Romania's Bloody Revolution: 20 Years Later

"The Securitate kept Ceausescu in the dark about the true situation in the country," says former General Stanculescu. Then he recounts what happened in those last few, dramatic hours, how he limped into the Central Committee building on the morning of Dec. 22, 1989, his leg in a cast, to discover that he had just been promoted to defense minister, replacing Vasile Milea, who had refused to order the army to shoot at the people and was found dead only minutes earlier. To this day, no one knows whether Milea was murdered or committed suicide.

More than 100,000 angry protestors had already gathered outside, on the square in front of the party headquarters building. Ceausescu stepped onto the balcony one last time, armed with a megaphone, but he was unable to make himself heard.

While the angry mob stormed the Central Committee building, pushing its way past heavily armed secret police, Stanculescu organized the escape of the dictator and his wife. He ordered a helicopter flown to the roof of the building. Accompanied by two politburo members and two bodyguards, the Ceausescus managed to save themselves. "Victor, please take care of our children," Elena Ceausescu called out to the new defense minister, according to eyewitnesses.

'The Dictator Has Fled'

Stanculescu denies this. The former general, now 81, is only willing to concede that Ceausescu's wife, known as "Office Number 2," had favored him as the army's representative at official events "because, unfortunately, I was more attractive than the others." At the trial in Tirgoviste, shortly before the court pronounced its death sentence, Elena Ceausescu recognized her mistake, and called out: "There is a traitor among us. He is known."

At the time, says Stanculescu, shrugging his shoulders, he had only one choice, "to be killed by the revolutionaries or the Ceausescus."

The general's decision to change sides and join the insurgents is one of the key moments of the revolution. In his position as the new defense minister, he secretly ordered the army to return to the barracks. Surrounded by the chaos of a leaderless country, he tried to remain calm, and after the Ceausescus, having briefly disappeared from the radar screen of the security agencies, he decided what was to happen to them. In the end, Stanculescu even personally selected the marksmen who would carry out the execution.

But at that point the Ceausescus still had three days to live. When the helicopter stopped at the Ceausescus' summer home in Snagov, Elena quickly packed jewels and bathrobes into their suitcases, while her husband was on the phone searching for places where they could go. At the pilot's suggestion the two boarded the helicopter again and -- Romania's airspace having been closed in the meantime -- after a short flight, were dropped off in an open field in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. It was the beginning of a grotesque odyssey.

'You Are Now in the Hands of the Masses'

The aging Ceausescus spent the next few hours wandering through the scenery of a country they had shaped to satisfy their gruesome demands, but had never experienced from an ordinary perspective. Their first vehicle broke down, and a second vehicle took them to an agricultural technical institute in Tirgoviste, where they were taken into custody by a militia in the evening. "You are now in the hands of the masses," Ceausescu was told. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "In whose hands?" he asked.

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