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.

THE 1989 ROMANIAN REVOLUTION AS GEOPOLITICAL PARLOR GAME: BRANDSTATTER’S “CHECKMATE” DOCUMENTARY AND THE LATEST WAVE IN A SEA OF REVISIONISM, Part Seven (Conclusion)

Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on September 26, 2010

THE 1989 ROMANIAN REVOLUTION AS GEOPOLITICAL PARLOR GAME:  BRANDSTATTER’S “CHECKMATE” DOCUMENTARY AND THE LATEST WAVE IN A SEA OF REVISIONISM

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 7:  Why the “End of Amnesia” May Not Come Anytime Soon*

II.  Revelations/Confessions/Admissions

1) The Revelations of former Timisoara Securitate officer Roland Vasilevici

Two months after the violence that marked Ceausescu’s overthrow, when in Bucharest the official and media rehabilitation of the USLA was already underway (see Part 5), a three-part series entitled “Piramida Umbrelor [Pyramid of Shadows]” appeared in the cultural/political Timisoara weekly, “Orizont,” on 2, 9, and 16 March 1990.  The articles appeared under the name “Puspoki F.,” but it was clear from the text of the articles that the author must have some connection to the former Securitate or Militia because he described the inner workings of these organs in their dealings with Pastor Tokes and their actions once protests began outside his residence on 15-16 December 1989.  Significantly, the author related the responsibilities and actions of the USLA, including their weaponry, munitions, clothing, and physical disposition—details which were later to be substantiated elsewhere.  It was pretty clear in his discussion of the USLA and the “Comando” unit (a likely reference to the USLAC) that he believed them to have been the “terrorists” who had claimed so many lives.

In 1996, I asked Mircea Mihaies, the editor of “Orizont” at the time the “Pyramid of Shadows” series appeared, what recollection he had about the circumstances of the article’s publication (Mihaies, interview, Bloomington, IN 1996). He could not recall the situation, and I have no reason to question his lack of recollection.  It is important to point out that at the time of the interview with Mihaies, I had no knowledge of Vasilevici’s book “Pyramid of Shadows”—I first learned of it in summer 1997—and therefore could not draw the comparison between the series in “Orizont” and the book.  As a result, throughout my Ph.D. Dissertation, I cite only “Puspoki F.” and the “Orizont” series—believing them to have been the revelations of someone with access to the former Securitate’s methods and actions, but without realizing them to be Vasilevici’s (see Hall, February 1997).

Nevertheless, there is no denying that the text of the “Orizont” series is identical to the passages found in Vasilevici’s book (Editura Vest, 1991) of the same title as the series.  This does not leave many explanations:  1) “Puspoki F.” is the source of both the “Orizont” series and of the work under Vasilevici’s name; 2) someone other than “Puspoki F.” or Vasilevici is the author of all the texts involved; or 3) Vasilevici was the source of the article published under the name “Puspoki F.”  Clearly—and especially given Vasilevici’s later comments with William Totok and others—Vasilevici was the author of the series in “Orizont” (see, the 1995 interview in Totok, 2001, pp. 186-203; Vasilevici had worked the surveillance of “Culte (churches),” specifically Roman Catholic, in Timisoara, under Radu Tinu).

2)  The comments of former USLA Captain Marian Romanescu

In mid-1991, the revelations of former USLA Captain Marian Romanescu surfaced, first under his initials and later under his real name.  Romanescu admitted the unit’s involvement in the repression of workers in Brasov in November 1987 and the juridical basis upon which the unit’s involvement lay (Order No. 2600).  Furthermore, as we saw in the last installment of this series, he reported USLA Commander Ardeleanu’s comments at the unit’s headquarters after the execution of the Ceausescus.  On the USLA’s actions during the week of 16-22 December, and particularly on his own actions during 22-25 December he was somewhat more reticent.  However, he did supply information on the enigmatic USLAC (special unit for antiterrorist and commando warfare), referenced by Ardeleanu in his speech:

The USLAC Commandos:  Those who had and have knowledge about the existence and activities of the shock troops subordinated directly to Ceausescu remained quiet and continue to do so out of fear or out of calculation.  Much has been said about individuals in black jumpsuits, with tatoos on their left hand and chest, mercenary fanatics who acted at night killing with precision and withdrawing when they were encircled to the underground tunnels of Bucharest.  Much was said, then nobody said anything, as if nothing had ever happened.  Superimposed above the Fifth Directorate and the USLA, the USLAC commandos were made up of individuals who ‘worked’ undercover in different places.  Many were foreign students, doctors and thugs commited with heart and soul to the dictator. Many were Arabs who knew with precision the nooks and crannies of Bucharest, Brasov and other towns in Romania.  (emphasis in original).”  ((with Dan Badea, “USLA, Bula Moise, teroristii si ‘Fratii Musulmani’,” “Expres (2-8 July 1991), p. 8)).

3)  The comments of an anonymous former USLA recruit

As in the case of the “Puspoki” series, so it was in the case of the comments of a former USLA recruit.  Asked about the significance of this short A.M. Press news agency dispatch on page 3 of the daily “Romania Libera” on 28 December 1994 (“Dezvaluiri despre implicarea USLA in evenimentele din decembrie ’89 [Revelations on USLA involvement in the events of December ‘89]”), Romanian journalists and intellectuals have no knowledge of it—not surprising—and dismiss it as unimportant.  Strangely, a former USLA officer read it and was so incensed he immediately published responses condemning it and identifying and denigrating the similarly anonymous correspondent of the dispatch.  Why such a zealous reaction?

Here are the comments of the recruit that precipitated the reaction:

“A youth who did his military service with the USLA troops declared to A.M. Press’ Dolj correspondent:  ‘I was in Timisoara and Bucharest in December ’89.  In addition to us [USLA] draftees, recalled professionals, who wore black camouflage outfits, were dispatched.  Antiterrorist troop units and these professionals received live ammunition.  In Timisoara demonstrators were shot at short distances.  I saw how the skulls of those who were shot would explode.  I believe the masked ones, using their own special weapons, shot with exploding bullets.  In January 1990, all the draftees from the USLA troops were put in detox.  We had been drugged.  We were discharged five months before our service was due to expire in order to lose any trace of us.  Don’t publish my name.  I fear for me and my parents.  When we trained and practiced we were separated into ‘friends’ and ‘enemies.’  The masked ones were the ‘enemies’ who we had to find and neutralize.  I believe the masked ones were the terrorists.’” [“Romania Libera,” 28 December 1994]**

Teodor Filip, a former USLA officer, was apparently intrigued enough by this article that he went to the trouble of tracking down the identity of the correspondent of the dispatch.  According to Filip, the correspondent was Sterie Petrescu, who Filip claims was later expelled by both AM Press (Dolj) and “Romania Libera” for printing “scandalous disinformation,” and removed in 1996 from his position as head of Dolj County for the anti-Iliescu regime “Civic Alliance,” after which he had legal motions lodged against him (Filip 1998, pp. 109-111).  Filip claims immediately after the above dispatch came out, he published rejoinders in the daily “Crisana Plus.”  In those responses, he rejected the claims of the dispatch in their entirety.  According to Filip:  “during the December 1989 events, not a single member of USLA was dispatched into the field…[and] the USLA did not commit a single act [of repression] against demonstrators” (Filip 1998, p. 111).

Fear

It is significant that all of the aforementioned former Securitate (USLA) members who have revealed the USLA’s role in the December 1989 bloodshed have been “called out” and threatened.  Marian Romanescu claimed harassment and “hostile surveillance,” and initially tried to hide his identity (see details of his ordeal as recounted to Dan Badea, “U.S.L.A. in Stare de Hipnoza,” “Expres,” 9-15 April 1991); the anonymous USLA recruit, more explicit too—as if his anonymity were not enough—claiming that he feared for himself and his family.  Then there is Vasilevici’s case.

Despite the denial of any recollection or importance of the articles by “Puspoki F. (i.e. Vasilevici),” they did not escape the notice of the former Securitate.  Thus, from jail, Radu Tinu, the Timis County Deputy Securitate chief, sought to counter the accusations “during March 1990, in the weekly “Orizont” in which a certain Puspok accused me of nationalism” (interview from 1991, in Bacescu 1994, p. 67).  When Vasilevici was preparing to release his book, he maintained that he was “receiving many threatening and ‘dead line’ phone calls in the middle of the night” (interview with Mireca Iovan, “Cuvintul,” no. 119 (May 1992), p. 8).  He said two to three cars were posted outside his residence, and that he was accosted by six individuals when was on his way to the police station to file a complaint.  A former colleague informed him that he “had been contacted by the same Radu Tinu [by now out of jail] and was instructed to alert the network with the goal of by all means impeding the publication of the book.”  According to the “Cuvintul” reporter, when he spoke to Vasilevici by phone, Vasilevici was “very scared…such a man generally does not panic so easily.”

Vasilevici’s story seems plausible for a number of reasons.  First, at a time when he would have gained notoriety with his revelations in “Orizont”—March 1990—he chose anonymity.  Clearly, his story was more important than notoriety to him—a notoriety he probably did not seek, for reasons of personal security.  Second, former Securitate have also attacked him viciously in their literature.  In March 1992, retired Securitate Colonel Ion Lemnaru wrote in “Spionaj-Contraspionaj” about the 1990 pamphlet of Romeo Vasiliu, “Piramida Umbrelor,” identifying the author as Roland Vasilevici, publishing Vasilevici’s address, and then citing an extended section of the text of the pamphlet (identical to what is in the March 1990 “Orizont” article).  The section that is cited precisely concerns allegations about the USLA’s role in the Timisoara repression and terrorism—this is clearly the focus of Colonel Lemnaru’s ire (“Piramida de minciuni a lui Roland Vasilevici,” “Spionaj-Contraspionaj,” no. 24 (March 1992), p. 7a).  In late 1994, while giving an interview on a local independent TV station in Timisoara, Radu Tinu came to the station while Vasilevici was on air and tried to interrupt the broadcast! (“Romania Libera,” 28 December 1994, p. 3)

It was also not good to have been a former military prosecutor who resigned the post because he saw where things were going with the “terrorist” investigation.  Marian Valer, who alleged SRI non-cooperation in the attempt to reconstitute what happened in December 1989, as well as the disappearance of maps captured at the time in Sibiu, said wryly in September 1990 that “Shortly after the publication of my resignation I sensed that I was benefiting from the services of Mr. Magureanu’s organization [i.e. the SRI…he was being surveilled]” (interview by Monica Marginean, “Expres,” no. 33 (September 1990), p. 2).  When questioned by a military judge at the proceedings of a trial linked to the Timisoara repression—as to why his fellow SRI colleagues called to testify were not showing up—a SRI junior officer who had been a member of the Timisoara Securitate’s antiterrorist intervention group in December 1989 responded:  “they don’t come, because they are afraid” (“Romania Libera,” 18 June 1991, p. 2a).

If this is how former Securitate whistleblowers and military prosecutors feel, what must be the situation for civilians and people of lower-rank in the Army?  In summer 1990, “Expres” reported on two young men recovering in an Italian hospital from wounds inflicted during the December events (Victor Radulescu, “Excursii prin Contul Libertatea,” “Expres” no. 11 (August 1990), p. 5).  They recalled how, at the Intercontinental on 21-22 December, “those in kaki [i.e. Securitate, likely USLA] shot us.  The first two rows of troops [Army] shot tracers, while those behind them opened live fire.”  The two, one injured on the 21st, the other on the 23rd, claimed that after they arrived in Italy, a certain 40 year old Iordan Cristian, who admitted to them he had been USLA, visited the hospital—he had been shot in the hand at an earlier time and recovered (!)—snatched any reading material showing photos of the 13-15 June rampage against the opposition in Bucharest, and kept them in a general state of fear.  In addition, he asked them to surrender their passports, something which “made even the Italians realize something was not quite right in all of this.”  Similarly, in an article that captures in a microcosm the complexity and fluidity of the first years of the post-Ceausescu era, one-time leader of the small “Liberal Democratic Party,” Elena Serban, maintains she was blackmailed in 1990 by Radu Grigore (a name that was to crop up again in some of the more underhanded political affairs of 1991-1992) who threatened her that “…if I betrayed him, he would kill me, and that I only needed to remember he had been an USLA officer…who had been in charge of the USLA machine-gun detachments on the night of 21 December in University Sqaure” (Dan Badea, “Securitatea—un joc in numele trandafirului,” “Expres,” 8-14 September 1992, p. 9).

Army soldiers who had been posted out front of the Defense Ministry on the night of 23/24 December, and who vigorously contested the revisionist account of the event by detailing the suspicious behavior of the USLA detachment in question, reported after expressing their recollections, having “been warned to think long and hard since they have families and to stay on their own turf if they do not want to have problems” (see Major Mihai Floca, “Crima?” “Armata Poporului” (6 June 1990), 3, and idem., “Eroi, victime, sau teroristi?” “Adevarul” 29August 1990, pp. 1-2).  Residents of the apartment blocs surrounding the Defense Ministry told Army journalists that there had indeed existed “terrorists” and that they had fired on the Ministry building from these surrounding buildings.  One family maintained that they had been visited in May 1990 by two individuals flashing “Militia” identity cards, inquiring what had happened in December 1989 in that location, and insisting that different parts of the Army had merely fired at one another—there had been no “terrorists.”  Some residents maintained that a neighbor suspected of being a Securitate collaborator had been going around suggesting “how to ‘correctly’ interpret the incident with the two armored personnel vehicles [i.e. the USLA unit] on the night of 23/24 December.”  The Army journalists concluded based on these interviews that “therefore, ‘the boys’ [a common euphemism for the Securitate] are [still] at work” (Mihai Floca and Victor Stoica, “Unde sint teroristii? PE STRADA, PRINTRE NOI,” “Armata Poporului” 13 June 1990, 27 June 1990).

Whereever the USLA showed up, even when supposedly fulfilling the “Special Action Plan” of coordination under such circumstances, they ended up in gunfights.  Was it the suspicion so “illfounded” or tendentious launched by Television?  A tragic error or misunderstanding?

Not even those who rose to influential posts in the early Iliescu administration were immune.  According to the well-known Romanian actor, Ernest Maftei, who was in the one of the focal points of the December events, the CC (the Central Committee building), even members of the Front were being careful about what they said.  Speaking in mid-September 1991, the 71 year-old Maftei was clearly disenchanted with Iliescu and the post-December evolution of politics.  He had written for the daily “Dreptatea” of the opposition National Peasants Party (PNTCD) in 1990 and spoken against the Front at the famous 28 January 1990 siege of opposition party officials. He noted bitterly, how on 14 June 1990, he had been beaten by the miners who came to Bucharest to ‘defend’ the Front:  “I’ll end on this note:  so I was in the revolution so that I could be almost beaten to death on 14 June and my son end up unemployed…?”  Nevertheless, it is significant what he said recalling the events in the CC on the night of 22 December after 11pm:

Dan Badea (the reporter, DB):  Who was it Dan Iosif [a civilian who was to become a key member and defender of Iliescu’s circle from the December events onward] shot?

EM (Ernest Maftei:  USLA!  Sir, they ostensibly came to help us and instead they ended up shooting us!…In the sub-basement there were some men of ours, because there were some armored doors there and we didn’t know what the deal was with them.  And someone opened a door and saw lights on.  So we got scared about what was there.  Then the USLA came to help us.  Yes!  And when they went down, they shot all our people.  Two of ours were killed there, they were revolutionaries, simple people who went there to die [as it turned out].  And then we realized that these guys would kill us.  Then they ascended.  They too had three dead.  And so we surrounded them:  “Undress we told them!” My god, it was awful.

DB:  Dan Iosif claims that he didn’t shoot the 15 USLASI…

EM:  He’s having you on, don’t listen to him!  It was necessary to kill them there.  But he doesn’t want to say it because he doesn’t want it to be known because today the Securitate still rules.  Precisely some of those who shot at us are now in power.  Listen to me.  The USLA, the Fifth Column, were with Ceausescu [emphasis added]. You don’t think they would have killed us?  My god!

DB:  Who else besides Dan Iosif shot?

EM:  Many, about 5, I don’t know their names.  Hell, if we hadn’t shot them, we would have been dead!  It was revolution, sir.  It was civil war…(see interview with Dan Badea, “Iliescu putea sa fie eroul neamului, dar a pierdut ocazia! [Iliescu could have been a national hero, but he squandered the opportunity!],” “Expres,” no. 36 (85) 10-16 September 1991)

Nor does such reticence on this subject appear to have disappeared after all these years.  With the advent of the Internet, unverifiable bulletin board postings also pop up.  On 23 December 2003, under the name of “kodiak,” the following appeared:  “In ’89 I was a major in the USLA…and I know enough things that it would be better I didn’t know…15, 16, 20, 30 years will pass and nothing will be known beyond what you need and have permission to know…” (http://www.cafeneaua.com)

Conclusions

This article began with an extended discussion of Suzanne Brandstatter’s much-publicized and debated “Checkmate” documentary on the Romanian Revolution of December 1989, first broadcast in late February 2004 on the Franco-German television station TV Arte.  Many who commented upon the film presented its thesis that 1989 events were a CIA-engineered coup as original.  This is only partially true, as the French scholar Catherine Durandin had already been pushing the thesis in recent years.  But the arguments of the Brandstatter-Durandin Franco-German school are indeed new—not to mention, surprising—given that it was precisely journalists and academics in France and Germany who in 1990 zealously marketed the idea of the December 1989 events as a KGB-engineered coup.

On the surface, what has changed over the past decade and a half is the broader geopolitical context, from Romania’s membership in the Warsaw Pact to Romania as NATO member and a key US ally in the Afghanistan and Iraqi military campaigns.  This, the break-up of the Soviet Union, the decline of Russia as a major power, and perceived and real US hegemony on the world stage, have all contributed to the prism through which a historical event fifteen years ago is now interpreted.

Aside from the apparent numerous instances of selective editing and a director who had reached her conclusion before she had started interviewing—as related time and again by the now frustrated and, in some cases, angry interviewees—the Brandstatter film is beset by a major problem, in which she is hardly alone.  Not being steeped enough in the history of December 1989, but particularly, not being steeped enough in the post-1989 historiography of those events, she is oblivious to the context and agendas of those whose “revelations” upon which she bases her argument.  Thus, when Gheorghe Ratiu, former head of the Securitate directorate most identified by Romanians as the “political police” talks about secret CIA training camps in West Germany, Austria, and Hungary and of the trainees as having sparked the anti-Ceausescu uprising, she appears to accept it at face value.  But this is not some “new revelation”; it was born in 1990-1991 when the former Securitate was intent on exonerating the institution and those directly involved in repression, including Ratiu himself.

Brandstatter, of course, as in the case of the French journalists of the first wave, can easily be forgiven for not knowing better the historiography of the Revolution or questioning the agendas of those who made these sensational revelations or the context in which such details and arguments were born.  The same does not stand true, however, for those inside and outside Romania who have written on the December 1989 events.  One simply cannot understand what happened in December 1989, if one is not familiar with exactly what the former Securitate have argued about those events since December 1989, in particular during the key period of 1990 and 1991.  The etymology of details and arguments about December 1989, where—when, and how these were born—is imperative for understanding the Revolution.

The time for reifying Ceausescu’s overthrow, for arcane and simply by now uncontroversial and unenlightening debates about whether it was a revolution or a coup—while making little or no effort to examine the specifics of what happened—for failing to address the Securitate’s historiography of the events, for declarative statements about “the trick with the terrorists” or “the well-controlled chaos” without providing any proof, has passed.  It has been a hallmark of my research on the Revolution from the start to deconstruct and test the arguments and claims of others who have studied this event.  I ask that future investigations of the December 1989 events will address the many details presented in this article, particularly in the last two installments.

*Title inspired by phrase used by Radu Ciobotea in “Flacara” July 1991.

**Space does not permit me to discuss the tactics, ballistics’ evidence, and equipment of the “terrorists.”  As I wrote in 1999, a major problem with research on the Revolution is the failure to “get out of Bucharest” and compare what happened in other locations.  Such a comparison shows a clear pattern.  In addition to prior sources discussed in Hall 1997 and 1999, see the following:  “Orizont (Timisoara),” no. 5 1990; “Flacara” no. 8 1990 (on Caransebes), no. 51 1990 p. 11, no. 6 1991 p. 9 (Coltea Hospital, Bucharest), no. 39 1991, p. 4 (Dumitru Mazilu revelations), no. 29 1992, p. 7; “22,” no. 5 1990, p. 10; “Tineretul Liber,” 5 January 1990, p. 4a; “NU (Cluj),” no. 22 1990 (Gen. Rizea, Braila), “Cuvintul,” nos. 1-4 January 1991 (Brasov), no. 7 February 1991 (Gen. Spiroiu and staff of “Opinia” exhumation on 14 June 1990 of those killed in Brasov); “Tinerama,” no. 123 1993 (26 December 1989 description of “terrorists” at Bucharest morgue); “Expres,” no. 24 and 27 1991 (Resita and Hateg).

SOURCES

“Adevarul,” 1990.

“Armata Poporului,” 1990.

Bacescu, A. 1994.  Din Nou in Calea Navalirilor Barbare [In the Path of Barbaric Invasions Again] (Cluj-Napoca:  Zalmoxis).

“Cuvintul,” 1991, 1992.

“Expres,” 1990, 1991, 1992.

Filip, T. 1998.  Secretele USLA [Secrets of the USLA] (Craiova:  Editura Obiectiv).

“Flacara,” 1990, 1991, 1992.

Hall, R. A. 1997, “Rewriting the Revolution: Authoritarian Regime-State Relations and the Triumph of Securitate Revisionism in Post-Ceausescu Romania,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Indiana University).

Hall, R. A., 1999, “The Uses of Absurdity: The Staged War Theory and the Romanian Revolution of December 1989,” in “East European Politics and Societies,” Vol. 13, no.3, pp. 501-542.

Mihaies, M.  Interview (Bloomington, Indiana), March 1996.

“NU (Cluj), 1990.

“Orizont (Timisoara),” 1990.

Revista “22,” 1990.

“Romania Libera,” 1991, 1994.

“Spionaj-Contraspionaj,” 1992.

“Tinerama,” 1993.

Totok, W. 2001.  Constrangerea memoriei.  Insemnari, documente, amintiri [The Compulsion to Remember.  Notes, documents, memories] (Bucharest: Polirom).

Vasilevici, R., 1991, Piramida Umbrelor [Pyramid of Shadows] (Timisoara:  Editura de Vest).

My thanks in particular to the libraries at Babes-Bolyai University (Cluj) and Indiana University (Bloomington) for the use of their collections in the process of researching and writing this series.

This article was originally prepared for submission to Radio Free Europe’s online publication “East European Perspectives (EEP),” where I previously published on the topics of Securitate revisionism (2002) and nationalism in late-communist Hungary and Serbia (2003).  Due to shifting priorities, RFE is reducing its coverage of Romania and plans to discontinue EEP.  EEP provided a forum for younger scholars such as myself, as well as for scholars from central and eastern Europe, and it will be missed.  My thanks to Dr. Michael Shafir for providing that opportunity.

Richard Andrew Hall holds a BA from the University of Virginia (1988) and a PhD from Indiana University (1997).  He joined the CIA in September 2000 and served as a Romanian Political Analyst from October 2000 to April 2001.  Since October 2001, he has worked as an analyst on issues unrelated to eastern Europe.  He published extensively on the Romanian Revolution and its historiography prior to joining the Agency, including the Romanian journals “22” and “Sfera Politicii” in 1996, “East European Politics and Societies,” in 1999, and “Europe-Asia Studies” in 2000.  He can be reached for comment on this series at hallria@msn.com.

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.

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