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Daring to question the Romanian Revolution

On 21 and 22 December 1989, Romania's revolution reached its tipping point. The dictator Nicolae Ceausescu fled. Millions rejoiced. But, as Petru Clej reports, there are still many questions unanswered over what happened next.

Tanks in Bucharest during 1989 revolution

"21 - 22, cine-a tras in noi?" ("21 - 22, who shot at us?") is a question that still haunts Teodor Maries, one of many people in Romania who are convinced that the 1989 revolution was not all that it seemed.

Some say that despite appearances, it was not even a people's revolution - more a coup d'etat by a powerful elite.

Mr Maries is still eager for the truth to emerge 20 years after the toppling of the communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, in a bloodbath that ended a year of otherwise peaceful revolution in Europe.

Nearly 100 people were killed during the night of 21-22 December, after a desperate attempt by Ceausescu's henchmen to stave off the tide of protests just a stone's throw away from the headquarters of the Communist Party's central committee. There, the beleaguered dictator was holed up with the last of his loyal supporters.

Organised chaos

Mr Maries, 47, is head of the 21 December 1989 association, a group of surviving revolutionaries from that night.

Paradoxically, it is not the events before 22 December - the date when Ceausescu fled the central committee building, only to be caught, put on trial in a kangaroo court and executed three days later - which attracts Mr Maries' attention, but what happened afterwards.

Of about 1,100 people killed during the revolution, more than 900 died after that date, when the National Salvation Front (FSN), headed by Ion Iliescu, had taken the reins of power.

Teodor Maries is an impostor, he is not a real revolutionary
Ion Iliescu
Former Romanian president

Mr Maries does not accept the official story of those days - that, following the overthrow of the government, "terrorist" members of the Securitate (the communist secret police), were fighting in desperation to save Ceausescu.

For him, the revolution was hijacked, and the bloodshed stirred up by members of the former regime - a form of organised chaos, designed to legitimise their seizure of power.

"Mr Iliescu knows, in my opinion, everything that happened in December 1989 and participated in mind-boggling decisions for a normal person to comprehend. [Some] 900 people were killed after he had taken power and [he] tried to build his own plinth as a revolutionary on 900 bodies," says Mr Maries.

"Between the 22nd and the 28th, considering there was no war, brother was killing brother."

Revolution or conspiracy?

Mr Iliescu, who was elected president of Romania in 1990, 1992 and 2000, spending 11 years as head of state, has little time for Mr Maries' allegations, dismissing his credibility altogether.

Teodor Maries in front of the documents he has received from the authorities (picture courtesy of 21 December 1989" association)
[These documents] tell you unambiguously that after 22 December 1989 there was anything but a revolution
Teodor Maries

After the campaigner was received by President Traian Basescu earlier this year, Mr Iliescu complained: "Teodor Maries is an impostor, he is not a real revolutionary, and genuine revolutionaries are outraged he dares speak in their name.

"He has no moral authority to speak for 21 December or for the revolutionaries and President Basescu is compromising himself appearing with this sort of individuals," he added.

Mr Iliescu has always said 1989 was a real revolution and that the bloodshed was the result of the power vacuum created by Ceausescu's fall.

Recently, Mr Maries scored a victory, albeit partial, in his 20-year struggle to have the facts revealed. After 74 days of hunger strike the prosecutor general's office sent him documents from the criminal investigation into Mr Iliescu and other leaders of the FSN. Some of these cases have been dragging on for nearly 20 years.

Previously, Mr Maries had taken the Romanian state to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and won a ruling which forced the authorities to release the documents.

Even so, it was only when Mr Maries persisted with his hunger strike that they agreed.

But why are these documents so important?

"These are statements from 12,000 witnesses," says Mr Maries. "When a phenomenon this size is complemented by statements from 12,000 people, you can truly draw a conclusion about what happened."

"Taken together they tell you unambiguously that after 22 December 1989 there was anything but a revolution."

Fight goes on

Mr Maries says the picture built by the statements is that chaos was provoked, by arming civilians and spreading disinformation through Romanian television, which urged citizens to defend public buildings against "attacks by Securitate terrorists".

He cites one of the statements in which, he says, an army commander said he had orders "from above" to destroy the Bucharest Central University Library, in order to create the image of heavy fighting.

Ion Iliescu at an election really in 1990
Ion Iliescu was elected three times as president

Mr Maries says he is hopeful that the criminal inquiry will now make important headway.

But, two months after he ended his hunger strike, the prosecutor in charge of the initial inquiry has still not been re-appointed, and some government offices - the defence ministry and special communications department (formerly a branch of the Securitate) - have still not handed over their 1989 documents.

There are many who doubt that the prosecutor, Dan Voinea, even if he were reappointed, could manage to translate this conspiracy theory into viable indictments against Mr Iliescu and his associates after more than 20 years.

And Mr Maries says there is not a huge appetite in Romania to rake over the past.

"I have been interviewed by many foreign correspondents... But very few Romanian journalists showed any interest at all," he says.

Mr Maries fears the authorities will find a way to bury the investigation, but he refuses to give up his fight.

"I have always been an optimist," he insists.

"[But] I am not the state, they are the state, and it is their obligation to continue this inquiry."



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