The Archive of the Romanian Revolution of December 1989

A Catch-22 December 1989, Groundhog-Day Production. Presenting the Personal Research & Scholarship of Richard Andrew Hall, Ph.D.

decembrie ’89: Citeva indoieli stirnite de un articol din revista “22” (cazul Ivanciuc si teza turistilor sovietici)

Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on October 4, 2009

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in legatura cu cazul Ivanciuc Colaborarea lui Ivanciuc la revista 22

Rewriting the Revolution (1997): Chapter 5 Timisoara 15-17 December 1989

A chapter from my Ph.D. Dissertation at Indiana University: Richard Andrew Hall, Rewriting the Revolution: Authoritarian Regime-State Relations and the Triumph of Securitate Revisionism in Post-Ceausescu Romania (defended 16 December 1996). This is the original chapter as it appeared then and thus has not been revised in any form.

Chapter Five

“Yalta-Malta” and the Theme of Foreign Intervention in the Timisoara Uprising

At an emergency CPEx meeting on the afternoon of 17 December 1989, Nicolae Ceausescu sought to make sense out of the news from Timisoara by attempting to fit it in with what had happened elsewhere in Eastern Europe thus far that fall:

Everything which has happened and is happening in Germany, in Czechoslovakia, and in Bulgaria now and in the past in Poland and Hungary are things organized by the Soviet Union with American and Western help. It is necessary to be very clear in this matter, what has happened in the last three countries–in the GDR, in Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria, were coups d’etat organized by the dregs of society with foreign help.[1]

Ceausescu was giving voice to what would later become known as the “Yalta-Malta” theory. Significantly, the idea that the Soviet Union and, to different degrees of complicity, the United States and the West, played a pivotal role in the December 1989 events pervades the vast majority of accounts about December 1989 in post-Ceausescu Romania, regardless of the part of the ideological spectrum from which they come.

The theory suggests that after having first been sold out to Stalin and the Soviet Union at Yalta, in early December 1989 American President George Bush sold Romania out to Mikhail Gorbachev during their summit in Malta. The convenient rhyme of the two sites of Romania’s alleged betrayal have become a shorthand for Romania’s fate at the hands of the Russians and other traditional enemies (especially the Hungarians and Jews). To be sure, similar versions of this theory have cropped up throughout post-communist Eastern Europe among those disappointed with the pace and character of change in their country since 1989.[2] The different versions share the belief that Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet KGB engineered the sudden, region-wide collapse of communism in 1989. Their successors in Russia have been able to maintain behind-the-scenes control in Eastern Europe in the post-communist era by means of hidden influence and the help of collaborators within those countries. “Yalta-Malta” has become the mantra of those who seem to have experienced Eastern Europe’s el desencanto most deeply.[3]

Although one can probably find adherents to the Yalta-Malta theory in every East European country–particularly since the “Return of the Left” through the ballot box–there is little doubt that the theory finds its widest and most convinced audience–both at elite and mass levels–in Romania.[4] This is because, as we have seen, the suggestion that the Soviet Union and the KGB were attempting to undermine the regime leadership and infringe upon national sovereignty was not an ad hoc slogan in Romania in 1989, as it was in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria where aging political leaderships hinted at such arguments in a last-ditch effort to save their positions. Such appeals had far greater resonance in Romania in December 1989–particularly within the regime–because they had been tenets of the Romanian regime’s ideology for well over two decades. And they have had a lingering popularity in the post-Ceausescu era for that same reason. It is the uniquely antagonistic character of the relationship between the Securitate and the KGB during the Ceausescu era (discussed in chapter four), and the genuine, scarcely-veiled animosity between Ceausescu and Gorbachev, which give the Yalta-Malta scenario a plausibility and credibility (however spurious) in Romania it cannot find elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

Western analysts have frequently caricatured the views of the former Securitate towards the Ceausescu era by suggesting that they uniformly look back favorably and nostalgically upon it. In fact, many of them now openly criticize Nicolae Ceausescu’s misguided policies, erratic behavior, and harsh rule.[5] Clearly, much of this is post facto judgement. The deceased Ceausescu serves as a convenient scapegoat for all that went wrong during his rule and by blaming him they can absolve themselves. Nevertheless, regardless of how they now view Nicolae Ceausescu, almost every former Securitate officer challenges the spontaneity of the Timisoara protests and suggests that the catalyst for the unrest came from outside Romania’s borders. Thus, they argue, even if Nicolae Ceausescu had brought the country to the point of profound crisis, this “foreign intervention” converted the Timisoara events primarily into a matter of national security.

It is interesting to recall Nicolae Ceausescu’s own interpretation of the Timisoara events during a rambling, scarcely coherent teleconference on 20 December 1989:

…all of these grave incidents in Timisoara were organized and directed by revanchist, revisionist circles, by foreign espionage services, with the clear intention of provoking disorder, of destabilizing the situation in Romania, of acting in order to eliminate the independence and territorial integrity of Romania….It is necessary to attract the attention of everyone, not only of the communists [emphasis added], but everyone to the shameful…campaign… unleashed right now by different circles, beginning with Budapest, convincingly demonstrates that…, including the declarations of the president of the United States, who declared that he had discussed the problems of Romania with Gorbachev at Malta…[6]

In their discussion of the December events, the former Securitate have expanded upon Ceausescu’s allegations of “foreign intervention.”

In February 1991, while on trial for his part in ordering the repression of demonstrators in December 1989, the former director of the Securitate, General Iulian Vlad, proposed two principal groups of suspects for the Timisoara unrest.[7] He described the first group as Romanian citizens (the majority of whom were presumably of Hungarian ethnicity) who had fled to Hungary, passed through refugee camps, and been sent back to Romania with a mission to engage in “destabilizing acts.” According to Vlad, “only able-bodied males” were sent back. The second group of suspects were large groups of so-called Soviet “tourists.” Here is Vlad’s depiction of this second group:

Halfway through December 1989 massive groups of Soviet tourists began to enter the country. They entered coming directly from the USSR or from Yugoslavia or Hungary. The majority were men and–in a coordinated fashion–they deployed in a convoy of brand-new “LADA” automobiles. During the night of 16-17 December ‘89 such a column attempted to enter Timisoara. Some of these cars were forced to make a detour around the town, others managed to enter it…[8]

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Pavel Corut, a former high-ranking Securitate counter-military intelligence officer who has written dozens of novels seeking to rehabilitate the reputation of the former Securitate, has written of “the infiltration on Romanian territory of groups of Soviet commandos (Spetsnaz) under the cover of being tourists. It is noteworthy that December is not a tourist month and nevertheless the number of Soviet tourists grew greatly.”[9]

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In 1994, the Securitate’s official institutional heir, the Romanian Information Service (or SRI), declared in a report on the December events:

In addition to gathering information, some Soviet agents from among our ranks received the mission to make propaganda for “changes,” even at the risk of being found out. Actions at direct incitement [of the population] were also initiated by Soviet “tourists,” whose number had grown in the preceding period and had taken on exceptional proportions by the end of 1989.

Beginning on 9 December 1989, the number of Soviet “tourists” in “private” vehicles grew from around 80 to 1,000 cars a day. This phenomenon, although realized at the time, did not lead to the necessary conclusions and measures. The occupants (two to three per car), athletic men between 25 and 40 years in the majority, avoided lodging facilities, sleeping in their cars…The cars were mostly of a “LADA” and “MOSKOVICI” make, deployed in a convoy, and had consecutively-numbered license plates and similar new equipment. The majority were “in transit towards Yugoslavia”…

It is certain that during the Timisoara events there was a large number

of Soviet “tourists.” During 15, 16, and 17 December 1989, to these already in the country were added those “returning from Yugoslavia,” the majority by car.[10]

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But the reach of this theory extends well beyond the former Securitate and their cheerleaders in the Ceausist nostalgic press. The head of the first Senatorial commission investigating the December events, film director Sergiu Nicolaescu–a key figure in the newly-formed National Salvation Front during the events of 22-25 December 1989 and a legislator of the ruling Front after 1989–described the catalyst of the December events to a journalist in December 1993 as follows:

By chance, everything began in Timisoara. It could have begun elsewhere since many places were prepared. It is known that in Iasi something was being prepared, and also in Brasov and Bucharest. There was clearly foreign intervention….For example, the intervention of the Russians in Romania. A year before in 1988 about 30,000 Russians came. A year later in 1989, in December, the number doubled. Thus, it reached 67,000. It is known that there were at least 1,000 automobiles in which there were two to three men between the ages of 30 and 40 years old, at a maximum 45 years old. It is very interesting to observe that, only a few months earlier, the Securitate had ordered that for those from socialist countries crossing the border, it was no longer necessary to note their license plate number or how many people were on board.[11]

Asked who in the Securitate gave the order to no longer record this information, Nicolaescu insinuated that they were Soviet “moles” who had been placed there “4, 5, 10, and even 30 years earlier.”[12]

The theory has also found its way into the opposition media. Cornel Ivanciuc, who in 1995 wrote one of the most influential exposes to date on the former Securitate for the weekly 22, maintains that the Soviets achieved their aims in December 1989 by means of the so-called “tourist-incursionists, whose activity during the revolution was identical to those of the Spetsnaz special troops for reconnaissance and diversion of the GRU [Soviet military intelligence].”[13]

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Two months after General Vlad’s 1991 court statement, Sorin Rosca Stanescu, one of the most prominent journalist critics of the Iliescu regime and the SRI, presented an interview in the leading opposition daily Romania Libera with an anonymous KGB officer residing in Paris who outlined a familiar scenario.[14] The KGB officer claimed that he had entered Romania on 14 December with others as part of a KGB plan to open fire and create confusion. He had been in Timisoara during the events, but suggested he never received the anticipated order to open fire and left the country on 26 December. Rosca Stanescu, however, made sure to remind his audience of “the insistent rumors which have been circulating referring to the existence on Romanian territory of 2,000 “LADA” automobiles with Soviet tags and two men inside each car…”[15] Stanescu closed by asking his readers: “What did the Ceausescu couple know but were unable to say? Why is general Vlad held in this ambiguous chess game?…Is Iliescu protected by the KGB?”

Stanescu’s intentions are further drawn into question by the fact that this particular article has been cited positively by former Securitate officers in their writings. Colonel Filip Teodorescu of the Securitate’s Counter-espionage Directorate, the second highest-ranking Securitate officer in Timisoara during the repression and sentenced to prison for his role in those events, cites extensively and favorably from this very article by Stanescu in a book on the December events.[16] Pavel Corut also invokes Rosca Stanescu’s interview in support his arguments.[17] Moreover, Rosca Stanescu’s questionable comments make the issue of his (revealed and acknowledged) past collaboration with the Securitate’s USLA unit between 1975 and 1985 relevant.[18]


[1].. See the stenogram from the emergency CPEx meeting of 17 December 1989 in Mircea Bunea, Praf in ochi. Procesul celor 24-1-2. (Bucharest: Editura Scripta, 1994), 34.

[2].. Tina Rosenberg, The Haunted Land. Facing Europe’s Ghosts after Communism (New York: Random House, 1995), 109-117, 235. Rosenberg suggests the theory’s popularity in Poland and especially in the former Czechoslovakia.

[3].. Huntington discusses the concept of el desencanto (the characteristic disillusionment or disenchantment which sets in after the transition) in Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave. Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 255-256.

[4].. By contrast, Rosenberg clearly suggests that those who buy into the Yalta-Malta conspiracy theory elsewhere in Eastern Europe are a distinct minority in political circles and marginal figures in the post-communist era.

[5].. This has come through, for example, in the novels and articles of the well-known, former high-ranking military counter-intelligence officer, Pavel Corut, and in the comments of the former head of the First Directorate (Internal Affairs), Colonel Gheorghe Ratiu, in an extended interview during 1994 and 1995 with the Ceausist weekly Europa.

[6].. See the transcript in Bunea, Praf in Ochi, 47. Ceausescu goes on to link the US invasion of Panama which was taking place at this time to a general offensive by the superpowers to eliminate the sovereignty of independent states. The fact that Ceausescu appeals “not only to the communists” suggests his attempt to play on a non-ideological Romanian nationalism.

[7].. See Vlad’s testimony in Mircea Bunea, “Da sau Ba?” Adevarul, 16 February 1991, in Bunea, Praf in Ochi, 460-461.

[8].. Ibid.

[9].. Pavel Corut, Cantecul Nemuririi [The Song of Immortality] (Bucharest: Editura Miracol, 1994), 165.

[10].. See the excerpts of the SRI’s preliminary report on the December events in “Dispozitivul informativ si de diversiune sovietic a fost conectat la toate fazele evenimentelor (III) [Soviet information and diversion teams were connected to all phases of the events],” Curierul National, 11 July 1994, 2a.

[11].. Sergiu Nicolaescu, interview by Ion Cristoiu, “Moartea lui Milea, Momentul Crucial al Caderii,” Expres Magazin, no. 48 (8-15 December 1993), 31.

[12].. Ibid.

[13].. Cornel Ivanciuc, “Raporturile dintre Frontul Salvarii Nationale si KGB [The Relations between the National Salvation Front and the KGB],” 22, no. 21 (24-30 May 1995), 11.

[14].. Sorin Rosca Stanescu, “Iliescu aparat de K.G.B.? [Iliescu defended by the KGB]” Romania Libera, 18 April 1991, 8.

[15].. Ibid. Rosca Stanescu had in fact already floated this theory. In June 1990, he wrote: “…in the Army, more and more insistently there is talk of the over 4,000 ‘LADA’ automobiles with two men per car, which travelled by various routes in the days preceding the Revolution and then disappeared…” (Sorin Rosca Stanescu, “Se destrama conspiratia tacerii? [Is the conspiracy of silence unravelling?]” Romania Libera, 14 June 1990, 2a). At that time it could be argued that Rosca Stanescu was unaware of the Securitate account. It is difficult to say the same of his comment in April 1991.

[16].. Filip Teodorescu, Un Risc Asumat: Timisoara, decembrie 1989 (Bucharest: Editura Viitorul Romanesc, 1992), 93-94. Curiously, Teodorescu adds: “Besides, I have no reason to suspect that the journalist Sorin Rosca Stanescu would have invented a story in order to come to the defense of those accused by the judicial system and public opinion of the tragic consequences of the December 1989 events.”

[17].. Although Corut does not mention Stanescu by name as does Teodorescu, the references are unambiguous. See Pavel Corut, Floarea de Argint [The Silver Flower] (Bucharest: Editura Miracol, 1994), 173; idem, Fulgerul Albastru [Blue Lightning] (Bucharest: Editura Miracol, 1993), 211.

[18].. In April 1992, documents were leaked (presumably by regime sources) to the media and foreign embassies showing that Stanescu had been an informer for the Securitate’s elite anti-terrorist unit (the USLA) between 1975 and 1985. Stanescu admitted that the charges were true. Although released from Romania Libera in June 1992, he was picked up elsewhere in the opposition press, returned to Romania Libera the following year, and eventually became editor of an opposition daily owned by the trust which runs Romania Libera. Prominent opposition figures have steadfastly defended him as a victim of the Iliescu regime, and in spite of his past, his writings have largely gone unscrutinized. On Stanescu’s case, see Sorin Rosca Stanescu, “Securea lui Magureanu,” Romania Libera, 17 April 1992, 1, 3 (the article which personally attacked the SRI’s Director Virgil Magureanu and appears to have prompted the release of Stanescu’s file); Anton Uncu, “Opriti-l pe Arturo Ui,” Romania Libera, 30 April 1992, 1, 3; Rosca Stanescu, “Sint H-15,” Romania Libera, 9 May 1992, 5; idem, interview by Andreea Pora, “‘H-15′ in slujba patriei,” 22, no. 120 (15-21 May 1992), 13; “Catre SRI,” Romania Libera, 9 June 1992, 1; “Goodbye Magureanu,” The Economist, no. 2212 (18 June 1992) in Tinerama, no. 85 (10-17 July 1992),

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