The December Revolt and the Coup D'Etat - 1989



Nicolae Ceausescu's rule came to a violent conclusion in December 1989.

His praetorian guard, the seemingly omnipotent Department of State Security, or Securitate, had proved to be not as powerful as the myth of its invincibility suggested.1

Ceausescu even found it necessary to use the Army to suppress the initial uprising in Timisoara. When the Romanian people rose up, with the belated support of Romanian Army units and senior military officers, to challenge the Conducator, the Securitate was quickly overwhelmed and there was little that it, or Ceausescu, could do to counter the revolutionary forces.

In many ways Ceausescu was a victim of his own ego and the myth of his invulnerability, reinforced by the perception, both in Bucharest and the West, that Romanian citizens were largely docile and politically apathetic. As a result, he came to believe that he could rely primarily on the Securitate to maintain power while alienating the one group that was capable of overthrowing him, the Romanian military.

Ceausescu also misjudged the extent to which the Romanian people could go on suffering severe deprivation in order to achieve his goal of repaying Romania's foreign debts. To the end, Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu never grasped the fact that the more the Romanian people had to endure, and the more ruthless the Securitate was in suppressing the growing unrest and dissent, the more explosive the situation had become.

The popular revolt and coup of December 1989 will forever be synonymous in Western eyes with the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. How ironic it must seem then that while the rest of Eastern Europe is experiencing a flowering of democracy, some Romanians feel they are still suffering under a powerful political police apparatus, and a 'neo-Communist' ruler, as the government of President Ion Iliescu is derisively called by some opposition groups.

Many Romanians believe that Iliescu was originally a tool of Moscow's designs in Romania, for there are lingering suspicions that the Soviet Union helped to organize and support the coup, which took place amid the chaos of a mass revolt.

Most recall Ceausescu's numerous policy conflicts with Moscow over the previous 25 years, and wonder whether the Soviet leadership had finally decided to get rid of this thorn in its side. While Moscow clearly supported the coup, there is only patchy and inconclusive evidence that Moscow was involved in preparing or launching the coup using intelligence assets in Romania. By the same token, conflicting versions of events from the principal actors behind Ceausescu's overthrow make a full and accurate accounting of the Securitate's role in the revolution problematic.