Friday, November 6, 2009
A Blast from the Past: an interview with Gheorghe Apostol, a former leader of the Romanian Communist Party
This interview is from 1990 and is part of the book:
Gheorghe Apostol si Scrisoarea celor sase
Editura: Curtea Veche
An de aparitie: 2008
Numar de pagini: 184
Autor: Gheorghe Apostol, Ion Jianu
and translated by Editor (meaning not professionally done and with possible mistakes).
Gheorghe Apostol- born May 16, 1913 is a Romanian politician, an activist and a member of the clandestine movement of communist prison party group run by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, considered one of the potential successors to Gheorghiu-Dej as head of party and state.
Apostol was removed from the leadership of P.C.R. in 1969 at the Tenth Congress of the Communist Party. Apostol had not held any other major positions for a while, but then later on he was appointed ambassador to Argentina and Brazil. Subsequently, in various interviews, he claimed that at Ceausescu’s orders, the Securitatea staged a series of car accidents intended to kill him.
As a result, Apostol became deeply hostile to Ceauşescu’s policies, stating that they went against the legacy of Gheorghiu-Dej. He refused to pay the allegiance demanded by the new leader.
In 1988, Apostol returned to Romania and contacted other communist figures of his generation drafting an open letter of protest (dubbed Scrisoarea celor şase - “Letter of the Six”), directed at the government and made public through the means of both Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.
The six signatories were: Gheorghe Apostol, Silviu Brucan (former acting editor of the ‘’Scânteia’’newspaper), Constantin Pârvulescu (founding member of the Communist Party), Alexandru Bârlădeanu (former member of the Political Bureau), Grigore Răceanu (veteran of the Romanian Communist Party) and Corneliu Mănescu (former minister of Foreign Affairs). There were also other persons asked to sign that manifesto, among whom the most important is Ion Iliescu. He avoided associating his name with the respective group.
Read below the most interesting parts of the interview that refer to Dej's death and Ceausescu 'usurping' Apostol and the letter of the six from 1989 respectively....
I'd like to dwell on the period preceding the death of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. As I heard, you were supposed to take over the leadership of PCR, and not Nicolae Ceauşescu. What happened then, in 1965?
Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej had surgery in the state hospital Elias when he realized that he was developing cancer. The best Romanian specialist at the time operated on him, Olănescu. But Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej began to think about his death and the future of the Communist Party. He spoke with many comrades from the Party leadership analyzing whom to designate as successor to the post as First Secretary of the CC of P.M.R. After he examined some choices (Chivu Stoica was a possibility, another was Nicolae Ceauşescu and the third, Ion Gheorghe Maurer), it was decided and settled on my person. But Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej never discussed this issue with me! Three days before he died, Dej called in Maurer and told him: "I am fading away ... I want to solve the problem of designating the next First Secretary of the CC of P.M.R. before I die. This is my last wish. " I was working at the Council of Ministers at that time. Maurer called me in his office, where Emil Bodnăraş was also present. Ion Gheorghe Maurer told me what Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej instructed him to do on appointing a successor ...
Meaning to chose you as First Secretary?
Exactly. Dej told Maurer to elect me as First Secretary! I told Maurer: "This problem can only be solved by the CC of PMR. "Of course", has agreed Maurer. Then I ask Maurer: "What will you do with Ceausescu? And the answer from Maurer, then the President of the Council of Ministers:" I'll bring him here, in the government, to teach him new skills, I will put him in charge of agriculture ..."
Why did you ask Maurer about Ceausescu?
Since Ceausescu was in charge of the logistics and operations department of the PMR, the Party was in his hands. After this discussion, Maurer proposed to go together to the headquarters of the CC of P.M.R. to discuss the Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej's whishes with three other comrades.
With Chivu Stoica, Alexandru Draghici and Nicolae Ceauşescu. And in the hall of the Political Office, Maurer told them about the desire of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej regarding my appointment as the First Secretary of the Party.
What were the reactions of those present?
Emil Bodnăraş supported Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej's preference, of course I couldn't support myself ... Then Alexander Draghici said that it wouldn't be politically fair to elect me as First Secretary before Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej died. He explained (Draghici) that not only for the Romanian people, but also for the international opinion, this change of leaders before the death of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej would not be understandable.
In other words, Draghici was not opposed to your election as Prime secretary, but just that it is not the right time?
Exactly. We all decide that the six of us to meet again and to take a collective decision on whom to appoint as First Secretary. And then after, we were supposed to inform the Political Office of CC of P.M.R. and the Central Committee of our decision.
Who were these six politicians?
Ion Gheorghe Maurer, Chivu Stoica, Emil Bodnăraş Alexandru Draghici, Nicolae Ceauşescu, and me.
What happened next?
After the death of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, I went in the morning to the headquarters of the Central Committee. In Ceausescu's office, I found Ion Gheorghe Maurer and Chivu Stoica. "What are you doing here?", I asked. "Well, we decided to solve the management problem ...". And then, surprised, I ask: "But it has been established for all six of us to meet after the death of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and decide on his wish!" "Well, there is no time now, delegations for the funeral of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej are starting to arrive. Let's go directly to the Political Office." So we went to the Political Office ...
Without any decisions made in Ceaucescu's office?
Without. And so went to the Political Office where I discovered that the Party's Central Committee was already convened for meetings!
You didn't know about this meeting?
No, I didn't. And Ion Gheorghe Maurer starts to say the following: "Comrades, after consulting with a group of veteran communists from our Party, we arrived at the decision to elect Nicolae Ceausescu as the First Secretary of the CC of PMR..."
What was the reaction of the Political Office?
It was silence ... grave one. Nobody expected that. Nobody liked Ceauşescu. He was an impulsive man, with an isolated life. This proposal of Ion Gheorghe Maurer was not subject to any open vote.
The silence of the Political Office of the PMR was taken as an unanimous approval!
But there wasn't one really!
Indeed, there was a smoke screen for the so-called Party democracy. It was a political coupe, a factious one based on personal interests.
Maurer wanted to remain Prime Minister, Chivu Stoica wanted the chair of the Council of State and Ceausescu wanted to be the First Secretary of the Party. And this way they all achieved their goals. Following the approval of the Political Office, we went to the CC of P.M.R. And here the same thing, the same silence when they announced the decision of Nicolae Ceauşescu to be elected First Secretary of the CC. Nothing here has been put to the vote either. And so, the Central Committee members were silenced, and Ceausescu became First Secretary!
Mr. Ion Gheorghe Maurer, in a recent TV interview (January 1990) has presented those moments differently...
Maurer played the main role in making Ceauşescu the leader of the Party; with help from Chivu Stoica. It's not true what Maurer said in that TV interview, that Draghici was against Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej's desire to have me chosen as First Secretary. The truth is what I told you earlier: Drăghici proposed only to postpone my choice, because Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej was still alive.
In 1988 you were called back again?
No. This time I decided and asked to be relieved of my job as Ambassador of Romania in Brazil.
Knowing Romania's disastrous situation, I decided to return home and assume the risk of challenging the cult of personality that the Ceausescu regime introduced in our country etc.. But I am obliged to return with some details about the years spent as ambassador in Brazil. In 1984, seeing that no Party Congress discussed the issues contained in my letter of 33 pages, I decided to write a summary. Then I sent a letter of 17-18 pages to Ceausescu asking him to consider my issues as discussion topics at the Thirteenth Congress. I also stated that, if the contents of the letter were to be discussed in front of the Political Executive Committee, I was to be called and attend in person. I received no reply and therefore, after I received the approval to return home, I took the liberty to act. Let me not forget one detail: through a Romanian friend from Sao Paolo who maintained good relations with Aristide Buhoiu, the editor of the newspaper the "Universe", I got in touch with Aristide Buhoiu from the home of this Romanian fiend in Sao Paolo. I explained to Aristide Buhoiu what I was about to do and promised to send him my letter, but only to publish comments on topics from the letter which he thinks would interest the readers of his newspaper. Buhoiu agreed. The first article, more precisely, the first comment published was sent to the embassy of Romania. At the embassy, the two diplomats working for me were informants for the 'Securitatea.' They have read the article in the "Universe". The article was well written, referring to the events that happened before the death of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and to the time after his death when Ceausescu came in power. These stories from the "Universe" were presented as memories of a very close friend of Chivu Stoica, in this form were the comments presented and published.
So you won't have problems?
Yes, so as not to make any references to my letter. At the same time though, I wanted very much to let people outside of Romania know what's going on inside the country. So here we are home after my request in 1988. The first thing I wanted to do was to meet with Ceausescu. I insisted to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the First Secretary on International Issues, Ion Stoina, to another Secretary (Ion Coman), but to no avail. I came to Bucharest on April 30, but in June still had not met with Ceausescu.
What did you want to tell Ceausescu?
You can imagine that I didn't want to thank him as others were doing all day long. I just wanted to directly tell Ceausescu my thoughts on the situation in Romania, on the disastrous economic situation, on the increasing international isolation of Romania because of his internal policy. I wanted to ask him to find an honorable way to resign. Not only him, but his wife too. Of course I expected anything, I was ready for anything from him. If he were to meet with me, I would have told him clearly all my positions.
Maybe you would have not come home!
Yes. It was possible to be killed in his office. (At this point in the interview, Apostol gave me the example of Virgil Trofin: "The death of Trofin is suspect, not to say his killing, but...In the morning he went to work healthy and fine, but after a couple hours he suddenly developed some terrible pain in the belly. The CC of the PCR was notified, but they delayed sending an ambulance to Bucharest, and instead he was taken to the hospital in Calarasi, where he died. Don't write this, I cannot prove anything and who knows. .. "). But I wanted him to know my position so as to be able to do something. Sure, I was risking my life, I knew that, but the situation in Romania was awful. And our people deserved a better fate. Not accepting to meet with me, I assumed total freedom of action.
So what did you do?
I started talking to a large group of comrades to start publishing a project of proclamation to the Romanian people. This project of proclamation was on behalf of a committee of initiative intended to establish of Council of National Salvation. Some comrades agreed to participate in this project. Some didn't. Those who didn't want to participate argued that it is too dangerous, that Ceausescu will kill us all. And finally, I met with Silviu Brucan. I knew that he took some positions regarding the events of 1987 from Brasov.
What was his opinion about this initiative?
Brucan agreed with such an action. And so I started working on this, but he went abroad to travel in the U.S., UK, USSR. After a while, Brucan returned home, and happily received at the border by the "Securitatea"!.. We met again and he proposed not to write a letter or a proclamation, but to issue a call to action. I agreed and started to decide what issues to include in this call, and even started to assign points according to the importance of each of these issues. And of all the comrades whom I speak to before, I decided on six names: Constantin Pîrvulescu, Corneliu Mănescu, Alexandru Bîrlădeanu, Grigore Răceanu, Silviu Brucan and I.
Would you have found and others to participate?
There were other willing at the beginning, but then they gave up and refused to get involved. There were people of certain age. And I couldn't find any young people!
And how did you all 'sign' this call?
We went to each person respectively, and with some of them we talked about the amount of points for each issue to assign. In fact, this points assignment was discussed on the base of a verbal manifesto, not a written one...
For safety reasons. Brucan had the duty to write down everything we decided and to spread the message. Only that! We also decided that a copy of this proclamation to be sent to Ceausescu here in Bucharest. But Brucan did not send any copies to Ceausescu and instead he gave our proclamation to the American Embassy in Bucharest and through which our message eventually was broadcasted on BBC and Radio Free Europe.
Silviu Brucan said something else on TV!
It's not true what he said: that he had a friend in Austria through whom he sent the message to an agency of international press....But it doesn't matter. The important fact remains that the message of the six was distributed abroad. And on the March 11th, 1989 the 'bomb' exploded!
We were investigated by the Party College. Constantin Nicolae, the College president and Radu Constantin, the Secretary on Membership Problems, investigated me. The discussion at the College lasted until April 1989.
How did they behave with you?
They tried hard to make me express regret for this action. They considered it treason, a conspiracy against the leadership of the country and the state. I maintained my position though....I wanted to say this directly to Ceausescu. That's why I came back to Romania. At the rsisk of repeating myself, I could have stayed in Brazil as Ambassador...This is what I was telling the investigators from the College, assuming all the responsibilities for this action.
Did they force you to sign anything renouncing your actions?
I didn't sign anything, and I have not given them any written declarations.
What was decided then?
My exclusion from the Party for treason and deportation out of Bucharest. The exclusion needed to be discussed by the leaders of the basic Party organization to which I belonged; these are the reasons why, two days before my exclusion, I was assigned to the local Party organization based here on this street where I live now (Barbu Stefanescu Delavrancea no. 29). But this discussion never took place, as written in the statute. Instead I was summoned to the Party Office of the Sector 1, Bucharest, where the Party College presented all documents prepared against me. The charges they brought against me: betraying the interests of Romania, of the Party, serving the interests of country's enemies due to the fact that I had links with allegedly imperial circles who were against Romania.
You are allowed to defend yourself, to talk?
Yes. I started defending myself and from the accused I turned into the accuser. And I started to talk about Ceausescu's involvement in the situation that took place in Vadu Rosca, Vrancea County during the years of collectivisation. There the peasants did not want to participate in the collective and Ceausescu went to solve the problem. The peasants received him badly, went out to meet him with forks, axes etc. He tried to speak, to persuade them about the importance of collectivisation. He knew (Ceauşescu) how to speak! But the peasants were firm and refused to join even after all his efforts. Then he ordered them to go home. The peasants refused this too, stating that they will go home only after Ceausescu's departure from their village. An enraged Ceausescu, seeing that they will not listen to him, then ordered a security platoon, which was provided by Draghici, to shoot the peasants.
To shoot the peasants?
Yes. First there was a warning shot in the air. The peasants did not move even after a second warning shot. After that Ceausescu had ordered the platoon to shoot directly at the peasants. And some people fell down from the bullets. No one knows how many were killed! In front of the crowd there were children, then women and men in the back ... This murder happened in 1957. After conjuring this episode of direct indictment of Nicolae Ceauşescu, we talked about how I was treated during the Tenth Congress of PCR, and that Nicolae Ceauşescu will not see me.
You were talking about the exclusion from the PCR and the exile out of Bucharest ...
Yes, it was decided to exclude me from the Party and to be deported back to my native village or to the village of my wife's parents. I went to the local Party Committee in Bucharest to confirm these decisions. And here the same well-rehearsed show trial: a well prepared speech, some arguments well presented....and the confirmation of my exclusion from the Party for treason.
What followed then?
I was handed over to the 'Securitatea'. And during the monts of July, August, September 1989 I was investigated by the their people.
In what conditions?
Diabolic methods: they were keeping me awake till I collapsed from lack of sleep. I had the feeling that I was about to fall off my chair.
Betrayal. Conspiracy against the state. I kept telling them" "I, Gheorghe Apostol, Romanian, I did my Romanian patriotic duty. I organized this group to uncover the political practices of Ceausescu, which led the country into a disastrous situation." The investigation was completed and I was about to be charged with high treason, a charge that triggered the death penalty if found guilty. (In the interview, Apostle also said that his prosecution would be based on articles of the penal code, which makes possible the confiscation of property and family. Later, he gave up on these details).
Deliberations behind closed doors I assume..
Yes. In the meantime, my wife was arrested as well.
But you stayed in the same apartment on Barbu St. Delavrancea?
Yes. We were under home arrest, always watched by the Securitatea.
Why did they arrest your wife?
This Silviu Brucan told the Securitatea that he paid a visit to my home and that my wife served him with coffee and a slice of fresh cake. And then, the Securitatea asked my wife if she has ever met Brucan. She answered that, no, she's never met him. But they accused her of being the messenger between myself and Silviu Brucan. They behaved very badly with my wife. She had a nervous breakdown, but still she had a little luck. She had a small nose bleeding... If a brain vain had broken, she would have died.... Anyway, the Securitatea was planning to charge my wife as an accomplice to high treason and tried to relocate her somewhere on the edge of Bucharest.
I was to be deported to Străoane (Vrancea County). Luckily, the investigation was very slow and in the end I was not deported though they managed to deport Corneliu Mănescu and Silviu Brucan. That is the all history of this call to action. The Revolution saved me from being murdered! I stayed under house arrest until the day of 22 December 1989.
After the revolution, did you meet with the signatories of this call to action?
No. As far as Mr Silviu Brucan: he had no discussion or with me or with any others. He took initiative by himself to speak on television, saying about me what you've heard. How could I betray him or the others when we, in fact, we betrayed ourselves? The letter was not anonymous, it was an open letter, signed by all six of us ... We betrayed ourselves. I was set up by Silviu Brucan ...
To build his own political power base because Brucan, as a politician, was an unknown entity in this country. He was known only on the basis of some statements about the events in Brasov from 1987. Nothing else. But the country did not know who he was. He did not have a solid political base and then sought to compromise myself as to make for himself a respectable place in the Executive Office of the FSN. Thus he managed to get near to Iliescu ...
On 23 December 1989 you made it to the TV station but did not appeared on TV. Why?
I went to Ion Iliescu's door. He didn't receive me.
Did he know you were outside?
We were called to the TV station, all six of us, and so I did go on December 23 to talk people via TV. Back then, there were still fierce battles on the streets but I managed to avoid the bullets and arrived to the TV station even after I passed through at least three different security check points. But, I was not received by anyone ... In the studio room I was recognized by the TV presenter Petre Popescu, who embraced me. "You want to talk?" he asked. "Yes." And then he called FSN. It seems that he even talked to Brucan and was informed from the FSN to wait half an hour. And we waited two hours and a half!