I was fortunate to be able to spend time in both Timisoara, Romania, where the revolution began on December 17, 2010, and Bucharest, where revolutionary activity continued, culminating in the December 22 flee of the Ceauşescus, and their execution on December 25. Both cities hosted a series of varied events; in both places, there were musical performances, art exhibits, and ceremonial wreath-laying ceremonies. In Timisoara, officials organized a wreath-laying procession that moved between all of the significant places of the city that were instrumental in the revolution. A central memorial place was an abstract sculpture in the suggested form of a cross in the main square, with the names of victims inscribed; large number of wreaths were laid here. (I am reminded of the wreath-laying ceremony in Gdansk on August 31.) A cross-shaped display of red votive candles was laid out on the picturesque main square in Timisoara, striking a contrast with the fresh snowfall. Father László Tőkés, the outspoken dissident Hungarian Protestant Christian minister whose reprimands by the party had stimulated local protests that helped fuel revolutionary sentiment, was on hand to lead some of the events.
Among the special commemorative events was a ceremony to unveil the restored graffiti message, “Eljen Laszlo Tokes – Szabadsag” (“Long Live Laszlo Tokes – Freedom!”) on the wall of the Reformed Church where it had been first painted in 1989. A commemorative event in front of the church turned into a spontaneous reenactment of the events—without the actual violence, of course.
A Timisoara university hosted a series of presentations on 1989, including a panel of former local activists, the premiere of the film, “Dracula’s Shadow – The Real Story Behind the Romanian Revolution,” followed by a panel of those who became political leaders—Romanian and others, including Lech Walesa.
There is a “Revolution Tour” that one can take in Timisoara across the important sites, including buildings with visible bulletmarks left from 1989. The tour guide, however, questioned the language of “revolution.” He didn’t think it was a revolution. This issue arises in Romania in part due to the confusion over the circumstances in 1989; there are conspiracy theories, for example, regarding what actually happened—was this an internal government coup, or possibly a CIA-KGB-orchestrated event? The question also seems to be a skeptical one about the depth of the post-1989 changes, an issue that I ran across in other places, but more centrally in Bulgaria. Nevertheless, I was struck by how much the 1989 events were inscribed into the Timisoara landscape. Street signage marked the dates of the transformation.
There is also a small museum that one man has assembled, with artifacts and films. It had recently hosted a children’s art festival on the 1989 revolution.
Although there was a noticeable attitude of victory and relief that the pre-1989 days were over, the twentieth anniversary was nevertheless a very heavy, somber occasion. TV Romania broadcast a series of documentary films of in-depth interviews with eyewitnesses on television and in a student club. These included tearful descriptions of the mother or the son that was murdered in cold blood in front of the survivor. This gave the commemorations a very personal, intimate tone.
I ran into cynicism among several young people I met toward present-day politics and the state of opportunities for their generation. Here is a quote from my translator: “I got mugged in front of my apartment building, and a group of boys took all my papers. I lost my money and my phone but I eventually got my papers back. But I was a little relieved because I couldn’t decide who to vote for (they’re all the same). Without my papers I couldn’t vote, so that solved the problem.”
I met a young married couple who rented a flat to me. They had both graduated with law degrees, but reported that they can’t get jobs in Romania because it’s all corrupt: judges, etc., just give jobs to family members. They have decided to just run their business managing properties and not bother trying to practice law. I told them that I hoped that some day they could use their degrees, and they just shrugged and said no, they’ve given up.