Twenty years on Romania's revolution still shrouded in mystery

14th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

As communist regimes crumbled across eastern and central Europe in late 1989, Romania’s leader fled massive protests outside the communist party's headquarters before being arrested and executed only three days later.

Bucharest -- Romania is marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of its communist dictatorship this month but many of the dramatic events that led to the execution of its leader are still shrouded in mystery.

"Some questions are still without an answer," Viorel Oancea, the first member of the military to address an anti-communist rally in the town of Timisoara in December 1989, told AFP.

"We still don't know who was shooting before (Nicolae) Ceausescu fled, and certainly not who did after his flight."

As communist regimes crumbled across eastern and central Europe in late 1989, Ceausescu and his wife Elena fled massive protests outside the communist party's headquarters on December 22 before being arrested and executed only three days later.

Prior to their flight security forces tried to quell mass protests in Timisoara and Bucharest in crackdowns unseen elsewhere in eastern Europe, leaving 1,104 people dead -- 162 before and 942 after December 22.

The number of people wounded topped 3,352.

But whatever the unknowns during those momentous December days Oancea has no doubt Romanians did carry out "a revolution because there was regime change.”

Former Ceausescu opponent Radu Filipescu agrees but also sees "foreign secret services at work" at the time, without elaborating.

But he adds, "You cannot talk about a pseudo-revolution because people did get killed.”

Prosecutor Dan Voinea, who drew up the charge sheet against the Ceausescus -- the dictator's wife was first deputy prime minister in the 1980s -- and later investigated the uprising, said those responsible for the deaths had been identified.

They were "all from the military,” he says. "Before December 22, the entire machine of repression took on the demonstrators. After the 22, only the army was involved."

Only a few sentences against those responsible have been handed down however due to "a lack of political will,” Voinea believes.

Rumours about mysterious "terrorists,” or snipers allegedly loyal to Ceausescu were nothing but disinformation for which Voinea puts the blame on the army. The idea behind the move? "The defence of the communist administration," he says.

Petre Roman, the first prime minister of post-communist Romania, rejects the idea that Ceausescu's ouster was the result of a coup and calls the regime change a revolution. "There was never a coup d'etat," he says.

But he concedes that there is enough evidence to believe that the post-communist regime under president Ion Iliescu, a onetime member of the communist party's Central Committee -- the party "parliament" -- snatched the outcome of the revolution from those who had fought to make it possible.

"Among the new establishment many were former communist leaders," said Roman. "That was Ion Iliescu's mistake."

For his own rise to power under these circumstances Roman has a simple explanation: "I was available; I had the legitimacy of the barricades.”

Filipescu, who spent three years in prison for handing out anti-Ceausescu leaflets, has few regrets for the dictator's summary execution at an army barracks in the southern town of Targoviste.

"Do you have any idea of how long a trial would have lasted?" he says.

But prosecutor Voinea says he had no idea that for Iliescu and his aides the execution of Romania's first couple had been a forgone conclusion.

"I had an hour to bring in an accusation and I charged Ceausescu with crimes against humanity," he says. "Everything he had done was widely known."

So what about the 60,000 dead, one of the main counts?

"I read about that in the press," Voinea says.

He also dismisses doubts about the circumstances of the Ceausescus' death after experts questioned a video showing the bullet-ridden bodies of the two.

"I was at the execution. It happened very quickly; the cameraman didn't even have time to film it," he says.

But Oancea thinks "we will never know the full truth. Twenty years on the phantom of communism is still haunting us."


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