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.

Archive for December 21st, 2013

Revisiting the Myths of the Revolution. Part II: The “Timisoara Syndrome” or the “False Timisoara Grave (the Paupers Cemetery)/Massacre”

Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on December 21, 2013

Myth No. 1:  The “Timisoara Syndrome”…The “False/Fake Timisoara Massacre”…”Madonna and Child”

Of the three myths that I am exploring in this series, conspiratorial explanations tend to outweigh postmodernist explanations perhaps most heavily in the coverage of this first myth (for part I of this series, see ).

Myth 1:  The “Timisoara Syndrome” or the “False Timisoara Grave (the Paupers Cemetery)/Massacre”

Myth 2:  The water is posioned!  (Apa este otravita!)

Myth 3:  The Romanian Television building is in danger, danger of an explosion!   (TVR e in pericol–Pericol de explozie!)

I will address two aspects of Myth no. 1 below:  1) the presumed intentionality of the digging up of corpses unrelated to the Timisoara repression (the Paupers Cemetery, 22 December 1989) with intent to disinform public opinion (domestic and foreign) and 2) that the ultimate false character of the Timisoara Paupers Cemetery episode is evidence of the absence of a true Timisoara massacre.


Jacques Levesque in The Enigma of 1989 (1997, University of California Press, p. 195, online at;;doc.view=print) captures quite well popular conspiratorial explanations of the “fake grave,” and “false massacre” it was supposedly used to suggest, in the following passage:

Let us mention some examples. The reports and horrifying images of the mass grave “discovered” in Timisoara are still a vivid memory; they came several days after the repression of the mid-December demonstrations against the reassignment of the ethnic Hungarian pastor Laszlo Tokes. The demonstrations were followed by riots, which gave the initial push to the Romanian “revolution.” The newspapers reported that 4,630 corpses had been discovered. Several months later, it was learned from doctors’ accounts that some thirty of the corpses shown “exhumed” by television around the world had been stolen from the city morgue and hospitals in the night of December 21–22. Disconcertingly, the “mass grave” may have been constituted after its discovery was announced the day before by East German and Hungarian press agencies. To this day, no one has been able to establish firmly who organized this staging, and precisely to what ends. As far as the purpose of the “grave” is concerned, several interpretations were put forth and supported: to bring about a revolt in the country; to raise the greatest possible indignation on the international level in order to make the leaders of the coup accepted and acclaimed; or to make the Securitate, which was blamed for the carnage, the incarnation of all the Ceausescu regime’s evils, in order to better clear the army and its leaders, who joined the side of the new government, or essentially constituted it. It was later learned that it was the army, and not the Securitate, which opened fire.

Andrei Codrescu, well-known poet and National Public Radio commentator, (The Hole in the Flag. A Romanian Exile’s Story of Return and Revolution (New York, William Morrow and Company, 1991, pp. 203-204) recounts the same incident in this memorable description:

“The Romanian ‘Revolution’ was entirely televised, all those of us who believed for years with Gil Scott-Heron that ‘the revolution will not be televised’ were shaken by it. In truth, there were two revolutions: a real revolution that was not televised and that continues, particularly in Timisoara, and a studio revolution that fooled the entire world. Who could forget the piles of corpses stacked like cordwood in front of the Timisoara cathedral?…Or the image of the mother and child shot with a single bullet, lying in the arms of death? Watching these images in New Orleans via CNN, I was moved and enraged, along with millions of others in the world. We now know. The mass graves discovered in Timisoara and presented to the world as proof of the Hitlerite insanity of Securitate were in fact bodies dug out of a pauper’s cemetery with autopsy scars visible. Many of them were in an advanced state of decay…And the extraordinary picture of the mother and her baby killed with the same bullet, seen thousands of times on all the world’s TV screens, was a gross collage. A woman who had died of alcoholism had had an unrelated dead baby placed on her chest for video purposes.

In 1999, journalist John Sweeney recounted the incident in The Guardian as follows:

Millions dead, but who’s counting?

The truths that exist behind press reporting

Eighteen bodies lay beneath an electricity pylon on white plastic sheets in the pauper’s cemetery, naked to the sky. The stink of the dead hung in the pre-dawn air; nearby were the graves from which they had been disinterred. The bodies were soiled by the dirt from the graves, their nudity obscene. On one woman’s stomach lay a perfectly formed foetus, its skin stained an unnatural purple, as if it had come from a jar. Thirty paces away lay the corpse of what looked like an old man, his feet bound by twisted wire: tortured? Nineteen corpses in all. It was Timisoara, Saturday, 23 December, 1989, and the news agencies were saying 4,000, 40,000, 60,000 dead. Where were the mass graves?

There was something strange – unsatisfactory – about the 19 bodies. Eight corpses had stitches in their stomachs, perhaps from autopsies; some of the rest were so badly decomposed the flesh had rotted from the bones. They did not look like they had been killed the previous Sunday, the flashpoint of the Romanian revolution.

Not 60,000 dead in Timisoara, but 19, and fishy at that. My reward for reporting this was a tiddly piece on page three. News desk lionhearts like big numbers from reporters sent to cover mass murder.

Le Monde in March 2000 ( commented:

Barely 10 years earlier, despatched to Timisoara to view some old corpses dug up by the propaganda department of the new Rumanian regime, a journalist from the France 2 television channel had commented, “These pictures are here to prove that 4,630 people died at the hands of the secret police” (22 December 1989).

Nor, even in Romania, has this incident lost its utility as a touchstone for mendacity, as the following article by Grigore Cartianu from August 2011 ( demonstrates:

“Neroziile spuse atunci vor rămâne în antologia dezinformării. Unele erau minciuni sfruntate (povestea cu robineţii de aur), altele făcături ordinare (cadavrele din sceneta „mama şi copilul” nu aparţineau unor martiri ai Revoluţiei şi nici nu erau victime ale represiunii ceauşiste, ci zăceau de prin noiembrie în Cimitirul săracilor din Timişoara, fiind dezgropate doar pentru şedinţa foto-video).” 

(Who is Grigore Cartianu?  No less than Vladimir Tismaneanu, the dean of communist and post-communist Romanian studies in the United States, has exalted in both English and Romanian, Grigore Cartianu’s investigations of the December 1989 events–see and  “Este un lucru demonstrat cu prisosinta si de onesta ancheta jurnalistica a lui Grigore Cartianu (publicata sub titlul de carte: “Sfârşitul Ceauşeştilor”).” )

Finally, this episode has become immortalized in postmodernist literature, thanks to its invocation and development by Jean Baudrillard, as follows:

“The Timisoara Syndrome”

Jean Baudrillard (trans. Chris Turner), The Illusion of the End (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1994), pp. 54-61 “The Timisoara massacre.”

p. 55 “It was not the dead that were the scandal, but the corpses being pressed into appearing before the television cameras, as in the past dead souls were pressed into appearance in the register of deaths.”

p. 60 “And yet there will, nonetheless, have been a kind of verdict in this Romanian affair, and the artificial heaps of corpses will have been of some use, all the same one might ask whether the Romanians, by the very excessiveness of this staged event and the simulacrum of their revolution, have not served as demistifyers of news and its guiding principle…Who can say what responsibility attaches to the televisual production of a false massacre (Timisoara), as compared with the perpetrating of a true massacre?”


The idea about “some old corpses dug up by the propaganda department of the new Rumanian regime,” that Novi Sad TV journalists (presumably then, according to this conspiracy theory, Yugoslav agents), or, most ridiculous of all, Securitate agents themselves, were responsible for digging up and presenting the corpses from the Paupers’ cemetery (all views that have gained expression through the years) is simply WRONG.

How do we know?  From what eyewitnesses have described.  Here 30 yr. old Ion Gogoara described in Titus Suciu’s Raport cu Sufletul la Gura (1990) that the makeshift grave in the Paupers’ cemetery was found by kids, that when he got there there were about 30 people gathered placing candles, and that all this took place at about 10:30 or 11 am on the morning of 22 December 1989, thus before Ceausescu’s flight from power (but at a time when Timisoara was long already beyond the regime’s control).

Indeed, it was those missing loved ones who were the first to the Paupers Cemetery

Virgil Botoc told Marius Mioc in 1995 how, on 22 December 1989, he was searching frantically for his 13 year old daughter Luminita and how, he and others participated in the removal of the corpses and put them on some sheets.  As Mioc has noted, precisely because many of those who had lost loved ones in the repression of the previous days did not know yet that many corpses had been transported from the hospitals and morgue to be incinerated, they looked frantically anywhere they could, including the Paupers’ cemetery.

Botoc Virgil (tatal lui Luminita Botoc) In 22 dimineata la cimitirul saracilor s-au dezgropat niste morti. Am fost si eu acolo sa vad daca n-o gasesc pe Luminita. Aici era o groapa comuna, o alta groapa cu un singur mort si inca un mort in capela. Mortii fusesera ingropati dezbracati. Unii erau cusuti cu sirma, cel din capela avea si picioarele legate cu sirma. Am scos mortii, i-am pus pe niste cearsafuri.

Marius Mioc: “Filmarea din 22 decembrie a fost cu cadavre dezgropate din cimitirul săracilor. Aceia nu erau morţi din revoluţie ci sărăntoci fără familie îngropaţi pe cheltuiala Primăriei. Familiile celor morţi în revoluţie, care nu găseau cadavrele celor dragi (fuseseră incinerate, dar nu se ştia asta pe atunci), în disperare au căutat pe unde le-a trecut prin minte, şi au dezgropat şi morţii de la cimitirul săracilor. S-a crezut atunci sincer că aceia sînt morţi din revoluţie.”

So, we have our answer to the first part of Myth no. 1:  The only intentionality of those who dug up the corpses in the Paupers Cemetery was that those looking for their loved ones were frantically searching everywhere and anywhere for traces of them.  (That the Paupers Cemetery was then linked to, or interpreted through the lens of inflated and erroneous death tolls (for a discussion of these, please see the following, courtesy of William Totok, and the widespread view of the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu as (late) communism in its highest stage, is ultimately a different story.)


Perhaps worst of all, while the Paupers cemetery on 22 December 1989 and the “Timisoara syndrome” have become part of an international literature on journalistic manipulation and/or error, those who invoke this example tend to be oblivious to the real mass grave of victims from the Timisoara uncovered in mid-January 1990 (including, Virgil Botoc’s 13 year old daughter Luminita)

FBIS (AFP 16 January 1990, lower right column):

Marius Mioc has detailed this episode extensively as follows:

“Renaşterea Bănăţeană” din 16 ianuarie 1990 despre groapa comună din cimitirul eroilor:

Groapa comună din cimitirul eroilor descoperită în ianuarie 1990

Tatulici & Tatomir – Povestea Timişorii (7). Groapa comună din cimitirul eroilor octombrie 28, 2010

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Al şaptelea fragment din filmul “Povestea Timişorii” realizat de Mihai Tatulici şi Virgil Tatomir şi difuzat în 1991 la TVR. În acest fragment am combinat 3 fragmente diferite din filmul original, pentru a avea un articol explicativ complet despre problema gropii comune din cimitirul eroilor din Timişoara. Deci există o oarecare abatere de la succesiunea din filmul domnilor Tatulici şi Tatomir, pe care am considerat-o necesară pentru a înlesni analiza problemei gropii comune a revoluţiei din Timişoara. La sfîrşitul serialului, cînd voi da şi playlistul complet, cei interesaţi vor putea vedea filmul aşa cum a fost el prezentat iniţial. La transcrierea înregistrării comentariile mele ulterioare sînt inserate în text cu litere cursive, între paranteze drepte.

Vezi şi primele 6 fragmente prezentate pe acest blog:
15 decembrie 1989
16 decembrie 1989
În jurul lui Tokes
Dezvoltarea mişcării revoluţionare în 16 decembrie 1989
Lupte între manifestanţi şi forţele de ordine
Calea Lipovei şi Girocului, 17 decembrie 1989

Transcriere înregistrare:
00:00 Virgil Boţoc: În timpul ăsta a trecut o mulţime de oameni. Pur şi simplu nu i-am putut să-i văd cîţi or fost. Şi strigau diferite plancarde. Şi atuncea fata aia mai mare vine la maică-sa: “mămică, mergem şi noi”. “Nu mergi niciunde”. În timpul ăsta o trimis la mine fata că-i dau voie. Aia mică o luat fîşul de pe cuier şi o coborît jos. Şi atuncea îmi zice sora ei geamănă: “tăticule, Luminiţa o coborît jos”. Zic: “noi avem ceva de făcut”. Cînd ajung jos (neînţelegibil) plecase. Cînd am ajuns în Calea Lipovei, în spatele bisericii, s-or tras focuri de avertisment de la aviaţie, roşu, şi i-am zis lu’ nevastă-mea: “fii atent că se trage”. Zice “nu se trage”, şi atunci au început focuri. După care am văzut că fata n-o venit toată noaptea acasă. M-am dus în zonă, dimineaţă. În zonă, că acolo locuiesc, m-am întîlnit cu mulţi prieteni, şi m-am interesat. Din care m-am întîlnit şi cu prietenul ăsta, Avădanei, care a lucrat cu mine foarte mulţi ani. Şi-l întreb “mă Ştefane, s-o tras? Ce-i pe aicea?”. Că plouase, nu s-o cunoscut nici un semn, nimic. Zice “mă, s-o tras”. Ce, eu uite mi-o dispărut fata. Zice “cu ce-o fosta asta a ta îmbrăcată?”. “C-un fîş roşu, aşa”. Zice “uite aici o fost împuşcată mortal. Eu, zice, am luat-o, am pus-o pe bancă, şi banca o fost îngustă şi i-a legat mîinile cu o sfoară, cu ceva, ca să nu i se rupă mîinile”. Zice “du-te la Clinicile Noi”. Am fost la Clinicile Noi, am vorbit cu autopsierul, am mers cu fata geamănă, cu sora ei, îmbrăcată într-aceeaşi formă. Şi întreb pe autopsierul: “domnu’, nu vă supăraţi, o fost o fată adusă aicea?”. Zice “da”. “Şi dac-o vedeţi, o cunoaşteţi?”. Zice “da”. Zic “îi asta sau nu-i asta?”. Zice “cum Dumnezeu, astă fată o fost împuşcată în inimă”. Zic “nu, sora ei”. “Bă, dacă veneai cu juma’ de oră, o găseai aicea, da-i plecată [spitalul] judeţean”. Atunci m-am dus la morgă la judeţean, am întrebat, m-am întîlnit cu, adică, cu asistenta, asistenta mi-o spus “vorbeşti cu domnul doctor Dressler”. Domnul doctor Dressler o spus că nu este nici un mort în morgă şi nu lasă pe nimeni în morgă. În timpul ăsta vine domnul locotenent major Rosu, nu mai ştiu exact cum îi zice pentru că el a fost cu paşapoarte pentru plecare în străinătate. Şi am fost plecat în Libia. El pe mine, eu pe el l-am cunoscut, el pe mine nu m-a cunoscut. Şi mi-o pus arma la cap: “Ce faci mă aici scandal?”. Şi atuncea zic “domnu’ Rusu, dumneavoastră pe mine nu mă cunoaşteţi, dar eu pe dumneavoastră vă cunosc”. Şi atuncea o lăsat arma. Mai era un militar care citea o carte. În fine, era cu o carte în mînă, cam aşa ceva. A doua zi iară, a treia zi iară, nici un…, n-am putut să rezolv nimica.
02:43 Virgil Tatomir: S-a încercat să vi se dea un certificat de deces pe care scria că fata dumneavoastră ar fi suferit şi ar fi murit de hepatită?
02:52 Virgil Boţoc: Da. Da, şi atuncea, da, mi s-a eliberat aşa ceva, un certificat din ăsta, şi atuncea am fost nevoit să mă duc, să scot adeverinţă de la şcoală precum că fata mea n-o fost bolnavă şi nici nu ştiu unul din familia lu’ Boţoc, că asta a fost şi discuţie cu domnul doctor Dressler, că să-mi arăte cel puţin o internare a unui din familia lui Boţoc de diagnosticul de hepatită cronică, cum o scris acolo. N-am putut să dau nici de un rez…, n-am putut să aflu nimica.
03:20 Virgil Tatomir: Aţi apelat la sprijinul procuraturii?
03:22 Virgil Boţoc: Da. Am fost la domnul procuror [Romeo] Bălan, am dat declaraţii, am lăsat fotografii. O spus că să am răbdare, că sînt 61 de indivizi arestaţi şi sînt în anchetă. Şi atuncea poate o recunoaşte vreunul că-i dusă la Bucureşti la cremator[procurorul se referea la cadavrele furate din morga spitalului şi arse la crematoriul din Bucureşti (linc), între care bănuia că se află şi Luminiţa Boţoc]. Şi în 15 ianuarie cînd am fost ultima dată, o spus, dimineaţa, o spus că mai sînt 3 de anchetat şi să viu peste două sau trei zile. Şi cînd m-am dus la lucru am aflat că s-or dezgropat morţii în groapa comună (neînţelegibil). Şi atunci am fost şi mi-am recunoscut fata. Am ridicat-o de acolo, am îngropat-o creştineşte.
03:57 Virgil Tatomir: Vi s-a eliberat un nou certificat de deces.
03:59 Virgil Boţoc: Da, mi-a eliberat un nou certificat, moartă în revoluţie.
04:03 Comentariu Mihai Tatulici (pe fondul unor imagini filmate la ansamblul memorial din cimitirul eroilor din Timişoara consacrat victimelor revoluţiei): Virgil Boţoc şi-a pierdut fiica în 17 decembrie 1989. Ucisă pe stradă. A regăsit-o, a regăsit cadavrul ei, în ianuarie, în groapa comună. E printre cei fericiţi, care şi-au putut îngropa creştineşte copilul. Povestea aceasta este însă doar un crîmpei din trista şi dramatica istorie a morţilor Timişoarei. Tot aşa cum pentru morţi s-a ieşit în stradă, tot aşa trebuie să ţinem la aflarea adevărului. Virgil Boţoc îi face acum mormînt frumos fiicei sale. Cine nu respectă morţii, n-are nici un Dumnezeu. [aici se încheie prima parte din filmul prezentat, dar continui cu un fragment din a 2-a parte, legat tot de problema gropii comune]
05:04 Comentariu Mihai Tatulici (pe fondul unor imagini filmate în cimitir, la dezgroparea unor morţi): Sînt încă multe întrebări la care trebuie să răspundă justiţia, în ceea ce priveşte morţii Timişoarei. Aceste întrebări trebuie repede adresate unor oameni care încă sînt vii şi ştiu. Măcar pentru a linişti spiritele, pentru a risipi confuziile. Cum e cazul gropii comune din cimitirul săracilor. Gazetari nedocumentaţi şi persoane fără competenţele necesare au isterizat mulţimile prezentînd aici orori care nu se confirmă. Am avut ocazia să citim puncte de vedere ale unor medici legişti de talie internaţională. Trebuie analizate şi referinţele doctorului Dressler. Condamnarea publică fără argumente e la fel de păguboasă azi ca şi înainte de decembrie 1989. Aceste lucruri trebuie exact prezentate de procuratura militară Timişoara, care deţine informaţii exacte, tocmai pentru a le delimita de cele reale şi extrem de grave.
06:09 Virgil Tatomir: Timişoara continua să îşi caute cu înfrigurare morţii revoluţiei. O făcea şi cu speranţa că odată cu găsirea celor care nu ajunseseră la crematoriu, se va dezgropa şi adevărul. Această deshumare s-a efectuat în 15 ianuarie 1990 în cimitirul, în urma insistenţelor unui părinte îndurerat, Virgil Boţoc, carre îşi căuta fata şi cu care aţi făcut cunoştiinţă în episodul trecut. Cîteva lucruri se impun a fi aici accentuate, şi bune şi rele, pentru că s-a iscat multă vîlvă în jurul acestui caz. Înhumarea într-o groapă comună a unui număr de 9 cadavre s-a făcut destul de tîrziu, în 28 decembrie. S-a susţinut că morţii erau încă neidentificaţi pînă la acea dată. Dacă după victoria revoluţiei a recurge la o groapă comună rămîne o faptă de neacceptat, cel puţin din punct de vedere moral, trebuie spus că în baza datelor cunoscute pînă acum s-au însăilat şi erori. Între care unele aruncate intenţionat sau nu, direct sau indirect, pe seama doctorului Dressler [pe atunci, şeful laboratorului de medicină legală din Timişoara] şi a şefului administraţiei cimitirelor. Izvorîte din cunoaşterea incompletă a unor situaţii şi date, ele trebuie detaşate de adevăr.
07:37 Axente Bociort [pe atunci, şeful administraţiei cimitirelor din Timişoara]: Pe data de 27 decembrie 1989, am ridicat de la spitalul judeţean, din morgă, 11 cadavre între care 9 au fost neidentificate iar 2 identificate. Am ajuns la cimitirul eroilor. Aceste cadavre au fost depuse în capelă, urmînd ca în data de 28 cadavrele neidentificate să fie înhumate. Din lipsă de groapri, şi situaţia, întrucît se trăgea prin cimitir, nu am reuşit să facem groapa cu personalul existent şi s-a apelat la excavatoristul Miron Alexandru, care a săpat groapa comună, urmînd ca să se facă slujba religioasă de părintele Micu Constantin. Şi înhumarea celor 9 cadavre neidentificate s-a făcut în groapa comună respectivă.
08:49 Virgil Boţoc: Într-adevăr, erau 8 cadavre, din care 3 erau în sicrie şi retul în lăzi. Şi buldozeristul care-o săpat groapa era acolo mort, că l-or recunoscut părinţii. Erau din Suceava. După ce-o săpat groapa, că chiar aşa o fost, şi aia este martori, şi şeful cimitirului poa’ să spuie lucrul ăsta, a avut şi cheile de la buldozer pe piept. Şi a avut singura lovitură în partea stîngă, nu, în dreapta, a avut gaură în dreapta, aici [arată de fapt spre tîmpla stîngă].
09:19 Comentariu Mihai Tatulici: Respectînd durerea unui copil care şi-a pierdut un copil în revoluţie, trebuie totuşi să facem necesarele precizări: Domnul Boţoc nu are argumente că i s-ar fi eliberat un certificat de deces prin hepatită. Cu aceeaşi uşurinţă, preia şi alte zvonuri. Cum să afirmi, liniştit, că un om e mort, cînd el e viu? Chiar dacă la Timişoara s-a spus că în acea groapă se afla şi excavatoristul care a făcut-o. Cînd e mult folclor, rămîne puţin loc pentru adevăr.
09:49 Alexandru Miron (excavatorist): În data de 28 decembrie 1989 am fost solicitat să fac acest lucru în cimitirul eroilor. Să sap o groapă comună pentru înmormîntarea mai multor cadavre care erau, n-avea cine să le înmormînteze. Şi am fost solicitat şi am făcut lucrul acesta. După cum vedeţi, mă aflu aicea viu şi nevătămat, n-am avut nici o problemă, nimic absolut. Şi cam asta este situaţia.
10:27 Comentariu Virgil Tatomir: S-au făcut ulterior morminte îngrijite, iar arhitectul Alămureanu a conceput şi un monument pe măsură [monumentul eroilor revoluţiei din cimitirul eroilor, prezentat în filmare, este făcut după schiţele domnului Pompiliu Alămureanu, care după revoluţie a ocupat pentru scurt timp şi postul de primar al Timişorii]. Dar ele nu ţin încă loc de adevăr, ci numai de aducere aminte. Fiecare martor are adevărul lui. Cert e că din momentul în care s-a vărsat sînge, drumul era fără întoarcere. Mămăliga explodase!


The disjuncture, between the allegedly intentional presentation of a “false grave” connoting an allegedly “false massacre”–the widely-mediated, so-called “Timisoara Syndrome”–with the reality of a real mass grave of massacre victims found the next month but with little (domestic or foreign) mass media coverage, leads me here to propose the term, “The ‘Timisoara syndrome’ syndrome” or when a postmodernist conclusion is sufficiently intellectually-enticing that it creates its own reality–and thereby frames, discourages, and obscures any further search for reality.

Posted in decembrie 1989, raport final | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Revisiting the Myths of the Romanian Revolution. Part I: The Hegemony of Conspiratorial and Postmodernist Explanations

Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on December 21, 2013

Revisiting the Myths* of the Romanian Revolution.  Part I:  The Hegemony of Conspiratorial and Postmodernist Explanations

This is the theoretical introduction to a three part series (Parts II-IV) which will follow:

Myth 1:  The “Timisoara Syndrome” or the “False Timisoara Grave (the Paupers Cemetery)/Massacre”

Myth 2:  The water is posioned!  (Apa este otravita!)

Myth 3:  The Romanian Television building is in danger, danger of an explosion!   (TVR e in pericol–Pericol de explozie!)

Two scholars of comparative political science, Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan, essentially captured what has been the dominant trend in studies of the overthrow of the communist regime of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989 when they opined:  “any primarily narrative account is necessarily unsatisfying, what we need, rather are studies of the dynamics of myth creation and the functions of disinformation–a deconstruction of the revolution itself” (Linz and Stepan, p. 346.).

In stating things in this manner, Linz and Stepan drew attention to the two primary trends in studies of December 1989, what I have chosen to call:  1) Conspiratorial (“studies of …the functions of disinformation”) and 2) Postmodernist (“studies of the dynamics of myth creation”).  Both of these research trends developed as early as 1990 and have arguably dominated the field of study ever since.**  I break them down here as follows:

1) Conspiratorial.  These explanations attribute intentional actions to interested parties, ranging from foreign security services to domestic political officials and military officers.  Disinformation, lies, and manipulation, rather than misunderstanding, dominate in these conspiratorial accounts.  Such accounts are rife with an almost unbounded or unconstrained voluntarism and agency.  The focus is heavily on the “supply-side” (producers) of myth.  Examples of this approach include:  Michel Castex, Radu Portocala (and Olivier Weber), and Andrei Codrescu.

2) Postmodernist.  Postmodernism is premised on the a priori existence of pluralities.  There isn’t a single Truth with a capital T, as conspiratorial accounts suggest; there are multiple “truths” with a little t and preferably quotation marks or italics.   These explanations question the notion of singular, objective “truth” as suggested by conspiratorial accounts, and thus emphasize subjectivity.  Individuals are less agents, than subjects, situationally-bounded and contextually-informed, in constructed realities, and hence likely to fall victim to and to produce misunderstandings.  Although postmodernist accounts address both the supply and demand sides of myth creation, what sets it apart is probably the energy and time devoted to the focusing on the demand side, in other words on audience.  Examples of this approach include:  Katherine Verdery and Gail Kligman, Peter Siani-Davies, and Ruxandra Cesereanu (whose book is appropriately titled, December 1989:  The Deconstruction of a Revolution, and who has associated articles posted to the site of the equally-appropriately named “Center for Imagination Studies,” for example, )

Linz and Stepan perhaps captured the essence of the postmodernist trend in analyzing Verdery and Kligman’s account of the events of 1989-1990: “...[Verdery and Kligman] have sifted through the supposed facts and evidence, and they know all the literature, but their concern is with the very terms by which the events in Romania were experienced, described, and understood:  the miners, the demonstrators, the front, the revolution, neo-communism.  This makes for a lot of italics, but is illuminating.” (Linz and Stepan, p. 346).  An emblematic passage from Verdery and Kligman’s approach comes on page 139 (in Banac, ed.) of their article:  “Indeed, we question the coherence and unity of all groups named in one or another interpretation–the “Army,” the “Securitate,” the “Front,” and so on.  Such unifying labels are unsuited to describing groups with fuzzy boundaries, internal conflicts and fissures, and constantly changing coalitions.”  Indeed, Verdery and Kligman make abundantly clear from the opening line of their November 1990 essay, that they are already jaded and frustrated by the question, “What ‘really happened’ in Romania in December 1989, when the twenty-five year rule of Nicolae Ceausescu was violently overthrown? (Banac, ed., p. 117).  That they put “really happened” in quotation marks in itself foreshadows and tells much about their approach.

The differences between these the conspiratorialist and postmodernist perspectives can be seen in how they treat the three myths that form parts II – IV of this series.  None of these three myths, I would argue, is central to the understanding of December 1989, but they are reasonably well-known among Romanians, Romanianists, and journalists and academics who study the region.  The conspiratorial account suggests journalists and agents from the security services/communist party in Romania and perhaps from other East European countries intentionally fabricated the myths of a Timisoara mass grave of those killed in an alleged Timisoara massacre, of poisoned drinking water in Sibiu and elsewhere, and of the main television station in Bucharest being under attack and at risk of being blown up.  The focus here is on perpetrators of the alleged fraud.   By contrast, the postmodernist accounts explain these same myths by appealing to a host of more banal explanations–as are laid out at times explicitly and at times implicitly in, for example, the concluding chapter of Peter Siani-Davies’ 2005 volume on December 1989:  including parachute and pack journalism, regime inculcated fear and hatred of the Ceausescus and the forces of repression, as well as Western anti-(national) communist othering/Balkan Orientalism (see, for example, the discussion of vampires, Dracula, and Ceausescu, pp. 282-284; for an analysis of these narrative frames with regard to Romania specifically see, for example, Images of Hungarians and Romanians).  The focus is thus almost less on those created the myths than on why the audience–especially the television one, in Romania, but also around the world–bought those myths.

It is intriguing to note that whereas conspiratorial explanations tend to be favored on the European Continent, among French and German journalists and academics, and particularly among Romanians themselves–as Verdery and Kligman memorably lay out in their 1990 account “‘the plot mentality’ characteristic of virtually every Romanian’s description of events before, during, and after December” (p. 119)–postmodernist explanations tend to be associated with US and UK academics, particularly from the social sciences, who are not Romanian emigres.  (The most notable exception to this generalization is undoubtedly Ruxandra Cesereanu, whose accounts are highly postmodernist, but perhaps this is not so surprising considering that she is primarily a novelist and literary critic.)  Indeed, one of the more interesting things to observe is how Romanian emigres in the US and UK academic systems will opt more for postmodernist explanations when in the “polite company” of fellow western social scientists, but will write and voice more conspiratorial accounts, although not always consciously, in Romania or with fellow Romanians.  (Romanian emigres don’t want to look like fools–which is what they are likely to be viewed as, should they argue more conspiratorial accounts among their Western academic peers; but they also realize how out-of-hand postmodernist explanations, with their failure to assign agency or blame, will be rejected by fellow Romanians.  Theirs is a difficult, but telling dilemma.) Suffice it to say, those who advocate conspiratorial accounts view postmodernist explanations as hopelessly naive and as the luxury of those removed from the events and their consequences, while those who advocate postmodernist accounts view conspiratorial explanations as a useful instinct gone awry, as deformed lenses, and not without a certain amount of intellectual condescension.

*The discussion of myth in the context of the Romanian transition of December 1989 is large.  Among those who have used it, and who are not discussed above, are:  Ciobanu, Deletant, Egry, Mungiu-Pippidi, Shafir, and Tismaneanu.

**My own 1999 EEPS article, Richard Andrew Hall, “The Uses of Absurdity:  The Staged War Theory and the Romanian Revolution of December 1989,” East European Politics and Societies, vol 13, no. 3 (Fall 1999), pp. 501-542 ( ) reflects both these dominant trends, conspiratorial and postmodernist–having been encouraged by dissertation advisors and fellow graduate students, and my own perception at the time of the “professionally correct” thing to do, to focus on “why it happened?,” rather than “what happened?,” the latter single case study approach being what Charles King once quipped as akin to ‘professional suicide,’ the former being seen at least in theory as enhancing the case’s comparative character, lending itself to comparative analysis, and helping it “travel” better.

Select Bibliography

Castex, Michel.  Un mensonge gros comme le siècle: Roumanie, histoire d’une manipulation (Paris: Albin Michel, 1990).

Cesereanu, Ruxandra.  Decembrie ’89:  Deconstructii unei revolutii (Iasi:  Polirom, 2004).

Ciobanu, Monica.  “The Myth Factory,” Transitions Online (19 December 2005).

Codrescu, Andrei.  The Hole in the Flag. A Romanian Exile’s Story of Return and Revolution (New York:  William Morrow and Company, 1991).

Deletant, Dennis.  “Myth-Making and the Romanian Revolution,” Slavonic and East European Review, vol. 2, no. 3 (July 1994).

Egry, Gabor.  H-Net Review of Siani-Davies (November 2011),

Linz, Juan J. and Alfred Stepan, “The Effects of Totalitarianism-cum-Sultanism on Democratic Transition:  Romania,” in Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation:  Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe (Baltimore:  The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 344-365.

Mungiu-Pippidi, Alina.  “Doubtful Revolutions and Counter-Revolutions Deconstructed,” Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans, vol. 8, no. 1 (April 2006), pp. 109-112.

Portocala, Radu.  Autopsie du coup d’État roumain (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1990).

Portocala, Radu and Olivier Weber.  “Les cinq actes d’une manipulation,” Le Point, 922, 21 May 1990.

Shafir, Michael.  “Preparing for the Future by Revising the Past,” Radio Free Europe’s “Report on Eastern Europe,” Vol. 1, No. 41, (12 October 1990), pp. 29-42.

Siani-Davies, Peter.  The Romanian Revolution of December 1989 (Ithaca:  Cornell University Press, 2005).

Tismaneanu, Vladimir.  Fantasies of Salvation:  Democracy, Nationalism, and Myth in Post-Communist Europe (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1998).

Verdery Katherine and Kligman Gail, “Romania after Ceausescu:  Post-Communist Communism?” in Ivo Banac (ed.)., Eastern Europe in Revolution (Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, 1992), pp. 117-147.

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