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Unknown Snipers and Western Backed "Regime Change"

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Article originally published in November 2011, in Global Research by Gearóid Ó Colmáin

Unknown snipers played a pivotal role throughout the  so-called  « Arab Spring Revolutions »  yet, in spite of reports of their presence in the mainstream media, surprisingly little attention has been paid to  to their purpose and role.

The Russian investigative journalist Nikolay Starikov has written a book which discusses the role of unknown snipers in the destabilization of countries targeted for regime change by the United States and its allies. The following article attempts to elucidate some historical examples of this technique with a view to providing a background within which to understand the current cover war on the people of Syria by death squads in the service of Western intelligence.[1]

Romania 1989.

In Susanne Brandstätter’s documentary ‘Checkmate: Strategy of a Revolution’ aired on Arte television station some years ago,  Western intelligence officials revealed how  death squads were used to destabilize Romania and turn its people against the head of state Nicolai Ceaucescu.

Brandstätter’s film is a must see for anyone interested in how Western intelligence agencies, human rights groups and the corporate press collude in the systematic destruction of countries whose leadership conflicts with the interests of big capital and empire.

Former secret agent with the French secret service, the DGSE(La Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure) Dominique Fonvielle, spoke candidly about the role of Western intelligence operatives in destabilizing the Romanian population.

“how do you organize a revolution? I believe the first step is to locate oppositional forces in a given country. It is sufficient to have a highly developed intelligence service in order to determine which people are credible enough to have influence at their hands to destabilize the people to the disadvantage of the ruling regime”[2]

This open and rare admission of Western sponsorship of terrorism was justified on the grounds of the “greater good” brought to Romania by free-market capitalism. It was necessary, according to the strategists of Romania’s “revolution”, for some people to die.

Today, Romania remains one of the poorest countries in Europe. A report on Euractiv reads:

“Most Romanians associate the last two decades with a continuous process of impoverishment and deteriorating living standards, according to Romania’s Life Quality Research Institute, quoted by the Financiarul daily.” [3]

The western intelligence officials interviewed in the documentary also revealed how the Western press played a central role in disinformation. For example, the victims of Western-backed snipers were photographed by presented to the world as evidence of a crazed dictator who was “killing his own people”.

To this day, there is a Museum in the back streets of Timisoara Romania which promotes the myth of the “Romanian Revolution”.  The Arte documentary was one of the rare occasions when the mainstream press revealed some of  the dark secrets of Western liberal democracy. The documentary caused a scandal when it was aired in France, with the prestigious Le Monde Diplomatique discussing the moral dilemma of the West’s support of terror in its desire to spread ‘democracy’.

Since the destruction of Libya and the ongoing cover war on Syria, Le Monde Diplomatique has stood safely on the side of political correction, condemning Bachar Al Assad for the crimes of the DGSE and the CIA. In its current edition, the front page article reads Ou est la gauche? Where is the left ? Certainly not in the pages of Le Monde Diplomatique !

Russia 1993

During Boris Yeltsin’s counter-revolution in Russia in 1993, when the Russian parliament was bombed resulting in the deaths of thousands of people, Yeltsin’s counter-revolutionaries made extensive use of snipers.  According to many eye witness reports, snipers were seen shooting civilians from the building opposite the US embassy in Moscow.  The snipers were attributed to the Soviet government by the international media.[4]

Venezuela 2002
In 2002, the CIA attempted to overthrow Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, in a military coup. On the 11th of April 2002, an opposition March towards the presidential palace was organized by the US backed Venezuelan opposition. Snipers hidden in buildings near the palace opened fire on protestors killing 18. The Venezuelan and international media claimed that Chavez was “ killing his own people” thereby justifying the military coup presented as a humanitarian intervention.  It was subsequently proved that the coup had been organized by the CIA but the identity of the snipers was never established.

Thailand April 2010
On April 12th 2010, Christian Science Monitor published a detailed report of the riots in Thailand between “red-shirt” activists and the Thai government. The article headline read: ‘Thailand’s red shirt protests darken with unknown snipers, parade of coffins’.

Like their counterparts in Tunisia, Thailand’s red shirts were calling for the resignation of the Thai prime minister. While a heavy-handed response by the Thai security forces to the protestors was indicated in the report, the government’s version of events was also reported:

“Mr. Abhisit has used solemn televised addresses to tell his story. He has blamed rogue gunmen, or “terrorists,” for the intense violence (at least 21 people died and 800 were injured) and emphasized the need for a full investigation into the killings of both soldiers and protesters. State television has broadcast repeated images of soldiers coming under fire from bullets and explosives.”

The CSM report went on to quote Thai military officials and unnamed Western diplomats:

“military observers say Thai troops stumbled into a trap set by agents provocateurs with military expertise. By pinning down soldiers after dark and sparking chaotic battles with unarmed protesters, the unknown gunmen ensured heavy casualties on both sides.

Some were caught on camera and seen by reporters, including this one. Snipers targeted military ground commanders, indicating a degree of advance planning and knowledge of Army movements, say Western diplomats briefed by Thai officials. While leaders of the demonstrations have disowned the use of firearms and say their struggle is nonviolent, it is unclear whether radicals in the movement knew of the trap.

“You can’t claim to be a peaceful political movement and have an arsenal of weapons out the back if needed. You can’t have it both ways,” says a Western diplomat in regular contact with protest leaders [5]

The CSM article also explores the possibility that the snipers could be rogue elements in the Thai military, agents provocateurs used to justify a crack down on democratic opposition. Thailand’s ruling elite is currently coming under pressure from a group called the Red Shirts.[6]

Kyrgystan June 2010

Ethnic violence broke out in the Central Asian republic of  Kirgystan  in June 2010. It was widely reported that unknown snipers opened fire on members of the Uzbek minority in Kyrgystan. Eurasia.net reports:

“In many Uzbek mahallas, inhabitants offer convincing testimony of gunmen targeting their neighborhoods from vantage points. Men barricaded into the Arygali Niyazov neighborhood, for example, testified to seeing gunmen on the upper floors of a nearby medical institute hostel with a view over the district’s narrow streets. They said that during the height of the violence these gunmen were covering attackers and looters, assaulting their area with sniper fire. Men in other Uzbek neighborhoods tell similar stories

. « Among the rumours and unconfirmed reports circulating in Kyrgyzstan after the 2010 violence were claims that water supplies to Uzbek areas were about to be  poisoned. Such rumours had also been spread against the Ceaucescu regime in Romania during the CIA- backed coup in 1989. Eurasia.net goes on to claim that:

Many people are convinced that they’ve seen foreign mercenaries acting as snipers. These alleged foreign combatants are distinguished by their appearance – inhabitants report seeing black snipers and tall, blonde, female snipers from the Baltic states. The idea that English snipers have been roaming the streets of Osh shooting at Uzbeks is also popular. There’ve been no independent corroborations of such sightings by foreign journalists or representatives of international organizations.” [7]

None of these reports have been independently investigated or corroborated. It is therefore impossible to draw any hard conclusions from these stories.

Ethnic violence against Uzbek citizens in Kyrgyzstan occurred pari pasu with a popular revolt against the US-backed regime, which many analysts have attributed to the machinations of Moscow.

The Bakiyev régime came to power in a CIA-backed people-power coup known to the world as the Tulip Revolution in 2005.

Located to the West of China and bordering Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan hosts one of America’s biggest and most important military bases in Central Asia, the Manas Air Base, which is vital for the NATO occupation of neighbouring Afghanistan.

Despite initial worries, US/Kyrgyz relations have remained good under the regime of President Roza Otunbayeva. This is not surprising as Otunbayeva had previously participated in the US-created Tulip Revolution in 2004, taking power as foreign minister.

To date no proper investigation has been conducted into the origins of the ethnic violence that spread throughout  the south of Kyryzstan in 2010, nor have the marauding gangs of unknown snipers been identified and apprehended.

Given the geostrategic and geopolitical importance of Kyrgyzstan to both the United States and Russia, and the formers track-record of using death squads to divide and weaken countries so as to maintain US domination, US involvement in the dissemination of terrorism in Kyrgyzstan cannot be ruled out. One effective way of maintaining a grip on Central Asian countries would be to exacerbate ethnic tensions.

In August 6th 2008, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that a US arms cache had been found in a house in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, which was being rented by two American citizens. The US embassy claimed the arms were being used for “anti-terrorism” exercises. However, this was not confirmed by Kyrgyz authorities. [8]

Covert US military support to terrorist groups in the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia proved to be an effective strategy in creating the conditions for “humanitarian” bombing in 1999. An effective means of  keeping the government in Bishkek firmly on America’s side would be to insist on a US and European presence in the country to help “protect” the Uzbek minority.

Military intervention similar to that in the former Yugoslavia by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe  has already been advocated by the New York Times, whose misleading article on the riots on June 24th 2010 has the headline “Kyrgyzstan asks European Security Body for Police Teams”. The article is misleading as the headline contradicts the actual report which cites a Kyrgyz official stating:

“A government spokesman said officials had discussed an outside police presence with the O.S.C.E., but said he could not confirm that a request for a deployment had been made.”

There is no evidence in the article of any request by the Kyrgyz government for military intervention. In fact, the article presents much evidence to the contrary. However, before the reader has a chance to read the explanation of the Kyrgyz government, the New York Times’ writer presents the now all too horribly familiar narrative of oppressed peoples begging the West to come and bomb or occupy their country:

“Ethnic Uzbeks in the south have clamored for international intervention. Many Uzbeks said they were attacked in their neighborhoods not only by civilian mobs, but also by the Kyrgyz military and police officers”[9]

Only towards the end of the article do we find out that the Kyrgyz authorities blamed the US-backed dictator for fomenting ethnic violence in the country, through the use of Islamic jihadists in Uzbekistan. This policy of using ethnic tension to create an environment of fear in order to prop up an extremely unpopular dictatorship, the policy of using Islamic Jihadism as a political tool to create what former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Bzrezinski called “ an arc of crisis”, ties in well with the history of US involvement in Central Asia from the creation of Al Qaida in Afghanistan in 1978 to the present day.

Again, the question persists, who were the “unknown snipers” terrorizing the Uzbek population, where did their weapons come from and who would benefit from ethnic conflict in Central Asia’s geopolitical hotspot?

Tunisia January 2011
On January 16th 2011, CNN reported that ‘’armed gangs’’ were fighting Tunisian security forces. [10] Many of the murders committed throughout the Tunisian uprising were by “unknown snipers”. There were also videos posted on the internet showing Swedish nationals detained by Tunisian security forces. The men were clearly armed with sniper rifles. Russia Today aired the dramatic pictures.[11]

In spite of articles by professor Michel Chossudovsky, William Engdahl and  others showing how the uprisings in North Africa were following the patterns of US backed people-power coups rather than genuinely popular revolutions, left wing parties and organizations continued to believe the version of events presented to them by Al Jazeera and the mainstream press. Had the left taken a left from old Lenin’s book they would have transposed his comments on the February/March revolution in Russia thus:

“The  whole course of events in the January/February Revolution clearly shows that the British, French and American embassies, with their agents and “connections”,… directly organized a plot.. in conjunction with a section of the generals and army and Tunisian garrison officers, with the express object of deposing Ben Ali”

What the left did not understand is that sometimes it is necessary for imperialism to overthrow some of its clients. A suitable successor to Ben Ali could always be found among the feudalists of the Muslim Brotherhood who now look likely to take power.

In their revolutionary sloganeering and arrogant insistence that the events in Tunisia and Egypt were “spontaneous and popular uprisings” they committed what Lenin identified as the most dangerous sins in a revolution, namely, the substitution of the abstract for the concrete. In other words, left wing groups were simply fooled by the sophistication of the Western backed “Arab Spring” events.

That is why the violence of the demonstrators and in particular the widespread use of snipers possibly linked to Western intelligence was the great unthought of the Tunisian uprising. The same techniques would be used in Libya a few weeks later, forcing the left to back track and modifiy its initial enthusiasm for the CIA’s “Arab Spring”.

When we are talking about the” left” here, we are referring to genuine left wing parties, that is to say, parties who supported the Great People’s Socialist Libyan Arab Jamahirya in their long and brave fight against Western imperialism, not the infantile petty bourgeois dupes who supported NATO’s Benghazi terrorists.  The blatant idiocy of such a stance should be crystal clear to anyone who understands global politics and class struggle.

Egypt 2011
On October 20th 2011, the Telegraph newspaper published an article entitled, “Our brother died for a better Egypt”. According to the Telegraph, Mina Daniel, an anti-government activist in Cairo, had been ‘shot from an unknown sniper, wounding him fatally in the chest”

Inexplicably, the article is no longer available on the Telegraph’s website for online perusal. But a google search for ‘Egypt, unknown sniper, Telegraph’ clearly shows the above quoted explanation for Mina Daniel’s death. So, who could these “unknown snipers’’ be?

On February 6th Al Jazeera reported that Egyptian journalist Ahmad Mahmoud was shot by snipers as he attempted to cover classes between Egyptian security forces and protestors. Referring to statements made by Mahmoud’s wife Enas Abdel-Alim, the Al Jazeera article insinuates that Mahmoud may have been killed by Egyptian security forces:

“Abdel-Alim said several eyewitnesses told her a uniformed police captain with Egypt’s notorious Central Security forces yelled at her husband to stop filming.

Before Mahmoud even had a chance to react, she said, a sniper shot him.” [12]

While the Al Jazeera article advances the theory that the snipers were agents of the Mubarak regime, their role in the uprising still remains a mystery. Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based television stations owned by the Emir Hamid Bin Khalifa Al Thani, played a key role in provoking protests in Tunisia and Egypt before launching a campaign of unmitigated pro-NATO war propaganda and lies during the destruction of Libya.

The Qatari channel been a central participant in the current covert war waged by NATO agencies and their clients against the Republic of Syria. Al Jazeera’s incessant disinformation against Libya and Syria resulted in the resignation of several prominent journalists such as Beirut station chief Ghassan Bin Jeddo[13]  and senior Al Jazeera executive Wadah Khanfar who was forced to resign after a wikileaks cable revealed he was a co-operating with the Central Intelligence Agency.[14]

Many people were killed during the US-backed colour revolution in Egypt. Although, the killings have been attributed to former US semi-client Hosni Mubarak, the involvement of Western intelligence cannot be ruled out. However, it should be pointed out that the role of unknown snipers in mass demonstrations remains complex and multi-faceted and therefore one should not jump to conclusions. For example, after the Bloody Sunday massacre(Domhnach na Fola) in Derry, Ireland 1972, where peaceful demonstrators were shot dead by the British army, British officials claimed that they had come under fire from snipers. But the 30 year long Bloody Sunday  inquiry subsequently proved this to be false.  But the question persists once more,  who were the snipers in Egypt and whose purposes did they serve?

Libya  2011
During the destabilization of Libya, a video was aired by Al Jazeera purporting to show peaceful “pro-democracy” demonstrators being fired upon by “Gaddafi’s forces”. The video was edited to convince the viewer that anti-Gaddafi demonstrators were being murdered by the security forces. However, the unedited version of the video is available on utube. It clearly shows pro-Gaddafi demonstrators with Green flags being fired upon by unknown snipers. The attribution of NATO-linked crimes to the security forces of the Libyan Jamahirya was a constant feature of the brutal media war waged against the Libyan people. [15]

Syria 2011

The people of Syria have been beset by death squads and snipers since the outbreak of violence there in March. Hundreds of Syrian soldiers and security personnel have been murdered, tortured and mutilated by Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood militants. Yet the international media corporations continue to spread the pathetic lie that the deaths are the result Bachar Al Assad’s dictatorship.

When I visited Syria in April of this year, I personally encountered merchants and citizens in Hama who told me they had seen armed terrorists roaming the streets of that once peaceful city, terrorizing the neighbourhood. I recall speaking to a fruit seller in the city of Hama who  spoke about the horror he had witnessed that day. As he described the scenes of violence to me, my attention was arrested by a newspaper headline in English from the Washington Post  shown on Syrian television: “CIA backs Syrian opposition”. The Central Intelligence Agency provides training and funding for groups who do the bidding of US imperialist interests. The history of the CIA shows that backing opposition forces means providing them with arms and finance, actions illegal under international law.

A few days later, while at a hostel in the ancient, cultured city of Aleppo, I spoke to a Syrian business man and his family. The business man ran many hotels in the city and was pro-Assad. He told me that he used to watch Al Jazeera television but now had doubts about their honesty. As we conversed, the Al Jazeera television in the background showed scenes of Syrian soldiers beating and torturing protestors. “ Now if that is true, it is simply unacceptable” he said. It is sometimes impossible to verify whether the images shown on television are true or not. Many of the crimes attributed to the Syrian army have been committed by the armed gangs, such as the dumping of mutilated bodies into the river in Hama, presented to the world as more proof of the crimes of the Assad regime.

There is a minority of innocent opponents of the Assad regime who believe everything they see and hear on Al Jazeera and the other pro-Western satellite stations. These people simply do not understand the intricacies of international politics.

But the facts on the ground show that most people in Syria support the government. Syrians have access to all internet websites and international TV channels. They can watch BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, read the New York Times online or Le Monde before tuning into their own state media. In this respect, many Syrians are more informed about international politics than the average European or American. Most Europeans and American believe their own media. Few are capable of reading the Syrian press in original Arabic or watching Syrian television. The Western powers are the masters of discourse, who own the means of communication. The Arab Spring has been the most horrifying example of the wanton abuse of this power.

Disinformation is effective in sowing the seeds of doubt among those who are seduced by Western propaganda. Syrian state media has disproved hundreds of Al Jazeera lies since the beginning of this conflict.  Yet the western media has refused to even report the Syrian government’s position lest fair coverage of the other side of this story encourage a modicum of critical thought in the public mind.

Conclusion.
The use of mercenaries, death squads and snipers by Western intelligence agencies is well documented.  No rational government attempting to stay in power would resort to unknown snipers to intimidate its opponents. Shooting at innocent protestors would be counterproductive in the face of unmitigated pressure from Western governments determined to install a client regime in Damascus. Shooting of unarmed protestors is only acceptable in dictatorships that enjoy the unconditional support of Western governments such as Bahrain, Honduras or Colombia.

A government which is so massively supported by the population of Syria would not sabotage its own survival by setting snipers against the protests of a small minority.

The opposition to the Syrian regime is, in fact, miniscule. Tear gas, mass arrests and other non lethal methods would be perfectly sufficient for a government wishing to control unarmed demonstrators.

Snipers are used to create terror, fear and anti-regime propaganda. They are an integral feature of Western sponsored regime change.

If one were to make a serious criticism of the Syrian government over the past few months, it is that they have failed to implement effective anti-terrorism measures in the country.

The Syrian people want troops on the streets and the roofs of public buildings. In the weeks and months ahead, the Syrian armed forces will probably rely more and more on their Russian military specialists to strengthen the country’s defenses as the Western crusade begun in Libya in March spreads to the Levant.

There is no conclusive proof that the snipers murdering men, women and children in Syria are the agents of Western imperialism. But there is overwhelming proof that Western imperialism is attempting to destroy the Syrian state. As in Libya, they have never once mentioned the possibility of negotiations between the so-called opposition and the Syrian government. The West wants regime change and is determined to repeat the slaughter in Libya to achieve this geopolitical objective.

It now looks likely that the cradle of civilization and science will be overrun by semi-literate barbarians as the terminal decline of the West plays itself out in the deserts of the East.

Notes

[1] http://nstarikov.ru/en/
[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1l8qjX4SzBY&feature=related
[3]http://www.euractiv.com/enlargement/romania-says-poverty-reduction-impossible-target-news-468172
[4]http://www.truthinmedia.org/Bulletins/tim98-3-10.html
[5].http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2010/0412/Thailand-s-red-shirt-protests-darken-with-unknown-snipers-parade-of-coffins
[6] http://www.activistpost.com/2010/12/thailand-stage-set-for-another-color.html
[7]  http://www.eurasianet.org/taxonomy/term/2813?page=6
[8http://kommersant.com/p1008364/r_500/U.S.-Kyrgyzstan_relations/
[9] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/25/world/asia/25kyrgyz.html
[10]http://articles.cnn.com/2011-01-16/world/tunisia.protests_1_troops-battle-unity-government-tunisia?_s=PM:WORLD
[11]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIFxqXPQEQU&feature=related
[12]http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/spotlight/anger-in-egypt/2011/02/201126201341479784.html
[13] http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4060180,00.html
[14] http://intelligencenews.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/01-828/
[15] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQtM-59jDAo&feature=player_embedded#!

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  • Voxnews

    Rewriting the Revolution (1997): Chapter 5 Timisoara 15-17 December 1989

    From time to time on this page, I hope to excerpt sections of my Ph.D. Dissertation at Indiana University: Richard Andrew Hall, Rewriting the Revolution: Authoritarian Regime-State Relations and the Triumph of Securitate Revisionism in Post-Ceausescu Romania (defended 16 December 1996). These are the original chapters as they appeared then and thus have not been revised in any form.

    Chapter Five


    The Beginning of the End: Timisoara, 15-17 December 1989

    As we discussed in chapter three, where state institutions become deeply-implicated in authoritarian regime politics, the personnel of these state institutions are more likely to respond to the calls of political leaders to save the regime in the face of a serious challenge to its survival. Moreover, should the authoritarian regime nevertheless collapse, their enduring identification with authoritarian-era institutional interests and identities will prove detrimental to the construction and consolidation of democracy in the post-authoritarian era. The remnants of these authoritarian-era state institutions will constitute unaccountable islands of influence and privilege, resistant to attempts to subordinate them to democratic control, and determined to defend their lingering institutional and personal interests. The elevated role of state institutions in the authoritarian era thus means that the delegitimation and decomposition of the authoritarian regime are likely to be incomplete.

    The Timisoara events of 15-17 December 1989–the events which eventually resulted in the collapse of the Ceausescu regime–offer confirmation for both these hypotheses. The details of what happened in Timisoara suggest that in spite of the clearly popular character of the anti-regime demonstrations which took place there, and the backdrop of the events which had already taken place elsewhere that fall in Eastern Europe, state institutions responded faithfully to Nicolae Ceausescu’s orders to repress. This was significantly different than what happened elsewhere in Eastern Europe where the army and security apparatus generally abstained from brutal intervention when aging, hardline leaders attempted to goad them into action against anti-regime protesters.

    It is the content of the historiography of the December 1989 events which serves as our window to the ability of former Securitate personnel to influence the behavior of other Romanian citizens in the defense of the lingering institutional interests of the Securitate. Thus, it is the historiography of the December events which is our window to the legacy of Ceausescu era regime-state relations upon post-authoritarian outcomes. To the extent that we can identify an institutional view of the Securitate with regard to any particular event or incident, we can use this view to judge other accounts against. We will say that such an institutional view exists where we can show that, regardless of the directorate or unit they used to serve in, former Securitate personnel express similar views about a particular event or incident. We can conclude that the former Securitate continues to exercise detrimental influence if we can show that there is a high degree of similarity or convergence between the accounts of post-Ceausescu media and political elites, and Securitate accounts, and if we can show that this consensual account is false. Thus, in our analysis of the Timisoara events–and in the analysis of all the events of December 1989–we are interested in establishing the views of former Securitate personnel, comparing these views with accounts of the same event or incident by post-Ceausescu political and media elites, and judging the validity of the these accounts.

    Ultimately, it is the behavior of opposition media and political elites which is of greatest importance for judging the Securitate‘s influence. These are the people who express the greatest ideological distaste for the former Securitate and who have given proof of their independence from the Iliescu regime through their consistently vigorous criticism and investigation of the Iliescu leadership and the personnel of the Securitate‘s institutional successors within the regime. Thus, we would expect for their discussion of the December 1989 events to be the most diametrically-opposed to Securitate accounts of those same events. Their behavior is something of a “lowest common denominator,” our true test of the substance of Romania’s young democracy.

    In comparing the views of former Securitate personnel (or their unabashed cheerleaders in the Ceausescu nostalgic press) with those of opposition media and political elites, it is important to rely on the accounts of opposition elites who, through the content of their accounts, show that they are not merely repeating what other opposition elites have heard or said, but have come to these conclusions first-hand. Opposition elites routinely express their opinions on the December events, but the vagueness of their allegations usually suggests that these allegations are not originally their own and that they may not be aware of the context of the allegations. Such accounts are thus unsatisfying for our purposes as these elites do not exhibit a degree of knowledgeability which would confirm to us that they are sufficiently conscious of the content, meaning, and implications of their allegations.

    We will assume that the closer opposition elites have gotten to the details of the December events, the more aware of, and responsible for, their allegations they must be. Therefore, among opposition elites, we are more interested in those journalists who have investigated the December events in great detail over an extended period of time than in those who sporadically express vague opinions, and in those politicians who have served on parliamentary commissions investigating the December events, rather than politicians who merely drop a line in a campaign speech about the events and clearly do not have such in-depth knowledge of them. These are the people who have set the agenda and “framed the discourse” on December 1989–who have indicated how society should think and believe about the December events–and therefore among opposition elites it is their accounts which are most important. The criteria for determining what constitutes an “opposition account” and thus who is an “opposition elite” are discussed in Appendix One.

    The primary institutional interests which former Securitate members seek to defend in the historiography of the Timisoara events–and in the historiography of the December 1989 events in general–are fairly straightforward. First, they wish to deny both that major repression and bloodshed took place, and that if it did, they had any part in it. Second, they wish to cast doubt upon the degree to which the demonstrations were genuine, spontaneous, and peaceful. Third, they wish to suggest that they embraced the popular characteristics of the uprising and enabled the revolution to succeed. From the Securitate point of view, these second and third interests are not mutually exclusive–i.e. they can maintain that foreign agents sparked the protests in order to oust Ceausescu, but that even if the catalyst of the protests was illegitimate, those protests did contain a genuine, understandable, and laudable popular element. In other words, the Securitate wants to “have their cake and eat it too.”

    Specifically, the historiography of the Timisoara events reveals the degree to which the Securitate were deeply implicated in the repressive policies of the Ceausescu regime and to which it attempted (especially in the period preceding the outbreak of the anti-regime demonstrations) to impose its institutional interests and interpretation of events upon the regime leadership, including Ceausescu. It also suggests the degree to which the anti-Soviet orientation of regime ideology and legitimacy influenced Ceausescu’s perception of the Timisoara events at the time and have influenced the content of Securitate disinformation in the post-Ceausescu era.

    The Timisoara Uprising: An Overview

    Timisoara, a multi-ethnic city of approximately 330,000 residents in southwestern Romania, was the birthplace of the December 1989 revolution. Demonstrations began there on Friday, 15 December 1989 when members of a Hungarian Reformed (Calvinist) congregation gathered to protest the imminent eviction of their pastor, Laszlo Tokes. Although originally a small demonstration of several hundred members of the Hungarian minority, many Romanians soon joined the crowd. On Saturday, 16 December and Sunday, 17 December, protest spread throughout the city and began to assume an unambiguous anti-regime tone. On the Sunday evening, the authorities opened fire on the demonstrators, killing approximately 100 and wounding in excess of 300. About 900 demonstrators were arrested. By the Monday morning, the city was described as an armed camp and the repression continued throughout the day. Protests unexpectedly rekindled on Tuesday, 19 December. By Wednesday, 20 December, regime forces were withdrawing from the city and a committee representing the demonstrators was negotiating with regime officials sent from Bucharest. As of Wednesday evening–a day before protests erupted in Bucharest and two days before the unexpected flight of the Ceausescus–protesters appeared to be in control of Timisoara.

    In any country, such a sudden change in fortunes might have induced curiosity and suspicion. But because these events had taken place in one of the most tightly-controlled societies in the world, and because popular protest had been so rare and so brutally and effectively repressed in the past, questions arose almost immediately over the spontaneity of the protests and the regime’s surprising inability to crush them. How could the case of Pastor Tokes have been allowed to reach such a dangerous juncture given the extraordinarily tense circumstances in which the Ceausescu regime found itself in December 1989? Why did regime forces wait so long to engage in brutal repression and why did it then fail? How could this seemingly invincible regime lose or abandon this major industrial city to the protesters, especially given what had already happened to communist regimes elsewhere in Eastern Europe that autumn?

    The incomplete, contradictory, and bizarre evidence which exists about the Timisoara events has fueled suspicion on two fronts: a) that foreign powers were involved with the intent of exploiting the upheaval and uncertainty which prevailed in Eastern Europe at the time in order to topple Ceausescu, and/or b) that elements within the Ceausescu regime nurtured the Timisoara unrest or dragged their feet in carrying out its repression in order to propel Ceausescu’s ouster. The former Securitate usually favor the first explanation because it tends to deny the spontaneous and popular dimension of the December events and presents Nicolae Ceausescu and their institution as the innocent victims of a diabolical international conspiracy. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to see how the second explanation can also serve the former Securitate‘s interests. It suggests that at least a faction within the Securitate sided with or encouraged the actions of the protesters. In other words, it bestows revolutionary merit upon the Securitate.

    “Yalta-Malta” and the Theme of Foreign Intervention in the Timisoara Uprising

    At an emergency CPEx meeting on the afternoon of 17 December 1989, Nicolae Ceausescu sought to make sense out of the news from Timisoara by attempting to fit it in with what had happened elsewhere in Eastern Europe thus far that fall:

    Everything which has happened and is happening in Germany, in Czechoslovakia, and in Bulgaria now and in the past in Poland and Hungary are things organized by the Soviet Union with American and Western help. It is necessary to be very clear in this matter, what has happened in the last three countries–in the GDR, in Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria, were coups d’etat organized by the dregs of society with foreign help.[1]

    Ceausescu was giving voice to what would later become known as the “Yalta-Malta” theory. Significantly, the idea that the Soviet Union and, to different degrees of complicity, the United States and the West, played a pivotal role in the December 1989 events pervades the vast majority of accounts about December 1989 in post-Ceausescu Romania, regardless of the part of the ideological spectrum from which they come.

    The theory suggests that after having first been sold out to Stalin and the Soviet Union at Yalta, in early December 1989 American President George Bush sold Romania out to Mikhail Gorbachev during their summit in Malta. The convenient rhyme of the two sites of Romania’s alleged betrayal have become a shorthand for Romania’s fate at the hands of the Russians and other traditional enemies (especially the Hungarians and Jews). To be sure, similar versions of this theory have cropped up throughout post-communist Eastern Europe among those disappointed with the pace and character of change in their country since 1989.[2] The different versions share the belief that Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet KGB engineered the sudden, region-wide collapse of communism in 1989. Their successors in Russia have been able to maintain behind-the-scenes control in Eastern Europe in the post-communist era by means of hidden influence and the help of collaborators within those countries. “Yalta-Malta” has become the mantra of those who seem to have experienced Eastern Europe’s el desencanto most deeply.[3]

    Although one can probably find adherents to the Yalta-Malta theory in every East European country–particularly since the “Return of the Left” through the ballot box–there is little doubt that the theory finds its widest and most convinced audience–both at elite and mass levels–in Romania.[4] This is because, as we have seen, the suggestion that the Soviet Union and the KGB were attempting to undermine the regime leadership and infringe upon national sovereignty was not an ad hoc slogan in Romania in 1989, as it was in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria where aging political leaderships hinted at such arguments in a last-ditch effort to save their positions. Such appeals had far greater resonance in Romania in December 1989–particularly within the regime–because they had been tenets of the Romanian regime’s ideology for well over two decades. And they have had a lingering popularity in the post-Ceausescu era for that same reason. It is the uniquely antagonistic character of the relationship between the Securitate and the KGB during the Ceausescu era (discussed in chapter four), and the genuine, scarcely-veiled animosity between Ceausescu and Gorbachev, which give the Yalta-Malta scenario a plausibility and credibility (however spurious) in Romania it cannot find elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

    Western analysts have frequently caricatured the views of the former Securitate towards the Ceausescu era by suggesting that they uniformly look back favorably and nostalgically upon it. In fact, many of them now openly criticize Nicolae Ceausescu’s misguided policies, erratic behavior, and harsh rule.[5] Clearly, much of this is post facto judgement. The deceased Ceausescu serves as a convenient scapegoat for all that went wrong during his rule and by blaming him they can absolve themselves. Nevertheless, regardless of how they now view Nicolae Ceausescu, almost every former Securitate officer challenges the spontaneity of the Timisoara protests and suggests that the catalyst for the unrest came from outside Romania’s borders. Thus, they argue, even if Nicolae Ceausescu had brought the country to the point of profound crisis, this “foreign intervention” converted the Timisoara events primarily into a matter of national security.

    It is interesting to recall Nicolae Ceausescu’s own interpretation of the Timisoara events during a rambling, scarcely coherent teleconference on 20 December 1989:

    …all of these grave incidents in Timisoara were organized and directed by revanchist, revisionist circles, by foreign espionage services, with the clear intention of provoking disorder, of destabilizing the situation in Romania, of acting in order to eliminate the independence and territorial integrity of Romania….It is necessary to attract the attention of everyone, not only of the communists [emphasis added], but everyone to the shameful…campaign… unleashed right now by different circles, beginning with Budapest, convincingly demonstrates that…, including the declarations of the president of the United States, who declared that he had discussed the problems of Romania with Gorbachev at Malta…[6]

    In their discussion of the December events, the former Securitate have expanded upon Ceausescu’s allegations of “foreign intervention.”

    In February 1991, while on trial for his part in ordering the repression of demonstrators in December 1989, the former director of the Securitate, General Iulian Vlad, proposed two principal groups of suspects for the Timisoara unrest.[7] He described the first group as Romanian citizens (the majority of whom were presumably of Hungarian ethnicity) who had fled to Hungary, passed through refugee camps, and been sent back to Romania with a mission to engage in “destabilizing acts.” According to Vlad, “only able-bodied males” were sent back. The second group of suspects were large groups of so-called Soviet “tourists.” Here is Vlad’s depiction of this second group:

    Halfway through December 1989 massive groups of Soviet tourists began to enter the country. They entered coming directly from the USSR or from Yugoslavia or Hungary. The majority were men and–in a coordinated fashion–they deployed in a convoy of brand-new “LADA” automobiles. During the night of 16-17 December ’89 such a column attempted to enter Timisoara. Some of these cars were forced to make a detour around the town, others managed to enter it…[8]

    Pavel Corut, a former high-ranking Securitate counter-military intelligence officer who has written dozens of novels seeking to rehabilitate the reputation of the former Securitate, has written of “the infiltration on Romanian territory of groups of Soviet commandos (Spetsnaz) under the cover of being tourists. It is noteworthy that December is not a tourist month and nevertheless the number of Soviet tourists grew greatly.”[9]

    In 1994, the Securitate‘s official institutional heir, the Romanian Information Service (or SRI), declared in a report on the December events:

    In addition to gathering information, some Soviet agents from among our ranks received the mission to make propaganda for “changes,” even at the risk of being found out. Actions at direct incitement [of the population] were also initiated by Soviet “tourists,” whose number had grown in the preceding period and had taken on exceptional proportions by the end of 1989.

    Beginning on 9 December 1989, the number of Soviet “tourists” in “private” vehicles grew from around 80 to 1,000 cars a day. This phenomenon, although realized at the time, did not lead to the necessary conclusions and measures. The occupants (two to three per car), athletic men between 25 and 40 years in the majority, avoided lodging facilities, sleeping in their cars…The cars were mostly of a “LADA” and “MOSKOVICI” make, deployed in a convoy, and had consecutively-numbered license plates and similar new equipment. The majority were “in transit towards Yugoslavia”…

    It is certain that during the Timisoara events there was a large number

    of Soviet “tourists.” During 15, 16, and 17 December 1989, to these already in the country were added those “returning from Yugoslavia,” the majority by car.[10]

    But the reach of this theory extends well beyond the former Securitate and their cheerleaders in the Ceausist nostalgic press. The head of the first Senatorial commission investigating the December events, film director Sergiu Nicolaescu–a key figure in the newly-formed National Salvation Front during the events of 22-25 December 1989 and a legislator of the ruling Front after 1989–described the catalyst of the December events to a journalist in December 1993 as follows:

    By chance, everything began in Timisoara. It could have begun elsewhere since many places were prepared. It is known that in Iasi something was being prepared, and also in Brasov and Bucharest. There was clearly foreign intervention….For example, the intervention of the Russians in Romania. A year before in 1988 about 30,000 Russians came. A year later in 1989, in December, the number doubled. Thus, it reached 67,000. It is known that there were at least 1,000 automobiles in which there were two to three men between the ages of 30 and 40 years old, at a maximum 45 years old. It is very interesting to observe that, only a few months earlier, the Securitate had ordered that for those from socialist countries crossing the border, it was no longer necessary to note their license plate number or how many people were on board.[11]

    Asked who in the Securitate gave the order to no longer record this information, Nicolaescu insinuated that they were Soviet “moles” who had been placed there “4, 5, 10, and even 30 years earlier.”[12]

    The theory has also found its way into the opposition media. Cornel Ivanciuc, who in 1995 wrote one of the most influential exposes to date on the former Securitate for the weekly 22, maintains that the Soviets achieved their aims in December 1989 by means of the so-called “tourist-incursionists, whose activity during the revolution was identical to those of the Spetsnaz special troops for reconnaissance and diversion of the GRU [Soviet military intelligence].”[13] Two months after General Vlad’s 1991 court statement, Sorin Rosca Stanescu, one of the most prominent journalist critics of the Iliescu regime and the SRI, presented an interview in the leading opposition daily Romania Libera with an anonymous KGB officer residing in Paris who outlined a familiar scenario.[14] The KGB officer claimed that he had entered Romania on 14 December with others as part of a KGB plan to open fire and create confusion. He had been in Timisoara during the events, but suggested he never received the anticipated order to open fire and left the country on 26 December. Rosca Stanescu, however, made sure to remind his audience of “the insistent rumors which have been circulating referring to the existence on Romanian territory of 2,000 “LADA” automobiles with Soviet tags and two men inside each car…”[15] Stanescu closed by asking his readers: “What did the Ceausescu couple know but were unable to say? Why is general Vlad held in this ambiguous chess game?…Is Iliescu protected by the KGB?”

    Stanescu’s intentions are further drawn into question by the fact that this particular article has been cited positively by former Securitate officers in their writings. Colonel Filip Teodorescu of the Securitate‘s Counter-espionage Directorate, the second highest-ranking Securitate officer in Timisoara during the repression and sentenced to prison for his role in those events, cites extensively and favorably from this very article by Stanescu in a book on the December events.[16] Pavel Corut also invokes Rosca Stanescu’s interview in support his arguments.[17] Moreover, Rosca Stanescu’s questionable comments make the issue of his (revealed and acknowledged) past collaboration with the Securitate‘s USLA unit between 1975 and 1985 relevant.[18]

    Securitate accounts also routinely insinuate that foreign diplomats who came to Timisoara ostensibly to “monitor the situation” there, and foreign radio stations such as Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, the BBC, and Deutsche Welle which transmitted information about Timisoara developments, contributed directly and intentionally to the unrest.[19] For example, the former deputy director of the Timis county Securitate, Major Radu Tinu, highlights the allegedly suspicious role played by representatives of the American and British embassies who came to Timisoara on 15 December 1989 and transmitted back to Bucharest that “everything is in order, we have seen him,” apparently referring to pastor Tokes.[20]

    Similar elements also creep into some opposition accounts. Ilie Stoian, a journalist for Expres and then Tinerama, ranks among those who have written most extensively about the December events. Stoian argues for a “Yalta-Malta” interpretation of the December events.[21] In discussing the Timisoara events, he notes the presence of Hungarians who were filming the events from their “LADA” automobiles and the expulsion of Russians across the Yugoslav border by the Securitate–thus insinuating that they were somehow implicated in the unrest.[22] According to Stoian:

    …the December revolution was prepared in advance. In order to make things even clearer, we draw your attention to the fact that prior to the date fixed by the authorities for the evacuation of pastor Tokes from the parochial residence, in almost every evening Voice of America and Radio Free Europe would broadcast long pieces about this personage. Moreover, inside the country, foreign diplomats began to fuss….[23]

    Finally, Stoian asks:

    Wasn’t the presence of foreign diplomats somehow to verify if everything “was in order,” as was said during a telephone conversation intercepted on 15 December? Weren’t they somehow doing more than just supervising and reporting on these events to their superiors? We think the answer is yes.[24]

    Questioning the Regime’s Treatment of the Tokes Case

    What of the scheduled eviction of the Hungarian pastor, Laszlo Tokes, which apparently sparked the Timisoara uprising? It is known that the Securitate had placed Tokes under heavy surveillance for a long time prior to this event because of his persistent criticism of the subservient hierarchy of the Reformed Church and of the Ceausescu regime’s violation of human rights. At the same time, given the Ceausescu regime’s tradition of snuffing out dissidence before it could gain a foothold among the population–Ceausescu reportedly was fond of counseling his subordinates to “avoid creating martyrs”–the regime’s failure to isolate or silence Tokes appears uncharacteristic. Moreover, the fact that demonstrators could gather to prevent his eviction without being immediately and brutally dispersed is also unexpected.

    Radu Ciobotea’s summary of the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the Timisoara events captures the suspicions of many Romanians:

    The Securitate hurries slowly, makes noisy efforts…but doesn’t resolve anything. The situation is quite strange. In a totalitarian state with a top-notch information and counter-information service and a “case” which had been pursued not for months but for years, the chiefs of state security…don’t make a decision, thus allowing matters to proceed. Moreover, the intervention of these organs is–as we say–too noisy to camouflage other hidden projects.

    From May until December, a simple eviction from a residence–even if it was a parochial residence–cannot be fulfilled! A single man who had the “daring” to collaborate before all of Europe with the Hungarian mass-media (and not only with them) cannot be “neutralized”! We are looking at a dubious reality, especially when we are speaking of the activity and discretion of the Securitate.

    No real threat, no sickness, not even an accident, in the end, nothing, blocks the way of this person, who under the eyes of agents, becomes a personality and gives birth by way of an almost inexplicable stubbornness to a conflict which resonates in the social consciousness…of Romanians.

    Where? In Timisoara…[i]n “the Western city” close to the border full of tourists and foreign and Romanian students.

    When? During winter vacation when tens of thousands of young people would be on the move from their schools and university departments. When Ceausescu’s trip to Iran was certain. When–around the holidays–Romanians had nothing to put on their tables, nothing to heat their homes with, nothing with which to heal the old and young sick with pneumonia or rheumatism. When nothing was possible.

    Upon close scrutiny–with the exception of the date–everything was therefore predictable.[25]

    “Romania: Revelations of a Coup d’etat,” the influential expose by the French journalists Radu Portocala and Olivier Weber, challenged the spontaneity of the Timisoara protests.[26] Because the authors suggest that their conclusions are based on information provided by Romanian sources; their account was rapidly translated and published widely in the Romanian press during 1990; and it was the first concerted attempt to analyze the December events and therefore “framed the dialogue” so-to-speak–by creating a paradigm to which future analyses would implicitly have to respond–the article deserves mention.

    The authors allege a “Yalta-Malta” scenario in which the KGB plays the pivotal role. They suggest that the Securitate purposely attempted to instigate the Timisoara uprising:

    In Romania, it was always known when somebody was arrested, but never that somebody will be arrested. However, in the case of Laszlo Tokes this is exactly what happened. The Securitate launched the rumor from the beginning of December that the pastor would be arrested on the sixteenth or seventeenth of that month. Public opinion was therefore carefully prepared.[27]

    “Someone therefore had an interest for this small demonstration of 300 to 500 people in support of Tokes to degenerate into a revolt, and then a revolution,” they conclude. In support of their allegation that foreign security services were involved in the Timisoara events, the authors marshal the court statement of Colonel Filip Teodorescu, the Securitate‘s alleged “master spycatcher,” in which he claimed to have personally arrested “foreign agents” during the Timisoara unrest. Regime forces opened fire against the protesters on the evening of 17 December because “in order to create and then maintain a state of revolutionary spirit, a brutal repression also must occur.” In other words, the Timisoara events, from the genesis of the protests, to the crackdown on demonstrators, were staged, part of an elaborate coup d’etat supported–and even masterminded–by the Securitate.

    Such arguments have found an echo among some opposition journalists within Romania. For example, Ilie Stoian insinuates that at least a part of the Securitate must have been trying to undermine regime policy towards Tokes:

    Returning to the name of pastor Tokes, we must say that very few remember that in the months leading up to the events, [Tokes] was guarded day and night by the Securitate. Well, if he was guarded, then how did he wind up on Radio Budapest every week giving interviews? And how could the reporters who were taping his sermons or opinions smuggle the tapes out of the country? The Securitate, after all, was not made up of children! Don’t we witness in this case, a tacit accord of some men from the D.S.S. [i.e. the Securitate] with the very acts which they were supposed to stop?[28]

    Ecaterina Radoi alleges that Tokes had informed his congregation of his imminent arrest on Sunday, 10 December 1989.[29] Sarcastically she asserts: “And, indeed, Friday, 15 December, the authorities intended for this event–announced long ago, and given ample media coverage in Hungary and the West–to take place.” After the protest got under way, “the forces of order intervened, dispersed the few protesters there and arrested a few so that the next day they could be let free.” Moreover, Pastor Tokes has himself become the subject of scrutiny. In 1994, the opposition weekly Tinerama published documents it maintained revealed that ever since the mid-1970s Pastor Tokes had been an informer for the Securitate.[30] Well-known journalist Ioan Itu hinted that the revelation of this fact meant that the story of December 1989 needed to be completely reconsidered in light of this new information.

    A Review of the Evidence

    Although at first glance the regime’s treatment of Pastor Tokes seems strange and even illogical, within the context of the workings of the Ceausescu regime and the regime’s strategy for dealing with dissent it makes perfect sense. There is simply no convincing evidence to believe that the Securitate–or a faction within it–purposely dragged its feet in enforcing Pastor Tokes’ eviction, or was attempting to spark a demonstration in the hopes of precipitating Ceausescu’s fall. The regime’s decision to evict Tokes was not a last-minute decision. Moreover, the regime exerted tremendous and sometimes brutal pressure to silence Tokes in the months preceding this deadline. Interestingly, according to high-ranking members of the former Securitate, Nicolae Ceausescu’s unwillingness to approve the more definitive measures requested by the Securitate allowed the Tokes case to drag on without resolution (see below). The Tokes case suggests the bureaucratic and byzantine mentalities of the Ceausescu regime, and the clash between a dictator’s instructions and how the institutions charged with defending him interpret their mission.

    Contrary to its presentation in the aforementioned accounts, the plan to evict Tokes had not appeared overnight. Tokes had known since 31 March 1989 that he had been suspended from his position as pastor in Timisoara. In August, the Hungarian Reformed Calvinist Bishop of Oradea, Laszlo Papp, had responded to Tokes’ appeal of his suspension. Papp informed Tokes that he was to vacate his residence in Timisoara by 15 December 1989 and leave for the remote village of Mineu. On 14 October 1989, the Reformed Church Council met–according to Tokes, under duress, as a result of Papp’s heavy-handed intimidation of other council members–and sent an ultimatum to Tokes stating that he must leave Timisoara by 20 October 1989 at the latest. In response, Tokes placed himself under “voluntary house arrest” and launched another appeal claiming that the bishop’s actions lacked a legal basis. On 28 November, Tokes received a rejection of this new appeal and was informed that his eviction would definitely be enforced on Friday, 15 December 1989.[31]

    Both Laszlo Tokes and his father (who was also a minister) had long had run-ins with the regime. In the mid-1980s, Laszlo Tokes had been defrocked from the ministry because of his persistent criticism of collaboration and corruption among the church’s leadership and of the regime’s policies towards the Hungarian minority. Tokes proved to be more of a problem outside of the church and unemployed than he had been as a pastor, however. Radicalized by his expulsion, he began a letter-writing campaign to slow the regime’s ongoing elimination of Hungarian educational facilities. Moreover, his fight for reinstatement in the church caught the attention of Western embassies and international organizations. This occurred right as the West was beginning to conclude that Gorbachev’s emerging reformist course in the Soviet Union and the deteriorating quality of human rights in Romania were devaluing Romania’s “maverick” status within the bloc. Thus, in 1986, apparently after the issue had been raised in the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate and considerable diplomatic pressure had been applied, the Reformed church reinstated Tokes. This incident was once again evidence that in individual, high-profile cases, Nicolae Ceausescu could upon occasion prove surprisingly pliable in the face of external pressure.[32]

    Transferred to Timisoara, Tokes rapidly became a popular preacher and continued where he had left off: in his sermons, he routinely made “scarcely veiled attacks” on Ceausescu and assailed regime policies such as the “systematization” (de-villagization) program.[33] Upon Tokes’ arrival in Timisoara in 1986, the Timis county bureau of the Securitate‘s First Directorate (Internal Affairs) “Office for the Study of Nationalists, Fascists, and Hungarian Irredentists” took control of his file and placed him under surveillance. According to Puspoki, by the end of 1987 Tokes had become “public enemy number one of the Timis county Securitate” and the newly appointed director of the local Securitate, Colonel Traian Sima, had taken personal charge of the Tokes case.[34] This reflected both the regime’s increasing fear of Tokes’ dissidence and Sima’s well-known zealotry.[35]

    At least initially, the Securitate pursued less heavy-handed tactics in dealing with Tokes. Laszlo Tokes has himself acknowledged the changed methods of the Securitate:

    In Dej, I had been threatened, harassed and constantly pressured by the Securitate. Now my chief Securitate spy was Laszlo Papp [the Bishop of Oradea and Tokes’ superior]. From my arrival at the church in 1986 to my departure, I never saw a Securitate man in my office. They were present at Sunday services, visited the presbyters and questioned people with whom I was in close contact. But they did not approach me. At Dej I had made public outside Romania the persecution I was receiving; this time, the Securitate and the authorities were changing their tactics.[36]

    Thus, when in March 1989 the regime believed Tokes’ behavior was becoming a serious threat, Tokes was not kicked out of the church as had happened several years earlier, but was instead banished to the remote village of Mineu. As Tokes comments:

    open expulsion would have provoked a Church incident and considerable interest from the West. Refusal to accept a bishop’s instruction, however, would look like deliberate disobedience on my part. The skilled foresight that had ensured I was kept a probationary pastor had kept me firmly under the direct jurisdiction of the bishop.[37]

    As 1989 progressed and the confrontation between Tokes and the Reformed Church leadership deepened, Tokes’ case once again emerged into the international spotlight. The BBC, Radio Free Europe, and Deutsche Welle began to follow the Tokes case closely and beamed news of it back into Romania. Reflecting the scope of political change inside Hungary, Hungarian state radio broadcast weekly reports on the pastor’s fate. The broadcast by Hungarian state television on 26 July 1989 of an interview with Pastor Tokes (secretly taped earlier that spring) seemed to precipitate a change in the Securitate‘s treatment of Tokes.[38] The Securitate moved beyond the habitual telephone threats and rumor-mongering about Tokes, to detaining, beating up, and arresting (on the pretext of foreign currency violations) members of his congregation and relatives. On 14 September 1989, the church elder Erno Ujvarossy, who had previously organized a petition in defense of Tokes, was found murdered in the woods outside Timisoara. Uniformed and plainclothes Securitate men were posted permanently outside the parochial residence and in the surrounding buildings. About all Tokes was able to do by this time was to go the cemetery to conduct burials.[39]

    The suggestion that the Securitate treated Tokes gently prior to his eviction is simply incorrect. On 2 November 1989, four masked men burst through the locked doors of the parochial residence, wielding knives and screaming in a fury. Tokes was slashed on the forehead before his church bodyguards could come to his rescue, causing the four to flee. The numerous Securitate men posted out front of the building had done nothing to intervene in spite of calls for help. Puspoki suggests that these “Mafia-like thugs,” who attacked as if from “an Incan tribe,” were some of Colonel Sima’s “gorillas,” sent to deliver a clear message to Tokes that he should leave immediately.[40] The view of the former Securitate–as expounded by Colonel Sima’s senior deputy, Major Radu Tinu–insinuates a “tourist”-like scenario. According to Tinu, the incident was clearly a “set-up” designed to draw sympathy to Tokes’ cause since the assailants fled away in a car with West German tags.[41] Not for the last time, the Securitate thus appears to attempt to attribute its own actions to foreign agents.

    A week after the mysterious attack by the masked intruders, all of the windows of the parochial residence and nearby buildings were smashed. Interestingly, the report drawn up for Bucharest by the Timisoara Securitate attempted to argue that “workers” from the Timisoara Mechanical Enterprise, offended by pastor Tokes’ behavior, had broken the windows. According to Puspoki, the use of a propaganda-like description was not accidental: the local Securitate was trying to present the incident as evidence of “the dissatisfaction of the working people of Timisoara” in the hope that it would finally prompt Ceausescu into approving definitive measures against Tokes.[42]

    Was Ceausescu responsible for the fact that the Tokes case dragged on without resolution? Support for such a conclusion comes from the comments of Securitate officers Colonel Filip Teodorescu and Major Radu Tinu. Teodorescu was dispatched to Timisoara with sixty other Securitate information officers in order to “verify” the request of the local Securitate that proceedings for treason be initiated against Tokes.[43] Teodorescu laments:

    Unfortunately, as in other situations…Nicolae Ceausescu did not agree because he didn’t want to further muddy relations with Hungary. Moreover, groundlessly, he hoped to avoid the criticisms of “Western democracies” by taking administrative measures against the pastor through the Reformed Church to which [Tokes] belonged.[44]

    Major Radu Tinu suggests that Ceausescu’s approval was necessary in the case of Securitate arrests and that the local Securitate remained “stupefied” that after having worked so long and hard in gathering information with which to charge Tokes with the crime of treason, Ceausescu rejected the request.[45] Tinu speculates that Ceausescu “did not want to create problems at the international level.”

    Because former Securitate officers rarely pass up the opportunity to absolve themselves of blame, and it would appear both easier and more advantageous to blame the deceased Ceausescu for being too unyielding in the Tokes affair, these allegations seem plausible. Thus, it would appear that because Nicolae Ceausescu was skittish of further damaging Romania’s already deteriorating relations with the international community, and the Tokes case was a high-profile one, he refrained from approving visible, definitive action against the pastor. The Securitate‘s attempt to goad Ceausescu to bolder action would appear to confirm Ghita Ionescu’s suggestion that where the security apparatus comes to dominate regime affairs it attempts to impose its institutional prerogatives upon political superiors. Ceausescu and the Securitate appear then to have had sometimes conflicting views over how to resolve the Tokes affair in the quickest and most efficient fashion.

    By December 1989, a huge group of Securitate officers were working on the Tokes case: the entire branch of the First Directorate for Timis county, the special division charged with combatting Hungarian espionage, high-ranking members of the First Directorate and Independent Service “D” (responsible for disinformation) from Bucharest, and members of the division charged with “Surveillance and Investigation.”[46] Puspoki describes Timisoara at this late hour as follows:

    Day and night, the telex machines on the top floor of the [County Militia] “Inspectorate” incessantly banged out communications, while the telephones never stopped ringing. Minister Postelnicu yelled on the phone, Colonel Sima yelled through the offices and the hallways. The officers ran, as if out of their minds, after information, besieged neighbors of the pastor, and dispatched in his direction–what they call–“informers with possibilities.”[47]

    Yet the case lingered on. On Sunday, 10 December 1989, Pastor Tokes announced to his congregation that he had received a rejection of his most recent appeal: the regime would make good on its threat to evict him on Friday, 15 December. He termed this an “illegal act” and suggested that the authorities would probably use force since he would not go willingly. He appealed for people to come and attend as “peaceful witnesses.”[48] They came.

    The Evolution of the Timisoara Protests: Securitate Complicity or Tactical Miscalculation?

    From the morning of Friday, 15 December until the afternoon of Sunday, 17 December 1989, regime forces were unable to halt the expansion of the street protests which began with the intention of preventing the eviction of pastor Tokes. Regime forces appear to have had several opportunities to intervene and put an end to these demonstrations, and either chose not to do so, or did so remarkably ineffectively. Indeed, at certain key moments, regime forces seem to have disappeared or ceded control of the streets to the demonstrators for extended periods of time. Moreover, eyewitnesses suggest that there were many plainclothes Securitate operatives among the crowds. Even if the Securitate had not intended for the scheduled eviction of Tokes to spark anti-regime demonstrations, had a faction from within it attempted to exploit this unexpected opportunity?

    On the morning of Friday, 15 December 1989, the scheduled day of pastor Tokes’ eviction, small groups of three to four people from his congregation began gathering in front of the parochial residence at Piata Maria. The crowd gradually grew to number in the hundreds. At this stage, most demonstrators were still ethnic Hungarians. By evening, however, many Romanians had joined the crowd. The crowd now exceeded one thousand people. Interestingly, many of these Romanians were members of the Romanian Baptist and Pentecostal communities in Timisoara. Earlier that week, a senior member of Tokes’ congregation had informed these religious communities of the scheduled eviction and they had turned out in support of Tokes. By the evening of Saturday, 16 December 1989, the crowd had been swelled by the addition of high school and university students, and its radicalized contingents decided to march on the principal regime buildings in the city.[49]

    Three factors which favored the genesis of these demonstrations deserve mention here. Timisoara, located less than fifty miles from both the Hungarian and Yugoslav (Serb) borders, has an uncharacteristically cosmopolitan climate for this part of the world. Through the years, majority Romanians and minorities of Hungarians, Germans, and Serbs have lived in relative harmony. The traditional absence of inter-ethnic tensions clearly strengthened the chances for protest to bridge ethnic boundaries. That the initial core of the Timisoara demonstrations was provided by members of religious communities–and especially religious communities which were persecuted because of their identification with a particular ethnic group or because they lay outside the mainstream (Orthodox Christian in Romania)–was also vital. Throughout the communist world, after an initial period of attempting to extinguish religious institutions, communist regimes had grudgingly come to tolerate their existence (if under strict control) and even to see them as a beneficial vehicle for absorbing popular dissatisfaction with the regime.

    But in a country such as Romania–where almost every other societal institution (no matter how small or seemingly innocuous) had been destroyed, outlawed, or denied local autonomy–at the grassroots level religious institutions served as a unique hub for association and resistance. Thus, Hungarian religious institutions came to be viewed as vehicles for the defense of Hungarian ethnic identity even among secular Hungarians. The sense of community among those religious institutions most persecuted by the regime provided the basis by which a demonstration of a small number of Hungarians could transform into a large crowd in which Romanians were the majority. Finally, Timisoara’s proximity to Hungary and Yugoslavia, which enabled residents to pick up Hungarian and Yugoslav television broadcasts (the latter of which ran taped CNN broadcasts at night at the time), likely meant that the population of Timisoara was better informed than others in Romania about the collapse of communism elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

    How had a protest of several dozen timid parishioners evolved into a radicalized crowd of thousands in less than thirty-six hours? The answer appears to lie in the cliched image of a totalitarian regime, so overconfident of its own control and endurance, and so drunk with its own propaganda, that it is caught off-guard by the slightest expression of open dissidence and misjudges the potential for further trouble. Such regimes are prone less to an impulsive, bloody crackdown against demonstrators, than to a confused mix of violence and concessions which reflects the regime’s own confusion and hesitation. The unclear message sent by such a confused response appears to have backfired in this case and emboldened the Timisoara protesters who, perhaps after what had happened elsewhere in Eastern Europe, had come to believe that anything was possible.

    After what Tokes describes as an initial “half-hearted attempt to impose control” on the morning of 15 December, around midday the Securitate and Militia men at the scene suddenly withdrew. Guards who had been posted in front of the Tokes residence for weeks disappeared. They even took with them the vehicles they had warmed themselves in during their surveillance operations. That this was merely a tactical retreat is made clear by what happened later that evening. At approximately 10:30 p.m., with about one thousand protesters blocking the entrance to the parochial residence, the authorities finally reappeared.

    Mayor Petre Mot and a small delegation of officials arrived on the scene. Mot feigned ignorance of the orders for Tokes’ eviction. Nevertheless, he pledged that he would arrange a temporary civil residency permit for Tokes; that Tokes’ pregnant wife, who was quite ill, would be able to see a doctor; and that the windows–so mysteriously smashed weeks earlier and now allowing the winter air to fill the apartment–would be repaired immediately. The proposed concessions achieved their goal and the crowd began to break up. Only about 150 people stayed to stand vigil through the night. Plainclothes Securitate men then moved in with clubs and dispersed these remaining demonstrators. On this first day, the regime’s carrot-and-stick approach succeeded. It was reminiscent of what had happened in Motru in 1981 and Brasov in 1987. The targets of popular hatred–the Securitate and Militia–had disappeared merely until the setting was more to their advantage.[50]

    On the morning of Saturday, 16 December, both the demonstrators and Mayor Mot’s delegation returned to the Tokes residence. The Securitate and Militia apparently kept their distance. Work crews set about replacing the broken glass–quite a sight apparently, since glass had been a rare commodity in Timisoara for months. The crowd demanded written confirmation from Mot that Tokes’ eviction would be canceled. Mot and his delegation left, promising to return with written confirmation in hand. Shortly after their departure, however, news began to filter back to the protesters: such a written promise was impossible, the Bucharest legal department charged with such matters was closed because it was Saturday![51] Meanwhile, the crowd was steadily growing.

    Mot himself did not return. Instead, the deputy mayor came. An angry negotiating session ensued between the deputy mayor and ten representatives of the crowd (six Romanians and four Hungarians, a testament to the multi-ethnic character of the demonstration). The deputy mayor left, promising he would have Bucharest fax him the necessary documents to secure a peaceful end to the demonstration. As Tokes observes: “I did not ask why Bucharest was suddenly able to produce documents on a Saturday.”[52] Instead of the documents, however, the mayor sent back an ultimatum: if the crowd did not disperse by 5 p.m., water cannon would be used against the protesters.

    Although Tokes appealed for the crowd to go home, he himself admits that by this time the protest had assumed a dynamic of its own and was not heeding his or anyone else’s pleas. According to Tokes: “though the crowd looked to me as a figurehead, in truth I was a prisoner of their anger.”[53] By the evening, the addition of high school and university students had clearly radicalized the crowd. Buoyed by their sense of growing strength–this time the absence of regime forces at the scene had backfired–protesters were now chanting “Down with Ceausescu! Down with the regime! Down with Communism!” and singing the long-outlawed anthem “Awake, Romanian!”[54] About one thousand of the protesters broke off from the rest of the group and headed for the Romanian Orthodox Cathedral in the central Opera Square. The demonstrators seemed to believe that the regime would be less likely to resort to violence in the shadow of a house of worship.

    On their way, the protesters became increasingly aggressive and began ripping down the ubiquitous, rusting billboards extolling the joys of living in Ceausescu’s “Golden era.” Their ranks were strengthened by thousands of university students who had made their way down from the so-called “Student Complex” zone. Initially, these students had been prevented from leaving the “Student Complex” zone by cordons of Securitate men. But as their ranks grew and they became more angry, the Securitate suddenly found themselves vastly outnumbered and decided the better part of valor was to cut and run. This delighted and emboldened the protesters.[55]

    The two groups of protesters made their way towards the county party headquarters building. They found it deserted, unlit, and unguarded–save for two fire engines with water cannon.[56] The water cannon were turned against the protesters and the crowd responded with a furious attack against the vehicles and the party building. The demonstrators broke the windows of the building and attempted to destroy any symbol of the regime they could find. Suddenly, Militia men appeared on the scene with clubs and tear gas. The protesters were savagely beaten and many were arrested. Around the same time, back at Piata Maria, two hundred Militia officers and junior officers (some in uniform, some in civilian clothes) had arrived. Violent altercations broke out: windows were smashed and several cars in the area set ablaze. The demonstrators threw pavement stones, bottles, anything they could get their hands on. Numerous arrests were made. Confrontations also occurred between demonstrators and regime forces elsewhere in the city.[57]

    Lost in the revisionist coverage of the December events is the fact that the Securitate and Militia did indeed enforce Tokes’ eviction notice. Sometime after 3 a.m. on Sunday, 17 December, a large number of plainclothes and uniformed Securitate and Militia men broke into the parochial residence. The Tokes family sought refuge in the church. Laszlo Tokes was captured inside the church and beaten severely, then taken back to the apartment where Securitate and Militia officers, the local party secretary, and the Minister of Cults from Bucharest were waiting for him. Tokes was forced to sign a blank sheet of paper which was to serve as his resignation from the Timisoara congregation. As Tokes notes, in spite of the fact that he was bleeding profusely over his clerical robe, “there was a veneer of formality about the proceedings. One of the people in the office was a lawyer in charge of evictions, and a form of official procedure was being precariously observed.”[58] Tokes and his wife were taken by car out of Timisoara. Initially, they believed they would be killed.[59] But as they kept on driving, they realized they were heading north to Transylvania, to the village of Mineu, their ordained place of exile.

    If the authorities had misjudged the intentions and resolve of the demonstrators on 15 and 16 December, by Sunday 17 December they were no longer taking any chances. Throughout the night of 16-17 December, Securitate and Army reinforcements arrived in Timisoara from bases elsewhere in the country. By mid-morning, thousands of demonstrators (as many as 7,000-8,000) had returned to the city center and were shouting for freedom, bread, and an end to Ceausescu’s rule. In an ill-conceived show of force, the Army paraded through the town with full fanfare and bugle corps, only to be pelted with rocks and jeered by the townspeople. As on the previous night, demonstrators made their way to the county party headquarters building.

    The demonstrators found the building with its windows repaired, the previous night’s graffiti scrubbed away, the flowers and grass replanted, and trees broken the previous night tied together with wire![60] This was the fantasy world of totalitarianism, where the regime goes to the most absurd lengths to convince the population that black is white and white is black, to make even those who saw an event wonder if it had not all been a dream. Unlike the previous night, this time the building was guarded better. Nevertheless, the unexpectedly large numbers of protesters initially overwhelmed the regime forces and began ransacking the building. As on the previous night, however, the regime forces regrouped quickly and intervened brutally: the Militia and Securitate appeared on the scene and began savagely beating and arresting demonstrators. The first fatalities of the events also occurred at this time.[61]

    Nevertheless, demonstrators continued to mass elsewhere in the city. Their numbers were perhaps in excess of ten thousand. The political character of the protests was made clear by the slogans calling for Ceausescu’s ouster and free elections. As Mircea Balan suggests, many protesters had prepared for the worst:

    [v]ery many [of the demonstrators] had bags in their hands and children with them. It was a naive rationalization–that if they were arrested by the forces of order they could escape by claiming they had been out shopping or taking a walk.[62]

    Perhaps because in a number of instances soldiers had fled rather than confront the crowds, and because of the widely-held impression that it was possible to appeal to the sympathy of Army soldiers, the crowds began to chant more insistently “Armata e cu noi” [The Army is with us]. Protesters challenged soldiers with phrases such as “We are the people, who are you defending?” and “You also have wives and children.” The demonstrators were clearly hoping to precipitate insubordination in the Army’s ranks and to create a rift among regime forces. According to Ratesh, on the afternoon and evening of Sunday, 17 December, “[f]or some unexplained reason, the protestors thought that either the authorities would not dare to massacre the people or the army would not follow orders to shoot with live ammunition.”[63] Ratesh’s claim seems to be born out by the testimonies of some of the demonstrators. A rumor (based on the comments of a former Army officer) circulated, according to which because a “state of emergency or war” had not been declared, the soldiers weapons were not loaded with live ammunition.[64] Tragically, the rumor was incorrect.

    The “Window Breakers”

    The reportedly unusual scope of physical destruction which occurred in Timisoara, particularly on the afternoon and evening of 17 December 1989, has fueled revisionist arguments. Estimates of the damage during the Timisoara unrest are in the neighborhood of four to five billion lei (approximately forty to fifty million dollars at the time), a reasonably large sum given Romania’s standard of living at the time. A huge number of windows was broken and as many as 300 to 400 stores suffered some sort of damage, although relatively few were actually looted. On the evening of 17 December, stores, vehicles, and kiosks were burning in at least ten different areas of the city.[65]

    Former Securitate officers clearly wish to link this destruction to the “foreign tourists” who were supposedly so ubiquitous in Timisoara during these days.[66] Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, former Securitate Director Iulian Vlad argued at his trial that

    …the acts of vandalism, theft, destruction, arson… acts without precedent…could not have been the work [“opera”] of the faithful [apparently referring sarcastically to Tokes’ parishioners], nor the revolutionaries. They were produced by elements which wished to create a certain atmosphere of tension.[67]

    “A group of former Securitate officers” wrote to the Ceausist Democratia in September 1990 that after the Militia and Securitate refused to respond to the demonstrations provoked by the “foreign tourists”: “they advance[d] to the next stage: the massive destruction of public property designed to provoke forcible interventions–human victims were needed.”[68]

    Nevertheless, here is how one opposition journalist, Grid Modorcea, has described the strange character of Timisoara destruction:

    For the first time in history, a revolution…was announced in a previously unknown and absolutely original manner, both literally and figuratively speaking: through the methodical breakage of thousands of windows. On 16 and 17 December 1989, Timisoara was the city of [glass] shards. Well-trained groups of athletes spread throughout the town, tactically, but energetically smashing to pieces hundreds of huge windows without apparently being interested in stealing from these stores…they were like mythical Magis coming to announce the end of one world and the beginning of another. And they gave it an apocalyptic quality: the sound produced by the breaking glass was infernal. The panic this caused was indescribable….Those who “executed” the windows did so with karate-like kicks while yelling “Liberty and Justice”!…The crowds of people who came out into the streets transformed spontaneously into columns of demonstrators, of authentic revolutionaries. The effect was therefore monumental: the breaking of the windows unleashed the popular revolt against the dictator.[69]

    Modorcea is convinced that the Tokes case was “merely a pretext” and that “someone–perhaps those who planned the vandalizing of the windows–has an interest in preventing it from being known who broke the windows.” Although Modorcea maintains he is unsure who was responsible, he insists on observing that:

    Only the Customs people know how many tourists there were. All were men and long-haired. Inside their cars they had canisters. This fits with the method of the breaking of the windows, with the Molotov cocktails, and the drums used as barricades–they were exactly of the same type….To what extent the new regime which came to power was implicated, we cannot say![70]

    Many Timisoara protesters appear torn between wishing to rationalize the extensive destruction as the courageous response of an enraged, long-suffering population, and denying that the perpetrators could have come from among their ranks. Even those investigators attuned to the retroactive psychology of the protesters cannot help but admit that widespread destruction occurred and that it could not have been wholly spontaneous.[71] Furthermore, as Laszlo Tokes has observed in discussing the events at Piata Maria, manipulation and attempts to instigate the crowd to violence were constant features during these days.

    Tokes maintains that Securitate provocateurs had tried to agitate the crowd by shouting things like, “Let’s break into the house. The Securitate are in there; they’re trying to kidnap Laszlo Tokes! Let’s rush them!” and by appealing for him to “Come down into the street and lead us!”[72] According to Tokes:

    I was alarmed at the obvious provocation from individuals in the crowd clearly intent on making the situation uncontrollable….Later, thinking about the events of those two days, I realized that the authorities would have had a great deal to gain if the situation had become a riot.[73]

    Mircea Balan questions whether the protesters would have set stores on fire which were located on the ground floor of the buildings in which the protesters themselves lived.[74] Moreover, he wonders how even the revolutionary fury of the crowd could drive protesters to break so many windows, particularly giv

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    THE 1989 ROMANIAN REVOLUTION AS GEOPOLITICAL PARLOR GAME: BRANDSTATTER’S “CHECKMATE” DOCUMENTARY AND THE LATEST WAVE IN A SEA OF REVISIONISM, Part Two

    Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on September 22, 2010

    posted by Lillymill, translated by Shenanigan 87, at youtube

    THE 1989 ROMANIAN REVOLUTION AS GEOPOLITICAL PARLOR GAME: BRANDSTATTER’S “CHECKMATE” DOCUMENTARY AND THE LATEST WAVE IN A SEA OF REVISIONISM

    By Richard Andrew Hall

    Disclaimer: This material has been reviewed by CIA. That review neither constitutes CIA authentification of information nor implies CIA endorsement of the author’s views.

    Please Note: This article is not to be cited, reproduced, translated, or used in any form without the acknowledgement and permission of the author.

    Part 2: CHECKMATE: “A thrilling documentary that may destroy your confidence in the mass media…”*

    With much fanfare “Checkmate” finally debuted on the Franco-German TV Arte channel on Wednesday, 25 February 2004. Brandstatter’s film is more formidable than many accounts alleging a primary foreign role in the December 1989 events. Indeed, it is impressive in some ways: Brandstatter obviously did a lot of leg-work and preparation for her documentary. She filmed and conducted research in Romania, Hungary, Germany, Austria, France, and the United States, and spoke to other relevant figures in Great Britain, Bulgaria, and Norway. Among those whose interviews appear in the film are: former President Ion Iliescu, analyst Stelian Tanase, dissident Laszlo Tokes, Army General Victor Stanculescu, dissident Doina Cornea, Securitate Colonel Gheorghe Ratiu, Army General Dan Voinea, NSC official Robert Hutchings, Congressman Christopher Smith, and former CIA officers Milton Bearden, Charles Cogan, and Robert Baer (“Jurnalul National,” 24 February 2004).

    Brandstatter’s thesis in the film is that Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown in December 1989 by the CIA, in conjunction with the intelligence services of some of its NATO allies, and of the Hungarians in the East bloc. To be sure, she says, the Soviets had their fingers in the pie, thanks to the presence of the ubiquitous Russian “tourists” (i.e. intelligence agents, more about this below), but theirs was not the decisive role. Thankfully, Brandstatter does at least acknowledge the independent role played by the courage of the long-suffering average Romanian citizen—although not sufficiently in the view of critics—and does not suggest that all was merely smoke and mirrors in December 1989 (“Jurnalul National,” 24 February 2004).

    What evidence does Brandstatter marshal in support of her theory? A key sequence in the film begins with Miklos Nemeth, Hungarian Prime Minister in December 1989, who admits that Hungary supplied the Romanians with “a lot of important aid, including guns and ammunition,” and that Hungary attempted to recruit officials in key institutions of the Ceausescu regime who were “in a position to help the regime’s victims.” Brandstatter believes that General Victor Stanculescu was one of those high-ranking Romanian officials who the Hungarians allegedly recruited—although Stanculescu denies this in the film and claims that although he sympathized with regime opponents, he had no ties to them (Magyar Televizio,“Titkos Forradalom?” 29 February 2004).

    Next, a Securitate colonel in 1989, Gheorghe Ratiu—in fact, head of the First Directorate, the one most identified by Romanian citizens as the “political police”—declares the Securitate was in possession of information that in (West) Germany (Zehndorf), Austria (Traiskirchen), and Hungary (Bicske), there were training camps where guerilla warfare was being instructed by “American trainers.” The trainees were taught how to “foment unrest and a national uprising.” Then, in one of what is perhaps the film’s most unexpected moments, Nemeth appears to confirm the allegations from Ratiu’s interview: “In the south of Germany and in Austria and in other countries, the Germans and Americans were training the required people” (Magyar Televizio, “Titkos Forradalom?” 29 February 2004).

    Brandstatter asks, “Was this possible in Romania at that time?” Dominique Fonveille, the former French intelligence officer who appeared in the February 2003 Durandin televison expose discussed in Part 1 of this series, reveals in the Brandstatter film: “Yes, one could enter from neighboring countries, and there were also training camps in Hungary and Germany. It is certain that these people had to be infiltrated in at the given moment. You have to understand, however, that it was not possible to infiltrate hundreds of people, nor even for that matter dozens.” Charles Cogan, described as “head of the CIA’s Paris Station in 1989” is seen stating: “Either the CIA was active in these camps or was training the trainers.” In his interview, Robert Baer, a former CIA officer, elaborates, “It is likely that they [the trainers] would have told these people, here is an M-16, here is how to load it, here is how to secure it, here is how you shoot with it and here is how you kill someone with it. Here is how you activate a plastic explosive, etc.” (Magyar Televizio, “Titkos Forradalom?” 29 February 2004).

    Finally, Brandstatter interviews Milton Bearden, presented as “Director of CIA’s East European [operations].” Bearden declares:

    “It is said that these were CIA camps. We have to make a distinction here. Almost everything is attributed to the CIA. I don’t know what these people told you, [and] I don’t deny it in its entirety, but I would advise you to be careful…” (Magyar Televizio, “Titkos Forradalom?” 29 February 2004).

    Of course, because Brandstatter’s thesis is that the Revolution was essentially “made in the USA,” sparked and manipulated by American-trained agents, it is not surprising that she promotes the ideas of her interlocutors that the bloodshed and victims of December were intentional—part of a plan to stoke popular outrage against the Ceausescu regime and then to legitimate the leadership that replaced him. Once again she invokes the words of former Securitate Colonel Gheorghe Ratiu of the First Directorate. According to Ratiu, the lesson learned by the “producers” of the December 1989 Revolution from the Brasov workers’ riots of November 1987 was that “if there aren’t any corpses, the people won’t revolt sufficiently [in order to overthrow the regime]” (Jurnalul National, 27 February 2004). Therefore, he suggests that the bloodshed, in the week that preceded the Ceausescus’ flight from power on 22 December 1989, was intended to accomplish just this end.

    The French security official, Dominique Fonveille, apparently speaking mostly in reference to the post-22 December bloodshed, argues that the gunfire and chaos that dominated the next few days was deliberate, designed to create a state of insecurity that would in turn create support for the new leaders. Victims were thus necessary for the credibility of the Revolution, in his view. Finally, Brandstatter presents an interview with the former Romanian Military Prosecutor, General Dan Voinea, who, on the 10th anniversary of the Revolution, had declared the findings of the investigation into the question of the so-called “terrorists”—the term used to describe those held responsible for 942 deaths (nearly 90% of the overall number of 1,104 people who died in the course of the Revolution) in the immediate hours and days following the flight of the Ceausescus. According to Voinea—who, it is important to point out, was himself one of the people involved in the trial of the Ceausescus that was justified officially as having been necessary to put an end to the “terrorist” violence:

    “After 22 December 1989, there existed a huge diversion, in the sense that the notion of terrorists who were attacking the population were invented. After investigating the question, it was determined that these terrorists did not in reality exist.” (“Jurnalul National,” 27 February 2004).

    DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN REACTIONS TO THE “CHECKMATE” DOCUMENTARY

    Reviews of Brandstatter’s film were positive and it certainly fascinated its viewers. A rare note of skepticism, but also acceptance of the film’s thesis on foreign involvement, was Dominique Dhombres’ review in “Le Monde” on 26 February 2004. Yes, he wrote, the CIA, the KGB, and perhaps even the French secret services were involved, but Brandstatter still underplayed the role of Romania’s citizens “who were not [just] marionettes.” He concluded, “Brandstatter’s display is sedcutive, but like the execution of the Ceausescus…[her conclusions are] a little hasty.”

    Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, some Romanian commentators not known for their support of the Western-engineered variant of the conspiracy theory of December 1989 have argued that Brandstatter’s arguments deserve serious consideration. Using the research strategy of “qui bono”—a strategy which Brandstatter admits also drove her analysis of the December 1989 events—Cornel Nistorescu, editor of the mass daily “Evenimentul Zilei [Event of the Day],” concludes: Hungary was also interested in Ceausescu’s fall (it’s European integration would have been an unsolvable problem if Ceausescu had continued to exist across its Eastern border); also interested were France, Germany, and the United States” (“Evenimentul Zilei,” 28 February 2004).

    Some of the other commentary on Brandstatter’s film is equally interesting. In a statement published by “Jurnalul National [The National Journal]” on 25 February 2004, Radu Tinu declared: “It is regrettable that the facts I presented, five years ago, have become interesting only now, when the West releases them…We Romanians did not make the Revolution, but rather danced to the music of other intelligence services. Tap-dancing for the CIA and ‘kalinka’ for the KGB.” Tinu differs with Brandstatter, however, over for whom Stanculescu was spying; according to Tinu, he was working for the English, not the Hungarians as Brandstatter insinuates. The name Radu Tinu may be familiar to Romania watchers: he was the Deputy Chief of the Timis County Securitate that was involved in the bloody repression of demonstrators in Timisoara in December 1989.**

    In a 3 March 2004 editorial entitled “The Romanian Revolution at the Intersection of CIA and KGB Streets,” the senior editor of “Jurnalul National,” Marius Tuca, accepted the rejection of some of Brandstatter’s claims—relayed by journalists at his own paper—and then summarizing the contradiction and timeless conspiratorial view at the center of many Romanian responses wrote: “…there exists one certainty in all this debate: the Revolution was founded by the Romanian people. What remains to be learned is if someone put it in train and especially WHO! (emphasis in original].”

    One of the more interesting reactions to the film came from Sergiu Nicolaescu, a film director who found himself at the center of the December events and who chaired a parliamentary commission investigating those events in the early and mid-1990s. Nicolaescu alleged that the film was “a dirty trick financed by the Hungarians, because they are the only ones interested in making people believe that the Romanian Revolution was made by someone other than Romanians…[and, furthermore] the interviews were conducted in Hungarian not Romanian” (“Jurnalul National,” 28 February 2004).

    HUNGARIAN INTERVENTION…IN THE [HISTORIOGRAPHY OF THE] ROMANIAN REVOLUTION

    Had it not been for the surprising claims of former Hungarian Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth in “Checkmate,” it is doubtful the Hungarians would have paid much attention to the film. But Nemeth’s comments suddenly converted what otherwise would have been a “foreign story” into one that “hit home,” so-to-speak. Those who think that such narcissism is the province of individuals—or as a good number of American academics seem to think, a quintessentially American condition—have probably never witnessed media coverage in other countries of an overseas catastrophe or sporting event, in which co-nationals are the be-all and end-all of coverage.

    Until investigations by Hungarian Television to substantiate Nemeth’s claims in “Checkmate,” the Hungarian population had been informed primarily by translated dispatches of “Jurnalul National,” related by Hungarian correspondents in Bucharest, that were not subject to further scrutiny. The daily “Magyar Hirlap” presented on 26 February the revelations of Securitate officers Ratiu and Tinu as confirming the thesis that Ceausescu had been overthrown by foreign intelligence services—who had set up training centers, including in Hungary as Nemeth maintained. That the statements by former Securitate officials—even if in support of the argument of a former top Hungarian official—could be taken at face-value is perhaps evidence of how far we have come even in Hungary from December 1989—such statements would have been subject to far more, almost knee-jerk scrutiny in the early 1990s. The idea that the Hungarian media was just dying to deny Brandstatter’s allegations thus does not really wash.

    Hungarian Television began scrutinizing the film in its “Thursday Evening” program, but the more important examination of the film was on Sunday, 29 February 2004, when MTV (Magyar Televizio) broadcast a program entitled “Secret Revolution (Titkos Forradalom)?” According to the host, Sandor Friderikusz, “days later [after the first showing of the documentary] the film was still enthralling Hungarians and foreigners.” But it was clearly Nemeth’s claim that was driving everything—and ended up serving as the gateway to a more wideranging deconstruction of the film.

    Brandstatter had been scheduled to appear on the progam, Friderikusz stated, but after having promised for a week to participate, at the last minute pulled out without giving a reason. Friderikusz decided to contact those interviewed in the film to verify their statements on camera. A pattern soon began to emerge: Brandstatter had conducted long, in some cases hours-long, interviews, but had only placed short, frequently out-of-context clips in the final product. Moreover, according to her interlocutors, she had come to the interviews with her mind firmly made up about what had happened in December 1989.

    The first interviewee who was sought out, was Milton Bearden, who participated by phone from his home in New Hampshire. Bearden, the former Chief of Operations for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, was not amused by Brandstatter’s documentary. His admonition to Brandstatter, that she should be careful in her pursuit of the idea that the Romanian Revolution was the work of foreign security services, was the only excerpt of what he maintained was a two and a half hour interview. [Romanian Army General Victor Stanculescu maintains that although in the film he only has a few words, the interview with Brandstatter lasted four hours (“Clipa,” 11 March 2004).]

    Bearden was emphatic in declaring that “the CIA in no way directed or precipitated the revolution” and rejected Brandstatter’s contention that the Revolution was the work of foreign security services as “completely untrue.” Asked if he thought Brandstatter had forced her case, Bearden responded: “I don’t want to cause Brandstatter difficulty, but she [came] already convinced of the truth of her theory.” His admonition for her to “be careful,” appears to have been a reference to how she was approaching the topic analytically—not that this pursuit was endangering her life or well-being.

    Bearden considered the allegations of a central Hungarian role ridiculous. He noted that in 1989, the Hungarian political scene was dominated by two principal issues: the reburial of Imre Nagy and the opening of its western frontier with Austria. To his credit as a journalist, Friderikusz challenged Bearden on two points: 1) perhaps other personnel within the CIA might have been involved in an operation against Romania of the variety alleged in the film of which Bearden was unaware, and 2) if there had been a CIA role, would it not be natural that Bearden should deny a CIA role? Bearden claimed it was out of the question that an operation of this type could have taken place without his knowledge, and he acknowledged the suspicion with which his denials might be received but reiterated emphatically that Brandstatter’s claims were groundless.

    Next, Friderikusz interviewed Ferenc Karpati, Hungarian Defense Minister at the time of the Revolution, and Laszlo Borsics, Hungarian Chief of Staff at the time. Karpati and Borsics denied any preparation for, or provision of, arms during the Revolution, and stated that they did not believe something such as the alleged CIA training of agents provocateurs to overthrow Ceausescu could have been launched from Hungary. Although there was some discussion in political circles of sending in Hungary’s anti-terrorist brigades and armed volunteers, Karpati opined, “luckily we rejected it.” In fact, the officials claimed they only made offers of arms and munitions after Ceausescu’s overthrow and that these had been rejected by the Romanian military, who only accepted medical supplies. Friderikusz pushed Karpati on the question of “which party or political faction” was advocating intervention, but Karpati declined to say, stating that he had already made it public years before in an article in the “Historia” magazine. [In the throes of the 1994 Hungarian parliamentary election campaign, however, the leader of the former communist party (MSzP), Gyula Horn, accused the deceased former Prime Minister Jozsef Antall and then current foreign minister Geza Jeszensky of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) as having asked in the days of the Revolution to be permitted to create volunteer detachments to intervene in Romania, but that the request was rejected. Jeszensky denied Horn’s claim, saying that the MDF had asked Horn, who was foreign minister in December 1989, to request NATO intervention and had never proposed the idea of volunteer detachments. (see Dorin Suciu, “Si totusi in ’89 Ungaria pregatea o interventie armata in Romania,” Adevarul, 26 April 1994).]

    In what was emerging as a clear pattern, Karpati claimed that a year earlier Brandstatter had conducted a two hour (unfilmed) “pre”-interview with him—none of which ever saw the light of day. Thus, when she asked to send a film crew, he declined when she did not respond to his questions of the content of the film. Challenged about Nemeth’s claim of Hungarian and CIA direct involvement in the Revolution, Borsics opined that Nemeth’s words “may have been taken out of context…and I certainly have no knowledge of such things.” Borsics also highlighted some basic factual inaccuracies in the account purported in the Brandstatter film—such as the Bicske “training camp” being 40 km from the Austrian border, when in fact it is 40 km from Budapest and at least 150 km from the Austrian border.

    Friderikusz followed up once again with Karpati, inquiring how it was possible that Nemeth’s account, at least as it appeared in the film, could be so different from his and Borsics’? “Was it possible,” he asked, “that only he [Nemeth] was privy” to these secrets? Karpati responded emphatically:

    “All I can say, is that during those days, every hour we were updating the Prime Minister, frequently we sat a his desk, marking on a map every move that was taking place in Romania, we spoke about troop movements, we talked about everything, and I believe that he would have heard everything from us first.”

    Finally, Friderikusz spoke to Sandor Aradi, the Hungarian military attache in Bucharest during the Revolution, who denied Brandstatter’s thesis, claimed the film was full of doubletalk, and affirmed that the Romanian Revolution was first and foremost the work of the Romanian people, especially the Romanian youth. “Without a doubt,” Aradi claimed, it was unthinkable that he could have held such a position and not had some information on the secret operations Nemeth had alleged.

    Even at the political level, Nemeth’s claims were rejected by other senior politicians from the time. A separate MTV 1 program conducted an interview with Imre Pozsgay, who claimed no knowledge of Nemeth’s allegations and that Nemeth had discussed nothing of the sort (Magyar Televizio b, 2004). “If I didn’t know about [the secret operations], then that means very, very few could have known,” he stated,

    “…sure the West and Moscow tried to apply pressure to Ceausescu, but a revolution, a societal uprising, a rebellion, that the security services could pull off such a thing…such a thing has never happened in the history of the world [!].”

    Thus, besides Romanian figures who disputed their characterization and/or presentation in the film and the manner in which Brandstatter produced it, we have here at least five other key officials from the time, not only rejecting Brandstatter’s thesis, but expressing dismay and disgust at how Brandstatter put the Revolution in “Checkmate”—Bearden, Karpati, Borsics, Aradi, and Pozsgay.

    WAIT A MINUTE! HADN’T IT JUST BEEN AGREED THAT THE KGB DID IT?

    Among those asked by “Jurnalul National” to comment on the Brandstatter documentary was former Soviet-era Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovski. Bukovski did not challenge Brandstatter’s account, maintaining that he had not had access to the sources available to Brandstatter—thereby leaving open the possibility of a CIA role in Ceausescu’s overthrow. At first glance, this was somewhat surprising, as Bukovski has long argued that the December 1989 events in Romania were the work of the US and CIA’s principal adversary, the KGB. However, it is not so surprising when one realizes the primary role Bukovski gives to foreign forces in bringing about Ceausescu’s overthrow, and his corresponding neglect of the internal dynamics of the Revolution inside Romania.

    Bukovski’s comments while visiting Romania in November 2003—that the KGB orchestrated the events of Ceausescu’s overthrow—meant that the Romanian press had a field day on the 14th anniversary of the Revolution. As usual when it comes to the KGB thesis, it was Editor-in-Chief Sorin Rosca Stanescu’s daily “Ziua” that gave Bukovski’s comments publicity, although dailies such as “Evenimentul Zilei,” “Romania Libera,” and others soon chimed in. “Case closed,” many editorialists, intellectuals, and politicians hastened to pronounce. Bukovski’s comments were interpreted as gospel precisely by those who have for years accepted and promoted this theory and who recognize its utility in contemporary Romanian political debates. Bukovski’s credibility is enhanced by his stature and integrity as a former Soviet dissident, and by his post-1991 access to Soviet archives and publication of the documents he was able to surreptitiously photocopy. But two critical points have to be made with regard to Bukovski’s claim about Romania’s December 1989 events. First, he alleges that the collapse of communist rule throughout Eastern Europe—including the fall of the Berlin Wall—were part of an elaborate KGB plot, hatched beginning from 1988. Second, he first made such allegations well-before he got access to those Soviet archives.

    In a study dating from the late 1990s, the Romanian author Vladimir Alexe, who endorses a similar viewpoint on Romania’s December 1989 events, quoted Bukovski’s comments in 1990 on the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, as follows:

    “Never has the role of the KGB inside the country [the USSR] or abroad been so important. The Soviet secret services are the ones that watched the overthrow of Ceausescu in Romania, launched the ‘velvet revolution’ in Czechoslovakia, [and] that took measures to overthrow Erich Honecker in East Germany, producing especially favorable circumstances for the destruction of the Berlin Wall (“L’Empire du moindre mal,” Libre Journal, Paris, nr. 1, sept-oct, 1990, p. 30).” (see Vladimir Alexe, “KGB si revolutiile din Europa de Est” in Ziua, 19 November 1999 and 20 December 1999)

    In the wake of Bukovski’s “bombshell” in November 2003, at least one Romanian commentator attempted to legitimize the credibility of Bukovski’s claims by appealing to the fact that the documents substantiating Bukovski’s claims are “on the Internet, anybody can access them.” It is true that Bukovski has published Soviet archival documents on the Internet, including from the period 1988 to 1991—however, none of them are about the December 1989 events in Romania (http://psi.ece.jhu.edu/~kaplan/IRUSS/BUK/GBARC/pdfs/sovter75/sovter75-e.html). Indeed, given the amazing antennae of the Romanian press for anything that substantiates their beliefs on this matter—and their deafness to anything that challenges those beliefs—one would expect that did such documents exist they would have been reproduced in the Romanian press by now.

    Following Brandstatter’s film, Bukovski returned again to the Romanian press scene in the summer of 2004 in a series of interviews in “Ziua.” Although the daily typically hyped Bukovski’s comments—one could click on a file on their internet site devoted exclusively to “The Bukovski Scandal”—to make it appear that Bukovski had made stunning, new, and unassailable revelations, and Bukovski offered to provide documentary evidence for his views, he provided neither documentary evidence nor any new details—already, virtually non-existent—to his account.

    As mentioned above, in commenting on what he referred to as the “Checkmate documentary,” Bukovski stated that he did not challenge Brandstatter’s account, since he had not had access to the sources available to her. However, he did seek to strengthen support for his own argument of the events as predominantly a KGB coup by invoking the writings of the BBC reporter, John Simpson (“Jurnalul National,” 2 March 2004?). Simpson’s writings have been invoked by others who have sought to evaluate accounts of the Revolution. For example, Krishna Kumar writes in his 2001 book reexamining 1989 in the region, that John Simpson had brought new, sensational revelations to the table in a 1994 “Independent (London)” article (Kumar, 2001). But the basis of Simpson’s 1994 article is the report released by the Romanian Information Service (SRI) that alleges Russian and other East bloc “tourists” played a seminal role in sparking the Revolution. (Despite questioning other aspects of the SRI’s contentions, Deletant unfortunately appears to accept this claim at face value—without recognizing how it contradicts and ultimately negates his other arguments on the events (see Deletant ,1999, pp. 171-172).) That the SRI is the Securitate’s formal institutional successor, and incorporated many of the personnel, structures, and culture of the Securitate, hardly lends the argument credibility. Moreover, one has to ask if Bukovski supposedly knows so much about the KGB role in the Romanian Revolution from his access to Soviet archival sources, how is it that he does not know about what would appear to be a key detail—the role of Russian and East bloc “tourists” in sparking Ceausescu’s overthrow?

    *From the television guide description of Newsletter MARS 2004/1 on the Internet.

    **Marius Mioc, a direct participant in the Timisoara uprising and a researcher who has written some of the most detailed and insightful analysis on the events of December 1989, was sufficiently incensed with “revelations” that suggest that the events of Timisoara were stage-managed by foreign forces and that defended or denied the role of regime forces in repressing demonstrators that he published a newspaper devoted to the subject (Mioc 2004).
    SOURCES

    “Clipa On-line,” 2004, web edition, http://www.clipa.com.

    Deletant, D., 1999, Romania Under Communist Rule (Portland, OR: Center for Romanian Studies).

    “Evenimentul Zilei,” (Bucharest), 2004, web edition, http://www.evenimentulzilei.ro.

    “The Independent,” (London), 1994.

    “Jurnalul National,” (Bucharest), 2004, web edition, http://www.jurnalul.ro.

    Kumar, K., 2001, 1989: Revolutionary Ideas and Ideals (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

    “Le Monde,” 2004, web edition, http://www.lemonde.fr.

    “Magyar Hirlap,” 2004, web edition, http://www.magyarhirlap.hu.

    Mioc, M., 2004. “Revolutia din Timisoara si minciunile de Marius Tuca [The Timisoara Revolution and the Lies of Marius Tuca (editor of Jurnalul National),” (Timisoara), March.

    MTV 1 (Magyar Televizio 1), 2004. “Csutortok este [Thursday Evening],” 26 February at http://www.icenter.hu.

    MTV 1 (Magyar Televizio 1), 2004. “Titkos Forradalom? [Secret Revolution?],” 29 February at http://www.asolasszabadsaga.hu.

    “Ziua” (Bucharest), 1999, 2003, 2004, web edition, http://www.ziua.ro.

    Voxnews Comment Link
  • Voxnews

    THE 1989 ROMANIAN REVOLUTION AS GEOPOLITICAL PARLOR GAME: BRANDSTATTER’S “CHECKMATE” DOCUMENTARY AND THE LATEST WAVE IN A SEA OF REVISIONISM, Part One

    Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on September 21, 2010

    posted byLillymill, translated by Shenanigan 87 at youtube.



    (submitted for CIA PRB Clearance February 2005, cleared March 2005)
    THE 1989 ROMANIAN REVOLUTION AS GEOPOLITICAL PARLOR GAME: BRANDSTATTER’S “CHECKMATE” DOCUMENTARY AND THE LATEST WAVE IN A SEA OF REVISIONISM

    By Richard Andrew Hall

    Disclaimer: This material has been reviewed by CIA. That review neither constitutes CIA authentification of information nor implies CIA endorsement of the author’s views.

    Please Note: This article is not to be cited, reproduced, translated, or used in any form without the acknowledgement and permission of the author.

    Richard Andrew Hall holds a BA from the University of Virginia (1988) and a PhD from Indiana University (1997). He joined the CIA in September 2000 and served as a Romanian Political Analyst from October 2000 to April 2001. Since October 2001, he has worked as an analyst on issues unrelated to eastern Europe. He published extensively on the Romanian Revolution and its historiography prior to joining the Agency, including the Romanian journals “22” and “Sfera Politicii” in 1996, “East European Politics and Societies,” in 1999, and “Europe-Asia Studies” in 2000. He can be reached for comment on this series at hallria@msn.com.

    ***Dedicated to the memory of Ilinca Zarifopol Johnston, a radiant spirit, who called me mormoloc (tadpole) and surdulica (little deaf one), and withstood my earnestness as a first-year Romanian and graduate student to help me translate my first articles from the Romanian press about the Revolution.***
    Part 1: Opening Moves

    –Any history is in fact two histories: the history being told and the history of the period in which it is being told. The recording of the past is always to some extent prisoner to the present in which it is recorded.

    Take revisionist histories of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Such accounts generally insinuate that, at the very least, senior US officials had foreknowledge of the attacks and cynically did nothing to prevent them, or, even more diabolically, elements of the US government and political and economic elites launched the attacks against their own people in order to pursue an insatiable thirst for power and riches. True, such revisionist suspicions exist across the globe—including in the United States—but they have gained greater mass media exposure and notably sizable (if still minority) popular interest and acceptance in some countries more than others.

    Revisionist theories of the September 2001 attacks appear to have found their most vocal proponents in France and Germany. The most prominent and influential of these revisionist accounts are probably those of the French author Thierry Meyssan (“The Horrifying Fraud”) and former (West) German Cabinet minister Andreas von Bulow (“The CIA and the 11th of September, International Terror and the Role of the Secret Services”) (for summary and analysis of these accounts see, for example, “Wall Street Journal,” 29 September 2003, “New York Times,” 22 June 2002, and “The Washington Post,” 21 July 2002).* It must be pointed out that, according to public opinion surveys, the extreme contentions and accusations lobbed by Meyssan and von Bulow are rejected by overwhelming majorities of the populations in both these countries, and co-nationals from across the political spectrum have heavily criticized their revisionist theories (Reuters, 11 September 2003; “New York Times,” 22 June 2002). These theories are neither inevitable nor even representative of political, media, intellectual, or public opinion in these countries. Nevertheless, we are left with the questions of why these two European countries and why now?

    The history of these countries and of their relations with the US and the historical political culture of their intellectual and media elites surely play a role. However, it is also clear that the contemporary global geopolitical condition and intellectual and political climate in France and Germany are at work. The books of Meyssan and von Bulow reflect the “zeitgeist” in which they are written: the perception and reality of the disparity of power between the United States and the rest of the world, fear and resentment of American hegemony, and suspicion of the motives driving American foreign policy. Just as the 11 September 2001 attacks are somewhat difficult to imagine happening 15 years earlier—when the bipolarity of the Cold War still prevailed—so it is difficult to imagine the depth of suspicion of US leaders and the broad toleration and acceptance of these revisionist theories in the Western Europe of 15 years ago.

    A NEW WAVE OF FRANCO-GERMAN REVISIONISM GREETS THE 1989 ROMANIAN REVOLUTION

    Such recent Franco-German revisionism has not been confined to the events of the 21st century, however. It is also being projected back into the events of the late 20th century. A new school of Franco-German conspiracy theory about the Romanian Revolution of December 1989 has developed in the last few years. Film director Susanne Brandstatter’s “Checkmate” documentary about the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu—broadcast for the first time on the Franco-German channel “TV Arte” in late February 2004—is probably the best exposition of this new school. Appearing as it did, during the year that marked the 15th anniversary of the Revolution, the film prompted much publicity and discussion in Romania.

    Reflecting on the biggest events of 2004 in the daily that “broke the story,” “Jurnalul National,” journalist Marina Constantinoiu recalled:

    “[It all began when] I merely reprinted an article/commentary about this interesting film that had been published in the online TV supplement of the French weekly ‘Le Nouvel Observateur.’ The next day ‘the madness’ started. There followed a torrent of reactions, the telephones at the newspaper were ringing off the hook, with all kinds of people expressing their agreement or disagreement with the documentary’s claim, some even bringing proof to support one or the other versions. ‘Jurnalul National’ prompted a true national debate, starting from a simple television documentary.” (“Jurnalul National,” 30 December 2004).

    Although undoubtedly engaging in the same kind of self-interested media hype as Constantinoiu, it is telling of the impact of the documentary that the night after the TV Arte broadcast, Hungarian Television devoted a show to discussing a film that the host described as “having even before its screening already provoked a wave of reactions across the globe” (Magyar Televizio 1, 2004). During the program, a Hungarian reporter in Bucharest relayed Romanian reaction as the film was broadcast for the first time on Romanian television.

    Brandstatter’s film, the coverage it provoked in the French, Romanian, and Hungarian media, the debates it sparked, and its comparison with previous investigations of the Revolution are the subject of this paper. Although the conclusions of Brandstatter’s film reflect contemporary geopolitical relations, her methodology of investigation continues a long tradition in both foreign and Romanian studies of the December 1989 events, and the content of the film is heavily reliant upon claims and allegations that have circulated for years—many back to 1990—in Romania.

    The conclusions of Brandstatter’s film are consistent with and probably reflect the broader contemporary trend of ascribing a seemingly limitless propensity and capacity for manipulation and skullduggery to the United States. At the same time, however, the content of the film is a product of enduring and perhaps intensifying trends that are characteristic of so many explorations of the Romanian Revolution and that are specific to the case itself. In other words, the film is a reflection of a longtime, deeply-embedded historical debate on the Revolution within Romania—and, to a lesser extent, abroad—as interpreted through the prism of contemporary geopolitical relations.

    CONJUGATING CONSPIRACY: HE CONSPIRES, THEY CONSPIRE, YOU CONSPIRE…

    Susanne Brandstatter’s “Checkmate” documentary is a reformulation of the longstanding KGB-CIA “Yalta-Malta” theory of Ceausescu’s overthrow. That Brandstatter’s is not a solitary perspective is demonstrated by the claims of the French researcher, Catherine Durandin, during 2002-2003. Brandstatter’s film caused a flurry of commentaries and analyses in the French, Hungarian, and Romanian media—somewhat funny, as journalists and intellectuals in and from Romania routinely maintain that common citizens are exhausted by and disinterested in investigations of the December 1989 events, and that “The Revolution doesn’t sell.” The Brandstatter-Durandin school argues that Ceausescu’s overthrow was primarily the work of the CIA, with various Western security services and the Hungarians—although still communist at the time, nevertheless working in concert with the West—fulfilling a secondary role. The KGB is said to have participated, but had only a bit part. Even in Romania, some commentators who did not seriously entertain this thesis until now, appear to have been swayed by the film—a testament to its seductive presentation and power.

    This is all just a little ironic—given that in late 2003 a large swath of the Romanian media and intelligentsia hastened to declare that “new revelations” by Soviet-era Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky had once and for all put to rest the controversy over “what really happened in December 1989.” While on a visit to Romania in November 2003, Bukovsky stated in passing that, on the basis of his access to KGB documents in the early 1990s, he could maintain unequivocally that the KGB masterminded and stage-managed the Romanian Revolution—as it did, he claimed, the collapse of communism throughout Eastern Europe in 1989. Despite the fact that Bukovsky began making these allegations as far back as 1990—thus, before his access to the archives—for those in Romania who have long-advocated this thesis, Bukovsky’s words were received as gospel and as definitively closing the book on the investigation and understanding of the December 1989 events. The so-called “Bukovsky Scandal”—for much of 2004 it had its own separate link on the webpage of “Ziua [The Day],” the daily that launched it—erupted again in the spring, summer, and fall of 2004 with a new flood of articles and exchanges, but virtually no new details to back up Bukovsky’s claims.

    But the Brandstatter-Durandin CIA-engineered coup theory is even more ironic when you consider the previous wave of Franco-German conspiracy theories—which cornered the market in 1990 and has had a profound and enduring imprint upon how the events of Ceausescu’s overthrow have been studied and understood since. Those theories maintained the exact opposite of the Brandstatter-Durandin argument in terms of the weighting awarded to foreigners in the December 1989 coup: that Ceausescu’s overthrow was primarily the work of the KGB and other East European security services—the Hungarians acting at the behest of Moscow—with the CIA and Western security services playing at best a limited, purely (dis)informational role. The first wave of Franco-German conspiracy theories might not have had such a lasting—and I would argue, destructive—impact had it not been awarded credibility and promoted by prominent Romanian intellectual and academic emigres in the West. I personally can attest to this impact, for it was the prism provided by the latter in the English language that heavily shaped my views of the December 1989 events until conducting dissertation research in Romania in 1993-1994.

    In essence, what I argue here is that one cannot understand the latest wave of Franco-German revisionism sufficiently without placing it in the context of prior historiography of the Revolution, especially revisionist historiography. Likewise, one cannot understand the Romanian historiography of the Revolution accurately without understanding the revisionist historiography of Romania’s communist security service, the Securitate, and how it has infected and weaved its way into the broader Romanian historiography. Finally, one cannot understand the deleterious effects of the first wave of Franco-German conspiracy theory on scholarly understandings in English without understanding the role émigré Romanian intellectuals played in relaying and legitimizing it.

    “REVISIONISM” OR…WHEN EVERYTHING TURNS OUT TO HAVE BEEN AN ILLUSION

    Revisionism has been a central and prominent feature of the historiography of the December 1989 Revolution. I should clarify what I mean by “revisionism” here. My definition of “revisionism” is necessarily broad because it is outcome-based rather than process-based. Although important, the causes of revisionism are not and should not be what defines it. Revisionism is certainly not bad, illegitimate, or incorrect by definition. Some revisionism turns out to have been well-grounded and proved right, some not. But to attribute or define revisionism in terms of some intentional agenda to obfuscate the truth or disinform is not only to vastly oversimplify human behavior, it is self-serving and self-deceiving at the same time, and does not help in understanding the phenomenon. Whereas “others” start from a premise or conclusion and then decide to produce an account that advocates it, “we” research and arrive at conclusions. It is true that the former exists—and plenty of those examples will be highlighted in this series—but the sources of revisionism are a lot more complex. Many “revisionists” merely interpret events through their prism of preexisting beliefs and understandings and do not intentionally arrive at the conclusions they do. What is important, however, is that their conclusions are still “revisionist” in that they substantially “revise” the initial understanding(s) of an event.

    Not all events lend themselves equally well to “revisionism.” The overthrow of Ceausescu does so precisely because of the striking uniformity of interpretations at the time of the events, a situation highlighted well by Verdery and Kligman in an article authored in November 1990 (Verdery and Kligman, 1992, pp. 118-119). To me, indicative of this were the chaotic events of 12 January 1990—three weeks after Ceausescu’s overthrow on 22 December—when demonstrators with no doubt as to the existence of “terrorists,” the name given to presumed Ceausescu loyalists during the December bloodshed, chanted “Death to the terrorists!” The besieged party-state bureaucrats who succeeded Ceausescu hastened to restore the death penalty for presumed “terrorists” (no longer under the immediate pressure of the crowds, they would renege on this promise the following day). In other words, those on either side of the fundamental post-Ceausescu political barricade agreed on the question of the existence of the “terrorists” (more on this critical issue later in this series).

    Perhaps the best example of the existence and influence of revisionism upon understandings of Ceausescu’s overthrow comes from a comparison made by Vladimir Tismaneanu of the comments by the famous contemporary historian of Central and Eastern Europe, Timothy Garton Ash, immediately after the December 1989 events and ten years later.

    “Reflecting on the December 1989 events in Romania, Timothy Garton Ash wrote: ‘Nobody hesitated to call what happened in Romania a revolution. After all, it really looked like one: angry crowds on the streets, tanks, government builldings in flames, the dictator put up against a wall and shot [Ash 1990, p. 20].’…However, ten years afterward, Ash would write: ‘Curiously enough the moment when people in the West finally thought there was a revolution was when they saw television pictures of Romania: crowds, tanks, shooting, blood in the streets. They said: That—we know THAT is a revolution, and of course the joke is that it was the only one that wasn’t.’ (Ash, “Conclusions,” in ed. Antohi and Tismaneanu, 1999, p. 395).” (Tismaneanu 2003, p. 230, p. 323 n. 115)

    That the idea of a “coup d’etat” or a “stolen revolution” came only later—i.e. was revisionist—is also demonstrated by Veronica Szabo’s intriguing study of a Romanian collection of graffiti on the walls of the center of Bucharest where demonstrations took place: “There is however, one scenario of the revolution which is not consistent with the data examined here, and that is the ‘hijacked revolution scenario’” (Szabo, “Handwriting on the Wall,” p. 6). As Szabo notes, the significance of the data set is its thoroughness (141 graffiti entries), its unobtrusive collection process, and the fact that it “was simultaneous rather than retrospective (the collection took place during the revolution)” (p. 4).

    RUMORS OF A REVOLUTIONARY DOCUMENTARY

    Long before its broadcast on the Franco-German TV Arte channel on Wednesday, 25 February 2004, the “Checkmate” documentary by Austrian filmmaker Susanne Brandstatter was creating a buzz. Meeting the filmmaker by chance in Berlin in late November 2003, Gabriela Adamesteanu, the editor of Romania’s well-known cultural and political weekly, “22,” conducted an interview of Brandstatter with bated breath and eager anticipation of the upcoming premier of the film (Adamesteanu, 2004). Coming in the pages of “22,” which has frequently hosted interviews and articles through the years alleging that the December 1989 events were a Soviet-led coup d’état, Brandstatter’s thesis that the events were primarily a CIA-led coup appeared somewhat out-of-place. Nevertheless, a coup is a coup is a coup to some extent, and although Adamesteanu asked Brandstatter leading questions on the Soviet role, and Brandstatter did not deny a KGB role, the interviewer was clearly seized with excitement about the film.

    Five days before the broadcast of the film, Vincent Jauvert summarized the documentary’s main thesis on the Internet site of the French daily “Le Nouvel Obervateur:” “Nicolae Ceausescu was not overthrown by his own people, but by the CIA” (“Le Nouvel Observateur,” 20 February 2004). In his article, Jauvert gave a sneak preview of what was to come in the film: admissions by Miklos Nemeth (the communist Hungarian Prime Minister at the time of the events in 1989), former CIA officials, and French intelligence officials, and an allegation that one of the key players in the December events, Romanian Army General Victor Athanasie Stanculescu, had been a Hungarian spy. The Romanian daily “Jurnalul National” relayed Jauvert’s descriptions three days later and, on the day before the film’s premier, presented a lengthy interview with Brandstatter under the headline: “The CIA and KGB shook hands in Bucharest” (“Jurnalul National,” 24 February 2004). Anticipation was so great that the chief editor of “Jurnalul National,” Marius Tuca, devoted his one-hour television show on the Antenae 1 Television Station on 23 February to the still-unseen documentary, with Stanculescu in the studio and Brandstatter participating by phone (Bucharest Antena 1 Television).

    BACKGROUND TO BRANDSTATTER: “OLD EUROPE,” “NEW EUROPE,” AND HISTORY AS CONTEMPORARY GEOPOLITICAL WISHBONE

    Brandstatter’s thesis of the Romanian Revolution as a CIA-led coup in conjunction with other interested intelligence services did not appear out-of-the-blue. Catherine Durandin, a French academic with a more substantial background in Romanian studies, argued the thesis on French television and in “Le Monde Diplomatique” in 2002 (Verluise, 2003). Durandin gives the KGB a larger role in the guiding of the December events than Brandstatter, but remains convinced that it was for the most part a CIA operation. In her statements in 2002 and 2003, she claimed that the CIA “currently controls Romania.” How does Durandin know about the CIA’s alleged guiding role in the December events? According to her: because she has had access to secret CIA documents that confirm it—documents that she appears to claim she saw in the preparation of her 2002 book entitled “The CIA at War,” which is an exposition of CIA misdeeds and skullduggery through the years (Durandin, 2003).

    In early 2003, Durandin took to the French airwaves, presenting her revelations on France-3 Television under the title, “Incontrovertible Proof.” Durandin stated:

    “the events of December [1989] in Bucharest were the consequence of a secret accord between Moscow and Washington….The CIA penetrated the highest echelons of the Romanian power structure at the very time ‘the frustrated Gorbachevites [of the Communist Party]’ were converted by the CIA.” (The Sunday Herald, 2003)

    In an intriguing article by Gabriel Ronay in the “The Sunday Herald (Glasgow)” on 30 March 2003, in the second week of the American invasion of Iraq—“French Accuse US of Masterminding Fall of the East Bloc”—Ronay noted the presence on the program of former DGSE (French external intelligence service) “secret agent” Dominique Fonveille, and Christian Harbulot, Director of France’s School of Economic Warfare. Ronay speculated that this was designed to “give weight” to Durandin’s allegations, especially in light of the fact that one of Durandin’s principal sources was General Francois Mermet, the influential Director-General of DGSE. Ronay offered that, in the wake of nasty exchanges between President Jacques Chirac and Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase over Romania’s letter of support for US policy toward Saddam Hussein—which by this time had translated into the US-led military attack to remove Hussein from power—“the timing of it [Durandin’s documentary] and the political intent appear to be rather obvious.”

    Ronay also reported on the brief furor that broke out among among some journalists and intellectuals in Romania in response to Durandin’s televised contentions. The biggest outcry was predictably from sharply pro-Western journalists and intellectuals, especially those who have long argued that the December 1989 events were a KGB coup—with the corresponding role of the Western security services minimal to non-existent—and that Romania continues to be controlled not by CIA agents, but by former or even present Russian agents. In other words, views that are 180 degrees at variance with those propounded by Durandin.

    Despite Durandin’s acknowledgement that there was also KGB “intervention” in the December 1989 events, her emphasis on the CIA role was naturally what caused a stir in Romania. In his dispatch, Ronay referenced an article in the daily “Ziua” entitled “The CIA is running Romania!” (“Ziua,” 24 March 2003). The author of the article, Dan Pavel, noted appropriately that Durandin’s claims were worthy of Albiciade—the pseudonym used by the former Ceausescu court bard, until recently leader of an ultranationalist political party, and surprise runner-up in the 2000 presidential elections, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, in his weekly “Romania Mare [Greater Romania].” Pavel’s reasoning for refuting Durandin’s thesis that the CIA engineered Ceausescu’s overthrow and was still running the show was hardly complimentary: “the CIA does not have analysts or influence agents capable enough to understand the chameleon-like Romanian political class,” so how, he asks, could it possibly have manipulated Romanian events as Durandin alleges?

    Those steeped enough in the literature on the Revolution (see Hall 1997, Hall 1999, and Hall 2002) know, however, that the allegations of a CIA role are only one half of the “Yalta-Malta” scenario Albiciade routinely advocates. [That the KGB plays a central and defining role in the “national communist” version of Ceausescu’s overthrow, propagated by the likes of “Albiciade,” is not solely a personal view —see Siani-Davies’ description of it in Siani-Davies, 2001]. What Pavel fails to admit is that the writings of Albiciade also contain the overwhelming majority of the cherished claims he and like-minded journalists and intellectuals marshal to demonstrate that the December 1989 events were a Soviet-engineered coup. The cold, hard reality of it all is that it is simply far easier to ridicule the clunky and simplistic anti-American cant of Albiciade, than to acknowledge and attempt to explain the embarrasing similarity of their views on the role of the KGB in December 1989 with those of former Ceausescu regime elements, especially the former Securitate. The latter has two possible outcomes: either the former Securitate is telling the truth on these issues—a possibility that cannot be dismissed out of hand—or it is lying and Pavel and his colleagues have swallowed some of the Securitate’s biggest tall-tales.

    The circumstances surrounding the unveiling of Brandstatter’s documentary in February 2004 thus mirror those of Durandin’s television appearance roughly a year earlier. Echoing Ronay, Gheorghe Bratescu wrote in an article entitled “Budapestian Enigmas” on the on-line journal “Clipa”:

    “The question is a classic one, that is ‘Cui prodest?’ all this, more specifically in Romanian, who does the French-German documentary benefit? It is clear that this is the subtle propaganda of the French and German policy of sanctioning Romania for Romania’s steadfast support of the United States [with regard to the Iraq war]. Therefore the documentary tries to ‘demonize’ the Romanian people, by presenting them to French and German spectators as marionettes of the American administration, who in 1989 [supposedly] were already concentrating their entire diplomatic and intelligence/espionage arsenal on making Romania the pawn of their long-term influence in Central and Eastern Europe…The appearance of the ‘Checkmate’ documentary, now in 2004, is not accidental. It unambiguously serves the electoral campaign for the European Parliament [June 2004], with dozens of candidates campaigning on an anti-American platform and on slowing the admission of some countries from the East of the continent into the European Union, espcially Romania, considered an American ‘Trojan Horse,’ a theme advanced often in the French press.” (“Clipa,” 11 March 2004).

    *It is doubtful that Usama Bin Ladin’s most direct claim of credit to date for the 11 September 2001 attacks in his 29 October 2004 video will cause revisionists to reassess their views—although it further undermines the credibility of their allegations.

    SOURCES

    Adamesteanu, G., 2004, interview with Susanne Brandstatter, “Sah-mat. Strategia unei revolutii [Checkmate. Strategy of a Revolution], in “22,” (Bucharest), no. 721, 30 December 2003-5 January 2004, web edition, http://www.revista22.ro.

    Ash, T. G., 1990, The Magic Lantern (New York: Random House).

    Ash, T. G., 2000, “Conclusions,” in Antohi, S. and Tismaneanu, V. (eds.), Between Past and Future: The Revolutions of 1989 and Their Aftermath (New York: Central European University Press).

    Bucharest Antena 1 Television, 2030 GMT 23 February 2004 in FBIS, 24 February 2004.

    “Clipa On-line,” 2004, web edition, http://www.clipa.com.

    Durandin, C., 2003, “Le CIA en Guerre [The CIA at War]” (Paris: Grancher) .

    Hall, R. A. 1997, “Rewriting the Revolution: Authoritarian Regime-State Relations and the Triumph of Securitate Revisionism in Post-Ceausescu Romania,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Indiana University).

    Hall, R. A., 1999, “The Uses of Absurdity: The Staged War Theory and the Romanian Revolution of December 1989,” in “East European Politics and Societies,” Vol. 13, no.3, pp. 501-542.

    Hall, R. A., 2002, “The Securitate Roots of a Modern Romanian Fairy Tale: The Press, the Former Securitate, and the Historiography of December 1989,” Radio Free Europe “East European Perspectives,” Vol. 4, nos. 7-9.

    “Jurnalul National,” (Bucharest), 2004, web edition, http://www.jurnalul.ro.

    “Le Monde,” 2004, web edition, http://www.lemonde.fr.

    “Le Nouvel Observateur,” 2004, found at http://www.confidentiel.firestream.net.

    MTV 1 (Magyar Televizio 1), 2004. “Csutortok este [Thursday Evening],” 26 February at http://www.icenter.hu.

    “New York Times,” 2002.

    Reuters, 2003.

    Siani-Davies, P., 2001, “The Revolution after the Revolution,” in Phinnemore, D. Light, D. (eds.), Post-Communist Romania: Coming to Terms with Transition (London: Palgrave), pp. 1-34.

    Szabo, V. 2002, “Handwriting on the Wall,” at http://users.ox.ac.uk/~oaces/conference/papers/Veronica_Szabo.pdf

    “The Sunday Herald,” (Glasgow), 2004, found at http://lists.econ.utah.edu.

    Tismaneanu, V., 2003, Stalinism for All Seasons (Berkeley: University of California Press).

    Verdery K. and Kligman G., 1992, “Romania after Ceausescu: Post-Communist Communism?” in Banac, I. (ed.), Eastern Europe in Revolution (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), pp. 117-147.

    Verluise, P., 2003, interview with Catherine Durandin, “La ‘revolution’ de 1989 [The “revolution” of 1989],” at http://www.diploweb.com.

    “Wall Street Journal,” 2003.

    “The Washington Post,” 2002.

    “Ziua” (Bucharest), 2003, web edition, http://www.ziua.ro.

    My thanks in particular to the libraries at Babes-Bolyai University (Cluj) and Indiana University (Bloomington) for the use of their collections in the process of researching and writing this series.

    This article was originally prepared for submission to Radio Free Europe’s online publication “East European Perspectives (EEP),” where I previously published on the topics of Securitate revisionism (2002) and nationalism in late-communist Hungary and Serbia (2003). Due to shifting priorities, RFE is reducing its coverage of Romania and plans to discontinue EEP. EEP provided a forum for younger scholars such as myself, as well as for scholars from central and eastern Europe, and it will be missed. My thanks to Dr. Michael Shafir for providing that opportunity.

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