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Romania's path from revolution to pogrom
December 1989 - March 1990

Elôd Kincses



On the morning of December 22, 1989, walking from my solicitor's office, I turned from Bolyai Street into the main square of Tirgu Mures. There I came across several thousand demonstrators who had again found the courage to rally despite the murderous assaults mounted against them by Ceausescu's security forces the day before.

Romanians and Hungarians together, they chanted in unison (and only in Romanian): "Nu va fie frica - Ceauscescu pica!" (Fear not at all, Ceausescu will fall!) They thrilled at the solidarity of the moment existing between Transylvania's Romanians and Hungarians.

They were prepared for anything, including death from the Securitate, and of course they prevailed that day.

Three months later - on March 19, 1990, and also in the main square of Tirgu Mures - Romanians armed with clubs and pitchforks were also ready for anything. At the end of their rampage next day, five people were dead, hundreds were badly injured, and a prominent local Hungarian writer who had been cheered by the crowds three months earlier, lay battered and blinded in one eye.

I must try to evoke how I lived then, how we all lived then, and how this metamorphosis crept up upon us during those three months, I shall begin a little earlier - in the dying weeks of the Ceausescu regime - and in the company of László Tôkés, the Hungarian parson who initiated the dictator's downfall.



A few weeks before the revolution, I received a legal brief that was to change my life and the life of my country. András Tôkés, a Tirgu Mures high school teacher and the parson's brother, asked me to personally represent László Tôkés at a court appeal hearing in the west Transylvanian town of Timisoara.

Tôkes's outspoken opposition to the antics of Ceausescu made him in those days one of the few people courageous enough to openly defy the totalitarian machine. But his conflict then was not strictly with the dictator, but with his own Reformed Church (Calvinist) bishop, a Ceausescu stooge charged with stifling this parson's dissident activities. The chosen method for this assault was that Tôkés be removed from his current residence in Timisoara and transferred to a new out-of-the-way parish where he would presumably be able to do less damage. Tôkés was contesting the legality of this unsought-for transfer.

I must confess that I was frightened, but I felt that if László was resisting oppression so heroically, then it was unacceptable for an Hungarian solicitor to refuse to represent him. For if a Romanian solicitor had entered the case, it could have been viewed thus: "See how isolated Tôkés is within his own community, how the Hungarians in Romania have no solidarity with his stand," I am certain this is the way it would have been interpreted by the Securitate secret police and the propaganda machinery.

The initial written defence had been prepared by a solicitor colleague from Tirgu Mures, fellow-Hungarian Zoltan Cziprian, But he was unable to travel to Timisoara for the hearing.

When I advised my Romanian solicitor colleague, Liviu Hurga, the chairman of my local College of Solicitors of Mures county (of which Tirgu Mures is the centre), that I would write the appeal in the Tôkés case, he asked me why, since Cziprian was Tôkes's solicitor. My answer was that Zoli Cziprián was ill. But why exactly you? Well, because I am not ill...

At the same time, a certain employee of the Interior Ministry asked me whether I wanted to become a martyr of the Hungarians. No, I answered with a heavy heart. I only want to live up to the responsibility of being a solicitor.

He wanted to dissuade me, at any cost, from travelling to Timisoara. For with a solicitor present in court to represent the client, it would become an open hearing, and many people - possibly also foreign journalists - would hear what legal and human injustice was being prepared against László Tôkés.


Finally, however, Maria Bobu, Ceausescu's Minister of Justice, declared that if the defence solicitor in the case thought it necessary, he was entitled to travel to Timisoara for the hearing,

These tensions reduced me to such a nervous state that, come the first hearing on November 20, I forgot to take along the case file and my solicitor's retainer! I travelled to Timisoara in my own car under the protection of my Romanian mechanic neighbour, Titus Giga.

In Timisoara, after a journey of 400 kilometres, I noticed my omission. Luckily, my wife had noticed much earlier and had followed me by train. Thus we were together in Timisoara, watching the November 19 broadcast of the Hungarian Television Panorama programme. Viewing the images from Bulgaria of the fall of the long time dictator there. Todor Zhivkov, she bet me a bottle of champagne that Ceausescu would be overthrown by Christmas. Is the woman always right?

At the November 20 hearing to my surprise the Romanian solicitor of Timisoara retained by the local Reformed Hungarian bishop - the Ceausescu stooge - requested that the hearing be adjourned. He said he had not had sufficient time to prepare for it.

I believe there was an ulterior motive. Hungary's own Communist leaders were showing an increasing interest in the tribulations inlicted on the Hungarian minority in Transylvania. And, even at the cost of breaking Warsaw Pact solidarity, they were speaking out ever more sharply. I believe the Romanian Communists were afraid that the absence of the Hungarian Communists as guests at the upcoming Romanian Party Congress would be linked by public opinion to Hungarian displeasure over the anti-Tôkés hearing. And they did not want to spoil the festive spirit of the reelection of Ceausescu.

We obtained an unusually short postponement, and a week later I again had to travel to Timisoara. On the train I was accompanied by my Hungarian childhood friend János Hegedûs ("Cimbi") who said that if I had accepted the case, he must accompany me for my safety.

Meeting Tôkéas

On this second visit, I desired very much to meet the man I was now representing, László Tôkes. After the first hearing I had not dared go to his home. In Romania the solicitor receives his client in his office and is not supposed to go to his home. And in such a case as this, it was especially wise to be careful. I had to behave in such a way so as not to give the Securitate any ground for a move against me. Nor did I want to appear in their eyes to be to "some kind of hero", who as an international unknown was ripe for killing now rather than later.


The November 28 hearing took place in a civilized tone. The strange thing, though, was that such a "simple" matter as the eviction of a parson from his residence and his relocation to a new place was being heard by the Romanian president of the county court, Elena Topala, and that the attorney-general of the county was also present,

The attorney-general was present as the representative of the Public Guardianship Authority. But instead of protecting the interests of the minor child of the Tôkes couple, he requested that the appeal be rejected, viz. that the entire family be evicted, including the minor child and its pregnant mother.

After I left the court, many Hungarians surrounded me and asked. "Solicitor, why can't our parson be the one whom we love?" (i.e. Tôkés) I almost answered. "That is exactly the point." But thinking of the "ears on duty", I said only: "Let us wait for the decision, maybe justice will be done."

What did I trust in? Perhaps I thought that my appeal may have been shown to the "competent comrade", who may have been aware just how popular Tôkés was, and also to what extent the international press had followed the court case. I thought he might see that the authorities had made a wrong move, and that he might suggest the appeal against the parson's transfer be upheld. The international standing of Romania would have improved at once. But the powers-that-be were no longer in a fit condition to reason so logically.

Four of us went to the Tôkés flat: his wife Edit, his father István, a young Hungarian from Dumbravita (Ferenc Holló), who on both my visits to Timisoara stayed with me to provide protection, and myself. I was watching carefully to see if we were being followed, but noticed nothing suspicious. And at the church one part of which served as the minister's living quarters I saw to my surprise that there seemed to be no guards. After a complicated doorbell ringing sequence, I heard the grinding of the iron bars protecting the door from the inside. László Tôkés appeared. He had a hunted look, in sharp contrast to what I now know to be his normal appearance of radiated calm. His eyes made me suddenly realise how unbelievably difficult it is to take a stand against the paranoid, totalitarian machine.

Having finally met the man, I formulated very carefully what I had to say to Tôkés. (Just how justified my caution had been was revealed in the subsequent trials of the Securitate officers in Timisoara after the revolution prevailed. For we learned then that every word of ours had been listened to by the "ears on duty") I stressed to him that if he was arrested, he was entitled to ask immediately for a solicitor. I said he should refuse to make any statements until his solicitor arrived (at this moment I pointed to myself). I anxiously stressed that if the

appeal was lost and the eviction order was implemented, he should not offer any resistance. The obstruction of the execution of the eviction order would be a criminal action, and if he committed it, he would be arrested. And in jail, anything can happen.


It is Romania's fortune, and Europe's fortune, that Tôkés did not abide by this solicitor's advice of mine.

During my delivery of this lecture, Tôkes was called from the room to be told that the man HoIIó - who had just previously helped him to unload a car - had been taken away by the police. When my own party left the Tôkés home, a not overly confidence-inspiring policeman stared at us, though said nothing. Next, a police officer at the end of the street saluted me! To this extent, at least, they were able to distinguish that this was the solicitor, against whom more subtle methods would have to be applied than against poor Holló.

Back at the courthouse, following my interview with Tôkés, and while translating some written evidence into Romanian for the use of the court, I established a rapport with the Romanian court secretary, Elena Bungardean. This was in late November. In the coming days she was able to advise me privately, and with no names mentioned over the telephone about every step in the Tôkés case: what was happening at any one time to Tôkés and his family, for what hour the eviction order had been set, etc,, etc.

During the fearful days of Timisoara that were about to begin - the anti-Ceausescu uprising when the guns were finally turned on the people - how could I have hoped that less than a month later I would be able to report as follows about this "simple little eviction case" in the newly-liberated Hungarian-language Tirgu Mures Népujsag [People's Newspaper, previously Vörös Zászló: Red Banner], or in the Romanian-language Bucharest Adevarul [Truth, previously Scinteia: Spark].

But in that brief respite immediately after the December revolution, there were a few hours when the truth could finally speak and be heard, and when the proper process of the law seemed to have dignity. And so I wrote:

"One Sentence About the Truth..."

To borrow famous words, they lied in the morning, they lied in the evening, they lied all the time,

So why should they have told the truth about the particular judgement of eviction from his residence passed against László Tôkés? Let us quote from the worthy successor to Nero., Caligula, Hitler and Stalin: N. Ceausescu:

"On December 16 and 17, under the pretext of preventing the implementation of a lawful court judgement, some groups of hooligan elements (in Timisoara) organised numerous protests and incidents..." (Vörös Zászlo'. Thursday, December 21, 1989)

I shall try to describe here what the soon-to-be overthrown leaders of the Country and their intimidated or corrupted agents of justice meant when they talked of a lawful court judgement,


The showdown with László Tôkés, the Reformed Church parson of Timisoara, was billed as an eviction lawsuit by the Bishop of Oradea the traitor László Papp, who served the regime to the last, and who fell with it.

On September 21, 1989 the bishopric of Oradea, as a legal entity, and over the signature of Bishop László Papp, requested from the municipal court of Timisoara that the parson László Tôkés be evicted from his service flat (the parsonage) at Timotei Cipariu Street 1/1, Timisoara.

Point 126/II/a of the statute of the Reformed Church states about the rights and competence of the bishop that: "The bishop, as the clerical chairman of the bishopric, represents the bishopric together with the general superintendent versus the state government, the courts and authorities, as well as third persons".

I believe that everybody noticed and I underlined it that the bishop alone signed the petition for eviction, and thus, according to the above clause, his action was legally invalid.

The court of Timisoara, of course, rejected this procedural exception,, which the solicitor of László Tôkés presented in defence of his client. (And this exception argument had first been prepared by my Tirgu Mures colleague, Zoltán Cziprián.)

At the hearing of the appeal, where I undertook to represent László Tôkés in person,, the representative of the bishopric deposited a documentum signed on November 14, according to which Edit Bányai, the diocese substitute [provisional] general superintendent, agreed with and supported the motion for eviction.

About this document, I said at the hearing that it proved that the bishopric itself recognised that the bishop alone, without the general superintendent, could not represent the bishopric before the court. Since the judgement of first instance [initial ruling] was passed on October 20, 1989, the posterior (November 14) supplement to the signature was invalid. Consequently I requested that the dispositions of section 133 of the Civil Procedure be applied.

This would have stipulated that the missing signature could have been supplied only before the issuing of the initial ruling, never after. And therefore, because it was supplied too late, the whole petition was null and void.

The County Court, of course, rejected this procedural exception too.

I also pointed out that the registered owner of the Tôkés parsonage was the Reformed Parish of Timisoara, and consequently only the parish as a legal entity would have been entitled to demand eviction from the service flat.

(Let me note that not only did the parish not request the eviction of László Tôkés, but entered into the case in the defence of its parson and demanded the rejection of the bishop's request)

The inunediately superior organ of the parish, the Deanery of Arad, did not figure in the court case, but legally it would not have been incorrect if the superior organ had represented the parish instead of the central organ.


For instance, the People's Council of Sovata can be represented before the courts by the People's Council of the county as a superior organ, but not by the Council of Ministers. Of course, this argument was also rejected by the County Court. But for me, by the law, the conclusion of all this was clear: that the bishop has no right to terminate the employment of a parson.

One o the curious points in this whole affair is that the disciplinary regulations of the Reformed Church of the Romanian Socialist Republic, which states that only disciplinary committees of the church can make such a decision, was signed in November 1980, inter alia, by László Papp, President of the Bishops' Synod.

I believe László Papp avoided turning to the disciplinary committees, because in addition to well known and respected clergymen, lay personalities held in high esteem are also members of these committees. I believe he assumed that he would be unable to carry through his unlawful intention of having the employment contract terminated.

It was despite the above that the judgement of eviction, claimed to be lawful by N. Ceausescu, was passed.

Although the judgement of eviction did not include László Tôkés's pregnant wife, Edit the men of the Securitate (who legally had nothing to do with the execution of a judgement, since this was the task of the court bailiff) carried her off and away from the parsonage.

Fortunately, all this was in vain. The heroic stand of the besieged László Tôkés bore fruit - as the world now knows, his and his parishioners' resistance was the spark which set the fire for the victorious revolution, At the time, this knowledge filled with great joy. Perhaps for the first time in history, Hungarians, Romanians, Germans and the sons and daughters of other peoples living in our country fought together in full agreement and identity of interests, if not values.

Indeed, I believe that only during the murderous volleys of the security forces directed against the demonstrators was it possible to identify for certain the ethnic identity of those dying sons and daughters. For perhaps in one's moment of death, one may scream out the exclamation that comes most naturally, and be excused for speaking in one's mother tongue in a public place.

We must save the lesson of this wonderful concord for the future: and the condition on which this concord depends is full and genuine equality, the free use of our nation's various languages in the schools, at the universities, in offices. Every where, at all times. So be it.

In all that happened between the Timisoara court hearings and the appearance of the above article after the downfall of Ceausescu, a big role was played by my client, László Tôkés. He subsequently became Bishop of Oradea, the Honorary President of the Democratic Association of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ), and indeed an interationally recognised personality.


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