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East European Perspectives: April 3, 2002

3 April 2002, Volume 4, Number 7

Many analysts and observers of Romania lost interest in and shut down their investigations of Romania's December 1989 Revolution relatively early -- most in 1990, some "held out" until 1991. They either made up their minds and settled on a particular theory or became irretrievably cynical, assuming a Straussian-like stance that nothing new could come out or be written about the December 1989 events and resigning their audiences to platitudes like "We may never know." Perhaps most destructive of all has been the common, schizophrenic approach of declaring that, "The truth will never be known," but then displaying a very fixed and rather immovable understanding of those events. This is not only disingenuous; it has set back serious study of the December 1989 events. Moreover, it provides a convenient rationale for avoiding the ambiguity and challenge that come with seeking to make sense of this landmark event. Ten years of declaring that "We may never know" has predictably proven a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But as William Faulkner once said of his mythical Yoknapatawpha County (as apt a metaphor for Romania as there ever was), "The past is never dead; it's not even past." This certainly applies to the Romanian Revolution of December 1989. The December 1989 events remain "living history" -- the "present past" as Timothy Garton Ash would say -- and have continued to be the subject of controversy throughout the postcommunist era (see Siani-Davies, 2001). Thanks in large part to communications developments such as the Internet, few modern events have offered themselves so well to tracing the evolution of their historiography in their aftermath as the December 1989 events.

Blind partisanship, selective analysis, and a smug reluctance to reexamine earlier claims in the light of new evidence have driven the "mystery" of the Revolution of December 1989. Many who have written on the December events have simply failed to "stick with the story," and have certainly failed to keep their minds and options open. Romanian journalists, politicians, and other interested parties have routinely assimilated the revelations and arguments of former "Securitate" and "Militia" members with little hesitation -- all because the claims in question have dovetailed with their post-December 1989 political suspicions, prejudices, and interests. Similarly, they have routinely failed to reassess their understanding of the December 1989 events after previously undeclared former Securitate members publicly admitted their past ties. The public admission of Securitate ties should at the very least compel investigators to examine what an individual stated about the December 1989 events PRIOR to the admission. Unfortunately, in Romania it has not, and this has created tragic consequences for popular and scholarly understanding of the December 1989 events.

In the following three-part article, I examine three cases that illustrate these costly mistakes. In the first, I discuss the case of Gheorghe Ionescu Olbojan, a former Securitate officer who, prior to his public acknowledgement of this fact, disseminated disinformation designed to inflate the army's culpability for the December 1989 bloodshed in the interests of reducing the culpability assigned to the Securitate. In the second part, I explore the early history of the "tourist" myth, a scenario fabricated by the Securitate whose travels -- including into the work of respected Western scholars -- have been truly stunning. In the final part, I examine the hallucinatory revelations of former Militia officer Petre Olaru, whose claims in 1999 became the centerpiece of revisionist theories exonerating the former Securitate. This last example is evidence that this is far from a simply "historical" topic, but instead continues to this day.

In the early 1990s, perhaps no mainstream publications served more as a haven for former Securitate officers and informers than the weeklies edited by Ion Cristoiu, in particular "Zig-Zag" and "Expres Magazin." The Timisoara revolutionary Marius Mioc has gone so far as to call Cristoiu "the spearhead of the campaign to falsify the history of the revolution" (Mioc, 2000a). Cristoiu's two most famous alumni are undoubtedly 1) Pavel Corut, a former Securitate officer who wrote under this name and the pseudonym "Paul Cernescu" for "Expres Magazin" during 1991 and 1992; and 2) Angela Bacescu, who since writing for "Zig-Zag" during the spring and summer of 1990 has been a mainstay for the notorious "Europa," a veritable mouthpiece of the former Securitate (see Hall, 1997; for background on Corut, see Shafir 1993). Both strove during their tenure at Cristoiu's publications to minimize and negate the Securitate's role in the deaths of over 1,100 people in December 1989, particularly the Securitate's responsibility for the so-called post-22 December "terrorism" that claimed almost 90 percent of those who died during the events.

Nevertheless, in the early 1990s, Cristoiu's "Zig-Zag" and "Expres Magazin" were widely regarded as pillars of opposition to the rump Communist Party-state bureaucracy that made up the National Salvation Front (FSN) regime of President Ion Iliescu -- including a large proportion of the former Securitate. To the extent that Cristoiu and his publications became the object of suspicion and cynicism within the opposition, it was because of an alleged slipperiness and inconsistency in his treatment of Iliescu -- he was accused of cozying up to the regime when it appeared to benefit his interests (based on my own experience in discussions with various journalists and intellectuals in Romania between 1991 and 1994).

Probably no publication played a larger role in 1990 in rewriting the history of December 1989 than "Zig-Zag," edited at the time by Ion Cristoiu. Because those analysts who have commented on the role of "Zig-Zag" in 1990 have focused almost exclusively on the change in coverage -- a turn toward more favorable coverage of the FSN and President Iliescu after former Ceausescu court poet Adrian Paunescu took over editorship of the weekly from Cristoiu for a time during late 1990 and early 1991 -- it is important to note that much of the most damaging revisionism began long BEFORE Paunescu became senior editor. As Marius Mioc notes, in an interview with Lucia Epure of the Timisoara daily "Renasterea Banateana" in September 1990, the notorious Ceausescu court poet Corneliu Vadim Tudor was asked which paper he enjoyed reading most (Mioc, 2000a). His response: "'Zig-Zag.' I like this boy, Ion Cristoiu." The reason for Tudor's appreciation of Cristoiu's journal is "easy to understand," according to Mioc, since that weekly "was the first [publication] that, after December 1989 (and especially after the May 1990 elections), began the campaign to rehabilitate the pro-Ceausescu theory of the revolution" (Mioc, 2000a). Indeed, in June 1990 when "Romania Mare" -- a publication that at the time was supportive of the Iliescu regime -- first began to appear, Tudor would list his favorite publications. At the top of the list with five out of five stars was "Zig-Zag," a publication that under Cristoiu had developed a reputation as a critic of Ion Iliescu and the FSN!

It is hard to state with certainty what exactly Cristoiu's role was in having his publications serve as a conduit for revisionist Securitate disinformation. This much is clear, however: Cristoiu was not unwitting for long about the backgrounds of the former Securitate personnel who came to work for him. Asked point blank about the Bacescu case in a book-length interview in 1993, Cristoiu was unrepentant. He claimed that he realized from the beginning that Bacescu was writing to defend the interests of the former Securitate but, since "there was something true in what the Securitate was saying," he allowed her to publish (Iftime, 1993, p. 126). Cristoiu stated that he had "no regrets" and denied that it was accurate to assert that "Zig-Zag" had been "manipulated," even though he admitted that Bacescu had shown up "without need of money...and she brought a lot of documents with her." Cristoiu justified Bacescu's sympathetic presentation of the Securitate in the December events as follows:

"Until April, 1990, the Securitate had been presented as a force of evil.... [Thus] [i]t was an absolutely new theme [to write that the Securitate had been innocent of the charges against them]. A shocking point of view in a period when the government was still glorifying the Revolution and always talking about martyrs..." (Iftime, 1993, p. 126).

Only in this way, Cristoiu concludes, was it possible to learn that "not a single terrorist had existed" in Sibiu -- the city in which Nicolae Ceausescu's son, Nicu Ceausescu, the so-called "Little Prince," was party first secretary -- a story which he maintains "was later confirmed" (Iftime, 1993, p. 127).

Despite Bacescu's unambiguous ties to the former Securitate since she transferred to "Romania Mare" and then permanently to "Europa" in late 1990, to my knowledge -- short of Marius Mioc -- no Romanian writer has gone back to compare what Bacescu wrote after leaving "Zig-Zag" with what she wrote while at "Zig-Zag" or to scrutinize the validity of the allegations she made about the December 1989 events in the pages of that weekly. Significantly, for example, the article written by Bacescu to which Cristoiu alludes as exonerating the Securitate in the Sibiu events was reprinted VERBATIM in Tudor's "Romania Mare" after she transferred to that publication in the second half of 1990 (Bacescu, 1990 a and b). Clearly, the publication of an article exonerating the Securitate by someone who did little to hide her connections to the former secret police -- first in a publication bitterly critical of the Iliescu regime and then in a publication supportive of the very same regime -- should have raised alarm bells and led to scrutiny of her claims. In the confused, stultifying, and slightly surreal context of post-Ceausescu Romania, however, it did not do so.

Less well known than the comparatively high-profile cases of Corut and Bacescu is the case of Gheorghe Ionescu Olbojan. Olbojan's treatment by the Romanian press corps differs little from that of Corut and Bacescu. Like Corut and Bacescu, in the early 1990s Olbojan was writing in the pages of Ion Cristoiu's publications -- specifically "Zig-Zag" in 1990. By the late 1990s, journalists who wrote about Olbojan's publications did not hesitate to identify him as a former Securitate officer. A reviewer of Olbojan's 1999 book, titled "The Black Face of the Securitate," and Ion Mihai Pacepa in the satirical weekly "Catavencu" described Olbojan's allegations that Ceausescu was overthrown by the Soviet Union in conjunction with Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Israel, and bluntly stated that Olbojan was a disgruntled former Securitate officer ("Catavencu," 23 July 1999). Filip Ralu, a journalist working for the daily "Curierul national," was even more specific: Olbojan, he wrote, was a DIE (Foreign Intelligence Directorate) officer ("Curierul national," 19 March 2001).

Why so bold and so sure, we might ask. Because it was no longer a secret: Olbojan had admitted in print -- at least as early as 1993 -- that he indeed served in the former Securitate. On the dust jacket of his 1994 book "Pacepa's Phantoms," a polemic apparently in response to criticisms of his earlier book, "Goodbye Pacepa," his editor proudly touts the "latest raid effected by former Securitate officer Gh. Ionescu Olbojan" (Olbojan, 1994). Inside, Olbojan describes how he was recruited in the 1970s while at the Bucharest Law Faculty, finished a six-month training course at the famous Branesti Securitate school, and worked at an "operative unit" of the "Center" from 1978 to 1982 and then at the famous Securitate front company "Dunarea" until being forced -- he claims -- to go on reserve status in 1986 after violating certain unspecified "laws and regulations of security work" (Olbojan, 1994, pp. 17-19). According to Olbojan, as early as the fall of 1990 -- at a time when he was writing a series on the makeup of the former Securitate and when Cristoiu would address him with the words, "Olbojan, did you bring me the material?" -- he "pulled back the curtain of protection behind which he had been hiding for so long" and revealed to a fellow journalist his Securitate background (Olbojan, 1994, pp. 14-15). There is thus no doubt here: It is not a question of supposition or innuendo by this or that journalist -- Olbojan has publicly admitted to a Securitate past.

In the ninth issue of "Zig-Zag," which appeared in April 1990 -- an issue in which Angela Bacescu wrote a famous piece revising the understanding of the deaths of a group of Securitate antiterrorist troops at the Defense Ministry during the December events, a piece that was vigorously contested by journalists in the military press (for a discussion, see Hall, 1999) -- Olbojan wrote an article entitled "Were The Corpses In The Refrigerated Truck DIA Officers?" (Olbojan, 1990). In the article, Olbojan attacked the official account regarding the identity of 40 bodies transported by the Securitate and by the Militia from Timisoara to Bucharest on 18-19 December 1989 for cremation upon the express orders of Elena Ceausescu. The FSN regime maintained that these were the cadavers of demonstrators shot dead during antiregime protests, but Olbojan now advanced the possibility that they might have been the corpses of members of the army's elite defense intelligence unit, DIA.

Olbojan's "basis" for such an allegation was that nobody allegedly had come forward to claim the corpses of the 40 people in question and therefore they could not have been citizens of Timisoara. Mioc counters that this is preposterous, and that unfortunately this myth has circulated widely since Olbojan first injected it into the press (Mioc, 2000b) -- despite the publication of correct information on the topic. Mioc republished a list with the names, ages, and home addresses of the (in reality) 38 people in question and noted that it was published in the Timisoara-based "Renasterea Banateana" on 2 March 1991, the Bucharest daily "Adevarul" on 13 March 1991, the daily "Natiunea" (also published in Bucharest) in December 1991, as well as in the daily "Timisoara" on 29 November 1991 -- but significantly was refused publication in Tudor's "Romania Mare"!

On the face of things -- in the spring 1990 context of a publication that appeared courageous enough to stand up to the rump party-state bureaucracy and with no public knowledge about Olbojan's past -- Olbojan's article could be interpreted as a laudable, if poorly executed, effort at investigative journalism or at worst as innocuous. But context can be everything, and it is in this case. It seems significant that Olbojan considers his April 1990 "Zig-Zag" article important enough to reproduce in its entirety in his 1994 book "Pacepa's Phantoms" and then discuss the impact the article had upon getting people to rethink the December 1989 events and how later works by other authors (including those with no connection to the former Securitate but also including the previously-mentioned notorious former Securitate officer Pavel Corut) confirmed his allegations (Olbojan, 1994, pp. 276-299).

The importance of suggesting that the cadavers transported to Bucharest for cremation were the bodies of army personnel and not average citizens may not be readily apparent. To make such a claim insinuates that the Iliescu leadership was/is lying about the December events and therefore should not be believed and may be illegitimate. It also insinuates that the events may have been more complicated and less spontaneous than initial understandings and the official history would have us believe: If those who were transported to Bucharest for cremation were not average citizens but army personnel, then is it not possible that Timisoara was a charade, a manipulation by forces within the regime -- perhaps with outside help -- to overthrow Ceausescu and simulate both revolutionary martyrdom and political change?

Moreover, it was significant that Olbojan maintained that the cadavers belonged not just to any old army unit but specifically to DIA. The army's DIA unit -- a unit which appeared to benefit organizationally from the December events, including having its chief, Stefan Dinu, for a time assume the command of the Romanian Information Service's (SRI) counterespionage division (until his former Securitate subordinates appear to have successfully undermined him and prompted his replacement) -- would during the 1990s become a common scapegoat for the post-22 December "terrorism" that claimed over 900 lives in the Revolution and initially had been blamed uniformly upon the Securitate (see, for example, Stoian, 1993 and Sandulescu, 1996). If the 40 cadavers were indeed DIA officers, then anything was possible with regard to the post-22nd "terrorism" -- including that DIA, and not the Securitate's antiterrorist troops, had been responsible for the tremendous loss of life. Indeed, in his 1994 book "Pacepa's Phantoms," Olbojan claims just that: In December 1989, there allegedly had been no Securitate "terrorists," the "terrorists" had been from DIA, and it is they who were thus culpable for the bloodshed (Olbojan, 1994, pp. 276-291).

Nor can it be said that the timing of Olbojan's publication was of inconsequence here: The trial of the Securitate and Militia officers charged with the bloody repression of demonstrators in Timisoara in December 1989 had begun the previous month and was still in progress at the time of the article's appearance. Olbojan's allegation clearly had implications for the verdicts of this trial. Mioc has noted of Olbojan's account: "[T]he theory of the 'mystery' of the 40 cadavers would become the departure point for efforts to demonstrate the presence of foreign agents in Timisoara" (Mioc, 2000a). Indeed, during the Timisoara trial, reputed Securitate "superspy" Filip Teodorescu had attempted to implant this idea and would later reveal that among those his forces had arrested during the Timisoara events were two armed, undercover DIA officers in a Timisoara factory -- the massive influx of foreign agents supposedly having eluded the "underfunded and undermanned" and "Ceausescu-distrusted" Securitate (Teodorescu, 1992). For Mioc, Olbojan's echoing of Teodorescu's attempts to muddy the historical waters of the birthplace of the Revolution, and Olbojan's specific effort to sow wholly unnecessary confusion about the identity of the 40 cremated corpses (an issue which no one had considered the least bit suspicious until that time) cannot be separated from Olbojan's admitted collaboration with the Securitate and his warm praise of that institution throughout most of the 1990s.

Significantly, even at the time, Olbojan's account sparked innuendo in the press regarding his past, his credibility, his capacity for the truth, and his agenda in writing such an article. Unfortunately, but very tellingly, these accusations came not from the civilian press -- of any political stripe -- but from the military press. Colonel V. Gheorghe wrote in early May 1990 that Olbojan's account was merely "yet another face of the diversion," the latest in an emerging campaign attempting to exonerate the Securitate for the bloodshed, blame the army, plant the idea that the December 1989 Revolution was little more than a coup d'etat engineered from abroad, and cast doubt upon the spontaneity and revolutionary bravery of those who protested against Ceausescu and participated in the December events (Gheorghe, 1990).

Mioc notes accurately that "[I]n order for the [Olbojan's] disinformation to succeed, the article was written in an anti-Iliescu and anticommunist style," but he seems to imply that this was an exception (Mioc, 2000b). As the next two parts of this three-part article will demonstrate, far from being an exception, such an approach -- in fact the dovetailing and entangling of Securitate disinformation with the agenda of the anti-Iliescu/anticommunist opposition -- was all too common and ultimately a key cause of the destruction of the truth about the December 1989 Revolution and the Securitate's institutional responsibility for the tremendous loss of life in those events.

(Richard Andrew Hall received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Indiana University in 1997. He currently works and lives in northern Virginia. Comments on this article can be directed to him at

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