Romanian Revolution of 1989 refers to a series of riots and clashes in December of 1989. The conclusion of this episode in the history of Romania was the end of the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. The violence that occurred in several locations during the days led the Romanian dictator to abandon power and flee Bucharest with his wife, Elena Ceausescu. Captured in Targoviste, they were tried by a military tribunal on charges of genocide, damage to the national economy and abuse of power to execute military


actions against the Romanian people. They were found guilty of all charges, were executed on December 25th of 1989. Romania was the only country in the Eastern Bloc where the transition from the socialist state to Democracy involved the forcible overthrow and execution of the country’s leaders.

The total number of deaths due to the Romanian Revolution was 1,104, with 162 deaths occurring in the protests that brought an end to the regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu (protests took place from 16 to 22 December 1989) and the remaining 942 in the riots before the seizure of power by a new political structure, called the National Salvation Front. Most deaths occurred in cities such as Timisoara, Bucharest, Sibiu and Arad. The number of injured reached 3,352, of which 1,107 are for the period in which Ceauşescu still held power, and the remaining 2,245 are for the period after the seizure of power by the National Salvation Fr


Ceauşescu falls

Ceauşescu’s flight

On the morning of 22 December sometime around 9:30 a.m., Vasile Milea, Ceauşescu’s minister of defense, died under suspicious circumstances. A communiqué by Ceauşescu stated that Milea had been found to be a traitor and that he had committed suicide after his treason was revealed. The most widespread opinion at the time was that Milea had been assassinated because of his refusal to follow Ceauşescu’s orders. In 2005 an investigation concluded that the minister killed himself by shooting at his heart, but the bullet missed the heart, hit a nearby artery, and led to his death shortly afterward.

Upon learning of Milea’s apparent suicide, Ceauşescu appointed Victor Stănculescu as minister of defense. He accepted after a brief hesitation. Stănculescu, however, ordered the troops back to their quarters without Ceauşescu’s knowledge, and moreover persuaded Ceauşescu to leave by helicopter, thus making the dictator a fugitive. At that same moment, angry protesters began storming the Communist Party headquarters; Stanculescu and the soldiers under his command did not oppose them.

By refusing to carry out Ceauşescu’s orders (he was still technically commander-in-chief of the army), Stănculescu played a central role in the overthrow of the dictatorship. “I had the prospect of two execution squads: Ceauşescu’s and the revolutionary one!” confessed Stănculescu later. In the afternoon, Stănculescu “chose” Ion Iliescu‘s political group from among others that were striving for power in the aftermath of the recent events.

At 11:20 on 22 December 1989, the commander of Ceauşescu’s flight, Lieutenant-Colonel Vasile Malutan, received instructions from Lieutenant-General Opruta to proceed to Palace Square to pick up the president. As he flew over Palace Square, he saw it was impossible to land there. Malutan landed his white Dauphin, no. 203, on the terrace at 11:44. A man brandishing a white net curtain from one of the windows waved him down. Malutan said, “Then Stelica, the co-pilot, came to me and said that there were demonstrators coming to the terrace. Then the Ceauşescus came out, both practically carried by their bodyguards … They look as if they were fainting. They were white with terror. Manea Mănescu (one of the vice-presidents) and Emil Bobu (Secretary to the Central Committee) were running behind them. Mănescu, Bobu, Neagoe and another Securitate officer scrambled to the four seats in the back … As I pulled Ceauşescu in, I saw the demonstrators running across the terrace … There wasn’t enough space, Elena Ceauşescu and I were squeezed in between the chairs and the door .. We were only supposed to carry four passengers .. We had six.” [2] According to Malutan, it was 12:08 when they left for Snagov. After they arrived there, Ceauşescu took Malutan into the presidential suite and ordered him to get two helicopters filled with soldiers for an armed guard, and a further Dauphin to come to Snagov. Malutan’s unit commander replied on the phone, “There has been a revolution .. You are on your own … Good luck!”. Malutan then said to Ceauşescu that the second motor was now warmed up and they need to leave soon, but he could only take four people not six. Manescu and Bobu stayed behind. Ceauşescu ordered Malutan to head for Titu. Near Titu, Malutan says that he made the helicopter dip up and down. He lied to Ceauşescu, saying that this was to avoid anti-aircraft fire, since they would now be in range. The dictator panicked and told him to land.[3]

He did so in a field next to the old road that led to Piteşti. Malutan then told his four passengers that he could do nothing more. The Securitate men ran to the roadside and began to flag down passing cars. Two cars were flagged down, one of a forestry official and one a red Dacia of a local doctor. However, the local doctor was keen not to get involved and after a short time driving the Ceauşescus faked engine trouble. A car of a bicycle repair man was then flagged down and he took them to Târgovişte. The driver of the car, Nicolae Petrişor, convinced them that they could hide successfully in an agricultural technical institute on the edge of town. When they arrived, the director guided the Ceauşescus into a room and then locked them in. They were arrested by the local police at about 3:30 p.m., then after some wandering around transported to the Târgovişte garrison’s military compound, and held captive for several days, until their trial.[4] On 24 December, Ion Iliescu, head of the newly formed Council of the National Salvation Front signed a Decree on the establishment of the Extraordinary Military Tribunal. The trial was held on December 25, lasted for about 2 hours, and delivered death sentences to the couple. The execution followed immediately, on the spot, being carried out by three paratroopers with their service rifles.

Footage of the trial and of the executed Ceauşescus was promptly released in Romania and to the rest of the world. The actual moment of execution was not filmed since the cameraman was too slow, and he managed to get into the courtyard just as the shooting ended.[5]

Huge controversy surrounds the abnormally brief trial put together in very inappropriate circumstances for the Ceausescu couple. Many Romanians thought the former dictator and his spouse were unjustly prosecuted and in fact murdered—and not executed as it was claimed by Iliescu’s National Salvation Front—in a rush to cover beforehand potential trouble stemming from a Ceausescu previously aware of a coup d’état attempt against himself and his regime. In footage of the trial,[6] Ceausescu is seen answering the “tribunal” judging him and referring to some of its members—among them Army General Victor Atanasie Stanculescu and future Romanian Secret Service head Virgil Magureanu—as “traitors”. In this same video Ceausescu dismisses the “tribunal” as illegitimate and demands his Constitutional rights to answer to charges in front of a legitimate tribunal.


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