The Archive of the Romanian Revolution of December 1989

A Catch-22 December 1989, Groundhog-Day Production. Presenting the Personal Research & Scholarship of Richard Andrew Hall, Ph.D.

Romania Twenty Years after 1989: The Bizarre Echoes of Superficial Research

(a purely personal view, as always)

While searching for information about the Pan-European Picnic of 19 August 1989 in Hungary, I came across a new volume partially available on google books:

Twenty Years After Communism: The Politics of Memory and Commemoration, edited by Michael Bernhard and Jan Kubik (Oxford University Press, 2014).

 

Question:  How many of the 5 key sources on Romania December 1989 listed on the fairly well-known academic resource Making the History of 1989:  The Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe does Pop-Eleches cite?  Four (that’s possible)? At least two (probably a good bet)?

The Unique Experience of Romania

Annotated Bibliography

  1. Andrei Codrescu, The Hole in the Flag: A Romanian Exile’s Story of Return and Revolution (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1991).
    Readable, compelling, personal account by a Romanian-born poet, literature professor, writer, and commentator on National Public Radio. While this book is more journalistic than scholarly, Codrescu has done some research and a lot of interviews and the book came out soon after the events. It reads very “fresh” and captures the atmosphere of 1989-90..
  2. Richard Andrew Hall, “The Uses of Absurdity: The Staged War Theory and the Romanian Revolution of December 1989,” East European Politics and Societies vol. 13, no. 3 (1999): 510-542.
    Hall is a CIA analyst. The article tackles issues of interpretation of the 1989 revolution by political scientists, historians and journalists. Hall argues against the “staged war” conspiracy theory. He claims that the “terrorists” responsible for fighting on in late December were members of the Securitate, and he shows that Securitate accounts are responsible for spreading rumors that the violence in December was staged in order to create the myth of a heroic revolutionary origin for the National Salvation Front that had merely staged a palace coup in deposing Ceauşescu..
  3. Nestor Ratesh, Romania: The Entangled Revolution (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991).
    Written soon after the events by the former head of Radio Free Europe’s Romanian Broadcasting Department, Ratesh relies on published and broadcast sources as well as interviews. His knowledge of Romanian language sources is superb. This is a very clear and readable account by a Romanian émigré who combines research and analysis with a “feel” for Romania’s politics and personalities..
  4. Steven D. Roper, ‘The Romanian Revolution from a Theoretical Perspective’. Communist and Post Communist Studies vol. 27, no. 4 (1994): pp. 401-410.
    Roper measures the Romanian revolution against various theories of what a revolution is. The article is useful in putting the Romanian events in comparative perspective..
  5. Peter Siani-Davies, The Romanian Revolution of December 1989 (Ithaca: Cornell 2005).
    A scholarly account of the revolution by a British political scientist who did years of research in Romanian language archives and publications. It is a nuanced and full account benefiting from the time elapsed since 1989. Siani-Davies deals not only with the events, but also with the perceptions of and myths about the events..

Answer:  0 (ZERO) !!!

Yes, Dr. Pop-Eleches thinks so highly of his prospective readership, that he does not cite a single one of the five sources listed above!  Of all the sources listed above, the one that any account written in the past five years has no excuse not to know and not to cite is Siani-Davies’ excellent volume.  To not reference Siani-Davies’ volume is to lose credibility from the get-go.  There is a certain core of texts that any recent work on December should include.  I would argue this core includes at the very least, Nestor Ratesh 1991, Martyn Rady 1992, Dennis Deletant 1995, Richard Andrew Hall 1999, and Peter Siani-Davies 2005.  For books and research in Romania, Timisoara researcher Marius Mioc’s works are a must, as is Ruxandra Cesereanu’s Decembrie ’89. Deconstructia unei revolutii.  (Note:  I have major criticisms of these other works, and some like Ruxandra Cesereanu or Nestor Ratesh have refused to address my own work, but these are all works of fundamental value for understanding the history of December 1989).

It is more than telling that Pop-Eleches [P. 88] references none of these but instead lazily invokes the following sources (which set the stage for the pedestrian analysis of the chapter itself):   Gabanyi 1990; Calinescu and Tismaneanu 1991; Gallagher 1995.

Other than the number of victims, few of the questions were answered conclusively in the months and years after 1989, despite a large (and growing) list of studies published on the subject (e.g. Gabanyi 1990; Calinescu and Tismaneanu 1991; Gallagher 1995).

Pop-Eleches is wrong on both accounts:  not only that few of the questions have been answered (in and of itself proof of his ignorance of the overall literature; although there remain a fair number of disputes, quite a number of issues actually have been cleared up through the years), but the one fact he claims has been answered conclusively–the number of victims–is actually still a matter of dispute and has recently been subject to revision! (see http://www.agerpres.ro/social/2014/05/29/institutul-revolutiei-romane-1-166-de-persoane-au-murit-in-decembrie-1989-19-37-53 or http://www.timisoaraexpress.ro/stiri-locale-timisoara/1166-de-persoane-au-murit-in-decembrie-1989_13700)

I have previously dealt with the superficiality and errors of all three of the only accounts Pop-Eleches invokes, mostly in my 2005 article below:

 https://romanianrevolutionofdecember1989.com/2010/09/24/the-1989-romanian-revolution-as-geopolitical-parlor-game-brandstatter%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Ccheckmate%E2%80%9D-documentary-and-the-latest-wave-in-a-sea-of-revisionism-part-four/

THE 1989 ROMANIAN REVOLUTION AS GEOPOLITICAL PARLOR GAME:  BRANDSTATTER’S “CHECKMATE” DOCUMENTARY AND THE LATEST WAVE IN A SEA OF REVISIONISM

By Richard Andrew Hall

Disclaimer:  This material has been reviewed by CIA.  That review neither constitutes CIA authentification of information nor implies CIA endorsement of the author’s views.

Please Note:  This article is not to be cited, reproduced, translated, or used in any form without the acknowledgement and permission of the author.

Part 4:  The First Wave of Franco-German Revisionism, 1990

The great irony of the new wave of Franco-German revisionism—which argues that the December 1989 revolution in Romania was a CIA-engineered coup d‘état—is that it was journalists and academics in precisely France and [West] Germany who in 1990 led the charge that that the revolution was largely a KGB-inspired and guided coup d’état. Just as the KGB gets a cameo in the new revisionism, so the first Franco-German revisionist wave assigned a part to the CIA and Western security services, but it was a bit and largely (dis)informational/passive role.  Books and articles by Michel Castex, a French journalist, Olivier Weber and Radu Portocala, both French journalists with the latter an ethnic Romanian, and Anneli Ute Gabanyi, a Romanian German-based academic and former analyst at Radio Free Europe, spearheaded the promotion of the KGB coup theory throughout 1990 (for summaries of the arguments contained in these works, see, for example, Ratesh, 1991, pp. 81-85 and Shafir, 1990, pp. 30-31).  The enduring influence of these theories on shaping the debate about the Revolution—and, ironically, highlighting just how new the Brandstatter-Durandin second Franco-German wave is—can be seen in a 1999 article by Andreas Oplatka in a German-language daily marking the 10th anniversary of the December 1989 events (Neue Zurcher Zeitung, 22 December 1999, also invoked by J.F. Brown, 2001, p. 77, n. 7 as an excellent contemporary synopsis of the debate).

The relationship of the Franco-German revisionism to Romania was dynamic and flowed in both directions.  Streams of thought intersected and converged.  To some extent, it ended up becoming circular as time passed.  Franco-German revisionism was based in part on interviews with and revelations from Romanian participants in the December 1989 events.  The details and arguments of these writings would flow back into Romania—they were translated or reviewed—where they appeared to provide answers to the confusing aspects and unresolved questions of Ceausescu’s overthrow.  The theories were welcomed and trumpeted by the small, electorally weak, and continuously harrassed opposition to Ion Iliescu’s National Salvation Front regime, who were primed to believe them based on what had happened since Ceausescu’s overthrow and who desperately needed anything that could help them in a sharply unequal political contest.  This bestowed foreign authors domestic confirmation of their revisionist accounts.

The Evolution of the Initial French Accounts

The engine of the French revisionism of the first half of 1990 was probably the weekly “Le Point,”—although French Television (FR3) and other dailies and weeklies also played a role.  In the 1 January 1990 edition of “Le Point,” Kosta Christitch wrote in an article entitled “Romania:  Moscow’s Hidden Game,” that Ceausescu’s “fate had [not been determined in December] been sealed in Moscow less than a month earlier.”  On New Year’s Day 1990, French Television broadcast the famous video which shows Ion Iliescu, Petre Roman, and Army General Nicolae Militaru talking on 22 December about what to name the(ir) group that had taken power, and in which Militaru claims that the “National Salvation Front has been in existence for six months already” (for details and a good discussion on this issue, see Ratesh, 1991, pp. 53-55, 81, 89-91).  In the 8 January 1990 edition of “Le Point,” Radu Portocala entitled his article “Romania:  The Hand of Moscow.”  Portocala insinuated that Hungarian and Yugoslav media had intentionally exaggerated the number of casualties, particularly in the Timisoara repression [numbers which reached upwards of 10,000-12,000, when in actuality 73 died], while “at the same time, everything was put in motion to publicize that it wasn’t the [Romanian] Army that had opened fire [on the Timisoara demonstrators], but the Securitate.”  On 5 February 1990, Portocala returned with an article, “Romania:  Troubling Facts,” and on 30 April 1990, Olivier Weber wrote a piece, “Romania:  The Confiscated Revolution.”  [Note:  Portocala is Gallagher 1995’s cited source on December 1989]

However, as Ratesh states, “…a fully developed conspiracy theory would not come to light until late May 1990, when the French magazine ‘Le Point’ carried a long and sensational article purporting to unveil the truth about the uprising” (Ratesh, 1991, pp. 81-82).  The article, “Romania:  Revelations of a Plot.  The Five Acts of a Manipulation,” by Weber and Portocala, continued the themes that the authors had developed in their aforementioned articles, that Ceausescu’s overthrow was in fact a coup and that the communist bloc media had distorted information about what was happening inside Romania in order to propel Ceausescu’s fall.  But it also included two new generally new themes, insinuating that foreign agents on the ground in Timisoara had had some role in the protests there—thereby undercutting the “spontaneity” of the Revolution—and that there had been no genuine “terrorists,” only “false terrorists,” part of a scenario for legitimating the coup d’etat.  It was these newer themes that particularly became the focus of the Romanian media, and that prompted the most controversy.

It is difficult to overestimate the long shadow of the 21 May “Le Point” expose over the historiography of the Revolution.  Translated by “Expres,” “Nu (Cluj),” and other key opposition publications in May and June 1990, it seemed to crystallize and explain all the doubts Romanians had about the December events—further confirmed, it seemed, by the manifestly unequal and unfair 20 May election results and then the miners’ rampage in Bucharest against demonstrators and the opposition press and parties during 13-15 June.  The article’s trail shows up everywhere.  American Romanianists Katherine Verdery and Gail Kligman who, in an article written in November 1990 sensibly inveighed against treating the Front, the former Securitate, and other groups as homogenous wholes operating in lock-step on behalf of Iliescu, discussed the Weber and Portocala as the centerpiece of the debate over December 1989 (Verdery and Kligman, 1992, pp. 118-122).  However, although they questioned it, their summary of their own views on the events seemed to repeat many of the arguments of the account.

The Weber and Portocala account also shows up in the travel account of Dervla Murphy—although cited to “Romania Libera,” the description and details of her discussion make it clear the “Le Point” article is the source (Murphy 1995).  Thus, Murphy floats the idea that perhaps the Reverend Tokes in Timisoara was in collusion with the coup plotters of the Front, and that “Soviet provocateurs and some Rumanian soldiers killed most of the victims—though everyone, in Rumania and abroad, was misled to believe the Securitate responsible.”  It is telling, that although always somewhat skeptical of the notion of an external hand in sparking and fanning the Timisoara unrest, that in 1990, without having read the “Le Point” expose, but having followed English-language press and traveling for a month in Romania in July 1990 (I had first visited in July 1987), my own understanding was essentially along the same lines—how could it not be?  My acceptance of the “staged war” theory would inevitably be strengthened in the following years by the accounts of noted Romanian emigres discussed below.

In Romania, Concern over the Unintended Consequences of the First Wave of French Revisionism

Certain key constituencies in Romania were not amused by the French revisionism in particular.  In the wake of a demonstration in the cradle of the Revolution to mark nine months after the December events, Vasile Popovici of the Timisoara Society commented:

“The French press, in particular, with a penchant for excessive rationalization specific to the French, has attempted to accredit the idea of a KGB-CIA scenario, including in Timisoara.  This fantasy variant demonstrates that those who sustain it have no idea of the real course of events in Timisoara and cannot explain in any way how people went out three days in a row (17, 18, 19 [December]) to die on the streets  (Ciobotea 1990, interview with Vasile Popovici, “Vinovati sint mortii? [The Dead are to Blame?], “Flacara,” no. 40, 3 October, p. 3).

It is notable that in the same interview, Popovici who was no friend of the Iliescu regime, denounced the “attacks emanating from anti-FSN [National Salvation Front] publications upon the image of the popular revolt in Timisoara” [emphasis in the original; he included, the anti-Iliescu weekly “Zig-Zag” in the discussion, for more details on “Zig-Zag”’s critical role, see Hall 2002; Mioc 2000).  Popovici underlined that the revisionism started in the anti-FSN press, and only then was integrated by the FSN press.

Specifically in reference to Olivier Weber and Radu Portocala’s 21 May 1990 expose in “Le Point,” (Army) Major Mihai Floca and Captain Victor Stoica declared:  “We do not question the good faith of the French journalists, although the idea promoted by them is remarkably convenient to those who are just dying to demonstrate that, in fact, the ‘terrorists’ did not exist (Major Mihai Floca and Captain Victor Stoica, “Unde sint teroristii?  PE STRADA, PRINTRE NOI (I), “Armata Poporului, no. 24 (13 June 1990), p. 3).”  As this and other articles by the authors make clear, the reference is to the former Securitate—specifically, journalist Angela Bacescu in “Zig-Zag” (for a discussion, see Hall 1999).

Nor was the source of a key statement in Weber and Portocala’s article suggesting a fictitious “staged war” with fictitious “terrorists”—“There needed to be victims in order to legitimate the new power in order to create [the image of] a mass revolution,” according to the source—credible (see Hall 1999, p. 540 n. 90).  Its source was former Navy Captain Nicolae Radu, a virulently anti-Semitic interloper and mercenary, who would become a regular in the former Securitate’s mouthpiece, “Europa,” in 1991, alleging all sorts of conspiracies about December 1989 that inevitably bestowed a primary role on Romanian Jewry and the MOSSAD.  If Nicolae Radu’s claim about a “fictitious war with fictious terrorists,” sounds familiar from earlier parts of this series, it is:  see, for example, the discussions of Dominique Fonveille (Part 2) and Ion Mihai Pacepa (Part 3).

As the above-cited observation by Floca and Stoica demonstrates, even if initially independent, streams French sensationalism and Securitate-inspired revisionism ended up converging and intermingling—a historical accident that redounded decidedly to the benefit of the latter.  This was not only the case with the “terrorists,” but also with the issue of alleged “foreign agents” on the ground in Timisoara and their alleged role in the uprising.  It is undoubted, has been reported, and has been admitted publicly that at one point or another, particularly in monitoring regime treatment of the Hungarian Pastor Laszlo Tokes, around whom the uprising broke out, that embassy and consulate personnel from the Yugoslavia (which has a consulate in Timisoara), United States, Japan, and other countries (likely to include Hungary, the UK etc.) appeared in Timisoara during these events.  It would be naïve to believe that there were no intelligence personnel among those at the scene among these countries’ representatives.  Of course, monitoring unfolding events is one thing, fomenting an uprising or monitoring the progress of a manufactured uprising by the countries for which they worked, quite another.

It is clearly the latter scenarios that foreign and domestic revisionists have alleged about Ceausescu’s overthrow.  There are glaring contradictions in the logic of these revisionist accounts on this score, however.  For example, accounts of the first Franco-German revisionist wave allege that the Hungarian and Yugoslav media intentionally inflated the casualty counts in Romania to move the coup forward by fueling anger at the Ceausescu regime.  In doing so, we are told, these communist services were likely doing the bidding or aiding the effort of the Soviet-backed coup plotters, and thus of the Gorbachev leadership.  In their 21 May 1990 expose, Weber and Portocala mention the presence of “Soviet observers” in Timisoara since at least 16 December 1989, when the demonstrations really began to take shape.  They cite Tanjug, the Yugoslav news agency, as the source of this claim.  Since this claim was first mentioned in the 1 January 1990 “Le Point” article by Kosta Cristitich, I can only surmise that the Tanjug claim was published sometime during the last week of December 1989.  (I have been unable to find this reference in FBIS, which translated many Tanjug dispatches at the time, but I have no reason to doubt that this is what Tanjug related.  It is therefore unclear who Tanjug heard this claim from—a fact which as we saw in the case of Mr. Corpasescu in Part 3 is important, since the claim could reflect disinformation or rumor.)  A similar claim turns up in Andrei Codrescu’s book, The Hole in the Flag, in which he maintains that during the first week of January 1990, a Soviet journalist drinking-buddy for that night told Codrescu that he had been in Timisoara and that there in fact had been “a dozen TASS [Soviet news agency] correspondents” in Timisoara since 10 December 1989 (Codrescu, 1990, p. 171).

In essence, we are thus asked to believe that the exact media personnel who were behind a disinformation campaign to exaggerate the death toll in Romania and aid the Soviet-engineered coup, nonchalantly publicized the role of the Soviets in the uprising in Timisoara.  This does not make a lot of sense, does it?  Moreover, the presence of unhindered “Soviet observers” in Timisoara from 16 December—to say nothing, of the Codrescu claim, of “a dozen TASS correspondents” in Timisoara from the 10th—does not seem realistic.  To begin with, Tokes only announced to his congregation on 10 December that the regime was probably going to deliver on their long-existing threat of evicting him on 15 December—meaning that either the “TASS correspondents” would have had to have had advance information of Tokes’ announcement or a certain amount of good luck/clairvoyance.  Given the well-documented difficulties all journalists experienced in late 1989 in trying to get into the country, especially following the upheaval elsewhere in the bloc, it is hard to believe these “ dozen TASS correspondents” would have received visas into the country, presenting themselves as such—they certainly did not do much reporting from Timisoara, as like other news associations it was only on the 23rd that a Soviet journalist filed a report from there.*  Moreover, it is significant that on the morning of 11 December 1989, Budapest’s Domestic [Radio] Service announced that the day before three staff members of the ruling party daily “Nepszabadsag” were banned for five years for attempting to approach Tokes’ residence—their film and tape recordings were also predictably confiscated (FBIS, 11 December 1989, and “New York Times,” 12 December 1989).  So, how then is it, that the Hungarian correspondents were expelled, but the “a dozen TASS correspondents”—apparently somehow keeping well out of sight, and feeling no compunction to write on the topic of the Hungarian correspondents—were allowed to stay?

Gaining a Foothold:  Survival of the First…

Given the skepticism and outright rebuttals found in the Romanian press in 1990, how is it that the first wave of Franco-German theories was able to “corner the market” of historical understandings—let alone achieve legitimacy—in the West, especially, as we shall see, in the United States?  I believe it is doubtful that the theories would ever have gained such exposure, traction, and staying power had it not been for their assimilation and dissemination by prominent Romanian intellectual émigrés in the United States, made worse by the fact that the pool of these critics was remarkably small and uniform in its political orientation.  Given credibility by these emigres, the theories were then taken up by noted historians of Eastern Europe and social scientists, thereby reinforcing the validity of the theories to their audiences.  One can no more understand the influence of the first Franco-German revisionist wave on English-language accounts of the Revolution without studying the role played by these émigré scholars in relaying them, than one can understand the content and context of Romanian accounts of the December 1989 events without knowing what the former Securitate argues about them.

It is telling that when one reads the analysis of the “mysteries of the Revolution” in National Public Radio commentator Andrei Codrescu’s engaging “The Hole in the Flag” or in Matei Calinescu and Vladimir Tismaneanu’s penetrating “The 1989 Revolution and Romania’s Future”—both of which appeared in 1991—French sources dominate the discussion of what happened in December 1989.  None of the skepticism about the accuracy of the French sources—as related in the comments of Popovici, Floca, and Stoica above—is voiced in these accounts.

The Walls Come Tumbling Down…

What is arguably still the best historical account of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, Gale Stokes’ “The Walls Came Tumbling Down (1993),” repeats as fact a list of allegations regarding the trial of the Ceausescus that first were given publicity by Vladimir Tismaneanu and Matei Calinescu.  (Even where Stokes cites others, those articles are usually themselves derivative and their arguments can be traced back to Tismaneanu and Calinescu).  Based in large part on the broadcast of the full tape of the Ceausescus’ trial and execution in April 1990, analyses in the French press, and the allegations of French forensic experts (which apparently derived solely from having watched the tape (!)), Tismaneanu and Calinescu clearly showed their preference in a 1991 article for the French theory of the events.  They therefore write that the trial of the Ceausescus lasted nine hours but only “fifty-odd minutes” was shown on the tape, that the execution of the couple had been faked, since Nicolae had likely suffered a heart-attack—“during the trial or during a separate interrogation, possibly under torture”—that caused Elena to go into hysterics, which necessitated that she be killed on the spot “gangland style.” (Stokes, 1993, pp. 292-293, n.118; Calinescu and Tismaneanu, 1991, p. 45-46, especially n. 14).  They then go on to speculate that the 1 March 1990 suicide of the chief judge of the trial, General Gica Popa, “could have been an act of desperation by an essentially honest man” who would have had to go through “the criminal charade” of sentencing two corpses to death.

Of course, all of these judgments—and I contend this is the cornerstone of so many accounts/theories of the Revolution, although many researchers do not appear to acknowledge or realize it—are premised on their understanding of the identity and intentions of the “terrorists.”  For example, if one believes there was no real “terrorist” threat, then one can countenance a leisurely nine-hour trial and the idea that the Ceausescus died during a “separate interrogation, possibly under torture.”  On this question, Tismaneanu and Calinescu clearly reject the idea that those firing were fighting to topple the new leadership and restore the Ceausescus to power:

“In retrospect, the purpose of the reports of terrorism appears to have been to create apprehension among the populace and induce people to forgo further public demonstration against communism.  It was used, in effect, to help the new power structure.” (Calinescu and Tismaneanu, 1991, p. 45, n. 12)

As to the allegations made by Calinescu and Tismaneanu in their 1991 account:  even at the time of their article, there were very strong reasons to question the validity of their information and speculation.  Numerous testimonies by Army personnel present at Tirgoviste while the Ceausescus were there negate their claims (see, for example, the interviews in “Ceausestii la Tirgoviste,” “Flacara,” 19 December 1990, pp. 8-10, which place the length of the trial anywhere between 50 minutes and one hour).  As I wrote in 1997:  “…even a year after the events, one of the eyewitnesses to what transpired, Maria Stefan, the cook in the officer’s mess, continued to maintain that the trial itself lasted ‘an hour’ (Hall, 1997, p. 342).  When it comes to the question of Nicolae having been tortured prior to his death, Ratesh in 1991 notably stated that this version was “attributed to an official of the Romanian Ministry of the Interior”—i.e. likely former Securitate, and indeed given its utility for them it is not surprising that the former Securitate have sought to promote this idea in their literature on the Revolution (Ratesh, 1991, p. 76).  Military and civilian personnel present at the execution are simply dismissive at the contentions of the French forensic experts that the Ceausescus were already dead by the time they were executed (they have effective counter-arguments regarding bloodflow—Nicolae’s greatcoat, Elena’s hysterical reaction by that point).  They consider it ridiculous and the product of Westerners with no knowledge of the events (this comes through again on several occasions in the year long set of interviews in “Jurnalul National” during 2004).

In an otherwise excellent account by political scientists Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan that is commonly cited in the social sciences, the authors juxtapose Michel Castex’s book—described as marketing the “myth” of the “revolution as a KGB plot”—with Andrei Codrescu’s apparently far more credible book in their opinion (Linz and Stepan, 1996, p.345 n. 3).  They note that to Codrescu “the whole revolution had been a fake, a film scripted by the Romanian Communists, with a ‘beautifully orchestrated piece of Kremlin music conducted by Maestro Gorbachev.’”  Indeed, it is worth looking at the passage from which this quote is taken:

“Many people now believe—in the face of mounting evidence—that the mastermind of the Romanian operation was the KGB, that the Romanian revolution was a beautifully orchestrated piece of Kremlin music conducted by Maestro Gorbachev.  What’s more, the operation had the full cooperation of the CIA.  I recently bought a T-shirt in Washington, D.C., that says:  ‘TOGETHER AT LAST!  THE KGB & THE CIA.  NOW WE ARE EVERYWHERE.’  Even one T-shirt can sometimes be smarter than all the news media.”  (Codrescu, 1991, p. 206).

Codrescu in fact invokes Castex—especially his discussion of the Western media’s supposedly intentional inflation of casualties during the days of the revolution—in support of his thesis (pp. 197-198).  There is thus little that differentiates Codrescu from Castex, and the distinction drawn by Linz and Stepan is simply incorrect.

Far better than the accounts of either Calinescu and Tismaneanu or Codrescu is that of Nestor Ratesh, former head of the Romanian broadcasting division of Radio Free Europe.  His The Entangled Revolution (1991) is alternatively described as “sensible,” “sober,” and “authoritative,” by Romanianists and scholars who do not cover the country.  For example, both Stokes, and Linz and Stepan, invoke his work.  Sensible and sober Ratesh’s account is; authoritative, only from the standpoint of what was available in English at the time.  Inevitably, Ratesh’s account is head and shoulders above those of fellow emigres Calinescu and Tismaneanu and Codrescu because he had performed more research into the Romanian media.  Unfortunately, I would argue, not far enough.  He stumbles upon the bothersome parallel nature of accounts of the Securitate’s actions during the Revolution by “Romania Libera’s” Petre Mihai Bacanu, and “other journalists (of less credibility, however)”—most likely a reference to the aforementioned, Angela Bacescu—but he does not research further to see if this is coincidence or pattern, and thereby considers it anomalous (see my discussion in Hall 1999).  Thankfully, he takes a critical eye to the Castex, Portocala and Weber, and Gabanyi accounts, and expresses skepticism when a “highly placed Romanian official” whispered to him in late June 1990 “a variation of the staged war theory,”—cautioning that the regime was at the time attempting to discredit the army (unfortunately, it was hardly so time-bound) (Ratesh, 1991, p.62).  However, whether it is Bacescu or others, he only comes to notice them when they enter the openly Ceausescu nostalgic press, and thereby misses identifying their presence and impact in the opposition press, as Popovici, Floca, and Stoica did.

To my knowledge, Ratesh has not really weighed in on the Revolution since his 1991 book.  Codrescu continues to present the December events as a stage(d) production that fooled the whole world, occasionally in his NPR commentaries and certainly in his talks across the US (Codrescu, 2002).  Tismaneanu and Romania’s liberal intelligentsia at home and abroad have yet to address the presence and consequences of Securitate disinformation in the anti-Front media of the early 1990s.  This is not surprising:  they missed it…and to acknowledge it now would require them to edit their ironclad, definitively-stated characterizations of that era, and perhaps, even to pause and reconsider their understanding of December 1989.  As for the Revolution itself, Tismaneanu’s most recent intervention on its 15th anniversary invoked the comments of former French Ambassador to Romania, Jean-Marie LeBreton, who concludes, unremarkably, that the December 1989 events were neither a spontaneous uprising/revolution nor a coup d’etat, but a combination of both (“Jurnalul National,” 29 January 2005).  Some habits die hard.

*Indeed, there appear to be no TASS dispatches from Timisoara throughout this period.  According to FBIS translations, there appear to have been 3 TASS correspondents in Romania, in addition to one from “Izvestiya” and one from “Pravda,” all of whom reported during these days from Bucharest.  A fourth TASS correspondent reported from Timisoara on 23 December, after the flight of the Ceausescus, and when most foreign reporters were able to enter Timisoara for the first time.  Once again, according to FBIS translations, during the events of 15-22 December, TASS correspondents in Bucharest had to rely on other news services and sources in Bucharest to find out what was happening in Timisoara.

SOURCES

“Armata Poporului,” 1990.

Brown, J. F., 2001, The Grooves of Change:  Eastern Europe at the Dawning of a New Millenium (Durham, NC:  Duke University Press).

Budapest Domestic Service, 11 December 1989, in FBIS, 12 December 1989.

Calinescu, M. and Tismaneanu, V., 1991, “The 1989 Revolution and Romania’s Future,” “Problems of Communism,” Vol. 40, No. 1 (April), pp. 42-59.

Castex, M., 1990.  Un Mensonge Grosse Comme Le Siecle (Paris:  A. Michel).

Codrescu, A., 1991.  The Hole in the Flag. A Romanian Exile’s Story of Return and Revolution (New York:  William Morrow and Company).

Codrescu, A., 2002.  “Codrescu Cogitates on Communism,” American Library Association Midwinter Meeting 18-23 January 2002, New Orleans, at http://www.ala.org.

“Flacara,” 1990, 1991.

Gabanyi, A.U., 1990. Die Unwollendete Revolution, (Munich: Serie-Piper).

Hall, R. A. 1997, “Rewriting the Revolution: Authoritarian Regime-State Relations and the Triumph of Securitate Revisionism in Post-Ceausescu Romania,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Indiana University).

Hall, R. A., 1999, “The Uses of Absurdity: The Staged War Theory and the Romanian Revolution of December 1989,” in “East European Politics and Societies,” Vol. 13, no.3, pp. 501-542.

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