Union of Communist Youth and was imprisoned (1936; 1940) for his political activities. In post-war Communist Romania he held several party posts, becoming a member of the ruling Politburo in 1955. He succeeded Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, the Romanian Communist leader, as first secretary of the party and the effective ruler of Romania; in 1967 he also became the country's president. He promoted industrialization and pursued a foreign policy relatively independent of the Soviet Union, while keeping domestic political opponentsfirmly in line. During the 1980s he imposed a bitter austerity program to liquidate Romania's foreign debt, a program of forced relocation of rural population, and an extreme cult of personality, while rejecting political and economic reforms introduced in the USSR and other East European countries in the late 1980s. His brutal suppression of a demonstration for human rights in the city of Timişoara sparked widespread demonstrations against his dictatorship and the Communist Party rule and turned the army against him. His attempt to flee Bucharest on December 22, 1989, with his wife Elena, herself a member of the Politburo, was unsuccessful. Captured and tried secretly, they were executed on December 25.
In December 1989, a combination of mass uprisings, primarily in the cities of Timisoara and Bucharest, and a coup d'état led by dissident Communists and elements of the armed forces had produced a political revolution of major proportions—culminating in the dramatic execution of Romania's president and Communist Party leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, and his wife, Elena, on Christmas Day. During the last two weeks of December, thousands of people were killed in street battles that first pitted civilians against government troops and Ceausescu's Securitate (internal security) forces, and then saw the Securitate battling civilians and the army, which turned against Ceausescu on December 22. When the smoke cleared, the leadership of the Romanian Communist Party had been swept away, and an interim ruling structure, the Front of National Salvation, had been established.
The composition of the Front reflected the coalition that had helped unseat the Ceausescus. By the end of 1989, its leadership was held firmly by Ion Iliescu, a Communist with reformist ideas who had fallen out of favor with the Ceausescus several years earlier. The new regime pledged major changes, including gradual reduction of state control over economic and social life and democratization of the political order, with elections to be held in the spring.
The New Regime.
During the first few months of 1990, the Front attempted to consolidate its hold over Romania's political system. It soon became clear that former Communist leaders were determined to retain control; gradually, those members of the provisional government who objected to this trend resigned in protest or were relegated to secondary positions. Doina Cornea, the most prominent Romanian dissident during the Ceausescu era, was one of those who resigned, claiming that the revolution had been aborted. In January and February violent demonstrations led primarily by students and intellectuals, rocked Bucharest.
A major cause of such protest behavior was the debate about measures to be undertaken against former leaders of the Ceausescu regime, as well as against officers of the Securitate forces, which had resisted the revolution with such brutality. After the execution of the Ceausescus, the death penalty was abolished. Court cases against other members of the Ceausescu clan were slow in developing, adding to the uneasiness over this issue. The Front did agree, in January, to formally outlaw the Communist Party.
By late in the year, at least two major trials had made headlines. In September, Nicu Ceausescu, youngest son of the ousted dictator, was convicted of "instigation to murder" and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The young Ceausescu, a former Communist Party leader in southern Transylvania, had been accused of causing 89 deaths during the revolution that toppled his father. Also in September, Iulien Vlad, head of the Securitate under Ceausescu, went on trial on charges of "complicity in genocide" for his role in the deaths of over 1,000 people during the December revolution. In November, however, a military court suspended Vlad's trial, citing insufficient evidence.