Romania president regrets Ceausescu's hasty trial

BUCHAREST, Romania (Dec 21, 1995 - 18:00 EST) - Romania's President Ion Iliescu said Thursday he regretted the hasty trial of his Communist predecessor Nicolae Ceausescu, executed on Christmas Day 1989, but said it was vital to prevent revolution becoming civil war.

"It would have been good to secure the two and to hold a trial under normal conditions, but the tension in Bucharest rose and the danger of a generalized civil war existed," Iliescu said of the trial and execution of the dictator and his wife Elena.

Addressing a seminar of political figures, mostly former Communists like himself who have held power since Ceausescu's fall, Iliescu said he had feared attempts to free the couple from a military barracks in Tirgoviste, north of Bucharest.

Almost 1,200 people died in the 1989 revolution in clashes with security forces, mostly after Dec. 22 when Ceausescu fled anti-government crowds in Bucharest by helicopter.

Romanians have never had a satisfactory explanation why their revolution should have been the bloodiest of the uprisings which swept Eastern Europe. A parliamentary inquiry has been investigating the events for more than a year.

Iliescu's comments followed allegations from the head of that inquiry that the president had effectively organized a coup against Ceausescu, hijacking an anti-Communist uprising to grab power for himself and a cabal of former Communists.

"Iliescu's group was well prepared and waiting for the appropriate moment," opposition senator Valentin Gabrielescu told a news conference last week, saying he feared the results of the inquiry would be buried in an election-year cover-up.

At his trial, Ceausescu was accused of genocide and other crimes. Huge figures for those killed in the revolution, now discredited, were used against him.

"Ceausescu was judged by a court decided by Iliescu and was shot like a rabid dog...he was charged with genocide, of 60,000 dead, which was not true," Gabrielescu said. "This masquerade formed the base of our democracy."

Some Romanians still revere Ceausescu or at least yearn for the certainties of the Communist era rather than the joblessness, inflation and corruption of the new Romania. Small crowds can be expected at his Bucharest grave on Christmas Day.

Gelu Voican Voiculescu, whom Iliescu and the revolutionary government appointed to supervise the trial and burial of the Ceausescus, said the issue was simple.

"The decision to try the couple was dictated by desire to survive - either them, or us," Voiculescu told the seminar in Ceausescu's sprawling folly, the House of the People in Bucharest.

He said the sentence and execution were nothing less than the application of the "unanimous desire of the people."

Voiculescu acknowledged a more formal and public trial would have been preferable but said it would have made no difference.

"The ideal would have been to have a long trial with a much more complete file, but we can be sure the sentence would still have been death because the guilt of the dictatorial couple is uncontestable."


(c) 1995 Reuter Information Service