U.S. Reaction to Romanian Violence
In this December 18 communique from the U.S. Department of State, spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler briefed the press about the recent events in Timisoara, Romania, where demonstrators protesting the forcible relocation of local minister Laszlo Tokes to another congregation had been assaulted by the government's security forces. Tutwiler's limited account of what happened reflected the efforts by the Romanian government to prevent the media from accessing the area. In the days that followed, the reports of gunfire would be confirmed and the number of casualties would be speculated at several thousand (this figure was later lowered). Despite the fact that popular protests had already led to concessions by communist authorities in several other countries in the region, the U.S. maintained a wait-and-see attitude towards the situation in the first few days following the crackdown. The tenacity with which Nicolae Ceausescu's particularly repressive regime clung to power meant that developments might not unfold in Romania the same way they had elsewhere.
U.S. Department of State to European Diplomatic Posts, "Eur Daily Press Guidance," 19 December 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
Q: THERE ARE TENSIONS IN ROMANIA, REPORTS OF CITIZENS BEING KILLED, TROOPS ON ALERT. WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW THERE?
A: VIOLENT CLASHES BETWEEN DEMONSTRATORS AND GOVERNMENT FORCES TOOK PLACE OVER THE WEEKEND IN A WESTERN ROMANIAN CITY. THE EVENTS WERE TRIGGERED BY THE GOVERNMENT'S ATTEMPT TO FORCIBLY EVICT HUNGARIAN REFORMED CHURCH REVEREND LASZLO TOKES FROM HIS CHURCH PURSUANT TO A LOCAL COURT RULING WHICH ORDERED HIS TRANSFER TO A CONGREGATION IN ANOTHER TOWN.
SEVERAL HUNDRED MEMBERS OF TOKES' CONGREGATION APPARENTLY LAUNCHED A DEMONSTRATION DECEMBER 16 IN SUPPORT OF HIS REFUSAL TO VACATE THE CHURCH PREMISES. THE DEMONSTRATION APPARENTLY GREW IN SIZE AND TOOK ON AN ANTI-GOVERNMENT TONE.
ON SUNDAY, DECEMBER 17, GOVERNMENT SECURITY UNITS BRUTALLY PUT DOWN THE DEMONSTRATION WITH THE USE OF TRUNCHEONS, TEAR GAS AND WATER CANNONS. THERE ARE ALSO UNCONFIRMED REPORTS OF GUNFIRE. AT THIS TIME I CANNOT CONFIRM ANY CASUALTIES OR THE USE OF GUNFIRE.
Q: WHAT DOES THE U.S. THINK OF THESE DEMONSTRATIONS IN ROMANIA? ...
A: SINCE THE GOVERNMENT DOESN'T HAVE THE SUPPORT OF THE PEOPLE, IT IS FOLLOWING THE TERRIBLY MISTAKEN COURSE OF USING SECURITY FORCES TO REPRESS A SERIOUS MANIFESTATION OF POPULAR DISCONTENT WITH THE POLICIES OF THE CEAUSESCU REGIME.
WE HAVE CONSISTENTLY CRITICIZED THAT REGIME'S REPRESSION OF DISSENT AND DENIAL OF FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS TO ITS PEOPLE. WE ARE ESPECIALLY CRITICAL OF THE USE OF FORCE BY THE ROMANIAN AUTHORITIES AGAINST REVEREND TOKES' WHO, WITH THE OVERWHELMING SUPPORT OF HIS CONGREGATION, WAS SEEKING TO EXERCISE HIS RELIGIOUS RIGHTS.
OUR EMBASSY IN BUCHAREST HAS REPEATEDLY SOUGHT TO VISIT AND TALK WITH REVEREND TOKES', BUT SUCH VISITS HAVE BEEN PREVENTED BY SECURITY PERSONNEL DEPLOYED AROUND HIS CHURCH AND HOME. WE CALL UPON THE ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT TO CEASE ITS PRESSURE AGAINST REVEREND TOKES' AND HIS CONGREGATION AND ALLOW HIM TO EXERCISE HIS FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOM TO COMMUNICATE.
Q: SINCE WE'VE BEEN ACCUSTOMED TO COMMUNIST CONCESSIONS IN EASTERN EUROPEAN COUNTRIES, WHEN WE SEE THE PROTEST MOVEMENT GROWING--IT'S HAPPENED IN FIVE COUNTRIES—ANY INDICATION THAT ROMANIA IS BEGINNING TO MAKE ANY OVERTURES, ANY CONCESSIONS?
A: I WOULDN'T WANT TO SPECULATE WITH YOU.
Q: MARGARET, THE ROMANIANS ARE SEALING THE BORDERS, APPARENTLY IN AN ATTEMPT TO KEEP NEWS FROM GETTING OUT. DO YOU HAVE--DOES THAT CONCERN YOU? DOES THAT SEEM LIKE AN OMINOUS DEVELOPMENT?
A: OF COURSE, IT WOULD CONCERN US, AND, OF COURSE, JUST AS IN ALL THE OTHER COUNTRIES, WE ARE FOR SELF-DETERMINATION OF THOSE PEOPLE. THIS IS NO DIFFERENT IN ROMANIA THAN IT HAS BEEN IN ANY OF THE OTHER COUNTRIES, AND WE WOULD OBVIOUSLY SUPPORT THE PEOPLE IN THEIR EFFORTS—THAT'S WHAT THE PEOPLE ARE DOING TOWARDS PEACEFUL CHANGE.
Q: ... I WAS WONDERING WHAT SPECIFICALLY COULD DO OR YOU THINK WOULD BE ABLE TO DO IN ROMANIA TO CHANGE THIS—
A: ... I THINK WE CAN DO IS WHAT WE'VE DONE IN OTHER COUNTRIES, AS THE PRESIDENT AND THE SECRETARY OF STATE HAVE DONE IS CALL OUT FOR PEACEFUL CHANGE, FOR SELF-DETERMINATION OF THESE PEOPLE, TO STAND UP AND ENUNCIATE OUR VALUES THAT WE'VE STOOD FOR, FOR 200 YEARS.
Q: I AM WONDERIN ARE YOU GOING TO HAND OVER A DEMARCHE, OR ARE YOU CONTEMPLATING SOME MEASURES, ECONOMIC RESTRICTIONS, WHATEVER? WHAT PRACTICAL STEPS COULD BE TAKEN TO HELP HUMAN RIGHTS OBSERVED IN ROMANIA?
A: ... OUR AMBASSADOR IS DETERMINING RIGHT NOW AS WE'RE BRIEFING, OR WHATEVER TIME IT IS THERE, WHAT FORM OUR PROTEST WILL TAKE....