It was the moment when he lost control.
|'Just listen to me!'|
On the morning of 21 December, 1989, Nicolae Ceausescu - Romania’s Communist leader - addressed the crowds gathered in central Bucharest.
The previous days had seen unrest and disturbances in several provincial centres. Now, Ceausescu himself decided to calm the unrest with a conciliatory speech heralding the achievements of Communist Romania. To ensure a favourable reception, busloads of workers were driven to Palace Square and ordered (on pain of losing their jobs) to cheer and wave red banners.
Ceausescu’s speech was the usual monologue of party rhetoric and it didn’t impress the crowd. After eight minutes, they began chanting ‘Ti-mi-soa-ra!’ - a reference to the town which had seen serious disturbances.
Ceausescu was stunned to silence. He had been expecting the usual adoring crowd of party faithful. Nothing had prepared him for a hostile and angry audience. In his confusion, he panicked. After attempting to offer concessions, he paused again in mid-speech. The crowd was shouting: there was the sound of gunfire.
|Ceausescu's building of doom|
Ceausescu’s bodyguard jostled him back into the building as the situation began to turn nasty.
Ceausescu might have saved his skin if he had fled straightaway. Instead, he remained inside the Central Committee building as the entire nation inexorably spilled into revolution.
He spent the night sheltering in the building. A sign of his lack of grasp on the situation came on the following morning - 22 December - when he attempted to address the crowd once more.
This time, rocks were hurled at him and he was forced to flee inside once again. He was now in grave danger of becoming a prisoner inside the building.
|Mrs C - much hated|
At around 10am, a group of protestors managed to break inside the Central Committee building. They overpowered Ceausescu’s bodyguards and then headed for the balcony.
They were not aware of it at the time, but they had come within a whisker of capturing Ceausescu and his wife, Elena. They had got into the lift in the nick of time and were now hiding on the roof of the building.
|In the nick of time|
At precisely 11.20am, Ceausescu’s personal pilot, Vasile Malutan, was ordered to rescue the Ceausescus by helicopter. He landed with difficulty on the adjoining roof and the couple were bundled into the chopper. They were taken the Snagov, some 40km to the north of Bucharest. For the moment, at least, they were out of danger.
Ceausescu told his pilot to contact military headquarters and order more helicopters and armed guards. Malutan did as he was told, only to be informed by his commander: ‘There had been a revolution. You are on your own.’ He then added the words: ‘Good luck!’
|'You're under arrest'|
Ceausescu panicked when he heard this and ordered Malutan to fly to Titu in southern Romania. But Malutan was by now tiring of helping the Ceausescus to escape. He sent the helicopter into a series of dives, informing Ceausescu he was dodging gunfire. A terrified Ceausescu ordered him to land.
The Ceausescus flight now had to continue on land. A car was flagged down and the couple climbed in. But the driver, a doctor, had no wish to help them. He pretended there was engine trouble and told them he could go no further.
|Thus ends a dictator.|
A second car was flagged down and the driver, a bicycle repair man named Nicolae Petrisor, told them that he had the perfect hiding place - a farming institute on the edge of town. He took them there and once they were safely inside, he locked the door. He then informed local police, who came and arrested the Ceausescus shortly after.
Their end was now not long in coming. Less than 48 hours after their capture, the head of the newly formed Council of the National Salvation Front signed a decree establishing an Extraordinary Military Tribunal. Its first trial was that of Ceausescu and his wife, held in secret on the following day - Christmas Day.
Ceausescu repeatedly insisted that the proceedings were unlawful, but the Tribunal nevertheless ordered the death sentence to carried out on both Nicolae and Elena. It was undertaken immediately: they were shot there and then.
The one flaw in the execution was the fact that the cameraman arrived too late to film it. He only obtained footage of the two corpses, which were immediately broadcast to a jubilant nation and world.