The December Revolt and the Coup D'Etat - 1989

The Pressure Bulids

Romania's political crisis had been growing steadily worse since 1982, when Ceausescu embarked upon a program designed to help Romania pay off nearly $10 billion in foreign debt.

Ceausescu did achieve that goal in 1989, but only at an enormous cost in human suffering.28

It was evident to many specialists that the Brasov riots of 1987 signaled that Romania was a country boiling under the surface and might erupt at any moment.

Pressures for change mounted after Ceausescu launched a 'de- villagization' campaign in 1987. As a result, protests by ethnic Hungarians against Romanian rule escalated, with large demonstrations occurring in June 1988. Thousands of ethnic Hungarians also began fleeing the country, with hundreds reportedly shot while trying to cross the border into Yugoslavia. With the border situation clearly getting out of control, Ceausescu decided to improve border defenses along the Romanian-Hungarian border in mid-1989. When word of the construction leaked out, Romania was vilified in the West, embarrassing the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was then urging that barriers be torn down, not put up. Under international pressure Ceausescu eventually backed down from the plan.

By early 1989 the combined impact of these endeavors had created a prerevolutionary situation in Romania, a situation which did not go unnoticed in the West. An employee of the USIA (US Information Agency), Dr. Nicholas Dima, boldly predicted in 1987 that a revolution would occur in Romania sometime in the early 1990s.29

Vladimir Tismaneanu wrote in early 1989, 'for all the ostensible conformity of the population, Ceausescu's regime is probably the most vulnerable in East- Central Europe'.30

Reporters from the journal International Defense Review, who managed to conduct exclusive and unprecedented interviews with Romanian defense officials in the fall of 1989, also found signs that the military was anxious to get rid of Ceausescu, primarily because they were tired of being deprived of the latest technology and used as manual labor.31

A report printed in the journal's December 1989 edition (written before the revolt), even suggested that the military might move against Ceausescu in order to introduce democratic reforms.32

Ceausescu appeared to be addressing the threat from the military in November 1989, when he announced his decision to strengthen the Romanian armed forces after years of neglect.33 Similar increases in defense spending had followed rumors of military plots in the early 1980s. Apparently even Ceausescu knew that his efforts were too little and too late. Speaking on 17 December 1989, he warned RCP members that a coup attempt was imminent.34 Ceausescu believed that the primary instigator of such a coup would be Moscow, and it may have been for this reason that he called on Moscow to renounce the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and revived the issue of Romanian sovereignty over Bessarabia in order to deter a Soviet-backed effort to remove him.

Even before Gorbachev came to power, Ceausescu appeared to be on guard against a possible Soviet-backed coup attempt. His concern may have been heightened by talk among senior officials of a coup attempt in 1984.35 Moreover, Ceausescu had reason to fear that even if Moscow did not become directly involved in a possible coup, the cool spring winds emanating from Moscow would inspire his opponents to move against him. Ceausescu undertook a wide range of measures to forestall that possibility, including efforts to strengthen his control over ideology, foreign affairs and economic policy.36 Between March 1985 and early 1988 there was also a constant 'rotation of cadres' affecting the ministries of defense, finance, foreign trade, foreign affairs, and other organizations.37 Ceausescu continued to rely on relatives placed in various ministries to act as his eyes and ears in searching for signs of opposition. Relatives held key posts in the Ministry of Defense38 and Council of Ministers.39 His brother, Nicolae A. Ceausescu, was posted as head of the cadres department in the Ministry of Internal Affairs,40 while another brother, Marin Ceausescu, was head of the Romanian trade mission in Vienna and reportedly responsible for all Securitate operations in Western Europe.41 Nicolae Ceausescu did not trust anyone, including the Securitate.