The City of Revolution Now Must Build a New Society
In December, Timisoara, a Romanian city of 350,000 on the Hungarian border, ignited the revolt against dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. But the changes here have really only begun.
TIMISOARA, ROMANIA — LUMINITA BOTOC was killed on Dec. 17, 1989. She was 13 years old. Her picture hangs among wreaths, flowers, and burning candles that fill the square between the cathedral and the opera house here in the cradle of the Romanian revolution. The dramatic days of December last year are still present in this city of 350,000 people. Buildings full of bullet holes and graffiti - condemning the securitate, communism, and Ceausescu while proclaiming that the ``army is with us'' - are everywhere. Every day, at the square in front of the opera where Puccini's ``Tosca'' is playing, men gather to talk. They are no longer discussing soccer, but politics - late into the night.
There is pride here of Timisoara's role in the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. They tell the story time and again of how Timisoara fought alone for a week before the capital, Bucharest, woke up and joined the revolution. People are aware of the many unanswered questions surrounding the dramatic days of December. They still don't know how many were killed - 110 is a common figure. Others say hundreds more. The hope is that the present trial of 21 high officials from the Ceausescu regime will bring some answers.
Alexandru Roscoban, a 60-year-old lawyer and a political prisoner for seven years, is the chairman of the council of national unity, which runs the city and the region from the old Communist Party headquarters. Mr. Roscoban was elected on Jan. 28 by the council members, among them representatives from 13 political parties.
``I hope we can do something for our people in a short time,'' he says. ``We are preparing for the elections and trying to rebuild the whole society. It's not so easy. People are still afraid.
``The number of killed in December is not exactly known. And we don't know who shot them. It's the old court of the former regime conducting the investigation. But the securitate was everywhere, and it was so organized. The process of purification is very difficult.''
Corneliu Vaida is a 28-year-old spokesman for the council. He is an auto mechanic, but when the fighting broke out he asked the army for a gun and joined the revolution. He is wary of the situation.
``Politics does not mean progress,'' he says. ``People talk, but no one wants to work. There is too much talk now. We need to stabilize the political structures and start to work. We can't wait for someone else to do it for us.
``But we don't know how to use our new liberty. We don't know what democracy and liberty mean. It is misunderstood by people. They want immediate changes, but that's impossible.''
HANS VASTAG is a journalist at the city's German-language newspaper, Neue Banater Zeitung. He is, at last, allowed to be a real journalist, and he relishes the opportunity.
``But the situation is uncertain,'' he says. ``No one knows what will happen. It's not simple. The members of the German minority are still leaving, and almost no one returns.''
Dan Amorei is a 25-year-old computer science student, who has joined the Liberal Party. He has built his own antenna to be able to watch cable television from nearby Yugoslavia. He has applied for a license to start the first free radio station in Romania, but it looks like it will be a long wait.
``Yes, things have changed here in Timisoara, but people haven't changed much,'' Mr. Amorei says. ``They think differently, and talk all the time. But they have not really changed.
``Romania has been so isolated for so long. We have all been indoctrinated and are now afraid of freedom. We don't know democracy, not even here in Timisoara, where we have the most contacts with the West. We are afraid of capitalism and we don't know what private enterprise is.''
Dolga Mircea is the chairman of the Liberal Party in Timisoara. After being banned in 1946, the party was recreated on Jan. 17 and now has 1,500 members. Although it's Sunday, the party headquarters - a couple of bare rooms with no phones, one desk, and a few chairs - is full of people. For Mr. Mircea, being active in the Liberal Party is a family tradition - his father went to prison for his involvement.
``We are fighting for a new society with real democracy, with pluralism and free elections,'' he says. ``We are fighting for a dynamic decentralization, with private ownership and free enterprise.''
``Yes,'' a young man adds eagerly, ``and no communism. The Salvation Front is neo-communist. It's communism with a human face. It's perestroika. We don't want that. Timisoara is against communism. We are fighting for a Europe without communism.''
The others in the room nod their heads in agreement.
``We don't trust Iliescu,'' the president of the national council of unity in Bucharest and a former communist, the young man continues. ``All he wants is power.''
THE Rev. Laszlo Tokes preaches this Sunday in his church in another part of Timisoara. It was the attempt by the securitate to arrest him that sparked the revolution. On the wall next to the entrance, a slogan says Varunk - ``We are with you.'' Inside the austere church, it's cold. There are few decorations, only some red and white roses, and no candles. Yet the church is overflowing. People in their overcoats fill the aisles. Everyone speaks Hungarian, for Timisoara has a sizable portion of Romania's almost 2 million Hungarians.
``After the first two weeks, the revolution stopped,'' says Pastor Tokes in a conversation before the sermon in his office underneath the church. ``Now, I hope the second revolution will take place, but I'm not sure.''
``The old apparatus is still everywhere, and it's very problematic. Democracy does not have enough representatives. Ion Iliescu is to be trusted, but the situation is very complex and he is under pressure from everywhere.
``Right now, there are only two alternatives, Iliescu and his Salvation Front, or army rule. Until now, the political parties are not a democratic force. But there is a risk for a military coup, and it's therefore that I support Iliescu.''
For Tokes, the struggle has another dimension, that of the Hungarian minority and its rights, often violated during the Ceausescu years. There have been improvements since the revolution, but there are still problems.
``I worry about the future and our collective rights,'' he says. ``The Hungarians are still emigrating, although I urge them to stay. There is no political motive any longer for leaving Romania. We have to stay, not run away, and try to create a new society.''