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Timisoara Massacre

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On December 16, 1989, thousands of people took to the streets of Timisoara in Romania to protest food shortages, harassment of a dissident ethnic-Hungarian priest, Laszlo Tokes, and the dictatorship of Nicholai Ceausescu in general. Many were teenagers and students, and the brutal suppression of these protests marked the beginning of the end for the Ceausescu regime. A few days after the massacre in Timisoara, Ceausescu gave a speech in Bucharest before one hundred thousand people, who shouted down the eccentric tyrant with the cries of “Timisoara!” and “Down with the murderers!” Ceausescu tried to escape the country with $1 billion, but he was captured and executed. It was the last of the popular uprisings against communist rule in eastern Europe that year, and the only one that turned violent.

With Ceausescu gone, Western journalists are invited to see the horrors of the Ceausescu regime. Already on the day Ceausescu was overthrown, locals in Timisoara were unearthing mass graves, believed by townspeople to be holding as many as 4,500 bodies, massacred by the security forces in just three days. The interim Romanian government showed nineteen bodies found in a shallow grave as the victims of the dictatorship. There Robert Maass took the infamous photograph of an unknown man crying over the bodies of a mother and an infant.

Although it was widely assumed otherwise at the time, it later transpired that the crying man and the dead women were not the dead infant’s parents. It was also later revealed that some bodies in the mass grave were not the direct victims of the regime — the mother died of cirrhosis, and the infant of crib death (or sudden infant death syndrome). The locals stage-managed the gruesome event primarily for the international media. Controversy followed, and Timisoara became a symbol (albeit briefly) of media manipulation and sensationalism. It is a photoevent that clearly illustrates the themes we have again and again visited on this site: Can we rely on photographs, and by extension, photographers? Can photographers and newsmen escape from attempts to manipulate them?

It is now believed that the number of dead in Timisoara was probably fewer than 100. Ten years on, the BBC mused whether the key events of the revolution were stage-managed by enemies of democracy (namely the anti-Ceausescu forces within the ruling elite) and whether the Romanian revolution was not a revolution, but rather a coup d’etat. Today, some twenty years after these events, with Romania firmly inside the European Union, we often forget that communist allies controlled politics and economy in Romania until 1996, and that successive Romanian governments blocked attempts to prosecute those responsible for the bloodsheds of 1989.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 30, 2010 at 1:02 pm

16 Responses

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  1. I’m a Romanian and I thank you for posting this, because very few know about what happened and very few know about Romania.
    But I can tell you, it was a revolution. Maybe not in every city in Romania, but in Timisoara and Bucharest for sure. And maybe it wasn’t a massacre, but the number of deaths was greater than 100.
    The young men fought for our liberty and against the communist regime that dried us up.

    dariana

    August 31, 2010 at 9:36 am

  2. I remember this very well – the population lived in dark age conditions and under repression and Ceausescu and his cronies lived in opulence.
    Think the most vivid memory was of the population living in the dark due to power shortages and only having one room lit while he had imported crystal chandeliers using over 500 light bulbs in most rooms

    Vicki Day

    September 5, 2010 at 1:35 pm

  3. [...] Abril de 1969. Una mujer sudvietnamita llora la muerte de su marido antes de ser enterrado en una fosa común de la ciudad de Hue. El fotoperiodista Horst Fass captó la impotencia de la joven para inmortalizarla en uno de lo reportajes periodísticos de fotodenuncia más duros de aquella guerra. 16 de Diciembre de 1989. Protestas en las calles de Timisoara en Rumanía contra la escasez de alimentos y la dictadura de Nicholai Ceausescu. La sublevación popular acaba con el dictador comunista, que sería ejecutado tan solo una semana después. Pasada la tormenta, los periodistas occidentales fueron invitados a contemplar las ‘proezas’ del régimen. Decenas de fosas comunes en Timisoara se vaciaron para la identificación de cadáveres. En una de ellas, el fotógrafo Robert Mass captó la infinita aflicción de un hombre por el que creía su bebé. Fuente, 2. [...]

  4. [...] Abril de 1969. Una mujer sudvietnamita llora la muerte de su marido antes de ser enterrado en una fosa común de la ciudad de Hue. El fotoperiodista Horst Fass captó la impotencia de la joven para inmortalizarla en uno de lo reportajes periodísticos de fotodenuncia más duros de aquella guerra. 16 de Diciembre de 1989. Protestas en las calles de Timisoara en Rumanía contra la escasez de alimentos y la dictadura de Nicholai Ceausescu. La sublevación popular acaba con el dictador comunista, que sería ejecutado tan solo una semana después. Pasada la tormenta, los periodistas occidentales fueron invitados a contemplar las ‘proezas’ del régimen. Decenas de fosas comunes en Timisoara se vaciaron para la identificación de cadáveres. En una de ellas, el fotógrafo Robert Mass captó la infinita aflicción de un hombre por el que creía su bebé. Fuente, 2. [...]

  5. [...] Abril de 1969. Una mujer sudvietnamita llora la muerte de su marido antes de ser enterrado en una fosa común de la ciudad de Hue. El fotoperiodista Horst Fass captó la impotencia de la joven para inmortalizarla en uno de lo reportajes periodísticos de fotodenuncia más duros de aquella guerra. 16 de Diciembre de 1989. Protestas en las calles de Timisoara en Rumanía contra la escasez de alimentos y la dictadura de Nicholai Ceausescu. La sublevación popular acaba con el dictador comunista, que sería ejecutado tan solo una semana después. Pasada la tormenta, los periodistas occidentales fueron invitados a contemplar las ‘proezas’ del régimen. Decenas de fosas comunes en Timisoara se vaciaron para la identificación de cadáveres. En una de ellas, el fotógrafo Robert Mass captó la infinita aflicción de un hombre por el que creía su bebé. Fuente, 2. [...]

  6. Thank you for sharing that on your blog.

  7. Thanks for the good writeup. It in truth was a leisure account it. Look advanced to more delivered agreeable from you! By the way, how can we keep up a correspondence?

    sex toys

    September 12, 2011 at 8:42 am

  8. [...] República Socialista de Rumania” disparar contra la población civil que se manifestaba en Timisoara. La rebelión se extendió y llegó a Bucarest, donde el 22 de diciembre las Fuerzas Armadas [...]

  9. [...] la República Socialista de Rumania" disparar contra la población civil que se manifestaba en Timisoara. La rebelión se extendió y llegó a Bucarest, donde el 22 de diciembre las Fuerzas Armadas [...]

  10. [...] Abril de 1969. Una mujer sudvietnamita llora la muerte de su marido antes de ser enterrado en una fosa común de la ciudad de Hue. El fotoperiodista Horst Fass captó la impotencia de la joven para inmortalizarla en uno de lo reportajes periodísticos de fotodenuncia más duros de aquella guerra. 16 de Diciembre de 1989. Protestas en las calles de Timisoara en Rumanía contra la escasez de alimentos y la dictadura deNicholai Ceausescu. La sublevación popular acaba con el dictador comunista, que sería ejecutado tan solo una semana después. Pasada la tormenta, los periodistas occidentales fueron invitados a contemplar las ‘proezas’ del régimen. Decenas de fosas comunes en Timisoara se vaciaron para la identificación de cadáveres. En una de ellas, el fotógrafo Robert Mass captó la infinita aflicción de un hombre por el que creía su bebé. Fuente, 2. [...]

  11. The Timisoara story is more complicated and tragic than it seems, as the participant and researcher Marius Mioc and others have documented. Thank you.

    http://romanianrevolutionofdecember1989.com/revisiting-the-myths-of-the-revolution-part-ii-the-timisoara-syndrome-or-the-false-timisoara-grave-the-paupers-cemeterymassacre/

    romanianrevolutionofdecember1989

    January 13, 2014 at 2:11 am

  12. Reblogged this on Menningarmiðlun ehf. and commented:
    Mögnuð ljósmynd sem hefur orðið einkennandi fyrir falsanir fjölmiðla. Fjöldamorðin í Timisoara í Rúmeníu ollu falli einræðisherrans Nicholai Ceausescu. Talað var um að allt að 4500 manns hefðu fallið fyrir hendi öryggissveita Ceausescu en nú er talið að færri en 100 hafi verið myrtir.

    Skúli Sæland

    January 19, 2014 at 6:21 pm

  13. Hello! Does any of you know the name of the photographer/photojournalist who took that picture?

    Betty

    January 20, 2014 at 10:07 am

  14. ha, sorry for the question..i somehow missed the sentence with the photographer’s name…

    Betty

    January 20, 2014 at 2:19 pm

  15. […] Massacre of Timisoara, 1989 […]


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