Timișoara, the first free city

TVR, The Romanian Public Broadcaster

"The crowd looked at me like a leader, but in reality I was just the prisoner of their anger."
László Tőkés

Beginning of the Revolution in Timișoara

Context:

On 10 December, Reformed Pastor László Tőkés announced to his parishioners that on 15 December he would be evicted by the militia, and as such would not be able to hold his next service. He would be transferred from Timișoara to a parish in Mineu village (Sălaj county). He asked his parishioners to support him in his attempt to oppose his eviction. On the night of 10 December, demonstrators against Ceaușescu appeared on the streets of Timișoara.

Radu Tinu, former Deputy President of the Securitate in Timiș county, stated that Tőkés was contacted by foreign diplomats on 15 December.

On 15 December, starting at 8 am, a few parishioners from the Reformed Church gathered around the parsonage in Maria Square, where pastor László Tőkés lived, in an attempt to oppose the decision to evict Tőkés. The size of the group watching the parsonage increased constantly. At about 12:00 pm, the militia members located in Maria Square were withdrawn in order to calm the situation, especially since Tőkés had caught the eye of the foreign press. The American and British embassies had sent representatives to Timișoara to monitor and record the events. At around 1 pm, the head of the Securitate in Timiș, Colonel Traian Sima, sent some agents into the area to identify the people behind the protests and Tőkés's supporters. Towards 4 pm, more than one hundred people had gathered in Maria Square.

Crowd chanting against Ceaușescu

16 December 1989

"Without having been called by me and without telling me, on the morning of the 15th some other 150-200 Reformed parishioners showed up."

László Tőkés

At 8 am, the Secretaries of the County Committee of the Romanian Communist Party were informed that 300-400 people had gathered in Maria Square.

Radu Bălan, First Secretary of the Timiș County Committee of the Romanian Communist Party, stated that he received a phone call from Nicolae Ceaușescu, ordering him to evict the pastor.

From 1 pm, the number of people in Maria Square in Timișoara began to increase, with demonstrators and representatives from the authorities.

Colonel Ion Deheleanu, Chief of the Timiș County Militia, had ordered six officers and NCOs dressed in civilian clothing to mingle with the crowds. By 5 pm, the number of people in Maria Square had reached several hundred.

On 16 December, the pastor made several attempts to disperse the crowd.

On the evening of 16 December, between 5:20 pm and 5:30 pm, traffic in Maria Square was blocked. Some party activists mixed themselves among the demonstrators.

"By early evening, the number of demonstrators had increased so much that they blocked the trams traffic through the square. Spontaneous speakers climbed on vehicles and addressed the crowd"

Peter Siani – Davies "Revoluţia română din decembrie 89" [The Romanian Revolution of December 1989]

According to accounts by Marius Mioc, between 7 pm and 8 pm, fire trucks and military personnel with shields appeared in the square, and the demonstrators were removed from around Tőkés' residence.

The people regrouped at the bridge connecting Maria Square to the city centre. The militia units bearing riot shields went over the bridge and split the crowd in two. Groups were formed heading towards the city centre. At around 9 pm, the street lights went out for a few minutes. The demonstrators that reached the Party Committee were chanting anti-Ceaușescu and anti-Communist slogans, and removed the coat of arms of the Romanian Communist Party from the wall of the building.

The people were attacked by members of the militia equipped with shields, batons and helmets. At 10 pm, 28 unarmed militia members were first sent to the parsonage, followed by an intervention platoon made up of 80 people equipped with police batons, shields, helmets and a few fire trucks. Ceauşescu called General Iulian Vlad twice that night, at 10 pm and at 2 am. He asked him what measures he had taken and accused him of a lack of engagement. General Milea was receiving phone calls from the Timișoara political leadership asking for army intervention. Initially the Minister of Defence dodged the issue, saying it was not a case for military intervention. He then sent five patrols without ammunition, followed by another ten patrols, and 941 demonstrators were detained.

17 December 1989

Between 3 am and 5 am, the president of the Timiș County Court ordered the forced eviction of pastor Tőkés and his family. Nicolae Ceaușescu ordered Vasile Milea to organise a military parade in Timișoara to discourage any protests by the people.

General Milea ordered two detachments of 500 soldiers to parade with a military band on four routes through the city. The military parade took place on the streets of Timișoara between 10 am and 11:30 am.

220 members of the militia and the Securitate were armed with light machine guns. Two platoons from the Securitate and three from the border guard surrounded the County Party Committee at around 11:00 am.

Army tank

At 1:30 pm, the Minister of National Defence, General Vasile Milea, gave the intervention order, authorising the use of live ammunition, in Timișoara.

A state of emergency was declared. The order assumed the presence of a foreign enemy, insinuated the idea of imminent armed aggression and indicated that military personnel be equipped with weapons and war ammunition.

At 2:25 pm, eight instruction tanks and two battle tanks were taken out into the streets, with ammunition. The crowds tried to stop the tanks. Warning shots were fired and one of the tanks was set on fire.

At around 3 pm, the demonstrators attacked the Timiș County Committee building of the Romanian Communist Party and the municipal party organisation. A military truck was set on fire and people forced their way into the Committee headquarters. The demonstrators threw pictures representing the dictator, as well as party books and flags, out the windows. They found a flag in the large meeting hall and cut out the coat of arms. A young woman took the flag to the balcony and waved it towards the crowds gathered outside the building. The protesters gathered in Opera Square.

"You should have fired at them, fired at their feet, and those who would have fallen would have been locked in the cellars and never left out."

Elena Ceaușescu

Militia car

At around 4:30 pm, soldiers were given live ammunition. Clashes took place between the demonstrators and the army, and the demonstrators set a car on fire. Major Vasile Joițoiu opened fire with an automatic weapon. The first victims were down. At 6:30 pm, five tanks were blocked on Calea Girocului in a barricade made up of trolley buses stopped by the demonstrators who wanted to prevent them from reaching the County Committee.

Many people managed to flee Liberty Square and join the crowd by the Opera and the Cathedral.

At around 7:15 pm, without any warning, fire opened in all directions. The militia and Securitate troops patrolled all night. Mobile patrols opened fire on the move in Opera Square, Calea Girocului, Calea Aradului, Calea Șagului, Calea Buziaşului, Decebal Bridge, Traian Square and Timișoara North Train Station.

According to statistics published in 2008 in the Notebooks of the Revolution, 63 people were killed and 326 were wounded in Timișoara on 17 December.

" I told you what you had to do... You were supposed to fire! You were supposed to fire a warning shot and if they didn't stop, you were supposed to fire at them."

Nicolae Ceaușescu

Credits: Story

Editor contributor — Lina Vdovîi
Editor contributor — Monica Paula Coman
Editor contributor — Alina Conţeanu
Editor contributor — George Gurescu
Editor arhive — Mihai Ciobanu
Operator film 16 mm — Carmen Draghici
Documentare foto — Irina Bartolomeu
Editor foto/ video — Silviu Panaite
Coordonator proiect — Dorian Stoica

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
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