Romania: The second fall of Ceausescu

The 2017 protests in Romania mirror the 1989 ones. They both brought down a corrupt kleptocratic order.

Romania''s leader Nicolae Ceausescu
Romania's communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu waves to the crowds in May 1987, two years before his regime was brought down [AP]

December 21, 1989, University Square, Bucharest, Romania, in the dead of night. About 5,000 protesters were there, mostly young people. For years, Romanians lived in fear of the cold, of starvation, disease and darkness, while the Communist Party promised prosperity and material security. And yet, nobody was screaming “We want food!”, “We want heat in our houses!” or “Medicine for all!”

In front of tanks and machine guns, the people were proving that they didn’t want to live as slaves of a dictatorship any more; they chanted “Down with Ceaucescu!”, “Down with communism!”, “Freedom!”

The parents of the teenagers in the street tried to stop them. Some of them would even lock the doors of their homes to stop their children from going out.

February 4, 2017, Victory Square, Bucharest, Romania. For the 200,000 people – mostly young people – the wage increases and tax cuts promised by the Social Democratic Party (PSD) ring hollow.

Again, after 27 years, they take to the streets in support of an ethical idea. “Down with the thieves!”, “The DNA [the Anti-Corruption Prosecutors Unit] will get you!” – they chant.

Today, there are no tanks or machine guns, but there are counter-demos. Parents are not locking up their disobedient children, but instead are out in the streets in small organised groups supporting the PSD and believing its promises of higher pensions.

The protesters of December 1989 fought against a communist dictatorship. Now, the protesters of the “Light Revolution” – which got its name from the sea of smartphones flashlights in Victory Square – are fighting against corruption, theft, and the lies of politicians.

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Widespread corruption is a form of dictatorship which arose from “Ceausism” after 1989. Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s nationalist communism gravely damaged the system of values of the Romanian nation. Too many members of the communist elite snatched power, money, privileges, and assets without giving back anything to the society or contributing anything of value to it. And too many ordinary citizens were not fairly rewarded for their hard work and contributions to society.

Now, the same is happening again. In communism, the false societal differences were made legal by the constitution and by political control over every facet of the Romanian society and state, including the judiciary. 

And yet, this miraculous popular protest, unique in Romania's history, managed to achieve something great: the second and definitive fall of Ceausescu.


In today’s Romania, political and administrative powers are used for breaking the law through corruption and theft, for the same ultimate goal: money, privileges, and assets in huge quantities, placing the corrupt establishment above the honest humiliated citizens.

In the past few years the only effective opposition to the looting of Romania’s national resources has been the judiciary, with the DNA at the forefront.

The counter-propaganda of those currently in power is very similar to that of Ceausescu. During his last few days, the tyrant declared that “foreign agencies” are fomenting and guiding the anti-regime protests. He refused to accept the idea that some Romanians did not love him and thus opposed him.

The president of PSD, Liviu Dragnea, and his ally, Calin Popescu Tariceanu, the senate’s president, declared that the hundreds of thousands of people in the street are manipulated by multinational corporations, foreign secret services, “agents” of the billionaire George Soros and the Romanian president of German origin Klaus Iohannis.

In spite of the temporary victory of the protesters who forced the government to retract the legal changes to the penal code they passed secretly to protect people who have abused power, similar amendments could still be reinstated by the parliament, which still dominated by the PSD.

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Despite the massive protests, no one in the government admitted to making a mistake or accepted the blame for what happened. Not even the minister of justice did so – he simply said he is resigning because of “public opinion pressure”.

And yet, this miraculous popular protest, unique in Romania’s history, managed to achieve something great: the second and definitive fall of Ceausescu.

From now on, in Romania, it will no longer be possible for decisions to be made and enforced through authoritarian means, circumventing the rule of law, the constitution and common sense. The Romanian people will be on their watch, ready to take to the streets.

Cristian Tudor Popescu is a Romanian writer. He holds a PhD in Media and Filmology.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.