BBC Online Network
Romania
1989
10 - 18 December
Protest and the "massacre"
The beginning of the end of the Ceausescu regime came on 10 December 1989. A minister of the Hungarian Reformed Church, Laszlo Tokes, was ordered to leave his congregation in Timisoara, western Romania. His crime: critical remarks he made about a village resettlement plan. Minister Tokes had (correctly) argued that Romanian resettlement plans were an effort by Ceausescu to destroy the Hungarian nationals in Transylvania. Tokes refused to leave, claiming that by Church law only his congregation could remove him.

Laslo TokesIn his defence, parishioners set up a nightly vigil at the church. By 15 December more than 1,000 people had gathered making it impossible for the authorities to forcibly evict Tokes. By 16 December more than 5,000 people, including huge numbers of students, had gathered in the streets of Timisoara. The crowd surrounded but did not enter, party headquarters. No shots were fired.

Forces were sent to Timisoara early on the morning of 17 December but they did not attack. In Bucharest later that day, Ceausescu condemned the commanders and demanded that demonstrators be mowed down a la Tiananmen Square. At nightfall, troops opened fire on the crowds. The army massacre continued into the night. Reports at the time estimated that between 4,000 and 10,000 had murdered which drew much sympathy and support for the demonstrators. Later official counts show that 97 people were killed. That night, Ceausescu departed for an official visit to Iran.

Alexandra Razvan
Nicolae Ceausescu