1989 Revolution’s outbreak in Bucharest: dead, injured and blooded streets

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The 1989 demonstration in Timisoara found its echo in Bucharest on December 21, when booing and whistles were heard among cheers and chants at the People’s Assembly convened by the communist ruler Nicolae Ceausescu. Subsequently, street demonstration was to be repressed with bullets and arrests.

Precisely 25 years ago, although a day before he had labeled the people protesting in Timisoara as enemies of the socialist revolution, dictator Nicolae Ceausescu convened a big people’s assembly in front of the Romanian Communist Party’s (PCR) Central Committee building around noon, aimed at conveying the message that people were supporting the party and state leadership.

Nicolae Ceausescu was speaking from the balcony of the Central Committee building on the achievements of the “socialist revolution” and of the “multilaterally developed socialist society”, while in the streets the crowds were supposed to slam the “hooligan acts” from Timisoara and to express solidarity with PCR leadership.

Booing and whistles became louder and louder among cheers and chants. Sudden movements coming from one side of the congregation and the sound of firecrackers turned the demonstration into chaos. The crowd began to flee towards nearby streets, abandoning the flags and pictures of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. The bravest ones tried to make themselves heard: “Don’t leave folks, this is the moment, let’s go to Intercontinental” was being heard. More and more were shouting: “Down with Ceausescu!”, “Down with the executioner!”, “Down with the illiterate!”, “Down with the cobbler!”, “You are Romanians, too!”.

Ceausescu’s image from that moment – with his face contorted by wonder and fear, with his lips unsuccessfully trying to articulate a few words and with his right hand raised – was soon to be aired on TV stations around the world. The live broadcasting of the Romanian Television was cut off with this image. After a short pause, the Television resumed the live broadcasting, continuing as if nothing special had happened, with a few images on the hasty ending of the people’s assembly in Bucharest. Beforehand, Ceausescu had had time to announce the increase of salaries, pensions and social benefits with a few hundreds lei.

Soon afterwards, Bucharest’s downtown, from Romana Square to Unirii Square and from Kogalniceanu Square to Rosetti Square, got filled with demonstrators. In front of the Intercontinental hotel, youth knelt and kept moments of silence for Timisoara’s victims. Within hours, the city seemed ready for war. On one hand, the demonstrators, unarmed and unorganized, some with flowers in their hands which they were offering to soldiers, on the other hand, soldiers equipped with helmets and shields, lined up on the streets of Bucharest’s downtown, tanks, APCs, Special Anti-terrorist Unit troops, armed civilians.

The shootings began, bullets were flying allover from the top of the buildings, from among the demonstrators, from the nearby streets or from the tanks. Some demonstrators were shot. Some others were thrown to the ground by powerful jets of water coming from the fire trucks, and the police was taking demonstrators by car straight to Jilava prison. In order to resist the offensive, the demonstrators were trying to organize themselves. In front of the “Danube” restaurant, opposite the Intercontinental hotel, a makeshift barricade was made, which became the revolutionaries’ provisional headquarters and the attack target of the repression forces. At midnight, when the repression was being furiously unleashed, the barricade was destroyed and the cranes removed it piece by piece. Up to 3 am, they had shot people like mad. In the morning, the blood on the pavement was already washed and the Capital City seemed ready for a regular day.

The wounded and dead were transported mainly at the Institute of Forensic Medicine, at the Emergency Hospital, at Coltea Hospital and at the neurosurgery ward of Gheorghe Marinescu Hospital. The General Prosecutor’s Office and the Health Department have banned the victims’ autopsy. An order was given – same as for the revolutionaries killed in Timisoara – to incinerate the corpses, but this order was not executed after all.

What was happening across the country meanwhile

On December 21, 1989, while in Bucharest the massacre was starting, trains full of workers were heading from Valcea and Dolj Counties to Timisoara. People had been taken out from their work shifts in factories, embarked on trains and sent to Timisoara. They were told that the Hungarians attacked Romania, in Timisoara, and that their help is needed to defend the country. They were also told that there were “thugs” to be appeased in Timisoara.

In the meantime, in front of the Opera in Timisoara, people were still protesting and were asking for Nicolae Ceausescu’s removal. Also during that day, at Timisoara Opera House, the first post-revolutionary party was formed: The Romanian Democratic Front.

The day of December 21 also marked the onset of the Revolution in Cluj-Napoca, almost immediately after the speech held by Nicolae Ceausescu in Bucharest.

At around 2 pm, on the city’s industrial platform, the workers who had come out of the first shift from the Heavy Equipment Factory (CUG) gathered in front of the enterprise, and those who were to enter the second shift joined them. Hundreds of people rounded up and started walking towards the city center.

The hot spot of the Revolution in Cluj-Napoca was, however, Libertatii Square (now Unirii Square), where the interruption of Nicolae Ceausescu’s speech was met by the writers in Cluj, from the balcony of the Writers’ Association and of the Tribune magazine at almost 1 pm, with “Victory” chants, and later on, at around 3 pm, the group of 10-15 people led by actor Calin Nemes, constituted the catalyst of the rebellion. He addressed the passers-by in the Square and asked them to solidarize with Timisoara citizens, shouting “Timisoara, Timisoara”. That was the moment when the soldiers started shooting and when the first dead and injured were registered at Cluj, among the wounded having been also Calin Nemes.

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