Romania's 1989 revolution generation await ex-president's trial

Bucharest (AFP) –


On the morning of December 22, 1989, Bogdan Stan drank his usual cup of coffee and went to join the wave of protests against Romania's communist regime.

Shortly after that, he was shot and killed in front of the public TV building.

Almost 30 years later, his mother Elena Bancila is pinning her hopes for justice on the trial of former president Ion Iliescu for crimes against humanity -- the most prominent leader to face charges.

Bancila, now 75, is among the victims gathering for a preliminary hearing in Bucharest on Friday, the first step in a trial expected to take months.

She believes Iliescu, who took control of the government on December 22, is responsible for the death of her son.

The 89-year-old former leader, once a senior communist who served as the first president of post-revolution Romania, rejects the accusations and is not expected to appear in court on Friday.

Romania was the last Soviet satellite to overthrow a communist regime during a bloody revolution that began on 15 December 1989 in the western city of Timisoara.

Seven days later, hundreds of thousands took over the centre of the capital Bucharest.

Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu fled in a helicopter but was arrested along with his wife and executed on December 25 after a summary trial.

- 'Assassin behind the assassins' -

Iliescu had already taken power by then and prosecutors accuse him of "contributing to the institution of a generalised psychosis" by spreading misinformation about supposed terrorists loyal to Ceausescu.

Prosecutors say Iliescu's pronouncements increased the risk of "instances of friendly fire, chaotic shooting and contradictory military orders", with 862 people killed after December 22.

According to historian Madalin Hodor, the suggestion of the presence of "terrorists" was an attempt to divert attention from killings committed by the Securitate secret police and the army in the weeks leading up to Ceasescu's fall.

An investigation into the bloody aftermath of the revolution has been opened and closed several times over the past three decades, adding to the pain and frustration of survivors and families of victims who long for justice.

Marius Mioc, who participated in the early hours of the uprising of Timisoara, told AFP: "The presence in high public office of people whose interest was to hide the truth has diverted the investigation and delayed the start of the trial."

"Iliescu is the assassin behind the assassins," says a sobbing Elena Bancila, who has kept her son's blood-stained trousers and his bullet hole-ridden coat.

"He wanted to keep Romanians indoors, afraid that they would also rise up against communism's second tier, to which Iliescu belonged," she added.

- 'We were humiliated' -

In addition to Iliescu, former deputy prime minister Gelu Voican-Voiculescu and former military chief Iosif Rus will also be tried for crimes against humanity.

Nicoleta Giurcanu, a slight 44-year-old woman with short blonde hair, is another of the victims who has spent years trying to "reconstruct the puzzle" of her traumatic experiences in December 1989.

On 21 December, at the age of 14, she joined anti-Ceausescu protesters in central Bucharest alongside her brother and her father.

Spared by the bullets that killed 50 other people that night, they were arrested and taken first to police headquarters and then prison.

"It was horrible, we were beaten, humiliated," she told AFP.

Separated from their father, Nicoleta and her brother were not released until the evening of December 23.

Nobody has ever been tried for the abuses.

She also holds Iliescu responsible, saying his party had "risen to power by taking advantage of the crimes of December 1989".

"I want to see Iliescu in prison if it's only one day," she says.

Bancila, who for 30 years has kept her son's unwashed last coffee cup, thinks the trial might finally "wash the shame of a judiciary which pretended it was free".

"I've been waiting for justice for 30 years, because they took my son's right to enjoy the freedom he was fighting for in the street", she said.