Romania's Bloody Revolution: 20 Years Later

The figureheads and masterminds of the mysterious overthrow, which took place behind the Iron Curtain in 1989, are still alive today. One of them is poet Mircea Dinescu, who announced the news that the despot had been overthrown on a live television broadcast. He has since been sharply critical, on talk shows and in opinion pieces, of what he calls the failed revolution. Another is former President Ion Iliescu, who continues to wield power today as an eminence grise of the political class. And then there is Victor Stanculescu, a former virtuoso classical singer with the rank of a four-star general, who transformed himself from a confidant of the Ceausescus into a traitor in their eyes in December 1989, and is incarcerated today in the Bucharest-Rahova maximum-security prison.

Popular Revolt

What seems to be clear is that there was a popular revolt, supported by thousands and thousands of oppressed, freezing Romanians who also lacked food. There was also a small group of potential insurgents, veterans of the party, military and security organizations who had been thinking about overthrowing Ceausescu for a long time. Eventually, a time came when the two movements intersected and were briefly united. The result was a powerful wave of resistance that brought down the regime on Dec. 22, 1989.

For General Victor Stanculescu, that historic day began with a trick. Stanculescu, who was also deputy defense minister, asked a doctor he trusted to put a plaster cast on his left leg, which was completely healthy. Freshly returned from the front in Timisoara -- where protests against the Ceausescu regime had been brutally suppressed for days -- the dashing and clever general realized, earlier than other members of the party, military and intelligence leadership, that the regime could no longer be saved.

The resistance began in Timisoara, a major city in the western Romanian portion of the Central European Banat region, when Pastor Laszlo Tokes was told that he was to be reassigned. The eloquent and intrepid pastor, a member of the Hungarian minority, was a popular dissident who had vocally criticized the regime's ongoing human rights violations. He was a thorn in the side of a regime with a history of making people like Tokes disappear. On Dec. 16, 1989, the members of his congregation formed a human chain around Tokes's house in an attempt to prevent security forces from taking him away.

That was the beginning. Starting in Timisoara, the revolution began to spread throughout the country like a wildfire. The army and secret police units fired at their own people for days. Ceausescu underestimated the scope of the resistance. Even as bodies were lying in the streets, he traveled to Tehran on a state visit, leaving his wife Elena to run the country for two days.

Ceausescu Left in Dark

Back in Bucharest, the "Conducator," or "leader," decided that it was time to address the people from the balcony of the Central Committee building. The response was unheard of: boos and catcalls. The image of the Romanian leader wearing an Astrakhan fur hat, grimacing as he attempted to quell the protests, is part of the iconography of the Romanian revolution.

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