Last Friday, April 13, Romania’s president Klaus Iohannis approved a request to prosecute a former president and prime minister on charges of crimes against humanity for their roles in the country’s bloody 1989 revolt against its communist dictatorship.
Ion Iliescu, who served as Romania’s president from 1989 to 1996 and again from 2000 until 2004, former prime minister Petre Roman, and former deputy prime minister Gelu Voican Voiculescu were in charge of the Council of the National Salvation Front when anti-regime protests turned violent in 1989.
On Tuesday, April 17, military prosecutors formally indicted Iliescu and Roman for crimes against humanity during the 1989 revolution, which left more than 1,000 dead and 2,500 wounded.
Romania’s violent revolution in December 1989 culminated in the execution of president Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife Elena on Christmas Day. It was only after the non-violent overthrow of the communist regimes in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, East Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall in that same year that Romanians dared to take to the streets and demand the much-hated communist dictator to step down.
The 1989 revolution and its aftermath have been clouded in controversy every since. Not only was Romania’s the last and only violent revolt in the otherwise peaceful transitions in Eastern Europe’s Warsaw Pact countries; the sequence and actors involved in the downfall of Ceauşescu and the role of second-rank communists like Iliescu also left many wondering if the revolution was not simply a coup d’état. On several occasions between 1990-1992, protests against Iliescu’s neo-communist regime were quelled by miners, who were brought to Bucharest by the government.
Earlier attempts to hold Iliescu and others to account for violently suppressing the opposition have failed so far. In 1990, the Bucharest Military Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal investigation into the events of December 16-31, 1989. The investigation has been halted and reopened four times since then.
In June 2017, the Supreme Court indicted Iliescu and other former senior officials for their role in a crackdown on protesters in Bucharest’s University Square on June 13-15, 1990, which left at least four dead and over 700 wounded.
The new trial related to the 1989 revolution may not only bring justice to the many victims, but will hopefully also shed more light on the events that led to the downfall of Ceauşescu and the neo-communist government headed by Iliescu, which stayed in power for many years after his tenure ended.