Coming to Terms with the Past: Romania

Markus Bauer hopes that Romania’s membership of the European Union will enable it to face down the ghosts of its troubled twentieth-century past.

Romania’s new epoch started on December 21st, 1989. The Berlin Wall had fallen in November; Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia had already got rid of their Communist regimes; the Soviet Union was disintegrating. After days of riots over the intended sacking of a Hungarian Protestant priest in Timisoara, a town in western Romania with a large Hungarian minority population, the uprising spread to the capital, Bucharest.

Hundreds of thousands had been bussed in to stand in front of the Communist Party building to give the conducator (‘leader’) Nicolae Ceausescu the chance to show that he was still in charge. However, the planned scenario went wrong and within a few minutes people were shouting ‘Timisoara’ and ‘Jos Ceausescu’ (‘Down with Ceausescu’). The dictator waved his hands, and his eyes, as the TV pictures show, looked from left to right, at first uncomprehendingly and then with fear and astonishment as he realized that the crowd, for the first time in his twenty-four year rule, was no longer pretending to support him but was making it clear that they wanted to get rid of him. Together with his wife Elena he fled in a helicopter from the roof of the building, but two days later the couple was captured and shot, after a summary military trial, in an army barracks outside Bucharest.

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