiplied considerably (in a geometric progression).In addition to the team in studio 4…telephone calls were being received in the director general’s office, his deputy’s office, at the editorial office of the news division, at the office of the service officer on the first floor, in many of the studios, and even in…the infirmary.Consequently from tens of sources…Given this situation, were confronted, once again, but to a much more serious extent than before, with the following dramatic question:what news should we relay and which should we not relay?
Brates suggests that as a consequence he proposed to (reserve) Army General Tudor, who had installed himself in charge of the military command at television, that
…all these numerous messages about attacks and fighting could be–pure and simple–acts of diversion and disinformation, designed to frighten the population, to prevent them from acting in large, compact groups, so that those interested in the return of the dictator could achieve their criminal goals.
It was thus decided that instead of reporting every piece of information which arrived at the television station–as had happened up until then–only that information would be broadcast which had passed through a filter composed by a group of military officers.In the chaos, uncertainty, and suspicion of the moment–something which, as Brates implies, the Securitate had banked upon–such a solution was inevitably to prove only imperfect over the following days.
In 1995, General Militaru alleged that this campaign of psychological warfare had been the handiwork of the Securitate’s Directorate “D” (Disinformation).It seems likely, however, that the disinformation campaign against the Army was waged by the Securitate’s Fourth Directorate (Military counter-intelligence).One possible explanation of the Securitate’s disinformation campaign is that it was designed to confuse the Army and population and to create doubt concerning the revolution’s prospects for success.Precisely because Ceausescu’s unexpected flight had caught everybody off-guard and many members of the Securitate had abandoned Ceausescu only for lack of an alternative option, the intention of this disinformation campaign to exaggerate the degree of resistance to the installation of a new regime proved critical.To some extent, it was intended to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.The Securitate campaign was premised on some basic assumptions concerning mass psychology in revolutionary situations.
Indeed, the Securitate plan appears to have been premised upon the mirror-image of Granovetter’s “threshold” hypothesis concerning the propensity of citizens to participate in collective violence.Granovetter suggests that any individual’s propensity to participate is contingent upon the actions of others:once a certain threshold has been crossed “band-wagoning” ensues.The Securitate realized that the actual military situation of the resistance was far less important than its perception.Create the impression that the number of Securitate resisters was larger than it actually was, and gradually many of those Securitate commanders who had abandoned Ceausescu for lack of an alternative option might begin to play a “double game,” fearful of punishment should the resisters somehow put Ceausescu back in power.Those Securitate members associated with the disinformation campaign reckoned that the perception of the revolution’s chances of success would influence the perception of self-interest on the part of other Securitate members and influence their behavior.
It is this then which explains one of the favorite “enigmas” and “mysteries” of the revolution:why, if the “terrorists” were fighting to save Ceausescu, did they not interfere with the television and radio transmissions or interrupt phone connections?The answer lies in the fact that the Securitate indeed wished to fuel confusion, panic, and uncertainty, but not for the purposes which today most people assume as a given–helping the Front to seize power.All means of communication–television, radio, and telephone–needed to be in service so that the whirlwind of rumor could achieve its purpose.Indeed, while the rumor that General Vlad could have disabled television by simply pressing a single button in the CC building may have been voiced first and in greatest detail in the opposition press, it has nevertheless proved remarkably convenient for the former Securitate.In fact, in his famous letter to Adevarul in January 1991, General Vlad attempted to argue that his failure to use this button was evidence of his allegiance to the revolution:“…if the paralysis of Television had been intended, there was no need to penetrate inside the television station.It would have been enough to press a button in order to disrupt the transmission….But none of this happened.”Vlad’s key words here may have been “if the paralysis of Television had been intended.”Outside of the context of the Securitate’s disinformation effort, Vlad’s defense seems to confirm his innocence.Inside the context, however, it hardly seems so innocent.
The Character of the Destruction Left by the December Events
Linz and Stepan are willing to accept the notion of a “scripted revolution,” in part apparently because of the following puzzle (to which they refer):
If during the uprising, the forces of Iliescu in the Central Committee building in Bucharest’s main square were under siege by Securitate loyalists, why are the surrounding buildings destroyed and the Central Committee building unscarred by bullets?
In fact, ordinary Romanians frequently reference this puzzle in support of the idea that the Front controlled the “terrorists.”It first gained widespread popularity both at home and abroad when in early 1990 Romania Libera’s senior journalist Octavian Paler raised the issue in relation to the events at the television station:why had the houses in the area of the television building suffered such extensive damage, while the television building itself seemed to emerge relatively unscathed.In 1991, Nestor Ratesh captured well the surprise and bewilderment of all those who came to Bucharest during 1990:
The visitor to Bucharest’s Palace Square was struck by an unreal sight:the Central Committee building sat there virtually untouched, with no visible sign of damage, while almost all the buildings around it, including the former Royal Palace, which housed the National Museum of Art at the time of the revolution, and the University Library, were destroyed.Anyone visiting the television station, in a different part of the city, could see a similarly shocking landscape…
In fact, such a contrast was to be found around every strategic objective where there was fighting during the December events.
What explains this seemingly bizarre pattern of destruction?In order to answer this question, it is instructive to examine how participants in the events describe the “terrorist” attacks and the response of the Army.Silviu Brucan recalls events on the night of 22/23 December at the television station as follows:
As a rule, the sharpshooters operated only after dark; their machine guns had infrared devices.From some vantage points on the eleventh floor I could see the buildings they [the terrorists] were hiding in and the totally inadequate response of the army units defending the television station; they were shooting from tanks and armored cars with an apparent lack of precision.I saw the mobility of the terrorists, who moved rapidly from the house already marked by the soldiers to nearby houses, immediately firing from the new place.Obviously, they knew perfectly well the locus of the presidential cabinet [on the eleventh floor of the television tower] because they focused their fire there; hundreds of bullets struck the upper part of the back wall.We were thus compelled to move on our bent knees to stay below window level, and most of the time I had to read and write on the carpet.On the way to Studio 4 was a corridor with glass walls where we also had to move on our knees; the temperature there reached freezing after most of the glass was smashed by bullets.
Brucan’s nemesis, Dumitru Mazilu, describes a remarkably similar scene:
After the presentation of the Proclamation [declaring the formation of the National Salvation Front] on radio and television, the gunfire against the building on Pangrati street (i.e. Television) reached an indescribable intensity.We found ourselves under a hail of bullets.On the eleventh floor where the office of the director general was located and where the provisional command center had been set up, all the windows were pulverized….When the sun rose, the bombardment did not cease.On the contrary, the machine guns rattled louder.We were informed that there was shooting from the villas of the dictator’s relatives, that around the central television station there were many points under the control of special units of the Interior Ministry.
Thus, both Brucan and Mazilu suggest that the “terrorists” were clearly aiming their gunfire and they were skilled enough that when they fired they hit the glass of office windows rather than the structure of the building.This seems in accordance with the idea that the “terrorists” were not just novices who had picked up a gun for the first time, but were professionals with sophisticated rifles.On the other hand, the Army, completely untrained and unequipped for urban warfare, confused, scared, and utterly taken by surprise by the attacks, fired back indiscriminately and elusively after the “terrorists.”In spite of their attempt to avoid civilian targets, they caused great physical damage to the buildings occupied by the “terrorists,” apparently without much success in neutralizing them.
Indeed, after the events, the Defense Ministry admitted that the members of one of the Army units dispatched to the Television station on the evening of 22 December had only two months of instruction prior to these events–like so many other units they appear to have been pressed into construction detail or helping with harvest–and that the parachutists dispatched had never before been deployed.Similarly, it is instructive to note Colonel Dragomir’s blunt discussion of the Army’s poor performance in their showdown with the Securitate on the afternoon of 22 December:
For every shot [from the other side], the students [of the Sibiu military school] responded with several hundred.The state of tension and the absence of [sufficient] training of the first year students who had been participating in a lengthy agricultural campaign showed.
In fact, General Militaru admits that the confusion of the moment took a heavy toll on military decisions.Questioned by a reporter in 1992 if the Television station had ever really been in danger, Militaru responded:
No….You see, not even those of our commanders who were responsible for the defense of such objectives thought through and analyzed well enough exactly whom they were confronting.Because the adversary did not have an extraordinary number of men with which to take an object such as the TV tower by assault.They [the Army commanders] did, however, have to face a very well-equipped, well-prepared, and perfidious enemy.Not having sufficient forces, they [the “terrorists”] resorted to “gunfire simulators” which caused extraordinary confusion.They thus sought to do something completely different:to infiltrate…They succeeded in infiltrating into the TV station…
Dumitru Mazilu has also commented upon the impact these “gunfire simulators” had upon the Army:
In several locations “simulators” were found.These emitted the “rat-a-tat-tat” sound of machine guns perfectly, making an infernal racket which provoked panic in the population and confused the young revolutionaries and even the soldiers.In many cases, the Army opened fire, aiming for the place where they assumed the deadly target was located.In the course of such bombardments not only was there much material damage, but lives were lost.
The root cause of the mystery surrounding the bizarre character of the destruction in December 1989 appears to lie then in the fact that the Army was ill-prepared and ill-equipped to engage in urban warfare–and for that matter, any type of warfare given its use as a conscript labor force by the Ceausescu regime–while the Securitate “terrorists” were well-equipped, well-trained, and following a well-organized plan, but also relatively small in number.
The Execution of the Ceausescus:“Masquerade” or “Justifiable Homicide”?
Linz and Stepan echo the sentiments of many foreign observers in their discussion of the trial and execution of the Ceausescus:
To understand the new regime and the doubts we have about its liberal democratic character, we cannot but remind the reader of the grotesque nature of the “trial” and “judicial murder” of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, which were totally in contradiction with the principles of rule of law and formal justice.The hurried execution has left many doubts about how it was handled, even though the entire world was shown the trial and the official version of the execution on television.It would seem that the new rulers wanted to exploit the hatred of the Ceausescus and at the same time to prevent embarrassing accusations of their own past involvement under the sultan.
Let us re-examine the trial and execution of the Ceausescus and the circumstances surrounding them.
Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were executed in the courtyard of the Tirgoviste military garrison on Christmas Day, 25 December 1989.Paul Goma, Romania’s famous exiled dissident, seemed to capture the frustration and anger of many Romanians when he alleged that this act “stole Ceausescu from those who suffered because of him.”Writing in early February 1990, Vladimir Tismaneanu argued:“Questions about what is true and false in the story of Romania’s revolution begin with the execution of the Ceausescus.”Tismaneanu asked:“Did those who ordered Ceausescu killed have a personal interest in his quick and private death?…And are they using the myth of revolutionary justice and military expediency to hide other motives?”Bitterness over the lack of public trial has permeated the post-December dialogue about this event.
Precisely because such doubt has been created over the very existence of the “terrorists,” most discussions of the execution of the Ceausescus tend to devolve into parlor-room moralizing and ethics debates largely divorced from reality.Because it is taken for granted that the “terrorists” were a mere invention or worked on behalf of the Front, the actions of Front leaders are judged outside the context of the military realities confronted by Front leaders at the time.It is frequently insinuated that the Ceausescus were eliminated less for military reasons than for political reasons:the Ceausescus knew their accusers all too well; they could reveal unpleasant truths about the “coup d’etat” which was taking place; a “trial of communism” could thereby be avoided; and Front leaders could manufacture revolutionary credentials for themselves.
In his December 1995 interview with Senator Valentin Gabrielescu, Sorin Rosca Stanescu acknowledged the importance of the “terrorist” phenomenon for judging the correctness of the Ceausescus execution and outlined the stakes of the competing arguments:
Did the terrorists exist or not?If yes, if the organized formations tried to bring the dictators back to power, then their execution after a mock trial can be partially understood and partially forgiven by history.Even if this act shocked and revolted the entire free world.If there existed terrorist formations, then these over one thousand victims recorded after the arrest of the Ceausescu couple can be explained at this price by the defense of freedom.However, if after extremely thorough investigation, you sir did not identify organized formations of terrorists, then it turns out the Ceausescus were assassinated, and the authors of this act are guilty of a crime, and the deaths from the period 22-25 December are the victims of a genocide resulting from [the staging] of the terrorist scenario, by the authors of the coup d’etat, with Ion Iliescu at the forefront.
Clearly, Rosca Stanescu opts reflexively for the latter scenario, as does Gabrielescu.
Key members of the Front’s leadership during these days–including some now-bitter foes, Ion Iliescu, (former prime minister) Petre Roman, and Silviu Brucan–insisted at the time, and have continued to maintain, that although they weighed political, juridical, and military considerations in determining the fate of the Ceausescus, military considerations ultimately prevailed.According to these officials, because “terrorist” attacks were continuing in the capital and reports from commanders at the Tirgoviste military garrison suggested that the barracks had come under “terrorist” gunfire, they feared that:
should the Securitate have managed to set the two free and a madman like Ceausescu be given a chance to take over the command of those troops, we would have been heading for a bloodbath, with the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.
Does the evidence support the contention of Front leaders that the Tirgoviste garrison was under attack and that they feared a suicidal rescue attempt by Ceausescu loyalists?According to General Gheorghe N. Popescu (commander of the anti-aircraft artillery unit based in the garrison) tank, anti-tank, armored vehicles, and “mountain hunter” units and sub-units were summoned to Tirgoviste during these days to strengthen the defense of the town, bringing the total number of troops involved to 1,200.Major Ion Tecu maintains that the garrison was so heavily-fortified that it would have taken at least an entire division to conquer the barracks.General Popescu describes some familiar conditions during the days and nights while the Ceausescus were held at the Tirgoviste garrison:
Among the numerous incidents from that time, I would first of all emphasize the false objectives, the false targets, the false alarms, in a word the disinformation…the barracks were shot at, there was especially shooting from the direction of the train station, from the nearby high school, there was shooting from the neighboring blocks of flats, from the roofs of those blocks.These men were prepared by Ceausescu….I am convinced that elements of the Securitate were not foreign to these activities.
Lt. Col. Ion Mares recounts an incident from the morning of 23 December as follows:
[The telephone rang] I picked the telephone up and heard:“If in thirty minutes you don’t surrender the traitors we will wipe you from the face of the earth!”…Exactly thirty minutes later at 7:25 a.m. gunfire was opened against the barracks and on the radar five targets appeared.Later five helicopters were seen first-hand.Whether they were helicopters, balloons, or whatever I don’t know if we will ever know.What is certain is that it was thirty minutes after the threat.
Fearing that if the Ceausescus’ exact whereabouts were not kept secret, the Securitate might launch a successful rescue raid or Army soldiers or townspeople might take justice into their own hands and lynch the couple, the commanding officers of the Timisoara garrison spread disinformation of their own.For example, even after the Ceausescus had been brought within the garrison at 6:35 p.m. on Friday 22 December, groups of Army officers were dispatched into the countryside in search of the couple.While being moved from room to room on the base, the Ceausescus were made to wear Army greatcoats and hats.According to Lt. Col. Mares, “it is certain that by the time of the execution on 25 [December], no more than fifty percent of the personnel at the barracks knew of their [the Ceausescus’] presence [on the base].”
Moreover, realizing their phone calls were probably being listened to, they even lied to Front leaders in Bucharest about exactly where the couple was being held.When those officials charged to carry out the trial arrived on 25 December, they requested that they be taken to the “nearby wood” where the Army had hidden the Ceausescus:the Ceausescus had in fact never left the barracks but this is where the Tirgoviste commanders had told Bucharest the couple was located.Furthermore, because of information on the evening of 24 December that the land and air campaign of the “terrorists” would increase, and because it was difficult to move the Ceausescus from room to room in the barracks as the gunfire intensified, between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. on 25 December, the Ceausescus were hidden in an armored transport on the base.
The tactics adopted by those officials sent from Bucharest to try the Ceausescus suggest that they genuinely feared the “terrorists” and modified their behavior accordingly.On the night of 24 December, the Front’s “executive bureau” commissioned Army General Victor Stanculescu–the very man who had hustled the Ceausescus into the helicopter which carried the couple from the CC building on 22 December–with the task of organizing the trial (and thus, their execution).Stanculescu brought with him to Tirgoviste representatives of both the civilian and military prosecutor’s offices, and at least two other Front “observers”:Gelu Voican Voiculescu, who went on to be named deputy prime minister and formed the first post-December security service (UM 0215), and Virgil Magureanu, who would become director of the Securitate’s official heir, the SRI.
On Christmas morning, two helicopters departed from the Boteni parachutist base, collected these officials at the Ghencea stadium in Bucharest, and headed towards Tirgoviste.On the way, three helicopters, equipped with missiles, joined them.According to Stanculescu and Voiculescu in March 1990, the helicopters flew at a very low altitude and in a zig-zag route with only one of the helicopters in touch with the ground.The commanders at the Tirgoviste garrison knew of the helicopters’ arrival, but did not know exactly for what purpose they had come, so they loaded the Ceausescus back into the armored vehicle and drove out to the edge of the runway.According to Major Ion Tecu:
We were convinced that they were coming to take the dictator and that we could finally escape from this dreadful burden, from this nightmare (because, in fact, these three days and three nights with the Ceausescus on our minds was the most dreadful period for us, [a period] which aged us and negatively marked every life).
Instead of the Ceausescus being crowded into the helicopter for transport to Bucharest, Stanculescu and the others disembarked and the entourage hurried into the barracks to conduct what would pass for a trial.Iliescu later suggested that conditions were just too uncertain to transfer Ceausescu and there was a fear that somewhere along the way he might escape or be rescued.Brucan describes the trial as follows:
The proceedings had all the features of a war trial….The whole trial reflected the urgency of the case.The prosecutor documented the charges briefly, the interrogation was telegraphic, and the defense lawyer spoke at maximum five minutes.
Behr explains the rationale behind the actions of those in charge of the trial:
As we now know, the trial’s purpose was not to bring the Ceausescus to justice but to provide a legal pretext for executing them as soon as possible.The Securitate sharpshooters would only give up, the leaders of the newly constituted National Salvation Front believed, once it was clear that the Ceausescus were no longer alive.Speed was therefore essential, and the court members were also desperately anxious to leave Tirgoviste as quickly as possible for safety reasons:The later their departure, the more hazardous the journey home through Bucharest’s streets to the safety of the Defense Ministry.Their trip to Tirgoviste had taken nearly two hours instead of a mere twenty minutes, for the helicopter pilots had been so fearful of a sneak Securitate attack by a loyalist Ceausescu commando that they had taken a long, circuitous route, and this meant that on the way home, they would have to stop to refuel.
Although the accused were given a formal medical exam to determine their fitness to stand trial, and had a chance during the proceedings to plead insanity, these were perhaps the only elements which even came close to respecting judicial etiquette.Behr, who unlike most analysts accepts the Front’s stated rationale for executing the couple, nevertheless admits:“Even by the standards of the infamous Stalinist trials of the thirties, the proceedings were farcical.”The principal charges against the Ceausescus were that they were responsible for the genocide of at least 60,000 persons and for siphoning off in excess of one billion dollars from the state budget to foreign bank accounts for their own personal use.According to Rady, the severity of the charges explains the fact that the president of the court at the trial was Colonel Gica Popa, head of the Bucharest Area Military Tribunal.A 1968 Presidential decree issued by Nicolae Ceausescu himself had stipulated that those who were charged with serious offenses were subject to courts martial and denied the right of appeal.
The problems with the trial itself were manifold.Both the presiding judge, Colonel Gica Popa, and the Ceausescus’ appointed defense lawyer from the civilian prosecutor’s office, Nicu Teodorescu, were as vituperative towards the couple as the prosecutor himself.The Front’s three representatives–General Stanculescu, Voican Voiculescu, and Virgil Magureanu–hardly qualified as disinterested, neutral “observers.”There was no effort to prove the charges of which the Ceausescus were accused.Indeed, the charge of “the genocide of 60,000 people” was a gross exaggeration.From this standpoint, Vladimir Tismaneanu’s characterization of the trial seems legitimate:“…Romania’s new leaders chose the worst of all alternatives:tyrannicide pretending to be law.By attempting to keep the revolution pure, they sullied it.”
Some of the sharpest allegations against Front officials surround the videotape of the trial and execution of the Ceausescus.A heavily-edited version of the original tape was broadcast on Romanian Television on 26 December.The film did not show the execution of the Ceausescus or their corpses.According to Iliescu, it had been decided “not to show the macabre images of the execution and the cadavers since we were not attempting to satisfy morbid curiosity but only to transmit a political message.”A second version of the tape showing the bullet-riddled bodies of the couple was, however, broadcast several times the following day.
Then on 22 April 1990 French television broadcast a new version of the tape which it had apparently purchased from an undisclosed source.This version showed not only the trial, but the tying of the condemned couple’s hands before being led to their execution, their bleeding corpses, and their burial–thus explaining in part why it ran for eighty-six minutes, substantially longer than previously-broadcast versions.For the first time, the faces of the Front’s “observers”–Defense Minister Stanculescu, Deputy Prime Minister Voiculescu, and SRI Director Maguareanu–were revealed.Scenes from the actual execution remained missing.On the same night, Romanian television broadcast the same tape but without the four-minute scene in which the couple’s hands were tied.
The new version broadcast by French television and the actions of Romanian television raised tremendous suspicion and injected an international dimension into the dispute over the trial and execution.The French analyst Michel Tatu noted that the four-minute scene censored by Romanian television also included a pathetic appeal for mercy by Elena and a final embrace by the couple, sequences which paradoxically left the viewer with a dignified impression of the couple and sympathetic to their plight.Based on what appeared on the tape and the missing sequence of the execution, French forensic experts claimed that the final scenes of the film had been faked:the Ceausescus had been killed otherwise (by a single shot to the head or under torture) and then propped against the courtyard wall and shot by the firing squad!
Most of the revisionism surrounding the trial, the execution, and the videotape is groundless and simply incorrect.For example, Calinescu and Tismaneanu declare that the original broadcast of the videotape showed only fifty-odd minutes “from a trial that lasted approximately nine hours.”Yet Behr (based on interviews with several of the Army participants) and Brucan both suggest the trial lasted fifty-five minutes.Moreover, even a year after the events, one of the eyewitnesses to what transpired, Maria Stefan, the cook in the officer’s mess, continued to maintain that the trial itself lasted “an hour.”
According to Lt. Col. Ion Mares, only seven minutes elapsed between the announcement of the sentence and the execution, and the execution was not filmed because in the rush to the courtyard the electrical cord for the camera (which did not run on batteries) was jolted loose.After the showing of the new version of the tape on French television, Voiculescu admitted that the soldiers had rushed to open fire on the couple while the cameraman was still in the corridor when the first shots rang out.Major Tecu flatly rejected the conclusions of the French forensic experts (which had been based upon “a discrepancy in their [the couple’s] rigidity and in the blood flow”) by arguing that Nicolae’s thick overcoat had absorbed much of Ceausescu’s blood and that Elena had fainted when the first shots rang out and thus the bullets which killed her had hit her while she was lying flat on the pavement stones.
Front leaders were criticized almost immediately because the original versions of the videotape did not show the faces of those who were trying the Ceausescus (most especially the Front’s observers) or show the burial of the couple.The first omission was interpreted as a sign that the Front feared embarrassment were it to be found out who Ceausescu’s (not completely unfamiliar) accusers were.The second omission led to rumors that the couple might still somehow be alive somewhere inside or outside Romania.Yet Front leaders have consistently maintained that they intentionally edited out footage revealing the identities of those trying the Ceausescus, for fear of reprisals against them, and footage which might indicate the location of the Ceausescus’ burial site, because they wanted to prevent the site from either being turned into a shrine or vandalized.Brucan and Behr have suggested that this first concern was not unfounded since on the night of 25 December, upon arriving back in Bucharest the Ceausescus’ senior defense lawyer, Nicu Teodorescu, was wounded in the back.On 1 March 1990, Colonel Gica Popa, who had presided over the trial, was reported to have been found dead of an apparent suicide.The official explanation was that Popa had suffered a “nervous breakdown.”The influence of the allegations made by the French forensic experts upon reinterpreting historical events could be seen in a 1991 article by Calinescu and Tismaneanu.Based on the forensics’ hypothesis, the authors speculated that because the Ceausescus had been killed before the execution (he of a heart-attack; she “gangland style” after going into hysterics), Popa had been forced “to sentence two corpses to death!”They therefore suggest:
For a judge, such an act would be tantamount to professional suicide….the judge’s suicide could have been an act of desperation by an essentially honest man who had been forced to go through a criminal charade.
Yet this contrasts sharply with Tismaneanu’s own characterization of the incident in April 1990 shortly after returning from a visit to Romania.Then, Tismaneanu had written that most Romanians were skeptical of the official explanation of Popa’s death and spoke instead “about the unnerving phone calls and hate mail received by those directly involved in tearing down the Ceausescu regime.”Indeed, there is some evidence to believe that immediately prior to his death, Popa was so agitated that he had sought permission to leave indefinitely for Switzerland.Moreover, Popa and the other officials involved in the trial are known to have carried arms for their own safety long after the trial was over.
The comments of Lt. Col. Ion Mares on the one year anniversary of the events suggest that it was not only the judges and lawyers who continued to be marked by their involvement in Ceausescu’s trial.Mares declared:“Personally, at this very moment I must tell you that I question whether or not what we did then is still good, since so much has happened to me since then….”After recounting the problems he, his wife, and his daughter had encountered at work or at university, Mares added:“Then there are the threatening letters, I have one from Alba-Iulia if you want to see it…The threatening telephone calls, and more.I have already suffered a breakdown.”As Major Tecu concluded:“…we continue to reap the damages even today, these two poisoned our lives[…and have done so] even after they died.”
Front officials have maintained that the broadcast of the original version of the videotape of the trial on 26 December 1989 led to a substantial reduction in the scope and intensity of the “terrorist” attacks and encouraged the “terrorists” to turn themselves in. However, because this version did not show the corpses of the dead Ceausescus and rumors continued to swirl that the couple was still alive (and this was probably partly manufactured), they were forced to make a new copy of the videotape–this time showing the Ceausescus’ bullet-riddled bodies–and broadcast it on television on 27 December.According to Silviu Brucan, this action was taken after one of the captured “terrorists” “refused to talk on the ground that he had made the commitment to defend Ceausescu so long as he was alive.”The sentencing of the Ceausescus at the trial was not enough because the “terrorists” had taken a loyalty oath to defend Ceausescu:they had to be given incontrovertible proof that the Ceausescus were dead.This second broadcast, according to Front officials, was the nail in the coffin and convinced most of the remaining “terrorists” that they had nothing left to fight for.In addition, a decree promised those “terrorists” who did not turn themselves in by the evening of 28 December that they would meet with the same fate as the Ceausescus.Together, these actions definitively scuttled the “terrorist” offensive.
In spite of the evidence against revisionist accounts, false–and even absurd–presentations of the trial, the execution, and the tape continue to be given favorable publicity.It is telling of the warped state of affairs in post-Ceausescu Romania that in 1995 opposition journalist Liviu Valenas should present the following views of a former Securitate colonel on these events (under the title “The Secret Files of Romanian Neocommunism”) as daring truths:
No one today doubts that the trial of Nicolae Ceausescu was a sinister masquerade, worthy of the French Revolution, that such an “execution” was of a purely political type.The order to physically liquidate Ceausescu came directly from Moscow, the KGB having in mind many variants for physically eliminating Ceausescu.The fact that among all East European communist leaders, only Ceausescu had to die was the response of Moscow to his real attitude of independence towards Moscow since 1965.Furthermore, Ceausescu had to disappear because he knew very many compromising things for the KGB and the Kremlin.
According to the source, the Ceausescus may have been killed as early as 23 December (the next forty-eight hours being necessary for inventing an appropriate version for public consumption) with the culprit being Gelu Voican Voiculescu, who had shot them in the neck in “a typically characteristic NKVD-KGB style.”
As we have seen, during and immediately after the December events, observers both inside and outside the country identified the “terrorists” as belonging to the Securitate, and above all to the Fifth Directorate and the closely-affiliated USLA unit.Since then these initial claims have been corroborated by major participants in those events.A look at the available ballistics’ evidence–not merely from Bucharest, but from diverse parts of the country–suggests a clear pattern:the “terrorists” used and killed with ammunition which was simply not a part of the Army’s arsenal.This fundamentally undermines the assertion that the Army “fired into itself” in December 1989.Moreover, the available evidence on the arsenal of the Securitate suggests that they possessed the types of ammunition used in December.Precisely because of what we know about the Securitate’s role in the Ceausescu regime, this is hardly an unexpected outcome.
The significance of the “terrorist” question can be seen in the fact that the failure to resolve this issue has allowed myth and disinformation to pervade the understanding of other key elements of the December events, especially the circumstances surrounding the trial and execution of the Ceausescus.This pernicious mix of alluring myth and disinformation has made its way from the Romanian media, to the foreign media, to Romanian specialists, and ultimately to the broader academic community.The erroneous consensus which prevails within Romania has thus been replicated in scholarly analysis of the Romanian case.
.. Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan, “The Effects of Totalitarianism-cum-Sultanism on Democratic Transition:Romania,” chapter in Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation:Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe (Baltimore:The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 344-347, 358-359.
.. This appears in episode four of Horia Alexandrescu’s aforementioned series “Adevarul despre USLA [The Truth About the USLA].”The article fervently clears the USLA of responsibility for the “terrorist” actions, but also is tinged with sarcasm.After stating that the USLA were unassailably innocent, he introduces Postelnicu’s statement with the following observation:“Nevertheless, there exist people who probably have an interest in explaining the inexplicable by uttering the initials of the USLA, the best example being the following…”.See Horia Alexandrescu, “In Actiune,” Tineretul Liber, (13 March 1990), 4.
.. Angela Bacescu, Din Nou in Calea Navalirilor Barbare (Cluj-Napoca:Editura “Zalmoxis,” 1994), 145.Mihai Montanu is typical of so many of those who defected from the Front during 1990.Initially, he floated towards the opposition press where he was well received–Montanu could be found giving an interview to Liviu Valenas in the opposition weekly Baricada in late February 1990.Only a few years later, he was giving interviews to the Ceausist Europa.
.. A Group of Former Securitate Officers, “Asa va place revolutia?Asa a fost!” Democratia, no. 36 (24-30 September 1990), 4.They are referring to Militaru’s unsuccessful demand that the personnel of these two units “fall out” for inspection in Ghencea cemetery near the Defense Ministry.
.. See, for example, Bacescu, Din Nou in Calea, 113, 119.The reference is to the massacre of the Polish Army’s officer corps by the Soviets after they entered Poland at the beginning of World War II.
.. Adevarul, 20 January 1990, 2 as cited in Sturdza, “How Dead is Ceausescu’s Secret Police Force?” Radio Free Europe. Report on Eastern Europe, (April 1990), 30.Sturdza may have correctly interpreted this as an effort to “whitewash” the bulk of the Securitate, but it can also be seen as an indirect admission of the Securitate’s responsibility for the December bloodshed.
.. See Nicu Ceausescu, interview, “Nicu Ceausescu se destainuie [Nicu Ceausescu confesses],” Zig-Zag, no. 20 (24-30 July 1990), 3.By the time of this interview, it appears Socaciu had long-since been removed from this case.
.. Marian Valer, interview by Monica N. Marginean, “Marian Valer:Asistam la ingroparea Revolutiei [Marian Valer:We are witnessing the burial of the Revolution],” Expres, no. 33 (September 1990), 2.Valer had just stepped down as prosecutor when he gave this interview.
.. Emil Munteanu, “Postelnicu a vorbit neintrebat! [Postelnicu spoke without being asked to!],” Romania Libera, 30 January 1990, 1.Moreover, according to Nicu Silvestru, former commander of the Sibiu county Militia, Nicu told the local Securitate and Militia on 19 December that he was calling his “specialists” from Bucharest to reinforce forces in Sibiu.See Nicu Silvestru’s open letter printed in “Cine a ordonat sa se traga la Sibiu?[Who gave the order to open fire in Sibiu?” Baricada, no. 45 (20 November 1990), 5.Silvestru, of course, maintains that the Securitate and Militia in Sibiu had no responsibility for the December bloodshed.
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–><! [endif]–>.. See General Nicolae Militaru and Silviu Brucan, interview by Darie Novaceanu, “Adevarul, numai adevarul [The truth, nothing but the truth],” Adevarul, 23 August 1990, 1, 3. It is indicative of the degree to which observers had already begun to take for granted that the Front had “hijacked the revolution” in December 1989 and that the “terrorists” had not been a real threat, that this interview gained notoriety (especially in the West) for what Brucan and Militaru revealed about the pre-December activities and links of those (including themselves) who took power in December 1989.The real “scoop,” however, lay in their comments concerning the identity of the “terrorists.”See, for example, Mark Champion, “Romanian Revolution Depicted as Planned Coup, Not Uprising,” The Washington Post, 24 August 1990.Even a well-argued rebuttal to this misinterpretation of Brucan and Militaru’s argument touched upon the “terrorist” issue only in passing.See Michael Shafir, “Preparing for the Future by Revising the Past,” Radio Free Europe.Report on Eastern Europe, no. 41 (12 October 1990):29-42.The date is significant in Romania history for it was on this date that the wartime military dictator, Marshal Antonescu, had been ousted from power in 1944 and it was the national holiday during the communist era.The fact that this interview appeared on a date so closely identified with the previous regime has been used to discredit its content.
.. Militaru and Brucan, interview by Darie Novaceanu, “Adevarul, numai adevarul.”Brucan also revealed that 30 foreigners “in their majority Palestinians undergoing training at Baneasa or in other Securitate centers” were involved.
.. Ondine Gherghut, “Generalul Militaru acuza Securitatea de crima [General Militaru accuses the Securitate of crime],” Cotidianul, 25 May 1995, 3.Militaru was testifying at the so-called “Otopeni–23 December ‘89″ trial.
.. Ibid.The irony of Artenie’s article appearing in Romania Libera is clear when one considers that only a half year earlier (25 July 1990), the paper’s editor, Petre Mihai Bacanu, had confidently cleared the Fifth Directorate of any wrongdoing during the events.Bacanu’s actions are all the more baffling when one considers that less than two weeks prior to Bacanu’s exoneration of the Fifth Directorate, he referred in an article on another subject that “9 mm bullets are real projectiles.”See Petre Mihai Bacanu, “Secrete de Stat [State Secrets],” Romania Libera, 14 July 1990.
.. Defense Minister Victor Atanasie Stanculescu, interview by Aurel Perva and Gavrila Inoan, Tineretul Liber, 5 March 1991, 1-2, in “Stanculescu:‘Terrorists’ Used Arms in Revolution,” FBIS-EEU-91-047, 11 March 1991, 39.Interestingly, this interview, which is far more provocative and open than any previous interview by Stanculescu, came only a month before he was replaced as Defense Minister.In it he even suggests that he would show a film of those arrested in December 1989 with foreign-made arms on them.He may have been attempting to turn up the heat on political adversaries within the regime, although he never appears to have specified the Securitate’s relationship to these bullets and weapons.
.. See Gheorghe Balasa’s comments in Dan Badea, “Gloante speciale sau ce s-a mai gasit in cladirea Directiei a V-a [Special bullets or what was found in the Fifth Directorate’s building],” Expres, no. 64 (16-22 April 1991), 12.
.. Lt. Col. Aurel Dragomir, interview by Colonel Dragos Dragoi, “Sub tirul incrucisat al acuzatiilor (II) [In the crossfire of accusations],” Armata Poporului, no. 46 (November 1990), 3.I take Dragomir’s response as confirmation of the reporter’s inquiry, but one which he is leery of stating outright.If from December 1989 to November 1990 the truth about the “terrorists” was already beginning to melt away, it is interesting to read Dragomir’s discussion of these events four years later in the Army daily where he refers both to the “special forces of Ceausescu” and the “Soviet tourists” brought by plane to Sibiu on 20 December (those whom in January 1990, the military prosecutor Socaciu had claimed were USLA men).His discussion is indicative of a changed climate even since November 1990.See Lt. Col. Aurel Dragomir, “N-am nimic de ascuns! [I have nothing to hide],” Armata Romaniei, no. 233 (1-7 June 1994), 7.
.. Ibid.According to one source, in total 16 people were killed and 57 were injured as a result of this incident.See Iustin Moraru, Dimineata, 26 May 1990, 3 in “Nicu Ceausescu Trial Begins in Sibiu,” FBIS-EEU-90-116, 15 June 1990, 63.
.. Ibid.In spite of these facts, the tendentious treatment of Colonel Dragomir and the Army’s role in the Sibiu events is remarkably familiar in both the Ceausist press and the opposition press.See, for example, Bacescu, Din Nou in Calea, 180-181; idem, “Sibiu:Adevarul despre Sibiu,” Zig-Zag, no. 15 (19-26 June 1990), 8; Profesor I. S. Deladeva, “Silviu Brucan intre Adevar si Ipocrizie,” Europa, no. 15 (January 1991), 8; Ilie Stoian, Decembrie ‘89:Arta Diversiunii (Bucharest:Editura Colaj, 1993), 40-42; Petre Mihai Bacanu, “Rol dublu:Si Teroristi si Invingatori,” Romania Libera, 20 May 1992, 1.
.. Ibid., 110-111.It is important to point out that this is a significantly different take on the goals of the “terrorist” actions.Opposition accounts suggest that the “terrorists” wanted to frighten the population from acting in large, compact groups but so the Front could seize power, not so that they could pave the way for the return of the dictator.But, as we have seen, such an assumption is based on the suggestion that the “terrorists” were controlled by the Front.
.. Mark Granovetter, “Threshold Models of Collective Behavior,” American Journal of Sociology, no. 83 (1978):1420-1443.For an excellent discussion of Granovetter’s hypothesis, see James B. Rule, Theories of Civil Violence (Berkeley:University of California Press, 1988), 43-49.
.. See the question of U. Valureanu to Silviu Brucan in Silviu Brucan, interview by U. Valureanu, “Domnul Silviu Brucan se distanteaza de conducerea F.S.N. si critica guvernul,” Romania Libera, 17 July 1990, 2.
.. Octavian Paler gave this puzzle international exposure in an interview in Le Monde (Paris), 1 April 1990.For a discussion, see Matei Calinescu and Vladimir Tismaneanu, “The 1989 Revolution and Romania’s Future,” Problems of Communism 40, nos. 1-2 (January-April 1991), 45 (fn. 12).
.. Dumitru Mazilu, interview by Emanoil Catan, “Mari mistificari ale istoriei revolutiei romane [The Great mystifications of the history of the Romanian revolution],” Expres Magazin, no. 60 (August 1991), 12.
.. Revolutia Romana in Direct, 331.Moreover, as Teodor Brates has argued:while eyewitnesses may remember episodes from these days differently, no one who was at the television station denies that these attacks took place.In fact, only one conclusion is clear from their comments:the “terrorists” shot at the television station as “during wartime.”See Brates, Explozia Unei Clipe, 113.
.. For instance, see ibid., 17; Matei Calinescu and Vladimir Tismaneanu, “The 1989 Revolution and Romania’s Future,” Problems of Communism 40, nos. 1-2 (January-April 1991):45; Ratesh, Romania:The Entangled Revolution, 75-77.
.. Ion Iliescu, interview, Die Welt, 8 January 1990 in FBIS, 9 January 1990; Petre Roman, interview, FBIS, 9 January 1990, 63; Silviu Brucan, interview, Adevarul, 18 January 1990 in FBIS-EEU-90-012, 18 January 1990, 71; Silviu Brucan, The Wasted Generation, 181; Ion Iliescu, Revolutia si Reforma, 79-82.
.. From an interview by Stanculescu and Voiculescu to the pro-Front daily Dimineata summarized by Rompress, 26 March 1990.See “Stanculescu, Voican View Ceausescu Trial,” FBIS-EEU-90-059, 27 March 1990, 57.
.. Although it seems legitimate to question the motives of leading Front officials (including Iliescu, Roman, and Brucan) for continuing to speak of a death toll in the tens of thousands more than two weeks after the fighting had ended–long after evidence had come forward showing that the actual toll was substantially lower–given the confusion of the moment, the difficulty of obtaining accurate information on a nationwide basis, and the widespread character of the “terrorist” actions, Front leaders may have genuinely believed these numbers when they drew up the charges against the Ceausescus.It should be remembered that reports of such huge death tolls were commonplace during these days and highly reputable foreign news services repeated them frequently believing them plausible given what had happened earlier in the week in Timisoara (where it was now being said 10,000 people had been killed) and given the apparent scope of the fighting that was then taking place.After the fighting had ended and it became clear that the actual death was substantially lower than what the Ceausescus had been accused of, Silviu Brucan attempted to suggest that the original number of 60,000 had included those killed or condemned to death during the Ceausescu era.Even this was an exaggeration:Ceausescu’s Romania was not Stalin’s Soviet Union when it came to killing its citizens.
.. Brucan, The Wasted Generation, 182; Iliescu, Revolutia si Reforma, 82; “Stanculescu, Voican View Ceausescu Trial,” 26 March 1990, 58; “Voican on Parts of Ceausescu Trial Shown on TV,” FBIS-EEU-90-080, 25 April 1990, 60.
.. Ion Costin Grigore, Cucuveaua cu Pene Rosii (Bucuresti:Editura Miracol, 1994), 115-121.What appears to be the transcript of a conversation between Popa and other members of the prosecutor’s office (shortly before Popa’s death) suggests that Popa had asked Iliescu for permission to leave for Switzerland (120) and that it was on this very day that Popa had gone to the passport ministry to secure official approval (117).