A Personal Experience
In the evening of December 16th 1989 I left home to go to the disco at the Students House (I was a student at that time). In the tram I heard people talking about the large number of people gathered in Maria Square (near Tokes’ house). I was familiar with the Tokes case and I heard that the day before there had been a crowd around his house. I became curious, so I got off in Maria Square. There were a lot of people there, all silent, some holding candles. I had the feeling that this gathering could be the occasion that we were looking for. The Romanians could not be the most stupid people in Eastern Europe!
A young man was speaking in front of Tokes’ house. “We’ve been told that the fire-fighters will come against us. Those who don’t want to remain can leave”.
In a couple of minutes, Laszlo Tokes appeared at the window (I didn’t know his face at that time). “I am safe”, he said. “Down with the lies!” shouted the crowd.
Somebody said that the students were coming. This rumour encouraged the crowd. I cried as hard as I could: “Down with Ceausescu!” Other slogans were shouted. The crowd blocked the circulation of the trams.
A group of policemen appeared. On seeing them, the crowd (200-300 persons) had a moment of rout. It was not natural for 200-300 people to be afraid of 10 policemen, but that was the situation. Things had to return to normal. The crowd shouted “cowards” at those who were retreating; “look how many we are and how many they are”. Near a store lay two boxes of empty milk bottles – the perfect things to throw at the policemen. I took some myself.
The panic ceased. Bottles were flowing towards the policemen. Some demonstrators tried to talk to them so they shouted at the crowd to stop throwing bottles. When they stopped, the crowd shouted at the policemen: “Join us!” The policemen were peaceful. They formed a line on Cipariu Street (where Tokes’ house was), but they allowed the passage between them. I tried to talk to one of them, so I asked him: “What are you looking for here?” “Hey kid, did you serve in the Army?”, he asked back.
The reference to the Army was not convincing enough for me. As a student, I had done my military service in Caransebes. There were two basic rules: bribery and connections. By the end of my service, the officers had lost their authority in front of us, the students. I remember one night when the commander of our company, being upset, ordered us: “Company, get out in the courtyard!” We didn’t go, as we were sleepy. The captain repeated the order several times but, seeing that nobody cared about it, he gave up.
During my military service I grew to believe that in the Romanian Army the suckers obeyed and the clever ones slackened as much as they could. Anyhow, the supreme commander (Ceausescu) was reported that everything in the Romanian Army was excellent.
My personal conviction is that the lack of discipline in the Romanian Army, a characteristic of the last years during Ceausescu’s regime, is one of the reasons for the failure of the reprisal of the revolution. Ceausescu tried to apply the Tien An Men model, but he was not able.
I remember the events that happened in Brasov, a city in Southern Transylvania, in 1987. The workers started a revolt against the authorities, but it was put down quickly. This should not be repeated. I started shouting “Let’s come again tomorrow!”. I discovered a few people around me who understood me (one of them made up a new slogan that I liked: “This is the beginning!”), but my slogan was not as popular as I wanted.
The crowd shouted “Freedom!” and started singing “The Union Dance” (a 19th century patriotic song whose main idea is that all Romanians need to be united: “One man only is powerless/ In need and in pain / But two are stronger / And their enemy is weak”). A young man shouted: “Gheorghe Doja was killed in this square! Ceausescu will die here too!”
The crowd increased. Some suggested going to the County Communist Party headquarters. It seemed that part of the demonstrators went in that direction.
Soon fire brigade trucks followed by soldiers with helmets and shields could be seen. The people were scattered from Tokes’ house, but they regrouped near the bridge that connected Maria Square with the city centre. For a while nothing happened. The soldiers were in Maria Square. They kept quite a distance between them and the crowd. Some demonstrators were shouting slogans, but most of them stood as mere spectators.
The soldiers started to advance and hit their shields with sticks. The people panicked. The soldiers crossed the bridge, separating the crowd in two. Part of the demonstrators was on the street that was parallel with the Bega. My group (less than 100 people) stood at the end of the bridge, towards the centre.
I started to go from person to person, telling them that next day we must gather again in Maria Square at 5 o’clock in the evening. I wanted to inform as many people as possible. I made a way round in order to reach the demonstrators on the other side of the river. Then I left. I told each passer-by I met: “Let’s meet in Maria at 5 p.m. tommorow”. An old lady suggested that I should go the railway station, where there were a lot of people. I went there and announced the meeting. On leaving, I whispered my announcement to two groups that were standing in front of the railway building. When I crossed the street I saw two policemen running after me. I started running myself, but two other policemen appeared in front of me. I was caught. I was taken to a building where I got hit for the first time. They searched me and found my student ID - shit, I had to tell them my real name. I thought that I would be expelled from the University.
A car took me to the headquarters of the County Police. There I was led to a kind of prison, where I was ordered to kneel down with my hands on my nape, near the other prisoners. A policeman was watching us and hitting those who did not take the correct position. At first I was near two girls. A policeman shouted at me: “Do you want to fuck them?”
One by one we were called to make short statements (name, place of birth, parents). I was asked how I had got arrested. “I was passing by the railway station when two policemen started running after me. I was scared, I ran, but they caught me”, I said. “Who caught you?”. “They did”, I answered, and was hit with the stick: “Don’t say “they”, you must call them the order maintaining bodies”.
I was taken to another cell. Some people had their heads bandaged, coagulated blood on their clothes or on their head. Near me, a man was moaning: “I can’t take it any more. They jumped on me with their feet. I think my ribs are broken”. He asked me to take him to a friend of his, if we were released. A woman was crying hysterically. She told the policemen that she wasn’t in control of herself, that she had spent some time in an asylum previously. Later a physician came and told her that she would be sent to a hospital. After a while the women were moved to a separate cell. A soldier on leave asked that his garrison should be announced about what had happened to him. An Army non-com was convinced that we would be freed by the next morning. He told us how he was going to beat one of the policemen he had met often at the Army House. By morning, instead of being freed, we saw new prisoners brought in. We were like sardines in a tin.
In the morning of December 17th we were led in the courtyard. A man was lying on the ground, motionless. An ambulance came to take him. The policemen gave us a speech. Four policemen, one frontier guard and two soldiers were killed, they told (false information, used by the regime in order to justify the repression). Of course, we were guilty for that. A truck took us to the prison on Popa Sapca Street. There they took all our valuable things and money. We were led to a room with 30 beds disposed on three levels, a table, two benches and a toilet.
I slept for a few hours, then we were led in a corridor. The students were separated from the other prisoners. Together with other students, I was taken to a bathroom. The general state of mind was very bad, everybody was depressed. Some started to speak about how they had been arrested - only accidentally, they were returning from somewhere, they had no connections with the demonstrations. We were suspecting one another, you couldn’t tell which of us was an informer. We joked about the microphones that might be in the bathroom - maybe the pegs were “Philips”. We talked about the beating that was expecting us at the questioning.
After a few hours, we saw a helicopter through the windows. We heard the rumble of the crowd and shots. We made suppositions: are the bullets real or fake? Are the shots fired in the air or at the people? Some of us mentioned the chances that the demonstrations would spread in other cities as well, and thought of the comments that the foreign radio stations would make.
By evening we were fed for the first time. Two people entered the bathroom. One pointed to me and said: “Note him!”, and then addressed me: “What were you doing last night with a stake in your hand?” During the battle in Maria Square, I had held a tree branch for a while. I must have been filmed, but I replied that I hadn’t carried any stake. Then he asked my name, where I had been arrested, where I lived. When he found out my address, he realised we were neighbours. He left without further questioning.
For the night we went back to the room with 30 beds, where we slept two in a bed.
On Monday December 18th we started to know one other better, to talk about various topics (including politics). We made jokes. I suggested playing “the mime”. Of all the 60 people in the room, hardly a few showed any desire to play, but after the game started it would stir the attention of the entire room.
One by one we were called for interrogation. My turn came. There were two investigators, but only one talked to me. He advised me to recognise everything, as they would find out everything from me anyway.
In order to escape, I made up a story. I said that I had been returning from my cousin that lived in the suburbs. Not a very bright story. The distance from my cousin’s house to my place is too long to walk, but I couldn’t think of another way to explain my presence near the railway station. The interrogator did not believe me. He asked a lot of details: which way I had taken exactly, in what position was the bell at my cousin’s home? Why had I gone to the County Council? I hadn’t been there. He threatened that they would hang me upside down. I was hit with a rubber stick on my legs. In the end I wrote a statement and made it sound as I wanted. The interrogator told the guardian that was escorting me to keep me isolated.
Nevertheless, the guardian escorted me back to the old room. I told the others about the questioning. I thought that the secret police would check my cousin’s place. In the cell there were two gypsy kids who couldn’t read or write. I thought they might be freed before me and they were not collaborators of the secret police. I whispered my story in the ear of one of them and I asked him that if he escaped sooner than me, he should call my place and tell my folks about this story. But when I asked him to repeat what he had understood, it turned out he had understood nothing. I decided to tell my story to a person (Victor Burghelea) who showed signs from the beatings – he didn’t look like a collaborator of the secret police.
In the morning of December 19th, I was isolated in a cell for half an hour. I could see the jail gate. Only a few meters separated me from freedom! I didn’t have much time to think about it, because I was climbed up in a truck and sent back to the Police headquarters. There a young man interrogated me. He began with the psychological preparation. They don’t want to beat me, why am I forcing them to do it? I repeated the story that involved my cousin. I was put on the floor face down and beaten on my soles, back and hands. I screamed as hard as I could. I simulated fainting. They threw water on me. A lieutenant colonel objected when he saw blood leaking from my mouth. The questioning started again. I was told that they had a report written by the two policemen that had arrested me, and who heard me telling people to come to Maria Square at 8 o’clock the next day. I noticed that they didn’t know what I said precisely. I began writing a statement about my family and relatives that I had abroad. Trying to gain time, I was writing as slowly as possible. I reached the point when my story involved my cousin - I could no longer deal with my interrogator. He ordered me to make genuflexions. I had two choices: beating with genuflexion or beating without genuflexion. I chose the last one. The interrogation went on. For tens of times I was asked about the same things: “I don’t care what you said, I know it very well, I want to know why you said it”, my interrogator insisted. He even suggested that Maria was a woman I wanted to visit. He applied the tactics to make me confess gradually. After a new round of beatings, I simulated fainting again. Somebody who entered the room simulated kicking my head. Instinctively, I moved to avoid his kick. “Send him to hell, he’s got reflexes”, he said. The interrogator handcuffed me tightly. My articulations were swelling, my hands were turning blue. The lieutenant colonel who had been there before said that the handcuffs should be removed. The interrogator was not hurrying. After a while, he loosened the handcuffs for 2-3 minutes, then tightened them again. In order to escape, I told them that while passing by the railway station, somebody from a group told me to come to Maria Square the next day. I wrote a statement. After a while the interrogator said that he had spoken on the phone with those who had seen me, and that I had been spotted near two groups of people. I gave in psychologically. I thought: how much more beating do I have to endure? One or two days are bearable, but the questioning could go on for a month or even a year. If Ceausescu fell, there would be no reason to endure the beatings; if he resisted, I would try to solve this problem later. I admitted that I had persuaded the people to come to Maria Square the next day, but I thought that it wouldn’t be wise to tell them that I had been there from the very beginning (at the time, I thought that the Revolution started only after my arrival at Laszlo Tokes’ house. Afterwards I learnt that a group of demonstrators had left Maria Square before my arrival). I lied that I had arrived in Maria Square later. While I was writing another statement, a man in leather clothing said: “Ceausescu is too good with people like you. He should have had you shot from the very beginning. Don’t you realise that we are still stronger? Anyone dare move, he’ll turn into an angel”.
It was already evening. I was taken to a cell. Here, talking with the other prisoners, I learnt that at the time I had pretended to be on 23 August Boulevard, that place was agitated. I told myself: though I admitted what they accused me of, they still knew I was still lying. If I lied again, who knows what they might think I was hiding?
On the morning of December 20th two new interrogators questioned me. Again the start was the psychological preparation. One of them told me that he was notorious in all Romanian prisons. He urged me to admit everything, there was no way I could resist. I told them the truth, but that was not good. They wanted to know who organised everything. What discussions about Laszlo Tokes took place at University? Who did I talk about the Radio Free Europe news with? What people did I recognise at the demonstrations?
I was beaten again. They hit my soles, but I had my shoes on. I screamed as hard as I could, to make the interrogator feel he fulfilled his duty. He said: “Do you think I don’t know how it feels with your shoes on?” He took off my shoes and kept hitting me. Indeed, the beating was worse. The interrogation went on like this for a few hours. I remembered that in December 17th I was invited to a friend’s birthday. I told them that they could check it. I wrote another statement only about the fact that I used to listen to Radio Free Europe. While writing it, I heard slogans through the windows: “The people are with you!” and “Freedom!”
I was taken back to the cell. A young policeman ordered the prisoners to kneel, but I and few others who were considered intellectuals were excepted from this order.
After a while I received a uniform and was moved to another cell. This time my companions were six political prisoners of the revolution and a thief. I thought he might be an informer, though he pronounced himself against Ceausescu.
We talked about the way we they were questioning us. One of the prisoners, “the doctor” (dentist Teodor Taut) had his hands swollen from the beatings. He had been imprisoned in the past for abortions (abortions were illegal during Ceausescu’s era) and it seemed he also knew the thief. He was convinced that those who beat him would have to pay for it. Another prisoner (Doru Berejovschi) was shot in the hand, but he didn’t want the interrogators know. He told us that the interrogators had threatened to kill him with a bren gun, and after that they would pretend that he had attacked them.
In the evening we talked about poetry. The doctor recited the last part of “We want land”: “Beg God to protect you / If we want blood, not land / Christ if you are, you will not escape / Not even in your graves”. I chose “Iov’s Prayer” by Paunescu. The doctor said he and Paunescu were friends. The thief surprised us with how much he had read.
In December 21st we were not disturbed until the evening. Through the window we could hear the rumble of the crowd, but we couldn’t understand what they were shouting. The thief said that he was ordered to keep the window closed (he had been in the cell before us). He acted as the boss of the cell who would be hold responsible if orders were not obeyed. I opened the window for short periods, but the others (especially the thief) objected.
We made suppositions about the amplitude of the demonstrations and their possible expansion in other cities. Somebody said that the previous Monday (December 18th) he had heard that protests also started in Arad (a city 60 km North from Timisoara) and that 1,000 people were dead. I thought it incredible. The thief spoke about his life. I talked with him about life in prison.
In the evening we were taken to investigation again. Fearfully I thought that I would be beaten again. I remember that Tuesday, when I they read me the supposed report of those who had arrested me, I was described as wearing glasses. I decided not to wear glasses during the inquiry. They asked me who I had seen at the demonstrations and what I knew about my professors at the University – was any of them talking too much during the courses? Of course, I said I didn’t know anything. I could hear the crowd. The investigator said: “In 1961-62, they went in the streets with pitchforks and hatchets, but we defeated them”.
The following night I was questioned again. I repeated my previous statements. I asked the investigator what his position was. A prosecutor, he answered. No more violence. However, I was concerned with the fact that the rumble of the crowd was gone.
In the afternoon of December 22nd I heard “Victory!” through the windows. After that we were removed from our cell and given our civilian clothes back. I asked a senior sergeant if we would be freed. He said yes. We were climbed up in a van, together with prisoners from other cells. I thought that we would be sent to the prison on Popa Sapca Street, in order to recover our possessions taken from us a couple of days before. Through a small window between our compartment and the driver’s cabin I could see the road. Obviously we were not taken to the prison. We saw people with flags. The driver’s companion made friendly gestures towards the people on the street. One of us imitated him, though he could not have been seen from outside. He was immediately admonished: “What is it, are you free?” I suggested hitting the walls of the van. The prisoners near the door managed to open it. We jumped as the truck was still moving. I discovered I was in Fratelia district. I was afraid that the van would return to pick me again. I entered a courtyard in order to lose my trace. In the house, two old women were listening to a radio programme in Hungarian. I asked them what had happened to Ceausescu. They told me that he was in China. I told them that I had escaped from the Police and I asked them what had happened. They said that somebody appeared on the television. I didn’t quite understand what they meant. I thought that the Police could seek me at home, it would be better to stay hidden at those old women. I asked them to change to Radio Bucharest. I listened to the programme announcing that the revolutionaries took the power and tears came into in my eyes. In half an hour I went home.
In December 23rd I stayed home, listening to the television and recovering myself after the beating during my incarceration. The television reported that “terrorists” loyal to Ceausescu were attacking the revolutionary power.
In December 24th an announcement was made that the students should gather at the Technical University, where they should organise themselves in order to defend the revolution.
I was confused about those “terrorists” that were endangering the revolution. Ceausescu having loyalists so fanatic that they were ready to risk their lives for him was beyond my imagination. But now, when the country was in danger, there was no time for questions.
I went to the University. There we were split in groups, each having the mission to defend a certain building against the “terrorists”. My group was defending a student hostel. If the “terrorists” took the hostel, they would get closer to their objective: bring Nicolae Ceausescu back in power!
We started by checking the building. I was carrying a crowbar. I felt seven lives burning in my chest. If I found a stranger hiding in the building, first I would strike him and only then I would ask him what he was looking for in that place.
In the evening we were ordered to turn off the lights. We should avoid being shot by the “terrorists” who would be able to see us through the windows if the lights were on. For me this order sounded a little strange. It is in the dark that the terrorist can act easier. It would be better to turn all the lights on and light up the entire area. But an order was an order, so we stayed in the dark.
We decided to take three-hour shifts. Two remained to watch the stair house, the other watched television or rested. I was on duty together with my colleague Tudor Fluieras, when somebody knocked at the door. We went down and opened it. It was one of the people defending the next building. He told us that a terrorist was sending light signals from our building. Why send signals? Nobody asked it, as it was obvious: everybody heard about the helicopters that parachuted “terrorists”. From what our visitor explained, we understood that the terrorist could be hidden in one of the three rooms near the place where we were. The rooms were locked. It was risky to force the doors, the terrorist could be armed. We asked the Army to send us some soldiers (they never came).
While waiting for help, we blocked the doors with chairs. If the terrorist tried to come out, the chairs would fall and make noise.
Morning came. We turned on the light in the stair house. We should break the doors and catch the terrorist. The man from the neighbouring building knocked again. The light was on where the terrorist was hiding, he said. We turned it on, I said. In the end, I understood the confusion: every time somebody was lighting his cigarette, the flame was taken for a light signal. Whenever the watch shifts were changing, the new shift was coming with a lantern - another light signal.
After the revolution I submitted a complaint concerning what had happened to me during the Revolution. But because in 1990 the National Salvation Front issued a decree of amnesty that also included the crime of abusive behaviour, my complaint was never solved.
 Gheorghe Doja was the leader of a peasant uprising in the 16th century. His army was defeated in Timisoara in 1514 and he was executed in the place called Maria Square today. It is said that his comrades were forced to eat pieces from his dead body after hie execution.
 "We want land!", a poem by George Cosbuc, a classic Romanian poet at the beginning of the 20th century; the poem was written after the peasant uprising of 1907, when thousands of peasants were killed.