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 Romanian Revolution for Dum-Dums (Part IV) by Richard Andrew Hall

Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on October 17, 2010

Si totusi…se stie [And nevertheless…it is known]

It took over three years into my research on the Revolution—and physically being in the Library of the Romanian Academy—before I came to the realization: oh yeah, that’s a good idea, yeah, I should systematically compare what the former Securitate have to say about December 1989 and compare it with what others are saying. It took a maddening additional half year before I came to the conclusion: oh yeah, and how about what the Army has to say? It may seem ridiculous—and it is in some ways indefensible from the perspective of performing historical research—but you have to understand how Romanian émigrés dominated early investigations of the Revolution, and how they divided the post-communist Romania media into the pro-regime (untrustworthy) press and the opposition (trustworthy) press, and the influence this “research frame” and methodology had at the time upon younger researchers such as myself.[28]

A more systematic mind probably would have come to these revelations long before I did. Instead, it took the accidental, simultaneous ordering of issues from 1990 and 1991 of the vigorous anti-Iliescu regime university publication NU (Cluj), the similarly oppositional Zig-Zag (Bucharest), and the former Securitate mouthpiece Europa to discover this. There I found Radu Nicolae making his way among diametrically opposed publications, saying the same things about December 1989. And it mattered: the source for example of Radu Portocala’s claim that there were “no terrorists” in December 1989 was Radu Nicolae. But more important still, was the discovery of Angela Bacescu revising the Defense Ministry incident, exonerating the USLA, and claiming there were no Securitate terrorists in Sibiu (only victims) in Zig-Zag…only to show up months later in Romania Mare and Europa months later writing the same stuff, and in the case of the Sibiu article republishing it verbatim. Nor was Bacescu alone among the former Securitate at Zig-Zag: she was for example joined by Gheorghe Ionescu Olbojan, the first to pen revisionist articles about the Army’s DIA unit.[29]

But without a broader comparative framework and approach to the Romanian media, all of this eluded the highly partisan Romanian émigré writers on the events. Nestor Ratesh alone among this group did seem puzzled and bothered by the similarity of Romania Libera Petre Mihai Bacanu’s conclusions on the V-th Directorate and those of Bacescu (he only alluded to her dubious reputation, however, and did not name her.) But Bacanu was fallible: memorably, but also upstandingly, in December 1993, he admitted based on what he claimed were new revelations, that his previous three and a half years of exonerating the USLA had been in vain since they were erroneous: they had after all played a significant role in the repression and killing of demonstrators on the night of 21-22 December 1989 in University Square. That alone should have precipitated a rethinking about assumptions and approaches to investigating the December 1989 events and particularly the role of the Securitate and the USLA, but it did not, and has not to this day…

Romanians and Romanianists like to indulge in the reassuring myth that the “schools” of research on the Revolution were separate from the beginning—that the defining feature was the political orientation of the author and whether he or she viewed the events of December 1989 as a revolution or coup d’etat. To the extent they are willing to admit that discussions of the “terrorists” cross-pollinated and became intertwined across the borders of the political spectrum, they assume that this must have happened later, after views had become consolidated.[30] But such a view is simply ahistorical and wishful-thinking. It is simply impossible to defend honestly when you have Angela Bacescu who “showed up with lots of documents and didn’t need any money” and wrote her revisionist tracts in the oppositional Zig-Zag, when she and Olbojan were the first ones to voice theses that later became staples of the anti-Iliescu opposition—long after they had left its press.

It is indicative that Romanians still have yet to confront this methodological flaw that one of the few studies in the country to read Securitate and Army sources in addition to journalist and participant accounts, still failed to address the key similarities across the political spectrum regarding the existence and identity of the “terrorists.” Smaranda Vultur wrote in a review of Ruxandra Cesereanu’s (otherwise, groundbreaking in comparison to what had appeared before it in Romanian in book form) Decembrie ’89. Deconstructia unei revolutii (Iasi: Polirom 2004):

Beyond this, I would underscore however a deficit that results directly from the choice of the author to classify her sources based on how the source defines the events: as a revolution, a plot, or a hybrid of the two. Because of this one will thus find, contained in the same chapter, Securitate people and political analysts, revolutionaries and politicians of the old and new regimes, and journalists.[31]

In other words, my exact indictment of the approach inside and outside Romania to the study of the Revolution, and the reason why people are simply unable to acknowledge the similarity and even identicality of views of the “terrorists.”

After the aforementioned realizations in 1993-1994 about the need to be more comparative and systematic in investigating accounts of the Revolution, it took yet another two maddening years before I started to realize the significance of the ballistics evidence. It thus came comparatively late in the dissertation process. My timing was fortuitous, however. I wrote a short article in November 1996 that was published in two different forms in 22 and Sfera Politicii in December 1996—the mood in Romania was euphoric as seven years of the Iliescu regime had just come to an end through the ballot box. [32] True, it didn’t spark debate and loosen some lips as I had hoped, but it made my visit to Bucharest the following June —especially my interviews on one particular day with a journalist at Cotidianul and, several hours later, a member of the Gabrielescu Parliamentary Commission investigating the events (Adrian Popescu-Necsesti)—memorable to say the least….[link to article from December 1996 https://romanianrevolutionofdecember1989.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/richard-andrew-hall-decembrie-1989-dupa-7-ani-sfera-politicii-nr-441996/ ]

Of course, not then, or even since, has anybody who has investigated the December 1989 events inside or outside Romania systematically attempted to replicate, test, or expand upon my earlier findings—other than myself. As I have noted elsewhere,[33] in Peter Siani-Davies’ otherwise excellent The Romanian Revolution of December 1989 he devotes essentially a paragraph to the ballistics’ topic in a 300 plus page book—and it is only in the context of addressing my own earlier research. Monica Ciobanu could thus not be more wrong in her declaration that Peter Siani-Davies’ 2005 volume had disproven the “myth of Securitate terrorists.”[34] Siani-Davies has nothing to say about dum-dum/vidia/exploding ammunition: hence why he does not believe in Securitate terrorists!

Since then, I have written on Securitate revisionism, “the terrorists,” and the ballistics evidence of Romanian Revolution of December 1989, in the words of one critic who seems unable to call things by their name “voluminously, although never exhaustively, elsewhere”—publishing in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006. [35] Now, more than a decade after those original ballistics’ articles, I return here putting things together I should preferably have put together long before…

The high stakes of what was at play in late December 1989 become all the clearer here. Nicolae Ceausescu’s successors faced not only the dilemma of having foreign citizens arrested for firing at and killing in cold blood Romanian citizens[36], but members of a Romanian state institution—the Securitate—in addition to those foreign citizens, had injured, maimed, and killed Romanian citizens using munitions that were outlawed by international conventions to which Romania was a party. Thus, beyond the culpability of an institution that was key to the ability of the nomenklaturists who had seized power to continue in power—i.e. the Securitate—and who undoubtedly had compromising information on those leaders, the new potentates were faced with a problem of international dimensions and proportions.

Dan Badea’s April 1991 article with which I opened this paper concluded thusly:

There are in these two declarations above[–those of Gheorghe Balasa and Radu Minea–] sufficient elements for an investigation by the Police or Prosecutor’s Office. [Dan Badea, “Gloante speciale sau ce s-a mai gasit in cladirea Directiei a V-a,” Expres, 16-22 April 1991]

That, of course, never appears to have happened. I hope that the information I have supplied above—significantly, much of it new, much of it from the Internet in recent years—should at the very least encourage Romanians and Romanianists to reopen and reexamine the ballistics evidence. Let us hope that on the twentieth anniversary of the Revolution, we may be able to read serious investigations of the ballistics evidence, rather than be subjected to the false and jaded refrain… such things did not exist!


[28] I refer here to, for example, the works of Vladimir Tismaneanu, Matei Calinescu, Andrei Codrescu, Anneli Ute Gabanyi, Radu Portocala, and Nestor Ratesh. Some, like Tismaneanu in a 1993 article in EEPS, “The Quasi-Revolution and its Discontents,” were more explicit about this rather rigid dichotomous approach to the Romanian media, but it also comes through clearly in the sourcing, citations, and footnotes/endnotes of the others. (It continues to haunt the historiography of post-communist Romania, as works such as Tom Gallagher’s aforementioned Modern Romania make clear). To say the least, the issue of ballistics evidence essentially goes unanalyzed in these accounts. Moreover, although as we have seen, these authors have no problem affixing their names to petitions and the like, none of them has published any research on the December 1989 events since the early 1990s. It should tell you something that they continue to rely on and repeat the accounts they wrote in 1990 and 1991…as if nothing had been discovered or written since. In that way, it is almost fitting that the Report of the PCADCR reproduced Tismaneanu’s 1997 Dawisha and Parrott chapter in some places verbatim, down to failing to even change verb tenses when it states that certain questions “remain to be clarified.” I deconstructed the methodological faults in source selection in these émigré accounts in “The Romanian Revolution as Geopolitical Parlor Game” at http://homepage.mac.com/khallbobo/RichardHall/pubs/checkmate040405.html.

[29] For earlier discussions of all of this, see Richard Andrew Hall, “The Uses of Absurdity: The Staged-War Theory of the Romanian Revolution of December 1989,” East European Politics and Societies, vol. 13, no. 3, and Richard Andrew Hall, “The Securitate Roots of a Modern Romanian Fairy Tale,” Radio Free Europe East European Perspectives, April-May 2002, three part series, available at http://homepage.mac.com/khallbobo/RichardHall/pubs/romania%20securitate%205-2002.html.

[30] In “The Romanian Revolution as Geopolitical Parlor Game,” I demonstrated how even the so-called French and German schools (really the schools of Romanian émigrés in those countries) in 1990 were not and could not be independent from accounts in Romania, and that the accounts fed into and reinforced one another. It is simply intellectual myth—and an all too convenient one—to argue the antisceptic separation of these accounts as independent.

[31] Smaranda Vultur, “Revolutia recitita,” 22 no. 787 (9-15 April 2005) online at http://www.revista22.ro.

[32] Richard Andrew Hall, trans. Adrian Bobeica, “Ce demonstreaza probele balistice dupa sapte ani?” 22, no. 51 (17-23 December 1996), p. 10, and Richard Andrew Hall, trans. Corina Ileana Pop, “Dupa 7 ani,” Sfera Politicii no. 44 (1996), pp. 61-63.

[33] See my discussion in “Orwellian…Positively Orwellian,” at http://homepage.mac.com/khallbobo/RichardHall/pubs/Voineaswar091706.html.

[34] Monica Ciobanu’s review of Siani-Davies The Romanian Revolution of December 1989 and Tom Gallagher’s Modern Romania: Theft of a Nation is entitled “The Myth Factory” (found at http://www.tol.cz).

[35] Charles King, “Remembering Romanian Communism,” Slavic Review, Winter 2007, p 719. In King’s short article, he does not hesitate to make occasionally gratuitous citations for things he did not need to cite. Yet in discussing December 1989 and using the term “elsewhere”—which usually prefaces a description of “where else” one might find these things—there are no citations. “Although never exhaustively” is itself a gratuitous choice of words and far from accidental: in my last work on December 1989, I made light of how ridiculous it was for Daniel Chirot to claim that Peter Siani-Davies’ The Romanian Revolution of December 1989, an otherwise excellent work, was “near definitive” when so much was missing from Siani-Davies’ discussion—notably, for our purposes here, the question of dum-dum/vidia/exploding munitions. One could indeed be left with the impression that King intends to deliver a put-down, that some fellow Romanianists will no doubt catch, but yet deny the broader audience references to what he alludes and simultaneously protect his image from having delivered such a “palma” as the Romanians would say. It would appear that at least for readers of this paper, his goals won’t go completely fulfilled.

[36] See my discussion in “Orwellian…Positively Orwellian,” at http://homepage.mac.com/khallbobo/RichardHall/pubs/Voineaswar091706.html.

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