In June of 1990, Dumitru Tudor made headlines in all of Romania’s major newspapers. He was arrested, along with several other protesters in University Square. The Government falsely accused him of being part of the fascist Iron Guard that was prominent in Romania during the German occupation of World War II.
After moving to Holland as a political refugee in 1990, Dumitru Tudor returned to Bucharest after 27 years to support his daughter Ioana Tudor (36), who is reenacting his protest, the silent strike, through an artistic representation in Victory Square.
THE REVOLUTION DISAPPOINTED HIM
During the Revolution, Dumitru Tudor was working as an engineer in a screw factory in the town of Râmnicu Sărat. His life was divided between the capital city and the countryside. Two of his children were attending high school in Bucharest while his nine year old daughter, Ioana, lived with her mother and grandparents in a village near Râmnicu Sărat.
Full of emotion, Dumitru Tudor listened to the Radio Free Europe reports describing the political movements taking place all over Europe in 1989. He was hoping, with the same naiveté that most people behind the Iron Curtain possessed, that the change would come to Romania at the XIV Congress of the Communist Party in November 1989.
These hopes were in vain as Nicolae Ceausescu was re-elected Secretary General of the Communist Party.
The Revolution came unexpectedly, but the joy of freedom was only momentary. The long awaited political change had been quickly confiscated by Ion Iliescu, a leading figure in the Communist regime.
Dumitru did not consider himself an activist, but he could not stomach the manipulation that was taking place during those days. As a result, he consumed every bit of factual information in the newspaper “Romania Libera” (Free Romania).
On June 13, 1990, while in Bucharest to visit a factory, curiosity led Dumitru the great demonstration in University Square.
“I went through the back, by the Coltea Hospital, because the Square was surrounded by buses. Crowds prevented the subway from stopping at the University Square station. The Square was occupied by police officers. The protesters and those participating in the hunger strike had been evacuated by force in the first hour.”
He shrugged his shoulders and continued on his way towards to the factory. On his way back, he couldn’t help but go by University Square to see if something else had happened in the meantime.
“I came across a corner store in Rosetti Square and noticed that people were standing in line, waiting to purchase butter. I got in line and bought two packages. Afterwards, I heard boom-boom and suddenly there was smoke everywhere. People were screaming.
There was smoke pouring out of all of the buses lining the Square and there wasn’t a single officer in sight. All of them had taken off. Did they shoot and run? My guess was later confirmed by the Chitac Stenographs.”
In June 1990, General Mihai Chitac was the Minister of the Interior.
PROTESTER ON OCCASION
Dumitru Tudor lingered around the area for another two hours, until Marian Munteanu appeared on the University Square’s balcony. Dumitru considered this to be an odd gesture, particularly because Munteanu had been detained that morning.
“After his appearance, two large groups were formed. One group went towards Romanian Television and the other one went on the boulevard, towards the Police Headquarters, where rumor had it that they were keeping the detainees. Then they headed to the Romanian Intelligence Service and the Ministry of Defense.”
He got into the row of protesters. He was carrying some filters he picked up at the factory (the reason for his visit to Bucharest), as well as a bag with two packages of butter.
“When the protesters arrived at the Police Headquarters, the doors were thrown open and no one reacted to us. The protesters moved to the Romanian Intelligence Service. There, some kids threw lit bottles. Even though the institution was being guarded by armed officers, no one was reacting to us.
At one point, warning shots were fired from the Ministry of Defence from across the street.”
Dumitru Tudor took off towards Romanian Television and the same story repeated itself there. The building was not yet occupied and the soldiers there were allowing the protesters to invade the courtyard.
“A helicopter arrived and hovered over us. I raised my fist and yelled. Then I entered the building with those who wanted to complain about false propaganda and misinformation.”
He remembers that the great clock on Aviation Square showed 7:50 p.m. when he left the television station. He noticed that a bunch of thugs had arrived, so I decided to leave before the situation could escalate.
“When I got home, I saw a masquerade on T.V. It was all baloney claiming that those who had protested at Romanian Television wanted to throw up green flags and belonged to Romania’s Legion of the Archangel Michael (called the Iron Guard), a nationalist party from the 1930s.”
Back in Râmnicu Sărat, the atmosphere at work had changed.
“Under my desk, I found a note with a cartoon character drawn on it. The cartoon was of a worker, and the caption read, ‘What kind of a green shirt is hiding under your clothing, Mr. Tudor?’
His colleagues knew that he had gone to Bucharest with a work delegation and they suspected that he had participated in the protests.
“Iliescu ordered that the video images of the demonstrations at Romanian Television be replayed on television. He labeled the protesters as hooligans and ordered anyone who recognized a demonstrator to inform the authorities.
The next morning, on the 15th of June, I was told that my colleagues had gone on strike asking for my resignation. I told everyone to calm down and explained that my purpose was not to get meddled in politics.
I asked the chief engineer for vacation in order to calm the waters, but when I went to obtain my vacation slip, there were two police officers waiting for me in front of his office.”
He was escorted to Bucharest and taken directly to the Rahova prison. After the interrogation, they allowed him to leave, but the tension was rising.
“The next day, on the 16th of June, I couldn’t find a print of the newspaper Romania Libera. It was the only newspaper I had any confidence in. I went to the editor’s office, believing that I would at least find a copy there. The miners had closed the office since the 15th of June.”
Dumitru Tudor recounts how he bumped into Coen Stork, the Ambassador of the Netherlands, who had just gotten out of his diplomatic corps vehicle. The Ambassador read Romania Libera on a daily basis and had come to find out why the newspaper had not been published that day.
On June 17, seeing that the protests did not seem to be working and only resulting in violence, Dumitru Tudor decided to try a different tactic – the silent strike. He stood in University Square with a sign around his neck making 13 demands on the government which included releasing the detainees, for those who had brought the miners to turn themselves in, to guarantee Romanian Television’s freedom, and reopening Romania Libera.
He recalls that his behavior did not gather much attention among the demonstrators, but it did manage to irritate the authorities.
“I had already appeared in the newspapers and wasn’t considered very important. I was just a man with a sign around his neck. The people who agreed with me would just nod their head in my direction but the majority just went about their daily business.”
FOUR MONTHS IN PRISON
On the 28th of June, he was arrested.
“Until then, they had no evidence to support my arrest. I told them that I had gone to Romanian Television the first time because I was curious and had no negative intentions. This time, the officer smugly showed me an image that had been found of me from some video content.
I was holding up my arm straight ahead of me, like a legionary. It was a manipulated image. I was sent directly to the medical examiner.”
He was shoved into a cell with the other detainees. In the evening, they received the newspaper with headlines that the new government would be headed by Petre Roman. Dumitru Tudor began a hunger strike and after seven days he was transferred to Jilava Penitentiary.
His wife was informed about the arrest but had no idea where he was. His family looked for him in the all of the police divisions, penitentiaries, morgues and the Straulesti Cemetery. The authorities kept telling them that he was not on the list of arrestees in Rahova, where he had been interrogated, or on the list of prisoners in Jilava, where he was imprisoned.
“My wife looked for me everywhere. Her father had been involved in the resistance movement in the 1950s so she had an understanding of the measures she should take. She found me through the help of the lawyer Mihai Moldoveanu, with whom I had left a message indicating that I would probably be jailed. He was a member of the newly founded Association for Human Rights.”
After a week of searching, they discovered his whereabouts. His wife could not visit him, but was able to deliver a Bible through his lawyer.
Dumitru Tudor spent four months in jail. He was imprisoned alongside of Teodor Maries, who is the current president of the 21st of December Association and Marian Munteanu, the leader of the students in University Square.
Dumitru Tudor was freed on the 30th of October, 1990, his daughter Ioana’s tenth birthday.
“Iliescu agreed to free the prisoners after receiving international pressure. Without that pressure, we would not have been freed because all the judges were puppets. All 29 arrestees were set free at the same time.
Of the approximately 1,000 protesters sent to jail, about 200 of were sent to trial. Using video documentation that had been captured at Romanian Television, I received my sentence on April 15, 1991.”
Dumitru Tudor received a suspended sentence of one year in prison, however the prosecutors were not satisfied with this sentence and appealed the decision. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He decided to take his family and leave the country. His confidence in post communist Romania was completely destroyed.
“We moved around Europe for almost two months. We initially went to Budapest but we were told that we would have to wait 18 months for residency permits. We didn’t have money for that.
I wanted to get to Canada, so we went to the International Organization for Migration in Vienna. From there, we were directed went to the consulate of Quebec in Brussels. We were told that we would need 2,000 dollars, which we did not have.
Ultimately, I decided to give the Netherlands a try, especially because their ambassador was such a decent human being. We stopped in The Hague, where we were to seek political refugee status to cover ourselves until we received our Canadian visa.”
Dumitru Tudor acknowledges that it wasn’t easy for his family to integrate into Dutch life. His family members reproached him for this many times. However he has no regrets, despite the many disappointments.
“We returned to Romania after seven years, after having received our Dutch passports. Emil Constantinescu was the president at that time. We had many hopes, but there was no political will for change.
And the worst part is that now, after 27 years, the same thing is happening. Out of that massive protest in February, there was only a group of 30-40 who had remained. They reminded me of myself … “
THE IRON CURTAIN
Dumitru’s daughter, Ioana Tudor, appreciates her father’s peaceful protest and personal sacrifice for honest, democratic government. From the 9th to the 13th of June, the artist Ioana Tudor went on a silent strike against the government. She says this representation, which repeats her father’s 1990 attempt, symbolizes “the uselessness of one human being before a totalitarian state.”
The strike will end on the exact day that the 10,000 miners from Jiu Valley violently beat the protestors gathered against Iliescu’s regime and crushed the democratic aspirations of a generation of young Romanians.
Before beginning the strike on the 8th of June, Ioana Tudor came up with a list of 13 requests, along with the help of visitors who walked by.
The exhibition is part of the Iron Curtain project, a journalistic project that is investigating online and offline what’s left of the optimism of the post-communist era in Europe. It is an initiative of Dutch journalists and is supported by the European Citizens’ Fund. The following QR code is a video detailing the silent strike.