I’ve had strong reservations about discussing the 1989 Romanian Revolution, debating back and forth for some time.
I’m no activist. And tackling political movements is always dicey. Sure, deep down I feel strongly about many issues, but having lived on a continent where “emotions and politics mix like vodka and orange juice” uniting folks only to pull them apart, having had enough of that — frankly — I wanted to show the country, the history, without any conflict.
But talking about a nation hidden behind the iron curtain for decades without mentioning the fall of communism would be like talking about beginnings without endings.
I can’t do that. So here I go.
In 1989 a wave of revolutions against communist dictatorships swept Eastern European countries, including Romania. Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator, used his secret police to open fire on the demonstrators. The army joined the protestors and after a few days of violence the regime was overthrown. Ceausescu and his wife were executed on Christmas day.
This, of course, is only a snapshot of the events.
What I remember most is the euphoria preceding those momentous days, followed by anticipation, then bickering between the parties involved, then a new president, then a wait-and-see attitude, then whispers — from the speculating crowd — that the Revolution had been all smoke and mirrors. A coup d’etat.
I’m pretty sure no one in the speculating crowd experienced life in Romania pre-1989 and as such fell prey to the media chatter. The iron curtain truly served to keep the people in and information out.
To them all I can say is: An oppressive government, ruling by fear and robbing the treasury for personal enrichment at the detriment of its people, ceases to be a legitimate government.
A detailed account of the Revolution is more complex than this, but I will attempt a short description here.
Yes, the Romanian Revolution was part of the Eastern European wave of uprisings, sweeping the continent. And it was more than that. After decades of oppression, the populations clamored for freedom, ready to pay any price. Anger had bubbled under the surface, causing the rare spark, but it remained buried there until December 1989.
The Revolution started in the city of Timisoara, and quickly spread throughout the country.
In an effort to control the wave of anger, the dictator gave a speech in Piata Romana, a public square in Bucharest, in front of 80,000 Romanians. People were brought in for a rally to support Ceausescu after the riots in Timisoara. The dictator appeared on the balcony of the Central Committee Building to address the crowd. However, for the first time, the incredible happened. Eight minutes into the speech, people began to chant Ti-mi-soa-ra, Ti-mi-soa-ra.
TV censors pulled the plug on the broadcast. But it didn’t matter anymore. We all knew our countrymen were massacred in the streets of Timisoara and other cities, and anger reached a critical point. The volcano erupted.
The Revolution changed little in the years that followed. A former Ceausescu man, Ion Iliescu, took power. While we regained certain freedoms, the oppression — mostly economical in the form of widespread corruption — continued.
For years now, Romania has been taking steps in the right direction. And for me, hope springs eternal as I watch the small but significant progress from across two continents and an ocean. At least until my next visit.