Romania’s Former President Charged With Crimes Against Humanity

Former Romanian President Ion Iliescu, alongside two other high-ranking officials, were formally charged with crimes against humanity in early April. Sending shockwaves through the country, the 2-time president has been indicted for his active contribution in the 1989 Romanian Revolution. In the violent revolt against dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist regime, Iliescu, Gelu Voican Voiculescu, and Iosif Rosu – his former Vice President and Air Force chief respectively – are accused of manipulating the Romanian public to cultivate an atmosphere of terror and destruction, which resulted in 862 deaths and more than 2 100 people injured.

Despite Iliescu’s maintenance of innocence, Voiculescu expressed that this was merely a delayed act of “political revenge”. The charges against the three came after Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar vowed three years earlier to launch an inquiry into the ‘Revolution Files’ – that is, the historical accounts and documents that recorded the events, and which have since been updated. Lazar described the monumental task as paying “a debt of honour to history and our country”. Echoing the same enthusiasm, the decision was also welcomed by current Romanian President Klaus Iohanis, as he described it as a “necessary act” that “honours our heroes”, 30 years after the collapse of communism in Romania.

The news came as a surprise, for two reasons. One, being the controversial nature of the ‘Revolution Files’ and their initial investigation in 2009 that saw no indictments. As a political scientist from the University of Bucharest emphasised, searching for the truth after 30 years is no easy task, and the previous enquiry counters the current findings. Another obvious consideration is that Iliescu is beyond his prime years. It is important to consider how effective the 89-year old’s defence and testimony will be, as he still claims the esteemed position of ‘Romania’s eldest statesman’, despite his disgraceful actions and violent rule.

Through an aggressive campaign of misinformation – spanning from televised appearances to press releases – critics have commented how the former President ‘stole’ the political revolution from the Romanian people to cement his authoritarian-like power amidst a political climate of uncertainty.  Prosecutors described how over five days, Iliescu capitalised on the chaotic aftermath of the communist dictator’s escape from Romania’s capital, and his later arrest. Amongst these allegations, speculation surrounds Iliescu’s orchestration of Ceausescu’s criminal trial, which led to his and his wife, Elena’s, widely publicised execution. Many of the civilian casualties of the 1989 revolution were caused by shooting, clubbing or stabbing. It is reported that others were crushed by brigades of military vehicles. Prosecutors described how this unrelenting force was at the command of the former President, who successfully aided a “general state of psychosis, triggering friendly fire, chaotic shooting, and contradictory military orders”.

While Lazar was remorseful about the time it took to finalise the charges against the trio, his recent comments were genuine: it is a ‘special’ time for Romania and Romanians everywhere. There was a desperate need to hold those responsible for the terrorism that occurred in 1989 – and finally – those who are accountable for the death and destruction have been named. However, as stressed earlier, time is of the essence. There is currently no confirmation of when the trial of the three men will begin. If justice is truly to be had, and the victims of the violent revolution are to be genuinely honoured, onlookers can only hope for an imminent trial.