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Romania: Old charges reloaded

Former Romanian President Ion Iliescu is charged with crimes against humanity during a bloody anti-government protest 25 years ago. At least four people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in violence.

The prosecution is accusing former Romanian President Ion Iliescu

of having called thousands of miners from western Romania to Bucharest in June 1990

to put an end to the opposition's anti-communist protests. The miners' violent interventions - which resulted in at least four people being killed and more than 1,000 injured - went down in the country's history as "mineriads."

In December 1989, communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was toppled, and Iliescu took power, only to be elected president with an overwhelming majority in May 1990. The young liberal democratic opposition spoke of substantial manipulation ahead of the election, and called for peaceful, nonstop day-and-night demonstrations in the center of the capital, Bucharest. In April of that year, mainly young people had set up camp on the city's University Square, declaring it a "zone free of neo-communism." The peaceful protests targeted communist turncoats and members of the Securitate secret police - dissolved, but still much-feared - that had found a place in the new power apparatus.

miners beat up a protester

Miners beat a protester in broad daylight on June 18, 1990

On June 13, 1990, thousands of miners followed the new Bucharest rulers' call, and violently attacked the demonstrators. Using clubs, rods and hatchets, they in particular chased people who they thought looked like intellectuals because they wore glasses, sported beards or longer hair and were better dressed than others. Two days later, on June 15, the peaceful nonstop demonstration came to a bloody end. President Iliescu officially thanked the miners and celebrated them as "saviors of the new democracy."

Case reopened

Iliescu faced charges for the "mineriad" in 2005, but the case was dropped two years later. The now 85-year-old, who served as Romania's president from 1990 - 1996 and 2000 - 2004, has since said repeatedly that he was blameless with regard to the incidents.

The prosecutor general has reopened the case in Bucharest after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) convicted Romania of several mistakes made during the investigation. Iliescu is charged with crimes against humanity. He is officially suspected of being partially responsible, as acting head of state, for the violence against government opponents and the death of four people. Former secret service chief Virgil Magureanu also faces charges, and the authorities are investigating other former government members as well.

Facing the past

The June 1990 "mineriad" is regarded as the bloody culmination of a string of repressive measures against the newly-formed liberal democratic opposition. Right after the fall of the dictator Ceausescu, the new rulers close to the "neo-communist" Ion Iliescu took over control of the state institutions, including radio and TV, and branded any democratic and anti-communist form of opposition as right-wing extremist and fascist. In February 1990, the former communist interim government had brought in the miners once before to quell protests by the newly founded conservative, liberal parties. Officially, they said the miners came to the capital of their own accord to defend the "accomplishments" of the December 1989 revolution.

burning vehicle, People run away

Four people were killed and many injured

Many victims of the "mineriad" hope that now, finally, justice will prevail, and those responsible will get the punishment they deserve. There is no guarantee of this, however, as the Romanian judiciary sometimes moves in strange ways. For democracy in Romania, it could be an important step toward the hesitant process of dealing with the most recent communist and neo-communist past.

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