THE 1989 ROMANIAN REVOLUTION AS GEOPOLITICAL PARLOR GAME: BRANDSTATTER’S “CHECKMATE” DOCUMENTARY AND THE LATEST WAVE IN A SEA OF REVISIONISM, Part Six
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
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Part 6: When Suspicion Meets Admission
—The USLA: “Who, we all remember, don’t we?, just how much with the people they were in the days of the Revolution… (emphasis in the original)” (Paul Vinicius, “Flacara,” 29 May 1991).
I. Suspecting/Blaming the USLA: Cloaking a Coup, Creating a Revolutionary Halo for a Bloodstained Army, or Accidental?
a) Where could the idea that the USLA was hostile to the Revolution have possibly come from?
To believe the revisionists, the idea that during the December events there existed “terrorists” and that the Securitate’s anti-terrorist special unit was behind the “terrorism” originated in the minds and announcements of Romanian Television reporters Teodor Brates and Alexandru Stark, General Nicolae Tudor and other military officials at the Television station, and/or General Nicolae Militaru, Silviu Brucan, Ion Iliescu and other members of the National Salvation Front. A popular belief among revisionists is that they were all in on this deception, the new political officials and televsion personalities. At their most charitable, revisionists will argue that the suspicion regarding the existence of “terrorists” and of the USLA specifically was based in an understandable and rational fear regarding the Ceausescu regime—but that ultimately these fears were misplaced, and that the suspicion of the USLA actually played a large role in contributing to needless bloodshed after Ceausescu fled. As in so many controversies surrounding the Revolution, little effort has been made in “process tracing,” working backwards to find the roots of claims and ideas.
It is significant that in 1990, the infamous Securitate cheerleader, Angela Bacescu, blamed all of the above personalities for creating “imaginary terrorists,” but also added another culprit.
“Among those [who showed up at Television on the afternoon of 22 December after Ceausescu fled] was this Cirjan, an ordinary thief, who entered with a false ID. He had been thrown out of the USLA, several years earlier, because he was stealing from passengers’ baggage, was dealing on the black market, and other such things, and [here] he is from the first moment shouting ‘Death to the Securitate’ and ‘The USLA are coming to shoot us’.” (Bacescu, “Romania Mare” 7 September 1990, p. 5a; see also her allegations against Cirjan in the 21 August 1990 edition)
A “Constantin Cirjan” appears on the list of the 38 “founding” members of the National Salvation Front read out on Television by Ion Iliescu. And, although I cannot verify that they are one and the same, it is possible that this Constantin Cirjan is the same as a Captain Constantin Cirjan of Romania’s special “mountain hunter” forces, whose recent training exercises are discussed on a web page (see geocities.com/romanianspecialforces/vanatoridemunte). It would certainly make sense, given that the “mountain hunter” forces were affiliated with the Securitate before the Revolution, and USLA training would likely have had many similarities with the current training of these “mountain hunter” forces.
This is signficant. In other words, the point that so many revisionists highlight—how was it that even before the “terrorists” appeared, Television was warning about their appearance?—appears to have an explanation. We must ask: what would lead Cirjan to suspect this? From where would he have such information? Even if we assume for a minute that Bacescu has made up this episode, the question is why? Afterall, she already targets Brates, Stark, etc. for this allegedly false, intentional “rumor” about the existence of “terrorists” and the USLA’s contribution to them. True, Bacescu could be wrong, misinformed, or determined to find a scapegoat or settle scores with this individual. But the point is that she identifies the source of the USLA rumor as a former member of the USLA—in other words, someone with access to such knowledge. In other words, the “USLA rumor” appears to have originated not with Brates, Stark, or others, but from a former USLA member.
b) But what evidence exists to believe that Front officials at the time suspected the USLA? Were the public statements that the USLA were involved merely for public consumption, and did not reflect their actual beliefs—particularly in the event that they were lying to begin with and knew the USLA was innocent?
Despite expressions of suspicion of the USLA on TV and elsewhere, regime forces followed the so-called “Special Action Plan” that called for the combined participation of Army units alongside USLA and other Securitate units. In Bucharest and elsewhere, the USLA were sent out on patrol in pursuit of the “terrorists” (for example, Buzau and Arad, see Armata Romana in Revolutia din Decembrie 1989, p. 192, 209). With USLA Commander Ardeleanu having “joined” the Revolution from early on, and with the appearance of USLA cooperation, Front officials found it hard to believe that the USLA were the “terrorists.”
Yet they kept on getting reports that something was not right.* At the very least, Securitate Director General Vlad and USLA Commander Ardeleanu were not putting all their cards on the table, unwilling or “unable” to fulfill requests for maps of Securitate safehouses and architectural plans of key buildings that might have clarified from where the shooting was coming and what exactly was going on (Ardeleanu himself seems to have admitted this obliquely in a document drafted on 8 January 1990, see its reproduction in Dan Badea, “Cine au fost teroristii?,” “Expres,” 15-21 October 1991, p. 15). In theory, the USLA had either surrendered their registered arms on the 22nd, and/or were performing joint missions with the Army to root out the “terrorists.” The straw that appeared to break the camel’s back was the arrest of an armed USLA sergeant, Ion Popa Stefan, in the neighborhood of the Defense Ministry—he claimed he was on his way to the Defense Ministry to “surrender”. Commander Ardeleanu is said to have played dumb upon being confronted with the news: “I think it’s the hand of my chief of staff Trosca, he’s done this to me” (Lt. Col. Mihai Floca and a group of Army officers, “Eroi, victime sau teroristi?” “Adevarul,” 29 August 1990). Senior Army officers and Front leaders had had enough. They would try to call Ardeleanu’s bluff and give them a “loyalty test” of sorts.
One important admission from Commander Ardeleanu—one that has little alternative explanation given his accusations toward Army General Nicolae Militaru who instructed Ardeleanu to order USLA units to the building—severely undermines much that underlies revisionist accounts that Trosca and his men were intentionally lured into a diabolical ambush:
“…When I reported at the Defense Ministry [during the late evening of 23 December], I was asked to give details regarding the organization of the unit, its subdivisions, responsibilities, and attributes. After this, I was told that the Defense Ministry was being attacked from all around…Then, General Militaru announced that in the “Orizont” building terrorists had barricaded themselves and were firing on the Defense Ministry, ordering me to transmit to my unit an order that 3 intervention groups come to annihilate the terrorists. He warned me that the order I would transmit would be recorded and that I should proceed with this in mind. I transmitted the order to Colonel B.I. [Ion Bleort] who reported to me that by his side was Colonel Gheorghe Trosca, the unit’s chief of staff, who would take measures to execute the order. Keeping in mind the importance of the mission I gave the order. I know that I pronounced the name of Colonel Trosca, and therefore those present knew that he would lead the group.” [interview from 1991, in Bacescu 1994, p. 116]
This passage is critical for two reasons in terms of the revisionist accounts: a) it was Ardeleanu, not Militaru or anyone else, who chose Col. Trosca, and b) it was known that the USLA transmissions would be recorded. Furthermore, the passage testifies to the suspicion of Front leaders: why all the questions to Ardeleanu about the composition and activities of his unit?
The understanding of what followed, the famous so-called “Defense Ministry incident,” in which seven USLA members lost their lives after Army units out front of the building opened fire upon them, became even more confused after exchanges from the tape of USLA transmissions appeared in the press in early 1993 (Ioan Itu, “Armata Trage in Propriul Minister,” “Tinerama” 8-14 January 1993, p. 7—pretty much the entire article and discussion of this important incident shows up in Deletant, pp. 360-362). Those exchanges show Trosca communicating to an uncomprehending Bleort back at USLA headquarters—Trosca repeated himself several times—that “a column of six-seven TABs, two trucks with soldiers and two ARO, fired for ten minutes on the Ministry and then stopped.” In other words, Army units were firing on their own ministry. A few minutes after Trosca’s announcement to headquarters, Trosca reported that Army tanks guarding the ministry had opened up fire on his USLA team’s armored personnel carriers (ABI). The impression one gets after that is that the USLA personnel became tank fodder and that they never event fired a shot in response. The journalist Ioan Itu concluded from this, and Deletant appears to accept, that the USLA detachment had been attacked “because they had to disappear, having accidentally witnessed one part of the Army at war with another part of the Army.”
Of course, there is more to this story. It was not just a few minutes between the arrival of the USLA detachment at the scene, their report of what was going on, and their coming under attack. Instead, they had stationed themselves in between tanks—as they had been instructed—for almost a half hour, without making contact with anyone among the Army personnel out front of the Ministry, a fact which caused obvious suspicion for those personnel. Moreover, according to officers interviewed in spring 1990, they witnessed gunfire from the guns on the USLA vehicles, three of the machine guns recovered from the USLA vehicles showed signs of having been fired, the gunbarrell of one the tanks had been blocked, and on the top of another tank a machine gun and signal lantern were found (Major Mihai Floca, “Crima?” “Armata Poporului” 6 June 1990, p. 3).
What is amazing, of course, if we take Trosca’s transmission about the Army forces firing on their own ministry at face value, is that somehow this occurred “for ten minutes” and yet there is no report that the USLA detachment or the Army units defending the Ministry were hit or returned fire. And when the USLA detachment is attacked it is from the units guarding the Ministry…because they are embarrassed ?, afraid ? that the USLA personnel witnessed something they should not have seen? And why or how did these rebel Army units stop attacking the Ministry and what became of them? Furthermore, as Army General Tiberiu Udrareanu relates:
“Personally, I have serious doubts regarding the use of ‘7-8 TAB-uri, two trucks of soldiers (two platoons) and two AROs’ in a mission of this type, to be able to operate in the center of the Capital and to not be seen by a single person. And the survivors, because we are talking about hundreds of people, have kept this secret so tightly for over seven years?” (Udrareanu 1996, p. 143).
Indeed, the latter point is significant, as one could imagine how once the content of the tapes were made public, that some lips might have loosened. And I ask the reader: which is more plausible, that Trosca—knowing his words were being listened to—was lying or trying to communicate something in code to his headquarters, or that hundreds of soldiers—including draftees and students at the military academy—could or would keep quiet about Army units intentionally attacking their own Ministry?
What happened after the firefight is even more intriguing as evidence of the genuine suspicion of the USLA on the part of Front leaders. USLA Lieutenant Stefan Soldea who survived the firefight outside the Defense Ministry relates what happened when he was taken to the building. Remember, here is an USLA officer, who participated in this key incident and his clearly defending his own actions and those of his unit, talking about his experiences in the pages of the Securitate mouthpiece “Europa,” so hardly in a position to, as is soften alleged, be somehow serving the Front leadership:
“A civilian, Gelu Voican Voiculescu, was in the office surrounded by the other generals [Army General Nicolae Militaru, Militia General Cimpeanu, Securitate General Iulian Vlad, and Securitate Fifth Directorate General Neagoe]…he began to interrogate me, ordering that my USLA commander, Colonel Ardeleanu go outside. He demanded information about the organization, make-up, and functioning of the unit, its address, what the unit’s members were doing at that moment, my personal information, after which he confronted me with Colonel Ardeleanu and asked me to identify who he was…”(“Crime care nu se prescriu,” interview with Angela Bacescu, “Europa” 28 July-5 August 1992).
Among the many interesting details that come out of Soldea’s interview is his complaint that the next day of his detention he “was forced to take a urinalysis test to see if I was drugged.” What does all this tell us? At the very least, it tells us that Voiculescu and other Front officials suspected that the USLA were the terrorists and suspected that—as the rumor circulated at the time (it turned out to be correct, but that is an issue for a different discussion)—they were drugged.**
This was an incredible and inexplicable charade to go through at the time if Voiculescu, who is always portrayed as one of those at the center of the alleged Front “staged war,” was attempting to stage such a confrontation. If the Front “controlled” the “terrorists,” why do this? Who exactly were Front leaders trying to impress/convince with this incident? Moreover, if this truly was a charade—such as is alleged of the Ceausescus’ trial and execution—why is there no record/tape of it? Would not this have been a great bit of counter-propaganda to the revisionists that could have been given to the media to protect their reputations and credibility?
c) What else would have made Front officials suspect the USLA?
We now have enough evidence to confirm that after the Ceausescus were executed on Christmas Day 1989, a meeting took place at the headquarters of the USLA that included senior Front leaders, with a tight military guard outside the building. USLA Commander Ardeleanu (Bacescu 1994, p. 142), former USLA Captain Marian Romanescu (more on him below), and Army General Tiberiu Urdareanu have all related this in their spoken and written comments on the Revolution. According to Urdareanu, who claims to have been present at the meeting, the new Defense Minister General Militaru took the floor in a speech that focused principally on the secretive nature of and confusion surrounding the USLA. Militaru stressed that now was the time for reconciliation between the Defense Ministry and the Interior Ministry (i.e. Securitate)—it had just been announced that the Interior Ministry was being dissolved in the Defense Ministry—and appealed at the end “for those involved in the genocide: put an end to it!” As Udrareanu concluded:
“From his [Militaru’s] discussion it was clear that, among other forces, the USLA were definitely taking part [in the terrorist actions], that they had prepared for this for many years, and it was not known how much money their preparation had cost” (Udrareanu 1996, p. 137).
Urdareanu asserts that USLA Commander Ardeleanu also talked at the session:
“Colonel Ardeleanu, the USLA Commander, palely observed that it wasn’t they [the USLA] who were fighting, but that they [the “terrorists”] were acting in the name of the USLA, but his intervention went unnoticed.” (Urdareanu 1996, p. 137).
Five years before Urdareanu, former USLA Captain Marian Romanescu described Adreleanu’s comments to his troops as follows:
“On 25 December at around 8 pm, after the execution of the dictators, Colonel Ardeleanu gathered the unit’s members into an improvised room and said to them:
‘The Dictatorship has fallen! The Unit’s members are in the service of the people. The Romanian Communist Party [PCR] is not disbanding! It is necessary for us to regroup in the democratic circles of the PCR—the inheritor of the noble ideas of the people of which we are a part!…Corpses were found, individuals with USLAC (Special Unit for Antiterrorist and Comando Warfare) identitity cards and indentifications with the 0620 stamp of the USLA, identity cards that they had no right to be in possession of when they were found…’ He instructed that the identity cards [of members of the unit] had to be turned in within 24 hours, at which time all of them would receive new ones with Defense Ministry markings.” (emphasis in the original) (with Dan Badea, “USLA, Bula Moise, teroristii si ‘Fratii Musulmani’,” “Expres (2-8 July 1991), p. 8)
Ardeleanu’s statement begs the question: if these were non-USLA personnel, why exactly were they trying to pass themselves off as USLA personnel…to the point of losing their lives? At the very least, his statement infirms the idea that the individuals with these identity cards were innocent victims—because otherwise he would likely not have stated that they had “no right” to possess these identity documents, but instead would have presented them as heroes who had died in the name of the Revolution. Ardeleanu’s comments can be interpreted as the beginnings of a cover-up, designed to reverse the popular understanding of the USLA’s responsibility for the December bloodshed.
It is odd that, at the time, even those who contested the seizure of power by the second-tier of the communist regime—and spoke in terms of a coup d’etat designed to staunch the revolution or that had been pushed ahead of schedule in order to take advantage of the popular uprising—did not question the existence of the “terrorists.” Would there not have been some first-hand accounts that contradicted the official and initial understanding if it had indeed been a “staged war?” Personal retrospective judgements based on the fact that the “terrorists” never came to trial or that someone never saw or captured a “real terrorist,” are not the same as doubts expressed at the time—suggesting that someone else other than the Securitate/USLA was behind the “terrorist” gunfire.
Suspicion, of course, does not equal guilt. Even if circumstantially understandable, it can still prove unfounded. In the case of the Romanian Revolution, in order to prove the idea of a “staged war,” one has to have admissions from those in the DIA [the Army’s Defense Intelligence unit charged with search and diversion missions, accused by many of having been the “terrorists”] or Army personnel who would have been in a position to know such plans that this is what took place. What is significant is that there are none. Conversely, in order to substantiate the USLA’s role in the “terrorist” violence, one needs admissions from those who served in the USLA or Securitate personnel who would have been in a position to know such plans. These exist. The very existence of such revelations is extremely damaging for the theory of a “staged war” or accidental free-for-all between units all on the same side of the battle.
There is a great difference, of course, between alleging somebody else—foreigners, another institution, a rival—did something, and saying that your own institution, unit, commanders, etc. did something. The latter clearly appropriates more risk and opprobrium—especially if one is wrong. This issue in weighing declarations is rarely addressed in works on the Revolution, but is of critical importance.
To begin with there are the admissions, speculation, and alleged confessions of high-ranking Securitate personnel…regarding their own institution. Army General Dan Ioan, former head of the Military Prosecutor’s office maintained just this January (2005) that Securitate Director Vlad admitted that the “terrorists” were special forces of the Interior Ministry and Securitate (“Gardianul,” 29 January 2005). Although Vlad provided many possible formations and individuals within these categories—and it is possible they also participated—the focus of his comments was that “the terrorists could have been from the Special Units for Antiterrorist Warfare (USLA), Directorate V-a, more precisely elite sharpshooters.” Ten years earlier, Army General Nicolae Militaru maintained that during the days of the Revolution, Lt. Col. Dumitru Pavelescu, commander of the Securitate’s regular troops, had told him pretty much the same thing and that Order 2600 was the basis for the operation (“Cotidianul,” 25 May 1995). Aristotel Stamatoiu, head of foreign intelligence at the time of the Revolution, is quoted as having said “Who fired? Ask at the units specially-equipped and trained—USLA, Dicrectorate V-a, Militia, and Securitate Troops etc.” (“Revolutia—vazuta de securisti,” 20 December 2003, at http://www.hanuancutei.com).
Then there is Interior Minister Tudor Postelnicu. He is quoted as having said after his arrest on 22 December 1989 and after the gunfire had begun: “Who’s firing?! The USLA!” (“Tineretul Liber,” 13 March 1990, p. 4). On 23 December, the following statement allegedly by him was read on Romanian Television and Radio:
“Appeal: To the Soldiers of the Securitate troops who are engaging in special missions that were ordered by the leadership of the T.S. [Trupele speciale]! I come as Interior Minister, specifically to ask you in writing, in the most categoric terms, to cease your actions of warfare because they have transformed into a crime against humanity! Think of your children and families, because only this way can you receive legal clemency! Stop your actions of a terrorist nature and establish means of surrendering your forces to your commanders, to Colonel Pavelescu! Whoever permits you to continue these terrorist actions will be punished severely! This is the last warning I will give you to save your lives for a crime that is futile and irresponsible. Signed Tudor Postelnicu, former Interior Minister.” (Societatea Romana de Radiodifiziune 1998, pp. 244-245).
What is never explained of course by those who maintain he was forced to do this, or that he did it to gain clemency for himself from Front officials, is why either he or the Front would blame the Interior Ministry and Securitate. Iliescu and others were straightforward in declaring from the beginning in televised announcements that the Securitate had joined the Revolution (see the quotes in Hall 1999, pp. 516-517). If your goal is supposedly to incriminate someone so that you can seize power, but you admit publicly that the Securitate has sided with the Revolution, and you plan on maintaining the bulk of the Securitate in the new regime, why not blame unknown civilian loyalists, outside any formal structure of the Ceausescu regime’s institutions, as those villains? Why on earth would you plant any idea that the “terrorists” were associated with the Interior Ministry or Securitate? It simply does not make sense—unless of course you genuinely suspect them, as we have seen they did and good reason to do so.
All of these claims can of course be dismissed as “second-hand,” related by Army personnel at the center of the December events with an interest perhaps in protecting their own hides, or as the temporary kowtowing and doubletalk of people (Securitate and Interior Ministry) under arrest. These explanations, however, do not wash for the revelations of those discussed in the next installment.
* In place after place, over the course of the next few days, USLA personnel either tried to penetrate/infiltrate key buildings or were found furtively exiting zones from which there had been extensive gunfire, leading local Army commanders and others to suspect and move against them. See, for example, “Expres,” no. 27 and 34 (1991) on Caras-Severin county; “Flacara,” no. 21 (22 May 1991), p. 7, on Galati; “Gazeta de Sud,” 23 December 2002 (citing “Cartel (Craiova),” 8 April 1992) on Craiova; and Armata Romana in Revolutia din Decembrie, p. 210, on Arad.
**Many—I’d venture to guess most—Romanians and East Europeanists today chuckle knowingly—“how naïve!”—at the notion that, to the extent “terrorists” actually existed, they were drugged. Those who captured or treated them are less amused. See for example, the comments of Sergiu Tanasescu (“Cuvintul,” 28 March 1990) regarding the capture of an USLAC officer, and Doctor Zorel Filipescu (“22,” no. 48 December 1990 in Hall 1997, p. 269). The journalist Ondine Gherghut, who was a nurse at the time of the December events, also has no doubt that those who arrived at her hospital as “terrorists” were drugged (author interview, Bucharest, 25 June 1997). And the passage of time and domestic and foreign cynicism have not erased the memories of Professor Andrei Firica, director of the Floreasca Emergency Hospital in 1989 (interview, “Jurnalul National,” 9 March 2004). Finally, the former Securitate and USLA personnel who have admitted the USLA and USLAC role in the “terrorism” all tell of them being drugged (see next installment).
“Armata Poporului,” 1990.
Armata Romana in Revolutia din Decembrie 1989, 1998, (Bucharest: Editura Militara).
Bacescu, A. 1994. Din Nou in Calea Navalirilor Barbare [In the Path of Barbaric Invasions Again] (Cluj-Napoca: Zalmoxis).
Deletant, D. 1995. Ceausescu and the Securitate: Coercion and Dissent in Romania, 1965-1989 (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe).
“Europa,” 1990, 1992.
“Gardianul (online),” 2005.
Gherghut, O. Interview, Bucharest, 25 June 1997.
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.
“Jurnalul National (online),” 2004.
Revista “22,” 1990.
“Romania Mare,” 1990.
Societatea Romana de Radiodifiziune, 1998. E un inceput in tot sfarsitul [There’s a beginning to every ending] (Bucharest).
“Tineretul Liber,” 1990.
Udrareanu, T. 1996. 1989—Martor si Participant [1989—Witness and Participant] (Bucharest: Editura Militara).