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.


Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on September 22, 2010

posted by Lillymill, translated by Shenanigan 87, at youtube


By Richard Andrew Hall

Disclaimer:  This material has been reviewed by CIA.  That review neither constitutes CIA authentification of information nor implies CIA endorsement of the author’s views.

Please Note:  This article is not to be cited, reproduced, translated, or used in any form without the acknowledgement and permission of the author.

Part 2: CHECKMATE:  “A thrilling documentary that may destroy your confidence in the mass media…”*

With much fanfare “Checkmate” finally debuted on the Franco-German TV Arte channel on Wednesday, 25 February 2004.  Brandstatter’s film is more formidable than many accounts alleging a primary foreign role in the December 1989 events.  Indeed, it is impressive in some ways:  Brandstatter obviously did a lot of leg-work and preparation for her documentary.  She filmed and conducted research in Romania, Hungary, Germany, Austria, France, and the United States, and spoke to other relevant figures in Great Britain, Bulgaria, and Norway.  Among those whose interviews appear in the film are:  former President Ion Iliescu, analyst Stelian Tanase, dissident Laszlo Tokes, Army General Victor Stanculescu, dissident Doina Cornea, Securitate Colonel Gheorghe Ratiu, Army General Dan Voinea, NSC official Robert Hutchings, Congressman Christopher Smith, and former CIA officers Milton Bearden, Charles Cogan, and Robert Baer (“Jurnalul National,” 24 February 2004).

Brandstatter’s thesis in the film is that Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown in December 1989 by the CIA, in conjunction with the intelligence services of some of its NATO allies, and of the Hungarians in the East bloc.  To be sure, she says, the Soviets had their fingers in the pie, thanks to the presence of the ubiquitous Russian “tourists” (i.e. intelligence agents, more about this below), but theirs was not the decisive role.  Thankfully, Brandstatter does at least acknowledge the independent role played by the courage of the long-suffering average Romanian citizen—although not sufficiently in the view of critics—and does not suggest that all was merely smoke and mirrors in December 1989 (“Jurnalul National,” 24 February 2004).

What evidence does Brandstatter marshal in support of her theory?  A key sequence in the film begins with Miklos Nemeth, Hungarian Prime Minister in December 1989, who admits that Hungary supplied the Romanians with “a lot of important aid, including guns and ammunition,” and that Hungary attempted to recruit officials in key institutions of the Ceausescu regime who were “in a position to help the regime’s victims.”  Brandstatter believes that General Victor Stanculescu was one of those high-ranking Romanian officials who the Hungarians allegedly recruited—although Stanculescu denies this in the film and claims that although he sympathized with regime opponents, he had no ties to them (Magyar Televizio,“Titkos Forradalom?” 29 February 2004).

Next, a Securitate colonel in 1989, Gheorghe Ratiu—in fact, head of the First Directorate, the one most identified by Romanian citizens as the “political police”—declares the Securitate was in possession of information that in (West) Germany (Zehndorf), Austria (Traiskirchen), and Hungary (Bicske), there were training camps where guerilla warfare was being instructed by “American trainers.”  The trainees were taught how to “foment unrest and a national uprising.”  Then, in one of what is perhaps the film’s most unexpected moments, Nemeth appears to confirm the allegations from Ratiu’s interview:  “In the south of Germany and in Austria and in other countries, the Germans and Americans were training the required people” (Magyar Televizio, “Titkos Forradalom?” 29 February 2004).

Brandstatter asks, “Was this possible in Romania at that time?”  Dominique Fonveille, the former French intelligence officer who appeared in the February 2003 Durandin televison expose discussed in Part 1 of this series, reveals in the Brandstatter film:  “Yes, one could enter from neighboring countries, and there were also training camps in Hungary and Germany.  It is certain that these people had to be infiltrated in at the given moment.  You have to understand, however, that it was not possible to infiltrate hundreds of people, nor even for that matter dozens.”  Charles Cogan, described as “head of the CIA’s Paris Station in 1989” is seen stating:  “Either the CIA was active in these camps or was training the trainers.”  In his interview, Robert Baer, a former CIA officer, elaborates, “It is likely that they [the trainers] would have told these people, here is an M-16, here is how to load it, here is how to secure it, here is how you shoot with it and here is how you kill someone with it.  Here is how you activate a plastic explosive, etc.” (Magyar Televizio, “Titkos Forradalom?” 29 February 2004).

Finally, Brandstatter interviews Milton Bearden, presented as “Director of CIA’s East European [operations].”  Bearden declares:

“It is said that these were CIA camps.  We have to make a distinction here.  Almost everything is attributed to the CIA.  I don’t know what these people told you, [and] I don’t deny it in its entirety, but I would advise you to be careful…” (Magyar Televizio, “Titkos Forradalom?” 29 February 2004).

Of course, because Brandstatter’s thesis is that the Revolution was essentially “made in the USA,” sparked and manipulated by American-trained agents, it is not surprising that she promotes the ideas of her interlocutors that the bloodshed and victims of December were intentional—part of a plan to stoke popular outrage against the Ceausescu regime and then to legitimate the leadership that replaced him.  Once again she invokes the words of former Securitate Colonel Gheorghe Ratiu of the First Directorate.  According to Ratiu, the lesson learned by the “producers” of the December 1989 Revolution from the Brasov workers’ riots of November 1987 was that “if there aren’t any corpses, the people won’t revolt sufficiently [in order to overthrow the regime]” (Jurnalul National, 27 February 2004).  Therefore, he suggests that the bloodshed, in the week that preceded the Ceausescus’ flight from power on 22 December 1989, was intended to accomplish just this end.

The French security official, Dominique Fonveille, apparently speaking mostly in reference to the post-22 December bloodshed, argues that the gunfire and chaos that dominated the next few days was deliberate, designed to create a state of insecurity that would in turn create support for the new leaders.  Victims were thus necessary for the credibility of the Revolution, in his view.  Finally, Brandstatter presents an interview with the former Romanian Military Prosecutor, General Dan Voinea, who, on the 10th anniversary of the Revolution, had declared the findings of the investigation into the question of the so-called “terrorists”—the term used to describe those held responsible for 942 deaths (nearly 90% of the overall number of 1,104 people who died in the course of the Revolution) in the immediate hours and days following the flight of the Ceausescus.  According to Voinea—who, it is important to point out, was himself one of the people involved in the trial of the Ceausescus that was justified officially as having been necessary to put an end to the “terrorist” violence:

“After 22 December 1989, there existed a huge diversion, in the sense that the notion of terrorists who were attacking the population were invented.  After investigating the question, it was determined that these terrorists did not in reality exist.” (“Jurnalul National,” 27 February 2004).


Reviews of Brandstatter’s film were positive and it certainly fascinated its viewers.  A rare note of skepticism, but also acceptance of the film’s thesis on foreign involvement, was Dominique Dhombres’ review in “Le Monde” on 26 February 2004.  Yes, he wrote, the CIA, the KGB, and perhaps even the French secret services were involved, but Brandstatter still underplayed the role of Romania’s citizens “who were not [just] marionettes.”  He concluded, “Brandstatter’s display is sedcutive, but like the execution of the Ceausescus…[her conclusions are] a little hasty.”

Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, some Romanian commentators not known for their support of the Western-engineered variant of the conspiracy theory of December 1989 have argued that Brandstatter’s arguments deserve serious consideration.  Using the research strategy of “qui bono”—a strategy which Brandstatter admits also drove her analysis of the December 1989 events—Cornel Nistorescu, editor of the mass daily “Evenimentul Zilei [Event of the Day],” concludes:  Hungary was also interested in Ceausescu’s fall (it’s European integration would have been an unsolvable problem if Ceausescu had continued to exist across its Eastern border); also interested were France, Germany, and the United States” (“Evenimentul Zilei,” 28 February 2004).

Some of the other commentary on Brandstatter’s film is equally interesting.  In a statement published by “Jurnalul National [The National Journal]” on 25 February 2004, Radu Tinu declared:  “It is regrettable that the facts I presented, five years ago, have become interesting only now, when the West releases them…We Romanians did not make the Revolution, but rather danced to the music of other intelligence services.  Tap-dancing for the CIA and ‘kalinka’ for the KGB.”  Tinu differs with Brandstatter, however, over for whom Stanculescu was spying; according to Tinu, he was working for the English, not the Hungarians as Brandstatter insinuates.  The name Radu Tinu may be familiar to Romania watchers:  he was the Deputy Chief of the Timis County Securitate that was involved in the bloody repression of demonstrators in Timisoara in December 1989.**

In a 3 March 2004 editorial entitled “The Romanian Revolution at the Intersection of CIA and KGB Streets,” the senior editor of “Jurnalul National,” Marius Tuca, accepted the rejection of some of Brandstatter’s claims—relayed by journalists at his own paper—and then summarizing the contradiction and timeless conspiratorial view at the center of many Romanian responses wrote:  “…there exists one certainty in all this debate:  the Revolution was founded by the Romanian people.  What remains to be learned is if someone put it in train and especially WHO! (emphasis in original].”

One of the more interesting reactions to the film came from Sergiu Nicolaescu, a film director who found himself at the center of the December events and who chaired a parliamentary commission investigating those events in the early and mid-1990s.  Nicolaescu alleged that the film was “a dirty trick financed by the Hungarians, because they are the only ones interested in making people believe that the Romanian Revolution was made by someone other than Romanians…[and, furthermore] the interviews were conducted in Hungarian not Romanian” (“Jurnalul National,” 28 February 2004).


Had it not been for the surprising claims of former Hungarian Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth in “Checkmate,” it is doubtful the Hungarians would have paid much attention to the film.  But Nemeth’s comments suddenly converted what otherwise would have been a “foreign story” into one that “hit home,” so-to-speak. Those who think that such narcissism is the province of individuals—or as a good number of American academics seem to think, a quintessentially American condition—have probably never witnessed media coverage in other countries of an overseas catastrophe or sporting event, in which co-nationals are the be-all and end-all of coverage.

Until investigations by Hungarian Television to substantiate Nemeth’s claims in “Checkmate,” the Hungarian population had been informed primarily by translated dispatches of “Jurnalul National,” related by Hungarian correspondents in Bucharest, that were not subject to further scrutiny.  The daily “Magyar Hirlap” presented on 26 February the revelations of Securitate officers Ratiu and Tinu as confirming the thesis that Ceausescu had been overthrown by foreign intelligence services—who had set up training centers, including in Hungary as Nemeth maintained.  That the statements by former Securitate officials—even if in support of the argument of a former top Hungarian official—could be taken at face-value is perhaps evidence of how far we have come even in Hungary from December 1989—such statements would have been subject to far more, almost knee-jerk scrutiny in the early 1990s.  The idea that the Hungarian media was just dying to deny Brandstatter’s allegations thus does not really wash.

Hungarian Television began scrutinizing the film in its “Thursday Evening” program, but the more important examination of the film was on Sunday, 29 February 2004, when MTV (Magyar Televizio) broadcast a program entitled “Secret Revolution (Titkos Forradalom)?” According to the host, Sandor Friderikusz, “days later [after the first showing of the documentary] the film was still enthralling Hungarians and foreigners.”  But it was clearly Nemeth’s claim that was driving everything—and ended up serving as the gateway to a more wideranging deconstruction of the film.

Brandstatter had been scheduled to appear on the progam, Friderikusz stated, but after having promised for a week to participate, at the last minute pulled out without giving a reason.  Friderikusz decided to contact those interviewed in the film to verify their statements on camera.  A pattern soon began to emerge:  Brandstatter had conducted long, in some cases hours-long, interviews, but had only placed short, frequently out-of-context clips in the final product.  Moreover, according to her interlocutors, she had come to the interviews with her mind firmly made up about what had happened in December 1989.

The first interviewee who was sought out, was Milton Bearden, who participated by phone from his home in New Hampshire.  Bearden, the former Chief of Operations for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, was not amused by Brandstatter’s documentary.  His admonition to Brandstatter, that she should be careful in her pursuit of the idea that the Romanian Revolution was the work of foreign security services, was the only excerpt of what he maintained was a two and a half hour interview.  [Romanian Army General Victor Stanculescu maintains that although in the film he only has a few words, the interview with Brandstatter lasted four hours (“Clipa,” 11 March 2004).]

Bearden was emphatic in declaring that “the CIA in no way directed or precipitated the revolution” and rejected Brandstatter’s contention that the Revolution was the work of foreign security services as “completely untrue.”  Asked if he thought Brandstatter had forced her case, Bearden responded:  “I don’t want to cause Brandstatter difficulty, but she [came] already convinced of the truth of her theory.”  His admonition for her to “be careful,” appears to have been a reference to how she was approaching the topic analytically—not that this pursuit was endangering her life or well-being.

Bearden considered the allegations of a central Hungarian role ridiculous.  He noted that in 1989, the Hungarian political scene was dominated by two principal issues:  the reburial of Imre Nagy and the opening of its western frontier with Austria.  To his credit as a journalist, Friderikusz challenged Bearden on two points:  1) perhaps other personnel within the CIA might have been involved in an operation against Romania of the variety alleged in the film of which Bearden was unaware, and 2) if there had been a CIA role, would it not be natural that Bearden should deny a CIA role?  Bearden claimed it was out of the question that an operation of this type could have taken place without his knowledge, and he acknowledged the suspicion with which his denials might be received but reiterated emphatically that Brandstatter’s claims were groundless.

Next, Friderikusz interviewed Ferenc Karpati, Hungarian Defense Minister at the time of the Revolution, and Laszlo Borsics, Hungarian Chief of Staff at the time.  Karpati and Borsics denied any preparation for, or provision of, arms during the Revolution, and stated that they did not believe something such as the alleged CIA training of agents provocateurs to overthrow Ceausescu could have been launched from Hungary.  Although there was some discussion in political circles of sending in Hungary’s anti-terrorist brigades and armed volunteers, Karpati opined, “luckily we rejected it.”  In fact, the officials claimed they only made offers of arms and munitions after Ceausescu’s overthrow and that these had been rejected by the Romanian military, who only accepted medical supplies.  Friderikusz pushed Karpati on the question of “which party or political faction” was advocating intervention, but Karpati declined to say, stating that he had already made it public years before in an article in the “Historia” magazine. [In the throes of the 1994 Hungarian parliamentary election campaign, however, the leader of the former communist party (MSzP), Gyula Horn, accused the deceased former Prime Minister Jozsef Antall and then current foreign minister Geza Jeszensky of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) as having asked in the days of the Revolution to be permitted to create volunteer detachments to intervene in Romania, but that the request was rejected.  Jeszensky denied Horn’s claim, saying that the MDF had asked Horn, who was foreign minister in December 1989, to request NATO intervention and had never proposed the idea of volunteer detachments. (see Dorin Suciu, “Si totusi in ’89 Ungaria pregatea o interventie armata in Romania,” Adevarul, 26 April 1994).]

In what was emerging as a clear pattern, Karpati claimed that a year earlier Brandstatter had conducted a two hour (unfilmed) “pre”-interview with him—none of which ever saw the light of day.  Thus, when she asked to send a film crew, he declined when she did not respond to his questions of the content of the film.  Challenged about Nemeth’s claim of Hungarian and CIA direct involvement in the Revolution, Borsics opined that Nemeth’s words “may have been taken out of context…and I certainly have no knowledge of such things.”  Borsics also highlighted some basic factual inaccuracies in the account purported in the Brandstatter film—such as the Bicske “training camp” being 40 km from the Austrian border, when in fact it is 40 km from Budapest and at least 150 km from the Austrian border.

Friderikusz followed up once again with Karpati, inquiring how it was possible that Nemeth’s account, at least as it appeared in the film, could be so different from his and Borsics’?  “Was it possible,” he asked, “that only he [Nemeth] was privy” to these secrets?  Karpati responded emphatically:

“All I can say, is that during those days, every hour we were updating the Prime Minister, frequently we sat a his desk, marking on a map every move that was taking place in Romania, we spoke about troop movements, we talked about everything, and I believe that he would have heard everything from us first.”

Finally, Friderikusz spoke to Sandor Aradi, the Hungarian military attache in Bucharest during the Revolution, who denied Brandstatter’s thesis, claimed the film was full of doubletalk, and affirmed that the Romanian Revolution was first and foremost the work of the Romanian people, especially the Romanian youth. “Without a doubt,” Aradi claimed, it was unthinkable that he could have held such a position and not had some information on the secret operations Nemeth had alleged.

Even at the political level, Nemeth’s claims were rejected by other senior politicians from the time.  A separate MTV 1 program conducted an interview with Imre Pozsgay, who claimed no knowledge of Nemeth’s allegations and that Nemeth had discussed nothing of the sort (Magyar Televizio b, 2004).  “If I didn’t know about [the secret operations], then that means very, very few could have known,” he stated,

“…sure the West and Moscow tried to apply pressure to Ceausescu, but a revolution, a societal uprising, a rebellion, that the security services could pull off such a thing…such a thing has never happened in the history of the world [!].”

Thus, besides Romanian figures who disputed their characterization and/or presentation in the film and the manner in which Brandstatter produced it, we have here at least five other key officials from the time, not only rejecting Brandstatter’s thesis, but expressing dismay and disgust at how Brandstatter put the Revolution in “Checkmate”—Bearden, Karpati, Borsics, Aradi, and Pozsgay.


Among those asked by “Jurnalul National” to comment on the Brandstatter documentary was former Soviet-era Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovski.  Bukovski did not challenge Brandstatter’s account, maintaining that he had not had access to the sources available to Brandstatter—thereby leaving open the possibility of a CIA role in Ceausescu’s overthrow.  At first glance, this was somewhat surprising, as Bukovski has long argued that the December 1989 events in Romania were the work of the US and CIA’s principal adversary, the KGB.  However, it is not so surprising when one realizes the primary role Bukovski gives to foreign forces in bringing about Ceausescu’s overthrow, and his corresponding neglect of the internal dynamics of the Revolution inside Romania.

Bukovski’s comments while visiting Romania in November 2003—that the KGB orchestrated the events of Ceausescu’s overthrow—meant that the Romanian press had a field day on the 14th anniversary of the Revolution.  As usual when it comes to the KGB thesis, it was Editor-in-Chief Sorin Rosca Stanescu’s daily “Ziua” that gave Bukovski’s comments publicity, although dailies such as “Evenimentul Zilei,” “Romania Libera,” and others soon chimed in. “Case closed,” many editorialists, intellectuals, and politicians hastened to pronounce. Bukovski’s comments were interpreted as gospel precisely by those who have for years accepted and promoted this theory and who recognize its utility in contemporary Romanian political debates.  Bukovski’s credibility is enhanced by his stature and integrity as a former Soviet dissident, and by his post-1991 access to Soviet archives and publication of the documents he was able to surreptitiously photocopy.  But two critical points have to be made with regard to Bukovski’s claim about Romania’s December 1989 events.  First, he alleges that the collapse of communist rule throughout Eastern Europe—including the fall of the Berlin Wall—were part of an elaborate KGB plot, hatched beginning from 1988.  Second, he first made such allegations well-before he got access to those Soviet archives.

In a study dating from the late 1990s, the Romanian author Vladimir Alexe, who endorses a similar viewpoint on Romania’s December 1989 events, quoted Bukovski’s comments in 1990 on the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, as follows:

“Never has the role of the KGB inside the country [the USSR] or abroad been so important.  The Soviet secret services are the ones that watched the overthrow of Ceausescu in Romania, launched the ‘velvet revolution’ in Czechoslovakia, [and] that took measures to overthrow Erich Honecker in East Germany, producing especially favorable circumstances for the destruction of the Berlin Wall  (“L’Empire du moindre mal,” Libre Journal, Paris, nr. 1, sept-oct, 1990, p. 30).” (see Vladimir Alexe, “KGB si revolutiile din Europa de Est” in Ziua, 19 November 1999 and 20 December 1999)

In the wake of Bukovski’s “bombshell” in November 2003, at least one Romanian commentator attempted to legitimize the credibility of Bukovski’s  claims by appealing to the fact that the documents substantiating Bukovski’s claims are “on the Internet, anybody can access them.”  It is true that Bukovski has published Soviet archival documents on the Internet, including from the period 1988 to 1991—however, none of them are about the December 1989 events in Romania (  Indeed, given the amazing antennae of the Romanian press for anything that substantiates their beliefs on this matter—and their deafness to anything that challenges those beliefs—one would expect that did such documents exist they would have been reproduced in the Romanian press by now.

Following Brandstatter’s film, Bukovski returned again to the Romanian press scene in the summer of 2004 in a series of interviews in “Ziua.”  Although the daily typically hyped Bukovski’s comments—one could click on a file on their internet site devoted exclusively to “The Bukovski Scandal”—to make it appear that Bukovski had made stunning, new, and unassailable revelations, and Bukovski offered to provide documentary evidence for his views, he provided neither documentary evidence nor any new details—already, virtually non-existent—to his account.

As mentioned above, in commenting on what he referred to as the “Checkmate documentary,” Bukovski stated that he did not challenge Brandstatter’s account, since he had not had access to the sources available to her.  However, he did seek to strengthen support for his own argument of the events as predominantly a KGB coup by invoking the writings of the BBC reporter, John Simpson (“Jurnalul National,” 2 March 2004?).  Simpson’s writings have been invoked by others who have sought to evaluate accounts of the Revolution.  For example, Krishna Kumar writes in his 2001 book reexamining 1989 in the region, that John Simpson had brought new, sensational revelations to the table in a 1994 “Independent (London)” article (Kumar, 2001).  But the basis of Simpson’s 1994 article is the report released by the Romanian Information Service (SRI) that alleges Russian and other East bloc “tourists” played a seminal role in sparking the Revolution.  (Despite questioning other aspects of the SRI’s contentions, Deletant unfortunately appears to accept this claim at face value—without recognizing how it contradicts and ultimately negates his other arguments on the events (see Deletant ,1999, pp. 171-172).)  That the SRI is the Securitate’s formal institutional successor, and incorporated many of the personnel, structures, and culture of the Securitate, hardly lends the argument credibility.  Moreover, one has to ask if Bukovski supposedly knows so much about the KGB role in the Romanian Revolution from his access to Soviet archival sources, how is it that he does not know about what would appear to be a key detail—the role of Russian and East bloc “tourists” in sparking Ceausescu’s overthrow?

*From the television guide description of Newsletter MARS 2004/1 on the Internet.

**Marius Mioc, a direct participant in the Timisoara uprising and a researcher who has written some of the most detailed and insightful analysis on the events of December 1989, was sufficiently incensed with “revelations” that suggest that the events of Timisoara were stage-managed by foreign forces and that defended or denied the role of regime forces in repressing demonstrators that he published a newspaper devoted to the subject (Mioc 2004).


“Clipa On-line,” 2004, web edition,

Deletant, D., 1999, Romania Under Communist Rule (Portland, OR:  Center for Romanian Studies).

“Evenimentul Zilei,” (Bucharest), 2004, web edition,

“The Independent,” (London), 1994.

“Jurnalul National,” (Bucharest), 2004, web edition,

Kumar, K., 2001, 1989:  Revolutionary Ideas and Ideals (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press).

“Le Monde,” 2004, web edition,

“Magyar Hirlap,” 2004, web edition,

Mioc, M., 2004. “Revolutia din Timisoara si minciunile de Marius Tuca [The Timisoara Revolution and the Lies of Marius Tuca (editor of Jurnalul National),” (Timisoara), March.

MTV 1 (Magyar Televizio 1), 2004.  “Csutortok este [Thursday Evening],” 26 February at

MTV 1 (Magyar Televizio 1), 2004.  “Titkos Forradalom?  [Secret Revolution?],” 29 February at

“Ziua” (Bucharest), 1999, 2003, 2004, web edition,



  1. […]… […]

  2. […] for discussion of Simpson’s article from the 16 December 1994 Independent ( reprinted below) please see my 2005 article here:…) […]

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