I don't know all the ins and outs about the anti-communist revolutions of 1989. I'm a political science major, so I have a good handle on basics. The Romanian regime was one of the most repressive of the Soviet bloc, with a crushing secret police and other typical totalitarian characteristics. Nicolae Ceausescu, the country's dictator, had completely mismanaged the economy, making it extremely poor/hard for people to survive. But yesterday, I saw some of the videos from those final days and it gave me chills.
There's one video of a staged rally organized by the Labor Party in Bucharest to show support for Ceausescu. This was right after he had ordered soldiers to fire on peaceful protesters a few days before in another part of the country, resulting in the deaths of 17 people. But the workers were forced to come to this rally and stand in the cold for hours, probably so frustrated. You can see all of them there in the bewildering numbers that communist totalitarian regimes put together, like in North Korea today. Then, you see Ceausescu giving his speech, thanking the organizers of the rally. He calls it "this great popular meeting in Bucharest".
That's when the crowd collectively lose their sh*t, and start jeering and shouting at Ceausescu. They're done with the lies and the BS. But as you hear the noise swell, all you can see is Ceausescu, a little old man by himself at a podium, raising his hand to try to calm them down. He looks completely taken aback. As the shouts of the crowd get louder and louder the feed cuts off, as the broadcasters realized how bad this made them look to Romanians at home.
As a person who cares about human rights, but also as a student of political science, this short video is fascinating to me in a few ways. It makes me think about two sides of this: what is going through the minds of the people, and what is going through the mind of Ceausescu at that moment. Buckle up, because this is about to get a bit nerdy. I'm going to talk about a couple of theories on authoritarian regimes, and how they can help us understand this event.
In his book, The Politics of Uncertainty, Andreas Schedler talks about the ironic weakness of totalitarian regimes: the performative behavior of everyone inside it. This includes the people, the elites, and the dictator himself. When you have a state like Romania with extremely extensive surveillance and secret police, everyone is paranoid and everyone is forced to ACT like they're loyal to the regime. At first, this is good for the dictator, as it becomes difficult for defectors to connect with each other, based on the fact that everyone has to act like they love the regime. If you don't, there's the huge risk that someone who hears you will sell you out. This disrupts any resistance efforts really well. But ironically, this eventually becomes a weakness, as the dictator and his elite circle are unable to gauge exactly how much dissent there really is, since everybody is basically lying to you through their teeth at any moment. I think this explains the bewilderment we see on Ceausescu's face when the crowd starts jeering at him. Obviously, he had to know that SOME people didn't like him. There was that protest a few days before. But I bet he had no idea about the extent to which people hated him until it was right in his face. He had started to believe the lie he created, that he was loved by the Romanian people. On the other hand, I bet the crowd was just as surprised by themselves as Ceausescu was in them. It must have been such a powerful moment – you're standing there in the cold, at a rally you don't even want to be at for a leader who has destroyed your country. Maybe you get so fed up you shout something without thinking about it. Before you know it, the whole area around you is filled with sound as you realize you're not alone.
In Timur Kuran's piece called "Now Out of Never", he specifically talked about the 1989 revolutions, and how they took everyone involved by surprised. Kuran has this theory of "revolutionary thresholds", basically how many people have to be in the streets before you as an individual go out too. Some people will go out and protest alone, they're that ballsy. But most aren't like that. They need to see that there's a certain number of people out there before they feel comfortable about doing it too, basically like a cost-benefit analysis. Going back to why the people started shouting at the rally. These were workers who knew the consequences of openly showing dissent. At first, probably one or two people said something. That gave more people confidence to participate, then more and more like a snowball effect, and then in a few moments the revolution is underway.
Anyway, I just think it's so fascinating. The video is a 4:29 brief overview you can easily find on YouTube. Be warned, there are some disturbing images in it. If you have any interesting knowledge about the 1989 revolutions in general, I'd love to hear it!
Source: reddit post