The December Revolt and the Coup D'Etat - 1989

The Coup

The coup occurred shortly after Ceausescu's flight on 22 December. No fighting had as yet broken out between Securitate forces and army troops when the Front for the Salvation of the Homeland, headed by the former Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the United Nations General Assembly, Corneliu Manescu, appeared to have taken power by announcing its existence on national television.52 However, in the late afternoon of 22 December a new interim government was announced. The temporary government was called the National Democracy Committee, and was made up of military officers allied with Militaru, intellectuals, and future members of the National Salvation Front.

On the 23rd a Council of the National Salvation Front was formed under the leadership of Ion Iliescu. The man who stepped in front of the media to take control of military forces allied with the NSF was General Nicolae Militaru, who was not in the first NSF Council, but who later served as Minister of Defense for six weeks following the December uprising.53 Control of the Army and Ministry of Internal Affairs was given to a Higher Military Council under the control of Militaru, which in turn was under the command of the NSF Council (CNSF).54 Command posts were set up by the NSF at the Bucharest TV station,55 and at the Ministry of National Defense (MapN),56 both of which were later subjected to fierce attacks from Securitate units.

The NSF reportedly succeeded in rallying the Romanian High Command only by promising to install 'serious politicians', and not a 'few crazy poets and intellectuals'.57 Nevertheless, the Front was anxious to gain a broader mandate by co-opting leading Romanian dissidents into its ranks, some of whom learned that they were members of the NSF only after their names were broadcast on television.58

The haphazard and chaotic affair that the process of forming a government turned out to be made it appear that a government had not been chosen before Militaru and Iliescu took power. Instead, Iliescu seemed to be concerned mainly with making the government more appealing to the people in the streets. Twice he announced his appointment of former Ceausescu associates to key posts in his new government, only to change his decision when the crowd outside reacted angrily to the announcements. However, none of his changes affected the basic core group of the new government.

While Iliescu and Militaru ran the government on national television, Lieutenant General Victor Stanculescu, the man who had ordered troops to fire on demonstrators in Timisoara, worked behind the scenes to rally forces to the side of the new government and co- ordinate military actions against Ceausescu's supporters. Stanculescu's role in these events is enigmatic, because he was willing to use force against demonstrators in Timisoara and was not part of the coup plotting before the revolt. He was even reputed to have been a close associate of Elena Ceausescu.59 His about-face was apparently taken at face value by Iliescu, who appointed him as Militaru's successor as Minister of Defense in February 1990.