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 ‘Tom Gallagher’

Sorin Rosca Stanescu, the Historiography of December 1989, and Romanianists

Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on October 10, 2014

(purely personal views as always, based on two decades of prior research and publications)

I, for one, haven’t forgotten….In recent days, some of those rushing to bury the journalist Sorin Rosca Stanescu–and to argue that they always knew and considered him a bad apple–are exactly the same people who conveniently turned a blind eye to Stanescu’s past as a Securitate collaborator, even after it became public knowledge in 1992.  They did so because it was ideologically and politically convenient.  They never asked at the time how or if that fact had affected his reporting before or after it became public knowledge…and in fact they still never have.  But then again there are always such people who, consciously or unconsciously, engage in the constant revision of their own personal history and selectively remember or forget past doubts, silences, or expressions of support as the situation dictates.

–One Romanian political analyst, Alina Mungiu, has castigated the political opposition and independent press for their response in cases such as that of Rosca Stanescu.  Mungiu suggests that an opportunistic double standard leads those opposed to the Iliescu regime to “draw an illogical difference between the ‘bad securisti” of those on the other side, whose head they demand, and those [securisti] who are ‘ours’, those of the ‘good’ world, like F.G. Marculescu, Sorin Rosca Stanescu, rehabilitated by Petre Mihai Bacanu [Romania Libera’s senior editor]…” [Richard A. Hall, “The Dynamics of Media Independence in Post-Ceausescu Romania,” Special Issue:  Post-Communism and the Media in Eastern Europe (ed. Patrick H. O’Neil), The Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics, Volume 12, no. 4 (December 1996)]


Back in late 1995/early 1996, fellow former Indiana University of Political Science Ph.D. Patrick H. O’Neil (at the time a Hungarianist) asked me if I wanted to participate in a special journal issue on the media in post-communist “Eastern Europe.” (I suppose I should be thankful that he and the publishers allowed me to publish a chapter as narrowly-focused as the one I did:  on coverage of the Romanian Revolution of December 1989 in the Romanian media.)  I could have written an anodyne, predictable Frankenstein-like chapter–Regime press bad; opposition press GOOOOD–that would have been easily accepted and cited by the Romanian studies community.  But by then that was impossible.  My dissertation year of 1993-1994 in Romania had truly undermined my previous views and understandings of many things in post-communist Romania that I had accepted as gospel before that field research.  On the other hand, I probably should have heeded the words of a professor who cautioned several years earlier about not publishing while still writing the dissertation, but I desperately needed a publication to keep any chance of an academic career a possibility (it didn’t work and if anything hurt me!).  Indeed, the years 1994-1996 were years of great confusion for me in working through what I had found to that point and full of false starts.  Therefore, I am not particularly proud of this chapter as it contains ideas and directions (it was written in March-May 1996) that in the face of evidence I was soon to abandon (i.e. yes, I made mistakes and I freely admit so!).  I did, however, get some things right, and one of those was the case of Sorin Rosca Stanescu.


Senior Romanianists, Vladimir Tismaneanu and Tom Gallagher, two leading authorities on opposite sides of the ocean in the English-speaking world, did not publish a word of dissent or questioning of Sorin Rosca Stanescu until the mid-2000s.  Indeed, Tom Gallagher’s 2005 Modern Romania continued to portray Stanescu in almost heroic terms.  Tismaneanu only seemed to have remembered Stanescu’s Securitate past in 2006 when Stanescu and Stanescu’s daily Ziua bitterly criticized him.  These things are verifiable.  Any doubts they may have had significantly never seem to have made it to print or the Internet until the mid-2000s at the earliest.  In fact, Tismaneanu still seemed to focus on the “good” Stanescu until quite recently, as the following excerpt about June 1990 makes clear:   ” …despre conversatiile cu Sorin Rosca-Stanescu (pe atunci unul dintre cei mai acerbi critici ai fesenismului) dar si cu Florin-Gabriel Marculescu, ziarist de o impresionanta tinuta morala, amandoi inca la Romania Libera,”

I recall in the mid-90s attempting to relate my doubts and misgivings about Stanescu’s reporting on December 1989 to Tismaneanu.  He neither cared, nor took it seriously.  In the tradition of academic putdowns, Gallagher actually accused me in a review of low standards of professionalism for questioning journalists of the independent press.  Hence, why I was so thankful to come across Alina Mungiu-Pippidi’s  1995 observation–cited above–that crystallized and explained the double standard I had been witnessing (of course, at the time, I hadn’t realized that there was more of a back story to why Mungiu had Rosca Stanescu in her sights, but her analysis was still spot on and a breath of fresh air.)




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Bullets, Lies, and Videotape: The Amazing, Disappearing Romanian Counter-Revolution of December 1989 (Part IV: The Good ‘Sergeant Schultz’ or ‘They Know Nothing’) by Richard Andrew Hall

Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on October 25, 2010

for Part I see PART I: His Name Was Ghircoias…Nicolae Ghircoias

for Part II see Part II: A Revolution, A Coup d\’etat, AND a Counter-Revolution

for Part III see Part III: Lost…during Investigation

Bullets, Lies, and Videotape:

The Amazing, Disappearing Romanian Counter-Revolution of December 1989

by Richard Andrew Hall, Ph.D.

Standard Disclaimer:  All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official positions or views of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or any other U.S. Government agency.  Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying U.S. Government authentication of information or CIA endorsement of the author’s views.  This material has been reviewed by CIA to prevent the disclosure of classified information.  [Submitted for clearance 19 November 2009; PRB approved 15 December 2009]

I am an intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency.  I have been a CIA analyst since 2000.  Prior to that time, I had no association with CIA outside of the application process.


If Rasvan Popescu’s account is correct, it is understandable why functionaries of the Ceausescu regime have long banked on an absence of evidence.  For example, when asked if other than the standard 7.62 mm caliber weapons belonging to the Army were used in December 1989, Dr. Vladimir Belis, the head of the Institute of Forensic Medicine (IML) at the time, claims he doesn’t know and can’t say, because he claims no autopsies were ever performed—leading journalists to conclude that “therefore the tales of terrorists who shot with ‘dum-dum’ bullets, ‘bullets with vidia tips’ or bullets of large caliber, atypical for Romanian military units, will remain just stories that can neither be confirmed nor denied.”[1]

Former Securitate officer-turned journalist, novelist, and celebrity, Pavel Corut, has written alternatively derisively and sarcastically—well-nigh tauntingly—about the existence of such atypical ammunition and its use in December 1989:

“…Later I read fantastical and pathetic accounts according to which this [Army] officer died by being ‘hit by vidia and explosive [dum-dum] bullets.’  It isn’t the only case of a solider killed accidentally in warfare…”[2]

“Now we know that all the information…was false:  there did not exist a special guard unit that pledged an oath of (legionary-like) fealty to the dictator, there did not exist snipers with infrared sighting systems, no one shot vidia bullets…”[3]

“Vidia bullets don’t exist anywhere in the world.  And yet even the Army believed that the ‘Securitate-terrorists’ used vidia bullets….All this information was designed to create [the impression of] terrorists.  To show the people and the whole world fanatical terrorists.”[4]

Last, but hardly least, military prosecutors with roots in the Ceausescu era, have assimilated or mirror such arguments.  General Dan Voinea who headed the investigations from 1997-2001 and 2004-2008 said as much:

Romulus Cristea (journalist):  “Did special ammunition, bullets with a vidia tip or dum-dum bullets, claim [any] victims?  The press of the time was filled with such claims…”

Dan Voinea:  There were no victims (people who were shot) from either vidia bullets or dum-dum bullets.  During the entire period of the events war munitions were used, normal munitions that were found at the time in the arsenal of the Interior Ministry and the Defense Ministry. The confusion and false information were the product of the fact that different caliber weapons were used, and therefore, the resulting sound was perceived differently.[5][6] (Emphasis added)

The wonderful legalistic (alibi-bestowing) logic for Voinea and his colleagues then goes something like this:   there exist victims requesting damages for injuries, loss of life, livelihood or property sustained during the violence of December 1989, their loss was real and deserves to be compensated by the Romanian state; but those initially considered guilty of causing much of this injury, loss of life, and damage and taken into custody in December 1989—the”terrorist” suspects—were (either) released in January 1990 (or were never captured in the first place), and so juridically there do not exist defendants; nor does there appear to still exist in the hands of the military procuracy much of the material evidence presented in 1990-1991—maps, videos, etc.—and, apparently, only four bullets; and no autopsies were officially performed on those shot in December 1989.  So in essence, the only things left are the crimes themselves and the testimonies of those interviewed over the past two decades:  no autopsy records, little material evidence, and the original suspects have gone missing…Conclusion:  no atypical munitions existed, were used, or maimed or killed anybody, and there were no terrorists, everyone shot into everyone else in the chaos of the moment—or in other words, the exact argument which as we have seen has been with us since Florin Crisbasan and Emil Ivascu of Brasov related the former Securitate’s “line of reasoning” in mid-January 1990.


[1] Laura Toma, Toma Roman Jr. , and Roxana Ioana Ancuta, “Belis nu a vazut cadavrele Ceausestilor,” Jurnalul National, 25 October 2005,, discussed in Hall 2008.

[2] Paul Cernescu (aka Pavel Corut), “Cine a tras in noi?” Expres Magazin, nr. 66 (43) 30 October-5 November 1991, p. 12.  Paul Cernescu is Pavel Corut’s acknowledged alias.  During his journalistic career at Ion Cristoiu’s Expres Magazin, he began by writing under this pseudonym.

[3] Paul Cernescu (aka Pavel Corut), “Cine a tras in noi?” Expres Magazin, nr. 65 (42) 23-29 October 1991, p. 12.

[4] Pavel Corut, Fulgerul Albastru (Bucuresti:  Editura Miracol, 1993), p. 177.  For background in English on Corut, see Michael Shafir, “Best Selling Spy Novels Seek To Rehabilitate Romanian ‘Securitate,'” in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Report, Vol. 2, no. 45, pp. 14-18.

[5] General Dan Voinea, interview by Romulus Cristea, “Toti alergau dupa un inamic invizibil,” Romania Libera, 22 December 2005, online edition.  Reproduced at, for example,

See also the claims of former military prosecutor Teodor Ungureanu (Facultatea de Drept, 1978) also in December 2005, at, for example,

and Nor does Teodoru Ungureanu believe in terrorists, vidia bullets, dum-dum bullets, or atypical ammunition:

“La cele de mai sus va trebui să adăugăm fabulaţiile cu privire la celebrele “gloanţe-widia”. Prin lansarea acestei aberaţii, cei mai de seamă reprezentanţi ai Armatei s-au compromis lamentabil. Ceea ce prezentau în emisiuni tv ori în paginile unor ziare ca fiind teribilele instrumente ale morţii, nu erau nimic altceva decât miezurile din oţel care intrau în alcătuirea internă a proiectilului cal. 7,62 mm-scurt destinat armelor tip AKM. Tot aşa aveau să fie făcute speculaţii asupra folosirii muniţiei explozive (de tip dum-dum), de către persoane care erau fie străine de efectele povocate asupra corpului uman de proiectile cu diverse energii cinetice (la momentul străpungerii), ori de fragmente din proiectile dezmembrate la un anterior impact cu un corp dur, fie de cei angajaţi într-o reală acţiune de dezinformare….”

[6] According to Sorin Iliesiu, the filmmaker who claims to have edited the chapter on December 1989 in the so-called Tismaneanu Raport Final, the “spirit of Voinea’s findings can be found in the Chapter.”  Indeed, the chapter includes snippets from an interview between Dan Voinea and Andrei Badin (Adevarul , December 2006).  The “indefatigable” Voinea, as Tom Gallagher has referred to him, continues to be defended by Vladimir Tismaneanu who has expressed support for Voinea’s investigations “from both a juridic and historic viewpoint” (see his post on his blog from 21 September 2009 Important este ca actiunea sa nu fie inchisa, nici juridic, nici istoric), avoiding any mention of the reasons for Voinea’s dismissal from the Military Procuracy, mistakes that Prosecutor General Laura Codruta Kovesi says “one wouldn’t expect even from a beginner” (for more on this and background, see Hall 2008):

Ce îi reproşaţi, totuşi, lui Voinea? Punctual, ce greşeli a făcut în instrumentarea cauzelor?

Sunt foarte multe greşeli, o să menţionez însă doar câteva. Spre exemplu, s-a început urmărirea penală faţă de persoane decedate. Poate îmi explică dumnealui cum poţi să faci cercetări faţă de o persoană decedată! Apoi, s-a început urmărirea penală pentru fapte care nu erau prevăzute în Codul Penal. În plus

, deşi nu a fost desemnat să lucreze, spre exemplu, într-un dosar privind mineriada (repartizat unui alt procuror), domnul procuror Dan Voinea a luat dosarul, a început urmărirea penală, după care l-a restituit procurorului de caz. Vă imaginaţi cum ar fi dacă eu, ca procuror general, aş lua dosarul unui coleg din subordine, aş începe urmărirea penală după care i l-aş înapoia. Cam aşa ceva s-a întâmplat şi aici.

Mai mult, a început urmărirea penală într-o cauză, deşi, potrivit unei decizii a Înaltei Curţi de Casaţie şi Justiţie, era incompatibil să mai facă asta. E vorba despre dosarul 74/p/1998 (dosar în care Voinea l-a acuzat pe fostul preşedinte Ion Iliescu că, în iunie 1990, a determinat cu intenţie intervenţia în forţă a militarilor împotriva manifestanţilor din Capitală – n.r.).

Apoi au fost situaţii în care s-a început urmărirea penală prin acte scrise de mână, care nu au fost înregistrate în registrul special de începere a urmăririi penale. Aceste documente, spre exemplu, nu prevedeau în ce constau faptele comise de presupuşii învinuiţi, nu conţin datele personale ale acestora. De exemplu, avem rezoluţii de începere a urmăririi penale care-l privesc pe Radu Ion sau pe Gheorghe Dumitru, ori nu ştim cine este Gheorghe Dumitru, nu ştim cine este Radu Ion.

„Parchetul să-şi asume tergiversarea anchetelor”

Credeţi că, în cazul lui Voinea, au fost doar greşeli sau că a fost vorba de intenţie, ştiind că acuzaţii vor scăpa?

Nu cunosc motivele care au stat la baza acestor decizii şi, prin urmare, nu le pot comenta.

Poate fi vorba şi despre complexitatea acestor dosare?

Când ai asemenea dosare în lucru, nu faci astfel de greşeli, de începător. Eşti mult mai atent când ai cauze de o asemenea importanţă pentru societatea românească.

Excerpted from

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(NEW for the 20th Anniversary) Bullets, Lies, and Videotape: The Amazing, Disappearing Romanian Counter-Revolution of December 1989 (Part II: “A Revolution, a Coup d’Etat, AND a Counter-Revolution”) by Richard Andrew Hall

Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on December 22, 2009

for Part I see  His name was Ghircoias…Nicolae Ghircoias

Bullets, Lies, and Videotape:

The Amazing, Disappearing Romanian Counter-Revolution of December 1989

by Richard Andrew Hall, Ph.D.

Standard Disclaimer:  All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official positions or views of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or any other U.S. Government agency.  Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying U.S. Government authentication of information or CIA endorsement of the author’s views.  This material has been reviewed by CIA to prevent the disclosure of classified information.  [Submitted 19 November 2009; PRB approved 15 December 1989]

I am an intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency.  I have been a CIA analyst since 2000.  Prior to that time, I had no association with CIA outside of the application process.

Part II

Romania, December 1989:   a Revolution, a Coup d’etat, AND a Counter-Revolution

This December marks twenty years since the implosion of the communist regimeof Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. [1] It is well-known, but bears repeating:  Romania not only came late in the wave of communist regime collapse in the East European members of the Warsaw Pact in the fall of 1989 (Poland, Hungary, the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria), it came last—and inevitably that was significant.[2] Despite the more highly personalist (vs. corporate) nature of the Ceausescu regime, the higher level of fear and deprivation that characterized society, and the comparative insulation from the rest of the East European Warsaw Pact states, Romania could not escape the implications of the collapse of the other communist party-states.[3] Despite the differences, there simply were too many institutional and ideological similarities, or as is often most importantly the case, that is how members of both the state and society interpreted matters.   “Going last” [in turn, in show] almost inevitably implies that the opportunities for mimicry, for opportunism, for simulation[4] on the one hand and dissimulation[5] on the other, are greater than for the predecessors…and, indeed, one can argue that some of what we saw in Romania in December 1989 reflects this.

Much of the debate about what happened in December 1989 has revolved around how to define those events…and their consequences.[6] [These can be analytically distinct categories and depending on how one defines things, solely by focusing on the events themselves or the consequences, or some combination thereof, will inevitably shape the answer one gets].  The primary fulcrum or axis of the definitional debate has been between whether December 1989 and its aftermath were/have been a revolution or a coup d’etat.  But Romanian citizens and foreign observers have long since improvised linguistically to capture the hybrid and unclear nature of the events and their consequences.  Perhaps the most neutral, cynical, and fatalistic is the common “evenimentele din decembrie 1989”—the events of December 1989—but it should also be pointed out that the former Securitate and Ceausescu nostalgics have also embraced, incorporated and promoted, such terminology.  More innovative are terms such as rivolutie (an apparent invocation of or allusion to the famous Romanian satirist Ion Luca Caragiale’s 1880 play Conu Leonida fata cu reactiunea[7] , where he used the older colloquial spelling revulutie) or lovilutie (a term apparently coined by the humorists at Academia Catavencu, and combining the Romanian for coup d’etat, lovitura de stat, and the Romanian for revolution, revolutie).

The following characterization of what happened in December 1989 comes from an online poster, Florentin, who was stationed at the Targoviste barracks—the exact location where Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu would be summarily tried and executed on 25 December 1989.  Although his definitions may be too economically-based for my taste—authoritarianism/dictatorship vs. democracy would be preferable—and the picture he presents may be oversimplified at points, the poster’s characterization shows that sometimes the unadorned straighttalk of the plainspoken citizen can cut to the chase better than many an academic tome:

I did my military service, in Targoviste, in fact in the barracks at which the Ceausescu couple were executed…It appears that a coup d’etat was organized and executed to its final step, the proof being how the President of the R.S.R. (Romanian Socialist Republic) died, but in parallel a revolution took place.  Out of this situation has transpired all the confusion.   As far as I know this might be a unique historical case, if I am not mistaken.  People went into the streets, calling not just for the downfall of the president then, but for the change of the political regime, and that is what we call a revolution. This revolution triumphed, because today we have neither communism, nor even neocommunism with a human face.  The European Union would not have accepted a communist state among its ranks.  The organizers of the coup d’etat foresaw only the replacement of the dictator and the maintenance of a communist/neocommunist system, in which they did not succeed, although there are those who still hope that it would have succeeded.  Some talk about the stealing of the revolution, but the reality is that we live in capitalism, even if what we have experienced in these years has been more an attempt at capitalism, orchestrated by an oligarchy with diverse interests…[8]

This is indeed the great and perhaps tragic irony of what happened in December 1989 in Romania:  without the Revolution, the Coup might well have failed,[9] but without the Coup, neither would the Revolution have succeeded.   The latter is particularly difficult for the rigidly ideological and politically partisan to accept; yet it is more than merely a talking point and legitimating alibi of the second-rung nomenklatura who seized power (although it is that too).  The very atomization of Romanian society[10] that had been fueled and exploited by the Ceausescu regime explained why Romania came last in the wave of Fall 1989, but also why it was and would have been virtually impossible for genuine representatives of society—led by dissidents and protesters—to form an alternative governing body on 22 December whose decisions would have been accepted as sufficiently authoritative to be respected and implemented by the rump party-state bureaucracy, especially the armed forces and security and police structures.  The chaos that would have ensued—with likely multiple alternative power centers, including geographically—would have likely led to a far greater death toll and could have enabled those still betting on the return of the Ceausescus to after a time reconquer power or seriously impede the functioning of any new government for an extended period.

The fact that the Revolution enabled the coup plotters to seize power, and that the coup enabled the Revolution to triumph should be identified as yet another version—one particular to the idiosyncracies of the Romanian communist regime—of what Linz and Stepan have identified as the costs or compromises of the transition from authoritarian rule.  In Poland, for example, this meant that 65 percent of the Sejm was elected in non-competitive elections, but given co-equal authority with the Senate implying that “a body with nondemocratic origins was given an important role in the drafting of a democratic constitution”; in fact, Poland’s first completely competitive elections to both houses of Parliament occurred only in October 1991, fully two years after the formation of the first Solidarity government in August 1989.[11] In Romania, this meant that second-rung nomenklaturists—a displaced generation of elites eager to finally have their day in the sun—who to a large extent still harbored only Gorbachevian perestroikist views of the changes in the system as being necessary, were able to consolidate power following the elimination of the ruling Ceausescu couple.

The self-description by senior Front officials (Ion Iliescu) and media promoters (such as Darie Novaceanu in Adevarul) of the FSN (National Salvation Front) as the “emanation of the Revolution” does not seem justified. [12] It seems directly tied to two late January 1990 events—the decision of the Front’s leaders to run as a political party in the first post-Ceausescu elections and the contestation from the street of the Front’s leaders’ legitimacy to rule and to run in those elections.  It also seems difficult to defend objectively as a legitimate description, since even according to their own accounts, senior Front officials had been in contact with one another and discussed overthrowing the Ceausescus prior to the Revolution, since there had existed no real competing non-Ceausescu regime alternative on 22 December 1989 (an argument they themselves make), and since they had clearly not been elected to office.   Moreover, when senior former Front officials, Iliescu among them, point to their winning of two-thirds of the votes for the new parliament in May 1990 and Iliescu’s 85 percent vote for the presidency, the numbers in and of themselves—even beyond the by now pretty obvious and substantiated manipulation, surveillance, and intimidation of opposition parties, candidates, movements and civil society/non-governmental organizations that characterized the election campaign—are a red flag to the tainted and only partly free and fair character of those founding elections.

But if the FSN and Ion Iliescu cannot be accurately and legitimately described as the “emanation of the Revolution,” it also seems reasonable to suggest that the term “stolen revolution”[13] is somewhat unfair.  The term “stolen revolution” inevitably suggests a central, identifiable, and sufficiently coherent ideological character of the revolution and the presence of an alternative non-Ceausescu, non-Front leadership that could have ensured the retreat of Ceausescu forces and been able to govern and administer the country in the days and weeks that followed.  The absence of the latter was pretty clear on 22 December 1989—Iasi, Timisoara, and Arad among others, had local, authentic nuclei leading local movements (for example, the FDR, Frontul Democrat Roman), but no direct presence in Bucharest—and the so-called Dide and Verdet “22 minute” alternative governments were even more heavily compromised by former high-ranking communist dignitary inclusion than the FSN was (the one with the least, headed by Dumitru Mazilu, was rapidly overtaken and incorporated into the FSN).

As to the question of the ideological character of the revolt against Ceausescu, it is once again instructive to turn to what a direct participant, in this case in the Timisoara protests, has to say about it.  Marius Mioc[14], who participated in the defense of Pastor Tokes’ residence and in the street demonstrations that grew out of it, was arrested, interrogated, and beaten from the 16th until his release with other detainees on the 22nd and who has written with longstanding hostility toward former Securitate and party officials, IIiescu, the FSN, and their successors, gives a refreshingly honest account of those demonstrations that is in stark contrast to the often hyperpoliticized, post-facto interpretations of December 1989 prefered by ideologues:

I don’t know if the 1989 revolution was as solidly anticommunist as is the fashion to say today.  Among the declarations from the balcony of the Opera in Timisoara were some such as “we don’t want capitalism, we want democratic socialism,” and at the same time the names of some local PCR [communist] dignitaries were shouted.  These things shouldn’t be generalized, they could have been tactical declarations, and there existed at the same time the slogans “Down with communism!” and flags with the [communist] emblem cut out, which implicitly signified a break from communism.  [But] the Revolution did not have a clear ideological orientation, but rather demanded free elections and the right to free speech.[15]

Romania December 1989 was thus both revolution and coup, but its primary definitive characteristic was that of revolution, as outlined by “Florentin” and Marius Mioc above.  To this must be added what is little talked about or acknowledged as such today:  the counter-revolution of December 1989.  Prior to 22 December 1989, the primary target of this repression was society, peaceful demonstrators—although the Army itself was both perpetrator of this repression but also the target of Securitate forces attempting to ensure their loyalty to the regime and their direct participation and culpabilization in the repression of demonstrators.  After 22 December 1989, the primary target of this violence was the Army and civilians who had picked up weapons, rather than citizens at large.  It is probably justified to say that in terms of tactics, after 22 December 1989, the actions of Ceausist forces were counter-coup in nature, contingencies prepared in the event of an Army defection and the possibility of foreign intervention in support of such a defection.  However, precisely because of what occurred prior to 22 December 1989, the brutal, bloody repression of peaceful demonstrators, and because the success of the coup was necessary for the success of the revolution already underway, it is probably accurate to say that the Ceausescu regime’s actions as a whole constituted a counter-revolution.  If indeed the plotters had not been able to effectively seize power after the Ceausescus fled on 22 December 1989 and Ceausescu or his direct acolytes had been able to recapture power, we would be talking of the success not of a counter-coup, but of the counter-revolution.

A key component of the counter-revolution of December 1989 concerns the, as they were christened at the time, so-called “terrorists,” those who were believed then to be fighting in defense of the Ceausescu couple.  It is indeed true as Siani-Davies has written that the Revolution is about so much more than “the Front” and “the terrorists.”[16] True enough, but the outstanding and most vexing question about December 1989—one that resulted in 942 killed and 2,251 injured after 22 December 1989—is nevertheless the question of “the terrorists.”  Finding out if they existed, who they were, and who they were defending remains the key unclarified question of December 1989 two decades later:  that much is inescapable.[17]

[1]The hyperbolic and popular academic designation of the Ceausescu regime as Stalinist is not particularly helpful.  Totalitarian yes, Stalinist no.  Yes, Nicolae Ceausescu had a Stalinist-like personality cult, and yes he admired Stalin and his economic model, as he told interviewers as late as 1988, and we have been told ad nauseum since.  But this was also a strange regime, which as I have written elsewhere was almost characterized by a policy of “no public statues [of Ceausescu] and no (or at least as few as possible) public martyrs [inside or even outside the party]”—the first at odds with the ubiquity of Nicoale and Elena Ceausescus’ media presence, the second characterized by the “rotation of cadres” policy whereby senior party officials could never build a fiefdom and were sometimes banished to the provinces, but almost were never eliminated physically, and by Ceausescus’ general reluctance to “spoil” his carefully created “image” abroad by openly eliminating high-profile dissidents (one of the reasons Pastor Tokes was harassed and intimidated, but still alive in December 1989)  (see Richard Andrew Hall 2006, “Images of Hungarians and Romanians in Modern American Media and Popular Culture,” at Ken Jowitt has characterized the organizational corruption and political routinization of the communist party as moving from the Stalinist era—whereby even being a high-level party official did not eliminate the fear or reality of imprisonment and death—to what he terms Khrushchev’s de facto maxim of “don’t kill the cadre” to Brezhnev’s of essentially “don’t fire the cadre” (see Ken Jowitt, New World Disorder:  The Leninist Extinction, especially pp. 233-234, and chapter 4 “Neotraditionalism,” p. 142).   The very fact that someone like Ion Iliescu could be around to seize power in December 1989 is fundamentally at odds with a Stalinist system:  being “purged” meant that he fulfilled secondary roles in secondary places, Iasi, Timisoara, the Water Works, a Technical Editing House, but “purged” did not threaten and put an end to his existence, as it did for a Kirov, Bukharin, and sadly a cast of millions of poor public souls caught up in the ideological maelstorm.  Charles King wrote in 2007 that “the Ceausescu era was the continuation of Stalinism by other means, substituting the insinuation of terror for its cruder variants and combining calculated cooptation with vicious attacks on any social actors who might represent a potential threat to the state” (Charles King, “Remembering Romanian Communism,” Slavic Review, vol. 66, no. 4 (Winter 2007), p. 720).  But at a certain point, a sufficient difference in quantity and quality—in this case, of life, fear, imprisonment, and death—translates into a difference of regime-type, and we are left with unhelpful hyperbole.  The level of fear to one’s personal existence in Ceausescu’s Romania—both inside and outside the party-state—simply was not credibly comparable to Stalin’s Soviet Union, or for that matter, even Dej’s Romania of the 1950s.  In the end, Ceausescu’s Romania was “Stalinist in form [personality cult, emphasis on heavy industry], but Brezhnevian in content [“don’t fire the cadres”…merely rotate them…privileges, not prison sentences for the nomenklatura].”

[2] For a recent discussion of the “diffusion” or “demonstration” effect and regime change, see, for example, Valerie Bunce and Sharon Wolchik, “International Diffusion and Postcommunist Electoral Revolutions,”

Communist and Postcommunist Studies, vol. 39, no. 3 (September 2006), pp. 283­304.

[3] For more discussion, see Hall 2000.

[4]For discussion of the term see Michael Shafir, Romania:  Politics, Economics, and Society (Boulder, 1985).

[5]For discussion of the term see Ken  Jowitt, New World Disorder (University of California Berkely Press, 1992).

[6] For earlier discussions of this topic from a theoretical perspective , see, for example, Peter Siani-Davies, “Romanian Revolution of Coup d’etat?” Communist and Post-Communist Studies, vol. 29, no. 4 (December 1996), pp. 453-465; Stephen D. Roper, “The Romanian Revolution from a Theoretical Perspective,” Communist and Post-Communist Studies, vol. 27, no. 4 (December 1994), pp. 401-410; and Peter Siani-Davies, The Romanian Revolution of December 1989, (Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, 2005), pp. 1-52 ff, but especially (chapter 7) pp. 267-286.  For a recent effort to deal with this question more broadly, see Timothy Garton Ash, “Velvet Revolution:  The Prospects, The New York Review of Books, Volume 56, Number 19 (December 3, 2009) at For a good comparison and analysis of public opinion polling performed in 2009 and 1999 about classifying what happened in December 1989, see Catalin Augustin Stoica in


[8] Entry from forum at!

[9]This is a point that was first made credibly by Michael Shafir in Michael Shafir, “Preparing for the Future by Revising the Past,” Radio Free Europe Report on Eastern Europe, vol. 1, no. 41 (12 October 1990).  It becomes all the clearer, however, when we consider that the XIV PCR Congress from 20-24 November 1989 went off without the slightest attempt at dissidence within the congress hall—a potential opportunity thereby missed—and that the plotters failed to act during what would have seemed like the golden moment to put an end to the “Golden Era,” the almost 48 hours that Nicolae Ceausescu was out of the country in Iran between 18 and 20 December 1989, after regime forces had already been placed in the position of confronting peaceful demonstrators and after they opened fire in Timisoara.  In other words, an anti-regime revolt was underway, and had the coup been so minutely prepared as critics allege, this would have been the perfect time to seize power, cut off the further anti-system evolution of protests, exile Ceausescu from the country, and cloak themselves in the legitimacy of a popular revolt.  What is significant is that the plotters did not act at this moment.  It took the almost complete collapse of state authority on the morning of 22 December 1989 for them to enter into action.  This is also why characterizations of the Front as the ‘counterstrike of the party-state bureaucracy’ or the like is only so much partisan rubbish, since far from being premised as something in the event of a popular revolt or as a way to counter an uprising, the plotters had assumed—erroneously as it turned out—that Romanian society would not rise up against the dictator, and thus that only they could or had to act.  It is true, however, that once having consolidated power, the plotters did try to slow, redirect, and even stifle the forward momentum of the revolution, and that the revolutionary push from below after December 1989 pushed them into reforms and measures opening politics and economics to competition that they probably would not have initiated on their own.

[10] I remain impressed here by something Linz and Stepan highlighted in 1996:  according to a Radio Free Europe study, as of June 1989 Bulgaria had thirteen independent organizations, all of which had leaders whose names were publicly known, whereas in Romania there were only two independent organizations with bases inside the country, neither of which had publicly known leaders (Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), p. 352).  For more discussion of this and related issues, see Hall 2000.

[11] The presidency was also an unelected communist holdover position until fall 1990.  See Linz and Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe, pp. 267-274.

[12] For a discussion of the roots and origins of these terms, see Matei Calinescu and Vladimir Tismaneanu, “The 1989 Revolution and Romania’s Future,” Problems of Communism, vol. XL no. 1-2 (January-April 1991), p. 52, especially footnote no. 38.

[13] Stephen Kotkin associates the concept, accurately if incompletely, with Tom Gallagher and Vladimir Tismaneanu in Stephen Kotkin, Uncivil Society:  1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment (Modern Library Chronicles, 2009), pp. 147-148 n. 1.  Similar concepts have taken other names, such as “operetta war” (proposed but not necessarily accepted) by Nestor Ratesh, Romania:  The Entangled Revolution (Praeger, 1991) or “staging of [the] revolution” [advocated] by Andrei Codrescu, The Hole in the Flag (Morrow and Company, 1991).  Dumitru Mazilu’s 1991 book in Romanian was entitled precisely “The Stolen Revolution” [Revolutia Furata].  Charles King stated in 2007 that the CPADCR Report “repeats the common view (at least among western academics) of the revolution as being hijacked,” a term essentially equating to “stolen revolution,” but as Tismaneanu headed the commission and large sections of the Report’s chapter on December 1989 use previous writings by him (albeit without citing where they came from), it is hard to somehow treat the Report’s findings as independent of Tismaneanu’s identical view (for an earlier discussion of all this, see Hall 2008)

[14] Mioc does not talk a great deal about his personal story:  here is one of those few examples,

[15] Quoted from

[16]Peter Siani-Davies, The Romanian Revolution of December 1989, (Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, 2005), p. 286.

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