Rewriting the Revolution (1997): Chapter 6 18-22 December 1989
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18-22 December 1989: The Ceausescu Regime Falls
As during the period between 15 and 17 December, between 18 and 22 December 1989 the Securitate obediently and ruthlessly obeyed the orders of Nicolae Ceausescu to repress demonstrators. One difference during the latter period was the emerging effort of the Army to minimize its role in the repression, eventually culminating in its defection from the regime on 22 December. Given their lesser involvement in the activities of the Ceausescu regime and their long-standing humiliation at the hands of the Securitate, this is in accordance with our assumptions about the likelihood with which state institutions will attempt to save the authoritarian regime.
The historiography of the events between 18 and 22 December 1989 once again shows strong evidence of the tendency of opposition accounts to mirror the most critical elements of the Securitate‘s institutional view. Like Securitate accounts, opposition accounts posit the “red herring” of foreign involvement, especially the role attributed to the Soviet Union, and avoid disclosing or deny the Securitate‘s full involvement, especially the role of the USLA in the bloodshed. Available countervailing evidence to this consensual account indicates both that these understandings are false and that they are inherently revisionist, since some of the key countervailing evidence comes from immediately after the December events. The content of the historiography of this period thus erases (to differing degrees) the Securitate‘s responsibility for the bloodshed and reflects the institution’s long-developed animosity towards the Soviet Union.
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.
18-19 December 1989: The Timisoara Crackdown in Ceausescu’s Absence
Considering the centrality of the “foreign tourist” scenario to Securitate-inspired accounts of the December events, it is interesting to note the actions taken by the Ceausescu regime on 18 December 1989. At the close of the emergency CPEx meeting on Sunday afternoon, Nicolae Ceausescu had announced:
I have ordered that all tourist activity be interrupted at once. Not one more foreign tourist will be allowed in, because they have all turned into agents of espionage….Not even those from the socialist countries will be allowed in, outside of [North] Korea, China, and Cuba. Because all the neighboring socialist countries are untrustworthy. Those sent from the neighboring socialist countries are sent as agents.
On Monday, 18 December 1989, in typical Ceausist-style it was therefore announced that Romania would not accept any more tourists because of a “shortage of hotel rooms” and because “weather conditions” were “not suitable for tourism.” Ironically, the only ones exempted from this ban were: “Soviet travellers coming home from shopping trips to Yugoslavia”(!)
Thus, it is intriguing to see how former Securitate Colonel Filip Teodorescu tailors his characterization of Timisoara on 18 December to account for this change:
There were few foreigners in the hotels, the majority of them having fled the town after lunch [on 17 December] when the clashes began to break out. The interested parties remained. Our attention is drawn to the unjustifiably large number of Soviet tourists, be they by bus or car. Not all of them stayed in hotels. They either had left their buses, or stayed in their cars overnight. Border records indicate their points of entry as being through northern Transylvania. They all claimed they were in transit to Yugoslavia. The explanation was plausible, the Soviets being well-known for their shopping trips. Unfortunately, we did not have enough forces and the conditions did not allow us to monitor the activities of at least some of these “tourists.”
This raises the question of why, if the Soviet tourists were the ones suspected from the first of being behind the unrest, it should have been exactly they who were given continued access into Romania? One of the most effective rejections of the “tourist” scenario came in 1991 from “a group of [Army] officers from the Timisoara garrison.” In an open letter, they proclaimed:
If they [the tourists] appeared suspect to the special forces of the Securitate and counter-military intelligence, why did they not attempt to keep them under surveillance? During this period, did the Securitate and the counter-intelligence officers not know how to do their jobs? Did they somehow forget why they were paid such weighty sums from the state budget?
As we mentioned earlier, in an interesting psychological twist the former Securitate sometimes appear to attribute their own actions to others, especially the convenient phantom-like “foreign tourists.” Some of the Securitate‘s arguments also appear to be based on the manipulation and perversion of real information which has been ripped from its context and placed in another one which suits the Securitate‘s institutional interests better. For example, the comments of the Yugoslav News Agency (TANJUG) correspondent at the Vatin border post on 20 December 1989 may give us a hint as to where the idea of “foreign tourists travelling in convoys of cars” originated from:
People who spent a long time at this crossing point today say that the Romanian government is even accompanying private cars of tourists returning home via Romania. They usually wait until five or six of them assemble and then let them continue in convoys led by official Romanian cars.
Finally, we will recall that the French journalists, Portocala and Weber, support their claims of “foreign intervention” by referencing the court statement of the Securitate‘s “master spycatcher” (Colonel Filip Teodorescu) that during the events he arrested “foreign agents” in Timisoara. As it turns out, Teodorescu does indeed appear to have arrested “intelligence agents” at a major Timisoara factory. However, they were members of DIA, the Army’s intelligence unit, and not agents of foreign security services.
Throughout Monday, house-to-house searches and arrests continued in Timisoara. Protesters attempted to gather again and began chanting the most tragic slogan of these days: “We want our dead!” Regime forces responded by opening fire again. At least seven people were killed and more than one hundred injured on 18 and 19 December alone. Securitate men are alleged to have shot some of the injured demonstrators in their hospital beds. This rumor seems to be confirmed by the observation of an Army soldier who witnessed the exhumation of twenty-seven bodies from the Timisoara “Paupers’ cemetery” in January 1990: some of the corpses bore clear signs of treated wounds. Upon the orders of Elena Ceausescu, during the night of 18/19 December the Securitate and Militia removed the cadavers of forty dead protesters from the morgue of the county hospital and transported them to Bucharest where they were incinerated. Just as on the night of 16/17 December when the regime had gone to absurd lengths to make it appear as if nothing unusual had happened the previous evening at the county party headquarters building–by repairing all the physical damage in the area–this incident reflected the belief that “where there are no identity papers and no bodies, there can be no dead.” The Orwellian reflexes of the regime never left it even in its greatest moment of crisis.
20 December 1989: The Protesters Conquer Timisoara
Nicolae Ceausescu returned from Iran on the afternoon of Wednesday, 20 December. Several hours later, he took to the airwaves to denounce the “terrorist actions” in Timisoara “organized and unleashed in close connection with reactionary, imperialist, irredentist, chauvinist circles, and foreign espionage services in various foreign countries.” Yet at the very moment Ceausescu was announcing to a national television audience that a “state of emergency” had been declared in Timis county, control of Timisoara was rapidly slipping away from the regime. On the morning of 20 December, Army units had begun a withdrawal from Timisoara. As soldiers disappeared from the streets, reports suggest that the remaining Securitate and Militia men either followed their lead or were overwhelmed by the crowds. By evening, as many as 100,000 people–almost a third of Timisoara’s population–had reportedly taken to the center of town in triumph. What had motivated such a sudden reversal of fortunes? Had Timisoara been abandoned to the protesters?
Prevented from taking to the streets on 18 December, resistance had moved to the factories. Ad hoc strike committees were formed at some of Timisoara’s most important plants on the Monday and Tuesday. Ironically, the regime’s totalitarian reflexes appear to have contributed to the development of these strikes. In a sense “unwilling to leave well enough alone,” on Monday morning party officials had been dispatched to various factories in order to clarify what had not happened in the town the night before. Adelina Elena of the Electrobanat factory (ELBA for short) suggests that prior to the arrival of the party official at her factory, many workers indeed did not fully realize the scope of the violence on the previous night. According to Elena, the presentation of the party official was so absurd that it provoked a reaction entirely opposite to what the regime wished. The party official had argued that
…hooligans, fascists, and corrupt and retrograde elements had devastated Timisoara. We also learned about Laszlo Tokes, a religious fanatic who incited vagabonds to attack, steal, and set things on fire. They also attracted children into these actions. All were drunk, including the children and the women; they had gotten drunk with the liquor which had been stolen from the supermarkets which had been broken into. They attacked the county [party] building, but not to be worried: all of them had been captured. All of them.
This was the reason, they were told, for why a “state of emergency” was now in effect (unofficially declared at this point) and all gatherings of more than three people had been banned. The workers were warned about “rumor-mongering.” Upon returning to their workplaces, Elena claims that workers were left with a lingering question: “Where had so many ‘fascists,’ ‘hooligans,’ and ‘drunks’ of all ages in Timisoara come from so suddenly?”
The following morning of Tuesday, 19 December, the mostly female workforce of the ELBA plant walked off the job. The regime’s response was to send 200 soldiers to the plant to “persuade” the women to return to work. Once again, the effect was the opposite of what was intended. The women began by chanting “We will not work under arms!” and ended up chanting “Down with Ceausescu!” A panicked mayor, Petre Mot, and county party secretary, Radu Balan, rushed to the scene. Unable to disperse the angry crowd, Balan began frantically scribbling in a notebook the requests of some of the women: “We want heat…We want chocolate for our children…socks, underwear, cocoa, and cotton.” Army General Stefan Guse was summoned to rescue Mot and Balan and himself ended up being cornered by the women. Only when clashes ensued outside the plant–claiming several lives in what appears to have been an intentional diversion–were the officials able to take advantage of the chaos and escape.
Back at party headquarters, General Guse was reportedly chided and ridiculed for “having been frightened by a bunch of women,” but the ELBA episode apparently left a lasting impression upon the Army recruits and perhaps even some of their commanders. After the incident, regime forces evacuated the area around the ELBA plant and the employees took to the streets. As of the afternoon of 19 December, gunfire tapered off and later ceased completely. Army recruits had confronted not vandals or foreign terrorists in the dead of night, but a determined workforce of women who were expressing basic frustration at the absurd humiliations of everyday life in the late Ceausescu era–complaints which were hardly foreign to the army recruits themselves.
By the morning of Wednesday, 20 December, a general strike prevailed throughout Timisoara and only the bread factories were in operation. A demonstration in solidarity with those who had lost relatives in the violence of the preceding days–and were now demanding the return of their dead–drew columns of workers to the city center. Army units allowed citizens to proceed unhindered. This was the first clear indication of support by the Army rank and file for the demonstrators’ cause. Soldiers reportedly refused to carry out their orders and some even joined in the demonstration. The slogan “The Army is with us” resounded throughout the center of Timisoara. Soon after, the Army began to withdraw to barracks.
At the time, observers were tempted to interpret this decision as evidence that the military chain of command was disintegrating and mid-level officers were taking matters into their own hands. Moreover, the withdrawal was viewed as an unequivocal sign of support for the demonstrators’ cause. Army Major Viorel Oancea, who on 22 December was to become the first Army officer in Timisoara to declare publicly his allegiance to the Revolution, nevertheless denies the idea of a spontaneous retreat: “Evidently, it was an order, the army was not in a position to be taking independent decisions…Probably General Guse or Ion Coman [took this decision]…” The Army’s high command was undoubtedly concerned about its ability to maintain its institutional coherence under these circumstances and the only way to prevent a further breakdown in control was to take the soldiers off the streets. Regardless of how it was intended, however, the townspeople of Timisoara nevertheless interpreted the action of retiring troops to barracks as support for their cause.
Reports suggest that while the Army’s retreat was in progress, uniformed Securitate and Militia personnel also disappeared from the streets. Whether this was part of a coordinated retreat by regime forces or was precipitated by the Army’s withdrawal is unknown. During the afternoon of 20 December, negotiations began between the “Action Committee of the Romanian Democratic Front (FDR)” (which was an outgrowth of the various strike committees set up over the previous two days) and two representatives of the regime, Prime Minister Constantin Dascalescu and fellow CPEx member Emil Bobu. At the time, such actions by senior government representatives seemed to suggest that a rift was developing in the upper reaches of the regime’s hierarchy and that some politicians might be abandoning ship. Army General Victor Stanculescu, maintains, however, that Dascalescu and Bobu had been dispatched to Timisoara on Ceausescu’s direct orders. Likewise, Rady argues that they were “acting on the president’s instructions and…only playing for time.”
The talks dragged on for hours and Dascalescu and Bobu made only vague promises, claiming that the demonstrators’ major demands had to await Ceausescu’s return to the country. According to Rady, such stalling tactics had been employed during the Brasov events of November 1987: negotiations had been conducted with representatives of the protesters, but once the regime had reestablished control their recent negotiating partners were promptly arrested. Ceausescu’s announcement of a “state of emergency” clearly indicated that he had not ceded control of Timisoara to the demonstrators. It thus seems that the disappearance of uniformed Securitate and Militia men had been designed to defuse the tense climate and to lend credibility to the effort of the regime’s negotiating team. Once the demonstrators had left the streets for good, these officers were likely to reappear.
The suggestion that the regime was merely attempting to reestablish control by other means is strengthened by the case of Ioan (Dorel) Curutiu. Puspoki has argued that the Securitate infiltrated several officers (at least one man and one woman) into the leadership of the demonstrators with the aim of compromising and manipulating the other leaders. Curutiu was one of the FDR representatives who negotiated with Dascalescu and Bobu. Curutiu’s comments since the events have been highly questionable. But it is where Curutiu landed after the events which truly raises suspicions: in 1990 he turned up in the Interior Ministry’s “department of service and armament” with the rank of major.
Ceausescu’s Fatal Mistake: The Pro-Regime Rally of 21 December
By the morning of Thursday, 21 December 1989, the regime was no longer master of the situation in Timisoara. Moreover, it was rapidly losing control in several nearby cities: Lugoj and Cugir. Nevertheless, the regime might have withstood these challenges had it not been for Nicolae Ceausescu’s insistence on convoking a mass rally and addressing his “adoring” subjects in person. It was Nicolae Ceausescu’s delusion of his own invincibility which ensured that the regime would be unable to reestablish control. Ceausescu’s inflammatory, rambling tirade on national television on Wednesday evening had signalled panic to those who watched it. If Ceausescu was so worked up, they concluded, something serious must have occurred in Timisoara. Following his televised address, Ceausescu decided to hold an open-air, pro-regime rally the following day in the sprawling square in front of the Central Committee building in the center of Bucharest. The event was to be carried live over Romanian radio and television.
Precisely because this mass rally turned out to be the deathknell for the Ceausescu regime speculation has surrounded who “goaded” Ceausescu into making such a colossally-misguided decision. In January 1993, the opposition daily Romania Libera suggested that “the meeting was organized at the suggestion of [CPEx member] Gogu Radulescu.” The same article maintained that Radulescu had been followed during these days and was “observed transmitting something abroad,” thereby once again insinuating the role of foreign powers in the Romanian events.
Yet it is doubtful that Nicolae Ceausescu required Radulescu’s encouragement to convoke such a rally. It seems highly likely that the idea was Ceausescu’s own brainchild and that as usual the docile members of the CPEx did not dare contradict him. It was a typically instinctive, rash, and overconfident reaction to crisis on Ceausescu’s part. Moreover, as we have seen, for Nicolae Ceausescu the events confronting him in December 1989 were a replay of August 1968: not only was socialism at stake, but Romania’s national sovereignty and independence. Thus, in this crucial moment, he would appeal not primarily to the party’s political interests, but to what were the core institutional interests of the Securitate. And he would rely on a trusted totalitarian, mobilizational technique: the “spontaneous” mass rally of support for the regime.
The pro-regime rally began at midday on Thursday, 21 December 1989 as such events always had. Almost 100,000 workers, hand-picked from Bucharest’s major factories, had been herded into the center of Bucharest to await Ceausescu’s address from the balcony of the Central Committee building. There were the customary “spontaneous” chants in support of the dictator and his policies, and obsequious introductions by party underlings. Ceausescu had been speaking for only a few minutes when an unidentifiable disruption in the crowd forced him to pause in mid-sentence. It was now that the folly of his insistence that his address be broadcast live by television and radio was realized. Before the television and radio relays could be interrupted, a national audience was able to hear high-pitched screams and shouts of “Down with Ceausescu!” “Murderer!” and “Timisoara, Timisoara!” Even worse, television cameras had captured Ceausescu’s stunned and confused facial expression. About three minutes later, after some semblance of order had been restored in the square, the live broadcast resumed. Ceausescu announced that just that morning the CPEx had approved an increase in the minimum salary and pensions! Ceausescu was able to finish his speech, although shouting and commotion could still be heard sporadically in the background.
It is impossible to know how much the image of a frightened Ceausescu, futilely motioning to the crowd to quiet down, influenced those who saw it. However, the scope and boldness of protest against the regime clearly intensified after the broadcast of the dictator’s previously-unimaginable moment of weakness. Anti-regime demonstrations spread throughout the major cities of Transylvania–Brasov, Sibiu, Cluj, and Tirgu Mures–on the afternoon of 21 December. It did not matter that a sufficient degree of order had been reestablished such that Ceausescu was indeed able to finish his speech or that Romanian television would rebroadcast the same speech later that evening with pro-Ceausescu chants dubbed-in over the commotion. Irreparable damage had been done.
Observers have argued that those brief, but seemingly interminable seconds during which the television camera broadcast Nicolae Ceausescu’s disbelief and helplessness live to an entire nation, constituted a sort of “singular psychological moment,” something akin to a rock shattering a mirror. What had prompted Ceausescu’s reaction? Initially, most accounts stressed how several people in the crowd had begun shouting anti-Ceausescu slogans. Fearing they would be caught, they then rushed through the crowd. The other members of the crowd were frightened by this unexpected act of courage and themselves attempted to flee. The great commotion which viewers had heard before the transmission had been cut, was the sound of these people trying to force their way out of the square. Many later explanations have maintained, however, that these events were merely a response to the initial act of defiance: the setting-off of firecrackers (“petarde” in Romanian) by someone in the crowd. Only then did demonstrators take advantage of the confusion and anonymity of the moment to shout down Ceausescu. In both cases, the spontaneity of the catalytic event has been drawn into question.
Nica Leon: The Strange Tale of the “Hero” of the 21 December Rally
Because the interruption of Ceausescu’s speech proved such a turning point in the December events, it was natural that in early 1990 the newly-liberated media should try to find the person or persons responsible for “unleashing the Bucharest revolution.” In a series of interviews during March and April 1990, Petre Mihai Bacanu, senior editor of Romania Libera, introduced the nation to a group of factory workers whom he presented as the “heroes” of the 21 December rally. Bacanu was widely-viewed both at home and abroad as the “conscience” of the journalistic profession (a journalist for Romania Libera before the events, he had been imprisoned between January and December 1989 for his involvement with two other people in an attempt to print an illegal underground newspaper) and his newspaper was the hub of the growing political and social opposition to the National Salvation Front regime.
Thanks in large part to Bacanu, one of these workers in particular, Nica Leon, was to become identified as the man who had dared to shout down Ceausescu. Leon was presented as having yelled out “Long live Timisoara, down with the butcher, down with Ceausescu!” and “Timisoara, Timisoara” at the crucial moment during Ceausescu’s speech. Highly-respectable foreign sources such as Ratesh credit Leon by name with having disrupted the 21 December rally.
In the months immediately following December 1989, Nica Leon certainly appeared every bit the hero. It turned out that on 20 December 1989, the day before his historic shout, the Toronto daily The Globe and Mail had printed an open letter by Nica Leon criticizing Ceausescu’s rule. This fact seemed confirmation of the courage of his action on 21 December. During 1990, Leon was the president of a small political party, a founding member of the Romanian branch of Amnesty International, and a prominent critic of the Iliescu regime. During the chaotic and violent events of 13-15 June 1990 which brought an end to the two-month occupation of University Square by demonstrators, he was arrested and over the following month and a half was the object of an eventually-successful campaign spearheaded by Romania Libera to gain his release. The opposition embraced him with open arms and he regularly appeared in interviews with the opposition press.
Yet in the ensuing years, the opposition clearly soured on Nica Leon and he broke with them in as definitive a manner as imaginable. By 1992, one opposition publication was describing Nica Leon as “at war with the whole world” and it was clear from the questions and comments of opposition journalists that they no longer held him in the high esteem they once had. Ilie Stoian’s 1993 description of Leon’s role at the 21 December rally reflects this changed perception of Leon: “Just then Nica Leon took advantage of the protection offered by the uproar and yelled ‘Timisoara’…after which he ran away out of fear.” Leon’s heroism had apparently become contingent upon his relationship with the opposition.
On the surface, Leon himself appeared to have undergone a striking metamorphosis: from being a fixture of the opposition to granting interviews to the press of the Ceausescu nostalgics. In early 1994, the very same Nica Leon could be found in the pages of Europa praising the Securitate and virtually lamenting the overthrow of Ceausescu which his actions had hastened. He strenuously defended the actions of the Securitate Director, General Iulian Vlad, in December 1989 as honest and patriotic. How had a person the opposition had presented as a dissident for a decade prior to the December events, an unrelenting foe of the Securitate, and the hero of the 21 December rally come to this?
What is interesting about Leon is that his views on certain key issues about the December 1989 have remained remarkably consistent in spite of his flip-flop from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Leon’s defense of–and sympathy for–General Vlad was not something which had suddenly appeared after he crossed over to the Ceausist camp. It appears in the interviews he gave the opposition press in 1990. Moreover, Leon strenuously denied the existence of any “terrorists” during the December events. In April 1990, he told Expres that “the terrorists were invented.” In September 1990, Leon told Liviu Valenas and Daniela Rainov at Baricada that “Everything [in December 1989] was a grand diversion! THERE WEREN’T ANY TERRORISTS!” and that Vlad had been arrested because he possessed damaging information against the Front.
In his interviews with Petre Mihai Bacanu at Romania Libera in April 1990, Nica Leon also mentioned several episodes which placed the Securitate and Militia in a surprisingly positive light. He maintained that during the showdown between protesters and regime forces in University Square on the afternoon of 21 December, he had spoken with a Militia sergeant major who had “wished us [the protesters] success.” He also claimed that he had helped an injured Militia man to safety on this evening. Leon chatted with the USLA troops at University Square and characterized their actions as follows:
…the USLA were blocking the street leading to the American Embassy and the Israeli airline company El Al. The USLA did not attack the crowd, but rather stood chatting with the demonstrators and explaining to them that they could not join them because they had an order to stay between the French Bank and the Intercontinental Hotel.
As we shall see, other eyewitness accounts of these events challenge Leon’s portrayal of the USLA.
But clearly the most damaging fact about Nica Leon was the one Petre Mihai Bacanu neglected to inform his audience of: the hero of the Bucharest Revolution had been arrested as a “terrorist” on 24 December 1989. Leon had been discovered in the basement of the Central Committee building, attempting to transmit something through a radio-transmitting device belonging to the Securitate‘s Fifth Directorate. One might be inclined to believe that Leon had been the victim of a tragic misunderstanding were it not for a series of articles written by a former officer of the Fifth Directorate in the Ceausist publication Timpul during early 1991. The former Securitate officer presented the saga of a group of those arrested as “terrorists” during the December events: among them, other officers of the Fifth Directorate, USLA members, a Jordanian student, and Nica Leon. Leon is credited with having sustained the morale of the other prisoners. According to the Fifth Directorate officer: “Nica Leon encouraged us and frequently repeated that if he escaped, he would testify for us all the way to the UN.” Moreover, Leon is praised for having contacted the wives of the Fifth Directorate officers–to tell them that their husbands were still alive–after he was released on 30 December 1989. Other Securitate officers confirm Nica Leon’s presence among the arrestees.
Even prior to Bacanu’s interview with Leon, there were indications that Leon was a less than completely credible source. In February 1990, Leon had given an interview to Democratia, the publication of one of Ceausescu’s most notorious former speechwriters, Eugen Florescu. Surprisingly, since this was one of Leon’s first interviews since the events, there was no mention of his famous shout at the 21 December rally. In its issue of 9 March 1990, the popular Expres had made a coy reference to Leon’s arrest (while using a radio-transmitting device) in the CC building. Moreover, at a meeting of the ruling Provisional Council of National Unity in early 1990, Front official Dan Iosif is said to have referred to Leon’s arrest and called him either a “securist” or “terrorist.”
Nica Leon remains an enigma. It is difficult to say exactly what he was really up to on 21 December 1989. People in the crowd did indeed shout “Timisoara, Timisoara,” for it could be heard on the television broadcast. If Leon did shout it, was he the first to do so? If not, what was his motivation for shouting it? Was his shout a genuine act of individual courage at the time? Was he perhaps acting as a Securitate provocateur–someone who wished to infiltrate the protesters’ ranks–on 21 December 1989? As with other aspects of the December events, the historiography of what happened is as important as–if not more important than–what actually happened. In the case of Nica Leon, the historiography at the very least suggests a highly-manipulative portrayal of his actions in December 1989.
Who Threw the “petarde”?
Many sources have suggested that it was the explosion of a “petarde” (or firecracker) and a simultaneous commotion in the square which startled Ceausescu and made it possible for the demonstrators to yell the anti-Ceausescu slogans. Once again the discrepancy between the reporting on this incident and the reality of what appears to have happened is informative. The report of the first Senatorial commission investigating the December events (published in 1992) maintains that “while [Ceausescu] was speaking, an explosion was heard and caused substantial commotion. Shortly after this, the meeting disbanded in disorder.” Stoian describes the “petarde” incident as follows:
…[then] Ceausescu took the floor. At that moment the thing which appears to us the most important event of this period occurred. It is not true that the crowd began to boo spontaneously. While Ceausescu was stumbling through a phrase up on the balcony, somewhere in the center of the Square, where there were mostly women, someone exploded a Christmas ‘petarde’ [o petarda de genul celor de Craciun]. The first reaction of these frightened women was to begin to scream. Then, all those around them began to boo.
Romanians have occasionally referred to this as “the petarde of our happiness.”
Part of the problem with the “petarde” scenario stems from the fact that there is no agreement upon who exploded it and no one has come forward to claim responsibility for this historic action. Nevertheless, many names have been put forward in connection with it. Securitate sources clearly wish to suggest that the setting-off of this “petarde” and the causes of the commotion which ensued were part of a premeditated plan to disrupt the rally. Once again, they attempt to negate the spontaneity of the anti-Ceausescu uprising. A journalist for the Ceausist journal Democratia wrote in December 1990:
…It must be stressed that during this rally long-studied methods for the psychological manipulation of compact crowds–acoustic sounds with subliminal messages transmitted through the loudspeaker system (imitating the rumble of an earthquake, the noise of troops and tanks and gunfire); the movement of some groups through the square with the intention of dislocating the crowd; petardes–were applied.
According to “a group of former Securitate officers,” the “tourists” and their domestic collaborators made their way from Timisoara to Bucharest and infiltrated the meeting. The “tourists” attempted to scare those in the crowd into believing that “they were under fire” by jabbing them in the back with “reinforced steel prongs…against the background of the noise of fire-crackers and the short-circuiting of the public address loudspeakers.” Interestingly, this is how a former USLA officer has portrayed the event:
On 21 December 1989 I was taking part in the antiterrorist measures for the “goodbye” meeting. In the crowd, I identified and observed eight strange men: all were dressed approximately the same (knee-length woolen coats, hats), all were smoking at the same time, standing in a group. Some looked slavic, others asiatic. At a given moment, they took out from their pockets globe-shaped objects, lit them with their cigarettes, and threw them into the crowd; in the globes there were firecrackers which put the crowd to flight.
The SRI’s 1994 report on the events suggests that the “powerful thunder claps” which were heard could have come from the detonation of a “petarde” and that the “sonic boom”-like sound which occurred came not from the crowd, but from the loudspeakers. The panic among the crowd was caused by the transmission of high-pitched soundwaves (outside the range of human hearing) and by the fact that unidentified demonstrators were prodding the others with steel poles while shouting “Run away, they will kill us!” and “The tanks are coming!”
Opposition accounts incorporate familiar elements. The influential journalist Cornel Nistorescu places the “petarde” incident in the context of a coup d’etat supported by a faction within the Securitate:
Simultaneously, at the meeting of 21 December, according to incontrovertible information, a Securitate officer launched the two petardes which provoked panic and unleashed the redemption of Bucharest’s citizens. Meanwhile, through the loudspeaker system controlled by the Securitate, boos and whistles were disseminated.
Ecaterina Radoi of Zig-Zag suggests that the unbelievable panic which ensued was the result of the emission of sounds resembling the rumble of tanks and machine gun fire.
But the “petarde” incident and the simultaneous commotion may have a simpler explanation. It is informative to look back upon how the disruption of the rally was reported by foreign correspondents in Bucharest just after it had taken place. Shortly after the rally disbanded, a Bulgarian correspondent related that the cause of the commotion had been the use of “tear gas grenades” by regime forces attempting to prevent demonstrators from entering the square and the ensuing panic this had unleashed among those who were already in the square. The correspondent suggested that the demonstrators had originally gathered near the Roman Square on Magheru boulevard and numbered in the thousands by the time they reached Palace Square where the speech was taking place.
Similar reports come from the Yugoslav TANJUG correspondent who transmitted that demonstrators had gathered in the northwest corner of Palace Square near the Athenee Palace Hotel and that when they “tried to approach the official meeting, tear gas was thrown at them.” According to the same correspondent, young men had begun to shout anti-Ceausescu slogans, were chased away by the Militia, and then proceeded through the side streets in order to get around to the other side of the meeting. The Militia then used tear gas to prevent these demonstrators from joining the official meeting and it was after the “tear-gas bombs exploded that the live relay of radio and television was disrupted for several minutes.”
Significantly, eyewitness accounts of the confrontations between regime forces and demonstrators on the afternoon and evening of 21 December refer to regime forces firing “petardes” at the demonstrators. One eyewitness to the events in University Square on the afternoon of 21 December recounts that “the Securitate ran after them [the demonstrators] in groups and used ‘petardes’ and clubs against them.” Moreover, Rady has observed that on the night of 21/22 December, the Securitate “[i]n a few places…detonated bombs in the hope of spreading panic.”
Which forces would have used the “petardes” and tear-gas against the demonstrators? During his trial in early 1990, the Interior Minister at the time of the events, Tudor Postelnicu, stated that “the USLA were in charge of tear-gas” at the rally. Stoian has noted the difference between the 21 December rally and past rallies in his typically colorful tone:
In the first place, how striking it was that if in the past at the meetings to which Bucharest’s citizens were all too well-accustomed, people were indifferent–indeed, some were even happy since they would get three or four hours of work off–now nobody was smiling. Almost everybody entered [the square] in an ill-omened silence. A completely new element was the verification of identity papers of most people on the streets on this occasion; those who did not belong to the groups of workers [chosen to participate] were politely made to exit the columns…After the Palace Square was full, something unexpected happened. If in the past, the ring of civilians (Securitate men, party activists) and Militia men [around the crowd at such an event] would not permit those bored of listening to Ceausescu’s idiocies to leave, this time things were completely the other way around….Anyone who wanted to leave could, but no one from outside the ring could enter the protected zone.
Eyewitnesses have specifically identified the forces preventing their entrance into the square as “USLA troops.”
The partial transcripts of communications among USLA and Militia units on 21 and 22 December in Bucharest were published in late January-early February 1990 in the daily Libertatea. These transcripts suggest that even before the rally had begun, large groups of demonstrators had gathered at a number of the intersections leading onto Palace Square, were shouting anti-regime slogans, and were taxing the capacity of the regime forces to prevent them from entering the square. The demonstrators apparently realized well the tremendous opportunity offered them by the live national broadcast of this rally. Thus, the impression left by most accounts–that it was a few, isolated, brave men, within a crowd of tens of thousands of automatons, who had dared to challenge Ceausescu–is simply romanticized. The actions of those prevented from entering the meeting probably emboldened those in the crowd to shout down Ceausescu.
The transcripts also show that on the order of Securitate Director General Vlad, the USLA used “gela” (the Securitate reference for “petardes”) against the demonstrators. Ilie Stoian alleges that General Grigore Ghita, the commander of the Securitate‘s uniformed troops, “violated his brief” when he incorporated units of the USLA, including a “geniu-chimic” unit (which would have been in charge of tear-gas), among the regime forces assigned to work the rally. Yet such an action does seem in accordance with Interior Ministry Order No. 2600. Moreover, even the Senatorial commission’s report illustrates that the security for the rally of 21 December was left almost entirely in the hands of the Securitate, and that General Vlad’s deputy, General Gianu Bucurescu, was given personal charge of the rally.
It appears then that a key factor contributing to the disruption of Ceausescu’s speech was the attempt by regime forces to hold off anti-Ceausescu demonstrators from entering Palace Square. This commotion and confusion so changed the complexion of the rally that those among the crowd handpicked to attend took advantage of the opportunity and suddenly switched from chanting pro-Ceausescu slogans to jeering and booing the dictator. It is possible that the “petarde” at the rally was launched by the Securitate, but it is unlikely it did so as an act of defiance against the dictator. The “petarde” may have been used to prevent protesters from entering the square or to disorient the crowd and mask the sound of the anti-Ceausescu slogans. The disruption of the rally may therefore have been far less “organized” than has commonly been presumed.
The Role of the USLA in the Bucharest Repression of 21/22 December
Nicolae Ceausescu ended up shortening his speech and scurrying off the balcony of the CC building while regime forces attempted to clear Palace Square. Demonstrators merely took to other parts of the city center. Two major points of confrontation between demonstrators and regime forces developed along the wide Magheru boulevard: the Roman Square and the University Square (site of the hulking concrete monstrosity known as the Intercontinental Hotel). The latter would be the scene of major bloodshed on the night of 21/22 December. At least 50 demonstrators were killed, almost 500 were injured, and as many as 1,200 were jailed on this night in Bucharest alone.
Petre Mihai Bacanu’s seminal month-long series (“Intercontinental 21/22”) exploring the events of University Square is as puzzling as it is enlightening. Bacanu began his series on 14 March 1990, shortly after the new Defense Minister, General Victor Stanculescu, had reversed the official version of the USLA’s actions during the December events. On 15 March 1990, Bacanu began interviewing three employees of the Intercontinental Hotel. They described how, after the ill-fated rally broke up, “USLA troops dressed in civilian clothes” chased after the demonstrators, fired “petarde” at them, and beat them. In the following day’s episode of the interview, the issue of the USLA was not raised except in an unusual postscript in which Bacanu added: “We must clarify that the USLA detachments did not fire a single shot, nor arrest a single person among the columns of demonstrators.”
On 17 March 1990, Bacanu felt compelled to preface the third part of the interview with the following statement:
In the course of this episode, esteemed readers, there are again references to the USLA. We have incontrovertible proof that the USLA soldiers had only one mission, to defend the American embassy and the El Al Israeli airlines offices [both located next to the Intercontinental Hotel].
The same three interviewees who had only two days earlier described the USLA in a repressive posture now came forth with highly incongruent descriptions of the rapport between the crowd and the USLA later on the afternoon of 21 December. According to one of the interviewees:
I saw the incident when a student climbed behind one of them [the USLA soldiers] and kissed him and then offered flowers to those from the USLA. I also witnessed the scene in which the USLA officers received the flowers and held them in their hands.
By 24 March 1990, Bacanu was asking his interlocutors questions such as this: “I have heard that the USLA were served tea. It was something civilized: they were also cold. Are you convinced that they did nothing wrong against you?” On 18 April 1990 a new interviewee recounted how one of the USLA men had begun crying at the sight of the aforementioned girl (who, according to the source, was from Timisoara) distributing flowers to the USLA.
Such a portrayal of the USLA’s behavior and the crowd’s view of the USLA lies in stark contrast with Emilian David’s description (published on 12 January 1990) of events taking place simultaneously less than a mile away at the other end of Magheru boulevard at Roman Square:
3:45 p.m. We are attacked with brutality by the USLA troops. Women and young girls scream, men and boys try to put up whatever resistance they can. They beat us mercilessly…
5:30 p.m. We are attacked again with even greater fury by the USLA troops. The “paddywagons” are filled with people.
Later, after being forced to flee from the Roman Square, David eventually made his to the other end of the boulevard at University Square. David describes the presence of a cordon of USLA troops equipped with shields and clubs at this location. When gunfire erupted towards midnight, David suggests that these USLA “beasts” were among the gunmen. “The dead and wounded littered the streets,” according to David. Paul Vinicius also recalls the arrival of these “special troops” just after midnight: “Who are these beasts who shoot? They are young, and judging by the way they talk amongst themselves, they appear drugged. They shoot in anything that moves.”
The charges drawn up by the Military Prosecutor in the trial of the former CPEx members (dated 4 June 1990) reiterate such allegations. According to this document, between 9 and 10 p.m. on the evening of 21 December at University Square, “the forces of repression composed of USLA, Militia, and Securitate [i.e. uniformed] troops began to encircle the crowd of demonstrators, forcibly detaining some of them whom they beat brutally, many being killed.” The same document cites a witness, Spiru Radet, according to whom, at midnight “USLA troops equipped with helmets, shields, and clubs” followed a tank through the barricade erected by the protesters. The witness continues: “…one of the USLA soldiers, who had a machine gun in his hand, fired a volley of warning shots and then began to shoot into the demonstrators.”
Additionally, the transcripts of communications among USLA and Militia units reveal that USLA “intervention units” were dispatched to a number of locations in the city center on this afternoon of 21 December. USLA operatives refer to having “restored order” in Palace Square after the end of the rally, and to their mission to “block” access to the American Embassy and El Al Israel offices (rather than to “defend” them as Bacanu had suggested). Their attitude towards the demonstrators attempting to force their way into the official meeting was hardly supportive: “These hooligans must be annihilated at once. They are not determined. They must be taken quickly. The rest are hesitating.” The question is less whether the “flower” episodes happened at all, or happened as they have been described, but why it was these particular incidents, rather than the incidents revealing the USLA’s brutality actions, which garnered publicity in 1990.
Interestingly, almost four years later, in December 1993, Bacanu appeared to reconsider his earlier unquestioning claims about the role of the USLA on the basis of “new” information brought forth by Army soldiers who had been in University Square on the night of 21/22 December. According to Bacanu:
Very many officers talk about these “civilians” in long raincoats or sheepskin coats [cojoace], who arrested demonstrators from within the crowd and then beat them brutally….No one has been interested until now in these tens of “civilians” with hats who shot through the pockets of their clothes….For a time we gave credence to the claims of the USLA troops that they were not present in University Square. We have now entered into the possession of information which shows that 20 USLA officers, under the command of Colonel Florin Bejan, were located…among the demonstrators. [Emphasis added]
One of the Army officers told Bacanu that during the evening
…a Militia vehicle arrived from which tens of men–who appeared almost as if they were brothers, in that they were all solidly-built, dressed in leather jackets, with hats on their heads–disembarked….These individuals had “short barrel” weapons and were from the Interior Ministry….They positioned themselves behind the cordon of shieldbearers and then shot from the pockets of their clothes into the demonstrators and dragged demonstrators out of the crowd…
But what Bacanu termed “new revelations” were hardly new. In mid-January 1990, several Army recruits and officers referred to the actions of these “civilians” in interviews with reporters of the Army daily. According to soldier Rudolf Suster:
About fifteen to twenty (dressed in civilian clothes, but one could tell that they were well-trained) disembarked from a single truck and passed in front of the soldiers with shields and when the tanks broke through the barricade which was on fire, they fired. I saw the flashes in front of their raincoats.
Soldier Tiberiu Florea described a similar scene:
I also saw them. They had long raincoats or overcoats and they had guns hidden under them and they opened fire. They were in front of us, they couldn’t hide themselves from us. They didn’t all fire at the same time…One fired, then the other would.
Furthermore, at the trial of Nicolae’s brother, Nicolae Andruta Ceausescu (director of the Securitate‘s Baneasa Academy) in April 1990, military witnesses testified that “after the salvo of warning shots were fired, in the uproar produced, from behind us we saw civilians who were firing–I observed the movement of their clothes–hidden weapons through the pockets of their clothes.” Significantly, former USLA commander, Colonel Gheorghe Ardeleanu, confirmed in a court statement that on 21 December the USLA had “performed their duties in civilian dress.”
As in Timisoara in the preceding days, it appears that the USLA were acting in Bucharest in accordance with Order 2600. In early 1990, opposition journalist Vasile Neagoe argued just this point in his discussion of the events of 21/22 December 1989. According to Neagoe, “because in the meetings convened by Ceausescu it had been established that terrorists were involved in the street [events],” the provisions regarding “anti-terrorist warfare” in Order 2600 had been put into operation. Indeed, we will recall that during his televised address on the evening of 20 December, Ceausescu had specifically denounced what was going on in the country as “terrorist actions.” Order 2600–and not the whimsical decisions of various commanders, as Stoian suggests–explains the presence of the USLA at the rally on 21 December and in Roman and University Squares on the night of 21/22 December.
22 December 1989: What Forced the Ceausescus to Flee?
At midday on Friday, 22 December 1989, a large, overloaded helicopter lifted off from the roof of the Central Committee (CC) building and struggled to clear the grey Bucharest skyline. Moments later, demonstrators reached the roof of the CC building and began destroying the landing pad so as to ensure that no more helicopters could land. Below in Palace Square almost 100,000 people had gathered and were now singing deliriously to the tune of a widely-known English soccer hymn: “Ole! Ole! Ole! Ceausescu nu mai e!” (“Ole! Ole! Ole! Ceausescu is no more!”). The helicopter carried Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu on their final, convoluted journey out of Bucharest and brought to an abrupt and ignominious end Nicolae Ceausescu’s twenty-four year reign. After the violence of the previous night, the peaceful denouement to the confrontation between population and the Ceausescu regime came unexpectedly. Most observers figured that Ceausescu would rather have held out in the Central Committee building–“surrounded by mountains of cadavers,” as one person put it–than flee from power. Thus, these observers have come to assume that the Securitate must have abandoned Ceausescu en masse. Ilie Stoian summarizes the prevailing view when he states that “we are convinced that if the Securitate had not wished it so, no one would have penetrated the CC [building] and Ceausescu would not have fallen on this day.”
Moreover, there has been widespread speculation that the leadership of the former Securitate must already by this time have come to some sort of understanding with the coup plotters who were to lead the National Salvation Front to power. Such speculation is important for if the Securitate as institution abandoned Ceausescu and already had an agreement with the country’s new political leaders, then the “terrorists” who appeared after the evening of 22 December must either have been working on behalf of the National Salvation Front or have been an invention designed to legitimate the Front’s seizure of power.
Opposition sources have provided fodder for both conclusions. According to Liviu Valenas: “In Bucharest, it is certain that the Securitate had crossed over practically in corpore to the side of the plotters already from the night of 21/22 December 1989, probably around midnight.” He speculates that General Vlad had already been engaging in dissident activity over the preceding days: “it appears that he [Securitate Director General Iulian Vlad] is the person who transmitted to Timisoara the orders…’that in Timisoara there will not be calm,’ ‘for the workers to go out into the street,’ and ‘for the Army to be withdrawn to barracks.'” Ilie Stoian attempts to imply that during the evening of 21/22 December 1989, General Vlad was already attempting to distance himself from the other regime commanders. Stoian contrasts the actions of Defense Minister Milea–who remained among the group of party, Army, Securitate, and Militia officials who were coordinating the repression–and those of General Iulian Vlad who “stood alone on the sidewalk across from these [officials], a place from which he did not leave until the morning of 22 December and in which he remained quiet and did not attempt to make contact with anyone.”
This allegation seems doubtful, however. In March 1990, a demonstrator alluded to Vlad’s role at University Square on the night of 21/22 December: “we were several hundred people then, when the sinister person who hid behind the codename ‘M-88’ gave the order for us to be massacred.” In the transcript of communications among USLA and Militia personnel on 21 and 22 December, “88” is indicated as General Vlad’s code. Furthermore, as our discussion of the events in University Square revealed, Securitate forces were clearly involved–and in fact appear to have been the main component–in the brutal repression which took place on this night.
The sudden death of Defense Minister Vasile Milea just before 9:30 a.m. on 22 December 1989 was a critical moment in the evolution of events. The announcement on national television a little more than an hour later (10:50 a.m.) that “the traitor Milea has committed suicide” only seemed to hasten the fraternization already underway between Army recruits and the protesters heading for the city center. The official explanation of General Milea’s sudden death raised incredulity then and has continued to ever since. The title of an interview with one of Milea’s deputies sums up the details of Milea’s death which make the official “suicide” explanation questionable: “A curiosity: you shoot yourself in the heart, place the gun on the table, and then lie down on the sofa.”
In 1995, Liviu Valenas publicized the claims of a former officer of the Securitate‘s foreign intelligence branch (DIE)–now sharply critical of the Iliescu regime and SRI–regarding Milea’s death. According to this Securitate source, the Securitate was already serving the interests of the National Salvation Front by the morning of 22 December. He alleged that Milea was shot by the Securitate “on the orders of Ion Iliescu” and that this “smoothed the way for the success of a coup d’etat of KGB inspiration.”
This allegation is highly suspect. Questioned at his summary trial on 25 December 1989 just prior to his execution, Nicolae Ceausescu maintained that Milea was a traitor because “he did not urge his unit to do their patriotic duty.” Ceausescu had expanded in greater detail at the emergency CPEx meeting immediately following Milea’s death:
General Milea left from my office and two minutes later I was informed that he had shot himself. Taking into account his behavior during this entire period, it is clearly evident that he sabotaged the application of measures and worked in close coordination with foreigners…In the Capital, they did not apply a measure, they did not assign the specified units to the Capital, but used them elsewhere….The traitor Milea left from here and committed suicide. I told him to go issue the order to call military units and he committed suicide….
According to Rady, Milea’s alleged insubordination was not merely in Ceausescu’s imagination:
When daybreak came, the extent of Milea’s disobedience became clear. The Central Committee Building was only lightly guarded and the streets leading up to it were inadequately protected. At the same time, the earliest reports began to come in from local party secretaries and securitate offices that the army was no longer taking any action to put down demonstrations in the provinces. Thus whereas the previous day, the army had shot down six demonstrators in Tirgu Mures, it had now assumed a passive position, simply guarding the party headquarters and leaving the streets to the crowds.
Rady proposes that for this is the reason, Milea was summoned to Ceausescu’s office and instructed “to order the army to recommence active operations immediately and to open fire on such units as proved recalcitrant.”
Army sources suggest that after exiting the first emergency CPEx meeting of the morning (at approximately 8:30 a.m.), Milea gave the order that the Army units on the streets of Bucharest should mass around their equipment, ignore “provocations,” and refrain from opening fire. To some extent, Milea was merely responding to the realities in the field, for already after 7 a.m. huge columns of workers from the IMGB and other major factories were on the march towards the city center. Overwhelmed commanders in the field were constantly inquiring of their superiors as to how they should proceed in light of the rapidly-changing situation. In some cases, they apparently received the order from mid-level commanders to mass around their equipment; in others, they apparently followed their own conscience. According to Army sources, the effect of the soldiers grouping around their equipment was de facto to break up the cordons of regime forces designed to prevent the forward progress of the demonstrators. Milea’s order solidified the unhindered passage of the demonstrators all the way into Palace Square.
It remains unclear whether Milea was assassinated by the Securitate for this insubordination or did indeed commit suicide. For example, one Army officer has admitted that (apparently after his showdown with Ceausescu) a very emotional Milea ordered him to give him his gun and then Milea slammed the door to his office and shot himself. What is clear is that immediately following news of Milea’s death, the CPEx met in emergency session again. The transcript of the emergency CPEx meeting sometime after 9:30 a.m. offers some surprises. While most CPEx members obediently answered Ceausescu’s appeal for them to fight to the bitter end, several members appeared to equivocate in the face of the now massive numbers of protesters. Gogu Radulescu argued: “Based on the information we have, columns of workers have headed towards the center and it is necessary to take measures in order to avoid a bloodbath.” Even Prime Minister Constantin Dascalescu admitted: “I have been and will be by your side until the end, but I believe that it is necessary to consider what will happen if we shoot into honest workers.”
The views of the CPEx members seem also to have been influenced by news that some Army soldiers had been “disarmed” by protesters. Ion Radu stated that “Minister Vlad says that there are still isolated, small groups of disarmed soldiers.” Significantly, in the absence of a representative from the Army at the meeting, it was Securitate Director Vlad (officially not even a CPEx member) who assured those gathered that “the Army will not allow itself to be disarmed.” In the end, it was decided that only if the demonstrators were armed or attacked would regime forces open fire. While the post-Ceausescu media has occasionally recorded Vlad as having responded to Ceausescu’s appeal to “fight to the end” with the phrase “like hell we will,” the stenogram quotes him as replying obediently “we will proceed as you have instructed.”
In the wake of Milea’s death, Nicolae Ceausescu personally appointed General Victor Stanculescu–freshly-arrived from Timisoara and a notorious favorite of Elena’s–as Defense Minister. From a bureaucratic standpoint, the Army Chief of Staff, General Stefan Guse, should have legally succeeded Milea. But Guse was still in transit from Timisoara and in such cases Ceausescu’s word was always the final arbiter. According to Stanculescu, Milea had phoned him the previous night and told him that “problems” had developed and that he should return to Bucharest immediately. In one of the most famous pieces of folklore concerning the December events, upon returning to Bucharest in the early morning hours of 22 December, Stanculescu–according to his own account–was so determined to avoid being further implicated in a repression similar to what he had been involved in in Timisoara that he arranged for a doctor to put his left leg in a cast. Nevertheless, this did not prevent him from being appointed Defense Minister.
Between 9:30 a.m. (when Milea was found dead) and 10:45 a.m. (when Stanculescu arrived at the CC building), the Army was essentially without a commander-in-chief and officers continued to transmit Milea’s last order prior to his death, calling on the troops not to open fire. After Stanculescu arrived at the CC building, at 10:45 a.m. he expanded Milea’s “Rondoul” order to include the return of all Army units to barracks. At the same time, however–according to Air Force Commander, General Gheorghe Rus, immediately after the events–Stanculescu instructed him to dispatch three hundred parachutists, with helicopters and airplanes, ready to descend and engage in battle in Palace Square. While on trial in 1990, CPEx member Manea Manescu confirmed that the initial plan had been to evacuate the entire CPEx from the CC building.
Sauca is probably correct that Stanculescu realized that if he did not quickly find a way to get rid of the Ceausescus, he too might suffer Milea’s fate. The choice for Stanculescu was simple: “either him [Nicolae] or us!” Stanculescu maintains that because the hallways of the CC building were teeming with well-armed guards and “windows could already be heard shattering at the entrance to the CC,” he took the decision to evacuate the Ceausescus by helicopter in order to avoid a bloodbath or the lynching of the first couple. According to Lieutenant Colonel Ion Pomojnicu, one of the few Army officers in the building at the time, the Securitate inside were indeed “armed to the teeth” with machine guns and piles of ammunition and “determined to face anything.”
Although the former Securitate contest the popular and “revolutionary” dimension of the December events, they routinely take credit for the fact that they did not open fire on demonstrators on the morning of 22 December 1989. For example, “a group of former Securitate officers” ask “a final question of all those ‘revolutionaries’ and ‘dissidents’ who attack the personnel of the former Securitate“: why if the officers of the Fifth Directorate located inside the CC building had 200,000 cartridges at their disposal did they not open fire? General Vlad has gone to great lengths to detail the orders he gave to his subordinates on the morning of 22 December, instructing them not to open fire and to allow the peaceful entrance of demonstrators into the CC building and television station.
Vlad’s statements are drawn into question, however, by the fact that they accompany claims that as early as 17 December 1989 he was disobeying Ceausescu’s orders and instructing his men in Timisoara not to open fire and to stay off the streets, and that on 18 December he issued such an order for the whole country. The transcript of communications among USLA and Militia units does reveal that after 9:40 a.m. frequent references were made to a decision from “central headquarters” that regime forces were to open fire only if demonstrators attempted to penetrate regime buildings, in which case only warning shots were to be fired. Yet the timing of this decision suggests that it was a reaction to the action–or rather, lack of action–of the Army which had allowed demonstrators to overwhelm the city center, and that it was in accordance with the decision taken at the second emergency CPEx meeting.
According to Army Lieutenant Colonel Ion Pomojnicu, the Securitate were fully-prepared to repress, but they were caught off-guard by the rapid development of events precipitated by the defection of the Army from the regime:
Generally-speaking, you know the withdrawal of the Army created great surprise. The moment the Army withdrew, the other forces fragmented and those forces belonging to the Interior Ministry fled. If this momentary disorganization of theirs had not intervened between 11 and 12 a.m. when it happened, it is possible that these Interior Ministry forces would have intervened. This moment of panic and disorientation favored the future evolution of events.
Moreover, the evacuation of the Ceausescus from the CC building left them flat-footed:
…[The Securitate] fled as soon as their mission was finished; their mission was to defend this person, Ceausescu. If he had remained, they would have [opened fire]. I believe that for these people the flight of Ceausescu from the CC building eliminated the object they were supposed to defend in the building and would have defended indefinitely had he stayed….Don’t forget that there were similar forces not only inside the CC building. There were also troops barricaded in the headquarters of the Fifth Directorate and in the [National] Library. They did not come down from the top of the building until the helicopter had taken off….I am convinced that neither at the television station would anybody have penetrated inside if it had not been known that Ceausescu had fled. The flight of Ceausescu was vital to the unfolding of the Romanian Revolution.
Further evidence that the Securitate were left in disarray by Ceausescu’s flight comes from Dr. Sergiu Tanasescu, one of the first people to enter the CC building:
…I must tell you those there were taken completely by surprise. We found half-finished coffees, abandoned cigarettes in the ashtrays….They were ripping off their epaulets, they had on shirts of one color and pants of another, trying to confuse us….At Entrance A there were many Securitate….who took advantage of the fact that they were dressed in civilian clothes and attempted to mix into the crowds….five in civilian clothes opened fire without any warning, even if it is true that they shot over the heads of the crowd…
The Ceausescus on the Run
The situation in Palace Square evolved so quickly that in the end only one helicopter was able to land. Air Force Commander General Rus was forced to cancel the order for the parachutists and called the other helicopters back to base. Here was indeed a case where a slight change in timing might have had huge consequences. Had the demonstrators not made it to the roof of the CC building and set about destroying the landing pad–thus making it inoperable–Stanculescu would probably have boarded one of the other helicopters en route. The Army would have been far less likely to threaten to shoot down any of the helicopters knowing that the acting Defense Minister was aboard one of them. The helicopter carrying the Ceausescus might then have made it to the heavily-fortified Boteni air force base. Had the commanders there obeyed the orders issued in person by the Supreme Commander (Ceausescu) “the situation would have become enormously complex.”
But as things turned out, the protesters reached the roof of the CC building just as the Ceausescus were boarding the first helicopter–indeed, Ceausescu’s bodyguards from the Fifth Directorate had to hold back the demonstrators at gunpoint. Moreover, there were a host of eyewitnesses who distinctly heard Elena shout back to Stanculescu: “Victoras [a diminutive], take care of the children!” According to Brucan, Stanculescu was highly-aware of this fact, and realizing that Ceausescu was clearly finished, “with his characteristic elegance [he] made a sharp U-turn: ‘La stinga imprejur [About-Face]!’.” Brucan suggests that he had complete confidence that from this moment, Stanculescu broke definitively with the Ceausescus and allied with the revolution. Sauca states things more colorfully: “It is clear that from the moment when the helicopter lifted off from the roof of the CC, Victor Stanculescu no longer gave a damn for the lives of the Ceausescus and their clan.”
Initially, it was assumed that the Ceausescus were headed for “an Arab country, presumably Libya, where they could count on their dollar deposit at Swiss banks.” But, as Silviu Brucan writes: “our assumptions were wrong. No, Ceausescu was not a man to accept defeat so readily.” After a short stopover at their Snagov villa–where Nicolae phoned frantically to find a safe haven within the country and where Elena packed four more bags of jewels, bathrobes, and towels to put aboard the already over-laden helicopter–they took off again headed for Tirgoviste (from which Nicolae had received the most encouraging reports). When the pilot of the helicopter, Lieutenant Colonel Vasile Malutan, informed Nicolae and Elena that the helicopter had been spotted on radar and could be shot down at any moment, the Ceausescus decided it was better to land. Ceausescu’s Fifth Directorate bodyguards then flagged down a passing car at gunpoint and the first couple attempted to “hitch” their way to Tirgoviste. Their first lucky driver, doctor Nicolae Deca, has maintained that the Ceausescus “never thought for a moment of fleeing the country.”
After nightfall, the Ceausescus ended up at the Inspectorate of the Militia and Securitate in Tirgoviste. According to Army Major Ion Tecu, in the preceding hours Militia men had held the couple in a nearby forest, apparently trying to decide what to do with them. When they turned up unexpectedly at the Inspectorate, the head of the local Securitate, Colonel Gheorghe Dinu, agreed to turn the couple over to the Army detachment which had arrived to take control of the building. Brucan describes Dinu’s actions in the following quotation:
As was typical of the situation that fateful afternoon, the local Securitate commander could not make up his mind how to proceed. In the meantime, radio and television were signaling to the whole nation that the balance was tilting in favor of the revolution. The security officers started leaving the building, and very soon everybody was gone.
Shortly after 6 p.m., the couple was transported to the Army garrison. Major Tecu states: “From 22 December at 6:20 p.m. until 25 December at 2:45 p.m., when the execution took place, [the Ceausescus] did not leave the perimeter of the barracks.” Meanwhile, speaking from the balcony of the CC building in Bucharest, Ion Iliescu announced to a huge crowd that “the armed forces have been ordered to arrest Ceausescu. We have news that he has been captured near Tirgoviste and when this news is confirmed we will make it public…he will be arrested, and submitted to public justice!” Not long after, the sporadic gunfire which had broken out after nightfall would become more sustained and erupt not only in Bucharest, but throughout the country. Phase two of the Revolution–the “terrorist” phase–had begun.
In two of the Eastern European countries with the most hardline regimes in the fall of 1989–East Germany and Czechoslovakia–the outbreak of unprecedented anti-regime demonstrations instigated and enabled officials within the party hierarchy to remove the hardline party leader (Erich Honnecker and Milos Jakes respectively). Moreover, after poorly-planned attempts by the security services to crush these demonstrations backfired and in fact catalyzed anti-regime sentiment, these institutions largely withdrew to the sidelines. The withdrawal of the state institutions of law and order from the aggressive defense of the party leadership and the communist regime allowed first for the removal of the hardline leadership and then for the collapse of the communist regime.
Anti-regime protest in Romania highlighted the basic differences in the institutional character of the Romanian regime even when compared to two such hardline regimes. Anti-regime protest in Romania could not precipitate Ceausescu’s removal from the position of general secretary by other party officials because the Romanian communist party had long since lost its corporate character. Instead, as we have seen, CPEx members obediently supported Ceausescu’s decision to suppress the Timisoara demonstrations. Moreover, the state security apparatus and the military participated in the aggressive and bloody defense of the regime in Timisoara. Significantly, even when given the perfect opportunity provided by Ceausescu’s two-day absence during his trip to Iran, senior party officials did not act to remove him as general secretary and neither the Securitate nor the Army launched a coup d’etat to end his rule.
The Romanian case supplies confirmation for the arguments of Theda Skocpol and Charles Tilly that it is the action or inaction of the state which plays a critical, catalytic, and often unintended role in making revolution possible. The heavy-handed, absurd speeches of party activists dispatched to the Timisoara factories, the tactical withdrawal of Army troops to barracks in Timisoara, Ceausescu’s rambling televised tirade on the evening of 20 December, and his tremendously misguided idea of convoking a pro-regime rally on 21 December and then assuring live transmission of this event to the entire nation, all emboldened the population and made fundamental contributions to the eventual collapse of the regime.
Finally, contrary to most accounts, the Ceausescu regime appears to have fallen on 22 December 1989 not as the result of some conspiracy or Securitate magnanimity, but as the result of a sudden expansion of protest and the reasonably spontaneous decisions of mid-level field commanders who took the initiative when confronted with events which were fast out-pacing them. This forced the Army high command to first allow the protesters to pass unhindered to the city center and then for the Army to retreat to barracks. The Army’s slippery-slope towards defection put the Securitate in an unenviable and somewhat unanticipated (if not wholly unprepared for) position. The evidence seems to suggest that the Securitate was simply overtaken by events, by the protesters and by the Army’s behavior. The Romanian events thus confirm the importance accorded by D.E.H. Russell to the centrality of the Army’s defection in making revolution possible.
.. 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.
.. See Mircea Bunea, Praf in Ochi. Procesul Celor 24-1-2. (Bucharest: Editura Scripta, 1994), 34.
.. Belgrade Domestic Service, 1400 GMT 20 December 1989, in FBIS-EEU-89-243, 20 December 1989.
.. Agence France Presse, 19 December 1989, in FBIS-EEU-89-242, 19 December 1989.
.. Filip Teodorescu, Un Risc Asumat: Timisoara decembrie 1989 (Bucharest: Editura Viitorul Romanesc, 1992), 92.
.. Un grup de ofiteri din garnizoana Timisoara, “FRICA DE PROPRIUL POPOR… [Fear of your own people]” Romania Libera, 15 October 1991, 2a.
.. Belgrade TANJUG, 2137 GMT 20 December 1989, in FBIS-EEU-89-244, 21 December 1989, 80. Disinformation is frequently thought of as synonymous with the “big lie,” but indeed the most effective disinformation always contains a kernel of truth. Frequently, real facts are merely presented out of context. It is also intriguing to note the almost Freudian mirror-imaging quality of this disinformation–a characteristic common to totalitarian regimes. This is especially the case when it comes to the accusations of foreign powers being engaged in “terrorist actions”–an eerily accurate description of the Ceausescu regime’s own actions.
.. On this bizarre and slightly comical incident see “FRICA DE PROPRIUL POPOR” and Ilie Stoian, Decembrie ’89: Arta Diversiunii. (Bucharest: Editura Colaj, 1993), 17-18. In spite of Teodorescu’s steadfast allegations regarding the role played by foreign agents, he admits that those he arrested were DIA officers (Teodorescu, Un Risc Asumat, 96). The circumstances surrounding this incident remain unclear; however, it may be an indication of the inter-institutional rivalry which permeated much of the December events.
.. Liviu Stefanut, interview by Dan Preisz, “Teroristii Timisoarei,” Romania Libera, 21 April 1994, 6. Although Securitate Colonel Teodorescu vehemently denies this allegation, his description of what went on during these days at the county hospital only serves to heighten such suspicion (Teodorescu, Un Risc Asumat, 87-89). Hospital staff maintain that the Securitate conducted brutal interrogations and that no medical staff were present, see the comments of Curpas Florica in Titus Suciu, Reportaj cu Sufletul la Gura [Reporting with Your Soul in Your Throat] (Timisoara: Editura Facla, 1990), 145.
.. The incident is detailed in the military prosecutor’s charges against the Securitate and Militia officers arrested for their involvement in the Timisoara repression, see Teodorescu, Un Risc Asumat, 279-300.
.. Quoted in Rady, Romania in Turmoil, 97.
.. Budapest Domestic Service, 2115 GMT 20 December 1989, in FBIS-EEU-89-244, 21 December 1989.
.. Adelina Elena, “Martor ocular. Fata in Fata,” Orizont, 6 January 1990, 5.
.. Rady, Romania in Turmoil, 96.
.. Ibid.; Nestor Rates, Romania: The Entangled Revolution (New York: Praeger, 1991), 33-34.
.. Major Viorel Oancea, interview by Tudorel Urian, “Frica, din nou pe strazi [Fear on the streets once again],” Cuvintul, no. 4 (14 February 1990), 5, 11.
.. Other factors have also been suggested as having hastened the withdrawal: such as the threat of the strike committee at the “Solvent” petrochemical works to blow up the plant if the Army did not withdraw immediately. See Rady, Romania in Turmoil, 96-97.
.. General Victor Atanasie Stanculescu, interview by Ioan Buduca, Cuvintul, no. 8-9 (29 March 1990), 9.
.. Rady, Romania in Turmoil, 97.
.. Ibid., 97-98.
.. F. Puspoki, “Piramida Umbrelor (III),” Orizont, no. 11 (16 March 1990), 4.
.. Radu Ciobotea, “Incredibil. La Timisoara–Militia inarma revolutionarii [Incredible. In Timisoara–the Militia was arming the revolutionaries],” Flacara, no. 33 (14 August 1991), 4-5.
.. He claims that on the afternoon of 20 December he was appointed “commander of the FDR’s revolutionary guards;” that the Militia sent a letter of recognition to the FDR; and that on 22 December the Militia supplied the revolutionaries with machine-guns and walkie-talkies.
.. R.M., “Dezvaluiri [Revelations],” Romania Libera, 19 January 1993, 1. Radulescu died in 1994.
.. Ibid. Presumably that foreign power would have been the Soviet Union.
.. Nicolae was probably improvising. A tape of the rally broadcast on a Bucharest FM radio station in December 1993 recorded Elena yelling at her husband: “Promise them something! Promise them anything!”
.. Rates, Romania: The Entangled Revolution, 39; Rady, Romania in Turmoil, 100.
.. See the series “Intercontinental 21/22” in Romania Libera, especially for 31 March 1990, 1 April 1990, 2 April 1990, 5 April 1990, and 6 April 1990. There is no reason to believe that those Bacanu presented did not actually shout down Ceausescu at the rally. The issue is the context in which Bacanu chose to present their actions.
.. Leon’s notoriety also apparently stemmed from his exposure in a well-known documentary series entitled “Noaptea Generalilor” [The Night of the Generals] which appeared on Romanian television during 1990. This television series was also produced by Petre Mihai Bacanu.
.. Ratesh, Romania: The Entangled Revolution, 39.
.. Nicola Leon, “You took away our rights and gave us lice and fear,” The Globe and Mail, 20 December 1989, A7. In spite of the slight difference in name, Nica Leon has claimed that this is his letter and there seems little reason to doubt that this is the case. Nicola Leon is described as a “34-year old mechanical engineer living in Bucharest,” details which generally fit with Nica Leon’s background. It is unclear when this open letter arrived at the newspaper.
.. See, for example, his comments in Sorin Rosca Stanescu, “Mai putine flori, mai multi participanti,” Romania Libera, 24 April 1990, 3.
.. Nica Leon, interview by editorial board, “Nica Leon in razboi cu toata lumea,” Flacara, no. 34 (26 August 1992), 4-5.
.. Stoian, Decembrie ’89, 23.
.. Nica Leon, interview by Angela Bacescu, Europa, March-April 1994, 2, 3. Bacescu introduced Leon as president of the Liberal Democratic Party and member of Amnesty International (!). Among the many dubious claims in this interview is the allegation that Elena Ceausescu had been plotting a coup d’etat against her husband set for 30 December 1989.
.. See, for example, Nica Leon, interview by Liviu Valenas and Daniela Rainov, “Lovitura de palat din Romania [The Palace Coup in Romania],” Baricada, no. 36 (18 September 1990), 3.
.. Rasvan Popescu, “Moda lui Jos,” Expres, no. 13 (27 April-3 May 1990), 2. For the significance of his denial of the existence of the “terrorists” see chapters seven and eight.
.. Leon, interview, “Lovitura de Palat.”
.. Bacanu, “Intercontinental 21/22,” 5 April 1990, 3.
.. Bacanu, “Intercontinental 21/22,” 6 April 1990.
.. Leon proudly admits to this in Leon, interview, “Lovitura de palat.”
.. See the six-part series by Maiorul A.D. (apparently Major Aurel David, who was one of four Fifth Directorate officers tried and acquitted in March 1990) entitled “Scenariile si Realitatea. Marturie la dosarul ‘Teroristi’,” which appeared between January and March 1991 in Timpul. It is significant to note that when this series appeared Nica Leon was still a welcome member of the opposition.
.. Maiorul A.D., “Scenariile si Realitatea (VI),” Timpul, 1 March 1991, 11.
.. Bacescu, Din Nou in Calea, 161. USLA officer Romulus Garz refers to “officer David (one of four officers from Ceausescu’s guard)” and to the presence of Nica Leon among the prisoners he was held together with. Garz was arrested after the famous incident in front of the Defense Ministry on the night of 23/24 December–discussed in chapter seven.
.. See the interview with Nica Leon in Democratia, no. 4 (12 February 1990).
.. See Expres, 9 March 1990, 8.
.. Valenas and Rainov did raise this issue with Leon in Leon, “Lovitura de palat.” However, they refused to challenge his answers and almost appeared to embrace them. While Leon was still aligned with the opposition, the regime-supportive press alleged that he had been a Securitate informer code-name “Nelutu.” The allegation appeared in the Ceausist Romania Mare, and the daily Azi, closely-linked to then Prime Minister Petre Roman, see Expres Magazin, no. 32 (13-20 August 1991), 2. Nica Leon himself–almost proudly–lists all the allegations launched against him (including that he was related to the Ceausescus) in Leon, “Nica Leon in razboi cu toata lumea,” Flacara, no. 34 (26 August 1992), 4. He avoids commenting on their validity, however.
.. Raportul Comisei Senatoriale pentru cercetarea evenimentelor din decembrie 1989, “Cine a tras in noi, in 16-22?” Romania Libera, 27 May 1992, 5.
.. Stoian, Decembrie ’89: Arta Diversiunii, 23. It was only after this, Stoian maintains, that Nica Leon delivered his famous shout.
.. Tudorel Urian, “Cabala Teroristilor,” Cuvintul, no. 20 (13 June 1990), 4.
.. The suspects are legion: The dubious Nica Leon claims that a 60-year old man named Andrei Ilie, “who kissed Iliescu when he arrived at the CC [building on 22 December],” threw the petarde (Leon, interview, “Nica Leon in razboi.”). Opposition journalist A. Corneliu Giagim writes that the “author” of the petarde was Matei Ilie who had assembled it out of an aerosol can (A. Corneliu Giagim, “16-22, Cine-a tras in noi?!” Baricada, no. 49-50 (18 December 1990), 6.). In early 1990, Petre Mihai Bacanu confidentially stated that a young man named Adrian Constantin had thrown the petarde (Bacanu, “Intercontinental 21/22,” 31 March 1990, 1.). Whereas Bacanu had been able to interview Nica Leon and the young aviation mechanics who had started the chants against Ceausescu, he had been unable to track down Constantin to speak with him. Dan Iosif, the Front official who accused Leon of being a “terrorist,” has also been proposed as the source of the petarde (Expres Magazin, no. 30 (20-26 February 1991), 8.). There are likely others who have been credited with this act.
.. C. Maltese Martine Ui (possibly a pseudonym), “De la ‘Jos Ceausescu!’ am ajuns la ‘Jos Romania!’ Dubla Lovitura impotriva Romaniei” Democratia, no. 48 (December 1990), 3.
.. A Group of Former Securitate Officers, “Asa va place revolutia! Asa a fost!” Democratia, no. 36 (24-30 September 1990), 4. Also, see a translation of this article in FBIS-EEU-90-207, 25 October 1990, 50-53.
.. “S.V., reserve USLA officer” (perhaps Strat Vintila, based on other accounts), in Pavel Corut, Floarea de Argint (Bucharest: Editura Miracol, 1994), 171. In fact, the description of these men as wearing knee-length woolen coats and hats makes them sound suspiciously like the Securitate and the USLA themselves, as we shall see later.
.. “Fapte care trimit la o actiune premeditata a unor ‘actori’ din afara (II),” Curierul National, 10 July 1994, 2.
.. Ibid. Former deputy prime minister and senator, Gelu Voican Voiculescu, makes similar allegations. He claims that the explosion was caused by a “handcrafted petarde” (“o petarda artizanala”) made from an aerosol can. He too suggests that the panic was intensified by the “perhaps purposeful” malfunction of the loudspeaker system and the emission of a terrifying sound which resembled the “rumbling of tanks.” Voiculescu adds that “it is also possible…that there was a type of ‘acoustic bomb.'” Gelu Voican Voiculescu, interview by Neti Luchian and Val. Voiculescu, “‘Haosul nostru i-a paralizat (I),” Libertatea, 16 July 1991.
.. Cornel Nistorescu, “Complot sau conspiratie cu pretentii la putere? [Plot or conspiracy with pretensions to power]” Cuvintul, no. 20 (13 June 1990), 5.
.. Ecaterin Radoi, “Remember 15 decembrie 1989 – 20 mai 1990,” Zig-Zag, no. 190 (23-31 December 1993), 4-7.
.. Sofia Domestic Service, 1400 GMT 21 December 1989, in FBIS-EEU-89-244, 21 December 1989, 71.
.. Belgrade TANJUG Domestic Service, 1359 GMT 21 December 1989, in FBIS-EEU-89-245, 22 December 1989, 77.
.. Belgrade Domestic Service, 1410 GMT 21 December 1989, in FBIS-EEU-89-244, 21 December 1989, 70-71.
.. See accounts in Bacanu, “Intercontinental 21/22,” 15 March 1990; 5 April 1990; 19 April 1990.
.. See the comments of Marcel Constantinescu in Bacanu, “Intercontinental 21/22,” 15 March 1990, 3.
.. Rady, Romania in Turmoil, 104.
.. Emil Munteanu, “Postelnicu a vorbit neintrebat [Postelnicu spoke without being asked to],” Romania Libera, 30 January 1990, 3.
.. Stoian, Decembrie ’89: Arta Diversiunii, 22. Stoian’s “spin” on this event, however, is that people were not allowed to enter the square because “something was being awaited,” thus insinuating that the disruption of the rally was organized in advance.
.. See the comments of Nistor Ruxandoiu in Gheorghe Ionita, “Culcati-i la pamint!” Adevarul de Duminica, 14 January 1990, 2.
.. Published in Libertatea between 27 January and 15 February 1990 under the heading “Dintre sute de…catarge! Revolutia ascultata prin statie [From…hundreds of “masts” (radio identification for USLA officers conducting surveillance) Scanning the Revolution].” Such recordings could have come from only one source: the former Securitate. Interestingly, with the exception of one episode (3 February 1990), all of these communications come from the afternoon of 21 December or morning of 22 December. There are no communications for the USLA from 3:30 p.m. 21 December until 8 a.m. 22 December–the period during which regime forces opened fire on the demonstrators.
.. “Dintre sute de catarge,” 27 January 1990; 29 January 1990.
.. “Dintre sute de catarge,” 30 January 1990, 2. An anonymous editor defines the meaning of “gela” as “petarde” at the close of this episode. Stefanescu confirms the use of “petardes” in his statement that the USLA commander, Colonel Gheorghe Ardeleanu, was seen at the Central Committee building shouting to a subordinate “Give me ‘Gela’…Give me ‘Gela’.” According to Stefanescu, ‘Gela’ was the name of a “petarde” used by the USLA in the repression of demonstrators. Paul Stefanescu, Istoria Serviciilor Secrete Romanesti (Bucharest: Editura Divers Press, 1994), 287.
.. Stoian, Decembrie ’89: Arta Diversiunii, 21.
.. Raportul Comisiei Senatoriale, “Cine a tras in noi, in 16-22?”
.. There were substantial numbers of dead and wounded in many other cities between the afternoon of 21 December and the morning of 22 December: especially in Cluj, Sibiu, Tirgu-Mures, and Cugir. For example, most of the 26 people killed and 105 injured in Cluj during the events were shot during this period.
.. It also followed on the heels of series by the editors of Tineretul Liber (Horia Alexandrescu) and Libertatea (Octavian Andronic) which had exonerated the USLA of wrongdoing in December.
.. Bacanu, “Intercontinental 21/22,” 15 March 1990, 1, 3.
.. Idem, 16 March 1990, 3.
.. Idem, 17 March 1990, 1.
.. Ibid., 2.
.. Idem, 24 March 1990, 1. Bacanu’s interviewees responded by describing the “flower” episode yet again.
.. Idem, 24 April 1990, 1, 3. For an equally dubious revision of the USLA’s role in the December events see Horia Alexandrescu, “Adevarul despre USLA [The truth about the USLA],” Tineretul Liber, 4-15 March 1990. In episode three (7 March 1990, “Flori pentru ‘uslasi’ [Flowers for the USLA troops”) demonstrators shout at the USLA troops “and you also are dying of hunger!” and place flowers in the epaulets and helmets of the USLA troops. The USLA unit merely attempted to prevent “elements who had escaped the control of the revolutionaries” from approaching the American embassy and had allowed demonstrators to paint anti-Ceausescu slogans on nearby walls. According to Alexandrescu, the USLA had been withdrawn in their entirety from the zone at 9:30 p.m., thus before gunfire was opened.
.. Emilian David, “Dreptate si adevar pentru ziua intii [Justice and truth on the first day],” Libertatea, 12 January 1990, 1, 2. At least eight people were killed at Roman Square. As if to almost confirm Emilian David’s allegations, three days later, the USLA commander during the events, Colonel Gheorghe Ardeleanu, responded in Libertatea with a public denial of David’s description. See Colonel Gheorghe Ardeleanu, “Precizari,” Libertatea, 15 January 1990, 3.
.. Paul Vinicius, “Remember 21-23 decembrie ’89: Revolutia minut cu minut,” Flacara, no. 51 (19 December 1990), 7.
.. See Bunea, Praf in Ochi, 87.
.. Ibid., 88.
.. Ibid. The witness himself was injured as a result of this gunfire and later transported to the hospital.
.. See “Dintre sute de catarge,” Libertatea, 27/29/30/31 January 1990.
.. “Dintre sute de catarge,” 31 January 1990, 2.
.. “Dintre sute de catarge,” 29 January 1990, 2.
.. Petre Mihai Bacanu, “Au evacuat ‘materialele.’ Stropite cu sange [The got rid of “the materials” Covered with blood],” Romania Libera, 28 December 1993, 10. The reference to these civilian gunmen dressed in “sheepskin coats” (cojoace) brings back into discussion one of the articles from Horia Alexandrescu’s March 1990 series (“Adevarul despre USLA” [The truth about the USLA]) in Tineretul Liber exonerating the USLA of any wrongdoing for their actions in December. The title of the 6 March 1990 article–“‘Ace’ pentru ‘cojoacele’ teroristilor,” [‘Pins’ for the ‘sheepskin coats’ of the terrorists]–appears to bear no connection whatsoever to the article, which has no mention of “sheepskin coats” and does not even refer to the role of the USLA in University Square (events discussed in a later episode). Yet this clue and a number of others–including Alexandrescu’s introduction of this article as a “calmant,” an apparent reference to the treatment given to the drugged USLA after the events–suggest that in spite of the fact that the text of the article clears the USLA, Alexandrescu is fully conscious of the USLA’s guilt.
.. “Seful represiunii: maiorul Amariucai” in Bacanu, “Au evacuat ‘materialele’.”
.. Colonel Gh. Vaduva et. al., “Nici o pata sa nu planeze pe onoarea Armatei! [Not a stain can be placed on the Army’s honor]” Armata Poporului, no. 3 (17 January 1990), 1-2.
.. Captain Mihai Margineanu, “Un ‘inger’ cu aripile murdare [An ‘angel’ with dirty wings],” Armata Poporului, no. 15 (11 April 1990), 5. The witness, Lieutenant Colonel Teodor Amariucai, appears to bear his own share of the guilt for the bloodshed on the night of 21/22 December.
.. Stefanescu, Istoria Serviciilor Secrete, 288. The former Securitate once again appear to transfer their actions onto others in their discussion of the events in University Square. According to “a group of former Securitate officers,” the “tourists” took advantage “of the sound of shots fired in the air and resorted as in Timisoara to shooting the demonstrators in the back to produce victims to ‘mobilize’ Bucharest’s citizens.” See A Group of Former Securitate Officers, “Asa va place revolutia!”
.. Vasile Neagoe, “Noaptea cea mai lunga [The longest night],” Expres, no. 14-15 (May 1990), 15.
.. Alexandru Sauca, K.G.B.-ul si Revolutia Romana (Bucharest: Editura Miracol, 1994), 80.
.. See, for example, Vladimir Tismaneanu, “The Quasi-Revolution and Its Discontents: Emerging Political Pluralism in Post-Ceausescu Romania,” East European Politics and Societies 7, no. 2 (Spring 1993): 328 (fn. 31 especially). According to Tismaneanu: “So far, however, the only certain elements are that the Securitate and the army switched allegiances and abandoned Ceausescu during the early hours of December 22, 1989…”
.. Stoian, Decembrie ’89: Arta Diversiunii, 28.
.. See, for example, Tismaneanu, “The Quasi-Revolution”: 328 (fn. 31): “…generals Stanculescu, Guse, and Vlad acted like traditional praetorian guard chieftains in that they abandoned the losing tyrant and played a crucial role in the selection of his successor (the palace coup).”
.. Liviu Valenas, “Lovitura de palat din Romania,” Baricada, no. 26 (10 July 1990), 3.
.. Stoian, Decembrie ’89: Arta Diversiunii, 24. Indeed, according to Stoian, Defense Minister Milea was the supreme commander of the repressive forces on this night. In December 1993, on the fourth anniversary of these events, the opposition daily edited by Horia Alexandrescu, Cronica Romana, reiterated the claim that Vlad distanced himself from the team supervising the repression (Cronica Romana, 21 December 1993, 3.).
.. Vasile Neagoe, “Noaptea cea mai lunga,” Expres, no. 8 (23-29 March 1990), 6.
.. See “Dintre sute de catarge,” Libertatea, 1 February 1990; 9 February 1990; 12 February 1990.
.. Captain Alexandru Barbu, interview by Horia Alexandrescu, “O curiozitate: te impusti in inima, asezi pistolul pe masa, apoi te intinzi pe canapea!” Tineretul Liber, 2 June 1990, 1-2.
.. Liviu Valenas, “Dosarele secrete ale neocomunismului din Romania [The secret files of Romanian neo-communism],” Romanul Liber XI, no. 8-9 (August-September 1995), 32. This appears to have originally been published in the opposition daily Evenimentul Zilei.
.. See FBIS-EEU-89-248, 28 December 1989, 63.
.. Bunea, Praf in Ochi, 53, 56.
.. Rady, Romania in Turmoil, 103. Indeed, information elsewhere suggests that before 10 a.m. demonstrators had taken control of local government in Alba Iulia, Arad, and other important towns in Transylvania.
.. See the comments of Lieutenant Colonel Rafaelescu Alexandru in Ion D. Goia, “Chiar daca fugea, Ceausescu nu scapa! [Even if he was fleeing, Ceausescu was not escaping!],” Flacara, no. 5 (6-12 February 1991), 8-9.
.. Lieutenant Colonel Ion Cotirlea and Lieutenant Colonel Rafaelescu Alexandru in ibid.
.. Even Brucan is unsure. See Brucan, The Wasted Generation, 2.
.. See the comments of Army Major Engineer Tufan as recounted by Lieutenant Colonel Alexandru Andrei in Goia, “Chiar daca fugea,” 9.
.. See Bunea, Praf in Ochi, 53-56.
.. Stanculescu, interview by Ioan Buduca, 9.
.. Ibid. Hence, his satirical nickname in the Romanian media: “Ghipsulescu,” from the Romanian word “ghips” which means “cast.”
.. See the comments of Lieutenant Colonel Alexandru Andrei in Goia, “Chiar daca fugea,” 9.
.. Ibid. See also Stanculescu, interview by Ioan Buduca, 9. According to the First Senatorial Commission report on the events, at 10:45 a.m. he instructed all units in Bucharest and on the road to Bucharest to return to barracks, and at 12:15 a.m. the order was transmitted for all units throughout the country to return to barracks (see “Cine a tras in noi, in 16-22?” Romania Libera, 27 May 1992, 5).
.. Brucan, The Wasted Generation, 2-3. Interestingly, Brucan comments: “[Rus’] statement was recorded in early January 1990 when his memory of events was still fresh and before political conditions began to engender the inhibitions that later would prevent generals from making such forthright statements….”
.. Ibid., 3.
.. Sauca, KGB-ul si Revolutia, 80-82.
.. Stanculescu, interview by Ioan Buduca, 9.
.. See Goia, “Chiar daca fugea,” 9.
.. A Group of Former Securitate Officers, “Asa va place revolutia?”
.. Iulian Vlad, “Ce mai aveti de spus?,” Adevarul, 19 January 1991, 5a.
.. “Dintre sute de catarge,” Libertatea, 3-14 February 1990.
.. Ion D. Goia, “Chiar daca fugea,” 9.
.. Dr. Sergiu Tanasescu, interview by Ion K. Ion, “Dinca si Postelnicu au fost prinsi de pantera roz! [Dinca and Postelnicu were caught red-handed!],” Cuvintul, no. 7 (14 March 1990), 15.
.. Sauca suggests this idea in Sauca, KGB-ul si Revolutia, 82.
.. Silviu Brucan, Generatia Irosita (Bucharest: Editura Univers & Calistrat Hogas, 1992), 16. This discussion does not appear in the English version of his memoirs, The Wasted Generation.
.. Ibid., 16, 220-221.
.. Sauca, KGB-ul si Revolutia, 82.
.. Silviu Brucan, The Wasted Generation, 2.
.. Ibid., 4.
.. Nicolae Deca, interview by Petre Mihai Bacanu, “Ceausescu nu s-a gindit sa fuga din tara,” Romania Libera, 23 December 1993, 15.
.. See Tecu’s comments in Ion D. Goia and Petre Barbu, “Ceausestii la Tirgoviste,” Flacara, no. 51 (19 December 1990), 9-10.
.. Brucan, The Wasted Generation, 5. Tecu confirms that between 2 and 5 p.m., the Securitate and Militia personnel began evacuating the Inspectorate building in Goia and Barbu, “Ceausestii la Tirgoviste,” 10.
.. Goia and Barbu, “Ceausestii la Tirgoviste,” 10.
.. Revolutia Romana in Direct (Bucharest, 1990), 85.
.. Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979); Charles Tilly, From Mobilization to Revolution (New York: Random House, 1978).
.. D.E.H. Russell, Rebellion, Revolution, and Armed Force (New York: Academic, 1974).