The Romanian Revolution, broadcast live

TVR, The Romanian Public Broadcaster

"Guns cannot crush souls, they cannot destroy ideals"
King Michael of Romania, in a statement on Radio Free Europe
The National Television Tower during the Romanian Revolution
Declaring a state of emergency

As the actions of the army had failed to stop the anti-Communist movements in Timișoara, Nicolae Ceaușescu decided to declare a nationwide state of emergency.

On December 22, the first broadcast of the Romanian television broadcaster began at 10:51, with the airing of the national anthem ("Trei culori" – Three colors). Immediately afterwards, TV anchor George Marinescu read out the "Presidential decree on the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency".

According to this document, all army units would be put on standby, public gatherings would be forbidden and gatherings of more than five people would be prohibited, as well as all movement at night, after 23:00.

"The working classes must protect everything that has been achieved: the sovereignty and independence of the country" (Nicolae Ceaușescu's presidential decree)

The first revolution to be broadcast live

Protesters in the courtyard of the national television broadcaster

The first group of protesters reached the headquarters of the national television broadcaster, Televiziunea Română, at around 11 am. They asked the management to broadcast information about the status of the protests in the country.

Initially, the director of the network rejected their request but after a series of talks, representatives from the broadcaster promised that an amplification station would be set up in the courtyard. In the end, they set up Studio 4 for the first live broadcast of a revolution.

At 12:47 pm, with George Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody playing in the background, the revolutionaries and television staff were filmed as they made the final preparations in Studio 4 before going on air.

Before the first live broadcast of the Free Television

"We have won!"

The first live television broadcast.

Studio 4 went on air at 12:51 pm. Actor Ion Caramitru and poet Mircea Dinescu were the first to speak. "Brothers, by the grace of God (making the sign of the cross), we are now in the studios of the television," Ion Caramitru said first.

He thanked the army, the students, the people around him and the other "thousands and thousands of Romanians and other nationalities who have led us".

"We must have patience. We have waited for 25 years, we can wait a few more minutes. The People have won!" (Mircea Dinescu)

Poet Mircea Dinescu announced that a program and a proclamation to the nation were being worked on. He appealed for calm and wisdom. "Enough blood has been shed," Dinescu continued.

Protesters fill up the inner courtyard of the national television broadcaster

There were three main areas where decisions were taken during the revolution. One of them was television, through which Romanians learned about the development of events and where the main protagonists issued orders live. The second "hot spot" was the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party, where the first steps were drawn up to shape the future power. The third was the headquarters of the Ministry of National Defense, which coordinated the military actions at that time.

Television was transformed into the communication channel of the revolutionaries. Dissidents, former communists, actors, or lower-ranking politicians from the Communist Party, who wanted to show their devotion to the new movement in the country, would give talks from the television studios.

Some of them considered their TV appearances as a way to "wash away their sins" or a way to profit from the power void that was formed once the regime was overthrown. Their words, along with the breaking news issued by the television anchors, often led to an increased feeling of panic and lack of safety among the people.

Generals and representatives of various army structures made their way to the television studios and made public appeals to all parties for a cease-fire.

They ordered the withdrawal of all military troops from the country and asked soldiers to be prepared for possible attacks by pro-Ceaușescu and terrorist troops.

TV Studio 5 broadcast the official announcement by Chief of General Staff, General Ștefan Gușă, to all military units in the country. "All units and subunits are to go back to their barracks. Under no circumstances is anyone to open fire against civilians. We need peace and clam in our country," General Gușă says.

Father and son, in the courtyard of the national television broadcaster

"All military units inside their barracks should remain vigilant and should at all times be ready for a counterstrike or a strong riposte against those that would attempt to hurt the new political, social, democratic orientation of our country."

"At the same time, I appeal to all military garrison commanders of ongoing operations, especially to Sibiu Garrison and others, to contact the popular forces and take urgent steps to terminate all military or other operations of a violent nature as soon as possible, because these operations are truly useless."

(Commander of the Bucharest Garrison, General Chiţac Mihai)

"It is easier to kill Ceaușescu than it is to change the system." (Dan Petrescu, January 26/27, 1988, Liberation daily)

The first page of the former Communist newspaper Scânteia ("The Spark")

"Our newspaper will come out today, in a few hours, in a new special edition, as a patriotic and true expression of the people."

"Scânteia" used to be the official voice of the Romanian Communist Party. Launched in 1931, the daily newspaper had been printed illegally until 1944, when it became the voice of the new power structures in the country. On December 22, 1989, the newspaper changed its name to " Scânteia poporului" ("People's Spark"), and in the 1990s it changed to "Adevărul" ("The Truth"), which is still in print today.

The breaking news that Ceaușescu and his wife had fled

The live talks given in the television studios played an important role during the Revolution. They would give people the latest information about the unfolding events in Bucharest and in their cities. Television became a functional communication channel.

At the same time, television also caused information chaos. No one was verifying the accuracy of the information issued by television presenters, and they contributed to an increase in panic and disquiet among the general people. Rumors – presented as "urgent calls" and "important communications" – extended the chaos in the country and led to the loss of many innocent lives.

 

One such rumor announced on TV was the "news item" that drinking water in various cities across the country had been poisoned by terrorist forces. This information was read out by the presenter Teodor Brateș, who also announced that the blood bank reserve of the Fundeni Hospital in Bucharest had been blown up by terrorists.

Lieutenant colonel Marius Oprean stated in front of the camera: "Make available (Editor's note: he was addressing the food industry manufacturers) large quantities of bottled mineral water, beer and low-alcohol wines. Do not drink any kind of tap water."

Petre Popescu, another presenter, says that there was a secret airport in Pietroaia, the place where the Ceaușescus were supposedly heading towards. "Citizens in the neighboring areas have signaled some sort of activity there (...) It appears that the couple could be heading that way," he continued.

In another speech, Teodor Brateș said that people were being given free drinks in Bucharest bars to get drunk and subsequently carry out acts of vandalism. "Let us keep our dignity as people and not get drunk. Let us only get drunk by drinking from the cup of freedom," Brateș says.

Romanian television presenters address Romanian soldiers and tell them to use their weapons to defend their country, without waiting for orders form their superiors. "Let the tanks go and tear down the buildings these criminals are in," Brateș says, while another presenter gives the message: "the people are now giving you orders, stop waiting for orders from commanders who may be too constrained by the dictatorship."

"A motorized armored convoy is heading towads Pitești to occupy the atomic assets, the refinery, the cyanide pools, the dam at Curtea de Argeș! Once these assets fall, the city of Pitești may very well be wiped off the map!" (Revolutionary Cazimir Ionescu)

Dan Marin, former world champion, accused by protesters of being a terrorist

As the fear of possible attacks by pro-Ceaușescu and terrorist troops grew, common people or simple protesters were being confused with "terrorists". Former world champion and member of the national handball team, Dan Marin was captured by revolutionaries and accused of being a terrorist. They beat him up and brought him to the television studios to admit the "crimes" he had committed against the Romanian people.

The charges made against the Communist regime were being tried live, in front of all the viewers, and those present in the studio would become judges on behalf of the people. Television had become an ad-hoc court. In his first talk, Ion Iliescu pressed charges against the Ceaușescus, stating that they would be subject to "clear, lucid judgment, on the basis of an orderly trial". The same idea is reiterated by the newly reinstated generals of the army.

Protesters gather outside the national television studios

In those days, television had become an ad-hoc court. This "function" is best exemplified by the moment when Nicu Ceaușescu, the youngest son of the Ceaușescus, was brought into the studio. On the evening of December 22, he was brought in front of the Studio 4 cameras, to be "presented" to the Romanian people. Nicu Ceauşescu was caught by a group of soldiers while he was returning from Sibiu. The car that was transporting him towards the city center was attacked by a group of protesters and Nicu was stabbed in the thorax. In front of the cameras he was presented as the "little prince" and accused of kidnapping children.

Nicu Ceauşescu, the son of Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu, caught by protesters
The first live speech given by Ion Iliescu, the future President of Romania

On December 22, at noon, Ion Iliescu made his first statement. During his speech, he assured Romanians that he had the support of the army. "Right now the situation is somewhat under control. I spoke on the phone 20 minutes ago with General Victor Stănculescu. He is at the headquarters of the Ministry of National Defense, he has issued the withdrawal order for the troops that were in the city with orders to fire, and he called back an armed convoy that had been ordered to come from Pitești to Bucharest," Iliescu said.

He also said that during the same evening, a temporary authority called the National Salvation Front would be presented to the people.

He also made an appeal for calm and order: "We must prove our maturity in these times, so as to be able to reorganize ourselves on democratic grounds," Iliescu continued.

The newly created National Salvation Front appeals to everyone to cease fire

A member of the newly created Council of the National Salvation Front read an official announcement which appealed for an "immediate" cease-fire in the country. "Anyone violating this order shall be found guilty of crimes against the Romanian people (...) Let us prevent further bloodshed," he says. Afterwards, the representatives of the Council of the National Salvation Front asked the people to return all the weapons they had received over the course of the last few days, and Iliescu asked Romanians to collaborate with local authorities, to stop the chaos and social disorder.

Protesters in the courtyard of the national television broadcaster

"The purpose of the National Salvation Front is to restore democracy, freedom and the dignity of the people. As of this moment, all the power structures of the Ceaușescu clan are hereby dissolved." (Ion Iliescu's first live talk)

Ion Iliescu read the first official announcement of the Council of the National Salvation Front, the new body in charge of transitioning from a communist to a democratic regime. The Council of the National Salvation Front would initially have 40 members; including Romanian dissidents, army officers, writers, etc. Later, some of these would leave the Council of the National Salvation Front after the council was intended to become a political party.

Iliescu announced the first items on the agenda of the Council of the National Salvation Front. The country shall be named Romania (during the Communist regime it officially bore the name of The Socialist Republic of Romania); there will no longer be a single state party, but "a pluralist democratic system of government". The Council of the National Salvation Front would organize the first free elections in April 1990.

Armed combat scenes on Primăverii Boulevard, next to the national television headquarters

After the Ceaușescus had fled, a series of rumors and unverified information about terrorist counterattacks were disseminated in the country.

The confrontations with these "unidentified forces" began on the evening of December 22. The Ministry of Defense sent troops to protect the most important buildings in the capital, including the television headquarters.

On December 23, the television headquarters were attacked and broadcasts cut off for a brief period of time.

In order to show what happened amidst the chaos and lack of coherent communication between the institutions of that time, we can elaborate on the case of the Museum of Art and that of the Central Library of the University of Bucharest. The army began an assault on these buildings thinking that there were terrorist troops hiding inside.

The result: numerous works of art and almost 500,000 books were destroyed, many of which were considered to be a part of Romania's national heritage.

Victims:

Before December 22, there were 129 victims, and afterwards another 747 people died. This information comes from the Romanian Revolution Institute of December 1989.

"Humanity bows before the greatness of the Romanian people"

The Independent, quote from the Agerpres news agency

Credits: Story

Editor contributor — George Gurescu
Editor contributor — Monica Paula Coman
Editor contributor — Alina Conţeanu
Editor contributor — Lina Vdovîi
Editor arhive — Mihai Ciobanu
Operator film 16 mm — Carmen
Drăghici

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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