Oradea / Nagyvárad / Großwardein, Romania, Dec 22, 1989 - Updated
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Every Picture Tells a Story (Don't it?) 09 - Street Party to Celebrate the Fall of Ceaușescu
On this day, 31 years ago, the Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena fled the capital, Bucharest, famously escaping an angry crowd by helicopter from the roof of their palace.
This sparked a party mood across the impoverished country, as much of the population celebrated the end of the regime, one of the most repressive in the communist bloc. The scene above was captured at around 22.00 on what I think could be called the ring road through the city. Many of the participants were not a little inebriated.
Oradea is in north-west Romania, a mere 7 kilometres from the Hungarian border, in an area known as the Partium. It boasted a very mixed population, and before WW2 had a thriving, Hungarian-speaking Jewish community. Under Hungarian rule from September 1940, all were deported to Auschwitz in the early summer of 1944.
But there is not much of a puzzle in this photo (I mean, it's impossible to guess where it is, unless you were there at the time) so I'll post another, which needs some historical knowledge to identify its location.
In this photo, taken later in the revolution, volunteers have taken it upon themselves to remove the Romanian Communist Party symbol from their town hall. But - detectives required here - where was this little bit of local history being made?
I'll aim to give the answers and complete the story tomorrow or Thursday.
(Note, these and 97% of photos on this site are my copyright ©. If you want them for your personal use, perhaps you could make a small donation to some genuine charity - I mean, some local NGO working for the homeless or such like. If you would like to use them for commercial gain, you need to contact me.)
UPDATE 1: Here's what happened to the CP symbol. I have a photo of it falling in mid-air somewhere, but can't find it. To be honest, I thought it would kill someone, but - luckily - it didn't. I'll add some more text later - too busy right now. Only to say - nobody has correctly identified the location so far.
UPDATE 2: Apologies for taking so long with this. I began writing the back story to this on Sunday, but couldn't finish it. Today, I looked at a piece that I wrote for my BBJ column almost one year ago - and I think it's simply faster if I put a link in to this story.
(If, for some reason, the link doesn't work, try knocking off the final number. The BBJ launched a new website just before Christmas, and some of the old links don't work. But as of this morning - 28th December - the old link does seem to work.)
What happened was that, a minute or two after meeting the street party in Oradea (top pic), I took a wrong turn in the darkness (Romania really did feel like something out of 1984 at the time), and instead of going east into the country via Cluj, we ended up turning south-east, crossing low mountains and arriving the next morning at Deva.
As we had acquired a very rudimentary map by then, we realised this was very close to the town of Hunedoara (Vajdahunyad in Hungarian), and this was the location of the original castle for which the 'castle' in Budapest's City Park was supposedly modelled, we decided to pay a visit.
If you look up Hunedoara today on the internet, it appears to be a thriving, pleasant place to live. In 1989 it can only be described as an industrial dump. It was dominated by a massive, smoke-belching steel works and associated power station, and the entire place was covered in a thick layer of iron ore dust. The population, as can be seen from the last photograph, had clearly led hard lives.
We were well received by the locals (apart from being nearly lynched as we left the place that afternoon) and taken to the local hospital to confirm that two dead were in the morgue, victims of shooting that had taken place a few days earlier.
One, a soldier, was laid out on the operating table - he had a hole in the side of his head, with grey-brown mush oozing out. I had never been so close to a dead corpse before and stopped to think how, just a day or two previously, he had been no doubt eating, drinking, laughing an talking, but was now lifeless, cold flesh. Such a tragedy for the young fellow and his family, just before Christmas and ultimately, for absolutely nothing.
The castle is, as Wikipedia notes, "closely connected to the Hunyadi family". The coat-of-arms of the Hunyadi's comprises a raven with a golden ring through its beak - and the town hall (to this day) has two ravens over its main doorway, as depicted in the photo above. This was the critical clue.
A photo of the town hall is on Hunedoara's official website today - see the eighth photo in the moving banner at the top
It certainly looks a vastly different environment from what it was back then (and a very impressive, multi-lingual website it is too). Hunedoara appears to have used its EU subsidies wisely.
This was a tough quiz, to which nobody provided the correct answer. (I'm sure Géza Jeszenszky would have known, but he obviously didn't take a peek at this one.)
Honourable mention must go to Alex Faludy, who knew the raven-Hunyadi connection, but assumed it represented Matthias Corvinus (Hunyadi Mátyás), and thus thought the photo was taken in Cluj-Napoca, Mattias' birthplace.
Alex clearly felt well-pleased with himself because of this detective work, demanding impatiently over Christmas when his brilliance would be publicly acknowledged. Alas, Alex, a little knowledge etc ... If you ever get to Hunedoara, I'm sure you'll seek out the Town Hall and its ravens!
But better luck next time :)