31,214 Light Bulbs

This Chandelier in Ceausescu’s Palace (now Palace of the Parliament) alone has 7000 bulbs and weighs 11,000 pounds in the “Small Hall”

31,214 bulbs are how many bulbs that have been replaced in a recent conservation effort in the Palace of the Parliament. The Palace has 2,800 chandeliers consisting of 7.7 million cubic feet of glass and crystal.

When I visited the then named, “Palace of the People” in March 1990, the Palace had been open about a week and then closed shortly after because of theft.

I met Silviu there, who was about ten years old and his mother while standing in line to go into the Palace. We wandered about, aghast at the beautiful chandeliers and rugs, all made in Romania. There was little furniture in these humongous spaces and the work on the Palace had not been completed. The heating and electric bill was six million dollars per year.

Afterward I was invited to Silviu’s Mother’s apartment, a short walk away. I noticed the small chandelier in their apartment. It had one bulb in it with several empty sockets. I knew that during the austerity period, Romanians were permitted one forty watt lightbulb per room. The idea was to save electricity that was limited and to pay off the foreign debt with the savings gained through rationing of utilities and food, plus through the exportation of the decent quality products, denied to Romanians.

When I returned to Romania in 1994, I visited Selum, a light bulb factory in Pucioasa. During Ceausescu times they exported 80% of its production to 60 countries on five continents.

I bought a number of bulbs and saw that they now produced Christmas, religious, painted dancing folk and Disney themed bulbs that would have been banned during Communism.

Christmas Bulbs

December Remembrances

A Christmas Tree stands on the left of the balcony of the Opera in Timisoara. Tudor Hulubei Photography

As told by Balazs from Oradea. He was 13 years old in 1989.

“I remember very nice birthdays and christmasts – but of course as child is always good when you get gifts. We usually got toys when wa was small but later other  I remember one of my favorit gift whas a huge lot of foreign country stamps…it was great for me becouse just started to collect them and not so much chance to get other countries stamps. But also was very happy when I got a walkman for my birthday, I felt me the coolest ever to have a walkman  80s Romania 🙂 My pharents bring it from Budapest and I remember that they changed it for a spare part from inside our car, Dacia 1100 :))) Adult people offers gifts each other like shoes, socks, tigarettes, soaps and other cosmetics, electronics”stuffs like audio casettes, books.”

The following is from “In Romania, a Christmas Without Fear” by David Lauter, Los Angeles Times, 12/26/1989;

From Christmas 1989

Two American reporters had been invited to eat at the home of a Romanian couple, an event that only a few days ago would have brought swift retaliation against the Romanians and a lengthy jail term.

Even now, the fear that has so long enveloped this land prevents publication of their names or the name of their English-speaking Romanian friend who shared in the meal.

But with the sudden, bloody downfall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s leadership, that fear has begun to crumble. Romanians for the first time in decades are beginning to speak openly again. Western correspondents are hearing firsthand the full dimensions of the horror and pettiness of totalitarian rule here.

The coincidence of the Christmas season with Ceausescu’s downfall has provided powerful symbols that have brought tears to the eyes of many in this city of 2 million.

On the balcony of the former Communist Party Central Committee building, a Christmas tree bedecked in tinsel now stands. The tree marks the exact spot from which Ceausescu issued his final speech last Thursday, the speech that was interrupted by the shouts of demonstrators–“Death, death!”–that sounded the end to the dictator’s long rule.

Until now, public displays of Christmas trees were banned as part of Ceausescu’s drive to eliminate any potential source of opposition to his reign–particularly religious symbols and ceremonies.

Even the Romanian name of Santa Claus, Mos Craciun (Old Man Christmas), was banned by law. On Monday, however, the name was on lips across the city

Two American reporters had been invited to eat at the home of a Romanian couple, an event that only a few days ago would have brought swift retaliation against the Romanians and a lengthy jail term.

Even now, the fear that has so long enveloped this land prevents publication of their names or the name of their English-speaking Romanian friend who shared in the meal.

But with the sudden, bloody downfall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s leadership, that fear has begun to crumble. Romanians for the first time in decades are beginning to speak openly again. Western correspondents are hearing firsthand the full dimensions of the horror and pettiness of totalitarian rule here.

“Santa Claus Will Not Be Shot,” declared a headline in the new newspaper Free Youth. The paper also carried a message from Teoctist, the Orthodox patriarch of Romania.

“Beloved children,” the patriarch wrote, “in this holiday when Christ was born the baby in Bethlehem, our thoughts and attention are drawn to the shining and fresh faces of the children and youth of Romania.”

“After many decades of official atheism,” he continued, “many years of sad and frozen Christmases, this year is the first one in which the Christian people of Romania are celebrating in freedom.”

At the home of the Romanian couple–an engineer and his wife, a doctor–the celebration was simple but the spirit warm. Eight sausages, French fries, some tinned sardines, a stew of onions and peppers, bread, wine and a few slices of cake washed down by sweet coffee provided dinner for five.

The apartment was simply furnished and sparse: three small rooms plus a kitchen to house the family. But the couple counts themselves among the lucky ones in this battered society.

“We are the exceptions, one in a thousand,” the engineer said. He noted that both he and his wife are relatively well paid and that his parents, both professionals, are in a position to guarantee them access to ever-scarce food supplies.

An average worker in this country earns roughly 2,000 lei a month–$200 at the official exchange rate, but closer to $20 on the black market. Neither food nor shelter is cheap. To obtain better-paying jobs, Romanians generally have been required to join the nation’s huge Communist Party, paying as much as 10% of their salary in party dues.

The result has been a daily life here that is a grim struggle, made worse by an ever-present fear of surveillance that only now is beginning to fade.

“You’re being watched all the time, at home, at school, at work,” said one of the men at dinner. “There is an old woman on my block–she is known to be the security agent for the street. We always close the window facing her house before turning on the radio.”

For Romanians who avoid trouble with the authorities, the ultimate reward has been a passport allowing travel and work abroad. “We could earn $10 a day working in Libya,” where many Romanians have been employed as oil field workers, said one Romanian. “You could buy some extra food, maybe a pair of shoes.”

For now, however, those difficult days have been laid aside in memory as the engineer, the doctor and their friends concentrate on the revolution unfolding in the streets and recorded on their television screens.

For the last two days, those screens have been filled with images of a holiday that the dictatorship tried to suppress but failed to eliminate.

Romanian television and radio have broadcast traditional Christmas carols long absent from public hearing but still cherished in private. The television screens have been full of pictures of decorated trees, monasteries and religious icons, and the words in Romanian that declare the message of Merry Christmas: “Craciun Fericit.”

Calling it Christmas Again

December 24, 1989 Christmas Eve

Warfare continued at the main train station, Palace Square and around University Square. But people could be seen carrying Christmas trees and giving gifts. In the late eighties the Christmas holiday had been supplanted by a celebration of Ceausescu’s birthday.

The army was making gains against the heavily armed Securitate secret police. The shooting should have stopped on December 22nd at 12:09 pm when Ceausescu fled Bucharest. It was unclear on whose behalf the Securitate were still killing for. That is still an unanswered question and most of those murderers have never been brought to justice. The secret police, with some of those same people, is today called the SRI. 162 people died in protests that led to the overthrow of Ceausescu, but 942 died in the days after that.

Water and electricity was restored and shops began to reopen by the 26th, and foreign aid was reaching the citizens.

President Iliescu formed the Extraordinary Military Tribunal on the 24th that would try the Ceausescu’s on Christmas Day.

No one was more surprised by the events of the Revolution more than those who had started resistance movements or had protested in Romania soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and were tortured and facing execution. Without ever knowing about the Revolution while in jail, those people were released starting from December 22, 1989. It must have been the best Christmas surprise ever.


December 23, 1989

Messages of support were coming in from world leaders to the apparent new government. General Stefan Gusa, speaking to a mass crowd declared that Securitate secret police had been disbanded and appealed to troops to remain loyal to the people. He said, “Securitate bodies in Romania no longer exist.” The people were chanting, “Freedom, Freedom” and singing a pre-Communist anthem, “Romanians Awake”. But the fighting got even more deadly than before. And it continued until December 27th.

Military units received confusing orders and fired at each other looking for “terrorists”, and at civilians. On this day, an airport battle resulted in the death of civilians on a bus and also soldiers riding a bus . The battle left 48 dead, including 40 soldiers and 15 wounded. Some 2000 Securitate assaulted the Communist Headquarters, and other buildings that revolutionaries now occupied. The old Royal Palace was on fire and the National Library burned to the ground.

The fighting would go on until December 27th. Romanians are still grappling with why it continued. Many blame Iliescu and his power grab. Nevertheless Iliescu was elected to the Presidency three times, but may face a trial next year for “crimes against humanity.” He is 89 years old and in poor health.

The new provisional government of Iliescu moved to consolidate its authority and issued the Securitate an ultimatum to surrender on the 23rd of December. It also promised to scrap food rationing, end village demolition programs, overturn the ban on abortion and to erase the compulsory registration of typewriters. People would no longer be required to address each other as “comrade” and weren’t restricted where they could live in the country. They called for free elections in April.

Liberals ousted Iliescu’s old party from power last month.

Romanians are still waiting for the truth about whether the Revolution was an inside coup or an uprising of the people. It seems to be both.

A lawyer named Ioan Stanomir, interviewed by Eurotopics.net, said this; “After 30 years, civic commitment is the alternative to lethargy and moral decay. With a sense of citizenship and daily courage, the people can rediscover their instinct for solidarity and dignity.”

The Tyrants’ Escape and Capture

The Ceausescu’s Flee Bucharest. Tudor Hulubei Photography

December 22, 2019

Today, Sunday, Revolutionaries, authorities and citizens remember the dead with an honor guard at the memorial in Revolution Square, a march, religious services and a short speech by President Iohannis opening an exhibition on the Revolution. 1,142 balloons representing the dead were released.

December 22, 1989

By now the cities of Brasov, Arad, Braila, Cluj-Napoca, Constanta, Hunedoara, and Sibiu have joined Timisoara and Bucharest in the violence that would continue even after the deaths of the Ceausescu’s on Christmas Day. Today is the last day of existence for the Communist regime in Romania. The Ceausescu’s flee the Communist Party Headquarters in Bucharest, but are captured and imprisoned in a tank for several more days until their trial and execution. Control of the country prolongs the Revolution into January.

A soldier and students remove the sign from The Communist Party Headquarters. Tudor Hulubei Photography

On Friday the 22nd People continue to flood the capital. The squares are filled with people risking their lives. That morning Ceausescu called for a Committee meeting to say he had taken over the army, believing that things would soon be under control. But he got news that a mass of angry industrial workers were headed for Bucharest. He addressed a spontaneous, but angry crowd from the balcony of the Communist Party headquarters, but part way into the speech someone came to him and said, “They are coming in!” meaning the huge entrance doors had been breached. The Ceausescu’s headed for the roof where a helicopter had landed. As people from the crowd streamed across the roof the overweight helicopter took off. It was shortly after 11am when the dictator told the pilot to head for his palace in Snagov, roughly 24 miles north of Bucharest. Meanwhile the crowd threw books and document from the balcony. Across Bucharest people displayed the Romanian flag with the Communist emblem torn out, some on tanks.

The Ceausescu’s were unable to get reinforcements at Snagov, so they took off again. But the pilot so terrified Ceausescu by dipping up and down claiming he was avoiding possible anti-aircraft fire that Ceausescu ordered him to land. The driver of the first car they comandeered faked an engine problem. The driver of a second car they flagged down took them to an agriculture technical institute, The director ushered them into a room and locked them in,

When the army came and apprehended the Ceausescu’s they noticed he kept looking at his watch and realized he was signaling for help, so they put him in a tank and drove around, eventually holding them both in a military compound until the trial three days later.

On this Friday the 22nd, the commander in chief of the army gave his allegiance to the newly formed National Salvation Front, headed by the future President of Romania and former Communist official, Ion Iliescu.

The people and army gained possession of the TV and radio stations and announced the new alliances and the ouster of Ceausescu. Yet that night the Securitate secret police attacked the people now occupying government and institutional buildings. They were following a resistance plan that the Communists had devised for foreign invasion and similar situations to this, according to the book, “Snipers and Mistifyers” by Andrei Ursu and others, released last Thursday (Tragatori Si Mistificatori, http://www.polirom.ro) It claims the Securitate did not surrender its weapons until January 4, 1990.

Revolution Comes to Bucharest

December 21, 1989

Many Romanians say this day is the most important one in their lives. After 5 days of fighting in Timisoara, The Revolution has reached Bucharest. In Timisoara the death count would reach close to 100, with 400 injured and a thousand arrests.

Many people were surprised by the uprising, even though there was peaceful transitions to democracy throughout Communist Eastern Europe. But Romania was tightly controlled by a huge network of secret police and informants, so in any case, the violence was inevitable. Frederick Becker, a desk officer at the U.S. consulate in Bucharest remembers thinking back in 1988, “Inspecting the shops at the time, I saw Chinese canned sardines and cabbage and very little sign of meat, fresh fruit or vegetables”……”It was a matter of time before something significant would happen here.” Food for the consulate was flown in from Frankfurt every other month.

In the morning of December 21, from eighty to a hundred thousand people gathered in front of the Central Committee building to hear what would be the final speech of Nicolae Ceausescu. The people sitting in the front were party loyalists, and behind them stood workers bussed in for the event ( if they refused to go they would be fired), as well as people gathered by organizers from city squares. They carried photos of a younger Ceausescu and red propaganda banners.

Besides condemning the uprising in Timisoara and assigning blame to Hungarian fascists, Ceausescu lauded his own accomplishments over the past decades. He intended that the speech be reminiscent of one he gave in 1968, angrily denouncing the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the USSR, that set him apart from other Communist leaders. He also promised to raise wages 18 dollars more a month and increased university scholarship money slightly. The speech from the balcony of the Central Committee building was broadcast nationwide.

As he spoke people started to boo him and chant, “Timisoara.” just several minutes into the speech. then 8 minutes into the speech there was an explosion, or gunfire in the background and people started screaming. The one TV camera swung skyward, with just the audio recording.

Here is a translation of that audio from the speech:

A security guard hustled the Ceausescu’s off the balcony as the chanting grew louder and more personal..

There was even more panic as the Securitate secret police started firing into the crowd. Street fighting ensued, and the unarmed protesters were being shot at by four different government forces. Eventually the rank and file members of the military switched loyalty to the side of the people almost unanimously, but in the interim, some people were run over by their tanks, shot, stabbed or clubbed to death. The clashes later became more between the army and the Securitate, but by the end many hundreds of civilians had died.

I have noticed that in a number of the photos above (from Tudor Hulubei’s website) you can see the army soldiers aiming their guns upwards. The Securitate had offices in the upper levels of buildings including hotels and one could see the tracer fire coming from the upper windows.

When I was there in early March 1990 I went into the Securitate offices in the Hotel Athenee Palat. There were interconnected rooms with stacks of paper on desks everywhere and a stench. I noticed doors in other parts of this luxury hotel had been splintered.( I stayed at the Intercontinental Bucharest which had its share of bullet holes, broken windows and tank damage)

The U.S Embassy stood near the Intercontinental and was also near the university. Virginia Carson Young was chief of the consular section and relays what happened there; “[The U.S. Embassy] organized a vehicle convoy from Bucharest to the Bulgarian Border (there was fighting at the airport) and [organized] their reception by the Bulgarian and U.S officials at the border.” the trip was about 100 miles and took up to four hours. She says there was never any mention of the U.S. relocating the Ceausescu’s out of the country to try to end the conflict as was done with the dictator Marcos in the Philippines.

The next morning would be the last time the Ceausescu’s saw downtown Bucharest. The Ceausescu regime was about to end.

First Free City

December 20, 2019

Today at noon in Timisoara the sirens blared throughout the city for 3 minutes to mark the moment Timisoara earned the status of a city free from Communism

December 20, 1989

The borders with Hungary, Yugoslavia and the USSR have been closed. Ceausescu has returned from Iran and called an emergency session of parliament in which he proclaims martial law. He demands a rally be organized for the next day in Bucharest to show worker support for his policies. The protests have spread to a second city, Cluj.

In Timisoara the secret police continue firing on demonstrators in the street. There is a general strike in all of the factories in the city. Negotiators from the government arrive and try to buy time before the elite troops can arrive and crush the rebellion.

The protesters created a group called The Romanian Democratic Front to organize the resistance movement. More army soldiers joined the protesters in Opera Square. By 2 pm the soldiers were back in their garrison and the central and local authorities had given up control of the city. The revolutionaries then went out on the balcony of the Opera House and declared Timisoara to be Romania’s first free city, released from the Communist regime. The terror would continue nevertheless.

Romanians were following events there from western radio stations like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe as well as from TV and radio transmissions from Hungary and Yugoslavia. Word of mouth spread quickly.

By the next day an ill-conceived rally by Ceausescu in Bucharest would result in full blown Revolution. Six more cities would soon rise up in resistance and bloodshed.

The Army’s Loyalty Shifts

December 19, 1989

This day brought more terror and confusion. There was shooting all over the city. The prime minister promised to release the political prisoners, but ignored the demand to remove Ceausescu. On the following day in Bucharest, Ceausescu gave a televised speech promising to defeat the “terrorists and hooligans” in Timisoara. He talked in terms of “interference of foreign forces in Romania’s internal affairs.” Every factory and school was being guarded 24/7.

Nevertheless a civic committee was formed by the demonstrators, but was soon fractured by infighting. They were also under the impression that the uprising was nearly over despite all of the bloodshed. In fact one army regiment had joined with the protesters who gave them flowers. The political prisoners had been released and thousands of workers organized by factory committees streamed into the city for four hours. Some others chanted, “The army is with us!” Also on this day the United States condemned the Romanian government for its use of “brutal force”, and some hoped the U.S. would involve themselves. This night graffiti on the Communist Party headquarters read, “The People Have Won” .

After two days of failed attempts by the militia, the army and the intelligence service to repress the revolt, the protesters still occupied Timisoara’s downtown Opera Square.

A week of increased terror was about to begin. More people would soon die than had in all of this violence.