Romania's Bloody Revolution: 20 Years Later

They died in Bucharest, Sibiu, Brasov and Timisoara. They died as a result of shots from nine-millimeter Stechkin pistols -- the kind used only by special units of the Securitate secret police -- but also as a result of bullets from other guns, sniper fire and Kalashnikov salvos. Weapons were distributed to civilians, members of the secret police were spotted in army uniforms and foreign mercenaries working for the Securitate. There were reports of 4,000 Russians in the country, says Stanculescu, "supposedly tourists, always four men in a car, as if they were on their way to a gay wedding."

"We have no proof that such things happened. Intelligence services are always nearby when there is a revolution," says Iliescu, who became Romania's first democratically elected president in 1990. He admits that the widespread chaos in December 1989 was aggravated by made-up reports from the television headquarters controlled by the National Salvation Front leaders -- reports that the drinking water had been poisoned, the army was on its last legs and unknown "terrorists" were in the pay of the counter-revolution.

Creating a 'Reason to Kill Ceausescu'

"Tensions were stirred up at the time to create reason to kill Ceausescu," says former General Stanculescu. By whom? "You'd have to ask Iliescu."

The implied accusation that Stanculescu makes 20 years later leads to the core question of the revolution. If the "terrorists" were invented or controlled by the Front leaders, the show trial of Ceausescu was unnecessary and the deaths of hundreds of innocent people were crimes for which the leaders of the coup should be held accountable.

Who were the "terrorists?" Ion Iliescu doesn't miss a beat. "They existed within the Securitate, the army and the special forces," he says, smiling the wise, unflinching smile that earned him the nickname "little grandmother." "Why should we have had to provoke these people? It wasn't necessary. It was the will of the people to get rid of the Ceausescus." General Stanculescu handled the details of the trial and execution. He says he wanted to be informed by the Front leadership as soon as they had agreed on how to proceed against Ceausescu's using his direct telephone line, extension 262. A code word had been arranged for the final preparations: "Apply the measure."

Stanculescu received the call to proceed on Dec. 24, 1989.

The next day military judges, prosecutors and attorneys were flown in helicopters, under a shroud of secrecy, to the barracks in Tirgoviste, where the Ceausescus had been held for the last three days. In addition to representatives of the National Salvation Front, which now ruled the country, General Stanculescu and Carlan, one of the three executioners, were also on board the helicopters.

"We flew at about 200 kilometers per hour, and only 10 to 30 meters above the ground, to avoid the radar," says Carlan. "After we had landed, Stanculescu mustered us in the barrack yard and asked: Do you know who is here? The Ceausescus. There will be an extraordinary military trial. If the verdict is the death penalty, which of you will be able to execute it?

'30 Shots'

All eight paratroopers assembled in the barrack yard volunteered. Stanculescu picked three men, calling them "thoroughbreds." "Thirty shots," he told the men. "Automatic fire."

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