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.

Georgetown Professor Charles King’s Review of the RRD89 in the CPADCR’s Raport Final

(purely personal views, based on two decades of prior research and publications)

Professor Charles King was the Ion Ratiu Chair of Romanian Studies at Georgetown University for 15 years.  Unlike his predecessor (Gail Kligman) and his successor (Dennis Deletant), both of whom have written almost exclusively about Romania and who are automatically identified as Romanianists, the same cannot be said about Dr. Charles King, who wrote fantastic works during his time as Ratiu Chair, although he wrote virtually nothing about Romania itself.  This didn’t prevent him from fulfilling the role of reviewer and critic of works about communist and post-communist Romania. His review of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Romanian Communist Dictatorship’s Final Report (“Remembering Romanian Communism,” Slavic Review, Winter 2007, pp. 781-723, ) is case in point.  Yes, Professor King knows Romanian and uses Romanian-language sources, but he fails to use them to add significant new insight and, worse yet, he misses a lot of literature someone writing such a piece should be familiar with and should address, as I pointed out back in 2008-2009 in my review (below) of his review of the Final Report’s discussion of the Romanian Revolution of December 1989.  True, King started his scholarly career in the early 1990s with a series of reviews of books and articles about the Romanian transition from communism and the fall of the regime of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, but he has never actually researched those events himself (a strange situation, which has both big positives, but also big negatives as a reviewer).  While his 2007 review has some decent points, in “its present form” it left/leaves much to be desired.


[10] Sorin Iliesiu, “18 ani de la masacrul care a deturnat revoluţia anticomunistă,” 21 December 2007, found at (note: this is NOT the Romania Libera daily newspaper). One will find many well-known names in the West among those who signed this petition: Dragoş Paul Aligică, Matei Călinescu, Ruxandra Cesereanu, Anneli Ute Gabanyi, Tom Gallagher, Gabriel Liiceanu, Norman Manea, Nicolae Manolescu, Mircea Mihaies, Ion Mihai Pacepa, Horia-Roman Patapievici, Radu Portocală, Nestor Ratesh, Lavinia Stan, Stelian Tănase, Alin Teodorescu, and Vladimir Tismăneanu. Sorin Iliesiu, who is a filmmaker and Vice President of the “Civic Alliance” organization, has written that he was part of the “team” that “edited” the seven page chapter on the Romanian Revolution contained in the Report of the Presidential Commission to Analyze the Communist Dictatorship of Romania (PCACDR). He is not a scholar and most certainly not a scholar of the December 1989 events. A textual comparison of the Report’s chapter on the Revolution and Vladimir Tismaneanu’s chapter in a Dawisha and Parrott edited volume from 1997 is unambiguous: the introductory two paragraphs of the Report’s chapter are taken verbatim in translation from p. 414 of Tismaneanu’s 1997 chapter, and other verbatim paragraphs, sentences, and phrases from pp. 414-417 make up parts of the rest of the Report’s Revolution chapter without any reference to the 1997 chapter. As the author(s) of an earlier chapter in the Report cite(s) Tismaneanu’s 1997 chapter (see p. 376 fn. 55) correctly, this leaves really only two possible explanations for the failure of Iliesiu et. al. to cite that they have borrowed wholesale from Tismaneanu’s 1997 chapter: a) an absence of scholarly knowledge, or b) an attempt to mask their dependence upon and deference to Tismaneanu, the Chair of the Commission, since the citations that do appear are the exact citations from the 1997 chapter and claims are translated word-by-word, so much so that Iliesiu et. al. did not even bother to change verb tenses despite the passage of a decade. Iliesiu et. al. can attempt to avoid answering questions and attempt to change the subject, but the textual analysis is unambiguous: Tismaneanu’s unattributed 1997 chapter forms the bulk of the Report’s chapter on the Revolution. The only question that needs to be answered is: why and why are they unwilling to admit the textual identicality?

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[11] All of this eludes Charles King in his Winter 2007 Slavic Review essay “Remembering Romanian Communism.” In his five page essay, he pauses no less than four times to mention the Revolution, despite the fact that its coverage takes up barely one percent of the PCACDR report. He relates the most banal of conclusions—“The report thus repeats the common view (at least among western academics) of the revolution as having been hijacked…”—yet misses or avoids what Iliesiu clearly seems most proud of: having inserted the claim that Nicolae Ceausescu was responsible for “only 162 deaths,” thereby insinuating Ceausescu’s successors bear responsibility for the other 942, and the claim to which such a reckoning is intimately related, namely Voinea’s that there were “no terrorists.” (It is interesting to note how Iliesiu et. al., the eternally suspicious of the state, miraculously become assiduous promoters of “official” and “state” claims once they turn out to be their own, thereby suggesting that their skepticism of the state is primarily situational rather than inherent—these are not equal opportunity skeptical and critical intellectuals.) King’s treatment of the Report is overall insufficiently informed, and as a consequence contextually-wanting and one-sided. He cites a handful of Romanian reviews of the Report, but they are almost uniformly positive accounts, almost as if supplied by the Chair of the Commission himself (see fn. 1, p. 718). He pauses to cite the former head of Radio Free Europe’s Romanian Research Division Michael Shafir’s 1985 book, yet makes no mention of Shafir’s trenchant criticisms (he gave the report a 7 out of 10 and mixed the positive with the negative) in a 1/12/07 interview in Ziua de Cluj, his extended critique “RAPORTUL TISMĂNEANU: NOTE DIN PUBLIC ŞI DIN CULISE” available in spring 2007 at http:// (no. 11), or his “Scrisoare (ultra)deschisa” in Observator Cultural no. 382 (25 July-1 August 2007) [given the timeline of scholarly publication, I am attempting to give King the benefit of the doubt here …He would certainly do well to read Shafir’s most recent discussion in Observator Cultural NR. 148 (406) 17 – 23 ianuarie 2008, “Despre clarificari nebuloase, plagiate, imposturi si careerism,” to see what a venerable critic and serious scholar was subjected to as a result of deigning to not wholeheartedly embrace the Report. Shafir’s treatment by the Report’s zealots has little to do with the liberal democratic view of the open society the Report’s authors ceaselessly profess.] Finally, had Charles King bothered to read Ciprian Siulea’s “Tentatia unui nou absolutism moral: Cu cine si de ce polemizeaza Vladimir Tismaneanu?” (Observator Cultural, nr. 379, 5-11 iulie 2007, once again conceivably within the publishing timeline) he might have refrained from parrotting the polarizing and unhelpful plebiscitary logic applied to the Report when he closed “The question is now whether the commission’s report will be used as yet another opportunity to reject history or as a way of helping Romanians learn, at last, how to own it” (p. 723). This, of course, suggests a certain infallible quality to the Report—which is far from the case—a conclusion only enhanced by King’s willingness to focus on the “hate speech” directed against the Report, but yet failing to cite and discuss any of the Romanian scholarly criticism of it.

[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.

[10]The hyperbolic and popular academic designation of the Ceausescu regime as Stalinist is not particularly helpful.  Totalitarian yes, Stalinist no.  Yes, Nicolae Ceausescu had a Stalinist-like personality cult, and yes he admired Stalin and his economic model, as he told interviewers as late as 1988, and we have been told ad nauseum since.  But this was also a strange regime, which as I have written elsewhere was almost characterized by a policy of “no public statues [of Ceausescu] and no (or at least as few as possible) public martyrs [inside or even outside the party]”—the first at odds with the ubiquity of Nicoale and Elena Ceausescus’ media presence, the second characterized by the “rotation of cadres” policy whereby senior party officials could never build a fiefdom and were sometimes banished to the provinces, but almost were never eliminated physically, and by Ceausescus’ general reluctance to “spoil” his carefully created “image” abroad by openly eliminating high-profile dissidents (one of the reasons Pastor Tokes was harassed and intimidated, but still alive in December 1989)  (see Richard Andrew Hall 2006, “Images of Hungarians and Romanians in Modern American Media and Popular Culture,” at Ken Jowitt has characterized the organizational corruption and political routinization of the communist party as moving from the Stalinist era—whereby even being a high-level party official did not eliminate the fear or reality of imprisonment and death—to what he terms Khrushchev’s de facto maxim of “don’t kill the cadre” to Brezhnev’s of essentially “don’t fire the cadre” (see Ken Jowitt, New World Disorder:  The Leninist Extinction, especially pp. 233-234, and chapter 4 “Neotraditionalism,” p. 142).   The very fact that someone like Ion Iliescu could be around to seize power in December 1989 is fundamentally at odds with a Stalinist system:  being “purged” meant that he fulfilled secondary roles in secondary places, Iasi, Timisoara, the Water Works, a Technical Editing House, but “purged” did not threaten and put an end to his existence, as it did for a Kirov, Bukharin, and sadly a cast of millions of poor public souls caught up in the ideological maelstorm.  Charles King wrote in 2007 that “the Ceausescu era was the continuation of Stalinism by other means, substituting the insinuation of terror for its cruder variants and combining calculated cooptation with vicious attacks on any social actors who might represent a potential threat to the state” (Charles King, “Remembering Romanian Communism,” Slavic Review, vol. 66, no. 4 (Winter 2007), p. 720).  But at a certain point, a sufficient difference in quantity and quality—in this case, of life, fear, imprisonment, and death—translates into a difference of regime-type, and we are left with unhelpful hyperbole.  The level of fear to one’s personal existence in Ceausescu’s Romania—both inside and outside the party-state—simply was not credibly comparable to Stalin’s Soviet Union, or for that matter, even Dej’s Romania of the 1950s.  In the end, Ceausescu’s Romania was “Stalinist in form [personality cult, emphasis on heavy industry], but Brezhnevian in content [“don’t fire the cadres”…merely rotate them…privileges, not prison sentences for the nomenklatura].”

[22] Stephen Kotkin associates the concept, accurately if incompletely, with Tom Gallagher and Vladimir Tismaneanu in Stephen Kotkin, Uncivil Society:  1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment (Modern Library Chronicles, 2009), pp. 147-148 n. 1.  Similar concepts have taken other names, such as “operetta war” (proposed but not necessarily accepted) by Nestor Ratesh, Romania:  The Entangled Revolution (Praeger, 1991) or “staging of [the] revolution” [advocated] by Andrei Codrescu, The Hole in the Flag (Morrow and Company, 1991).  Dumitru Mazilu’s 1991 book in Romanian was entitled precisely “The Stolen Revolution” [Revolutia Furata].  Charles King stated in 2007 that the CPADCR Report “repeats the common view (at least among western academics) of the revolution as being hijacked,” a term essentially equating to “stolen revolution,” but as Tismaneanu headed the commission and large sections of the Report’s chapter on December 1989 use previous writings by him (albeit without citing where they came from), it is hard to somehow treat the Report’s findings as independent of Tismaneanu’s identical view (for an earlier discussion of all this, see Hall 2008)


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