First we must remember

On December 21, 1989 at 3:45 in the afternoon, troops stationed in the nearby town of Floresti arrived in the main square of Cluj and opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. A local man named Razvan Rotta, carrying his own personal camera, took the only images of that massacre. It was one of his photographs that I posted two days ago. Elsewhere, where no visual documentation exists, in front of the Fabrica de Bere (beer factory) and on the bridge, other unarmed demonstrators were killed by government soldiers.

On the following day, December 22, a local man named Konczei Csilla took a film camera and drove all around Cluj to record what was happening. It is his video that is embedded above. It is 34 minutes long but if you are pressed for time I urge you to skip directly to minute 24. An angry crowd is gathered on the side of (what is now) Piata Unirii. A man addresses the crowd and says that “those responsible will be judged by the people”.

A few minutes later, Csilla is in front of the bookstore Universitatii (which still exists today) and films the candles left by people in memory of the people who were massacred by soldiers the day before. There is a handwritten sign in the window, which you can see below in my screencap:

It says “In memoria celor ucisi aici si pretutindeni” which means “In memory of those who were killed here and elsewhere”.

It is directly to the right of this window where a black marble plaque exists today, listing the names of those who were killed on that fateful day. And yet it hangs there in silence, thousands of people passing by it every day without so much as glancing up at it. Only once a year, on December 1, does a small group of people lay a few wreaths at the foot of that pillar, give a speech or two, and then it is forgotten again.

On December 22, the situation was still up in the air and uncertain. One speaker on the balcony of the then Primaria (City Hall) urges the crowd to allow military vehicles to patrol unhindered. Later he tells the crowd (to great applause) that Doina Cornea will address them later in the evening.

In other scenes in this short film, you can see thousands of people in the streets all over the city. In one poignant shot you can see an old man in a wheelchair carrying a protest sign. In another shot you can see a bonfire on the street and people burning pictures of Ceausescu, who was still alive and technically in power at that time. And yet except for the filmmaker himself (who kicks in a window at the bookstore), there is no looting, no vandalism, no destruction and no violence.

Instead there are people on the streets to pay their respects for the dead, to demand freedom and to claim their country back.

The first step that must be taken in 2012 is remembering what happened. Every single person reading this was either alive during those days in 1989 or has parents who were. It seems like a million years ago but it wasn’t. Those thousands of people in Csilla’s film surely must remember. The people in the streets on December 21 who faced a hail of gunfire surely must remember. The people who demanded freedom at great personal risk must remember.

The first step is to remember – not just the historical facts, of who stood where, of who said what, of who fired on whom, but to remember why it happened at all. We know what followed, the FSN, the mineriada and all the rest. But what was in the minds of those people on the streets in December 1989? What was in their hearts? Why were they protesting? What was it they were willing to risk their lives for?

First, we must remember.

6 thoughts on “First we must remember

  1. Hello, I am Csilla Könczei, who shot the video. I found your entry by accident.
    Just two short comments. Yes, I am a female and the person who quicked the window wasn’t me.
    Thank you for your interest, all the best, Cs. K.


  2. Thank you for this Sam.

    Fantastic seeing this after living in modern day Cluj. I watched and found myself intrigued how so much has changed AND how so much has remained the same.

    As for the context of your post … this seems like another example of people mobilized when influenced by extreme situations. This isn’t sustainable motivation … it quickly fades and is quickly forgotten.

    I feel that, like the city, the people have both changed AND remained the same. I can only hope that they have changed enough to be able to respond with more awareness to more subtle threats. The weapons currently being employed are, I believe, more deadly, more subtle, more sophisticated and much more silent then bullets shooting from guns.


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