“Was The Army Really With Us?”What can we learn from the Romanian revolution
What's in the name?
Giving a name to something or somebody reflects the idea of the name-giver. This is certainly the case vis-à-vis a political party, civil groups, and also NGOs. Particularly interesting cases can be found in a temporary established group that is formed to overthrow an authority that is in power – such groups often change their name or title several times as they gain more power. This is done to gain acceptance of the masses, or to manipulate them, or sometimes to hide a secret or two about themselves. The Burmese junta changed their name from the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) t o the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), with the help of an American advertising agency in 1997, to “clean up” the bloody image associated with the events of 1988 and their poor human-rights record that followed. Their attitude, however, did not change.
In this article, I take an example of “National Salvation Front (FSN --- Frontul Salvarii Nationale) ” of Romania . This interim government was created (or so they claim) during the Romanian revolution in December 1989, in order to “save the country from dictatorship” and to create a “democratic state”. After the revolution they changed the name to the Provisional National Unity Council (CPUN --- Consiliul Provizoriu de Uniune Naţională). Later i t split into two groups, one group, who left FSN, created Democratic National Salvation Front (FDSN) that then changed to Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), and then to Social Democratic Party (PSD). Those who remained in FSN changed its name to Democratic Party - National Salvation Front (PD-FSN), before shortening its name to Democratic Party (PD)1.
The Romanian revolution was initially a people's uprising against the dictator Nikolai Ceausescu. The popular scenario then was that citizens convinced the army to be on their side, and together they succeeded and fought against Ceausescu loyalists and the Securitate (most feared state secret police that had a vast network to monitor every move of the citizens) force for days until Ceausescu was caught and executed. During the revolution people from different sectors who considered themselves the “right people to govern”, got together and set up an interim governing body and named themselves National Salvation Front. Its main figure was Ion Iliescu, who became the leader of FSN and the first President of Romania after the fall of Ceausescu.
In one of the numerous video cameras that were filming the chaotic revolutionary scenes, the following conversation among different FSN members during their meeting was caught on video. The meetings were held to discuss the official setting up of FSN and the interim government.
One member: Mr. Iliescu, “salvation” is no good. It sounds like a coup d'etat. “National Democracy” is better.
Iliescu: “Democracy” was used before.
Other member: How about “People's Unified Front…?”
Army general: But “National Salvation Front” has existed for 6 months now.
This scene captures one of the characteristics of this revolution, that is, the revolution was in fact a planned coup d'etat by people inside the communist party and the army, and not the people's victory of overthrowing the dictatorship and stepping towards democracy.
The same camera went on to capture more scenes of more meetings. One meeting was led by Iliescu and involved Petre Roman, who became Prime Minister, the army generals and others. Says Iliescu, telling them what is necessary for FSN to run the country and earn the trust of the citizens, “We need to maintain basic supplies. Energy supplies. Food supplies, and public transportation.”
In another place, a camera was filming another FSN founder, Dumitru Mazilu, who was leading a group of excited citizens who were eager to participate in the new democratic- country-making process:
Mazilu: First, one party system must be abolished and a pluralistic structure must be introduced.
Mazilu: …And election must take place as soon as possible.
Citizens: February? March? April?
Mazilu: No, not March, that is the month the tyrant was always using for his election.
Mazilu: …..And separation of powers, that is also important!
Mazilu: And, oh yes, today, we must proclaim our name “ Romania ”, not “ Socialist Republic of…” Just “ Romania ”! The factories must be ready for a new flag within 5 days!”
Citizens: Waoooo! Yeahh!
A new “democratic” country was formed in this instant way, in chaos and with incredible speed.
The Romanian Revolution – the first version
Now let's take a look at the revolution from the beginning.
Romania , at that time, was an extremely impoverished country governed by the dictator Ceausescu who was pilfering the wealth of this Balkan country and its people for his own personal benefit and for his family and cronies. People were rationed tiny portions of food and other necessities, while women were forced to give birth to many children to build his state. This resulted in a large population of orphans that were abandoned because the families could not afford to feed them. Ceausescu destroyed one third of the capital Bucharest , in order to build his palace (“People's Palace”, which is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon), the boulevard, and luxurious mansions for his associates. He also destroyed and forced villagers to relocate to high-rise apartments under the name of modernization. He built up his personal cult status via various propaganda means, one of which was to monopolize media only for propaganda reasons. As a result TV broadcasting in Romania was restricted to 2 hours a day and almost every program was to praise him, his wife Elena and their achievements. Romanian people not only suffered a shortage of basic food and other daily necessities but also of information. (There is a tale of Romanians in Transylvania who were so hungry for information that they built self-made parabola antennas to catch neighboring Hungarian TV. Another legendary tale states that when Caucescu was later captured, the first question that was directed towards him by his captors was not about the shortage of food but about why he allowed TV broadcasting only for 2 hours per day.)
The revolution broke out in the Transylvanian city of Timisoara on December 16, 1989. Many citizens got angry when they heard that the securitate abducted Laszlo Toekes, a Hungarian pastor who was critical of the government. The protest became a much bigger demonstration but on that day it was brutally suppressed by the securitate forces and the army.
Sensing the unusual closure of the Romanian border with Hungary , the news agencies started to gather news and related stories. The report of the massacre in Timisoara were spread by Radio Free Europe and other free media and the world began to realize that something unusual was happening in the Stalinist state. Ceausescu went to Iran for a state visit for a few days and after he returned he learnt that the situation had become worse for him. So he decided to stage a mass assembly in Bucharest to address the citizens to “unite” the country. Ceausescu regularly held a mass assembly to which workers from various offices were compelled to attend. Usually 3000 or so were placed in the front rows to cheer Ceausescu and applaud his speeches. On Dec.21, the assembly looked the same as usual in the beginning. While he was self-praising the success of his socialist state and promising the workers to raise their salary by 200 Lei (then about US$ 8) from the balcony of the Central Committee building, his speech was disrupted by somebody in the crowd who started shouting against him. This soon became unruly with more joining in and he and his wife Elena tried to calm them down, but to no avail. This led them to retreat indoors to hide in building. His speech was being broadcast live for propaganda reasons and at this moment the broadcast was abruptly cut, people who were watching TV only saw the color red on their screens. The citizens immediately knew that something unusual was happening. The crowd on that day, however, was shot at and bulldozed by tanks.
Next morning, on Dec.22, Ceausescu declared martial law and gatherings of more than 5 people were banned. And in the next hours TV news announced the death of the Minister of Defense, Vasile Milea, calling him a traitor. During Ceausescu's time, the securitate and USLA (Unite Speciala pentru Lupta Antiterorista – anti-terrorist special squad) were much more privileged and the army was rather sidelined. The rift between the army and Ceausescu had been rumored for some time and as a result, Milea was relatively popular among people. The mysterious death of Milea captured the imagination of people who thought that he had died refusing the order of Ceausescu to fire upon people (it had been said that the army had already changed sides and was with the people during the Timisoara uprising). Ignoring the martial law people went out into the streets, this time with much anger. In front of the Central Committee Building more than 100,000 people shouted for the downfall of Ceausescu, the dictator. Ceausescu tried to address them again, screaming that “Unity is the most important now”, only to realize that he couldn't control the crowd anymore. Shortly afterwards the crowd in the square saw a helicopter carrying Ceausescu and Elena flying away from the top of the Central Committee building. The crowd jeered at the helicopter but were in a victorious mood, singing and shouting “Oh re oh re oh re, Ceausescu, no more!” They then stormed into the building to tear up papers and books, destroy paintings and murals of the Ceausescu couple, and the luxurious furniture. People held and waved Romanian flags with the socialist symbol in the center cut out. At that time people had already known that the army had switched to their side, and that the army support was crucial to their victory. Their motto, “Army is With Us!” “Army is On Our Side!” became the most popular phrases during the revolution.
When one group of people headed towards the Central Committee Building , another, including the prominent dissident poet Mircea Dinescu who was just freed from house arrest, headed towards the TV station. They negotiated with the TV director and occupied the TV studio, and started to broadcast the revolution live. This made this revolution the first televised revolution in history.
Revolution on TV
The TV studio had an incredible atmosphere. Nobody, no citizen had ever had access to TV broadcasting so everybody in the studio was nervous. They said to each other, millions of people would watch them. Ion Caramitru, a dissident actor, and Dinescu made the first announcement. “We are all exhausted, excited, nervous…. Today, finally we won freedom. God is with us. Army is with us. Securitate, please surrender. We won… we won!!!!”
After the first announcement every citizen in every sector of the society, from pastors to farmers, rushed to the studio to say something. Everybody wanted to be on TV, wanted to play a part, wanted to take part, and wanted to address the people. Some, including the TV newscaster that served Ceausescu, apologized for lying to people for so long. The army general called upon all the army to go back to their barracks and not to shoot at citizens under any circumstances. The army and the police came into the studio time to time to assure the safety of the TV studio that was still under attack. The National Salvation Front declared their government from the studio. Live broadcast was also used to relay various warnings and announcement: “Don't drink water from the taps as it is rumored that the securitate put poison into the reservoir” “The dictator ran away with a red Dacia car bearing the license number….. please watch carefully and find this car”. Also, one of the highlights was the captured securitate and Ceausescu loyalists, who were brought into the studio to be humiliated and to publicly pronounce the advantages of being on the citizens' side. One of the prominent “criminals” that was brought in front of the camera was Nicu Ceausescu, the much hated playboy son of Ceausescu.
“This is Nicu, without any doubt. He confessed that he took children hostage….”
Nicu: “That's not true”
Meanwhile, on the streets, so called “terrorists” that were said to consist of securitate forces, USLA and other Ceausescu loyalists started a fierce battle with the citizens' militia. Snipers fired gunshots from different buildings and randomly shot people. They were extremely feared as there was a rumor that Ceausescu had build a vast underground network of bunkers and corridors (the same rumor about Sadam's underground network that was feared years later), and that only the secruitate and USLA knew the layout and could make an effective use of it.
The battle went on for days. Meanwhile, moral and material support from all over the world started to arrive. The whole world was watching the bloodiest revolution in Eastern Europe , and it was during the Christmas holidays.
On Dec. 25, there was an announcement of the trial of Nikolai and Elena Ceausescu by an ad hoc military court. They were sentenced to death on five accounts:
• Genocide (of possibly more than 60,000 people)
• Armed attack on people and the state power
• Destruction of buildings and state institutions
• Undermining of the national economy
• Embezzling (of more than 100milion Lei) from the state treasury and depositing it in foreign banks
The next day a short video footage of the trial was broadcast with still images of the dead bodies of the couple after they were executed on the spot. The image was broadcast repeatedly throughout the day mainly to demoralize the still-fighting Ceausescu force. People all shouted “bravo!” “He is gone!”. The whole country was in jubilation.
Romanian Revolution – the second version
…… So far, this is the version of the event that the whole world was shown, told and believed. However, as events unfolded later on it was clear that this was not what was really happening. Within only one year Romanian citizens came to learn that what had been believed as a popular uprising was in fact a coup d'etat against Ceausescu, possibly by a handful of KGB backed communist faction members (earlier in November, Mikhail Gorbachev asked Ceausescu to resign and Ceausescu refused), and dissatisfied army officers that had been sidelined by Ceausescu. Citizens were thus most likely used by these powers-to-be not only as a human shield, but also to legitimatize the coup. And what was most likely was that what was believed to be a spontaneous action was actually a planned and scripted event. Ion Iliescu had been already selected as a successor of Ceausescu some time ago. FSN, despite their promise that theirs was only an interim government and the group will be disbanded after the revolutionary period, stayed on in power as a political party – they merely changed the name to the Provisional National Unity Council that would run the country until the first election in 1990; it then split into two parties.
There was also something not transparent about the assets seized from Ceausescu --- something possibly disappeared onto the pockets of some people in the “interim government” and people who backed or created it. People learnt all these in an extremely traumatic way when Iliescu, a newly appointed President of Romania used miners from rural area to attack demonstrators just one year after the revolution, when people rallied against the decision of FSN to contest in the national election, breaking their promise. The demonstrators were hit mercilessly by miners and 100 or 200 were killed in this way (official figure was 5), and about 5000 injured. They trashed Bucharest University , museums, and opposition party offices. Iliescu thanked the minors afterwards for doing a good job. People then realized that they had only helped raise Iliescu's power and he cared nothing about human right, and that he had sacrificed so many of their lives (officially the Romanian revolution killed about 1100 people and wounded about 3350 people).
More and more accounts came to light. In the early days of the event in Timisoara , the world was shown horribly mutilated dead corpses and being told that these were the victims of the massacre by Cauasescu's securitate force. The world was outraged and showed solidarity and support to the citizen's militia as well as NSF. The corpses, now known as “ Timisoara corpses”, turned out to be not of the victims of massacre but they were dug up from a normal cemetery and “staged”2. Meanwhile, Ceausescu was persuaded by his “advisors” to visit Iran , and the same “advisors” persuaded him to hold a mass assembly. At the assembly site, automatic machine guns were set up to shoot upon people, only to create a panic among them and to start a revolt against Ceausescu. The same “advisors” also advised Ceausescu to flee in the helicopter and to go somewhere (probably they also told him where to go). Another thing people came to realize was that, the group that was labeled “terrorists” might have been not from Ceausescu's side. This was an invisible “enemy” that was produced to create fear among people and drive them to support the army and NSF. Many things remain a mystery. When the coup was planned (it may have been planned as early as 1982), then why was Milea killed? Why was the trial of Ceausescu conducted in such hurry? And why the couple had to be executed right away? Also, why was the whole tape of the trial and execution not broadcast at the time? (The whole trial was broadcast only 4 months later after the French TF1 had bought a pirate copy of the trial from an unknown person and broadcast it)
After the revolution, I, together with my media researcher colleagues in Romania and in Hungary started to collect video materials. The more we collected, we realised that rather than these materials help solve some of the mysteries, on the contrary they made the mystery deepen further! First of all we didn't know why so many cameras were available all of a sudden in this impoverished country where people had almost nothing. Secondly, why only certain cameras had access to sensitive places. And the third problem was to do with manipulative camera eyes. Generally, views and knowledge of a cameraman and a director reflect in the footage and shots of any documentary film. It was the same for all the videos that were made during the Romanian revolution. But now it seemed that some of the cameramen knew who was who in the chaos, and who was about to play which role, and that complicated the situation even more in terms of seeing the relations of the “actors”.
These videos also created an unexpected effect. A French forensic expert of criminology who watched a video of the dead bodies of the Ceausescu couple concluded that the execution had been faked, because the degree of blood coagulation visible on the couple's corpses proved they were already dead several hours before the video was shot; yet another mystery.
Hypothesis of Hypocrisy
An American video maker Steve Fagin, who produced a film about the Philippine revolution entitled, “The Machine That Killed Bad People”, compared the Philippine revolution and the Romanian revolution. To him, although numerous behind-the-scenes deals were being made during the Philippine revolution like any other revolutions, bad people and good people and the motives of good and bad, were much clearer. Whereas in the case of the Romanian revolution, “Everyone wore two or three faces, making it easily the most hypocritical revolution ever.”3
Hypocrisy is the product of certain moral criteria. Yet what manner of duplicity could prevail under such extreme circumstances, as in a revolution, that instantaneously overturns all values -- a prisoner becomes a president, a head of the state gets executed, an enemy becomes a friend, a friend becomes an enemy, a communist becomes a capitalist, a system that you've believed to be paradise is trashed as no-value, and all this within minutes? How far can the criteria of hypocrisy apply? Or even, does somebody create an event only for the purpose of turning a hypocrite into a non-hypocrite? This is an extremely difficult moment for a moral crusader to accept.
Hypocrisy, hypokrisis in Greek, is an important notion of Greek theater. It means the act of playing a part on stage. The definition of hypocrisy now according to Webster is: feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not. Rhyme Zone adds one more definition: an expression of agreement that is not supported by real conviction. In the case of the Romanian revolution, an author of a play pretended not to be the author, and actors who played in this play played many different roles, switching them all the time. And what is the effect of this? In a society where a play of which the real author is unknown is repeated many times in history, people start to think that there must be someone up in the sky and he/she must be writing a play. This becomes religion. This is one of the reasons why, after the collapse of Soviet Union , in much of the former Eastern bloc countries and in the Balkans where the political situation is unstable, religion has sprung up. Politically, people become inactive – what's the difference if somebody up in the sky is always going to write the play? People start to believe that they only have to play a given role.
Post Revolutionary affect
During the revolution, at the Romanian TV station, there was a director who was directing the revolutionary live program. She was a young lady who normally had worked for a literature program. She was dragged in to “direct” the revolutionary program as somebody calm and rational yet decisive was needed for this tough job. I met her just after the coup. Fresh from her one-in-a-life-time experience, she was still excited and optimistic. She said that people immediately started to walk towards the TV station because they were educated in this way; they had been taught at schools that if some extraordinary political event happens they must defend the TV station first. To my question of what was the most difficult thing when directing the “revolutionary program”, she said, “ to maintain basic technical means, because electric power supply was unreliable and our old equipment was unreliable. So we had to work with a constant worry that some minor technical problem would always cut off our program.” As to directing people, she said she had to treat everybody equally, no matter who it was – an army general, a bishop, a peasant, a teacher or a prisoner – as everybody at the TV studio had equally no experience on TV. Perhaps this was a precious tiny moment in Romanian history when people had a true democracy.
After many years, in 1997, I met her again. I was surprised at how she looked - she had aged, her hair had turned gray, and she looked exhausted. She told me how life had been difficult for her during Iliescu's time, much worse than during the Ceausescu time, because so many of her colleagues at the Romanian TV station had died in mysterious circumstances 4. She had to live in fear of her life for many years. In 1996 people voted for the first democratic President in the history, Emil Constantinescu. She said, “now it is a bit better, and I hope it becomes better.”
The unsolved revolution, like a ghost, haunted the country with little democracy. Or, the fact that people had never been used to media, and had lived for a long time without access to information, they were overpowered by a small number of people who had all the know-how to manipulate media. Impatient with Constantinescu's economic reforms during his 4-year term, and under the influence of Iliescu's efficient propaganda system, people voted for Iliescu again, and again 5. As a result of this, Romanian people have had to bear a humiliating portrait of themselves as an uninformed and uneducated simple “mass”, as thought of by other European countries. They are still not accepted as a member of the European Union, and just recently they were given unprecedented humiliating conditions to meet if they want to be admitted as a member in 2008.
Today, no Romanian calls the 1989 event a “revolution”. As the group that took the power from the dictator acquired slicker and slicker name, the event that was supposed to be a people's event has lost its name. Some people call it a “so-called revolution”, and some people cynically call it “that coup”. To get out of this cynical trend, Romanian people need to get access to all the documents concerning the “revolution”, and must be properly informed about the event -- most of all, they should know who really wrote the play. And when people can fully participate in the writing of the next chapter, only then people will feel the first steps of democracy. Life may be a big play, yet it makes full sense only if you are the real author of it.■
1. The group that left FSN was lead by Iliescu and the other faction, led by Petre Roman, remained in FSN
2. For many philosophers and media theoreticians, this “ Timisoara corps” became the defining moment in media history. Paul Virilio calls it “this biggest TV manipulation in our land”, whereas Jean Baudrillard stated that after the Tmisoara corps affair, “Never again will we be able to look at a television picture in good faith.” Giorgio Agamben describes the Timisoara corps “the Aushwitz of the age of the spectacle: and in the same way in which it has been said that after Aushwitz it is impossible to write and think as before, it will no longer be possible to watch television in the same way.”
3. Another characteristic difference between the two revolution is, in the case of the Philippine Revolution, the urban lines of attack and defense were well demarcated – revolutionary forces this side, Marcos army that side. Whereas in Romania , allies and foes were scattered between isolated points of combat.
4. Besides the mysterious death of the defense minister Milea at the beginning of the revolution, more mysterious deaths occurred as the revolution continued; notably the death of the doctor who examined Ceausescu before the trial and after the execution.
5. Iliescu was elected as the President of Romania for three times – in 1990, 1992 and 2000. He served as the President for total 11 years.http://www.khitpyaing.org/modules.php?name=Sections&op=viewarticle&artid=1779