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News 18 Dec 17

Romania’s 1989 Uprising Was 'Orchestrated', Prosecutors Say

Military prosecutors investigating for a fourth time the 1989 uprising that led to the fall of Communism said they had proof that an orchestrated movement led by army officers and some civilians triggered the protests.

Ana Maria Luca
BIRN
Bucharest
Demostrators in Bucharest in December 1989. Photo: Denoel Paris and other photographers - "1989 Libertate Roumanie" by Denoel Paris/Wikimedia Commons

Romanian military prosecutors investigating the events in December 1989 that led to the fall of the Communist regime announced on Monday that they have proof that officers in the military and some civilians staged an organised campaign that triggered the violent uprising.

The prosecutors also said that high-ranking military officers tried to assassinate dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena at least three times before they were tried and executed on December 25, 1989.

The case was reopened in November 2016 for the fourth time, following decisions by the European Court of Human Rights and Romania’s Supreme Court.

According to military prosecutor Marian Lazar, who is part of the investigation team, the inquiry determined that there was a deliberate disinformation campaign using state television and radio in December 1989.

Lazar also said the investigation had found that orders were given by a group of high-ranking military officers and civilians who took charge immediately after the Ceausescus fled from office on December 22.

He did not name those believed to be responsible, however.

“It’s certain that there was a diversion that manifested itself in a complex way on several levels, which led to numerous deaths, injuries and damage,” Lazar said.

On December 21, 1989, following riots in Timisoara, Ceausescu made a speech in Bucharest in front of thousands of people gathered in front of the Communist Party headquarters and also broadcast to millions of Romanians on state television.

But blasting sounds made the demonstrators protesters panic and riot.

Lazar said that prosecutors have identified the source of the blasting noise that caused panic at the rally and led to protests against Ceausescu.

He said that the Romanian military in 1987 acquired equipment that imitated the sound of shooting and of airborne troops landing by parachute.

Romanian troops engaged in fighting in December 1989. Photo: Denoel Paris and other photographers - "1989 Libertate Roumanie" by Denoel Paris/Wikimedia Commons

The Ceausescus fled Bucharest on December 22 after the unrest broke out, but they were arrested near Targoviste, some 80 kilometres north-west of the capital, held for three days and then executed on December 25 after a sentence by a drumhead military tribunal.

Prosecutor Lazar said that during the three days of detention, military personnel came under constant pressure and that the troops were ordered at least three times to kill the couple.

Some of the evidence about what happened in December 1989 in Romania has been destroyed, Lazar pointed out.

The military prosecutors explained in a press statement that over the past year, they have held numerous hearings of witnesses, cooperated with historians, writers and journalists who investigated the 1989 events.

They also consulted military and civilian archives as well as the state television and radio archives.

They said that they established that there was a strategy in the way fake information was disseminated and fake orders were transmitted through broadcast media, which they said triggered a general “psychosis” about trained terrorists shooting at civilians.

The Prosecutor’s Office also said that there are indications that some leaders of the movement requested foreign military intervention, and that this was corroborated by a “state of alert” on Romania’s borders in December 1989.

Analysts told BIRN that the findings put a question mark over what exactly happened in December 1989 – whether it was a coup d’etat or a revolution.

“This clarification comes for the first time from official judicial sources with the support of an important number of academics,” said Oana Despa, an editor with the Digi 24 news channel who specialises in judicial affairs.

“[The investigation] was obviously not easy, as most documents from those days were destroyed in order to hide proof of the diversion. There was also political pressure. Prosecutors were often changed, people were charged, including former president Ion Iliescu, and later on the charges were dropped,” Despa added.

“I don’t think we’ll ever find out precisely what happened during those days as long as some of the most important actors are still alive,” she said.

A series of protests, exchanges of gunfire and demonstrations between December 15 and December 25, 1989 led to the fall of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and the end of the Communist regime.

Romania was the only country in the eastern bloc in which the 1989 protests turned violent, leading to over 1,000 deaths and leaving 2,500 people injured.

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