Over the past few months, a lot of people have been asking me exactly how much of what happened during the Romanian 1989 Revolution was orchestrated by the United States (or conversely, the Soviet Union). There’s a really persistent conspiracy theory that the Revolution was largely stage-managed by the USA, and I want to know if that’s true.
The short answer for now is: I don’t know.
There’s simply too much misinformation out there for me to be able to say yet. But, in the course of my research, I came across the minutes of Ceausescu’s last meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, head of the USSR. The meeting occurred on December 4, 1989, in Moscow, and we now know that Ceausescu was shot on December 25, 1989, so it’s an interesting look into Ceausescu’s mindset during his final days.
Even though Timisoara hasn’t quite kicked off yet, Ceausescu had already had to put down a serious revolt in Brasov, and widespread discontent in Romania was growing, largely due to the fact that people were starving because Ceausescu had sold most of the food to pay off international bankers.
Famous Last Words
The document I found is in English although the person who recorded it was Serban Sandulescu, writing in Romanian. I spent a few hours trying to find out whether Ceausescu spoke Russian, but I can’t find any evidence that he did.
I read Nikita Kruschev’s memoirs, and he mentions how the only Romanian Communist who spoke decent Russian was Emil Bodnaras, so my educated guess is that Ceausescu spoke very limited Russian, if at all. Since I know for a fact that Constantin Dascalescu was present at the December 4, 1989 meeting, a Russian speaker, I have to assume that Dascalescu was doing any necessary translations.
It is quite interesting, this final meeting between Ceausescu and Gorbachev, just one day after Gorbachev met with (American) President Bush. The two discuss how the leader of East Germany, Eric Honecker, was already out of power, and how Czechoslovakia was only a few steps behind.
At one point, Ceausescu was pressing for the USSR to take some actions to speed up economic development, and Gorbachev tells him that they’ll see each other at the upcoming COMECON meeting scheduled for January 9, 1990.
That’s when Gorbachev says (translated into Romanian): Veti mai trai pana la 9 ianuarie! or “You’ll make it (survive) until January 9!” some pretty famous last words indeed.
But what really caught my eye was Ceausescu bitching about all that debt Romania owed to international bankers.
Ceausescu’s own words:
In any case, it is mistaken to allow the factories, even at the national level, to be outside central control. A lot of autonomy, a lot of rights, of course, but under a central guidance.
About 20 years back, we gave them a lot of rights and, the first thing they did was to take loans and make all kinds of poor economic investments. Then we realized that we needed to control certain things so we took some of their liberties away. For Romania, $11 billion debt in 1980 was a grave problem.
As a matter of fact, I can tell you that in my discussions with [Soviet leader Leonid] Brezhnev at the time, he told me: “Don’t go and get yourself in debt.”
He told me that a number of times, but my mistake was that I gave too much discretion to the factories and all of them decided that if they have discretion then they can take credits from outside.
What can I say? Ceausescu was a master of “it wasn’t my fault,” even though he was the undisputed leader of the country for more than 20 years. He didn’t just “let factories take credits” (from the IMF), but personally directed the entire thing, sending top agents to Washington and New York in order to borrow billions of dollars, invest it in factories, and thus become an industrial superpower.
But Ceausescu was, essentially, an illiterate peasant who had no idea just how badly he was getting used by the slick boys in Washington. Ceausescu was great at manipulating fellow Communists but was no match for the true masters of illusion.
Of course, modern Romanian leaders have fallen into the same trap. Whatever America’s true role in the 1989 Revolution, there’s no disputing that Washington has, both before 1989 and since, profited enormously from strip mining Romania of its wealth.