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Romania 20 years on

December 25, 2009

It has been 20 years since Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown from power and executed. However, many victims of communist-era crimes still await justice for their oppressors.

Romanians fighting in the streets
Fighting broke out after the Romanian public had enough of Ceausescu's ruleImage: picture alliance / dpa

This year, Romania marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of its Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. For 45 years, the regime ruled with an iron fist, executing, jailing and persecuting Romanian dissidents.

On December 21st, 1989, Ceausescu called a workers' rally at the Communist Party headquarters, where he promised better welfare benefits and higher pensions. What followed the speech sparked the turning point. Workers booed and yelled hostile slogans against the dictator, causing him to flee the headquarters in a helicopter.

Violence soon broke out, as Romanian security forces still loyal to Ceausescu clashed with opposition in the streets, killing almost 1,500 people. It is believed that many of those who were shot were unarmed demonstrators.

Three days later on December 25th, Ceausescu and his wife were handed over to the Romanian army, and were executed via firing squad after a two hour trial.

Ceausescu's successor accused over violence

Today, many people believe the chaotic street violence which broke out after Ceausescu's failed speech may have been ordered by Ion Iliescu, who later became Romania's president.

Ion Iliescu
Iliescu remains a divisive figure in RomaniaImage: AP

Iliescu strongly denies the accusations, saying he was a victim of the times and tarred with the instigator's brush to prevent him from establishing a new order in the country.

Iliescu still remains a divisive character in Romanian history, as he is revered by some and loathed by others who believe he used the situation to bring himself to power and then kept the old nomenclature in power in the post-communist era.

Many victims still awaiting justice

Two decades later, the truth about those who were silenced by Ceausescu's regime is beginning to emerge due to films, books, and the exhumation of murdered dissidents. However, many are still waiting for justice to be served.

Anghel Cioran, an 82-year-old former physicist, lost his son Gabriel in the December violence. Gabriel who was then 31, was shot by soldiers in front of the state radio station in Bucharest.

"The young people who went out onto the streets couldn't know what was going to happen, that people would shoot at them. They were innocent and they died for nothing," Cioran said.

However, under Romanian law, many crimes of the communist-era simply fade away. "The statue of limitations has expired for these crimes and they cannot be prosecuted." said general prosecutor Laura Kovesi.

Although Romanian president Traian Basescu in 1996 officially condemned the crimes of communism, no Romanian leader has lifted the statute of limitations needed to persecute communist-era crimes.


Editor: Andreas Illmer