Ion Iliescu: The Romanian Revolution, a historical process that marked change of Romanian society

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Ion Iliescu, the first president of democratic Romania (199- 96 and 2000-2004), a founder member of the National Salvation Front, told what the main moments of the December 1989 Romanian revolution were.

‘The Romanian Revolution is a spontaneous process that marked the deep-going change of the Romanian society, that is the switch from a totalitarian regime to democracy. The Revolution is a historical process resulting in structural changes in society, first of all in the state organization, irrespective of the way it is triggered off or carried out (be it a peaceful or violent one).

Even in the countries surrounding us this 1989 process was implemented in various ways. But the common essence was the fall of a totalitarian system and the switch to democracy. Who can contest these structural changes in the life of the Romanian State, which were the essence of the Romanian Revolution in December 1989? In 2009 we are going to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Revolution in December 1989.

We have agreed in the National College of the Institute of the Romanian Revolution on the fact that, as part of the evocative actions and the synthetic studies that have been planned, we should make a kind of inventory of all invented stories, distortions and calumnies against the Romanian Revolution and should make a reply by means of an extensive study meant to give answers, founded scientifically and in point of facts, to all these actions, which are essentially anti-national, as a foundation of a truthful objective history of the Romanian Revolution in December 1989.’

The most scandalous attack against the Romanian Revolution in December 1989, Iliescu insisted on saying, was the so-called report condemning communism, which, in its about 1,000 pages, devotes only 6 pages to the December Revolution, totally ignoring the fundamental, programme document of the Revolution: the Communiqué to the Country of the Council of the National Salvation Front issued in the night of December 22, 1989. It is the document asserting the crucial moment the country was going through and reads as follows:

‘We are experiencing a historic moment. The Ceausescu clan, which led the country to disaster, was removed from power. We all know and admit that the victory the entire country is enjoying is the result of the sacrifice sense of the masses of all nationalities and, first of all, of our admirable young people, who gave us back the sense of the national dignity by shedding their blood… “A new page starts in Romania’s political and economic life.

“At this crucial moment we have decided to set up the National Salvation Front, whose aim is to institute democracy, liberty and dignity of the Romanian people. From this moment on all the power structures of the Ceausescu clan are dissolved. The Government is dismissed, the State Council and its institutions stop working. The entire state power is taken over by the Council of the National Salvation Front.

The Superior Military Council will be subordinated to it. And the ten programme items present the guidelines of the country’s development on the way to democracy, political pluralism, law-based state, restructuring of economy and social life and Romania’s openness to the world. … Paying proper homage to the Romanian Revolution and to the ones who sacrificed themselves for its victory is a patriotic duty of any Romanian!’

‘A coup d’etat, irrespective of the way it is carried out (at the initiative of some political or military factors), does not bring about changes in the structure of the state and of society, it only changes some personalities at the helm of the state. Was this all that happened in Romania in 1989?  Isn’t it simply aberrant? Sometimes a coup (be it a civil or military one) can make it easier to start a revolutionary process (as was the case with the military coup in Portugal or the action aimed at removing Todor Zhivkov from power in Bulgaria).

Unfortunately, such a thing was not possible in Romania. A coup that should have removed Ceausescu from power (when the economic and social situation nationwide had dramatically deteriorated and the personality cult had come to have grotesque dimensions, and the dissatisfaction had turned acute, as one could see in Brasov in 1987) would have saved this country the sacrifices and destructions in December 1989.

‘The role of removing Nicolae Ceausescu from power devolved on the mass movement, which came into being in Timisoara [western Romania] on December 15-16, 1989 and spread to the entire country in a genuine revolt that ended in the dictator fleeing on December 22, 1989.

‘They say that General Victor Stanculescu carried out a military coup after making it easier for Ceausescu to flee by helicopter from the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party, when he is said to have taken over the power de facto for a few hours, which afterwards he handed over to the civilians on the Council of the National Salvation Front.

This is a superficial manner of dealing with things! As an officer, be it General Stanculescu himself, a man of incontestable abilities, who had well-known merits in ensuring the Army joining the people’s movement, could he have afforded to take over the power under the circumstances at that time? He would have been driven away by the people’s anger.’

But Iliescu thinks that two main stages of the Revolution in December 1989 must necessarily be examined: one of them refers to the span of time till Ceausescu’s flight on December 22, when the Army and the order keeping forces worked under Ceausescu’s express order with a view to repressing the protest movement of the Timisoara people in the beginning and then with a view to repressing the action taken by the protesters in Bucharest in the night of December 21 and in the morning of December 22;

and another one refers to Ceausescu’s flight when, under the powerful pressure of the masses, ‘The Army is with us!’ became the symbol motto of this stage that first occurred in Timisoara, on December 20, when the Timisoara people, after putting up resistance for four days to the brutal actions meant to repress the movement, proclaimed the ‘Free city of Timisoara’ and when the Army fraternized with the population.

‘The most complicated phenomenon that is still not entirely clarified is, in my opinion, the beginning of the armed diversion in the evening of December 22. Within only six hours after Ceausescu flew by helicopter from the headquarters of the Central Committee, which became the symbol scene of the fall of the oppressive system and the victory of the people’s movement, after moments of euphoria and general enthusiasm, which spread like wild fire to everybody, a cannonade started at the headquarters of the Central Committee about 6:30 pm.

We, the people working in an office on the third floor (there were about 15 of us) on drawing up a proclamation to the country, which in the end became the Communiqué to the Country of the Council of the National Salvation Front, felt that the first shots were fired at our office (from the floor above or from the roof of a parallel building).

When we left the office, we found that they were firing from everywhere, from the inside and the outside of the building. It was impossible for us to go to the central area of the building. We managed to get out through gate D, close to the Omnia hall. Together with Voican Voiculescu and Mihai Ispas, whom I met that evening, we headed for the Onesti Street (where they were firing from the former Royal Palace, now the Art Museum) and managed to get out to the boulevard (from where a kind taxi driver took us to the Ministry of National Defence in Drumul Taberei).

The action spread rapidly to other parts of the capital (Television, Radio, the headquarters of the Ministry of National Defence) and then to the other regions of this country. Unfortunately, even today we do not have an explicit answer to this phenomenon. ‘I think this is an open question, to which one must find answers, both by specialist research conducted by investigation bodies and by historians’ analyses and research work.’

Unfortunately, said former President Iliescu, there are still attempts at contesting the Romanian Revolution as a result of a spontaneous mass movement and at reducing the entire phenomenon to a military coup. To his mind, this attempt ‘is not only a blasphemy to the Romanian people and the ones who took part in an ample mass movement and who sacrificed themselves with devotion, but also a misunderstanding or pretending to misunderstand the essence of the two irreplaceable phenomena.
‘They doubt and invent stories of Ceausescu’s trial.

It is known that I hesitated most, trying to find the most suitable legal framework under the given circumstances. It is true that the trial was given under improper improvised circumstances. But it was indeed an extraordinary trial that was given under particularly difficult circumstances. We were in an out-of-the-ordinary state, a state of siege, with much uncertainty. Especially at night there were continuous losses of human lives.

This was also the essential moral motivation for holding the trial. Actually it was quite obvious that, immediately after the trial and the execution, armed actions decreased in intensity and then stopped altogether. People contesting it are ill-meaning people.

“This is why, despite improvisations, the trial and the execution were an act of justice much waited for by the public opinion. Thus they put an end to the loss of human lives and opened up the way to making social life come back to normal and organizing it on new foundations.

“The Romanian Revolution and some values promoted by it must not be mixed up with some ‘restoration’ elements and with the appearance of the transition profiteers. These are subjects worth approaching theoretically, historically and politically in more detail. Part of this mission is to be a carried out by the Institute of the Romanian Revolution in December 1989 in order to write a truthful history of the Romanian Revolution in December 1989.’

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