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First part - Romania: the "revolution" of 1989, by Dr. Catherine Durandin,

writer and historian. Interview by Pierre Verluise

As seen in historical research, the "events" of December 1989 in Romania are interpreted as being affected by a conspiracy, in part directed from abroad. If the Soviet KGB’s intervention is not in doubt, there rests the need to determine the Western efforts, notably those of the CIA and the Department of State.
Key words: romania, the "revolution" of december 1989, catherine durandin, george f. jewsbury, pierre verluise, historical research, kgb, cia, department of state, securitate, nicolae ceaucescu, ion iliescu, mikhail gorbatchev, gorbatchevians, silviu brucan, mircea pascu, mihai botez.   Pierre Verluise: With the passing of time, how do you describe the end of N. Ceaucescu’s regime in Romania?

Catherine Durandin: The Romanian "revolution" of December 1989 is more than ever, a subject that continues to raise questions. The Romanian researchers discreetly refer to the "events of December 1989." This is a way of showing that we do not know exactly where we are in relation to the knowledge and the interpretation of those days, presented as "revolutionary."

An agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union?

In 2002, it is still not possible to gain access to the Soviet archives for that period. There is a similar lack - until proven otherwise - of a complete access to the U.S. archives, specifically those of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the same period. But it would seem that there was, if not a direct intervention by the United States, at least an agreement between Washington and Moscow on the issue of the Romanian events.

As we wait for the opening of the archives, there are a number of works from different points of view that have appeared studying the question. A Romanian journalist, Radu Portocala, published An Autopsy of the Romanian Coup (Calmann-LÚvy, 1990). He saw in the Romanian events of December 1989 the direct intervention of the KGB. Portocala mentions the cooperation of a part of the Romanian army, the KGB, and a group of associates close to Ion Iliescu. There were, during those days, many Soviet "tourists" in Timisoara, a city close to the Hungarian frontier where the "revolution" began December 16 and 17 1989. Even if this hypothesis is not totally supported, it is likely that there were KGB present in Romania at that date.

Another work was published by the Canadian historian Jacques Levesque. He focussed his work on the end of the Soviet empire, in a book published by the Press at the School of Political Science in 1995. He tried to define the exact role and participation of the Soviet "Gorbachevians" in Romania in 1989. He was not able to gain precise confirmation on the impact of the supposed Soviet actors. The people he spoke with shied away from discussing their roles, saying only that they gave a green light to the overthrow of Ceaucescu, but that they were not directly involved.

The Leninist School

Since 1989, the Romanians have continually debated the question of who actually began their post-Communist phase. In 2002, the consensus leans toward a multifaceted explanation. There was certainly the green light from Moscow for action to be taken by a part of the Romanian intelligence services, the Securitate, and some military leaders - supported by the KGB - and a group of Romanian politicians" Gorbachevians" of which Ion Iliescu may not have been the most courageous, but he was certainly the most efficient. These people are the former Communists, with their foundations firmly set in Leninism. They began to move away from Ceausescu in the 1970s, essentially over differences in views on economic policies. Certain of these people have come back in 2002--having succeeded in the 2000 elections—to the forefront of the Romanian political scene. It must be asked why there has been this return of these cadres from the end of the 1980s.

Strange journeys, strange meetings…

People from the older generation have begun to publish their memoirs. One of them is Silviu Brucan. He shocked certain people in 1989 in declaring that it would take twenty years to install democracy in Romania. Today this seems an entirely practical and realistic assessment. In his most recent works, and in an interview given to the review, "22", he revealed that he spent—in 1988—six months in the United States, in Washington. He opposed N. Ceausescu and still got a visa to go to the USA, and this is strange….

During this period, S. Brucan met with leaders of the Eastern European Bureau of the Department of State. He was also a friend of the Ambassador of the Soviet Union to the United States, Anatoli Dobrynin….This relationship allowed him to meet, in Moscow—while coming back from Washington, the Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-1991)

Who is manipulating whom ?

S. Brucan also went to the United Kingdom, for a meeting in London at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Foreign Office. Then he went to Austria, where he broadcast from Vienna over the microphones of Radio Free Europe, an anti-Communist radio controlled by the United States. Finally he came back to Bucharest, and went back home, under the surveillance of the Romanian political police, the Securitate ! This voyage permits all sorts of speculation. If a man, placed under surveillance, is able to go out and meet all sorts of Western leaders, doesn’t it mean that the Securitate was infiltrated by various intelligence agencies? If yes, which ones and why? The Securitate, at least a part of its agents, were in the process of betraying the regime.

The trail of research

In 2002, the "events" of December 1989 in Romania are interpreted as being affected by a conspiracy, in part directed from abroad. If the Soviet KGB’s intervention is not in doubt, there rests the need to determine the Western efforts, notably those of the CIA and the Department of State.

At the same time, the events of December 1989 were not the result of a single conspiracy. The students - high school and younger - became involved in a totally sincere and spontaneous manner. For example, in their demonstrations in Timisoara, Iasi, Bucharest, the victims of the shots fired were often young children, sometimes 13 or 14 years old. They went to the streets and acted as heroes in the face of the oncoming tanks.

P. V. It is possible to think, on the subject of Romania, of a form of convergence between the United States and the Soviet Union ?

C.D. There is an hypothesis which appears to me to be more and more interesting to consider. M. Gorbachev sought to appear as the person who brought about a reform, or a dÚtente on the Soviet side and slowed down the arms race that the Americans believed was no longer necessary. He was without doubt the best pawn to move quickly. Because, on the other side, the United States did not find him credible: they saw him as being sincere in his desires to reform the Soviet Union from a Leninist point of view, but they knew, also, that he was extremely weak in his standing in his own country.

A nudge in the right direction

I believe that the American leaders pushed the speed of changes, whether in the process of German reunification or in the manner of putting down the old communist leaders in the ex "people’s democracies." Seen from Washington’s perspective, the ending of N. Ceausescu’s regime in Romania could not be seen as anything else but a positive act. I cannot understand in any other way these contacts, which appeared to be more and more numerous between the personalities who would take power in Romania, in 1989, and the years that followed, after having entered into a dialogue with the United States.

Enduring Contacts

It must be noted that the Romanian political leaders have maintained their privileged contacts with Washington up to the present day. Specifically, Mircea Pascu, Minister of Defense in 2002, was a Resident Fellow in the Institute for East-West Security Studies in 1988-1989, according to his official biography. Mihai Botez after having been a fellow in the United States at the Kennan Center in 1987-1988, and then a lecturer at The University of California at Berkeley, became in 1990 the Romanian Ambassador at the United Nations and then in Washington. This network, these contacts, all the same, are very surprising.

The President of the United States saw in 1989, the moment to play the "Gorbachev card.", the opportunity to back him up, to support him, and to push him. They pushed him very clearly in the process leading up to the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. All of the available documents support this view, for example the Memoires of President George H. W. Bush and the testimony of the close advisers to President Francois Mitterand. The U. S. President pushed the German Reunification while trying to control M. Gorbachev in a friendly way, working through the good relations and easy contacts the Russian had with American leaders. There was, if not a direct interference, at least an American tactical push at work in the fall of the Ceausescu regime.

P. V. Beyond Romania, how to you view the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989?

C.D. The Soviets did not know how to assess the situation. I think that M. Gorbachev and his close advisers such as Edouard Shevardnadze and Sergei Iakovlev believed that the Soviet System was reformable. They were part of a Leninist and technocratic generation. They all waited impatiently to attain power in a "progressive" manner.

The Romanian "Gorbachevians" of 1989, who are still in power in 2002, are people who truly believe in the possibility of the reform of the Communist system from the inside. They have not yet calculated the damage to their cause made by the ideology of the rights of man since the Helsinki summit in 1975. Simply put, because they do not believe in the democratic/liberal ideology, they don’t see the misdeeds of their own ideology. In the same way, the Westerners never understood the communist ideology, and could not appreciate its reach.

It is an error to underestimate others

I also believe that the Soviets underestimated the intelligence of the American diplomacy. It is not necessary to create caricatures or to assert bluntly that there was a habit well installed since the time of Nikita Khrushchev, however it true that the Russians have underestimated their American adversaries. Khrushchev (1953-1964) underestimated John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1960-1963), for example.

M. Gorbachev underestimated the American administrations that he confronted, whether led by Ronald Reagan or George Bush. It was another bad analysis which led the Soviet to not understand, in November-December 1989, the extraordinary work of Chancellor Helmut Kohn (1982-1998) - with the total support of Washington. At that moment, M. Gorbachev totally lost control of the situation. More than that, he lost, at the same time, credibility in his own country, thus his potential to become the spokesman for the messianic and great Soviet Union in transformation. He did not understand the power of the western ideology of the rights of man, or the intelligence of the American diplomacy. He had contempt for the intentions of the German ostpolitik and for the strategy of President G. Bush. His goal was a reunified Germany in NATO and not a European Home. There was, thus, in Moscow, a wrong estimate of the potentials of the game in play at the precise moment of 1989. Finally, they were too clever by half. Second part >

Catherine Durandin

Translate by George F. Jewsbury

Copyright september 2002-durandin-jewsbury/


Second part

  October 2002


Forum     Write :P. Verluise, ISIT 12 rue Cassette 75006 Paris France

Copyright september 2002-durandin-jewsbury/