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The History of Romania in One Object: The Flag of the 1989 Revolution

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

Photo 1: Image from the Revolution in Bucharest

This object, the tricolor flag with a hole in the middle, which was flown by the revolutionaries of 1989, is an object loaded with memories and emotions.

Photo 2: Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu in 1989

1989 began as the year of complete desperation and ended as a time of great expectations. It was the year when Ceaușescu’s cult of personality, the glorification “of the Comrade and his wife”, had reached epic levels, when the two daily hours of TV broadcast were entirely dedicated to the dictatorial couple, when the lack of water, electricity, gas, heat, food, consumer goods was part of the humiliating daily life in Socialist Romania. 1989 was the year of pompous homages and of the obsessive slogan Ceauşescu re-elected at the 14th Congress, chanted in November, which soon would turn into Ole, ole, ole, Ceauşescu is no more! on December 22, when the autocrat Secretary General of the Romanian Communist Party was forced to flee Bucharest.

The revolution engulfed a desperate Romania at the middle of December, raging through a country hungry for food and hope, where stations like Radio Europa Liberă (Radio Free Europe) and Vocea Americii (The Voice of America) were bringing the news that freedom had come to the Eastern Bloc and where courageous young people were printing and spreading anti-Communist manifestos in the hope that the wave of change which was sweeping Central and Eastern Europe would reach them too.

Photo 3-8: The Romanian Revolution in Timișoara and Bucharest

The upheaval started in Timișoara on December 16. Enraged, Ceaușescu ordered the security apparatus to open fire on the demonstrators, calling the tens of thousands who took to the streets "terrorists" and "hooligans". But it was too late. Similar protests followed in Arad, Brașov, Sibiu, Cugir, Sfântul Gheorghe, Târgu Mureș. On December 21, the authorities in Bucharest reacted by setting up a mammoth rally in support of Ceauşescu and his regime. The move, which brought together thousands of workers from the capital’s major factories, backfired and degenerated into a fully-fledged anti-communist protest, signaling the start of the revolution in Bucharest.

Photo 9: Our children will be free

Photo 10: Do not shoot the people

The symbol of the Revolution of December 1989 was the cropped tricolor flag. The revolutionaries took the flag of the Socialist Republic of Romania and cut off the communist coat of arms from its center, thus transforming a symbol of oppression and totalitarianism into one of hope and freedom. Thousands of such flags were carried on the streets of Romanian cities and were erected on the buildings of public institutions that had been true bastions of communism.

Photo 9: The revolutionary flag in the collection of the National History Museum of Romania

Photo 10: Nicolae Ceaușescu addressing the masses gathered for the December 21 rally, trying to calm the spirits

The tricolor flag with the hole in the middle was offered to the National History Museum of Romania by Antoniu Octavian Mureșanu, a participant in the Bucharest demonstrations. It was taken by a friend of his from the stairs of an apartment building and carried on several key locations throughout the capital on December 21 and 22. Mureșanu and his friend were present in the Palace Square when, after the aborted rally, Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu fled the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party on board a helicopter just to meet their deaths by firing squad a few days later in Târgoviște (approximately 50 miles North-West from Bucharest) on Christmas Day. What an ironic memento that that while climbing into the helicopter Elena Ceaușescu was screaming: Open fire! Open fire!

The death toll of the 1989 Revolution reached 1,166 people, killed in several cities that would later be designated as “martyr cities”: Alba Iulia, Arad, Brașov, Brăila, București, Buzău, Caransebeș, Cluj-Napoca, Constanța, Craiova, Cugir, Hunedoara, Lugoj, Reșița, Sibiu, Târgoviște, Târgu Mureș, and Timișoara.

Photo 11: The symbol-image of the Romanian Bucharest, this was the cover of the Paris Match French magazine. The boy wrapped up in the flag of the Revolution was nicknamed the Gavroche of Bucharest

The heroism of these men and women led to the fall of Ceauşescu’s regime and brought freedom to all Romanians. The momentous and tragic upheaval of 1989 changed the destiny of our country forever. Romania shook of a dictatorial system to become a free nation where fundamental human rights were reinstated and respected.

THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, our online program that evokes decisive epochs in the Romanian past starting from objects with powerful symbolic and representative value, is developed in partnership with The National History Museum of Romania. Text and video presentation by historian Andrei-Marius Trifu.



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