A Yugoslav Ambassador reports on the current situation in Romania
As the government of Nicolae Ceauşescu in Romania began to collapse in a wave of strikes and riots, Moscow looked on with growing concern. Shortly before Christmas 1989, the Soviet Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs met with the Yugoslav ambassador to the Soviet Union to discuss the situation. The ambassador described how an attempt by local police to evict the popular priest and regime critic László Tőkés from his church quickly led to large and generalized protests in Tőkés' city, Timisoara, and surrounding cities. Hundreds died in the ensuing clashes between civilians and the military. According to the Yugoslav ambassador, the main cause of the disorder was widespread anger at low living standards and lack of government accountability. For Romania's Yugoslavian neighbors, the main areas of concern were the generalized disorder at their border, deaths of women and children at the hands of police and military, and the possible fate of Yugoslav minorities in Romania in such and environment. It was necessary for the USSR to be briefed by third parties because of the longstanding poor diplomatic relations between the USSR and Romania.
From the diary of
I.P. ABOIMOV 23 December 1989
Record of conversation with the Ambassador of the SFRY [Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] in the USSR, MILAN VERES
22 December 1989
I received M. Veres on his request.
He referred to the instruction of the Union Secretariat on Foreign Affairs of the
SFRY and shared the available information on the events in Romania, corroborated by
the General Consulate of the SFRY in Timisoara and by numerous Yugoslav citizens
who returned from the SRR. He also reported on the Yugoslav evaluations of the
developments in Romania.
The beginning of the dramatic development could be traced to the events of 15-16
December in Timisoara where a large group of people protested against the action of the
authorities with regard to the priest L. Tokes. This process grew into a huge
demonstration of the population of the city against the existing order. According to the
estimates of officials of the General Consulate of the SFRY, there were up to 100,000
people, including workers, university and school students, who participated in the
demonstration. Protest actions took place also in Arad, Brasov and Cluj. Large
contingents of militia and military were used against demonstrators in Timisoara.
According to the Yugoslavs, during those clashes several hundred people died, and
according to some unchecked data the number of casualties exceeded 2,000. In the
downtown area shops, restaurants, cafes were destroyed, many streetcars and automobiles
were also burnt down. Timisoara is surrounded by troops, but protest actions continue in
the city. Workers seized factories and are threatening to blow them up if the authorities
do not satisfy the people's demands. Officials of the General Consulate of the SFRY, the
Ambassador remarked, noticed that a number of soldiers and militiamen expressed their
sympathies with demonstrators. There were also slogans "The Army will not shoot at
students and school children."
The Yugoslav-Romanian border is practically sealed; its defenses are fortified by
troops along its whole length, including check-points. So far the Romanian side
authorized only the passing of people with diplomatic and other service passports. The
Ambassador informed us that the Yugoslavs had evacuated members of the families of
officials of their General Consulate. He disavowed reports of a number of Western news
agencies that participants of the demonstration [in Timisoara] found refuge on the
territory of the Yugoslav compound, whose premises allegedly were penetrated by
According to Yugoslav estimates, stressed M. Veres, the main reason for
disorders in Timisoara and their spread subsequently around a number of other cities,
including the capital of the SRR, is rooted in profound popular dissatisfaction with the
economic situation in the country accumulated over [many] years, with low living
standards, the lack of basic food and consumer goods, and with the unwillingness of the
leadership to undertake at least some measures to democratize the political system.
The Ambassador pointed out that the Yugoslav public is very concerned about the
situation in the neighboring country. The mass media of the SFRY are informing the
population in detail about the events, including many reports about reactions abroad. On
19 December the Union Executive Vece [executive branch of the Yugoslav state] came
out with an appropriate declaration, expressing profound concern and regret with regard
to casualties during the crack-down on the demonstrations. On 20 December the
Presidium of the CC CPY [Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia]
denounced the actions of the Romanian authorities and laid political responsibility at the
door of the leadership of the RCP [Romanian Communist Party]. It declared a temporary
suspension of all contacts with the RCP and repealed an earlier invitation [to the RCP] to
send a delegation to the 14th Congress of the CPY (January 1990). All public
organizations of Yugoslavia, as well as both chambers of the Skupcina [parliament] made
sharp protests. Late on 21 December the Presidium of the SFRY adopted a resolution
denouncing reprisals against the demonstrators, that led to a large loss of human life.
M. Veres stressed that of particular cause for concern in Belgrade is the situation
with Yugoslav ethnic minorities in the SRR. He said that the SFRY supports a peaceful
resolution of the situation in Romania and is against any foreign interference into
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR I. ABOIMOV
[Source: Diplomaticheskii vestnik, no. 21/22, November 1994, pp. 74-79. Translated by
I. P. Aboimov, diary entry, 22 December 1989, Cold War International History Project, Virtual Archive, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).