Romanian Revolution, 20 years on - as aired on DW in November 2009

Cue material:
In December it will have been 20 years since thousands of Romanians shed their blood to overthrow the communist regime under Nicolae Ceausescu. But two decades later, most of the victims of that regime are still waiting for justice. Some 1,100 people died and 3,300 were injured over a period of three weeks, all over Romania, starting in mid-December 1989.Yet over one hundred people identified during the criminal investigations as those who either shot innocent people or ordered their deaths are still at large and hold high positions in society. From Bucharest, Anca Paduraru reports.

There was a brief window of opportunity, starting at the end of 2004, when 245 former military and civilian leaders were indicted and charged in court for their crimes 20 years ago. But that window closed this spring when President Traian Basescu fired the man who had been primarily responsible for carrying out that job: military prosecutor Dan Voinea. His team of criminal investigators and policemen was dismantled and the one thousand volumes of evidence they had collected was split up, with part of it being sent to civil prosecutors and the rest remaining with the military prosecutors.

President Basescu has the power to appoint prosecutors, but also to fire them as well, and those he posted to lead the Prosecutor's Office have apparently decided to stall the investigations, until the statute of limitation runs out in June 2012.

One case in point: Prosecutor General Laura Kovesi decided to overturn Voinea's decision to charge the suspects he identified as responsible for murders carried out in Targu Mures, a central Romanian city with a large Hungarian population. This outraged the families of the victims. One man, Attila Paska, is the son of a man killed while demonstrating against the communist regime:

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Attila Paska:
Secs 25 of sound bite
“You can only imagine my outrage, for [Kovesi] has chewed up and spit out our case. We are all outraged here, in Targu Mures. We have decided to challenge her decision in court and in international courts too, since things cannot stay under wraps forever. We will go to the European Court of Human Rights. Unfortunately, Romanian institutions were unable to solve this case in 20 years.”

A reason for stalling the investigations is that both Kovesi's second in command, Deputy Prosecutor General Tiberiu Nitu, and the military prosecutor Adrian Nicolau, now in charge of the so-called Revolution files, had served in the same military that fired on the demonstrators 20 years ago.

Nitu has admitted that he fired his gun both before and after the communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu fled, on the afternoon of December 22
nd, in a statement he filed with the Association 21st December, a group which defends the rights of the victims of the revolution.

Nitu filed his statement in order to receive confirmation of his status as “fighter for the revolution”.

This status provided the bearer with imporant advantages, such as exemption from property taxes, free plots of land and free ownership of shops in commercial arcades, state subsidized rents and bank credits, free city and intercity transportation and free medical treatment, among many others.

Nitu refused to comment on his admission to DW, but his statement, in his own handwriting, is posted on the website of the Association 21
st December.

For his part, Prosecutor Adrian Nicolau, who now directly oversees the stalled investigation into the Revolution files, has denied that he fired his gun against the demonstrators, but had this to say on the options soldiers had:

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Prosecutor Adrian Nicolau:
Secs 24 of sound bite
“Before December 22
nd each soldier had an obligation to defend the communist regime. [If he did not do that] it would have been held against him, had the communist government not fallen … since no one knew at the time how the events would develop.”Spk:
The now dismissed former prosecutor Voinea, when he was assembling the Revolution files made a clear distinction between those who fired their weapons before and after the afternoon of December 22
nd , which was the time Ceausescu and his wife fled in a helicopter from atop the Communist Party headquarters in Bucharest.

Before Ceausescu left, all military personnel were engaged in the repression of demonstrators Voinea says, and they should be tried as such, without being able to claim that they were merely following orders. The records show 162 people died, and 107 were wounded as a result.

However, most of the deaths and injuries occured after Ceausescu's departure, when the revolution was already apparently triumphant. Still, six-times more people died and twenty-times more people were wounded after that point in time, as the army continued to shoot at people they claimed were terrorists, although none were ever found.

Voinea says that after December 22
nd, most common soldiers and even most of the population were duped into believing they were defending the country against a terrorist threat that did not exist. But the military commanders knew there was no enemy to fight against, Voinea says. 

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Prosecutor Dan Voinea:
Secs 25 of sound bite
“The military commanders had all the means to be fully aware of who the enemy was. But they failed to communicate to their subordinates that there was no terrorist enemy to fight. Therefore, the low-ranking conscript soldiers acted in good faith, believing they were battling an invisible enemy – the terrorists.”

Voinea has proven that the terrorist threat was just a diversion orchestrated by high-ranking officers and identified about 80% of those responsible for the deaths and injuries. They were all Romanians who shot at their fellow Romanian citizens.
Voinea and his team found no evidence that foreign troops or rogue, terrorist units were operating in Romania, and arrived at a startling conclusion concerning why this happened:

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Prosecutor Dan Voinea:
Secs 34 of sound bite
“The fact that [the military] continued to fire [after December 22
nd] proves that things could be settled only by the use of the armed forces. I mean that an attempt was made to save the communist administration, which the demonstrators were protesting against. The military was using force to maintain its power and to keep its officials in power in whatever government followed.”

Anca Paduraru, DW Radio, Bucharest