Timisoara and the Romanian Revolution


Today, after the kids worked on their maths, we headed to the Museum of the 1989 Romania Revolution for their history lesson.

Outside the Museum of the 1989 Romanian Revolution

The Museum tells a tragic but courageous story about ordinary Romanians and how they overthrew Communist rule at the end of the Cold War.

The Romanian Revolution that ousted the Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, began on the streets of Timisoara (just steps from our flat) on 16 December, 1989. At that time, Ceausescu had held power in this country for 42 years and during his reign, the Romanian people suffered terribly. Initially it wasn’t so bad, but to pay off the nation’s international debt, Ceausescu started exporting Romanian domestic products. The debt was paid off quickly, but Ceausescu liked the money coming in, so he kept the exports flowing and basically starved his country folk. I’ve read about and talked to Romanians here about those years of empty grocery stores, rolling electrical blackouts and political violence and it’s hard to believe this all happened not that long ago.

The Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989 and a month later, Reagan and Gorbachev met in Malta and effectively dismantled the Soviet Union.

A piece of the Berlin Wall, outside of the Museum

For all intents and purposes, the Cold War was over, but not in Romania, where Ceausescu held on for dear life and continued to deny Romanians access to the news of the end of the Cold War.

Timisoara is one of the western-most cities in Romania–it’s just 20 kilometers from the Serbian border–and in December of 1989, some Timisoara residents were catching the news on their wireless sets: Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the other Soviet satellites states were falling. Peaceful revolutions were happening all over the eastern bloc.


The folks from Timisoara who heard this news wanted in on the new-found freedoms and the spark of the revolution came from a Calvinist minister, Laszlo Tokes. Tokes was a loud-mouthed preacher who spoke up for his kind–religious minorities in the midst of a Communist state. The Romanian authorities, worried about Tokes and his influence, sent him a letter at the beginning of December informing him that they were going to come and arrest him on the 15th. That was a very stupid move on the part of the Communists because it gave Tokes, a masterful organizer, a full week to inspire his parishioners to protest the impending arrest. When the militia came to take Tokes away a group of parishioners made a human chain and denied the militia entrance. Soon, the protest gathered steam and there were hundreds of people sitting outside and milling about.

Outside of Tokes’ church. This is effectively where the 1989 Revolution began and the sign above is a fabrication of what protesters wrote on the wall in support of Tokes

The Romanian Revolution had begun, and things escalated quickly.

On the 17th of December an emboldened crowd gathered outside the Communist headquarters in Timisoara and destroyed images of Ceausescu. Five hundred and fifty kilometers away, Ceausescu emerged before a crowd in Bucharest, and condemned the rebellious “Hungarians” in Timisoara. He gave the Army permission to fire on the crowds that were quickly gathering in Timisoara’s public squares. In the ensuing days, shots rang out through the streets of Timisoara. Young and old people, peacefully protesting and asking for their God-given rights died in the streets. Soon, people in Bucharest and other cities and towns throughout Romania caught wind of what has happening in Timisoara and, from there, the Revolution proceeded.

On the steps of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral and looking out at Victory Square where much of the violence in Timisoara took place
A memorial to one of the fallen, outside of the Greek Orthodox cathedral
How do you cover up the bullet holes of the Revolution?

Over the course of the December Revolution over 1,000 Romanian civilians were killed by the government and there were over 3,000 casualties. Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were executed by a kangaroo court on Christmas Day, 1989 just 10 days after the Revolution began in Timisoara and a relatively stable society emerged from 42 years of authoritarian rule.

That, in a nutshell, was my kids’ history for the lesson for the day.

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