26 years ago, the Revolution toppling down the communist regime broke out in Bucharest. After a fiery night, the Ceaușscu couple was flying away, with the ruling being held by the people in the street, for a short time. What happened next is still unclear, while those guilty for the death of hundreds of people remained unpunished.
The manifestation began in Timișoara on December 15, 1989, as a response to the government’s attempt to evict Reformed priest Laszlo Tokes. The crowd made common cause with the priest, but their actions were bloodily quashed. However, Timișoara was the first city in Romania declared free of the communist ruling.
Timșoara residents’ actions found their echo in Bucharest on December 21, 1989.
In a TV speech, dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, just returned from a visit to Iran on December 20, stigmatizes the demonstrators from Timișoara, calling them enemies of the Socialist revolution. He calls for a great popular assembly in front of the Central Committee (in Revolution Square now) for the next day, a gathering that was meant to ‘reinforce’ the population’s support for the party and state leadership.
From the building’s balcony, Ceaușescu addresses the crowd, recalling the Socialist revolution’s achievements, but the reaction of the people is not the expected one. The dictator gets applauds only in the first queues.
At some point, an explosion is heard, apparently caused by a group of Timișoara residents who had come to Bucharest, and the crowd starts fermenting. Ceaușescu tries to calm it down in vain, as the people began to melt away, throwing the flags and the placards, while anti-communism slogans began to salute the ear: “Down with the dictator!”, “Death to the criminal!”, “We are the people, down with the dictator!”, “Down with Ceaușescu”, “Today in Timișoara, tomorrow countrywide”.
Before withdrawing from the Central Committee’s HQs, Ceaușescu tries to “bribe” the crowd, promising the salaries will rise by RON 100.
Meanwhile, the demonstrators were regrouping at Universitate, improvising a barricade from chairs and tables in front of the Intercontinental Hotel.
Nicolae Ceaușescu asks for all the army forces to suppress the manifestation and the repression, coordinated by the Defense Minister Vasile Milea, starts in the evening and will last up to the next day. Soldiers, tanks, armoured vehicles, officers of the Special Unit of Anti-terrorist Fight and Securitate officers, dressed in civilian, were mobilized. They fired from the top of the buildings, from the back streets or from inside the tanks. People were shot, stabbed or crushed by the tanks. Others were beaten and detained by the police officers and taken to Jilava Penitentiary. The barricade from Intercontinental was annihilated after midnight, but the carnage lasted until 3 o’clock in the morning, when there was nobody on the street. The pavement was washed out from blood by the firemen’s vehicles. 49 people died that night, while other 500 were injured and over 1,000 were detained and taken to Jilava.
The next morning, the news of the butchery gets to the workers from the great industrial platforms of the Capital city.
At 9:30, the Defense minister Vasile Milea kills himself and Victor Stănculescu is appointed the new minister. The State of emergency is decreed in the entire country, people being banned to get together more than five persons.
Despite the ban, over 100,000 people gathered downtown Bucharest that morning. Around 11:30, Ceaușescu made a last attempt to address the crowd from the Central Committee’s balcony, but he met the people’s opposition.
In no time, the demonstrators began to break in the building and escalated the balcony. Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu found shelter on the building’s roof, where a helicopter was waiting for them. After his getaway, the demonstrators occupied the Central Committee building and the national public television. The 12:30 hour was considered the moment of the Revolution’s victory.
Yet, as of the night of December 22, the general euphoria was replace by chaos, as unknown persons, generically called “terrorists” kept firing at the public institutions and at people.
Universitate Square, the Television, the Radio, the Phone Palace, Casa Scânteii, the postal offices of Otopeni and Băneasa airports, hospitals and the Defense Ministry were being attacked. French journalist Jean-Louis Calderon dies crushed by a tank in the Palace Square on the night of December 22 to December 23.
During all that time, conflicting, unsifted information were spread, which created a general psychosis state. Reinforcements are sent at Otopen Airport, but the defenders think they are being attacked and fire at the aids, killing around 50 military.
On this rumor background, civilians were also equipped with guns to join the army forces, but they used to chaotically fire anytime a stray gunshot was heard or at any suspect move, for instance when people opened their windows or moved their curtains. Therefore, some deaths were reported among people in their very houses, with bullets getting in through the windows.
The street fight, with enemies whose identities are still unknown, at least in some cases, ended on December 25, when the dictatorial couple, Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu, was executed following a hasty trial judged by a military court.
According to statistics provided by the Health Ministry, after the death toll reaching 49 on December 22, afterwards, other 515 people were killed and 1,162 injured in Bucharest. 1,104 dead were registered countrywide and 3,321 wounded.
The Revolution file was delayed many times during those 26 years. In 2008, Victor Stănculescu and another general, former Interior Minister Mihai Chițac were convicted of aggravated manslaughter for the shooting deaths of protesters in Timișoara during the Romanian Revolution of 1989. Mihai Chițac died at 82 in 2010, while Stănculescu was released from jail last year.
This year in October, the military prosecutors have closed the 1989 Revolution file, ruling that there are previous convictions for some of the crimes in some other cases.
The file was also closed for murder and attempt to murder crimes, as well as for instigation to murder, on the ground that the criminal deeds ‘deadline was prescribed. The case was closed for manslaughter, but also for beat or instigation to beat and other violence.
Out of those 709 dead people, 161 are officers and non-commissioned officers, as well as military in service. Prosecutors established that in some cases, the death was caused “by the imprudent operation of the arms, while the victims were among those who were in the close proximity of the perpetrators.”
At the same time, the investigators claim that the death was not produced by shooting in all cases, but there were situations when the victims died due to other causes such as aggression, arson, air or road crash.
Moreover, the ordinance of the prosecutors show that military shot at one another due to stress and fatigue.
The Parliament is convening today for a solemn session to mark 26 years since the 1989 Revolution, while several events commemorating the martyr heroes will take place at several locations in Bucharest.