33 years ago, the Communist Regime was abolished in Romania. Countless people lost their lives during one of the darkest holiday seasons in Eastern Europe. With it, many heroes of the revolution had their names etched in history.
The Revolution in 1989 was a sudden and violent change from the totalitarian regime of President Nicolae Ceaușescu to freedom. After 42 years of Communism, sick of rations, restrictions, surveillance, and political crimes, people had enough.
The Revolution began in Timișoara, on the morning of December 16th by a small group of protesters who gathered in front of the home of pastor Laszlo Tokes who was about to be evacuated. By noon, their number rose to over 1000. Their chant, “Down with Ceausescu!” attracted the attention of the local police. By evening, the protesters were attacked by armed officers, but they were able to defeat them. Hearing of the protests, Nicolae Ceaușescu ordered the intervention of his secret police, the Securitate, and 180 protesters were beaten and tortured.
On the 17th of December, the protests continued. Thousands of people were in the street, breaking into bookstores and destroying books about Nicolae Ceaușescu. Shortly after, the army was sent in to handle the situation. The streets filled with tanks and special forces equipped for war, but the protesters still managed to take over the headquarters of the Communist Party in Timișoara. At 6 PM, the army started shooting. Over 300 people were shot in just a couple of hours.
On the night of December 17th, the authorities examined 58 bodies at the County Hospital in Timișoara. At the order of Elena Ceaușescu, 43 of them were transported to Bucharest where they were later cremated and disposed of in the sewers.
On the morning of December 18th, thousands of workers from Timișoara organized a strike and decided to march the streets in protest. They gathered in front of the cathedral with candles in their hands, but the army still sent bullets flying at the crowd. It lasted until the morning of the next day. 97 more people were injured and 7 were killed. The protests continued despite the carnage, but the army was ordered by General Ștefan Gușa to stop shooting and retreat. It was the first victory for the common people.
December 20 started with chants all over the country. “Down with the dictator!”, “Freedom”, and “The army is with us” could be heard in the main Romanian cities. In Timișoara, over 150,000 people flooded the streets, offering flowers, food, and cigarettes to the soldiers. It was declared to be the “first free city in Romania.” In Bucharest, the people were calling for the officials to step down. Nicolae Ceaușescu decided to appear on TV to declare the protesters were terrorists working in the interests of foreign powers.
Not even children escaped the wrath of the authorities
Hoping for support, on December 21st, the dictator made a public appearance on the balcony of the Central Communist Party building, promising everyone a raise. The appearance was televised live. However, the hundreds of thousands of people in front of the building started shouting in revolt. The transmission was interrupted, but it was enough for the rest of the country to get a feel of what was going on and join the Revolution. In Cluj, Iași, Brașov, and Sibiu, people left their homes and gathered in the streets, chanting. Hundreds were shot all over the country. Many were tortured. The streets were covered in blood. In Bucharest alone, 1245 protesters (including children) were arrested and thrown in jail, where they were tortured.
On December 22nd, while protesters were still marching and the health department was washing the blood off the streets, Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife attempted to escape by helicopter. He was caught and taken to Târgoviște. There, on Christmas day, both were sentenced to death at 2:50 PM by an adhoc Military Court. They were executed shortly after, and everything was transmitted live on TV.
Despite the number of victims (1,066 dead) and the much more complicated political games played during and after the Revolution, the impact was much greater, and many people who lived through it still can’t shake off the feelings of those times. Among them are the ones who lost loved ones, revolutionaries whose names are still remembered every year even by strangers.
Vladimir Andronic- the youngest victim
Vladimir was only a month old when he was shot in the head by the army. Born on November 23rd, he was living with his parents across the street from the Radio House in Bucharest. He was in his bed when a bullet pierced his tiny body. He agonized for more than an hour before succumbing to his injuries, watched by his parents, who were unable to get him to a hospital.
They never had another child after Vladimir’s death.
It’s been 33 years, and no one has paid for his death. 35 other children between the ages of 2 and 17 were killed during the Revolution across the country.
Călin Nemeș – the symbol of the Revolution in Cluj-Napoca
Călin Nemeș was an actor who became the face of the Revolution in Cluj after taking his sweater off in front of the armed soldiers and telling them, “Shoot! I only have one heart.”
Before the tragic events, he was known as a Bohemian figure of Cluj, popular in cultural circles. He presented rock and jazz concerts, recited poetry, and was a skilled puppeteer. His family was poor, so he had to work during the day and go to classes in the evening. His teachers described him as a shy and sensitive boy.
One day, after leaving work, he was shocked to see the streets were full of people. He started gathering protesters and marched to the center of the city, where they were ambushed by soldiers. After his symbolic gesture, witnessed by hundreds of people, Călin Nemeș ended up in an altercation with Captain Carp Dando. There are various accounts of what happened. Some say Nemeș attempted to take the captain’s gun, others claim his friend was the one trying to do it. However, the end is well known. Nemeș was shot in the back, his friend was shot and killed, and the captain was shot in the leg. During the altercation, 12 people died, and 26 were injured, including a 6-year-old boy.
Călin Nemeș survived and spent 3 months in the hospital. For his part in the Revolution, he was awarded a big house in one of the best neighborhoods of Cluj, where he moved with his family in 1991. Unfortunately, in 1993 he chose to take his own life, leaving behind a still-broken society and a 4-year-old daughter. He had been threatened by the communists and he felt guilty about surviving the revolution. On top of it, he had found out recently about his wife’s affair.
Florin Vieru- the face of the Revolution
Florin was only 14 years old when he picked up the Romanian flag and started marching. He didn’t think for a second his face was going to end up in every foreign magazine and newspaper.
He was the 9th child of a family from the outskirts of Bucharest. They were poor, and when Florin heard on TV there was a chance they could have heat, electricity, hot water, and meat, he sneaked out of the house and joined the protesters, despite bullets flying above his head.
At one point, he climbed on a telephone booth and stole a flag that was hanging on the town hall’s balcony. He wrapped himself in it and used it as an extra layer, to protect himself from the cold. He then hopped on a truck with a group of people and got down in the center of the Capital where he discovered the carnage.
Afraid of all the death around him, he tried to return home, but the waves of people kept pushing him in an unknown direction. He spent all night among the protesters, and the next day he was noticed by the reporters of Paris Match. Florin posed for the camera, thinking if he was going to die, at least people would remember him. The French newspapers named him “Le Gavroche de Bucarest,” and he became the third most well-known Romanian after Ceaușescu and Nadia Comăneci.
His family home was filled with news reporters for days. Thousands of postcards and calendars with his face on them were sold all over. French billionaire Bernard Tapie offered to adopt him, but his mother refused. Florin was named a Hero of the Revolution, but today fewer and fewer people remember his name.
Many of the murderers escaped justice
There were over 1,000 civilian deaths during the Romanian Revolution, and not many who killed them were prosecuted. Several cases were handled unsuccessfully by the European Supreme Court. Their death certificates don’t mention death by shooting, but “fallen during the Revolution.” The whole world observed the events of December 1989, but still, the names of heroes and unwilling martyrs remain mostly unknown.