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.

(Re)painting with “Fake News”: the TV news editor who announced the “water has been poisoned” (III)

(as always a strictly personal point of view, based on more than two decades of prior research and publication; punct de vedere strict personal)

Investigators said Teodor Brates helped spread false information that led to deaths and violence during the December 1989 uprising that followed Ceausescu’s ousting. Brates, who was deputy editor-in-chief of the news department of the Romanian Public Broadcaster TVR in December 1989, was summoned by prosecutors on Wednesday to officially receive the notification of his indictment. Charges say he coordinated the TVR broadcasts on December 22-24 1989, when anti-communist protesters took over the studios of the broadcaster. Brates went live on television to announce that “terrorists” were shooting at people and that “water has been poisoned.” The indictment says Brates was “the main factor disseminating fake news, meant to create diversions, thus highly contributing to forming the terrorist psychosis which affected Romania’s entire population (both military and civilians).”

In this episode, we ask:  was there any reason that Brates and others would have claimed the water had been poisoned?  Did they just make it up out of whole cloth?  Because that is what so many would have us believe.  The reality of whether the water in Sibiu was actually poisoned is a separate question.  For our purposes, here, where Brates is being charged with knowingly and intentionally issuing false news reports that panicked and confused the population, we can say rather definitively that at the very least the charge is terribly unfair.

We can begin with the fact that in fall 1990, an air force officer and member of the military reform group CADA reported that in December 1989 (it appears after the execution of the Ceausescus on 25 December 1989) several “special troops” (for more on the reference, see ) were arrested at Boteni air force base, and that during the interrogation one of them declared that his mission was to poison the water (supply).  Whether or not that was pure disinformation meant to panic and confuse, or whether or not that was his actual mission, is unclear.



Revista NU (Cluj), nr. 40 (1990), Petru Litiu si Florinela Gherasim, p. 5. (xerox, Babes-Bolyai University Library, Cluj, 1994)

Pe aerodorom au fost arestati in acele zile doi sau trei indivizi care faceau parte din trupe speciale, care vara veneau la Boteni pentru antrenamente de parasutare. 

La ancheta unul a declarat ca a avut misiunea de a otravi apa.


But with regards to the allegations about the water in Sibiu being poisoned, it is even easier to prove that Brates and others had a basis for disseminating this piece of news, because there was a well-placed suspicion at the time that the water had indeed been poisioned (whether or not it was, and with what substance, once again, is a different conversation).  I’ll continue more on this in the next episode, but for now a recently unearthed article, dated 4 February 1990 (The Sunday Times, James Adams, Defence Correspondent, “Securitate’s poison secret discovered,” p. A15).

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