25 for 2014: 25 Things You Should Know about the Romanian Revolution on the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s Communist Regime: #7 Nicolae Ceausescu Leaves on a Less-than-spontaneous Trip to Iran (18 December 1989)
Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on October 26, 2014
(Purely personal views as always, based on over two decades of research and publications inside and outside Romania)
2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe–Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania. This (likely aperiodic) series looks at 25 things I have learned about the events of the Romanian Revolution of December 1989. The numbering is not designed to assign importance, but rather–to the extent possible–to progress chronologically through those events.
Significance: On Monday 18 December 1989, the morning after the bloodbath in Timisoara, Nicolae Ceausescu left on a state visit to Iran. On the one hand, some observers have jumped to the conclusion that this was a spontaneous, last-ditch effort by the dictator to seek the moral support of a friendly regime for the crackdown and perhaps to ask for military reinforcements or materiel. As it turns out, Nicolae Ceausescu did not go to Iran as the result of a snap decision. Instead, high-level Securitate and regime personnel had gone ahead to prepare for Ceausescu’s arrival, as early as 9 December 1989 (a fact we have known since March 1990, see article from Expres below)–therefore, a full week prior to the outbreak of the uprising against Ceausescu’s regime in Timisoara. It is possible that Ceausescu brought gold for his hosts with him on this trip.
below a previously unposted article
An excerpt from
A chapter from my Ph.D. Dissertation at Indiana University: Richard Andrew Hall, Rewriting the Revolution: Authoritarian Regime-State Relations and the Triumph of Securitate Revisionism in Post-Ceausescu Romania (defended 16 December 1996). This is the original chapter as it appeared then and thus has not been revised in any form. (traducere in limba romana: http://mariusmioc.wordpress.com/2009/01/05/rich-andrew-hall-rescrierea-istoriei-revolutiei-triumful-revizionismului-securist-in-romania-1-ceausescu-pleaca-in-iran/ si traducerea de catre marius mioc)
Ceausescu Departs for Iran
On Monday morning 18 December 1989, President Nicolae Ceausescu departed on a previously-scheduled state visit to Iran. He was the first head of state to pay an official visit to Tehran since the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini in June 1989. By the time the presidential jet took off for Iran, Timisoara was under virtual military occupation by units of the Army, Securitate, and Militia. Ceausescu was apparently sufficiently satisfied by the news he was receiving on the status of the crackdown, that he judged it safe to leave the country. In his absence, the “Permanent Bureau of the Political Executive Committee (CPEx)” was left in charge. In effect, this meant that power resided with the First Deputy Prime Minister, his wife Elena–hardly a stranger to such power–and the Vice President of the country, Manea Manescu, who was married to Nicolae’s sister Maria.
On the one hand, the fact that Ceausescu would leave the country in the midst of the most serious challenge ever to communist rule in Romania–fully aware of what had happened to his fellow communist leaders in the region earlier that fall–was a testament to how supremely overconfident and detached from reality he had become. On the other hand, Ceausescu’s absence from the country between 18 and 20 December for a period in excess of forty-eight hours provided regime elites with the perfect opportunity to oust him from power had they wanted to. Ceausescu would likely have been granted asylum by the Iranian regime. In theory it seems, had Ceausescu’s ouster been premeditated, this was the ideal moment to strike.
Most regime elites had a vivid memory of how Ceausescu’s absence from the country during the devastating earthquake of March 1977 had paralyzed the regime apparatus. Moreover, having been threatened by Ceausescu at the emergency CPEx meeting of 17 December with removal from their posts and possible execution–and Ceausescu had been persuaded merely to defer, rather than to cancel this decision–Ceausescu’s commanders had a strong incentive to act fast. Instead, Ceausescu’s henchmen faithfully executed his orders and patiently awaited his return. This is a powerful argument against any suggestion that Ceausescu’s subordinates were scheming to replace him and had intentionally allowed the Timisoara unrest to elude their control.
Theories which maintain that Ceausescu was overthrown by a foreign-engineered coup d’etat also have trouble explaining why the plotters did not attempt to seize power during the period while Ceausescu was out of the country and then prevent him from returning to Romania. The Timisoara events had already assured that Ceausescu’s ouster would contain the popular dimension which was reputedly so central to this coup d’etat scenario. Furthermore, if the Timisoara protests had been instigated by foreign agents, why were these agents unable to “spread the revolution” to Bucharest (which remained surprisingly quiet) during these days?
In support of his contention that the December events were a Soviet-backed coup d’etat, Cornel Ivanciuc has cited the March 1994 comments of Igor Toporovski (director of the Moscow-based Institute for Russian and International Political Studies) which allege that the Soviet Politburo “…chose the moment when Ceausescu was in Teheran [to oust him] because otherwise the action would have been difficult to initiate.” Yet the facts tell another story. Ceausescu was not driven from power at the most opportune moment–while he was in Iran–and the uprising in Timisoara did not spread outside of Timisoara until after Ceausescu’s return. These points cast doubt upon Toporovski’s claims.
.. Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta, “Iran Embarrassed by Ceausescu Visit,” The Washington Post, 17 January 1990, E17.
.. Martyn Rady, Romania in Turmoil: A Contemporary History (New York: IB Tauris & Co Ltd., 1992), 94. For Manescu’s link to the Ceausescu family, see ibid., 52-53.
.. Indeed, the abortive military coup d’etat attempt planned for October 1984 while the Ceausescus were on a state visit to West Germany had been inspired by memories of the March 1977 experience. See Silviu Brucan, The Wasted Generation: Memories of the Romanian Journey from Capitalism to Socialism and Back (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993), 131-134.
.. Cornel Ivanciuc, “Raporturile dintre Frontul Salvarii Nationale si KGB,” 22, no. 21 (24-30 May 1995), 11.
in relation to Ceausescu’s trip to Iran, from Orwellian…Positively Orwellian (2006) https://romanianrevolutionofdecember1989.com/2010/10/03/%E2%80%9Corwellian%E2%80%A6positively-orwellian%E2%80%9D-prosecutor-voinea%E2%80%99s-campaign-to-sanitize-the-romanian-revolution-of-december-1989-part-seven-foreign-involvement/
 …In no.8 (23-30 March 1990) Expres p. 8, Cornel Nistorescu wrote in “Tot Felul,”
“Our compatriots tried and are trying to sell a lie: that the USLA had no role in guarding the dictator. Mr. General Stanculescu, we communicate publicly to you something you know: that every time Ceausescu went out in Bucharest, in each convoy there was an USLA team. And for Ceausescu’s visit to Iran on flight RO 247 of 9 December to Istanbul and on to Teheran were the following: Mortoriu Aurel, Ardeleanu Gheorghe, Bucuci Mihai, Ivan Gelu, Grigore Corneliu, Floarea Nicolae, Rotar Ion and Grecu Florin. These weren’t diplomats and they weren’t going for a snack.”
Revista “Expres,” nr. 8 23-29 martie 1990, p. 8.
for further details on UM 0666 Directia V-a of the Securitate and some of the personalities listed above and below (Mihai Bucuci et. al.) see
Atentie, in special, la USLA, Stetikin/Stecikin, si “seviciu 150 Directia V-a a Securitatii”…
PLECAŢI CU MULT ÎNAINTE
Contrar majorităţii “excursiilor” externe ale lui Ceauşescu, cea din Iran a fost foarte scurtă: a început la 18 decembrie 1989 şi s-a încheiat la 20. “Antemergătorii” au pornit însă la drum pe rând, cu mult înainte. Securiştii şi angajaţii MAE au plecat cu avionul, în primul “val”, la 9 decembrie, iar specialiştii în comerţ exterior la 12. Au făcut escală la Istanbul, de unde au ajuns la Teheran, tot pe calea aerului. Doar traseul ziaristului de la Agerpres a fost mai complicat. Plecat la 13 decembrie, el a trecut mai întâi pe la Moscova, unde a fost găzduit peste noapte la Ambasada României. La Teheran a ajuns abia a doua zi, la 14. În declaraţia sa, Ivanici nu a pomenit despre ciudatul ocol făcut pe la Moscova, într-o perioadă extrem de delicată pentru regimul comunist. Este drept că nici anchetatorii nu s-au arătat prea curioşi în privinţa acelui episod, despre care nu l-au întrebat absolut nimic.
VIAŢA DE SECURIST
Mihai Bucuci, Ioan Rotar şi Nicolae Florea, trei dintre “antemergătorii” delegaţiei oficiale, erau ofiţeri superiori de Securitate. Incluse în dosarul “T-Iran”, declaraţiile lor sunt interesante chiar şi acum, după atâţia ani de la prăbuşirea regimului comunist. Din ele aflăm, în premieră, cu ce se ocupau securiştii care pregăteau detaliile “tehnice” ale vizitelor externe la nivel înalt. Mihai Bucuci era colonel la UM 0666, iar de la el aflăm: “În toate cazurile am făcut parte din grupele pregătitoare care plecau în avans faţă de delegaţiile oficiale. Aceste grupe erau conduse de cadre cu funcţii importante: miniştri adjuncţi, secretari de stat sau şefi de unităţi. Activitatea grupei se baza pe un mandat scris, compus din 8-10 puncte. Concret, erau avute în vedere stabilirea şi organizarea măsurilor de pază la aeroport, la sosire şi la plecare, traseele de deplasare, reşedinţa şi obiectivele din program, dar şi asigurarea securităţii membrilor delegaţiei când se depuneau coroane de flori ori la vizitele în fabrici, uzine şi muzee”. Bucuci a plecat la 9 decembrie 1989 şi a ajuns la Teheran la 11, după o escală de o zi la Istanbul. Timp de o săptămână a pus la punct, cu organele de specialitate iraniene, paza delegaţiei oficiale. Pentru a evita orice manifestări ostile la adresa lui Ceauşescu, securiştii români au predat organelor locale de poliţie şi de siguranţă liste cu persoanele “periculoase”, de origine română sau străină, aflate în Iran ori în ţările vecine, liste întocmite “de unităţile centrale de Securitate”. Încercând poate să convingă că nu era un apropiat al Ceauşeştilor, Bucuci s-a plâns procurorilor: “Deşi am lucrat mult timp în UM 0666, care asigura paza fostului dictator, nu am fost agreat în reşedinţe, în apartamente sau birouri. Sarcinile «de intimitate» erau rezervate cadrelor din Serviciul 1″. În acelaşi timp, Bucuci a încercat să-i convingă pe procurori că nici nu prea era mare lucru să fii în slujba directă a lui Ceauşescu: “Serviciul 1 de la UM 0666 Bucureşti, care a asigurat securitatea lui N.C. şi a soţiei sale, era compus din 20 de ofiţeri cu vârste între 25 şi 55 de ani, care lucrau în ture, 24 cu 24. Salariile nu erau mult mai mari decât ale celorlalţi militari”. El a ţinut să menţioneze special că acei ofiţeri “trebuiau să aibă o condiţie fizică foarte bună, dar şi să joace bine volei, sport foarte agreat de Ceauşescu”. Aproape că îţi vine să le plângi de milă.
COMUNICAŢII “LA LIBER”
Securiştii care pregăteau vizitele oficiale răspundeau şi de legăturile telefonice cu ţara. În Iran această sarcină i-a revenit maiorului DSS Nicolae Florea, de la UM0695, specialist în telecomunicaţii. A ajuns la Teheran la 11 decembrie şi în câteva zile a pus pe roate întregul sistem de comunicaţii cu ţara. Era vorba despre telefon şi telex, precum releul tele-foto pentru Agerpres. Principalul “beneficiar” al muncii lui a fost chiar Ceauşescu. Cei care au stat în preajma preşedintelui afirmă că acesta a vorbit foarte mult cu Elena, pe care, în anumite perioade, a sunat-o şi din jumătate în jumătate de oră. În mod ciudat, convorbirile lui telefonice, la fel ca şi restul legăturilor cu ţara, nu au fost secretizate, fapt menţionat clar de fostul maior DSS Florea. Anchetatorii din 1990 nu au fost însă curioşi să afle de ce şi cine a avut interesul să nu codifice convorbirile lui Ceauşescu, făcând astfel accesibile toate ordinele date de el de la distanţă în acele zile tulburi.
DE CINE SE TEMEA CEAUŞESCU?
Această ciudăţenie tehnică nu a fost singura. În decembrie 1989, Ion Tâlpeanu era locotenent colonel în Serviciul l în Direcţia a V-a a Securităţii şi aghiotant prezidenţial. El relatează că delegaţia propriu-zisă, cea condusă de Ceauşescu, a plecat în Iran la 18 decembrie la ora 9:05 şi a ajuns la Teheran la ora 12:00. Ciudăţenia de care vorbeam a constat într-o adevărată premieră: în spaţiul aerian naţional şi al apelor teritoriale din Marea Neagră, avionul prezidenţial a fost escortat de patru avioane de vânătoare MIG 21, aparţinând flotei aeriene române. Aceleaşi măsuri de siguranţă neobişnuite s-au luat şi la 20 decembrie ’89, când, în jurul orei 15:00, aeronava prezidenţială a revenit acasă. De ce s-o fi considerat Ceauşescu vulnerabil atât timp cât a zburat “pe cerul patriei”? Nu vom şti niciodată.
TOVARĂŞI DE DRUM
Planificată cu mult înainte, această ultimă vizită oficială s-a înscris în tiparul celorlalte. Încă sigur pe el şi pe poziţia lui politică, probabil că lui Ceauşescu nici nu i-a trecut prin cap că, la 18 decembrie 1989, când pleca la Teheran, intrase în ultima lui săptămână de viaţă. Şi că peste doar câteva zile regimul comunist din România, pe care îl condusese 24 de ani, avea să se prăbuşească. În dimineaţa plecării, Ceauşescu a vorbit la reşedinţa din Primăverii cu generalii Iulian Vlad, Vasile Milea şi cu ministrul Tudor Postelnicu, veniţi la el rând pe rând. La întâlnirile cu ei, părea calm şi foarte liniştit. La ducere, Ceauşescu a discutat, în avion, în compartimentul de lucru, cu membrii delegaţiei: Ion Stoian, fost ministru de Externe, Constantin Mitea, consilier prezidenţial pe probleme de presă, secretarul personal Mihai Hârjeu, precum şi generalii Neagoe şi Iosif Rus.
Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta reported in mid-January 1990–in article that referenced “Iranian and Romanian sources and intelligence sources,”–that “Ceausescu had become so enamored of Iran, according to Romanian sources, that in November he secretly deposited millions of dollars in gold for safekeeping in Iranian banks.”
Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta, “Iran Embarrassed by Ceausescu Visit,” The Washington Post, 17 January 1990, E17. (syndicated copy above) WASHINGTON — Romanian despot Nicolae Ceausescu got some help last-minute help from a soul mate who is now embarrassed about coming to the aid of a loser. Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani tried to prop up Ceausescu by sending Iranian security goons to Romania to protect him. Ceausescu’s three-day visit to Iran while his troops massacred dissidents at home contributed to the foment that eventually overthrew him. Rafsanjani’s embrace of the Romanian dictator on that trip has not helped his stock with the Western diplomatic community. Iranian and Romanian sources and intelligence sources now tell us what went on behind the scenes when Ceausescu was in Iran. He flew to Tehran on Dec 18 while his troops were brutally putting down a riot in the Romanian city of Timisoara. The day before, Ceausescu’s secret police had used tanks and machine guns to open fire on crowds of demonstrators. Hundreds of men women and children were murdered. The battle continued while Ceausescu was being welcomed by an elated Rafsanjani. In his first six months as president of Iran, no other head of state had bothered to visit. The two men openly conferred about trade issues. Romania has been a major trading partner with Iran, and their business amounted to about $1.8 billion last year. Ceausescu had become so enamored of Iran, according to Romanian sources, that in November he secretly deposited millions of dollars in gold for safekeeping in Iranian banks. He mistrusted Western banks after seeing some of them freeze the ill-gotten gain of another opportunist Ferdinand Marcos. On the second day of his visit to Tehran, Ceausescu placed a wreath on the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini. In doing so, he became the only head of state to kiss up to Khomeini after death. In retrospect, it was a kiss of death back home. That night, with word that the demonstrations were out of control in Romania, Ceausescu begged Rajsanjani for help. Rafsanjani supplied some of his most loyal Iranian bodyguards to protect Ceausescu on his return. The next day, Dec 20, a contingent of Iranian Pasdaran, the Revolutionary Guard, secretly flew to Bucharest. Two days later, when the Romanian army turned against Ceausescu’s security police. the despot knew it was over. He and his wife Elena fled Bucharest but were captured by peasants. Meanwhile, Timisoara was still a battleground where eyewitnesses to the shooting claimed the forces were not all Romanians. According to some witnesses, Iranians or Libyans were doing some of the shooting. Similar reports of Iranian and Libyan snipers came from the industrial city of Craiova. In a two-hour secret trial on Christmas Day, the Ceausescus were convicted of genocide of 60,000 Romanians and theft of more than billion. “You should have stayed in Iran where you had flown to, the prosecutor told them. “We do not stay abroad,” Elena Ceausescu said. “This is our home.” The two were executed by firing squad. Rafsanjani was fit to be tied. He was embarrassed about helping Ceausescu at the end because he feared it would jeopardize trade arrangements with the new Romanian government. Rafsanjani dismissed his ambassador to Romania for not telling him about the power of the anti-Ceausescu forces in time to spare Iran the humiliation of hosting a has-been.
Petre Dumitru (cu un ofiter din Directia V-a), “Noi amanunte privind vizita lui Ceausescu in Iran,” Expres Magazin, nr. 9 (1991), p. 11.
Articles suggesting that Ceausescu had been sending gold to Switzerland for safekeeping, prior to the outbreak of the December 1989 events.
Marian Dumitrescu, “Cum au fost transportate 40 tone aur in Elvetia,” Romania Libera (?), 30 ianuarie 1990, p. 3.
Dan Badea reported later in the summer of 1991 about Ceausescu’s efforts in the summer of 1989 to have the USLA move some of his gold to Switzerland.
Dan Badea, “Transporturi Masive de Aur in Elvetia,” Expres nr. 23 (72) 11-17 June 1991, p. 16.