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.

Grosescu and Ursachi “The Romanian Revolution in Court” (annotated) II (“The Water is Poisoned”)

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

Raluca Grosescu and Raluca Ursachi, “The Romanian Revolution in Court:  What Narratives about 1989?” in Vladimir Tismaneanu and Bogdan C. Iacob, Remembrance, History, and Justice. Coming to terms with traumatic pasts in democratic societies.  (New York:  Central European University Press, 2015), pp. 257-293.

In this series, we will look at parts of the Grosescu and Ursachi chapter that necessitate exposition–exposition that is easily derived from my prior research and publications.  In episode one , we looked at Grosescu and Ursachi’s  understanding of “plan ZZ,” which Grosescu and Ursachi suggest was a “fantasy scenario” of somehow abstruse allegations invented for the purposes of the initial post-December 1989 trials:

In this episode, we look at what is a favorite, seemingly universal assumption that has gone unresearched by Romanianists:  the rumor that the “water was poisoned.”  While it is true that this was primarily a piece of disinformation to create panic and confusion–they totally misunderstand who fed it and to what end it was used.  Moreover, they clearly have no knowledge of Belgian toxicologist  Aubin Heyndrickx‘s toxicology report on what happened in Sibiu 20-22 December 1989, and why this rumor was not completely a “fantasy scenario” as the authors smugly suggest.

…As in the case of the Ceausescu trial, the panel of judges looked more like a punishment committee, barring the accused from speaking, declaring their guilt from the start, and invoking eccentric and baseless accusations alongside documentary evidence.  One such example was the so-called “ZZ plan” or the “the end of all ends,” an alleged plan to poison water in the capital and destroy dams across the country in order to decimate the population of Romania.  The coordination of “terrorist” troops after December 22 was also mentioned in the trial, the defendants being barred from expressing any opinion on the issue. (p. 267)


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

Oh, how Romanians and Romanianists love to invoke or allude to the televised claim in December 1989 that the water had been posioned in Sibiu!

It precipitates laughter:  ah, the crude manipulation and naivete!

Predictably, this is a favorite of foreign sources on December 1989.

Romanian emigre Andrei Codrescu tells us in his November 1990 article in Harper’s (“Big Chills”) about the wild rumors of December 1989, that the water in Sibiu had allegedly been poisoned, but as he found out at his 25th anniversary high school reunion, he learned how all the rumors had been false: and the water in Sibiu, it was just fine!

John Feffer in Shock Waves (1992) invokes Codrescu’s claims that, “Contrary to earlier reports, there were no mass killings, no poisoned water in Sibiu, no terrorists–only the manufacturing of a revolutionary smokescreen to conceal pre-planned machinations that resulted in the creation of the National Salvation Front.” (p. 207)

Peter Siani-Davies quotes BBC journalist John Simpson, who had heard similar stories concerning poisoned water during the Iranian revolution of 1979, as noting that “certain ideas appeal forcibly  to the self-dramatizing mind of the revolutionary,” to which Siani-Davies adds:

“Indeed, in Romania the wild storytelling to a certain extent was just another consequence of the tumult of the revolution.  However, the imagery may have served another purpose….Now, through the tales of horror, they [Romanians] were able to place the evil forces of that [Ceausescu] regime so far beyond the bounds of ‘normal’ society that they were effectively able to distance themselves from the demons of the past.  There was also a sense in which it was necessary for the securitate to be so terrible:  How else could the years of mute suffering under an enfeebled old tyrant such as Ceausescu be explained and condoned?”   (Siani-Davies, The Romanian Revolution of December 1989, p. 160.)


Underlying all of these interpretations and explanations is the assumption that the water never was poisoned, that it was all a baseless rumor.

Surely, one assumes, the rumor has been run to ground…but the truth is, as with so many things about December 1989, it hasn’t…

report from Sibiu starts at approximately 2:20 (Tagesschau 27.12.1989)

Yes, dear friends, according to a toxicology report filed in late December 1989 by Belgian toxicologist Dr. Aubin Heyndrickx, the water in Sibiu had indeed been poisoned.  Romanians, Romanianists, and foreigners who assure their audiences without a shred of self-doubt that there was no basis, no reason for Romanian Television, and specifically television presenter Teodor Brates, to panic the population with claims that the “water in Sibiu has been poisoned” are simply:  wrong!  Does this mean Dr. Heyndrickx’s claims and findings were necessarily right?  No.  Were his tests tainted or interpretation of them colored by the collective state of mind that prevailed in Romania and abroad about Romania in late 1989?  I don’t know.  As with so many other things, the Romanian military procuracy apparently never sought to follow-up on Heyndrickx’s toxicology report, or, if they did, they long since buried it.  What is clear is that Dr. Heyndrickx’s test results mean that there was an understandable basis for suspicion that the water in Sibiu had been poisoned and that those who continue to treat the poison water in Sibiu rumor as obviously false and obviously baseless do public understanding inside and outside Romania a tremendous disservice.

Fullscreen capture 11222014 42152 PM


On December 21, 1989, people drinking from water tank #4 in Sibiu experienced headache, visual disturbances, loss of consciousness, vomiting, etc.  These symptoms are all compatible with organophosphate poisoning.  The analysis of the water (by gas chromatography) and the determination of the cholinesterase activity of the blood was done in the University of Cluj.  The conclusion was that an organophosphate had been used.  Atropine sulfate and toxogonin were advised.

As soon as the symptoms appeared among the population, water tank #4 was shut off, rinsed, and cleaned.  The people received water from army trucks.

A few days later, there was a fight in Timisoara between the army and Securitate over the water tanks.  Poisoning was feared, as had occurred in Sibiu.  According to witnesses, the Securitate possesses “all possible chemical warfare agents.”

Toxicologist Aubin Heyndrickx supervised the chemical tests and interviewed the physicians at Central Hospital who treated the patients.  From the tests and from the very high dose of atropine required to produce a response, he concluded that the tank was poisoned with sarin or VX (Report on the Humanitarian Mission to Romania, December 23-29, 1989, Laboratoria voor Toxicologie Criminalistiek, State University of Ghent).

Indeed, one can watch a brief discussion of the incident with Dr. Heyndrickx beginning at approximately the 40 second mark from an ITN broadcast of 27 December 1989


}T27128901   ROMANIA: SIBIU AFTER THE REVOLUTION: United Nations medical
27.12.89     relief team arrives in Sibiu with medical supplies and blood
TX           to treat the people who were injured during the fight against
             Securitate (secret police). Toxicologists have found evidence
             that the security police poisoned the water supply. Injured
             Securitate are being treated in hospitals alongside the people
             they shot.
Clip Ref: BSP271289002 0

Clip 1of1

}T27128901   ROMANIA: SIBIU AFTER THE REVOLUTION: United Nations medical
27.12.89     relief team arrives in Sibiu with medical supplies and blood
TX           to treat the ...
  • Duration: 00:01:44 |
  • Timecode – In: 00:00:00:00  Out: 00:01:44:00 |
  • Copyright: ITN / 3rd Party Copyright

French team confirms poison in water supply

By PETER GREEN   |   Dec. 29, 1989

NADLAC, Romania — A member of a French medical team said Friday that doctors determined nerve gas was dumped into a Romanian town’s water supply during the anti-Ceausescu revolt, and five people were seriously poisoned before the substance diluted.

Once uprising leaders discovered the apparent sabotage in the municipal water tank in Sibiu, they drained the contaminated supply, said Auvin Heyndrickx, a Belgian doctor who treated some of the victims.

Heyndrickx said he went to Sibiu with a team of doctors from the French relief group ‘Doctors Without Borders’ upon hearing unconfirmed reports of the poisoning, which townspeople attributed to dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s hated Securitate police force.

Set in the Transylvanian mountains of western Romania with a population of more than half a million, Sibiu was lorded over by Nicu Ceausescu, who was nabbed by citizens last week and remained under arrest by the new government. The government executed his father and mother, Elena, Monday on charges of ‘genocide’ and other crimes.

Heyndrickx, a professor of toxicology at the University of Ghent, Belgium, spoke with United Press International as his team passed through the town of Nadlac near the Hungarian border on their way back to France.

The French team determined that two highly toxic nerve gases, known as sarin and VX, were dumped in liquid form into Sibiu’s water on Dec. 20. Iraq, Libya and possibly Romania are the main producers of the poisons, Heyndrickx said.

Five peoplewere hospitalized with severe poisoning, he said, describing their symptoms as vomiting and ‘unknown brain damage.’

Heyndrickx attributed the relatively low number of injuries to the low concentration of the poisons in the water.

‘The quantity was very diluted,’ he said.

He held out hope that the brain damage suffered by the five victims would not be severe, but said the success of their recovery would remain unclear for days.

City workers drained and inspected the water tower before beginning the lengthy refilling process, he said.

Heyndrickx said first aid supplies from around the world had arrived in ample quantities in Sibiu and other towns in western Romania, but said long-term medical supplies and equipment are in critically short supply.

Baby formula and infant foods are desperately needed in Sibiu, as are antibiotics, anesthetics, surgical gloves and other supplies.

‘In the Sibiu pediatric hospital there is terrible malnutrition among the children, who are completely underfed,’ he said. ‘They don’t even have powdered milk.’

Foodstuffs have been in short supply in Romania despite strict rationing, which was halted this week by the new government.

Also in one of its first acts, the ruling National Salvation Front government Wednesday abolished a Ceausescu-imposed nutrition scheme that used pseudo-scientific methods to justify harmfully low daily calorie intake levels.

I have found evidence of discussion of Heyndrickx and his toxicology report in the Hungarian press of the time, but significantly, to date, I have been unable to find discussion of it in the Romanian press!

Nepszabadsag, 30 December 1989, p. 3 citing a UPI dispatch, apparently P. Green, “French team confirms poison in water supply,” UPI, 29 December 1989.

Nagyszeben – ideggáz

Bukarest, 1989. december 29. péntek (UPI) – A Ceausescu-párti terrorosztagok ideggázt vegyítettek a romániai Nagyszeben víztárólóiba a forradalom első napjaiban – ezt egy francia-belga orvoscsoport egyik tagja mondotta el a UPI hírügynökség tudósítójának. Auvin Heyndrickx szerint a szennyezett ivóvíztól öten súlyos mérgezést szenvedtek.Mikor a felkelés vezetői felfedezték a szabotázst, azonnal
leengedték a mérgezett vizet a tárolóból – mondta a belga orvos, aki
az ,,Orvosok – határok nélkül,, nevű francia segélyszervezet
tagjaként utazott a városba. A toxikológus Heyndrickx
megállapította, hogy a vízkészletbe két súlyosan mérgező, folyékony
állapotú ideggázvegyületet öntöttek még december 20-án. Az orvos
elmondta azt is, hogy az eddig ismert öt sérült agykárosodást is
szenvedett a mérgektől. A megbetegedések ilyen viszonylag alacsony
számát a belga szakértő annnak tulajdonítja, hogy a víztárolóban a
mérgező anyagok szerencsére rendkívüli mértékben felhígultak.+++1989. december 29., péntek 07:57 See citations in fn#59 page 10.


It is thus with justification that in my dissertation in 1997 and in a reiteration of the dissertation views in 2007, I defended TVR personnel by pointing out the extent to which they went to intervene and inform the population when it was safe to drink the water again.  (for a glimpse into the eternal “appreciation” I received for pointing out the latter, see


Excerpt from

In their discussion of the Romanian transition, Linz and Stepan note the “[r]umors of deliberately poisoned water supplies, of 10,000, 60,000, even 100,000 dead, filled the news channels and streets” and conclude that “disinformation played an important role in the events.”[45] They have in mind, however, the idea that this disinformation was disseminated in order to help the Front seize power. This, of course, echoes the dominant view on this theme. As we saw in the preceding chapter, both Securitate and opposition sources maintain that disinformation pervaded the December events, and they uniformly attribute it to the Front and the Front’s supporters at television, and, in some cases, to foreign actors such as the Soviet Union.

Yet there has been very little effort to investigate the context in which particular rumors originated and the relationship between actual events and those rumors. Take, for example, this rumor alleging the poisoning of the water supply which is so frequently invoked by both domestic and foreigner observers. To what are they referring? Around 3 p.m. on the afternoon of 22 December–therefore approximately three hours after the Ceausescus had fled Bucharest–television commentator Teodor Brates began to issue periodic, sometimes frantic reports about fighting between the Army and the Securitate in the city of Sibiu and about rumors that the water supply had been poisoned by the Securitate. Here are some excerpts of what Brates said on television on that afternoon:

One moment, please…from Sibiu it has been communicated to us that the army no longer has ammunition and the Securitate troops continue to attack military units….We want to inform you that in Sibiu, military units are urgently requesting help…We are constantly receiving communications…of course, we do not have the possibility to verify their authenticity…but we ask for your attention…It is said that these enemy elements, the securisti, have poisoned the water in Sibiu, in Timisoara,…the water must be boiled before being consumed.[46]

[45].. Linz and Stepan, “The Effects of Totalitarianism-cum-Sultanism,” 345-346.

[46].. See the text of the transcript, Revolutia Romana in Direct (Bucharest: Televiziunea Romana, 1990), 47, 48, 51.


2007:  Linked to the allegations of supposedly intentionally hyping the threat posed by the “terrorists” is the certitude with which many Romanians and Romanianists assert that TV personnel (especially Teodor Brates) intentionally spread rumors about the water being poisioned and the army running out of ammunition in Sibiu etc.–rumors that proved to be unsubstantiated. Here is what they likely remember:

“One moment, please…from Sibiu it has been communicated that the army no longer has ammunition and the Securitate troops continue to attack mili tary units….We want to inform you that in Sibiu, military units are urgently requesting help…We are constantly receiving communications…of course, we do not have the possibility to verify their authenticity…but we ask for your attention…It is said that the enemy elements, the securisti, have poisoned the water in Sibiu, in Timisoara…the water must be boiled before being consumed.” (from the transcript of 22 December 1989 in “Revolutia Romana in Direct” (Bucharest: 1990), pp. 47, 48, 51, quoted p. 324, Richard Andrew Hall, 1997, Ph.D. Dissertation, “Rewriting the Revolution: Authoritarian Regime-State Relations and the Triumph of Securitate Revisionism in Post-Ceausescu Romania”)



What they don’t remember is that Brates returned later to inform the audience a) when the fighting had ceased in Sibiu, b) when supplies of bottled water were on their way to Sibiu, and c) when the competent authorities verified that the water in Bucharest was safe to drink (“Revolutia Romana in Direct,” pp. 71, 72, 75, discussed p. 327 Hall, “Rewriting the Revolution”) This is there…in the transcript of what was said on Television…it is not a matter of a “difference of opinion” as the likes of Tismanenau and others in denial would have us believe. It is the old saw from American baseball: as the famous manager Casey Stengel used to say “You can look it up!” Once again: if your goal is “diversion,” intentional panic and manipulation, is it likely that you would return to the same subjects and say things designed to calm fears? Of course, not.

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