Some Romanians are nostalgic 20 years after revolt overthrew communist dictator Ceausescu

By Alison Mutler, AP
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Some Romanians nostalgic 20 years after communism

BUCHAREST, Romania — Braving the Balkan chill, a few dozen people who participated 20 years ago in Romania’s overthrow of communism huddled Tuesday around a commemorative monument to recall those events.

The spot where they gathered was just a short distance from where Stalinist leader Nicolae Ceausescu fled the popular uprising. Ceausescu was later captured, summarily tried and executed.

About 1,100 people died in the uprising two decades ago.

Despite the passage of time, little light has been shed on who shot at unarmed demonstrators. To this day, Romanians debate whether all the guilty have been punished.

But most citizens have moved on, grappling not with the past but with today’s challenges of economic hardship and political instability — conditions that have left some people yearning for the ordered life under Ceausescu.

Perhaps reflecting that ambivalence, there has been little television coverage to mark two decades since the world’s first televised revolution — a revolt that was also Eastern Europe’s bloodiest ouster of communists.

Dressed in a rabbit skin hat as temperatures plunged to -8 Celsius (18 Fahrenheit), George Givoacas described how he was injured Dec. 23, 1989 when a bullet ricocheted and hit his left eyebrow.

“It’s good we got rid of Ceausescu,” Givoacas, a bookkeeper, said. “But we still don’t have enough democracy and freedom.”

Nearby, politicians placed wreaths on a monument bearing the names of those killed. A few yards (meters) from here, Ceausescu fled in a helicopter as thousands in Bucharest and cities around the country called for an end to his 25-year-rule.

Givoacas said he did not regret the passing of the Ceausescu era. But he spoke nostalgically of what he said were the better schools and job security that communism offered.

Other people share such views. In a recently published survey, 40 per cent of respondents said their lives had become more difficult since communism ended. The survey’s was conducted by the independent Bureau of Social Research. The margin of error was not given, nor was the number of people surveyed.

But Petre Roman, Romania’s first post-Communist prime minister, praised Romania’s achievements, noting Tuesday that the former Soviet satellite had joined NATO, the Western military alliance, as well as the European Union.

“Twenty years is not so much,” he said.

He conceded that democracy remains fragile less than a month after a presidential election the opposition claims was rigged. President Traian Basescu narrowly won re-election over former Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana.

As for the past, just two retired Army generals have been convicted of involvement in the killings during the revolt. They were sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Roman blamed a lack of evidence for the dearth of prosecutions. He said there is no film footage of the worst day of shooting — from Dec. 21-22 — in Bucharest, where 564 people were killed.

He said guns were handed out to untrained members of the feared Securitate secret police and Army after Ceausescu fled the capital Dec. 22, but before he was executed, three days later.

The dictator and his were shot by firing squad on Christmas Day, 1989, and random slayings ensued.

“There were tragic episodes and innocent lives were lost,” Roman said.

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