Communist governments collapsed across Europe 30 years ago. In mid December (16 – 25 December, 1989), The Romanian Revolution was a period of violent civil unrest in Romania during December 1989 as a part of the Revolution on 1989 that occurred in several countries.
I wrote about the massacre in Tiananmen Square earlier this year. I wrote about the fall of the Berlin Wall. But there were more; Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and the fall of Europe`s most brutal dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, and that didn`t come peacefully.
Ceausescu had built an empire on his own. The internal Stalinist dynamic did not depend upon Soviet might. The Secret Police were an ever-presented glue that kept Romanian society in place. It was a totalitarian police state with no free speech.
The large numbers of Securitate informers made organized dissent nearly impossible. The regime deliberately played on this sense that everyone was being watched to make it easier to bend the people to the Party`s will. Even by Soviet Bloc standards, the Securitate was exceptionally brutal.
Ceausescu created a cult of personality. During the Cold War, he presided over the most pervasive cult of personality within the Eastern Bloc. Inspired by the personality cult surrounding Kim II-sung in North Korea.
It started with the 1971 July Theses which reversed the liberalization of the 1960`s, imposed a strict nationalist ideology, established Stalinist totalitarianism and a return to socialist realism.
The real beginning of the cult of personality, however, came after Ceausescu visited China and North Korea in 1971. He was particularly impressed by the highly personal way that China`s Mao Zedong and North Korea`s Kim II-sung ruled their countries, as well as the personality cults surrounding them.
A few year later (1986), a propaganda poster on the streets of Bucharest reads «65 years since the creation of the Romanian Communist Party», while in the background it reads «Ceausescu Era» and «The Party. Ceausescu. Romania».
But the Western countries’ support for Ceausescu ended with the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in March 1985, when Ceausescu ceased to be relevant on the world scene and Western countries criticised him for his unwilllingness to implement his own version of perestroika and glasnost.
Ceausescu was a National Communist and his total control over Romania was close to an old-style Stalinist regime. He ended liberalisation and openness and started a trend that accentuated totalitarianism and isolated Romania from the rest of the world.
The Romanian newspapers were silent and also the Berlin state paper didn`t even mention the fall of the Berlin Wall in the first days following November 9, 1989. Reading the Romanian newspapers of November 11, 1989 one would think that nothing earth-shattering had happened.
Instead, Socialism is praised as the «way of the free, independent development of the peoples.» But students knew better. They started the revolution with playcards saying; «We want reforms against Ceausescu government.»
The Romanian Revolution started in the city of Timisoara and soon spread throughout the country, ultimately culminating in the show trial and execution of longtime Communist Party General Secretary Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena.
30 years ago, finally, it was the end of a 42 year rule of the Communist Party in Romania. It was also the last removal of a Marxist-Leninist government in a Warsaw Pact country during the events of 1989, and the only one that violently overthrow a country`s government and executed its leader.
Early protests occurred in the city of Timisoara in mid-December on the part of the Hungarian minority in response to an attempt by the government to evict Hungarian Reformed church pastor Laszlo Tokes.
In July 1989, Tokes had critcised ther regime`s Systematisation policy in an interview with Hungarian television, and complained that Romanians did not even know their human rights.
As Tokes described it later, the interview, which had been seen in the border areas and was then spread all over Romania, had a «shock effect upon the Romanians, the Securitate as well, on the people of Romaina.
It had an unexpected effect upon the public atmosphere in Romaina.
There were no freedom of speech in Romania at that time and the Godless Communists didn`t like Tokes speech, so the government then alleged that Tokes was inciting ethnic hatred. At the behest of the government, his bishop removed him from his post, thereby depriving him of the right to use the apartment to which he was entitled as a pastor, and assigned him to be a pastor in the countryside.
For some time his parishioners gathered around his home to protect him from harassment and eviction. Many passersby spontaneously joined in. As it became clear that the crowd not desperse, the mayor, Petre Mot, made remarks suggesting that he had overturned the decision to evict Tokes.
Meanwhile, the crowd had grown impatient and, when Mot declined to confirm his statement against the planned eviction in writing, the corwd started to chant anti-communist slogans.
Some of the protesters attempted to burn down the building that housed the district committee of the Romaian Communist Party (PCR). The Securitate responded with tear gas and water jets, while police beat up rioters and arrested many of them.
The army failed to establich order, and chaos ensured including gunfire, fights, caualties and burned cars. Transporter Amfibiu Blindate (TAB) armoured personnel carriers and tanks were called in.
The rioters withdrew, but they regrouped eventually around the Romanian Orthodox Cathedral and started a protest march around the city, but again they were contronted by the security forces. As you can see, this is very similar to Hong Kong today.
Nicolae Ceausescu ordered to shoot the demonstrators. He declared a state of emergency throughout the country on national television and radio. The Army and Milita forces refused to shoot at people and took the side of the revolutionaries.
In response, Romanians sought revolution and a change in government in light of similar recent events in neighbouring nations. The country`s ubiquitous secret police force, the Securitate, which was both one of the largest in the Eastern Bloc and for decades had been the main suppressor of popular dissension, frequently and violently quashing political disagreement, ultimately proved incapable of stopping the looming, and then highly fatal and successful revolt.
Social and economic malaise had been in socialist Romania for quite som time, especially during the austerity years of the 1980`s. The austerity measures were designed in part by Ceausescu to repay foreign debts.
Shortly after a botched public speech by eausescu in Bucharest (Romania`s capita city) that was broadcast to millions of Romanians on state television, rank-and-file members of the military switched, almost unanimousy, from supporting the dictator to backing the protesting population.
Riots, street violence and murder in several Romanian cities over the course of roughly a week led the Romanian leader to flee the capital city on 22 December with his wife, Deputy Prime Minister Elena Ceausescu.
Evading capture by hastily departing via helicopter effectively portrayed the couple as both fugitives and also acutely guilty of accused crimes.
Captured in Targoviste, they were tried by a drumhead military tribunal on charges of Genocide (64,000 deatch during their regime), damage to the national economy and abuse of power to execute military actions against the Romanian people.
The were convicted on all charges, sentenced to death, and immediately executed on Christmas Day 1989.
The National Salvation Front quickly took power after Ceausescu was toppled, promising free and fair elections within five months.
Elected in a landslide the following May, the National Salvation Front, reconstituted as a political party, installed a series of economic and democratic reforms, with further social policy changes being implemented by later governments.
Since that point Romania has become far more integrated with the West than its former, albeit tepid, relations with Moscow. Romania became a member of NATO in 2004. They also became a member of the European Union in 2007, but Democratic reforms have proven to me moderately successful.
Ther are still corruption in Romania, and economic reforms continue. Romania also have one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world. The problem after the revolution in 1989 is that Romaina`s elite remained in power after the communist dictator was executed.
Many argue that the execution of the Ceausescus was a false dawn. The show trial was organised by fellow communists, who twisted a popular uprising into little more than a palace coup and held on firmly to the levers of power.
We know that former communists ran the government for years after the revolution and still sit in the parliament. Former members of the security forces and their families have got rich from privatisation and there has been no justice for the regime`s former victims.
Romania was one of Europe`s few former Soviet blo countries that did not pss a «lustration» law t oban senior communists from holding office in the new government.
There were two groups of people in the revolution. Those shouting «Down with communism», and those only shouting «Down with Ceausescu». It was the second group who created the new poitical order after the revolution in 1989.
No Romanian other than the Ceauseescus has been found guilty of even the smallest role in the communist party`s half-century reign of terror and misery. Until now. In December 2018, Romania`s prosecutor general charged former president Ion Iliescu and two other prominent figures from the National Salvation Front (NSF), the political organization that assumed power after the Ceausescu`s flight from Bucharest, for crimes against humanity.
They are accused of having orchestrated a deliberate misinformation campaign between 22 and 30 December 1989 about the existence of armed supporters of Ceausescu (the so-called «terrorists») and of having allowed dangerous military manoevres in a bid to forment political chaos and ensure control over state institutions.
The Revolution in Romania in 1989 is most famous for Ceausescu`s speech. On the morning of 21 December, Ceausescu addressed an assembly of approximately 100,000 people to condemn the uprising in Timisoara.
Party officials took great pains to make it appear that Ceausescu was still immensely popular. The speech was typical of most Ceausescu`s speeches over the years. Making liberal use of Marxist-Leninist rhetoric, he delivered a litany of the achievements of the «socialist revolution» and Romanian «multi-laterally developed socialist society».
He blamed the Timisoara uprising on «fascist agitators».
However, Ceausescu was out of touch with his people and completely misread the crowd`s mood. The people remained unresponsive, and only the front rows supported Ceausescu with cheers and applause. About two minutes into the speech, some in the crowd actually began to jeer, boo, whistle and yell insults at him, a reaction unthinkable for most of his rule.
Workers from a Bucharest power plant started chanting «Ti-mi-soa-ra! Ti-mi-soa-ra!, which was soon picked up by others in the crowd. In response, Ceausescu raised his right hand in hopes of silencing the crowd; his stunned expression remains one of he defining moments of the end of Communism in Eastern Europe.
He then tried to placate the crowd by offering to raise worker`s salaries by 200 lei per month (about 9 U.S dollars at the time, yet a 5%-10% raise for a modest salary) and student scholarships from 100 to 110 lei while continuing to praise the achievements of the Socialist Revolution.
However, a revolution was brewing right in front of his eyes.
The entire speech was being broadcast live nationwide. Censors attempted to cut the live video feed and replace it with Communist propaganda songs and video praising the Ceausescu regime, but parts of the riots had already been broadcast and most of the Romanian people realised that something unusual was in progress.
Ceausescu and his wife, as well as other officials and CPEx members, panicked; Ceausescu`s bodyguard hustled him back inside the building.
The jeers and whistles soon erupted into a riot; the crowd took to the streets, placing the capital, like Timisoara, in turmoi. Members of the crowd spontaneously began shouting anti-Ceausescu slogans, which spread and became chants; «Jos dictatorul!» (Down with the dictator»), «Moarte criminalului!» (Death to the criminal»), «Noi suntem poporul, jos cu dictatorul!» (We are the People, down with the dictator»).