|Part of the Revolutions of 1989|
Demonstrators and army vehicles in Bucharest
|Date||16–27 December 1989|
Arad, Brașov, Bucharest, Târgoviște and Timișoara among others
|Result||Overthrow of communist regime in Romania, capture and execution of Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The Romanian Revolution (Romanian: Revoluția Română) was a period of violent civil unrest in Romania in December 1989 and part of the Revolutions of 1989 that occurred in several Warsaw Pact countries. The Romanian Revolution started in the city of Timișoara and soon spread throughout the country, ultimately culminating in the show trial and execution of longtime Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu, and the end of the 42 years of Communist rule in Romania. It was also the last removal of a Communist regime in a Warsaw Pact country during the events of 1989, and the only one that violently overthrew a country's government and executed its leader.
Early protests occurred in the city of Timișoara in mid-December, though social and economic malaise had been present in socialist Romania for a substantial time-period, especially during the austerity years of the 1980s. The austerity measures were designed in part by Ceaușescu to repay foreign debts. The omnipresent secret police, the Securitate, monitored all aspects of life, and had one of the largest ratios of members to citizen rates in the Eastern Bloc. This was not sufficient to completely suppress the people, who sought revolution and a change in government in light of other similar recent events in neighboring nations.
Shortly after a botched public speech by Ceaușescu, rank and file members of the military switched near unanimously 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 dictator to flee Bucharest on 22 December with his wife, Deputy Prime Minister Elena Ceaușescu. Captured in Târgoviște, they were tried in a show trial by a drumhead military tribunal on charges of genocide, damage to the national economy, and abuse of power to execute military actions against the Romanian people. They were convicted on all charges, and immediately executed on Christmas Day 1989, becoming the last persons condemned to death and executed in Romania.
Modern Romania has unfolded in the shadow of the Ceaușescus and its former communist past, along with the tumultuous departure from it. The National Salvation Front quickly took power after Ceaușescu 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 and the European Union in 2004 and 2007, respectively. While democratic reforms have proven to be moderately successful, economic reforms have been largely ineffective, with Romania possessing one of the largest (namely child) poverty rates in the developed world.
- 1 Background
- 2 Timișoara uprising
- 3 Revolution spreads
- 4 Military defection and Ceaușescu's fall
- 5 New government
- 6 Casualties
- 7 Aftermath
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
|Part of a series on the|
|Socialist Republic of
Part of a series on the
|History of Romania|
In 1981, Ceaușescu began an austerity program designed to enable Romania to liquidate its entire national debt ($10 billion). To achieve this, many basic goods, including gas, heat and food were rationed, which drastically reduced the standard of living in Romania and increased malnutrition. The infant mortality rate also grew to be the highest in Europe.
The secret police (Securitate) had become so ubiquitous as to make Romania essentially a police state. Free speech was limited and opinions that did not favor the Communist Party were forbidden. 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.
Ceaușescu created a cult of personality, with weekly shows in stadiums or on streets in different cities dedicated to him, his wife and the Communist Party. There were several megalomaniac projects, such as the construction of the grandiose House of the Republic (today the Palace of the Parliament), the biggest palace in the world, the adjacent Centrul Civic, and a never-completed museum dedicated to communism and Ceaușescu, today the Casa Radio. These and similar projects drained the country's finances and aggravated the already embattled economic situation. Thousands of Bucharest residents were evicted from their homes, which were subsequently demolished to make room for the huge structures.
Unlike the other Warsaw Pact leaders, Ceaușescu had not been slavishly pro-Soviet, but rather had pursued an "independent" foreign policy; Romanian forces did not join its Warsaw Pact allies in putting an end to the Prague Spring – an invasion Ceaușescu openly denounced – while Romanian athletes competed at the Soviet-boycotted 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles (receiving a standing ovation at the opening ceremonies and proceeding to win 53 medals, trailing only the United States and West Germany in the overall count). Conversely, while Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev spoke of reform, Ceaușescu maintained a hard political line and cult of personality.
The austerity program started in 1981 and the widespread poverty it introduced made the Communist regime very unpopular. The austerity met little resistance among the Romanians and there were only a few strikes and labour disputes, of which notable were the Jiu Valley miners' strike of 1977 and the Brașov Rebellion of November 1987 at the truck manufacturer Steagul Roșu. In March 1989, several leading activists of the Romanian Communist Party (PCR) protested in a letter that criticised the economic policies of Nicolae Ceaușescu, but shortly thereafter Ceaușescu achieved a significant political victory: Romania paid off its external debt of about US$11 billion several months before the time that even the Romanian dictator expected. However, in the months following the announcement austerity and a shortage of goods remained the same as before.
It initially appeared that Ceaușescu would weather the wave of revolution sweeping across eastern Europe. He was formally reelected for another five-year term as general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party on 24 November at the party's XIV Congress. On the same day, Ceaușescu's counterpart in Czechoslovakia, Milos Jakes, resigned along with the entire Communist leadership, effectively ending Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. On 11 November 1989, before the party congress, on Bucharest's Brezoianu Street and Kogălniceanu Boulevard, students from Cluj-Napoca and Bucharest demonstrated with placards "We want Reforms against Ceaușescu government."
The students – including Mihnea Paraschivescu, Gratian Vulpe, and the economist Dan Caprariu-Schlachter from Cluj – were detained and investigated by the Securitate at the Rahova Penitentiary, on suspicion of propaganda against the socialist society. They were released on 22 December 1989 at 14.00.
There were other letters and other attempts to draw attention to the economic, cultural, and spiritual oppression of Romanians, but they served only to intensify the activity of the communist police and Securitate.
Another factor in the revolution is the Decreței policy, a draconian policy banning contraception and abortion. This policy, beginning in 1967, resulted in a baby boom, but also resulted in high rates of poverty and child mortality. By 1989, these children had all reached adulthood, and this cohort was the one that started the revolution that overthrew Ceaușescu.
On 16 December 1989, a protest broke out on the part of the Hungarian minority in Timișoara in response to an attempt by the government to evict Hungarian Reformed church pastor László Tőkés. Tőkés had in July of that year made critical comments against the regime's Systematization policy to Hungarian television, and complained that Romanians did not even know their human rights. As Tőkés 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, Securitate as well, on the people of Romania. […] [I]t had an unexpected effect upon the public atmosphere in Romania.”
The government then alleged that he 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 passers-by spontaneously joined in.
As it became clear that the crowd would not disperse, the mayor, Petre Moț, made remarks suggesting that he had overturned the decision to evict Tőkés. Meanwhile, the crowd had grown impatient, and when Moț declined to confirm his statement against the planned eviction in writing, the crowd started to chant anticommunist slogans. Subsequently, police and Securitate forces showed up at the scene. By 19:30, the protest had spread, and the original cause became largely irrelevant.
Some of the protesters attempted to burn down the building that housed the District Committee of the Romanian Communist Party (PCR). The Securitate responded with tear gas and water jets, while the police beat up rioters and arrested many of them. Around 21:00, the rioters withdrew. They regrouped eventually around the Romanian Orthodox Cathedral and started a protest march around the city, but again they were confronted by the security forces.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2014)|
Riots and protests resumed the following day, 17 December. The rioters broke into the District Committee building and threw Party documents, propaganda brochures, Ceaușescu's writings, and other symbols of communist power out of the windows. Again, the protesters attempted to set the building on fire, but this time they were stopped by military units.
Since Romania did not have riot police (Ceaușescu, who genuinely believed that the Romanian people loved him, never saw the need for them), the military were sent in to control the riots because the situation was too large for the Securitate and conventional police to handle. The significance of the army presence in the streets was an ominous one: it meant that they had received their orders from the highest level of the command chain, presumably from Ceaușescu himself. The army failed to establish order and chaos ensued with gunfire, fights, casualties, and burned cars. Transportor Amfibiu Blindat (TAB) armored personnel carriers and tanks were called in.
After 20:00, from Piața Libertății (Liberty Square) to the Opera there was wild shooting, including the area of Decebal bridge, Calea Lipovei (Lipovei Avenue), and Calea Girocului (Girocului Avenue). Tanks, trucks, and TABs blocked the accesses into the city while helicopters hovered overhead. After midnight the protests calmed down. Ion Coman, Ilie Matei, and Ștefan Gușă (Chief of the Romanian General Staff) inspected the city, in which some areas looked like the aftermath of a war – destruction, ash, and blood.
The morning of 18 December the centre was being guarded by soldiers and Securitate agents in plainclothes. Mayor Moț ordered a Party gathering to take place at the University, with the purpose of condemning the "vandalism" of the previous days. He also declared martial law, prohibiting people from going about in groups of larger than two.
Defying the curfew, a group of 30 young men headed for the Orthodox Cathedral, where they stopped and waved a Romanian flag from which they had removed the Romanian Communist coat of arms. Expecting that they would be fired upon, they started to sing "Deșteaptă-te, române!" ("Awaken thee, Romanian!"), an earlier national song that had been banned since 1947. They were, indeed, fired upon and some died, and others were seriously injured, while the lucky ones were able to escape.
On 19 December, Radu Bălan and Ștefan Gușă visited the workers in the city’s factories, but failed to get them to resume work. On 20 December massive columns of workers were entering the city. About 100,000 protesters occupied Piața Operei (Opera Square – today Piața Victoriei, Victory Square) and started to chant anti-government protests: "Noi suntem poporul!" ("We are the people!"), "Armata e cu noi!" ("The army is on our side!"), "Nu vă fie frică, Ceaușescu pică!" ("Have no fear, Ceaușescu is falling!”)
Meanwhile, Emil Bobu (Secretary to the Central Committee) and Prime Minister Constantin Dăscălescu were sent by Elena Ceaușescu (Nicolae Ceaușescu being at that time in Iran), to solve the situation. They met with a delegation of the protesters and accepted freeing the majority of the arrested protesters. However, they refused to comply with the protesters’ main demand (resignation of Ceaușescu), and the situation remained essentially unchanged.
The next day, trains loaded with workers originating from factories in Oltenia arrived in Timișoara. The regime was attempting to use them to repress the mass protests, but after a brief encounter they ended up joining the protests. One worker explained: "Yesterday, our factory boss and a Party official rounded us up in the yard, handed us wooden clubs and told us that Hungarians and ‘hooligans’ were devastating Timișoara and that it is our duty to go there and help crush the riots. But I realized that wasn't the truth."
On 18 December 1989 Ceaușescu had departed for a visit to Iran, leaving the duty of crushing the Timișoara revolt to his subordinates and his wife. Upon his return on the evening of 20 December, the situation became even more tense, and he gave a televised speech from the TV studio inside the Central Committee Building (CC Building), in which he spoke about the events at Timișoara in terms of an "interference of foreign forces in Romania's internal affairs" and an "external aggression on Romania's sovereignty."
The country, which had no information about the Timișoara events from the national media, heard about the Timișoara revolt from Western radio stations like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and by word of mouth. A mass meeting was staged for the next day, 21 December, which, according to the official media, was presented as a "spontaneous movement of support for Ceaușescu," emulating the 1968 meeting in which Ceaușescu had spoken against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces.
On the morning of 21 December Ceaușescu addressed an assembly of approximately 100,000 people, to condemn the uprising in Timișoara. Party officials took great pains to make it appear that Ceaușescu was still immensely popular. Several busloads of workers, under threat of being fired, arrived in Bucharest's Piața Palatului (Palace Square, now Piața Revoluției – Revolution Square) and were given red flags, banners and large pictures of Ceaușescu. They were augmented by several bystanders who were rounded up on Calea Victoriei.
In a speech laden with pro-socialist and Communist Party rhetoric, Ceaușescu delivered a litany of the achievements of the "socialist revolution" and Romanian "multi-laterally developed socialist society". He blamed the Timișoara uprising on "fascist agitators."
However, Ceaușescu was out of touch with his people and completely misread the crowd's mood. The people remained unresponsive, and only the front rows supported Ceaușescu with cheers and applause. Eight minutes into the speech, some in the crowd actually began to jeer, boo, whistle and utter insults at him—a reaction considered unthinkable for most of Ceaușescu's rule. Workers from a Bucharest power plant started chanting "Ti-mi-șoa-ra! Ti-mi-șoa-ra!"—a chant that was soon picked up by others in the crowd. In response, Ceaușescu raised his right hand in hopes of silencing the crowd; his stunned expression remains one of the defining moments of the end of Communism in Eastern Europe. He then tried to placate the crowd by offering to raise workers' salaries by 100 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.
As he was addressing the crowd from the balcony of the Central Committee building, sudden movement came from the outskirts of the massed assembly, as did the sound of (what various sources have reported as) fireworks, bombs, or guns, which together caused the assembly to break into chaos. Initially frightened, the crowds tried to disperse. Bullhorns then began to spread the news that the Securitate was firing on the crowd and that a "revolution" was unfolding. This persuaded people in the assembly to join in. The rally turned into a protest demonstration.
The entire speech was being broadcast live around Romania, and it is estimated that perhaps 76% of the nation was watching. Censors attempted to cut the live video feed, and replace it with Communist propaganda songs and video praising the Ceaușescu regime, but parts of the riots had already been broadcast and most of the Romanian people realized that something unusual was in progress.
Ceaușescu and his wife, as well as other officials and CPEx members, panicked, and Ceaușescu's bodyguard hustled him back inside the building.
The jeers and whistles soon erupted into riot; the crowd took to the streets, placing the capital, like Timișoara, in turmoil. Members of the crowd spontaneously began shouting anti-Ceaușescu 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"), "Ceaușescu cine ești?/Criminal din Scornicești" ("Ceaușescu, who are you? A criminal from Scornicești").
Protesters eventually flooded the downtown area, from Piața Kogălniceanu to Piața Unirii, Piața Rosetti, and Piața Romană. In one notable scene from the event, a young man waved a tricolour with the Communist coat of arms torn out of its centre, while perched on the statue of Mihai Viteazul on Boulevard Mihail Kogălniceanu in the University Square. Many others began to emulate the young protester, and the waving and displaying of the Romanian flag with the Communist insignia cut out quickly became widespread.
As the hours passed, many more people took to the streets. Later, observers claimed that even at this point, had Ceaușescu been willing to talk, he might have been able to salvage something. Instead, he decided on force. Soon the protesters – unarmed and unorganized – were confronted by soldiers, tanks, TABs, USLA troops (Unitatea Specială pentru Lupta Antiteroristă, anti-terrorist special squads), and armed plain-clothes Securitate officers. The crowd was soon being shot at from various buildings, side streets, and tanks.
There were many casualties, including deaths, as victims were shot, clubbed to death, stabbed, and crushed by armored vehicles (one TAB drove into the crowd around the InterContinental Hotel, crushing people—a French journalist, Jean Louis Calderon, was killed; a street near University Square was later named after him, as well as a high school in Timișoara).
Firefighters hit the demonstrators with powerful water jets and the police continued to beat and arrest people. Protesters managed to build a defensible barricade in front of the Dunărea ("Danube") restaurant, which stood until after midnight, but was finally torn apart by government forces. Intense continuous shooting continued until after 03:00, by which time the survivors had fled the streets.
Records of the fighting that day include footage shot from helicopters – sent to raid the area and to record evidence for eventual reprisals – as well as by tourists in the high tower of the centrally located InterContinental Hotel, next to the National Theater and across the street from the University.
It is likely that in the early hours of 22 December the Ceaușescus made their second mistake. Instead of fleeing the city under cover of night, they decided to wait until morning to leave. Ceaușescu must have thought that his desperate attempts to crush the protests had succeeded, because he apparently called another meeting for the next morning. However, before 07:00, his wife Elena received the news that large columns of workers from many industrial platforms (large communist-era factories or groups of factories concentrated into industrial zones) were heading towards downtown Bucharest to join the protests. The police barricades that were meant to block access to Piața Universității (University Square) and Palace Square proved useless. By 09:30, University Square was jammed with protesters. Security forces (army, police and others) re-entered the area, only to join with the protesters.
By 10:00, as the radio broadcast was announcing the introduction of martial law and of a ban on groups larger than five persons, hundreds of thousands of people were gathering for the first time, spontaneously, in central Bucharest (the previous day's crowd had come together at Ceaușescu's orders). Ceaușescu attempted to address the crowd from the balcony of the Central Committee of the Communist Party building, but his attempt was met with a wave of disapproval and anger. Helicopters spread manifestos (which did not reach the crowd, due to unfavourable winds) instructing people not to fall victim to the latest "diversion attempts," but to go home instead and enjoy the Christmas feast. This order, which drew unfavorable comparisons to Marie Antoinette's haughty (but apocryphal) "Let them eat cake", further infuriated the people who did read the manifestos; many people at that time had trouble procuring such basic foodstuffs as cooking oil.
Military defection and Ceaușescu's fall
At approximately 09:30 on the morning of 22 December, Vasile Milea, Ceaușescu's minister of defense, died under suspicious circumstances. A communiqué by Ceaușescu stated that Milea had been sacked for treason, and that he had committed suicide after his treason was revealed. The most widespread opinion at the time was that Milea hesitated to follow Ceaușescu's orders to fire on the demonstrators, even though tanks had been dispatched to downtown Bucharest that morning. Milea was already in severe disfavour with Ceaușescu for initially sending soldiers to Timișoara without live ammunition. The rank-and-file soldiers believed that Milea had actually been murdered, and went over virtually en masse to the revolution. The senior commanders wrote off Ceaușescu as a lost cause and made no effort to keep their men loyal to the regime. This effectively ended any chance of Ceaușescu staying in power.
Accounts differ about how Milea died. Milea's family and several junior officers believed he had been shot in his own office by the Securitate, while another group of officers believed he had committed suicide. In 2005, an investigation concluded that the minister killed himself by shooting at his heart, but the bullet missed the heart, hit a nearby artery, and led to his death shortly afterward.
Upon learning of Milea's death, Ceaușescu appointed Victor Stănculescu as minister of defense. He accepted after a brief hesitation. Stănculescu, however, ordered the troops back to their quarters without Ceaușescu's knowledge, and moreover persuaded Ceaușescu to leave by helicopter, thus making the dictator a fugitive. At that same moment, angry protesters began storming the Communist Party headquarters; Stănculescu and the soldiers under his command did not oppose them.
By refusing to carry out Ceaușescu's orders (he was still technically commander-in-chief of the army), Stănculescu played a central role in the overthrow of the dictatorship. "I had the prospect of two execution squads: Ceaușescu's and the revolutionary one!" confessed Stănculescu later. In the afternoon, Stănculescu "chose" Ion Iliescu's political group from among others that were striving for power in the aftermath of the recent events.
Following Ceaușescu's second failed attempt to address the crowd, he and Elena fled into an elevator headed for the roof. A group of protesters managed to force their way into the building, overpower Ceaușescu's bodyguards and make their way through his office before heading onto the balcony. They didn't know it, but they were only a few meters from Ceaușescu. The elevator's electricity failed just before it reached the top floor, and Ceaușescu's bodyguards forced it open and ushered the couple onto the roof.
At 11:20 on 22 December 1989, Ceaușescu's personal pilot, Lieutenant-Colonel Vasile Malutan, received instructions from Lieutenant-General Opruta to proceed to Palace Square to pick up the president. As he flew over Palace Square, he saw it was impossible to land there. Malutan landed his white Dauphin, no. 203, on the terrace at 11:44. A man brandishing a white net curtain from one of the windows waved him down.
Malutan said, "Then Stelica, the co-pilot, came to me and said that there were demonstrators coming to the terrace. Then the Ceaușescus came out, both practically carried by their bodyguards… They look as if they were fainting. They were white with terror. Manea Mănescu (one of the vice-presidents) and Emil Bobu were running behind them. Mănescu, Bobu, Neagoe and another Securitate officer scrambled to the four seats in the back… As I pulled Ceaușescu in, I saw the demonstrators running across the terrace… There wasn't enough space, Elena Ceaușescu and I were squeezed in between the chairs and the door… We were only supposed to carry four passengers… We had six."
According to Malutan, it was 12:08 when they left for Snagov. After they arrived there, Ceaușescu took Malutan into the presidential suite and ordered him to get two helicopters filled with soldiers for an armed guard, and a further Dauphin to come to Snagov. Malutan's unit commander replied on the phone, "There has been a revolution… You are on your own… Good luck!". Malutan then said to Ceaușescu that the second motor was now warmed up and they needed to leave soon but he could only take four people not six. Mănescu and Bobu stayed behind. Ceaușescu ordered Malutan to head for Titu. Near Titu, Malutan says that he made the helicopter dip up and down. He lied to Ceaușescu, saying that this was to avoid anti-aircraft fire, since they would now be in range. Ceaușescu panicked and told him to land.
He did so in a field next to the old road that led to Pitești. Malutan then told his four passengers that he could do nothing more. The Securitate men ran to the roadside and began to flag down passing cars. Two cars were flagged down, one of a forestry official and one a red Dacia of a local doctor. However, the local doctor was keen not to get involved and, after a short time driving the Ceaușescus, faked engine trouble. A car of a bicycle repair man was then flagged down and he took them to Târgoviște. The driver of the car, Nicolae Petrișor, convinced them that they could hide successfully in an agricultural technical institute on the edge of town. When they arrived, the director guided the Ceaușescus into a room and then locked them in. They were arrested by the local police at about 15:30, then after some wandering around transported to the Târgoviște garrison's military compound, and held captive for several days, until their trial.
Trial and execution
On 24 December, Ion Iliescu, head of the newly formed Council of the National Salvation Front signed a Decree on the establishment of the Extraordinary Military Tribunal, a drumhead court-martial to try the Ceaușescus for genocide and other crimes. The trial was held on 25 December, lasted for about 2 hours, and delivered death sentences to the couple. Although nominally the Ceaușescus had a right of appeal, their execution followed immediately, just outside the improvised courtroom, being carried out by three paratroopers with their service rifles.
Footage of the trial and of the executed Ceaușescus was promptly released in Romania and to the rest of the world. The actual moment of execution was not filmed since the cameraman was too slow, and he managed to get into the courtyard just as the shooting ended.
In footage of the trial, Ceaușescu is seen answering the ad hoc tribunal judging him and referring to some of its members—among them Army General Victor Atanasie Stanculescu and future Romanian Secret Service head Virgil Măgureanu—as "traitors". In this same video Ceaușescu dismisses the "tribunal" as illegitimate and demands his constitutional rights to answer to charges in front of a legitimate tribunal.
After Ceaușescu left, the crowds in Palace Square entered a celebratory mood, perhaps even more intense than in the other former Eastern Bloc countries because of the recent violence. People cried, shouted, and gave each other gifts mainly because it was also close to Christmas Day which was a long suppressed holiday in Romania. The occupation of the Central Committee building continued.
People threw Ceaușescu's writings, official portraits, and propaganda books out the windows, intending to burn them. They also promptly ripped off the giant letters from the roof making up the word "comunist" ("communist") in the slogan: "Trăiască Partidul Comunist Român!" ("Long live the Communist Party of Romania!"). A young woman appeared on the rooftop and waved a flag with the coat of arms torn out.
At that time, fierce fights were underway at Bucharest Otopeni International Airport between troops sent against each other under claims that they were going to confront terrorists. Early in the morning, troops sent to reinforce the airport were fired upon. These troops were from the UM 0865 Campina military base, and were summoned there by Gen. Ion Rus, the commander of the Romanian Airforce.
The result of this confrontation lead to 40 soldiers being killed, as well as the death of 8 civilians. The military trucks were allowed entrance into the airport's perimeter, passing several checkpoints. However, after passing the last checkpoint, being on their way to the airport, they were fired upon from multiple directions. A civilian bus was also fired upon during the firefight. After the firefight the remaining surviving soldiers were taken prisoner by the troops guarding the airport, who seemed to think that they were loyal to Ceausescu's regime.
However, the seizure of power by the new political structure National Salvation Front (FSN), which "emanated" from the second tier of the Communist Party leadership with help of the plotting generals, was not yet complete. Forces considered to be loyal to the old regime (spontaneously nicknamed "terrorists") opened fire on the crowd and attacked vital points of socio-political life: the television, radio, and telephone buildings, as well as Casa Scânteii (the centre of the nation's print media, which serves a similar role today under the name Casa Presei Libere, "House of the Free Press") and the post office in the district of Drumul Taberei; Palace Square (site of the Central Committee building, but also of the Central University Library, the national art museum in the former Royal Palace, and the Ateneul Român (Romanian Athaeneum), Bucharest's leading concert hall); the university and the adjoining University Square (one of the city's main intersections); Otopeni and Băneasa airports; hospitals, and the Ministry of Defence.
During the night of 22–23 December, Bucharest residents remained on the streets, especially in the attacked zones, fighting (and ultimately winning, even at the cost of many lives) a battle with an elusive and dangerous enemy. With the military confused by contradictory orders, true battles ensued, with many real casualties. At 21:00 on 23 December, tanks and a few paramilitary units arrived to protect the Palace of the Republic.
Meanwhile, messages of support were flooding in from all over the world: France (President François Mitterrand) ; the Soviet (President Mikhail Gorbachev); Hungary (the Hungarian Socialist Party); the new East German government (at that time the two German states were not yet formally reunited); Bulgaria (Petar Mladenov, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Bulgaria); Czechoslovakia (Ladislav Adamec, leader of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and Václav Havel, the dissident writer, revolution leader and future president of the Republic); China (the Minister of Foreign Affairs); the United States (President George H. W. Bush) ; West Germany (Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher); NATO (Secretary General Manfred Wörner); the United Kingdom (Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher); Spain; Austria; the Netherlands; Italy; Portugal; Japan (the Japanese Communist Party); SFR Yugoslavia government and the Moldavian SSR.
In the following days, moral support was followed by material support. Large quantities of food, medicine, clothing, medical equipment, and other humanitarian aid were sent to Romania. Around the world, the press dedicated entire pages and sometimes even complete issues to the Romanian revolution and its leaders.
On 24 December, Bucharest was a city at war. Tanks, APCs, and trucks continued to go on patrol around the city and to surround trouble spots in order to protect them. At intersections near strategic objectives, roadblocks were built; automatic gunfire continued in and around University Square, the Gara de Nord (the city's main railroad station), and Palace Square. Yet amid the chaos, some people were seen to be clutching makeshift Christmas trees. "Terrorist activities" continued until 27 December, when they abruptly stopped. Nobody ever found who conducted them, or who ordered their termination.
The total number of deaths in the Romanian Revolution was 1,104, of which 162 were in the protests that led to the overthrow of Nicolae Ceaușescu (16–22 December 1989) and 942 in the fighting that occurred after the seizure of power by the new political structure National Salvation Front (FSN). The number of wounded was 3,352, of which 1,107 occurred while Ceaușescu was still in power and 2,245 after the FSN took power.
Burning of the Central University Library
Prosecution and trial
The Revolution brought Romania vast attention from the outside world. Initially, much of the world's sympathy went to the National Salvation Front government under Ion Iliescu, a former member of the Communist Party leadership and a Ceaușescu ally prior to falling into the dictator's disgrace in the early 1980s. The National Salvation Front, composed mainly of former members of the second echelon of the Communist Party, immediately assumed control over the state institutions, including the main media outlets, such as the national radio and television networks. They used their control of the media in order to launch attacks against their political opponents, newly created political parties that claimed to be successors to those existing before 1948.
Much of that sympathy was squandered during the Mineriad. Massive protests were born in downtown Bucharest as political rallies organized by the opposition parties during the presidential elections, with a small part of the protesters deciding to stand ground even after Iliescu was re-elected with an overwhelming score of 85%. Police's attempt to evacuate the remaining protesters resulted in attacks on state institutions, prompting Iliescu to appeal to the country's workers for help. In the following days a large mass of workers, mainly miners, entered Bucharest and brutalized anti-government protesters as well as innocent bystanders.
On the eve of the first free post-communist elections day (20 May 1990), Silviu Brucan who was part of the National Salvation Front (FSN), argued that the 1989 Revolution was not anti-communist, being only against Ceauşescu. He stated that Ion Iliescu made a "monumental" mistake in "conceding to the crowd" and banning the Romanian Communist Party.
Iliescu remained the central figure in Romanian politics for more than a decade, being re-elected for the third time in 2000, after a term out of power between 1996–2000.
While other former ruling Communist parties in the Soviet bloc reconfigured themselves into social democratic or democratic socialist parties, the PCR melted away in the wake of the revolution. No party claiming to be its successor has ever won seats in the Grand National Assembly.
The National Salvation Front chose between the two economic models that political elites claimed were available to post-Communist Eastern European countries: shock therapy or gradual reforms. The NSF chose the latter, slower reforms, because it would have not been possible to convince the people who were already "exhausted" after Ceaușescu's austerity to undergo further sacrifices.
Nevertheless, the neoliberal reforms were implemented, although not all at once: by the end of 1990, the prices were liberalized and a free currency exchange rate, devaluing the leu by 60%. The land of the state-owned collective farms was distributed to private owners and a list of 708 large state-owned enterprises to be privatized was devised.
In 1991, Romania signed an agreement with the IMF and began the privatization of state-owned enterprises, with the first privatization law being passed in 1991. In 1992, the Stolojan government began an austerity plan, limiting wages and further liberalizing prices. The economic situation deteriorated and inflation as well as unemployment increased substantially. The austerity measures, which by 1995 included a decrease in social spending, led to an increase in poverty.
The neoliberal reforms were accelerated after the Democratic Convention won the 1996 elections, the government using its prerogatives to pass a package of laws, removing subsidies, passing reforms on unemployment benefits and greatly increasing the number of privatized companies.
Buildings marked by fire and bullet holes on the northern edge of Revolution Square, Bucharest, July 1990
Long term success
Present-day Romanians currently enjoy unprecedented freedoms unbeknownst to them during the Cold War at a continental scale, largely derived from successes of the Revolution. As EU Citizens they are free to work, have residence, study, invest, own properties and land, vote and be elected in any of the 28 states of the Union (no visa, passport, or permits required other than for any national of that state). Between one and three million Romanians are exercising these freedom and reside elsewhere in the EU. The Accession of Romania to European Union in 2007 made Romania part of the EU treaties and laws. Romanian businesses have unlimited access to one of the largest markets in the world. In 2004, Romania also joined NATO, securing its defense in a region still haunted by territorial aggressions, with volatility and risks originating especially from the East and from across the Black Sea.
The path to economic prosperity took longer than anybody would have anticipated. The economy underwent dramatic structural changes. Today Romania's market economy exports in a month as much as the former centralized state economy over the entire year of 1989. The GDP per capita rose about five times from 10% of the EU-12 average in 1990 to about 50% of EU-28 average in 2014. Romanian industry underwent dramatic and significant transformations. In 1989 the economy was quasi-centralized. An industry using relatively outdated technologies generated modest exports primarily to other socialist countries (62%), developing countries (13%), and only 25% to developed countries. Today, the privately held industry in Romania contributes 30% to the GDP (double the EU average of 15%) and exports higher value added products in developed markets (primarily EU's Single Market). Unlike the communist times however, the re-industrialization is not uniform across the country. The Western and Southern regions are at the forefront of these new developments, while the Eastern part still suffers from significant economical under-development.
Romanian society evolved as well. Initially timid during the mid 2000's, anti-corruption efforts became more bold and wide-reaching. Active assistance from EU and US/NATO helped as well. By 2015, hundreds of former political figures, ranging from mayors and city council members, to former ministers in the Government, members of Parliament, and a former prime-minister were convicted and served time in prison for corruption, traffic of influence, embezzlement of public funds, etc. In November 2014, in another sign of social emancipation, Romanians elected for the first time as President a representative of an ethnic minority and of a minority Christian confession. In the quarter-century since Ceaușescu and communism in Romania's demise, the nation has changed significantly from a vassal communist country in the Eastern Bloc to a more modern and free country that is part of the Western world as a EU country and a trusted NATO member state.
- 1989 Moldova civil unrest
- 8888 Uprising
- Die Wende
- Dissolution of the Soviet Union
- End of Communism in Hungary (1989)
- Fall of communism in Albania
- List of books about the Romanian Revolution
- List of films about the Romanian Revolution
- Mongolian Revolution of 1990
- People Power Revolution
- Revolutions of 1989
- Romanian anti-communist resistance movement
- Singing Revolution
- Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
- Velvet Revolution
- Videograms of a Revolution
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Romanian Revolution of 1989.|
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