Romania’s 1989 generation relive pain at ex-president’s trial

2 min 33Approximate reading time

On the morning of December 22, 1989, Bogdan Stan drank his usual cup of coffee and went to join the wave of protests against Romania’s communist regime.

Shortly after, he was shot and killed in front of the public TV building.

Almost 30 years later, his mother Elena Bancila was one of hundreds who gathered in Bucharest on Friday for the opening stage of former president Ion Iliescu’s crimes against humanity trial — the most prominent leader to face charges over those events.

Bancila, now 75, believes Iliescu, who took control of the government on December 22, is responsible for the death of her son.

The 89-year-old Iliescu, once a senior communist who served as the first president of post-revolution Romania, rejects the accusations.

Romania was the last Soviet satellite to overthrow a communist regime during a bloody revolution that began on 15 December 1989 in the western city of Timisoara.

Seven days later, hundreds of thousands took over the centre of the capital Bucharest.

Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu fled in a helicopter on December 22, but it was only after his flight that most of the casualties occurred.

One of them was 62-year-old Gheorghe Preda, who told AFP outside the court how he lost an eye on December 23, when he was shot while out Christmas shopping.

Preda told AFP he suspected “Iliescu’s men” were behind his injury, adding: “Will we ever know the truth about those events? Maybe in 30 years, when we’re all dead.”

– ‘Assassin behind the assassins’ –

Ceausescu was eventually arrested along with his wife and executed on December 25 after a summary trial.

Iliescu had already taken power by then and prosecutors say claims he made at the time about supposed terrorists loyal to Ceausescu increased the risk of “instances of friendly fire, chaotic shooting and contradictory military orders”, with 862 people killed after December 22.

According to historian Madalin Hodor, the suggestion of the presence of “terrorists” was an attempt to divert attention from killings committed by the Securitate secret police and the army in the weeks leading up to Ceausescu’s fall.

Investigations into the bloody aftermath of the revolution have been opened and closed several times over the past three decades, with many blaming powerful forces for preventing the truth coming to light.

The failure to bring anyone to justice has led to anger among the survivors — 60-year-old Aurel Dumitru, who was injured by 12 bullets on the night of 22 December, sarcastically suggests another revolution might be needed.

He said the system “is going to end up punishing us for having stained the streets with our blood” rather than the political leaders.

“Iliescu is the assassin behind the assassins,” says a sobbing Elena Bancila, who has kept her son’s blood-stained trousers and his bullet hole-ridden coat.

“He wanted to keep Romanians indoors, afraid that they would also rise up against communism’s second tier, to which Iliescu belonged,” she added.

– ‘We were humiliated’ –

In addition to Iliescu, former deputy prime minister Gelu Voican-Voiculescu and former military chief Iosif Rus will also be tried for crimes against humanity.

Nicoleta Giurcanu, a slight 44-year-old woman with short blonde hair, is another of the victims who has spent years trying to “reconstruct the puzzle” of her traumatic experiences in December 1989.

On 21 December, at the age of 14, she was arrested and detained after joining anti-Ceausescu protesters in central Bucharest alongside her brother and her father.

“It was horrible, we were beaten, humiliated,” she told AFP.

Separated from their father, Nicoleta and her brother were not released until the evening of December 23.

Nobody has ever been tried for the abuses.

She also holds Iliescu responsible, saying his party had “risen to power by taking advantage of the crimes of December 1989”.

“I want to see Iliescu in prison if it’s only one day,” she says.

Bancila, who for 30 years has kept her son’s unwashed last coffee cup, thinks the trial might finally “wash the shame of a judiciary which pretended it was free”.

“I’ve been waiting for justice for 30 years because they took my son’s right to enjoy the freedom he was fighting for in the street”, she said.