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.

Psychological Warfare and the Widely and Wildly Misunderstood Terrorist Tactics of December 1989 in Romania (II. “Cui bono?”)

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


(No. 1 Below.  Dan Pavel, “Rewriting History in Romania,”  East European Politics and Societies (vol. 14, no. 2, 2000)*:  “Critical intellectuals, journalists, and representatives of the re-founded “historical parties” asserted that Iliescu and his group were the masterminds of those bloody events (more than 1,000 victims) involving “terrorists” that nobody ever saw in trials.”)

(No. 2 Below.  A slogan that sums up a common view of the cause of the chaos, panic, and confusion that reigned in Romania from the afternoon of 22 December 1989 on:  “You (the National Salvation Front and its promoters) Lied to the People via Television”)

Cui bono?  Cui prodest?

Who benefits?  Who stands to gain?  These are the questions that have come to frame interpretations of the chaos, panic, and confusion that characterized the period beginning on the afternoon of 22 December 1989.  In other words, they work backward from the outcome and focus on motivation and interest.  It is, frankly, history-by-shortcut.  Below are some of the dominant interpretations of the chaos, panic, and confusion after 22 December 1989 and their alleged perpetrators (inferred largely by establishing their “interests”).  These are pure-types and many interpretations mix and borrow from multiple categories.

  1. Ion Iliescu, Silviu Brucan, Gelu Voican Voiculescu, Virgil Magureanu, General Nicolae Militaru, Captain Nicolae Radu, Captain Mihai Lupoi, and other core officials of the National Salvation Front, many of whom had been in contact with one another before the December Revolution broke out in Timisoara and who had plotted to remove Nicolae Ceausescu from power.  According to this view, they needed a “diversion” (in fact, a “diversionary (internal) war”) against which to seize power–because otherwise they could not be sure the population would accept them as they were compromised by their association with the communist regime–and they needed the “revolutionary legitimacy” of a battle against the evil Ceausist enemy in order to consolidate and cloak their seizure of power (“coup”).  This theory is accepted without much skepticism by many Romanians and is especially popular among Bucharest intellectuals and Romanian emigre intellectuals (Vladimir Tismaneanu, Andrei Codrescu, etc.).
  2. TVR Teodor Brates, Alexandru Stark, Sergiu Nicolaescu, etc.  Here television and film personalities who seized the moment in December 1989, were responsible for creating and disseminating false rumors and disinformation through TVR.  Either they were doing this on behalf of the National Salvation Front or to aid the National Salvation Front, or they did it as former communists trying to save their own skins.
  3. General Victor Athanasie Stanculescu and General Stefan Guse.  This can almost be called the “Timisoara” variant (Marius Mioc is its most prominent proponent) as it is most popular among Timisoara participants in December 1989 who believe their pure revolution was “stolen” and usurped in Bucharest (thus a regional, cosmopolitan more-Western city poised against a backwards Balkan capital).  The thinking here goes that Stanculescu and Guse realized that they would be punished for their role in killing and repressing demonstrators in Timisoara and thus to save their own skins, and for the Army to redeem itself as an institution for the blood on its hands in Timisoara, it had to create for itself a myth, the myth of the heroic protector of the Romanian people against Nicolae Ceausescu and the evil Securitate.  It thus exploited and tapped into popular hatred and suspicion of the Securitate and made them scapegoats.  The Army shot in the Army, civilians, and other forces because Stanculescu, Guse, and other senior Army officials looking to purify the Army’s image gave conflicting orders and disseminated disinformation.
  4. The Soviets (KGB, GRU) and their agents in Romania (Militaru, Radu, General Stefan Kostyal, etc.) created the wave of disinformation to aid the National Salvation Front (including resorting to psychological warfare, radio-electronic warfare) in order to help their agents seize power and install a more friendly government to Moscow than Nicolae Ceausescu’s.  In some scenarios, the Romanian Army’s DIA** unit is portrayed as having been part of this Soviet plan and as having engineered the radio-electronic war against the Romanian military itself.  (As compared to the first three scenarios above, this variant at least takes into account the tremendous pre-planning and preparations that would be required for such a psychological campaign to take place.  The other 3, by contrast, rely surprisingly on ad hoc behavior, on the idea that the individuals involved in spreading rumors and disinformation largely came up with the content on the fly, with little to no pre-planning.)
  5. Chaos, panic, and confusion were both cause and effect, a response to euphoria, surprise, fear, suspicion, long-standing stereotypes, the isolation of the Ceausescu regime etc.  This is almost a uniquely Western, post-modern interpretation.  Its most well-known proponent is Peter Siani-Davies.  Siani-Davies downplays manipulation and intent, ending up with explanations such as “friendly fire” to explain not just some, but almost all the death and mayhem after 22 December.  (Ruxandra Cesereanu, in an arguably most Romanian way, portrays her interpretation as post-modern, but the more Romanian suspicion of directed manipulation nevertheless makes its way into her accounts).

*Throughout the 1990s, Vladimir Tismaneanu promoted Dan Pavel and his writings in the United States (they even co-authored articles).  The patron-client relationship between Tismaneanu and Pavel is on display in many places, for example footnote no. 5 on the xerox above.  It is germane to note that despite the fact that I had published on just this topic the previous year in EEPS, I was not asked to review Pavel’s article and Pavel avoids citing my article from the same journal on this topic from the year before.  It is not surprising.  Tismaneanu was editor of EEPS at the time, and it would hardly be a surprise that Pavel’s “Letter from Bucharest” (i.e. a non-traditional type of article that periodically appeared in EEPS) received a fast-track to publication, thanks to Tismaneanu and Pavel’s longstanding patron-client relationship.)

**(Accounts focused more on DIA’s capabilities, equipment, training, etc. will be dealt with in a future episode, since such an explanation is not focused primarily on ends, motives, and interests, as the above are).

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