Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Romania after Communism: Queries, Challenges and Mythifications
The Proclamation of Timişoara and the Marathon-protest from Bucharest’s University Square in 1990
Abstract: This essay presents the impact that the civic document entitled The Proclamation of Timişoara, issued in 1990, and the University Square phenomenon of the same year, 1990, exerted upon the Romanian intelligentsia in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the communist regime from December 1989, during the so-called transition period. Notwithstanding their genuine ethical significance, both the Timişoara document and the marathon-protest of University Square were subjected to either ritualistic denigration, in the media dominated by neo-communists (the newspapers Adevărul, Azi, and Dimineaţa) or to mythification, in the anti-communist newspapers of the period, România liberă and Revista 22 (the latter represented a minority compared to the publications that slandered the Proclamation and the marathon-protest).
Keywords:Romania; Post-Communism; Neo-Communism; Crypto-Communism; The December 1989 Revolution; the Proclamation ofTimişoara; Marathon-Protest;University Square 1990.
After the violent collapse of the communist regime in Romania in December 1989 and after the problematic beginnings of the Romanian post-communist transition (due to the coming to power of the team led by the neo- or crypto-communist President Ion Iliescu, as part of the National Salvation Front), the Proclamation of Timişoara was publicly launched on 11 March 1990. This was the most important civic and political document of the year 1990, after the exhaustion of the Romanian revolution. The grey eminence behind the document was the writer George Şerban and the “Timişoara” Society. Since the real, street revolution (in several cities across the country, mainly Timişoara, Bucharest, Cluj, Sibiu and Braşov) had been confiscated through a camouflaged coup d’état that had taken place in Bucharest, in the afternoon and evening of 22 December 1989, the Proclamation of Timişoara sought a return to the origins of the revolution and, above all, to its profoundly anti-communist desiderata. Denigrated by the power-holders of the time (the National Salvation Front and the team led by Ion Iliescu) and distorted in all manner imaginable, the Proclamation inconvenienced the authorities through all of its 13 Sections, but especially through Section 8, which proposed the solution of lustration, with a view to ensuring the ethical purification of entire Romania (the stakes were political).
I will not present in detail the 13 Sections of the Timişoara Proclamation, but will confine myself to specifying that the document envisaged an “awakening of Romania” not only in political, but also in economical and, especially, in spiritual terms. The proclamation was also a document against the phenomenon of “brainwashing,” which had largely been successful in Romania during the communist period. It was, therefore, only logical that the Proclamation of Timişoara should have become the programmatic text of the marathon-protest organized in University Square (from 22 April until 13 June 1990). The aim of this marathon-protest was precisely the forging of a moral conscience, essential for the free, non-manipulated elections to be held in Romania, so as to prevent the communists (the crypto- or neo- communists, as they were called) from winning them. Not least, the overt aim of Proclamation of Timişoara was to bring about the re-Europeanization of Romania – a remarkable pioneering effort, as we see it today, 25 years after the consummation of those events in history, when the domestic politicians are waging image battles simply to demonstrate that each of them is making efforts for the European integration of the country and when, at the same time, the autochthonous political and economic strata are afflicted by a real corruption hemorrhage, shockingly revealed in the media.
Since Section 8 of the Proclamation was the apple of discord between the powerful of the day and the anti-communist protesters who participated in the marathon-protest held in University Square, it is worth quoting the consistent part of Section 8, but also Section 7, which was just as important from a historical vantage. Given the emotional overtones of such a text at that time, in the year 1990, its pathos was only natural and should perhaps be overlooked. Here are, then, some of the essential ideas of the two Sections, 7 and 8, of the Proclamation of Timişoara:
7. Timişoara started the Revolution against the entire communist regime and its whole nomenclature and by no means was it intended as an opportunity for a group of anti-Ceauşescu dissidents within the RCP to rise to political power. Their presence in the leadership of the country means that the deaths of the heroes from Timişoara were in vain. We might have accepted them 10 years ago, if they had joined Constantin Pârvulescu and overthrown the dictatorial clan at the 12th Party Congress. But they did not do it, even though they had both the opportunity and important positions that gave them prerogatives. On the contrary, some even acted upon the dictator’s order to vilify the dissident. Their cowardice in 1979 cost us ten more years of dictatorship, the hardest of the entire period, as well as a painful genocide.
8. As a consequence of the previous Section, we suggest that the electoral law should prohibit the former communist activists and the former Security officers the right to be nominated as candidates, on any list, for the first three consecutive legislatures. Their presence in the country’s political life is the chief source of the tensions and suspicions that perturb today’s Romanian society. Until the situation has been settled and national reconciliation has been achieved, their absence from public life is absolutely necessary. We also demand that a special provision should be included in the electoral law, banning the former communist activists from running for the position of President of the country. Romania’s President should be one of the symbols of our dissociation from communism. To have been a party member is not blamable in itself. We all know how much the individual’s life, from professional achievement to obtaining an apartment, depended on the red membership card and the serious consequences turning it in entailed. The party activists, however, were those people who gave up their professions in order to serve the communist party and benefit from the special material privileges it offered. A man who made such a choice no longer provides the moral guarantees that a President ought to offer. […]
It should be noted that not only Sections 7 and 8, but the entire Proclamation formed a politically lucid text, targeted at thwarting the manipulation from the immediate aftermath of the December 1989 revolution. The Proclamation had a clear, pragmatic purpose (it proposed, among other things, a model according to which privatization was to be carried out). The consistency and timeliness of the document rendered it as a concrete program for the new Romanian society. Naturally and predictably, the Proclamation also had a justiciary character, solely in a normative sense; it did not envisage, in any case, the punishment of “scapegoats,” but only the erection of a symbolical pillar of infamy.
George Şerban and the other members of the group from Timişoara who had participated in compiling the document added a crucial nuance in the definition of the Timişoara Proclamation and, implicitly, of the December 1989 revolution (to the extent that it was a revolution), speaking of a subsequent spiritual revolution (dependent on the street revolution of December 1989), which began in the spring of 1990, by drafting and disseminating the Proclamation; this was considered to be the spiritual, moral and ideological document (belated only in temporal terms) of the December 1989 revolution.
Certain variations on Section 8 of the Proclamation of Timişoara were applied, after the fall of communism, in countries like the Czech Republic or Poland. Among the enthusiasts of u-chronias, the Proclamation has often been discussed as a document that is enticing in a particular sense: if Section 8 of the Timişoara Proclamation had been adopted, what would Romania have been like without Ion Iliescu as President, a Romania in which Ion Iliescu could not have run for president or any other state dignity except in 2000 (and not in 1990!)?
Golania, Kilometer Zero, Zone Free of Neo-Communism
On 22 April 1990, Bucharest’s University Squaresaw the birth of a marathon-protest against the team of neo-communists that had come to power immediately after the revolution of 1989. The marathon was to last until the dawn of 13 June, when the last protesters were violently evicted, brutalized and abused by the police and, subsequently, by the miners who had been summoned to Bucharestby President Ion Iliescu. The text that had served as the symbolical Constitution of the protest marathon was the Proclamation of Timişoara, which is why the following slogans were the first to be chanted in University Square: “The Timişoara Proclamation,/ a law for the entire nation,” “From Timişoara, an appeal,/ Lord, do the country’s eyes peel,” “From 16 to 22,/ tell us who shot at us, who” “For us, Iliescu/ is the second Ceauşescu,” “Do not be sad, Ceauşescu,/ here’s the communist Iliescu,” “The true Revolution emanation/ The Timişoara Proclamation,” etc. These slogans and many others like them incriminated the new Power’s unwillingness to clarify who had acted violently against the demonstrators in 1989, the lack of an ethical appetite on that part of the Acting President Ion Iliescu, as a former communist apparatchik, and the continuity between the regimes led by Nicolae Ceauşescu and Ion Iliescu. Still, slogans from December 1989 were also ardently chanted during the marathon-protest, such as “Liberty, we love you, we shall either die or prevail,” “We can’t return home, the dead won’t let us,” “We shall die and we shall be free.” The refrain that made a career inUniversity Square in 1990 was, however, the following: “I’d rather be a tramp than a traitor,/ I’d rather be a hooligan than a dictator,/ I’d rather be a hoodlum than an activist,/ I’d rather be dead than a communist!”
What was actually demanded in University Squarein 1990, within the context of the marathon-protest? First of all, the need that Romanians should undergo moral purification. Still, there were also more pragmatic issues that held center stage, such as ensuring the free flow of information in the media; granting broadcasting authorizations to independent TV and Radio stations; ceasing political pressure on the mass media; appointing a civilian as the Minister of Interior; prosecuting the military personnel from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of National Defense who had participated in the repression of December 1989; adopting Section 8 of the Proclamation of Timişoara, that is, obstructing the former members of the nomenclature and the former Security officers from permeating the layers of Power in post-communism. The marathon-protest had actually triggered a second, spiritual and moral revolution.
By accusing the protesters from University Square that they were “hoodlums” or claiming that those who had died on the University barricade on 21 December 1989 were not representative of the Romanian people, and contending that the demonstrators from University Square were counter-revolutionaries, Ion Iliescu and his team installed in Power evinced a desire to portray the anti-communist protesters as “bastards,” relegating them into the sphere of criminality. On another occasion, Ion Iliescu stated that the “hoodlums” loitered “like some fools in the street,” suggesting that it was high time an end were put to that “primitive commune.” The President was extremely vexed that he had been contested on moral grounds and his allergy gradually escalated into wrath. The solution Ion Iliescu eventually came up with was extreme: the liquidation of the so-called “primitive commune” fromUniversity Square.
The offensive label “hoodlums” Ion Iliescu had assigned the protesters was changed into a medal of merit and thus came into being Golania, a zone free of neo-communism and Kilometer Zero, as the area bounded by University Square, in central Bucharest, was called. The magnitude of Golania depended on the crowds gathered in University Square, especially in the evening (sometimes there were up to 100,000 participants), and on the speeches delivered from famous University Balcony, both by important personalities and by many anonymous speakers, for whom the area represented an agora or a symbolical parliament. The zing of Golania was spectacular, because the participants were members of different generations and had various degrees of culture and education. What mattered, however, was the sense of communion and “the Hoodlums’ Hymn” was all too emblematic in this respect (“We shan’t leave, We shan’t go home,/ Until our freedom is again our own”). University Square had become an ecumenical Zone, a matrix, and a bohemian space. Gathered there, in ethical communion, were elite intellectuals, students and pupils, but also peasants, simple people; at the edge of the Zone, there was also an interlope fauna.
Not least, Golania had become a caricature theater targeted against communism. What took place there was a sort of pamphlet-like happening, as well as a fiesta of freedom of thought and expression. Irony, the satirical atmosphere, humor, joyfulness, playfulness – all these had become a feature of the 1990 University Square manifestation. Not in vain, for several evenings in a row, director Nae Caranfil parodied, with the help of the demonstrators, the election rallies organized by the National Salvation Front and the Romanian Communist Party. Overflowing humor and bantering were blatantly visible. These rendered Golania as a genuine show, which, at times, had the characteristics of an extravaganza and a feast. The space of University Square had become a kind of omphalos of Bucharest and Romania, because here was the “hallowed ground” of those who had died in December 1989, as a hunger striker stated. Despite the irony, there was, at the same time, a form of sacrality in University Square: the place was perceived as a sacrificial space, as a place of vigil for those slain there in December 1989. That is why Golania may be said to have also materialized a special religious phenomenon (“heretic,” as the authorities perceived it), as a sort of secular altar against the neo-communists who had settled in Power.
Not in vain,University Squarewas perceived by the intelligentsia as the Zone, as an ethical enclave, characterized by moral legitimacy. At the core of the Zone there was the very building of the University, the citadel of intellectuals, a fortress of the students, of the free minds, of the un-reeducated brains. The idea of a spiritual stronghold was offensive to the police and the miners (on 13-15 June 1990, during the most violent Mineriad in post-communist Romania, which had a tragic toll of 20 dead and over 500 injured), who sensed the guerrilla that was waged by the students (and the anti-communist protesters, in general), their nonconformist thought, which is why the University was not only besieged, but also vandalized by the police and the miners. The former security officers and the miners felt the need to reprimand, above all, the very idea of the university.
Spiritually, the 1990 University Squarephenomenon can also be understood through the notion of active nonviolence and passivity; Golania materialized a unique experience of freedom that had a transfiguring effect. The Zone had fostered a special form of communion. The center of Bucharest seemed to have been touched by grace, by a spiritual energy, in the sense that the University Square phenomenon was, as already stated, the second, spiritual instantiation of the revolution. Entering the space of Kilometer Zero amounted to a symbolic baptism.
I do not know how many of these explanations and interpretations can still be assumed or understood today by those who have never been in 1990 University Square, either because they did not want to be there or they could not be there (I am referring here to the people from the provinces), or because they were too young (today’s pupils and students). Still, beyond the reality of the1990 University Squarephenomenon, it is clear that some time after the dramatic exhaustion of the marathon protest, the myth of1990 University Squarewas born.
***, Proclamaţia de la Timişoara. 11 martie 1990,Timisoara: 1994 [the publisher is not indicated]
Lucian Boia, Istorie şi mit în conştiinţa românească, Bucharest: Editura Humanitas, 1997
Lucian Boia, Jocul cu trecutul. Istoria între ficţiune şi adevăr, Bucharest: Editura Humanitas, 1998
Ruxandra Cesereanu, Imaginarul violent al românilor, Bucharest: Editura Humanitas, 2003
Ruxandra Cesereanu, Năravuri româneşti. Texte de atitudine, Iaşi: Editura Polirom, 2007
Ruxandra Cesereanu, Decembrie ‘89. Deconstrucţia unei revoluţii, second revised edition,Iaşi: Editura Polirom, 2009
[Gheorghe Dumbrăveanu (ed.)], Piaţa Universităţii [neither the year of publication, nor the publisher is indicated]
Alina Mungiu, Româníi după ‘89. Istoria unei neînţelegeri, Bucharest: Editura Humanitas, 1996
 Constantin Pârvulescu (1895-1992) was a Rommanian communist politician, one of the founders of Romanian Communist Party and, eventually, an active opponent of Communist Romania‘s leader Nicolae Ceauşescu. In November 1979, at the 12th Party Congress, he took the floor advocating against the re-election of Ceauşescu to the party leadership, accusing him of putting personal interests ahead of those of party and nation. He also accused the congress of neglecting the country’s real problems, being preoccupied in glorifying Ceauşescu.
 For a concise overview of these brutalities, see the synthesis document compiled by the Group for Social Dialogue, the Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania – Helsinki Committee, Report on the Events of 13-15 June 1990, Bucharest. See also – Mihnea Berindei, Ariadna Combes, Anne Planche, România, cartea albă. 13-15 iunie 1990, translated from the French by Monica Pârvu,Bucharest: Editura Humanitas, 1991.