Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Romania: Fraudulent Revolutionaries

Many people are falsely claiming that they were involved in the overthrow Ceaucescu in order to claim special privileges.
By Calin Cosmaciuc

A raft of benefits granted to those who helped topple the Ceaucescu regime has become a source of corruption.

Under a special law adopted after the 1989 revolution, almost 30,000 Romanians, including members of parliament, were granted privileges in recognition of their involvement in the uprising.

These rights include favourable bank loans and the right to obtain commercial premises without going through the normal tendering process.

But the number of "revolutionaries" has mushroomed in recent years after many people fraudulently obtained revolutionary certificates or forged them to gain access to these privileges.

Now the government is now trying to clamp down. Sergiu Nicolaescu, of the ruling Social Democratic Party, has proposed a new law aimed at rewarding people who genuinely took part in the overthrow and cancelling thousands of fake documents.

"Some of the present revolutionaries were hardly fighting in the streets 15 years ago, they were more likely hiding in basements," Nicolaescu said.

"This is not the first time such things happened in Romania - the same lies occurred after 1944. Then the secret police rewarded a lot of pro-communist fighters, although their true number was much smaller."

The fate of the real revolutionaries was often less rosy. Laszlo Tokes, the ethnic Hungarian minister who inspired the street protests that led to the revolution, was recently forced out of his UDMR party, representing the Hungarian minority. His demise came after he had complained that the party had become too close to the government.

For years, the independent media has been revealing cases of people allegedly involved in producing fake documents proving their participation in the 1989 revolution. There have been at least 8,000 such reported cases.

Politicians, businessmen, ex-communist apparatchiks and former Securitate officers have all profited from the business.

"The whole activity has become a business, an enormous trick orchestrated by politicians and tolerated by all political parties," said Ion Caramitru, an actor and participant in the 1989 demonstrations. "You could get these papers if three persons testified they had seen you fighting. It was easy to prove anything."

Some, including Caramitru, have called for the privileges to be scrapped. This seems unlikely, as it would trigger enormous opposition from the current beneficiaries. Several hundred members of the main 1989 veterans organisation, the National Association of Revolutionaries, protested in mid-January in front of the presidential palace, demanding additional perks.

President Ion Iliescu, a former communist-turned-revolutionary, said he "deplored" the behaviour of the protesters, but admitted that the law granting privileges to revolutionaries needed amending, to ensure only the wounded or the heirs of those who had died in the revolution would benefit.

Petre Roman, a leading revolutionary figure, told IWPR, "We should be helping the poor people who really fought against the communist regime and who need allowances." He said the image of genuine revolutionaries could be jeopardised by the persistence of the fraudulent practices.

Calin Cosmaciuc is a journalist with Mediafax News Agency