Military Wiki
Romanian Revolution
Part of the Revolutions of 1989
File:Romanian Revolution 1989 Demonstrators.jpg
Demonstrators and army vehicles in Bucharest
Date16–27 December 1989
Arad, Braşov, Bucharest, Târgovişte and Timişoara among others
Result Overthrow of Communist regime in Romania, capture and execution of Nicolae and Elena Ceauşescu
Romania Ceaușescu regime
Romania Romanian Armed Forces (until 22 December)
Romanian Communist Party
Anti-government protesters
Romanian Armed Forces (after 22 December)
National Salvation Front
Dissident members of the Romanian Communist Party
Commanders and leaders

Romania Nicolae Ceaușescu Executed

Romania Elena Ceaușescu Executed
Ion Iliescu and others
Casualties and losses
1,104 dead, 3,352 wounded

The Romanian Revolution was a series of riots and protests in Romania in December 1989. These were part of the Revolutions of 1989 that occurred in several Warsaw Pact countries. The Romanian Revolution started in the city of Timişoara and soon spread throughout the country. It ultimately resulted in the violent overthrow and execution of longtime Romanian Communist Party leader Nicolae Ceauşescu, and the end of 42 years of Communist rule in Romania. It was the last ouster of a Communist regime in a Warsaw Pact country during the events of 1989, and the only one that forcibly overthrew the country's Communist government and resulted in the death of its leader.

Street protests and violence in several Romanian cities over the course of roughly a week led the Romanian dictator to abandon power and flee Bucharest with his wife, Deputy Prime Minister Elena Ceauşescu. Captured in Târgovişte, they were tried in a show trial by a 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 found guilty of all charges, and immediately executed on Christmas Day 1989, becoming the last persons ever to be condemned to death and executed in Romania.

In the wake of the revolution, 1,104 people died, 162 of these occurring in the protests that took place from 16 to 22 December 1989 and brought an end to the Ceauşescu regime and the remaining 942 in the riots before the seizure of power by a new political structure, the National Salvation Front. Most deaths occurred in cities such as Timişoara, Bucharest, Sibiu and Arad. The number of injured reached 3,352, of which 1,107 are for the period in which Ceauşescu still held power, and the remaining 2,245 are for the period after the seizure of power by the National Salvation Front.


In 1981, Ceauşescu began an austerity program designed to enable Romania to liquidate its entire national debt ($10 billion). In order 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.[1]

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 in order to make it easier to bend the people to the Party's will.[2] Even by Soviet bloc standards, the Securitate was exceptionally brutal.[3]

Ceauşescu 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 Ceauşescu, 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, Ceauşescu 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 Ceauşescu 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).[4][5] Conversely, while Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev spoke of reform, Ceauşescu 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 Braşov Rebellion of November 1987 at the truck manufacturer Steagul Roşu. In March 1989, several leading activists of the Romanian Communist Party (PCR) protested in a letter that criticized the economic policies of Nicolae Ceauşescu, but shortly thereafter Ceauşescu 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 the austerity and the shortage of goods remained the same as before.

It initially appeared that Ceauşescu 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, Ceauşescu'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 Ceauşescu 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 Decreţei 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. Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner in the Freakonomics argue that the unwanted children that result from bans on abortion and contraception are much less well-adjusted and much more prone to both crime and rebellion against authority. By 1989, these children had all reached adulthood, and this cohort was the one that started the revolution that overthrew Ceauşescu. Levitt and Dubner argue that this is why Romania had a violent revolution leading to the death of the country's dictator that most other eastern European countries avoided.

Timişoara uprising

On 16 December 1989, a protest broke out on part of the Hungarian minority in Timişoara in response to an attempt by the government to evict Hungarian Reformed church pastor László Tőkés. Tőkés had in July that year made critical comments against the regime's Systematization policy[6] to the Hungarian television,[7] and complained that the Romanians do 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.”[8]

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.


Riots and protests resumed the following day, 17 December. The rioters broke into the District Committee building and threw Party documents, propaganda brochures, Ceauşescu'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 (Ceauşescu, 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 Ceauşescu 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 Ştefan Guşă (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 larger than two people.

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 "Deşteaptă-te, române!" ("Wake up, 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 Ştefan Guşă 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, Ceauşescu pică!" ("Have no fear, Ceauşescu is falling!").

Meanwhile, Emil Bobu (Secretary to the Central Committee) and Prime Minister Constantin Dăscălescu were sent by Elena Ceauşescu (Nicolae Ceauşescu 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 Ceauşescu), and the situation remained essentially unchanged.

The next day, trains loaded with workers originating from factories in Oltenia arrived in Timişoara. The regime was attempting to use them to repress the mass protests, but after a brief encounter they finally 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 Timişoara 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 Ceauşescu had departed for a visit to Iran, leaving the duty of crushing the Timişoara 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 Timişoara 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 of the Timişoara events from the national media, heard about the Timişoara 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 Ceauşescu," emulating the 1968 meeting in which Ceauşescu had spoken against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact forces.

Revolution spreads

Ceauşescu's speech

Protesters in Cluj-Napoca on the morning of 21 December. This photo was taken by Răzvan Rotta after security forces opened fire.

The balcony where Ceaușescu delivered his last speech, overtaken by the crowd during the Romanian Revolution of 1989.

On the morning of 21 December Ceauşescu addressed an assembly of approximately 100,000 people, to condemn the uprising in Timişoara. Party officials took great pains to make it appear that Ceauşescu was still immensely popular. Several busloads of workers, under threat of being fired, arrived in Bucharest's Piaţa Palatului (Palace Square, now Piaţa Revoluţiei – Revolution Square) and were given red flags, banners and large pictures of Ceauşescu. They were augmented by several bystanders who were rounded up on Calea Victoriei.[2]

In a speech laden with the usual Marxist–Leninist "wooden language", spurting out pro-socialist and Communist Party rhetoric, Ceauşescu delivered a litany of the achievements of the "socialist revolution" and Romanian "multi-laterally developed socialist society". He blamed the Timişoara uprising on "fascist agitators."

However, Ceauşescu was out of touch with his people and completely misread the crowd's mood. The people remained unresponsive, and only the front rows supported Ceauşescu 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 Ceauşescu's rule. Workers from a Bucharest power plant started chanting "Ti-mi-şoa-ra! Ti-mi-şoa-ra!"—a chant that was soon picked up by others in the crowd. In response, Ceauşescu 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 US$ 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.[2]

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[by whom?] that perhaps 76% of the nation was watching.[citation needed] Censors attempted to cut the live video feed, and replace it with Communist propaganda songs and video praising the Ceauşescu regime, but parts of the riots had already been broadcast and most of the Romanian people realized that something unusual was in progress.

Ceauşescu and his wife, as well as other officials and CPEx members, panicked, and Ceauşescu'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 Timişoara, in turmoil. Members of the crowd spontaneously began shouting anti-Ceauşescu 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"), "Ceauşescu cine eşti?/Criminal din Scorniceşti" ("Ceauşescu, who are you? A criminal from Scorniceşti").

Protesters eventually flooded the downtown area, from Piaţa Kogălniceanu to Piaţa Unirii, Piaţa Rosetti, and Piaţa 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.

Street confrontations

File:Romanian Revolution 1989 1.jpg

The army is solidary with protesters who take war tanks on the streets of Bucharest.

File:Mass on the street 1989.jpg

Streets filled by protesters in Bucharest.

File:Romanian Revlution 1989 2.jpg

Deployment of the Romanian army troops on the streets of Bucharest to control civil unrest.

As the hours passed, many more people took to the streets. Later, observers claimed that even at this point, had Ceauşescu been willing to talk, he might have been able to salvage something. Instead, he decided on force.[2] 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 Timişoara). 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 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 Ceauşescus made their second mistake. Instead of fleeing the city under cover of night, they decided to wait until morning to leave. Ceauşescu 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 Piaţa Universităţii (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, yet hundreds of thousands of people were gathering for the first time, spontaneously, in central Bucharest (the previous day's crowd had come together at Ceauşescu's orders). Ceauşescu 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 Ceauşescu's fall

At approximately 09:30 on the morning of 22 December, Vasile Milea, Ceauşescu's minister of defense, died under suspicious circumstances. A communiqué by Ceauşescu 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 Ceauşescu'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 Ceauşescu for initially sending soldiers to Timişoara 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 Ceauşescu as a lost cause and made no effort to keep their men loyal to the regime. For all intents and purposes, this ended any chance of Ceauşescu staying in power.[2]

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.[2] 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, Ceauşescu appointed Victor Stănculescu as minister of defense. He accepted after a brief hesitation. Stănculescu, however, ordered the troops back to their quarters without Ceauşescu's knowledge, and moreover persuaded Ceauşescu 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 Ceauşescu'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: Ceauşescu'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.

Helicopter extraction

Following Ceauşescu'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 Ceauşescu'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 Ceauşescu. The elevator's electricity failed just before it reached the top floor, and Ceauşescu's bodyguards forced it open and ushered the couple onto the roof.[2]

At 11:20 on 22 December 1989, Ceauşescu'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.[9]

Malutan said, "Then Stelica, the co-pilot, came to me and said that there were demonstrators coming to the terrace. Then the Ceauşescus 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 Ceauşescu in, I saw the demonstrators running across the terrace ... There wasn't enough space, Elena Ceauşescu and I were squeezed in between the chairs and the door .. We were only supposed to carry four passengers .. We had six."[9]

According to Malutan, it was 12:08 when they left for Snagov. After they arrived there, Ceauşescu 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 Ceauşescu 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. Ceauşescu ordered Malutan to head for Titu. Near Titu, Malutan says that he made the helicopter dip up and down. He lied to Ceauşescu, saying that this was to avoid anti-aircraft fire, since they would now be in range. Ceauşescu panicked and told him to land.[10]

He did so in a field next to the old road that led to Piteşti. 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 Ceauşescus, faked engine trouble. A car of a bicycle repair man was then flagged down and he took them to Târgovişte. The driver of the car, Nicolae Petrişor, convinced them that they could hide successfully in an agricultural technical institute on the edge of town. When they arrived, the director guided the Ceauşescus 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 Târgovişte garrison's military compound, and held captive for several days, until their trial.[11]

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 Ceauşescus 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 Ceauşescus had a right of appeal, their execution followed immediately, on the spot, being carried out by three paratroopers with their service rifles.

Footage of the trial and of the executed Ceauşescus 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.[12]

In footage of the trial,[13] Ceauşescu is seen answering the "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 Ceauşescu dismisses the "tribunal" as illegitimate and demands his constitutional rights to answer to charges in front of a legitimate tribunal.

New government

Ion Iliescu at the Romanian Television during the Romanian Revolution of 1989.

Petre Roman speaking to the crowd in Bucharest.

After Ceauşescu 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 Ceauşescu'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.[14] These troops were from the UM 0865 Campina military base, and were summoned there by Gen. Ion Rus, the commander of the Romanian Airforce.[14]

The result of this confrontation lead to 40 soldiers being killed, as well as the death of 8 civilians.[14] The military trucks were allowed entrance into the airport's perimeter, passing several checkpoints.[14] However, after passing the last checkpoint, being on their way to the airport, they were fired upon from multiple directions.[14] A civilian bus was also fired upon during the firefight.[14] 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.[14]

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.

File:Romanian Revolution 1989 5.jpg

Military fighting against unidentified attackers believed to be loyalists of the regime (served with cakes by a civilian).

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); and the Moldavian SSR.

USAF C-130 Hercules unloads medical supplies at the Bucharest airport on 31 December.

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[citation needed].


File:Romanian Revolution 1989 Corpses.jpg

Corpses lying in a morgue

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 Ceauşescu (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 Ceauşescu was still in power and 2,245 after the FSN took power.[15][16]


Political changes

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 Ceauşescu 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. 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.

Economic reforms

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.[17] 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[18] and a list of 708 large state-owned enterprises to be privatized was devised.[19]

In 1991, Romania signed an agreement with the IMF and it began the privatization of state-owned enterprises, with the first privatization law being passed in 1991.[20] 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.[21] The austerity measures, which by 1995 included a decrease in social spending, led to an increase in poverty.[22]

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.[23]

See also

< Communist Romania | History of Romania | Present Romania >


  1. Roper, p. 55-56
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Sebetsyen, Victor (2009). Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-42532-2. 
  3. Craig S. Smith, "Eastern Europe Struggles to Purge Security Services", The New York Times, 12 December 2006
  4. Mitchell, Houston. "L.A.'s greatest sports moments No. 3: 1984 Olympics opening". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  5. "1984 Los Angeles Summer Games". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  6. Roper, p.59
  7. Brubaker, Rogers: Nationalist politics and everyday ethnicity in a Transylvanian town. Princeton University Press, 2006, page 119. ISBN 0-691-12834-0
  8. Der Grenzer am Eisernen Vorhang. Part 4. A film by Sylvia Nagel. LE Vision GmbH. Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk (MDT), 2008. Broadcast by YLE Teema, 3 Jan 2012.
  9. 9.0 9.1 George Galloway and Bob Wylie, Downfall: The Ceauşescus and the Romanian Revolution, p. 168–169. Futura Publications, 1991
  10. George Galloway and Bob Wylie, Downfall: The Ceauşescus and the Romanian Revolution, p. 170
  11. George Galloway and Bob Wylie, Downfall: The Ceauşescus and the Romanian Revolution, p. 171
  12. George Galloway and Bob Wylie, Downfall: The Ceauşescus and the Romanian Revolution, p. 199
  13. "YouTube". YouTube. Retrieved 2013-10-01. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 [1][dead link]
  15. Revolution, Timişoara.
  16. Marius Mioc, Revoluţia din Timişoara aşa cum fost, 1997.
  17. Roper, p.88–89
  18. Roper, p.89–90
  19. Roper, p.95
  20. Roper, p.91
  21. Roper, p.93
  22. Roper, p.95–97
  23. Roper, p.100


Further reading

  • (Romanian) —, "Sinucidere – un termen acoperitor pentru crimă" ("Suicide – a term to cover up a crime") in Jurnalul Naţional (retrieved from web site 30 December 2004; no date indicated for original publication); on the death of Vasile Milea. (in Romanian)
  • (Romanian) The series of 3 articles in the Romanian newspaper Adevărul, 2003 (see archives) entitled "Eu am fost sosia lui Nicolae Ceauşescu" ("I was Ceauşescu’s double"). These are about Col. Dumitru Burlan, who also wrote a book Dupa 14 ani – Sosia lui Ceauşescu se destăinuie ("After 14 Years – The Double of Ceauşescu confesses"). Editura Ergorom, 31 July 2003.
  • Mark Almond, Uprising: Political Upheavals that have Shaped the World, 2002. Mitchell Beazley, London.
  • Nicolae Ceauşescu, Nicolae Ceauşescu’s speech, condemning the protests of Timişoara, broadcast on 20 December 1989 (in Romanian)
  • Dennis Deletant, Romania under communist rule (1999). Center for Romanian Studies in cooperation with the Civic Academy Foundation, (Iaşi, Romania; Portland, Oregon), ISBN 973-98392-8-2. Gives a detailed account of the events in December 1989 in Timişoara.
  • George Galloway and Bob Wylie, Downfall: The Ceauşescus and the Romanian Revolution, 1991, Futura Publications, London. ISBN 0-7088-5003-0
  • (Romanian) Marius Mioc, Revoluţia din Timişoara, aşa cum a fost, 1997, Brumar Publishing House, Timişoara (in Romanian)
  • (Romanian) Marius Mioc, The anticommunist Romanian Revolution of 1989, Marineasa Publishing House, Timişoara 2002
  • (Romanian) Marian Oprea, "Au trecut 15 ani – Conspiraţia Securităţii" ("After 15 years – the conspiracy of Securitate"), Lumea Magazin Nr 10, 2004: (in Romanian; link leads to table of contents, verifying that the article exists, but the article itself is not online).
  • (Romanian) Viorel Patrichi, "Eu am fost sosia lui Nicolae Ceauşescu" ("I was Ceauşescu's double"), Lumea Nr 12, 2001
  • Siani-Davies, Peter (2005 (2007)). The Romanian Revolution of December 1989. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-4245-1. 
  • (Romanian) Victor Stanculescu, "Nu vă fie milă, au 2 miliarde de lei în cont" "Show no mercy, they have two billion lei [33 million U.S. dollars] in their bank account") in Jurnalul Naţional) 22 Nov 2004
  • (Romanian) Domniţa Ştefănescu, Cinci ani din Istoria României ("Five years in the history of Romania"), 1995. Maşina de Scris, Bucharest.
  • (Romanian) Mihai Voinea, Crimele Revoluţiei: Masacrul de la Otopeni ("Murders of the Revolution: The Otopeni Massacre") in Adevarul 15 Dec 2009

External links

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