17 April 2002, Volume
THE SECURITATE ROOTS OF A MODERN ROMANIAN FAIRY TALE:
THE PRESS, THE FORMER SECURITATE, AND THE HISTORIOGRAPHY OF DECEMBER 1989
By Richard Andrew Hall
Part 2: 'Tourists Are Terrorists and Terrorists are Tourists with Guns...' *
The distance traveled by Securitate disinformation on the December 1989 events can be breathtaking. Bubbling up through the springs of popular rumor and speculation, it flows into the tributaries of the media as peripheral subplots to other stories and eventually wends its way -- carried upon the waves of consensus and credibility that flow from its acceptance among prominent Romanian journalists and intellectuals -- into the writings of Western journalists, analysts, and academics. Popular myths, which either have their origins in disinformation disseminated by the former Securitate, or which originated in the conspiratorial musings of the populace but proved propitious for the former secret police and thus were appropriated, nurtured, and reinjected into popular discourse, are today routinely repeated both inside and outside Romania. Frequently, this dissemination occurs without the faintest concern over, or knowledge of, the myth's etymology or much thought given to the broader context and how it plays into the issue of the Securitate's institutional culpability.
Take, for example, the "tourist" myth -- perhaps the former Securitate's most fanciful and enduring piece of disinformation. This myth suggests that in December 1989, Soviet, Hungarian, and other foreign agents posing as "tourists" instigated and/or nurtured anti-Ceausescu demonstrations in Timisoara, Bucharest, and elsewhere, and/or were responsible for the "terrorist" violence after 22 December that claimed over 900 victims, or almost 90 percent of those killed during the Revolution. The implication of such allegations is clear: It questions the spontaneity -- and hence, inevitably, to a certain degree, the legitimacy -- of the anti-Ceausescu demonstrations and the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime; it raises doubt about the popular legitimacy of those who seized power during the events; and it suggests that those who seized power lied about who was responsible for the terrorist violence and may ultimately have themselves been responsible for the bloodshed.
A robust exegesis of the "tourist" hypothesis was outlined on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the December 1989 events in the pages of the daily "Ziua" by Vladimir Alexe. Alexe has been a vigorous critic of Ion Iliescu and the former communists of the National Salvation Front (FSN) who took power in December 1989, maintaining that they overthrew Ceausescu in a Soviet-sponsored coup d'etat:
"The outbreak of the December events was preceded by an odd fact characteristic of the last 10 years. After 10 December 1989, an unprecedented number of Soviet 'tourists' entered the country. Whole convoys of Lada automobiles, with approximately four athletic men per car, were observed at the borders with the Moldovan Socialist Republic, Bulgaria, and Hungary. A detail worthy of mention: The Soviet 'tourists' entered Romania without passports, which suggests the complicity of higher-ups. According to the statistics, an estimated 67,000 Soviet 'tourists' entered Romania in December 1989" ("Ziua", 24 December 1999).
It is worth noting that Alexe considers elsewhere in this series of articles from December 1999 that the Russian "tourists" were an omnipresent, critical, and catalytic factor in the collapse of communism throughout ALL of Eastern Europe in December 1989.
Nor has the "tourist" hypothesis been confined strictly to the realm of investigative journalism. Serban Sandulescu, a bitter critic of Ion Iliescu and the former communists who seized power in December 1989, led the third parliamentary commission to investigate the December 1989 events as a Senator for the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD). In 1996, he published the findings of his commission as a book titled "December '89: The Coup d'Etat That Abducted The Romanian Revolution." He commented on the "tourists" as follows:
"From the data we have obtained and tabulated it appears that we are talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000-6,000 'tourists'.... Soviet agents [who] came under the cover of being 'tourists' either in large organized groups that came by coach, or in smaller groups of 3-4 people that fanned out in Lada and Moskvich automobiles. They covered the whole country, being seen in all the important cities in the country. They contributed to the stoking of the internal revolutionary process, supervising its unfolding, and they fought [during the so-called 'terrorist' phase after 22 December]..." (Sandulescu, 1996, pp. 35, 45).DECEMBER 1989: NICOLAE CEAUSESCU INITIATES THE 'TOURIST' MYTH
Not surprisingly, the "tourist" myth originated with none other than Nicolae Ceausescu. This myth inevitably implies illegitimate and cynical "foreign intervention," and Ceausescu used it to make sense of what were -- probably genuinely, for him -- the unimaginable and surreal antiregime protests which began in Timisoara on 15 December 1989.
In an emergency meeting of the Romanian equivalent of the politburo (CPEX) on the afternoon of Sunday, 17 December 1989 -- the afternoon on which regime forces were to open fire on the anti-Ceausescu demonstrators in Timisoara, killing scores and wounding hundreds -- Ceausescu alleged that foreign interference and manipulation were behind the protests:
"Everything that has happened and is happening in Germany, in Czechoslovakia, and in Bulgaria now, and in the past in Poland and Hungary, are things organized by the Soviet Union with American and Western help" (cited in Bunea, 1994, p. 34).
That Ceausescu saw "tourists" specifically playing a nefarious role in stimulating the Timisoara protests is made clear by his order at the close of this emergency meeting:
"I have ordered that all tourist activity be interrupted at once. Not one more foreign tourist will be allowed in, because they have all turned into agents of espionage.... Not even those from the socialist countries will be allowed in, with the exception of [North] Korea, China, and Cuba. Because all the neighboring socialist countries are untrustworthy. Those sent from the neighboring socialist countries are sent as agents" (cited in Bunea, 1994, p. 34).A CHRONOLOGY OF THE 'TOURISTS' ITINERARY AND ACTIVITIES ACCORDING TO TOP SECURITATE AND PARTY OFFICIALS IN THE IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH OF DECEMBER 1989
Filip Teodorescu, who as head of the Securitate's Counterespionage Directorate (Directorate III) had been dispatched to Timisoara and was later arrested for his role in the repression there, maintained in March 1990 at his trial that he detained "foreign agents" during the Timisoara events ("Romania libera," 9 March 1990). In a book that appeared in 1992, Teodorescu described as follows the events in Timisoara on Monday, 18 December -- that is, after the bloody regime repression of anti-Ceausescu demonstrators the night before:
"There were few foreigners in the hotels, the majority of them having fled the town after lunch [on 17 December] when the clashes began to break out. The interested parties remained. Our attention is drawn to the unjustifiably large number of Soviet tourists, be they by bus or car. Not all of them stayed in hotels. They either had left their buses or stayed in their cars overnight. Border records indicate their points of entry as being through northern Transylvania. They all claimed they were in transit to Yugoslavia. The explanation was plausible, the Soviets being well-known for their shopping trips. Unfortunately, we did not have enough forces and the conditions did not allow us to monitor the activities of at least some of these 'tourists'" (Teodorescu, 1992, p. 92).
Teodorescu appears here to be attempting to account for the fact that on Monday, 18 December 1989 -- presumably as a consequence of Ceausescu's tirade the afternoon before about the malicious intent of virtually all "tourists" -- Romania announced, in typically Orwellian fashion, that it would not accept any more tourists because of a "shortage of hotel rooms" and because "weather conditions are not suitable for tourism" (Belgrade Domestic Service, 20 December 1989). Ironically, the only ones exempted from this ban were "Soviet travelers coming home from shopping trips to Yugoslavia" (!) (AFP, 19 December 1989).
Radu Balan, former Timis County party boss, picks up the story from there. While serving a prison sentence for his complicity in the Timisoara repression, in 1991 Balan told one of Ceausescu's most famous "court poets," Adrian Paunescu, that on the night of 18-19 December -- during which in reality some 40 cadavers were secretly transported from Timisoara's main hospital to Bucharest for cremation (reputedly on Elena Ceausescu's personal order) -- he too witnessed the role of these "foreign agents":
"We had been receiving information, in daily bulletins, from the Securitate, that far more people were returning from Yugoslavia and Hungary than were going there and about the presence of Lada automobiles filled with Soviets. I saw them at the border and the border posts, and the cars were full. I wanted to know where and what they were eating and how they were crossing the border and going through cities and everywhere. More telling, on the night of 18-19 December, when I was at a fire at the I.A.M. factory, in front of the county hospital, I spotted 11 white 'Lada' automobiles at 1 a.m. in the morning. They pretended to ask me the road to Buzias�.The 11 white Ladas had Soviet plates, not Romanian ones, and were in front of the hospital" ("Totusi iubirea," no. 43, 24-31 October 1991).
Nicu Ceausescu, Nicolae's son and most likely heir and party secretary in Sibiu at the time of the Revolution, claimed that he also had to deal with enigmatic "tourists" during these historic days. From his prison cell in 1990, Nicu recounted how on the night of 20 December 1989, a top party official came to inform him that the State Tourist Agency was requesting that he -- the party secretary for Sibiu! -- "find lodgings for a group of tourists who did not have accommodation." He kindly obliged and made the appropriate arrangements (interview with Nicu Ceausescu in "Zig-Zag,", no. 20, 21-27 August 1990).
Nor was Gheorghe Roset, head of the Militia in the city of Caransebes at the time of the Revolution, able to elude a visit from the "tourists" during these days. Writing from his prison cell in January 1991, he recounted:
"Stationed on the night of 20-21 December 1989 at headquarters, I received the order to issue an authorization for repairs for a Lada automobile that had overturned in Soceni, in Caras-Severin county, an order that was approved by the chief of the county Militia with the clarification that the passengers of this car were military personnel from the USSR. I was more than a little surprised when this car arrived in Caransebes and I saw that it was part of a convoy of 20 cars, all of the same make and with 3-4 passengers per car. Lengthy discussions with the person who had requested the authorization confirmed for me the accident and the fact that this convoy of cars was coming from Timisoara, on its way to Bucharest, as well as the fact that these were colleagues of ours from the country in question. He presented a passport in order to receive the documents he had requested, although not even today can I say with certainty that he belonged to this or that country. A short time after the convoy left on its way, it was reported to me that five of the cars had headed in the direction of Hateg, while the more numerous group headed for Bucharest" ("Europa," no. 20, March 1991).
A September 1990 open letter authored by "some officers of the former Securitate" -- most likely from the Fifth Directorate charged with guarding Ceausescu and the rest of the Romanian communist leadership -- and addressed to the xenophobic, neo-Ceausist weekly "Democratia" (which was edited by Eugen Florescu, one of Ceausescu's chief propagandists and speechwriters), sought to summarize the entire record of the "tourists" wanderings and activities in December 1989 as follows:
"11-15 [December] -- a massive penetration of so-called Hungarian tourists takes place in Timisoara and Soviet tourists in Cluj;
15-16 [December] -- upon the initiative of these groups, protests of support for the sinister 'Priest [Father Laszlo Tokes of Timisoara]' break out;
16-17-18 [December] -- in the midst of the general state of confusion building in the city, the army intervenes to reestablish order;
-- this provides a long-awaited opportunity for the 'tourists' to start -- in the midst of warning shots in the air -- to shoot and stab in the back the demonstrators among whom they are located and whom they have incited;...
19-20-21 -- a good part of the 'tourists' and their brethren among the locals begin to migrate -- an old habit -- from the main cities of Transylvania, according to plan, in order to destabilize: Cluj, Sibiu, Alba Iulia, Targu Mures, Satu Mare, Oradea, etc." ("Democratia," no. 36, 24-30 September 1990).
The authors of this chronology then maintain that this scene was replicated in Bucharest on 21 December, causing the famous disruption of Ceausescu's speech and the death of civilians in University Square that evening.
Not to be out-done, Cluj Securitate chief Ion Serbanoiu claimed in a 1991 interview that, as of 21 December 1989, there were over 800 Russian and Hungarian tourists, mostly driving almost brand-new Lada automobiles (but also Dacia and Wartburg cars), in the city (interview with Angela Bacescu in "Europa," no. 55, December 1991). In February 1991 during his trial, former Securitate Director General Iulian Vlad, not surprisingly, also spoke of "massive groups of Soviet tourists...the majority were men...deploy[ing] in a coordinated manner in a convoy of brand-new Lada automobiles" (see Bunea, 1994, pp. 460-461), while the infamous Pavel Corut has written of "the infiltration on Romanian territory of groups of Soviet commandos ("Spetsnaz") under the cover of being tourists" (Corut, 1994).REBUTTING THE 'TOURIST' MYTH
I vividly recall early on in my research of the December 1989 events being told emphatically, and not for the last time, by a journalist at the Cluj weekly "Nu" -- a publication staunchly critical of the Iliescu regime -- that the guest lists of Romanian hotels for December 1989 were nowhere to be found because they contained the secrets of the Revolution. Certainly, this rumor has intersected with the "tourist" myth and has been used as confirmation of the latter.
Significantly, Marius Mioc has sought to investigate the reality of this matter in Timisoara (Mioc, 2000). The numbers provided to the 17 December Timisoara Association (which Mioc heads) by all of Timisoara's hotels and by the State Tourist Agency for Timisoara lay bare two of the key components upon which the "tourist" myth has relied: a) that the records of the December 1989 manifests do not exist, and b) that there was an unusually dramatic increase in the number of foreign tourists staying in Romanian hotels during this period. In fact, the opposite proves to be true, the number of foreign tourists -- and specifically those from other "socialist" countries -- declined in December 1989 both in comparison to the previous December and in comparison to November 1989!
Of course, as we have seen, proponents of the "tourist" myth have also suggested that many of the alleged foreign agents posing as tourists "avoided staying in hotels." But this still raises the question of why the Securitate allowed them into the country in the first place and why they then seemed unable to follow their movements and prevent their activities. A 1991 open letter by "a group of [Romanian Army] officers from the Timisoara garrison" perhaps provides the best riposte to the dubious logic underlying the "tourist" hypothesis:
"If they [the tourists] appeared suspect to the special forces of the Securitate and military counterintelligence, why did they not attempt to keep them under surveillance? During this period, did the Securitate and the counterintelligence officers not know how to do their jobs? Did they somehow forget why they were paid such weighty sums from the state budget?" ("Romania libera," 15 October 1991).
One must also ask: If it was precisely Soviet tourists who were most suspected at the time of being up to no good in the country, then why was it precisely they who were the sole group among "tourists" in the country at the time to be permitted to stay and go about their business unhindered?HOW THE 'TOURISTS' ENTRY INTO THE HISTORIOGRAPHY OF DECEMBER 1989 PARALLELS THE EXIT OF THE SECURITATE
In commenting in August 1990 upon how the details of the state's case against him had changed since early in the year, Nicolae Ceausescu's son, Nicu, ironically highlighted how Securitate forces had begun to fade away from the historiography of the December 1989 events. In the August 1990 interview from his prison cell with Ion Cristoiu's "Zig-Zag" (mentioned above), Nicu discusses the "tourists" for which he was asked to find accommodations in the context of a group of mysterious passengers who had arrived by plane from Bucharest on the evening of 20 December 1989. We know that in the period immediately following these events, the then-military prosecutor, Anton Socaciu, had alleged that these passengers from Bucharest were members of the Securitate's elite USLA unit (Special Unit for Antiterrorist Warfare) and were responsible for much of the bloodshed that occurred in Sibiu during the December events (for a discussion, see Hall, 1996). In August 1990, however, Nicu wryly observed:
"...[T]he Military Prosecutor gave me two variants. In the first part of the inquest, they [the flight's passengers] were from the Interior Ministry. Later, however, in the second half of the investigation, when the USLA and those from the Interior Ministry began, so-to-speak, to pass 'into the shadows,' -- after which one no longer heard anything of them -- they [the passengers] turned out to be simple citizens..." (interview with Nicu Ceausescu in "Zig-Zag," no. 20, 21-27 August 1990).
The impact of this "reconsideration" by the authorities could be seen in the comments of Socaciu's successor as military prosecutor in charge of the Sibiu case, Marian Valer (see Hall 1997a, pp. 314-315). Valer commented in September 1990 that investigations yielded the fact that there were 37 unidentified passengers on board the 20 December flight from Bucharest and that many of the other passengers maintained that "on the right side of the plane there had been a group of tall, athletic men, dressed in sporting attire, many of them blond, who had raised their suspicions." While investigations revealed that during this time there "were many Soviet tourists staying in Sibiu's hotels," they also established that "military units were fired upon from Securitate safehouses located around these units as of the afternoon of 22 December, after the overturning of the Ceausescu regime." He thus carefully concludes:
"As far as the unidentified passengers are concerned, there are two possible variants: Either they were USLA fighters sent to defend Nicu Ceausescu, or they were Soviet agents sent to act with the intent of overthrowing the Ceausescu regime" ("Expres," no. 33, September 1990).
Thus, as the "tourists" began to enter the historiography of the December 1989 events, so the Securitate -- specifically the USLA -- began to disappear.HOW THE 'TOURIST' MYTH NEVERTHELESS GAINED MAINSTREAM CREDIBILITY AND ACCEPTANCE
How, then, did the "tourist" myth gain credibility and acceptance in the Romanian press, given its rather obvious pedigree in the remnants of the Ceausescu regime, especially among former high-ranking Securitate officers and others most in need of an alibi/diversion to save their careers and avoid the possibility of going to jail? Although the reference to "tourists" during the December events probably entered the lexicon of mainstream reporting on the Revolution as early as April 1990 -- not insignificantly, first in the pages of Ion Cristoiu's weekly "Zig-Zag," it appears -- it was in particular journalist Sorin Rosca Stanescu who gave the theme legitimacy in the mainstream press.
Without specifying the term "tourists" -- but clearly speaking in the same vein -- Stanescu was probably the first to articulate the thesis most precisely and to tie the Soviet angle to it. In June 1990 in a piece entitled "Is The Conspiracy of Silence Breaking Down?" in the sharply anti-government daily "Romania libera," Stanescu wrote:
"And still in connection with the breaking down of the conspiracy of silence, in the army there is more and more insistent talk about the over 4,000 Lada cars with two men per car that traveled many different roads in the days before the Revolution and then disappeared" ("Romania libera," 14 June 1990).
Stanescu's article was vigorously anti-FSN and anti-Iliescu and left little doubt that this thesis was part of the "unofficial" history of the December events, injurious to the new leaders, and something they did not wish to see published or wish to clarify.
But it was Stanescu's April 1991 article in "Romania libera," entitled "Is Iliescu Being Protected By The KGB?," that truly gave impetus to the "tourist" thesis. Stanescu wrote:
"A KGB officer wanders in France. He is losing his patience and searching for a way to get to Latin America. Yesterday I met him in Paris. He talked to me after finding out that I was a Romanian journalist. He fears the French press. He knows Romanian and was in Timisoara in December 1989. As you will recall, persistent rumors have circulated about the existence on Romanian soil of over 2,000 Lada automobiles with Soviet tags and two men in each car. Similar massive infiltrations were witnessed in December 1990, too, with the outbreak of a wave of strikes and demonstrations. What were the KGB doing in Romania? Witness what the anonymous Soviet officer related to me in Paris:
'There existed an intervention plan that for whatever reason was not activated. I received the order to enter Romania on 14 December and to head for Timisoara. Myself and my colleague were armed. During the events, we circulated in the military zone around Calea Girocului [Giriocul Road]. Those who headed toward Bucharest had the same mission. Several larger cities were targeted. We were to open fire in order to create a state of confusion. I never, however, received such an order. I left Romania on 26 December.'
I don't have any reason to suspect the validity of these revelations. This short confession is naturally incomplete, but not inconclusive. What purpose would this elaborate, but aborted, KGB plan have had? The only plausible explanation is that it wasn't necessary for KGB agents to intervene. The events were unfolding in the desired direction without need for the direct intervention of the Soviets. But this leads to other questions: What did the Ceausescu couple know, but were not allowed to say [prior to their hurried execution]? Why is Securitate General Vlad being held in limbo? To what degree has President Iliescu maintained ties to the Soviets? What are the secret clauses of the Friendship Treaty recently signed in Moscow? Is Iliescu being protected by the KGB or not? Perhaps the SRI [the Securitate's institutional successor, the Romanian Information Service] would like to respond to these questions?"
Stanescu's April 1991 article did not go unnoticed -- despite its nondescript placement on page eight -- and has since received recognition and praise from what might seem unexpected corners. For example, previously-discussed former Securitate Colonel Filip Teodorescu cited extensive excerpts from Stanescu's article in his 1992 book on the December events, and he added cryptically:
"Moreover, I don't have any reason to suspect that the journalist Sorin Rosca Stanescu would have invented a story in order to come to the aid of those accused, by the courts or by public opinion, for the results of the tragic events of December 1989" (Teodorescu, 1992, pp. 92-94).
Radu Balan, former Timis County party secretary, imprisoned for his role in the December events, has also invoked Stanescu's April 1991 article as proof of his revisionist view that "tourists" rather than "non-existent 'terrorists'" were to blame for the December 1989 bloodshed:
"...[W]hile at Jilava [the jail where he was imprisoned at the time of the interview, in October 1991], I read 'Romania libera' from 18 April. And Rosca Stanescu writes from Paris that a KGB agent who deserted the KGB and is in transit to the U.S. stated that on 18 December  he had the mission to create panic on Calea Girocului [a thoroughfare in Timisoara]. What is more, on the 18th, these 11 cars were at the top of Calea Girocului, where I saw them. I was dumbfounded, I tell you. I didn't tell anybody. Please study 'Romania libera,' the last page, from 18 April 1991" ("Totusi iubirea," no. 43, 24-31 October1991).
In this regard, it would be irresponsible to totally discount the relevance of Rosca Stanescu's past. Since December 1989, Stanescu has undeniably been a vigorous critic of, and made damaging revelations about, the Securitate's institutional heir, the SRI, and the Iliescu regime, and he has frequently written ill of the former Securitate and the Ceausescu regime. Nevertheless, in 1992 it was leaked to the press -- and Rosca Stanescu himself confirmed -- that from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s he was an informer for the Securitate (for a discussion, see Hall, 1997b, pp. 111-113). What was significant, however, was precisely for which branch of the Securitate Rosca Stanescu had been an informer: the USLA.THE 'TOURISTS' MYTH TRAVELS WESTWARD
Almost inevitably, the "tourist" thesis has made its way into Western academic literature. For example, in a book lauded by experts (see for example, Professor Archie Brown's review in "Slavic Review," Winter 1998), Jacques Levesque invokes as "rare evidence" that the Soviets were responsible for igniting and fanning the flames of the Timisoara uprising the following:
"...testimony of an imprisoned Securitate colonel who was freed in 1991 [he is referring to the aforementioned Filip Teodorescu]. He writes that the Securitate had noted the arrival of 'numerous false Soviet tourists' in Timisoara in early December, coming from Soviet Moldova. He also reports that a convoy of several Lada cars, with Soviet license plates and containing three to four men each, had refused to stop at a police checkpoint in Craiova. After the Romanian police opened fire and killed several men, he claims that the Soviet authorities recovered the bodies without issuing an official protest. To the extent that this information is absolutely correct, it would tend to prove the presence of Soviet agents in Romania (which no one doubts), without, however, indicating to us their exact role in the events" (Levesque, 1997, p. 197).
Levesque seems generally unaware of or concerned with the problematic nature of the source of this "rare evidence" and thus never really considers the possibility that the Securitate colonel is engaging in disinformation. This is indicative of how upside-down the understanding of the December 1989 events has become in the post-Ceausescu era -- and of the influence of the far-reaching and generally unchallenged revisionism of the events within Romania itself -- that Western writers invoking the thesis seem to accept the claims at face value, never even enunciating any doubt about why the Securitate source in question might seek to make such an argument.
* A memorable phrase from Andrei Codrescu's PBS special "Road Scholar" of the early 1990s.
(Richard Andrew Hall received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Indiana University in 1997. He currently works and lives in northern Virginia. Comments can be directed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)SOURCES
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