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The Curse of Ceausescu

BUCHAREST: For eight years, as one year ends and a new one begins, the political temperature rises here. Even foreigners only dimly aware of the country’s politics take note. People call it "Ceausescu’s curse." This year, however, the "curse" took on a face and a name: Dan Voinea.

On December 25, 1989 Major Dan Voinea acted as lead military prosecutor at the hurried "trial" of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, demanding at its close the death penalty for both. The two were shot only a few minutes later. Voinea accused the couple of the "genocide" of 60,000 people. As investigations later discovered, that figure was inflated. But such hype seems in keeping with the trial itself. Recorded on video, to view it now is to see a Stalinist show-trial, the last one (let's hope!) in Eastern Europe.

The faces gathered alongside Voinea in that fateful courtroom continue to haunt Romanian life. Supposedly steeped in remorse, the military judge later committed suicide; General Atanase Stanculescu, who only a few days before the trial had ordered troops to open fire on street demonstrators in Timisoara, was named Minister of Defense not long after sentence was pronounced; Virgil Magureanu became the powerful head of the Romanian Intelligence Service. All were assigned their courtroom roles by Ion Iliescu, president of the National Salvation Front.

Why did trial and sentence proceed in a rush? That unanswered question remains at the heart of Romanian politics. At the time, the new regime claimed it was threatened by mysterious "terrorists" who were keeping Bucharest under siege. With the tyrant’s death, shooting in the streets did indeed stop. But since then, however, no "terrorist" has ever been judged guilty in a court of law. And no one can explain why more people – civilians and soldiers alike – died after Ceausescu tried to flee for his life than during the dictator’s final chaotic days of rule.