Maria Bucur: What were your experiences of 1989 in Romania?
I, for personal reasons, happened to be at the border between Hungary and Romania the night that the Timisoara events started on the 16th, 17th, of December 1989 and I tried to make it to the border. I was turned around at the border together with all the other non-Romanian citizens who were on the train, returned to Budapest until the 21st of December and on the 21st of December I realized that things were really changing fast and irreversibly and I decided to find a way to get back to Romania. I had ten dollars, and so I had to find a creative way to make myself, useful to somebody who needed to go back to Romania.
I found a lost American who spoke no Romanian and he seemed to be in need of a person like myself, so we slowly made our way back to the Romanian border by car and by the 23rd of December, which is right after Ceausescu fled, I had returned to Romania and I spent then another three weeks in Romania, so I sort of saw the revolution initially in Budapest as it was just starting and then from the border, driving from Arad through Sibiu.
Sibiu was a place where there was a lot of violence and in fact, on the morning of the 23rd, I was driving with an American citizen, a Hungarian citizen who was a translator for the Spanish journalist we had with us. It was about 6:00 o'clock in the morning. The sun was just coming up and the problem was, and we didn’t know this very well, that there was still violence and there was shooting between the Securitate, the Secret Police forces and the Army in Sibiu. We actually drove through an area of Sibiu where there was fighting and I could actually see bullets ricocheting above us. There were people on top of the buildings shooting at each other and we just kind of went for it, just praying that nobody was going to aim their guns at us and they didn’t but it was kind of a close encounter, I would say, and then we ended up in Bucharest while they were still fighting.
The Romanian Revolution was literally the televised revolution and what was happening in Bucharest on the night of the 21st and the 22nd of December was that, on one hand, there was fighting in downtown Bucharest in the central square where Ceausescu was last seen, and by the same token, there were people trying to take over the television station so that people outside of Bucharest would know what was happening.
So when we tried to cross the border from the Hungarian side, the guards pulled us in and they said, “okay, watch this on TV and then you decide if you want to go” and they said, "you know, probably not a good idea to be crossing the border right now.” So we crossed the border and we get to the Romanian side and, of course, I’m the only person with a visa because I actually was going officially to Romania and I’ve got these people who are all foreigners who have no connections, no reason to be in Romania, right, in a Hungarian car, so we put all our passports together and mine on top. I had a passport of a Romanian citizen living abroad, so I was sort of outside/inside kind of person, and with a visa and we handed them over to the soldier.
The guy disappears for about 15 minutes. We’re getting very nervous because they all have guns pointed at us, and then I finally asked the guy in Romanian, "Um, is there a problem?” And we took something like $25.00 and we went in and we put it inside of the passports and we said, "you know, we really don’t need a receipt for the visas” and 25 bucks got us into Romania. But what was interesting is they were watching the television also. And they didn’t know how to interpret this either.