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.

Posts Tagged ‘Sorin Rosca Stanescu securitate’


Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on September 18, 2010

Ii multumesc lui Marius Mioc pentru traducerea episodului acesta in limba romana traducerea in limba romana cazul olaru

1 May 2002, Volume 4, Number 9


By Richard Hall

Nothing is perhaps more indicative of the smug ignorance or delusional wishful thinking of rigidly partisan critics of Ion Iliescu and those who seized power in December 1989 than the coverage of the case of former Militia Sergeant Petre Olaru, which broke upon the Romanian press scene in April 1999. Tragically, the result of such blindly partisan analysis has been similar to that seen in the cases discussed in the first two episodes of this article — in their zeal to target and tar Iliescu and other members of the “nomenklatura” with the greatest share of blame for the December 1989 bloodshed, these critics have eagerly embraced and promoted the wildest and most ridiculous fabrications of the former Securitate and Militia, fabrications designed to exonerate these institutions and their employees for the repression and bloodshed of December 1989.

Those who are inclined to view the December 1989 events as a “dead story” that lost its importance in Romanian politics after the early 1990s, or who claim that the historiographical revisionism in the media has had little impact on public opinion, generally tuned out reporting on the revolution — out of fatigue and cynicism — rather early on, and thus tend to be unfamiliar with more recent developments on this front. For example, a poll by the Center for Rural and Urban Sociology (CURS) on the eve of the 10th anniversary of Ceausescu’s overthrow, revealed just how far media revisionism of the understanding of what happened in December 1989 has advanced. As the daily “Ziua” announced, a bare 11 percent of those questioned continued to believe — in what not even the author of the piece could struggle to present in neutral terms — in the “myth of the terrorists” — those accused of responsibility for the over 900 deaths that followed Ceausescu’s flight from power on 22 December 1989 and who were originally portrayed as Securitate members (most likely from the Special Unit for Anti-Terrorist Warfare — USLA — and the Fifth Directorate) fighting on behalf of Ceausescu (“Ziua,” 17 November 1999). That almost 90 percent of those polled could admit to having changed their mind on this issue — for during the events, nobody expressed doubt as to the either the existence, or the identity, of the “terrorists” — must say something about the impact of media coverage, since from the beginning of the post-Ceausescu era debunking the “myth of the terrorists” has been at the forefront of reporting on the December 1989 events.

Nor, as the so-called “Olaru case” demonstrates, is it true to say that December 1989 has lost its value as an instrument in fighting contemporary political battles. For at least a year and a half — from late 1997 through early 1999 — former Militia Sergeant Petre Olaru, and those who promoted his claims, attempted to influence the administration of President Emil Constantinescu and the leadership of institutions of the Romanian state, as the following discussion of the case elucidates.


On 5 April 1999, the so-called “Olaru case” first came into the public eye at a specially convened news conference at the Hotel Bucuresti (“Ziua,” 6 April 1999). Presenting what they maintained was incontrovertible proof that the December 1989 events were from start to finish part of a KGB-engineered coup d’etat were: Sorin Rosca Stanescu, editor in chief of the daily “Ziua”; Serban Sandulescu, a senator representing the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), vice president of the Senate’s Defense Committee, and head of the third parliamentary commission to investigate the December 1989 events; and Stefan Radoi, a former “Ziua” advisor and assistant to Sandulescu in his capacity as head of the aforementioned parliamentary commission.

The three explained how former Militia Sergeant Petre Olaru had approached President Emil Constantinescu in late 1997 with evidence of the KGB’s role in the December 1989 events; how the state secretary for the Interior Ministry, General Teodor Zaharia, had conducted three hypnosis sessions with Olaru in order to “maximize Olaru’s ‘complete memory'”; and how in a meeting the previous night at the Presidential Palace, Constantinescu had allegedly asked Radoi to investigate the allegations of KGB involvement. As proof of Olaru’s revelations they apparently showed excerpts from a fourth hypnosis session conducted with Olaru (which was shown on the Prima TV station). The next morning’s edition of “Ziua” printed a copy of a letter the newspaper had sent to a whole series of Western embassies and well-known Western media outlets and watchdog organizations — including CNN and Reporteurs sans Frontiers — requesting “international protection for the witness Petre Olaru” (“Ziua,” 6 April 1999).

Olaru had an amazing story to tell. December 1989 had found Olaru as a simple policeman in the village of Crevedia in Dambovita county in the south of the country, not far from Bucharest. Actors, journalists, and intellectuals had reportedly made a habit of staying in summer houses on Lake Crevedia. On 14 December 1989 — therefore a day prior to the first demonstrations in Timisoara that were to spark Ceausescu’s downfall — Olaru claimed he made “a routine inspection” of film director George Vitanidis’ house ( Olaru in “Ziua,” 6 April 1999). Olaru said that Vitanidis had been suspected of engaging in illegal currency transactions and that this was the motivation for the inspection of his premises. To his astonishment, Olaru claimed, among Vitanidis’s undergarments he allegedly found an unopened letter, sealed with the insignia of the Soviet Union on the back.

When Olaru opened and read the letter, he discovered that it was a detailed description of plans for a Soviet-backed coup d’etat, including the names of those who were to act in conjunction with the plan. It spoke of a “group of 60 excursionists with cars who were in Buzau and would disperse to the specified place” — in other words, of “tourists.” It even specified how many people it was anticipated would die in the unfolding of the coup: “there will be 30,000-40,000 deaths,” the letter read, but hastened to add, “it will be worth it.” Vitanidis, the letter went on to say, had been selected to film the historic events, because the Soviets’ original choice, film director Sergiu Nicolaescu, had changed his mind.

According to Olaru, he informed his superiors and later that day Securitate Director General Iulian Vlad came to Crevedia, leafed through the letter, and took possession of it, instructing Olaru not to mention its contents to anyone. Then, a week later, on 21 December — thus in the midst of the upheaval and bloodshed in Timisoara — army Chief of Staff General Stefan Guse showed up in Crevedia to try to find out the contents of the letter, of which by now he had heard. Ceausescu was overthrown the next day…but this was only the beginning of Olaru’s ordeal.


After Ion Iliescu, Petre Roman, and many of the others mentioned in the letter seized power in December 1989, Olaru claimed he became a focal point of attention among the country’s new leaders. Prior to writing to President Constantinescu in late 1997, Olaru maintains that he was approached by a series of political celebrities, all either wanting to know the contents of the letter Olaru had allegedly seen (and of which he was no longer in possession) or warning him of the trouble he would encounter if he ever disclosed its contents. Olaru alleged that he was repeatedly offered large sums of money and other inducements, but consistently rejected the offers.

A copy of the “Report to Emil Constantinescu” Petre Olaru submitted to the Romanian president in late 1997 detailed the alleged approaches and threats as the following synopsis shows:

January 1990: Prime Minister Petre Roman comes to Crevedia and tells Olaru, “Sir, you are the man who can destroy NUMBER ONE [i.e. Iliescu],” and offers him help.

May-June 1990: General Nicolae Militaru, also mentioned in the letter as a co-conspirator, tries on several occasions to get Olaru to come to Sinaia to “discuss some problems.” Olaru refuses to meet with him.

Early 1991: Director Sergiu Nicolaescu travels to Crevedia and tells Olaru, “…don’t talk about anything with anyone — even in the future.”

March 1993: General Adrian Nitoi tries to ply Olaru with whiskey, but Olaru keeps mum.

June 1993: General Gheorghe Ionescu Danescu, minister of the interior, demands to know what Olaru knows; Olaru tells him he does not know anything.

September 1994: General Iulian Vlad tells Olaru not to worry, he won’t talk.

August 1995: Colonel Stoica calls on Olaru to offer him a position in the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), but Olaru rejects it.

Summer 1995: Editor Ion Cristoiu offers Olaru 5 million lei to reveal what he knows, but in vain.

1995: Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor’s sister and Defense Minister Taracila contact Olaru trying to get him to talk, but to no avail.

February 1996: Corneliu Vadim Tudor offers Olaru 100 million lei to talk and then offers an additional 200 million lei when Olaru won’t accept. Olaru continues to refuse to talk.

May 1996: Former Foreign Minister Adrian Severin contacts Olaru.

June 1996: Former Minister of Finance Florin Georgescu comes calling.

May-October 1996: General Buzea from the SRI tries to arrange a meeting with SRI General Marcu; Olaru refuses.

June-July 1996: General Suceava wishes to get in touch with Olaru.

Summer 1996: General Tepelea tries the same, also unsuccessfully.

September 1996: General Dumitru Iliescu of the Presidential Guard and Protection Service offers Olaru a transfer, an embassy post, or early retirement. Olaru turns him down on all accounts.

1997: Journalist Petre Mihai Bacanu of “Romania libera” unsuccessfully attempts to get Olaru to talk.

March 1997: Petre Roman comes calling again.

April 1997: The so-called “Refrigerator King,” Novolan, an influential member of the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) local branch, approaches Olaru.

May 1997: Two men sent on the orders of “Cotroceni” by Interior Minister Dejeu contact Olaru. (“Ziua,” 6 April 1999, emphasis in the original)

It would appear that Olaru had become — without a doubt — the most sought-after man in Romania!


On 7 April, “Ziua” published the response of Presidential Adviser for Defense and National Security Dorin Marian to the claims made by Olaru and promoted by the daily “Ziua,” (“Ziua,” 7 April 1999). Marian acknowledged that he had known of the “Olaru case” since late 1997. In November 1997, Sandulescu and Radoi had met with President Constantinescu to discuss the case. In December 1997, Olaru had sent his report to the Presidency. In his statement, Marian highlighted the reasons he had informed President Constantinescu in the fall of 1998 that he had concluded that Olaru’s claims were “baseless” and “an ingenious combination of speculation that circulated in the mass media, especially during 1990 and 1991.”

Marian pointed out that there was no extant copy of the document Olaru claimed to have come across in Vitanidis’s home. Moreover, he noted it would be highly unusual that a letter detailing such prized secrets should have displayed such amateurish “tradecraft,” without any effort at concealing names and operational instructions in “code words.” The dates on which certain events were said to have transpired strained credulity — for example, General Guse is known to have been in Timisoara from the 17 until the morning of 22 December and thus could not have been in Crevedia on 21 December as Olaru maintained.

Marian also commented that Olaru appeared to have displayed an amazingly insubordinate attitude for a Romanian noncommissioned officer faced with the repeated orders and threats of military and political superiors: “If these events had really happened, it is hard to believe that he would still be working for the Interior Ministry!” In four months of tapping Olaru’s phone, Marian stated that Olaru received no threats and that in the conversations Olaru did have with notable personages they appeared not to know or recall who Olaru was. Finally, Marian expressed skepticism as to why Olaru was subjected to hypnosis rather than a lie-detector machine, and was cynical about the fact that Olaru had requested of the Presidency that he be granted an ambassadorial post abroad as a “means of enforcing his protection.”

Cornel Nistorescu, editor in chief of the daily “Evenimentul Zilei,” a competitor of “Ziua,” and a sometimes protagonist in journalistic controversies with “Ziua” director Rosca Stanescu, was also having none of Olaru’s hypnotic or uninduced recollections. In editorials on 7 and 8 April, he wrote sarcastically of his own dream, how he and Nicolae Ceausescu had bathed together and Ceausescu had invited him to travel in the presidential helicopter (“Evenimentul Zilei,” 7 and 8 April 1999). Nistorescu suggested that claims as outlandish as Olaru’s were not even worthy of a bad spy novel.

Nistorescu also noted how this was not the first he had heard of Olaru. He too had been aware of Olaru’s existence and allegations for some time: for one and a half years Olaru’s tale had been persistently and skillfully floated his way. As early as the summer of 1997, he revealed, two individuals had attempted to put him in touch with Olaru. The question was why? Nistorescu observed. According to Nistorescu, “one gets the feeling that insistent efforts are made to march [us] in the direction of Olaru’s tale.”


In response to the dismissive remarks of Presidential Adviser Dorin Marian and presumably to the cynical commentary of the likes of Cornel Nistorescu, Sorin Rosca Stanescu, Senator Sandulescu, and Stefan Radoi sought to fight back. Rosca Stanescu penned an editorial entitled, “Who is being duplicitous? Dorin Marian or Costin Georgescu? Or Both?,” in which he insinuated that Marian and perhaps even SRI Director Georgescu — who had failed to comment on the validity of Olaru’s charges — were either too fearful, compromised, or complicit to admit the KGB’s role in the December 1989 events (“Ziua,” 9 April 1999). Sandulescu and Radoi maintained that “Sergeant Olaru isn’t crazy!” and “Ziua” published even more details of what they claimed was evidence that “Olaru’s ordeal continued even into 1998” (“Ziua,” 8 and 9 April 1999).

If 1990-97 had seen a parade of political celebrities making a pilgrimage to Crevedia trying to get Olaru to talk or remain silent, the year 1998, according to the details published by “Ziua,” was even busier. After writing to President Constantinescu, Olaru claimed, he had been contacted by the following personages in 1998, as insistent as ever about the information Olaru held and willing to offer even larger sums of money than in previous years:

— Novolan, the PDSR “Refrigerator King,” returns — this time offering 200 million lei.

— The director of Antena-1 TV in Targoviste offers Olaru $40,000-$50,000 to talk.

— General Victor Atanasie Stanculescu offers “unlimited amounts of money or gold.”

— General Paul Sarpe of the army’s Defense Intelligence unit threatens Olaru’s son.

— More representatives of the PRM seek out Olaru.

— Two more unidentified generals offer Olaru 400-500 million lei. (“Ziua,” 9 April 1999).

“Ziua” continued to defend the veracity of Olaru’s story in the days that followed. It published portions of Olaru’s three hypnosis sessions with General Teodor Zaharia on 7, 12, and 22 November 1998. Sorin Rosca Stanescu became more explicit in his accusations against those who had cast doubt on Olaru’s account. In an editorial entitled “Fear of the KGB,” he excoriated the “cowardly fear of the government,” and its wishful thinking that the KGB would “simply go away.” He claimed that by now the SRI had weighed in — although he did not say whether it had been SRI Director Costin Georgescu, whom he had criticized for his silence in an earlier editorial — and that the SRI had informed him that “they don’t believe Marian’s theory that Olaru is crazy” (“Ziua,” 14 April 1999). Rosca Stanescu even insinuated that Dorin Marian himself might possibly have KGB ties — thus explaining his reluctance to believe Olaru or take Olaru’s charges seriously.

Stefan Radoi also stepped out of the shadows, so to speak. When “Ziua” first broke the Olaru story on 6 April 1999, Rosca Stanescu had mentioned Radoi as a former “information officer” until 1982, who had in 1990 become a close confidant of Corneliu Coposu, the long-persecuted head of the outlawed National Peasant Party during the communist era. In an interview with “Ziua” on 18 April 1999, Radoi admitted more precisely that he had been a member of the information service of the Securitate’s USLA between 1979 and 1982. In the interview, Radoi alleged that “KGB and GRU agents were openly involved in the December 1989 coup d’etat,” that the “terrorists” in December 1989 had acted to “create enough panic in order for the ‘luminaries’ of the ‘revolution’ [i.e. Iliescu, et al.] to seize power,” and that the USLA troops accused of being the “terrorists” during the events had never fired on anyone, as they had never been trained in guerrilla warfare, contrary to what had been alleged (“Ziua,” 19 April 1999). According to Radoi, Zaharia had been frightened by what he heard during the hypnosis sessions with Olaru — thus causing him to abscond with the documents and tapes of the sessions — and that “many of those mentioned on the Olaru list want to kill him.”

Radoi’s admission that he had been an USLA officer was significant — especially in light of the fact that Rosca Stanescu himself happens to have been an informer for the USLA (between 1975 and 1985). Given that it was precisely the USLA that had been accused during the December events as being responsible for the lion’s share of the bloodshed, it is difficult to regard their past as wholly irrelevant to the fact that they were now promoting a story that exonerated the USLA — even if indirectly — of being the “terrorists” and thus of responsibility for the bloodshed. In light of Radoi’s position as an advisor to Senator Serban Sandulescu, Radoi’s account of the December 1989 events and his claims regarding role of the KGB and GRU provided some insight as to the possible influence Radoi may have had upon Sandulescu in the latter’s capacity as head of the parliamentary commission investigating the December 1989 events. Sandulescu had published his conclusions on those events in a 1996 book entitled “The Coup d’etat that Abducted the Revolution,” a work that alleged that the December 1989 events were essentially a Soviet-engineered coup (Sandulescu, 1996).


If the “Olaru case” was evidence of the still-troubling cultural and institutional legacies of the communist era, it was also evidence of the intrinsic benefits of the journalistic and personal competition characteristic of the postcommunist era (for a good overview of trends in the Romanian media’s postcommunist development, see Gross, 1996). As we have seen, Cornel Nistorescu was having none of Rosca Stanescu’s latest, proclaimed journalistic coup. But more important and promising from the journalistic point of view was the investigative response of the journalists at the daily “Cotidianul.”

On 14 April 1999, “Cotidianul” published an interview with Dimitrie Vitanidis, the son of the man in whose house Olaru claimed he had found the “key to the secrets of the revolution” — the letter with Soviet insignia unearthed during a “routine inspection.” The interview was with George Vitanidis’s son precisely because the director was no longer in a position to defend himself — he had died in 1994. According to Dimitrie Vitanidis, no one — including the staff from “Ziua” and the “officer” Radoi who had promoted the allegations against his father — had bothered to contact his family. The younger Vitanidis dwelt on the fact that if the letter had existed, as Olaru suggested, the KGB would have had to have been complete idiots. But he also said that the Vitanidis’s chauffeur mentioned by Olaru did not in fact exist, and that there had been no such search of the house at Crevedia — mainly because the house was uninhabited in December 1989 because it was too cold to stay in during the winter.

Approximately a week later, on 20 April 1999, an extraordinary news conference took place in Crevedia. Present were the mayor of Crevedia, the next-door neighbor of the Vitanidis home in Crevedia, and a group of peasants from a neighboring village who had had run-ins with the police officer Olaru during the Ceausescu era. The Vitanidis family neighbor, Ionel Dumitru, stated that he did not recall either the house-search or the existence of the alleged Vitanidis chauffeur mentioned by Olaru. The peasants recounted Olaru’s less-than-stellar human rights record prior to December 1989. The town mayor opined that he believed Olaru had been “‘helped’ to invent this subject.” Irina Dumitrescu of “Cotidianul,” who rather cynically noted Radoi’s previous affiliation with the USLA, remarked that no one from “Ziua,” Prima TV, or Senator Sandulescu’s staff was in attendance at the news conference (“Cotidianul,” 21 April 1999; see also “Evenimentul Zilei,” 21 April 1999).


It is practically surreal that well over a decade after the December 1989 events, a well-known and perceptive critical intellectual and journalist from Romania could unabashedly argue to a Western audience in the pages of the journal “East European Politics and Societies” that accounts of the December 1989 events fall into two categories: those advocated by the remnants of the communist party-state (including the Securitate) and those advocated by “critical intellectuals, journalists, and representatives of the re-founded ‘historical parties.'” According to Dan Pavel — himself apparently a believer of Olaru’s tall tale (see his article in “Ziua.” 20 April 1999) — “critical intellectuals, journalists, and representatives of the re-founded ‘historical parties'” differ in their assessment of December 1989 because they have “asserted that Iliescu and his group were the masterminds of those bloody events (more than 1,000 victims) involving ‘terrorists’ that nobody ever saw in trials” (Pavel, 2001, p. 184). Pavel’s clear-cut dichotomy of good versus evil and truth versus falsehood makes for a good morality play. Unfortunately, it bears little resemblance to reality and is, hence, deeply misleading. Perhaps most distressing of all, it is indicative of just how poorly many who have the capacity — wanted or unwanted — to shape public opinion in Romania know the story of what the former Securitate and its sympathizers have argued about December 1989, as this three-part article has demonstrated.

(Richard Andrew Hall received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Indiana University in 1997. He currently works and lives in northern Virginia. Comments can be directed to him at


“Cotidianul” (Bucharest), 1999, web edition,

“Evenimentul zilei” (Bucharest), 1999, web edition,

Gross, P., 1996, Mass Media in Revolution and National Development: The Romanian Laboratory, (Ames: Iowa State Press).

Pavel, D., 2001, “The Textbooks Scandal and Rewriting History in Romania–Letter from Bucharest,” in “East European Politics and Societies,” Vol. 15, no. 1 (Winter) pp., 179-189.

Sandulescu, S., 1996, Decembrie ’89: Lovitura de Stat a Confiscat Revolutia Romana [December ’89: The Coup d’tat Abducted the Romanian Revolution], (Bucharest: Editura Omega Press Investment).

“Ziua” (Bucharest), 1999, web edition,

Compiled by Michael Shafir

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Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on September 17, 2010

Submitted February 2002, cleared without changes by CIA Publications Review Board March 2002

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17 April 2002, Volume 4, Number 8


By Richard Andrew Hall

Part 2: ‘Tourists Are Terrorists and Terrorists are Tourists with Guns…’ *
The distance traveled by Securitate disinformation on the December 1989 events can be breathtaking. Bubbling up through the springs of popular rumor and speculation, it flows into the tributaries of the media as peripheral subplots to other stories and eventually wends its way — carried upon the waves of consensus and credibility that flow from its acceptance among prominent Romanian journalists and intellectuals — into the writings of Western journalists, analysts, and academics. Popular myths, which either have their origins in disinformation disseminated by the former Securitate, or which originated in the conspiratorial musings of the populace but proved propitious for the former secret police and thus were appropriated, nurtured, and reinjected into popular discourse, are today routinely repeated both inside and outside Romania. Frequently, this dissemination occurs without the faintest concern over, or knowledge of, the myth’s etymology or much thought given to the broader context and how it plays into the issue of the Securitate’s institutional culpability.

Take, for example, the “tourist” myth — perhaps the former Securitate’s most fanciful and enduring piece of disinformation. This myth suggests that in December 1989, Soviet, Hungarian, and other foreign agents posing as “tourists” instigated and/or nurtured anti-Ceausescu demonstrations in Timisoara, Bucharest, and elsewhere, and/or were responsible for the “terrorist” violence after 22 December that claimed over 900 victims, or almost 90 percent of those killed during the Revolution. The implication of such allegations is clear: It questions the spontaneity — and hence, inevitably, to a certain degree, the legitimacy — of the anti-Ceausescu demonstrations and the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime; it raises doubt about the popular legitimacy of those who seized power during the events; and it suggests that those who seized power lied about who was responsible for the terrorist violence and may ultimately have themselves been responsible for the bloodshed.

A robust exegesis of the “tourist” hypothesis was outlined on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the December 1989 events in the pages of the daily “Ziua” by Vladimir Alexe. Alexe has been a vigorous critic of Ion Iliescu and the former communists of the National Salvation Front (FSN) who took power in December 1989, maintaining that they overthrew Ceausescu in a Soviet-sponsored coup d’etat:

“The outbreak of the December events was preceded by an odd fact characteristic of the last 10 years. After 10 December 1989, an unprecedented number of Soviet ‘tourists’ entered the country. Whole convoys of Lada automobiles, with approximately four athletic men per car, were observed at the borders with the Moldovan Socialist Republic, Bulgaria, and Hungary. A detail worthy of mention: The Soviet ‘tourists’ entered Romania without passports, which suggests the complicity of higher-ups. According to the statistics, an estimated 67,000 Soviet ‘tourists’ entered Romania in December 1989” (“Ziua”, 24 December 1999).

It is worth noting that Alexe considers elsewhere in this series of articles from December 1999 that the Russian “tourists” were an omnipresent, critical, and catalytic factor in the collapse of communism throughout ALL of Eastern Europe in December 1989.

Nor has the “tourist” hypothesis been confined strictly to the realm of investigative journalism. Serban Sandulescu, a bitter critic of Ion Iliescu and the former communists who seized power in December 1989, led the third parliamentary commission to investigate the December 1989 events as a Senator for the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD). In 1996, he published the findings of his commission as a book titled “December ’89: The Coup d’Etat That Abducted The Romanian Revolution.” He commented on the “tourists” as follows:

“From the data we have obtained and tabulated it appears that we are talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000-6,000 ‘tourists’…. Soviet agents [who] came under the cover of being ‘tourists’ either in large organized groups that came by coach, or in smaller groups of 3-4 people that fanned out in Lada and Moskvich automobiles. They covered the whole country, being seen in all the important cities in the country. They contributed to the stoking of the internal revolutionary process, supervising its unfolding, and they fought [during the so-called ‘terrorist’ phase after 22 December]…” (Sandulescu, 1996, pp. 35, 45).

Not surprisingly, the “tourist” myth originated with none other than Nicolae Ceausescu. This myth inevitably implies illegitimate and cynical “foreign intervention,” and Ceausescu used it to make sense of what were — probably genuinely, for him — the unimaginable and surreal antiregime protests which began in Timisoara on 15 December 1989.

In an emergency meeting of the Romanian equivalent of the politburo (CPEX) on the afternoon of Sunday, 17 December 1989 — the afternoon on which regime forces were to open fire on the anti-Ceausescu demonstrators in Timisoara, killing scores and wounding hundreds — Ceausescu alleged that foreign interference and manipulation were behind the protests:

“Everything that has happened and is happening in Germany, in Czechoslovakia, and in Bulgaria now, and in the past in Poland and Hungary, are things organized by the Soviet Union with American and Western help” (cited in Bunea, 1994, p. 34).

That Ceausescu saw “tourists” specifically playing a nefarious role in stimulating the Timisoara protests is made clear by his order at the close of this emergency meeting:

“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, with the exception 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” (cited in Bunea, 1994, p. 34).

Filip Teodorescu, who as head of the Securitate’s Counterespionage Directorate (Directorate III) had been dispatched to Timisoara and was later arrested for his role in the repression there, maintained in March 1990 at his trial that he detained “foreign agents” during the Timisoara events (“Romania libera,” 9 March 1990). In a book that appeared in 1992, Teodorescu described as follows the events in Timisoara on Monday, 18 December — that is, after the bloody regime repression of anti-Ceausescu demonstrators the night before:

“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'” (Teodorescu, 1992, p. 92).

Teodorescu appears here to be attempting to account for the fact that on Monday, 18 December 1989 — presumably as a consequence of Ceausescu’s tirade the afternoon before about the malicious intent of virtually all “tourists” — Romania announced, in typically Orwellian fashion, that it would not accept any more tourists because of a “shortage of hotel rooms” and because “weather conditions are not suitable for tourism” (Belgrade Domestic Service, 20 December 1989). Ironically, the only ones exempted from this ban were “Soviet travelers coming home from shopping trips to Yugoslavia” (!) (AFP, 19 December 1989).

Radu Balan, former Timis County party boss, picks up the story from there. While serving a prison sentence for his complicity in the Timisoara repression, in 1991 Balan told one of Ceausescu’s most famous “court poets,” Adrian Paunescu, that on the night of 18-19 December — during which in reality some 40 cadavers were secretly transported from Timisoara’s main hospital to Bucharest for cremation (reputedly on Elena Ceausescu’s personal order) — he too witnessed the role of these “foreign agents”:

“We had been receiving information, in daily bulletins, from the Securitate, that far more people were returning from Yugoslavia and Hungary than were going there and about the presence of Lada automobiles filled with Soviets. I saw them at the border and the border posts, and the cars were full. I wanted to know where and what they were eating and how they were crossing the border and going through cities and everywhere. More telling, on the night of 18-19 December, when I was at a fire at the I.A.M. factory, in front of the county hospital, I spotted 11 white ‘Lada’ automobiles at 1 a.m. in the morning. They pretended to ask me the road to Buzias.The 11 white Ladas had Soviet plates, not Romanian ones, and were in front of the hospital” (“Totusi iubirea,” no. 43, 24-31 October 1991).

Nicu Ceausescu, Nicolae’s son and most likely heir and party secretary in Sibiu at the time of the Revolution, claimed that he also had to deal with enigmatic “tourists” during these historic days. From his prison cell in 1990, Nicu recounted how on the night of 20 December 1989, a top party official came to inform him that the State Tourist Agency was requesting that he — the party secretary for Sibiu! — “find lodgings for a group of tourists who did not have accommodation.” He kindly obliged and made the appropriate arrangements (interview with Nicu Ceausescu in “Zig-Zag,”, no. 20, 21-27 August 1990).

Nor was Gheorghe Roset, head of the Militia in the city of Caransebes at the time of the Revolution, able to elude a visit from the “tourists” during these days. Writing from his prison cell in January 1991, he recounted:

“Stationed on the night of 20-21 December 1989 at headquarters, I received the order to issue an authorization for repairs for a Lada automobile that had overturned in Soceni, in Caras-Severin county, an order that was approved by the chief of the county Militia with the clarification that the passengers of this car were military personnel from the USSR. I was more than a little surprised when this car arrived in Caransebes and I saw that it was part of a convoy of 20 cars, all of the same make and with 3-4 passengers per car. Lengthy discussions with the person who had requested the authorization confirmed for me the accident and the fact that this convoy of cars was coming from Timisoara, on its way to Bucharest, as well as the fact that these were colleagues of ours from the country in question. He presented a passport in order to receive the documents he had requested, although not even today can I say with certainty that he belonged to this or that country. A short time after the convoy left on its way, it was reported to me that five of the cars had headed in the direction of Hateg, while the more numerous group headed for Bucharest” (“Europa,” no. 20, March 1991).

A September 1990 open letter authored by “some officers of the former Securitate” — most likely from the Fifth Directorate charged with guarding Ceausescu and the rest of the Romanian communist leadership — and addressed to the xenophobic, neo-Ceausist weekly “Democratia” (which was edited by Eugen Florescu, one of Ceausescu’s chief propagandists and speechwriters), sought to summarize the entire record of the “tourists” wanderings and activities in December 1989 as follows:

“11-15 [December] — a massive penetration of so-called Hungarian tourists takes place in Timisoara and Soviet tourists in Cluj;

15-16 [December] — upon the initiative of these groups, protests of support for the sinister ‘Priest [Father Laszlo Tokes of Timisoara]’ break out;

16-17-18 [December] — in the midst of the general state of confusion building in the city, the army intervenes to reestablish order;

— this provides a long-awaited opportunity for the ‘tourists’ to start — in the midst of warning shots in the air — to shoot and stab in the back the demonstrators among whom they are located and whom they have incited;…

19-20-21 — a good part of the ‘tourists’ and their brethren among the locals begin to migrate — an old habit — from the main cities of Transylvania, according to plan, in order to destabilize: Cluj, Sibiu, Alba Iulia, Targu Mures, Satu Mare, Oradea, etc.” (“Democratia,” no. 36, 24-30 September 1990).

The authors of this chronology then maintain that this scene was replicated in Bucharest on 21 December, causing the famous disruption of Ceausescu’s speech and the death of civilians in University Square that evening.

Not to be out-done, Cluj Securitate chief Ion Serbanoiu claimed in a 1991 interview that, as of 21 December 1989, there were over 800 Russian and Hungarian tourists, mostly driving almost brand-new Lada automobiles (but also Dacia and Wartburg cars), in the city (interview with Angela Bacescu in “Europa,” no. 55, December 1991). In February 1991 during his trial, former Securitate Director General Iulian Vlad, not surprisingly, also spoke of “massive groups of Soviet tourists…the majority were men…deploy[ing] in a coordinated manner in a convoy of brand-new Lada automobiles” (see Bunea, 1994, pp. 460-461), while the infamous Pavel Corut has written of “the infiltration on Romanian territory of groups of Soviet commandos (“Spetsnaz”) under the cover of being tourists” (Corut, 1994).

I vividly recall early on in my research of the December 1989 events being told emphatically, and not for the last time, by a journalist at the Cluj weekly “Nu” — a publication staunchly critical of the Iliescu regime — that the guest lists of Romanian hotels for December 1989 were nowhere to be found because they contained the secrets of the Revolution. Certainly, this rumor has intersected with the “tourist” myth and has been used as confirmation of the latter.

Significantly, Marius Mioc has sought to investigate the reality of this matter in Timisoara (Mioc, 2000). The numbers provided to the 17 December Timisoara Association (which Mioc heads) by all of Timisoara’s hotels and by the State Tourist Agency for Timisoara lay bare two of the key components upon which the “tourist” myth has relied: a) that the records of the December 1989 manifests do not exist, and b) that there was an unusually dramatic increase in the number of foreign tourists staying in Romanian hotels during this period. In fact, the opposite proves to be true, the number of foreign tourists — and specifically those from other “socialist” countries — declined in December 1989 both in comparison to the previous December and in comparison to November 1989!

Of course, as we have seen, proponents of the “tourist” myth have also suggested that many of the alleged foreign agents posing as tourists “avoided staying in hotels.” But this still raises the question of why the Securitate allowed them into the country in the first place and why they then seemed unable to follow their movements and prevent their activities. A 1991 open letter by “a group of [Romanian Army] officers from the Timisoara garrison” perhaps provides the best riposte to the dubious logic underlying the “tourist” hypothesis:

“If they [the tourists] appeared suspect to the special forces of the Securitate and military counterintelligence, why did they not attempt to keep them under surveillance? During this period, did the Securitate and the counterintelligence officers not know how to do their jobs? Did they somehow forget why they were paid such weighty sums from the state budget?” (“Romania libera,” 15 October 1991).

One must also ask: If it was precisely Soviet tourists who were most suspected at the time of being up to no good in the country, then why was it precisely they who were the sole group among “tourists” in the country at the time to be permitted to stay and go about their business unhindered?

In commenting in August 1990 upon how the details of the state’s case against him had changed since early in the year, Nicolae Ceausescu’s son, Nicu, ironically highlighted how Securitate forces had begun to fade away from the historiography of the December 1989 events. In the August 1990 interview from his prison cell with Ion Cristoiu’s “Zig-Zag” (mentioned above), Nicu discusses the “tourists” for which he was asked to find accommodations in the context of a group of mysterious passengers who had arrived by plane from Bucharest on the evening of 20 December 1989. We know that in the period immediately following these events, the then-military prosecutor, Anton Socaciu, had alleged that these passengers from Bucharest were members of the Securitate’s elite USLA unit (Special Unit for Antiterrorist Warfare) and were responsible for much of the bloodshed that occurred in Sibiu during the December events (for a discussion, see Hall, 1996). In August 1990, however, Nicu wryly observed:

“…[T]he Military Prosecutor gave me two variants. In the first part of the inquest, they [the flight’s passengers] were from the Interior Ministry. Later, however, in the second half of the investigation, when the USLA and those from the Interior Ministry began, so-to-speak, to pass ‘into the shadows,’ — after which one no longer heard anything of them — they [the passengers] turned out to be simple citizens…” (interview with Nicu Ceausescu in “Zig-Zag,” no. 20, 21-27 August 1990).

The impact of this “reconsideration” by the authorities could be seen in the comments of Socaciu’s successor as military prosecutor in charge of the Sibiu case, Marian Valer (see Hall 1997a, pp. 314-315). Valer commented in September 1990 that investigations yielded the fact that there were 37 unidentified passengers on board the 20 December flight from Bucharest and that many of the other passengers maintained that “on the right side of the plane there had been a group of tall, athletic men, dressed in sporting attire, many of them blond, who had raised their suspicions.” While investigations revealed that during this time there “were many Soviet tourists staying in Sibiu’s hotels,” they also established that “military units were fired upon from Securitate safehouses located around these units as of the afternoon of 22 December, after the overturning of the Ceausescu regime.” He thus carefully concludes:

“As far as the unidentified passengers are concerned, there are two possible variants: Either they were USLA fighters sent to defend Nicu Ceausescu, or they were Soviet agents sent to act with the intent of overthrowing the Ceausescu regime” (“Expres,” no. 33, September 1990).

Thus, as the “tourists” began to enter the historiography of the December 1989 events, so the Securitate — specifically the USLA — began to disappear.

How, then, did the “tourist” myth gain credibility and acceptance in the Romanian press, given its rather obvious pedigree in the remnants of the Ceausescu regime, especially among former high-ranking Securitate officers and others most in need of an alibi/diversion to save their careers and avoid the possibility of going to jail? Although the reference to “tourists” during the December events probably entered the lexicon of mainstream reporting on the Revolution as early as April 1990 — not insignificantly, first in the pages of Ion Cristoiu’s weekly “Zig-Zag,” it appears — it was in particular journalist Sorin Rosca Stanescu who gave the theme legitimacy in the mainstream press.

Without specifying the term “tourists” — but clearly speaking in the same vein — Stanescu was probably the first to articulate the thesis most precisely and to tie the Soviet angle to it. In June 1990 in a piece entitled “Is The Conspiracy of Silence Breaking Down?” in the sharply anti-government daily “Romania libera,” Stanescu wrote:

“And still in connection with the breaking down of the conspiracy of silence, in the army there is more and more insistent talk about the over 4,000 Lada cars with two men per car that traveled many different roads in the days before the Revolution and then disappeared” (“Romania libera,” 14 June 1990).

Stanescu’s article was vigorously anti-FSN and anti-Iliescu and left little doubt that this thesis was part of the “unofficial” history of the December events, injurious to the new leaders, and something they did not wish to see published or wish to clarify.

But it was Stanescu’s April 1991 article in “Romania libera,” entitled “Is Iliescu Being Protected By The KGB?,” that truly gave impetus to the “tourist” thesis. Stanescu wrote:

“A KGB officer wanders in France. He is losing his patience and searching for a way to get to Latin America. Yesterday I met him in Paris. He talked to me after finding out that I was a Romanian journalist. He fears the French press. He knows Romanian and was in Timisoara in December 1989. As you will recall, persistent rumors have circulated about the existence on Romanian soil of over 2,000 Lada automobiles with Soviet tags and two men in each car. Similar massive infiltrations were witnessed in December 1990, too, with the outbreak of a wave of strikes and demonstrations. What were the KGB doing in Romania? Witness what the anonymous Soviet officer related to me in Paris:

‘There existed an intervention plan that for whatever reason was not activated. I received the order to enter Romania on 14 December and to head for Timisoara. Myself and my colleague were armed. During the events, we circulated in the military zone around Calea Girocului [Giriocul Road]. Those who headed toward Bucharest had the same mission. Several larger cities were targeted. We were to open fire in order to create a state of confusion. I never, however, received such an order. I left Romania on 26 December.’

I don’t have any reason to suspect the validity of these revelations. This short confession is naturally incomplete, but not inconclusive. What purpose would this elaborate, but aborted, KGB plan have had? The only plausible explanation is that it wasn’t necessary for KGB agents to intervene. The events were unfolding in the desired direction without need for the direct intervention of the Soviets. But this leads to other questions: What did the Ceausescu couple know, but were not allowed to say [prior to their hurried execution]? Why is Securitate General Vlad being held in limbo? To what degree has President Iliescu maintained ties to the Soviets? What are the secret clauses of the Friendship Treaty recently signed in Moscow? Is Iliescu being protected by the KGB or not? Perhaps the SRI [the Securitate’s institutional successor, the Romanian Information Service] would like to respond to these questions?”

Stanescu’s April 1991 article did not go unnoticed — despite its nondescript placement on page eight — and has since received recognition and praise from what might seem unexpected corners. For example, previously-discussed former Securitate Colonel Filip Teodorescu cited extensive excerpts from Stanescu’s article in his 1992 book on the December events, and he added cryptically:

“Moreover, I don’t have any reason to suspect that the journalist Sorin Rosca Stanescu would have invented a story in order to come to the aid of those accused, by the courts or by public opinion, for the results of the tragic events of December 1989” (Teodorescu, 1992, pp. 92-94).

Radu Balan, former Timis County party secretary, imprisoned for his role in the December events, has also invoked Stanescu’s April 1991 article as proof of his revisionist view that “tourists” rather than “non-existent ‘terrorists'” were to blame for the December 1989 bloodshed:

“…[W]hile at Jilava [the jail where he was imprisoned at the time of the interview, in October 1991], I read ‘Romania libera’ from 18 April. And Rosca Stanescu writes from Paris that a KGB agent who deserted the KGB and is in transit to the U.S. stated that on 18 December [1989] he had the mission to create panic on Calea Girocului [a thoroughfare in Timisoara]. What is more, on the 18th, these 11 cars were at the top of Calea Girocului, where I saw them. I was dumbfounded, I tell you. I didn’t tell anybody. Please study ‘Romania libera,’ the last page, from 18 April 1991” (“Totusi iubirea,” no. 43, 24-31 October1991).

In this regard, it would be irresponsible to totally discount the relevance of Rosca Stanescu’s past. Since December 1989, Stanescu has undeniably been a vigorous critic of, and made damaging revelations about, the Securitate’s institutional heir, the SRI, and the Iliescu regime, and he has frequently written ill of the former Securitate and the Ceausescu regime. Nevertheless, in 1992 it was leaked to the press — and Rosca Stanescu himself confirmed — that from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s he was an informer for the Securitate (for a discussion, see Hall, 1997b, pp. 111-113). What was significant, however, was precisely for which branch of the Securitate Rosca Stanescu had been an informer: the USLA.

Almost inevitably, the “tourist” thesis has made its way into Western academic literature. For example, in a book lauded by experts (see for example, Professor Archie Brown’s review in “Slavic Review,” Winter 1998), Jacques Levesque invokes as “rare evidence” that the Soviets were responsible for igniting and fanning the flames of the Timisoara uprising the following:

“…testimony of an imprisoned Securitate colonel who was freed in 1991 [he is referring to the aforementioned Filip Teodorescu]. He writes that the Securitate had noted the arrival of ‘numerous false Soviet tourists’ in Timisoara in early December, coming from Soviet Moldova. He also reports that a convoy of several Lada cars, with Soviet license plates and containing three to four men each, had refused to stop at a police checkpoint in Craiova. After the Romanian police opened fire and killed several men, he claims that the Soviet authorities recovered the bodies without issuing an official protest. To the extent that this information is absolutely correct, it would tend to prove the presence of Soviet agents in Romania (which no one doubts), without, however, indicating to us their exact role in the events” (Levesque, 1997, p. 197).

Levesque seems generally unaware of or concerned with the problematic nature of the source of this “rare evidence” and thus never really considers the possibility that the Securitate colonel is engaging in disinformation. This is indicative of how upside-down the understanding of the December 1989 events has become in the post-Ceausescu era — and of the influence of the far-reaching and generally unchallenged revisionism of the events within Romania itself — that Western writers invoking the thesis seem to accept the claims at face value, never even enunciating any doubt about why the Securitate source in question might seek to make such an argument.

* A memorable phrase from Andrei Codrescu’s PBS special “Road Scholar” of the early 1990s.

(Richard Andrew Hall received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Indiana University in 1997. He currently works and lives in northern Virginia. Comments can be directed to him at


AFP, 19 December 1989, in FBIS-EEU-89-242, 19 December 1989.

Belgrade Domestic Service, 1400 GMT 20 December 1989, in FBIS-EEU-89-243, 20 December 1989.

Brown, A., 1998, “Review of Jacques Levesque, The Enigma of 1989: The USSR and the Liberation of Eastern Europe,” in “Slavic Review,” Vol. 57, no. 4 (Winter), pp. 882-883.

Bunea, M., 1994, Praf in ochi: Procesul celor 24-1-2 [Mud in the Eyes: The Trial of the 24-1-2], (Bucharest: Editura Scripta).

Court, P., 1994, Cantecul Nemuririi [Song of Immortality], (Bucharest: Editura Miracol).

“Democratia” (Bucharest), 1990.

“Europa,” (Bucharest), 1991

“Expres,” (Bucharest), 1990.

Hall, R. A., 1996, “Ce demonstreaza probele balistice dupa 7 ani?” [Seven Years Later What Does the Ballistic Evidence Tell Us?] in “22” (Bucharest), 17-23 December.

Hall, R. A. 1997a, “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., 1997b, “The Dynamics of Media Independence in Post-Ceausescu Romania,” in O’Neil, P. H. (ed.) Post-Communism and the Media in Eastern Europe, (Portland, OR: Frank Cass), pp. 102-123.

Levesque, J., 1997, The Enigma of 1989: The USSR and the Liberation of Eastern Europe, (Berkeley: University of California Press).

Mioc, Marius, 2000, “Turisti straini in timpul revolutiei,” [Foreign Tourists During the Revolution]

“Romania libera” (Bucharest), 1990-91.

Sandulescu, S., 1996, Decembrie ’89: Lovitura de Stat a Confiscat Revolutia Romana [December ’89: The Coup d’tat Abducted the Romanian Revolution], (Bucharest: Editura Omega Press Investment).

Teodorescu, F., 1992, Un Risc Asumat: Timisoara, decembrie 1989, [An Assumed Risk: Timisoara, December 1989] (Bucharest: Editura Viitorul Romanesc).

“Totusi iubirea” (Bucharest), 1991.

“Ziua” (Bucharest), 1999.

“Zig-Zag” (Bucharest), 1990.

Compiled by Michael Shafir

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