Of Lizards, Bedsheets and Conflicted Feelings: The week that changed Romania (Demo)

Douglas Williams in Conversation with Dan Turturica

In December 1989 Dan Turturica was a 20-year-old student who dabbled with acting. Now one of the country’s foremost political commentators, Dan’s passion for politics was stoked by his grandfather, whose sweet shop had been commandeered by the communists. Together they would listen to Free Europe Radio each night, and through December 1989, Dan was well aware of the dramatic changes sweeping this part of the world.

The night of December 17, 1989, Dan was an extra in a famous play about Vlad the Impaler called “A Treia Teapă” (Three Stakes), directed by Ion Caramitru. Towards the end of Ceausescu’s rule, some leniency was permitted to thespians and playwrights such that some gentle criticism of the regime took place in theatres. These criticisms were known as “lizards” and were much enjoyed by audiences at the time – “I’m so hungry,” an actor might roar, winking, as most of his fellow Romanians were hungry. That night the Vlad character in “A Treia Teapă,” portrayed by Victor Rebengiuc, peppered his long monologue with a tirade of “lizards,” but these were of a different sort – corruption, anger, uprising, even rage. This was the night after the initial Timisoara uprising. The audience, briefly stunned, was in uproar. Dan had snuck into the back. He wasn’t due back on stage for ages. The crowd wouldn’t calm down, dissent was in the air. The theatre buzzed with a revolutionary energy, though no one at the time had a clue what was set to happen in the next week.

Four days later Dan’s best friend received his conscription paper. He was to report to barracks and prepare for duty in Timișoara. A fitting farewell was in order and the birds were singing by the time the party finally petered out. Dan tottered off, hoping the walk across town would sober him up. “Jos Ceausescu” – he could hear the chanting but couldn’t believe his ears. He sat down, unable to comprehend what was going on. The chanting was real. Pretty soon people began passing him with bed sheets painted with the same message – “Jos Ceausescu” – Down with Ceausescu! Soon the streets were filled with folk all heading to Piata Romana. Without a second thought, Dan joined the crowd and soon found himself in running battles with the securitate. The rest of that day was a blur of long pent up anger. As night fell, the atmosphere plummeted, and gun shots could be heard all around as the securitate upped its efforts to catch the rioters. Dan was chased through the city till he finally found sanctuary with two old ladies. They mistakenly thought he was the postman bringing them their pension. Dan was safe. That night, dozens of people across Bucharest died.

News of the Christmas Day execution of the Ceaucescus greeted Dan, along with most Romanians, like a miracle, accompanied with disbelief. Almost inconceivable. It was later that he saw the TV footage of the elderly dictator climbing from the armoured vehicle, and there was a confusing feeling of sympathyL Christmas Day, an old man heading towards his bloody end, but an old man who had caused such misery to so many for so long. “I wanted him dead so badly but I couldn’t help but feel pity for him,” says Dan.      

Dan Turturica is Editor in Chief at Universul.net   

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