Romanian prosecutors said on October 21 2015 that former president Ion Iliescu has been indicted on charges of crimes against humanity for his part in the suppression of an anti-government protest in Bucharest in June 1990.
The sit-in at Bucharest’s University Square began after Iliescu won the presidential election in May 1990, with protesters demanding that former communist party members – like Iliescu – be banned from holding public office. It was smothered over a period of three days by law enforcement and a large group of coal miners that were brought into the city to clash with the protesters, many of them students at the University of Bucharest.
At the time, Iliescu warmly greeted the miners, thanking them for the “workers solidarity” and asking them to regain control of University Square. Prosecutors said that they were investigating the death of four people, the wounding of three others, as well as the “injuring and deprivation of liberty of about 1000 people on June 14-15 1990, as a result of the violent attack carried out by workers from some industrial areas and coal basins”.
Iliescu was questioned by prosecutors on October 21, but declined to speak to the media afterwards. However, he has commented on the issue in the past.
In 2007, when facing similar accusations, Iliescu said, as quoted by Mediafax news agency: “I was head of state and there was an anarchic action underway, the state institutions were being devastated. What should have I done, sit with my hands in my lap and watch this anarchy that could have led to a civil war? I did not have police and other instruments. A tragedy did happen and some people did die, but to incriminate the head of state, who was the subject of these anarchic actions? Don’t you see that this is absurd?”
Later, in December 2007, a decision by the prosecutor-general rescinded the charges against Iliescu and ordered the resumption of the investigation, which had first been launched in 1998, under Romania’s first centre-right government, following Iliescu’s defeat in the presidential elections in 1996.
As the investigation continued to drag on, the European Court of Human Rights ruled last year that Romania was required to bring justice to the victims of the crackdown, saying that “justice must be done towards all those Romanian citizens who had to endure organised and inhuman State repression in hard transitional times in order to achieve a fully democratic political regime.”
Iliescu (85) remains the honorary president of the social-democrat party, the direct descendant of the Popular Salvation Front that seized the reins of government after the trial and summary execution of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu on December 25 1989.
He served as president in 1990/1996 and 2000/04 and has avoided being involved in any of the numerous corruption trials involving senior politicians in the party, although his many detractors hold him directly responsible for the June 1990 events and have often accused him of making little effort to reform Romania’s economy in the 1990s.
(Iliescu addresses participants at a social-democrat party congress on October 18 2015. Photo: psd.ro)