December 18, 1989
Riots and protests persisted. On orders of Ceausescu security forces cracked down on demonstrators with lethal force. The dreaded secret police (the Securitate) had joined the forces and began to assault the demonstrators by shooting into the crowd sometimes from their perches in nearby buildings. Ceausescu, not realizing the gravity of the situation left for Iran on a scheduled visit. Realizing that these demonstrators were not terrorists, but ordinary citizens, army general Vasile Milea refused to kill protestors and for that he was shortly executed.
That morning a delegation of top officials including the prime minister arrived in Timisoara by helicopter to investigate the protests. They were surprised to find everyday citizens filling the streets and squares without any sinister outside influence.
By evening, with protestors shouting, “Down with Ceausescu” and “Give us our dead” (the dead were collected by the army and either thrown in mass graves or burned) Timisoara was transformed into an armed camp with two soldiers and two Securitate with machine guns standing every few feet. The city’s 20,000 students were sent home for Christmas vacation a few days earlier than planned.
That night a line of plainclothes secret police opened fire on approximately 30 demonstrators, most of them young and holding candles, chanting and gathering around the opera house. More than ten died.
A 1991 US Department of State report called, “The Problems of Communism”, stated, “A religiously inspired act of civil disobedience had thus triggered a full-blown political rebellion against one of the most tightly controlled authoritarian societies in the world.” This, in a country where it was against the law for more than three people to gather outside.