Romania’s revolution was the most dramatic of the popular revolts that convulsed Eastern Europe in 1989. On the morning of December 21, 1989, a staged demonstration – organized to show support for the Ceauşescu regime following days of rioting against it in Timişoara – backfired spectacularly. Eight minutes into Ceauşescu’s speech from the balcony of the Central Committee building, part of the eighty-thousand-strong crowd began chanting “Ti-mi-şoa-ra”; the leader’s shock and fear were televised across Romania before transmissions ceased. From that moment, it was clear that the end of the Ceauşescu regime was inevitable. Though the square was cleared by nightfall, larger crowds poured back the next day, emboldened by news that the army was siding with the people in Timişoara and Bucharest. Strangely, the Ceauşescus remained inside the Central Committee building until noon, when they scrambled aboard a helicopter on the roof, beginning a flight that would end with their execution in a barracks in Târgovişte, on Christmas Day.
The revolution was tainted by the suspicion of having been stage-managed by the National Salvation Front (FSN) that took power in the name of the people. The FSN consisted of veteran communists, one of whom later let slip to a journalist that plans to oust the Ceauşescus had been laid months before. Among the oddities of the “official” version of events were Iliescu’s speech on the Piaţa Revoluţiei at a time when “terrorist” snipers were causing mayhem in the square, and the battle for the Interior Ministry, during which both sides supposedly ceased firing after a mysterious phone call. Given the hundreds of genuine “martyrs of the revolution”, the idea that it had been simply a ploy by Party bureaucrats to oust the Ceauşescus was shocking and potentially damaging to the new regime – so the secret police were ordered to mount an investigation, which duly concluded that while manipulation had occurred, the Russians, Americans and Hungarians were to blame.