Nicolae Ceaușescu - Revolution - Overthrow


The mass meeting of 21 December, held in what is now Revolution Square, began like many of Ceaușescu's speeches over the years. With the usual "wooden language", Ceaușescu delivered a litany of the achievements of the "socialist revolution" and Romanian "multi-laterally developed socialist society".

He had seriously misjudged the crowd's mood, and several people began jeering, booing and whistling at him; as the speech wore on, more and more people did the same. Others began chanting "Ti-mi-șoa-ra! Ti-mi-șoa-ra!" Ceaușescu's uncomprehending facial expression as the crowd began to boo and heckle him remains one of the defining moments of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. He tried to silence them by raising his right hand, and when that did not work, he announced that they would receive a raise of 100 lei per month. Failing to control the crowds, the Ceaușescus finally took cover inside the building, where they remained until the next day. The rest of the day saw an open revolt of the Bucharest population, which had assembled in University Square and confronted the police and army at barricades. The unarmed rioters were no match for the military apparatus concentrated in Bucharest, which cleared the streets by midnight and arrested hundreds of people in the process.

Although the television broadcasts of the "support meeting" and subsequent events had been interrupted, Ceaușescu's reaction to the events had already been imprinted on the country's collective memory. By the morning of 22 December, the rebellion had already spread to all major cities across the country. The suspicious death of Vasile Milea, the defense minister (later confirmed as a suicide), was announced by the media. Immediately thereafter, Ceaușescu presided over the CPEx (Political Executive Committee) meeting and assumed the leadership of the army.

Believing that Milea had been murdered, the rank-and-file soldiers went over virtually en masse to the revolution, while the commanders wrote off Ceaușescu as a lost cause. Ceaușescu made a last desperate attempt to address the crowd gathered in front of the Central Committee building, but the people in the square began throwing stones and other projectiles at him, forcing him to take refuge in the building once more. One group of protesters forced open the doors of the building, by now left unprotected. They managed to overpower Ceaușescu's bodyguards and rushed through his office and onto the balcony. Although they did not know it, they were only a few meters from Ceaușescu, who was trapped in an elevator. He, Elena and four others managed to get to the roof and escaped by helicopter, only seconds ahead of a group of demonstrators who had followed them there. The PCR disappeared soon afterward—a testament to how much it had become subordinated to Ceaușescu's whims. Unlike its kindred parties in the former Soviet bloc, it has never been revived, and no present-day Romanian party claims to be its successor.

During the course of the revolution, the western press published estimates of the number of people killed by the Securitate in attempting to support Ceaușescu and quell the rebellion. The count increased rapidly until an estimated 64,000 fatalities were widely reported across front pages. The Hungarian military attaché expressed doubt regarding these figures, pointing out the unfeasible logistics of killing such a large number of people in such a short period of time. After Ceaușescu's death, hospitals across the country reported a death toll of less than 1,000, and probably much lower than that.

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