The Romanian Revolution at 30: It all started with Hungarians

Though many remember that Romania was the last country to free itself from communist dictatorship in 1989, there’s a significant detail that’s often overlooked. It all began when a Hungarian Reformed priest was threatened in Temesvár (Timișoara) and the local community started a vigil on December 16, thirty years ago.

This Saturday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will be in Romania to address a celebrating crowd at an event organized by the Hungarian National Council of Transylvania (speech scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.). He will be speaking in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Romanian Revolution that put an end to the 24-year-long, catastrophic dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu.

While some of the revolution’s unique circumstances are widely known, there’s a significant detail about it that is often overlooked. Yes, Romania was the last country to shake off communist rule in 1989. Yes, that revolution was the only one to violently overthrow the regime and execute its leader. And, yes, the revolution succeeded, and present-day Romania was born. Many are aware of all of this.

But the dramatic expression of public discontent did not suddenly take the shape of a full-blown revolution. It began with a small protest, which in turn launched a series of events that eventually toppled the cruel Ceaușescu regime.

In fact, on December 16, 1989, it was a vigil staged by the Hungarian minority that sparked the revolution. The small community of the local Reformed Church in Temesvár (Timișoara) began the vigil around the home of their pastor, László Tőkés, whom the infamous Romanian secret service, the Securitate, wanted to evict. Pastor Tőkés (who later became a bishop in the Reformed Church) wasn’t simply one of the staunchest critics of the communists; he was also a man of the cloth and – making him a perfect target for the regime – an ethnic Hungarian.

Through his heroic bravery, Bishop Tőkés would go on to become a symbol of the successful Romanian Revolution, both domestically and internationally. The vigil, started by Hungarians, was soon joined by Romanians in multi-ethnic Temesvár – Romanians who did not care what nationality the priest was. It was enough for them to hear, “The Securitate wants to take our priest.” And the rest is history.

Stay tuned for a readout of Prime Minister Orbán’s speech this Saturday!