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Ion Iliescu

Ion Iliescu (2).JPG
2nd President of Romania
In office
26 December 1989 – 29 November 1996
Acting until 20 May 1990
Prime MinisterPetre Roman
Theodor Stolojan
Nicolae Văcăroiu
Preceded byNational Salvation Front Council (interim)
Succeeded byEmil Constantinescu
In office
20 December 2000 – 20 December 2004
Prime MinisterMugur Isărescu
Adrian Năstase
Preceded byEmil Constantinescu
Succeeded byTraian Băsescu
Member of the National Salvation Front Council
In office
22 December 1989 – 26 December 1989
Member of the Senate of Romania
In office
22 November 1996 – 14 December 2008
Member of the Chamber of Deputies
In office
9 June 1990 – 27 September 1990
Co-Founding Leader of the National Salvation Front
In office
22 December 1989 – 7 April 1992
Succeeded byPetre Roman
Founding Leader of the Democratic National Salvation Front
In office
7 April 1992 – 11 October 1992[b]
Succeeded byOliviu Gherman
President of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania[c]
In office
January 1997 – 20 December 2000[b]
Preceded byOliviu Gherman
Succeeded byAdrian Năstase
Positions held during the communist era
Member of the State Council
In office
Member of the Great National Assembly
In office
In office
In office
Member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party
In office
Minister of Youth & First Secretary of the Union of Communist Youth
In office
11 December 1967 – 17 March 1971
Prime MinisterIon Gheorghe Maurer
Preceded byPetru Enache (as First Secretary of the Union of Communist Youth)
Succeeded byDan Marțian
President of the National Water Council
In office
28 August 1979 – 16 March 1984
Prime MinisterIlie Verdeț
Constantin Dăscălescu
Preceded byFlorin Ioan Iorgulescu
Succeeded byIon Badea
President of Iași County Council
In office
Vice-President of Timiș County Council
In office
Personal details
Born (1930-03-03) 3 March 1930 (age 91)
Oltenița, Călărași County, Kingdom of Romania
Political partyRomanian Communist Party
National Salvation Front
Democratic National Salvation Front (1992)
(1992–1996; 2000–2004; FDSN/PDSR/PSD membership suspended while president)
Party of Social Democracy in Romania (1996–2000)
Social Democratic Party (2004–present)
(m. 1951)
ParentsAlexandru Iliescu,
Alma materBucharest Polytechnic Institute
Moscow State University
ProfessionHydroelectric Engineer
Known forRomanian Revolution
a. ^ Mazilu resigned from the leadership of the FSN on 26 January 1990

b. ^ party membership suspended while president

c. ^ Not to be confused with Romanian Social Democratic Party

Ion Iliescu (Romanian pronunciation: [iˈon iliˈesku] (About this soundlisten); born 3 March 1930) is a Romanian politician and engineer who served as President of Romania from 1989 to 1996 and from 2000 until 2004. Between 1996 and 2000 and also from 2004 to 2008, year in which he retired, Iliescu was a senator for the Social Democratic Party (PSD), of which he is the founder and honorary president.

He joined the Communist Party in 1953 and became a member of its Central Committee in 1965. However, beginning with 1971, he was gradually marginalized by Nicolae Ceaușescu. He had a leading role in the Romanian Revolution, becoming the country's president in December 1989. In May 1990, he became Romania's first freely elected head of state. After a new constitution was approved by popular referendum, he served a further two terms, from 1992 to 1996 and from 2000 to 2004, separated by the presidency of Emil Constantinescu, who defeated him in 1996.

During his presidency, Romania joined NATO. In April 2018, Ion Iliescu was charged in Romania with committing crimes against humanity by "approving military measures, some of which had an evidently diversionary character" during the deadly aftermath of the country's 1989 revolution.[1]

Early life and entering politics

Iliescu's father, Alexandru Iliescu, was a railroad worker with Communist views during the period in which the Romanian Communist Party was banned by the authorities. In 1931, he went to the Soviet Union to take part in the Communist Party Congress of Moscow. He remained in the USSR for the next four years and was arrested upon his return. He was imprisoned from June 1940 to August 1944 and died in August 1945. During his time in the Soviet Union, Alexandru Iliescu divorced and married Marița, a chambermaid.

Iliescu married Nina Șerbănescu in 1951; they have no children, not by choice but because they could not, as Nina had three miscarriages.[2] Born in Oltenița, Iliescu studied fluid mechanics at the Bucharest Polytechnic Institute and then as a foreign student at Moscow Power Engineering Institute. During his stay in Moscow, he was the secretary of the "Association of Romanian Students" it is alleged that he met Mikhail Gorbachev, although Iliescu always denied this.[3] However, years later, president Nicolae Ceaușescu probably believed that there was a connection between the two, since during Gorbachev's visit to Romania in July 1989, Iliescu was sent outside of Bucharest to prevent any contact.[4]

Ion Iliescu speaks fluently Romanian, English, and Russian languages.[citation needed]

Ion Iliescu in 1976 with Elena Ceaușescu
Ion Iliescu in 1976 with Elena Ceaușescu

He joined the Union of Communist Youth in 1944 and the Communist Party in 1953 and made a career in the Communist nomenklatura, becoming a secretary of the Central Committee of the Union of Communist Youth in 1956 and a member of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party in 1965. At one point, he served as the head of the Central Committee's Department of Propaganda.[3] Iliescu later served as Minister for Youth-related Issues between 1967 and 1971.

However, in 1971, Ceaușescu felt threatened by Iliescu, who was seen as Ceaușescu's heir apparent. He was marginalized and removed from all major political offices, becoming vice-president of the Timiș County Council (1971–1974), and later president of the Iași Council (1974–1979). Until 1989, he was in charge of the Editura Tehnică publishing house. For most of the 1980s (if not before), he was tailed by the Securitate (secret police), as he was known to oppose Ceaușescu's harsh rule.[5]

Romanian Revolution

The Romanian Revolution began as a popular revolt in Timișoara. After Ceaușescu was overthrown on 22 December, the political vacuum was filled by an organization named National Salvation Front (FSN: Frontul Salvării Naționale), formed spontaneously by second-rank communist party members opposed to the policies of Ceaușescu and non-affiliated participants in the revolt. Iliescu was quickly acknowledged as the leader of the organization and therefore of the provisional authority. He first learned of the revolution when he noticed the Securitate was no longer tailing him.[5]

The Ceaușescus were captured, hauled before a drumhead court-martial, and executed on Christmas Day. Years later, Iliescu conceded that the trial and execution were "quite shameful, but necessary" to end the chaos that had riven the country since Ceaușescu's overthrow.[6]

Three men are walking side-by-side holding papers. The first two are wearing a suit and the third is wearing a red sweater. The first man is smiling and flashing a V sign.
Iliescu (center) with FSN members Dumitru Mazilu (left) and Petre Roman (right) on 23 December 1989, one day after the formation of the FSN.

Iliescu proposed multi-party elections and an "original democracy". This is widely held to have meant the adoption of Perestroika-style reforms rather than the complete removal of existing institutions; it can be linked to the warm reception the new regime was given by Mikhail Gorbachev and the rest of the Soviet leadership, and the fact that the first post-revolutionary international agreement signed by Romania was with that country.

Iliescu did not renounce Communist ideology and the program he initially presented during the revolution included restructuring the agriculture and the reorganization of trade, but not a switch to capitalism.[3] These views were held by other members of the FSN as well, such as Silviu Brucan, who claimed in early 1990 that the revolution was against Ceaușescu, not against communism.[7] Iliescu later evoked the possibility of trying a "Swedish model" of socialism.

Rumours abounded for years that Illiescu and other second-rank Communists had been planning to overthrow Ceaușescu, but the events of December 1989 overtook them. For instance, Nicolae Militaru, the new regime's first defense minister, said that Illiescu and others had planned to take Ceaușescu prisoner in February 1990 while he was out of the capital. However, Illiescu denies this, saying that the nature of the Ceaușescu regime—particularly the Securitate's ubiquity—made advance planning for a coup all but impossible.[5]


Presidential styles of
Ion Iliescu
Coat of arms of Romania.svg
Reference stylePreședintele (President)
Spoken stylePreședintele (President)
Alternative styleDomnia Sa/Excelența Sa (His Excellency)

The National Salvation Front decided to organize itself as a party and run in the 1990 general election—the first free election held in the country in 53 years–with Illiescu as its presidential candidate. The FSN won a sweeping victory, taking strong majorities in both chambers.[8] In the separate presidential election, Iliescu won handily, taking 85 percent of the vote, still the largest vote share for a free presidential election. He thus became Romania's first democratically elected head of state. To date, it is the only time since the end of Communism that a president has been elected in a single round.

Iliescu and his supporters split from the Front and created the Democratic National Salvation Front (NSDF), which later evolved into the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), then the Social Democratic Party (PSD) (see Social Democratic Party of Romania). Progressively, the Front lost its character as a national government or generic coalition, and became vulnerable to criticism for using its appeal as the first institution involved in power sharing, while engaging itself in political battles with forces that could not enjoy this status, nor the credibility.

Under the pressure of the events that led to the Mineriads, his political stance has veered with time: from a proponent of Perestroika, Iliescu recast himself as a Western European social democrat. The main debate around the subject of his commitment to such ideals is linked to the special conditions in Romania, and especially to the strong nationalist and autarkic attitude visible within the Ceaușescu regime. Critics have pointed out that, unlike most communist-to-social democrat changes in the Eastern bloc, Romania's tended to retain various cornerstones.

Iliescu in 2004
Iliescu in 2004
Iliescu and U.S. President George W. Bush in 2002
Iliescu and U.S. President George W. Bush in 2002

Romania adopted its first post-Communist Constitution in 1991. In 1992, Iliescu won a second term when he received 61% of the vote in the second round. He immediately suspended his NSDF membership; the Constitution does not allow the president to be a formal member of a political party during his term. He ran for a third time in 1996 but, stripped of media monopoly, he lost in the second round to Emil Constantinescu, his second-round opponent in 1992. Over 1,000,000 votes were cancelled, leading to accusations of widespread fraud. Nevertheless, Iliescu conceded defeat within hours of polls closing, making him the only incumbent president to lose a bid for re-election since the end of Communism.

In the 2000 presidential election Iliescu ran again and won in the run-off against the ultra-nationalist[9][10][11] Corneliu Vadim Tudor. He began his third term on 20 December of that year, ending on 20 December 2004. The center-right was severely defeated during the 2000 elections due largely to public dissatisfaction with the harsh economic reforms of the previous four years as well as the political instability and infighting of the multiparty coalition. Tudor's extreme views also ensured that most urban voters either abstained or chose Iliescu.

In the PSD elections of 21 April 2005, Iliescu lost the Party presidency to Mircea Geoană, but was elected as honorary president of the party in 2006, a position without official executive authority in the party.


Though enjoying a certain popularity due to his opposition to Ceaușescu and image as a revolutionary, his political career after 1989 was characterized by multiple controversies and scandals. Public opinion regarding his tenure as president is still divided.[12]

Alleged KGB connections

Some alleged Iliescu had connections to the KGB, the allegations continued during 2003–2008, when Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who had been granted access to Soviet archives, declared that Iliescu and some of the NSF members were KGB agents, that Iliescu had been in close connection with Mikhail Gorbachev ever since they had allegedly met during Iliescu's stay in Moscow, and that the Romanian Revolution of 1989 was a plot organized by the KGB to regain control of the country's policies (gradually lost under Ceaușescu's rule).[13] The only hard evidence published was a discussion between Gorbachev and Bulgaria's Aleksandar Lilov from 23 May 1990 (after Iliescu's victory in the 20 May elections) in which Gorbachev says that Iliescu holds a "calculated position", and that despite sharing common views with Iliescu, Gorbachev wanted to avoid sharing this impression with the public.[14]


He, along with other figures in the leading FSN, was allegedly responsible for calling the Jiu Valley miners to Bucharest on January (January 1990 Mineriad) and June (June 1990 Mineriad) 1990 to end the protests of the citizens gathered in University Square, Bucharest, protests aimed against the ex-communist leaders of Romania (like himself). The pejorative term for this demonstration was the Golaniad (from the Romanian golan, rascal). On 13 June, an attempt of the authorities to remove from the square around 100 protesters, which had remained in the street even after the May elections had confirmed Iliescu and the FSN, resulted in attacks against several state institutions, such as the Ministry of Interior, the Bucharest Police Headquarters and the National Television. Iliescu issued a call to the Romanian people to come and defend the government, prompting several groups of miners to descend on the capital, armed with wooden clubs and bats. They trashed the University of Bucharest, some newspaper offices and the headquarters of opposition parties, claiming that they were havens of decadence and immorality – drugs, firearms and munitions, "an automatic typewriter", and fake currency. The June 1990 Mineriad in particular was widely criticized both at home and internationally, with one historian (Andrei Pippidi) comparing the events to Nazi Germany's Kristallnacht.[15][16] Government inquiries later established that the miners were infiltrated and instigated by former Securitate operatives.[17] In February 1994 a Bucharest court "found two security officers, Colonel Ion Nicolae and warrant officer Corneliu Dumitrescu, guilty of ransacking the house of Ion Rațiu, a leading figure in the Christian Democratic National Peasants' Party, during the miners' incursion and stealing $100,000."[18]

King Michael

In 1992, three years after the revolution which overthrew the Communist dictatorship, the Romanian government allowed King Michael to return to his country for Easter celebrations, where he drew large crowds[citation needed]. In Bucharest over a million people turned out to see him[citation needed]. Michael's popularity alarmed the government of President Ion Iliescu, so Michael was forbidden to visit Romania again for five years[citation needed]. In 1997, after Iliescu's defeat by Emil Constantinescu, the Romanian Government restored Michael's citizenship and again allowed him to visit the country[citation needed].


In December 2001, Iliescu pardoned three inmates convicted for bribery, including George Tănase, former Financial Guard head commissioner for Ialomița.[19] Iliescu had to revoke Tănase's pardon a few days later due to the media outcry, claiming that "a legal adviser was superficial in analyzing the case".[20][21] Later, the humanitarian reasons invoked in the pardon were contradicted by another medical expert opinion.[22] Another controversial pardon was that of Dan Tartagă—a businessman from Brașov that, while drunk, had run over and killed two people on a pedestrian crossing. He was sentenced to three years and a half but was pardoned after only a couple of months.[23] Tartagă was later sentenced to a two-year sentence for fraud.[24]

Most controversial of all, on 15 December 2004, a few days before the end of his last term, Iliescu pardoned 47 convicts, including Miron Cozma, the leader of the miners during the early 1990s, who had been sentenced in 1999 to 18 years in prison in conjunction with the September 1991 Mineriad. This has attracted harsh criticism from all Romanian media.[25] Many of the pardoned had been convicted for corruption or other economic crimes, while one had been imprisoned for his involvement in the attempts at suppressing the 1989 Revolution.[25]

Decorating Vadim Tudor

In the last days of his president mandate, he awarded the National Order Steaua României (rank of ceremonial knighthood) to the ultra-nationalist controversial politician Corneliu Vadim Tudor, a gesture which drew criticism in the press and prompted Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, fifteen Radio Free Europe journalists, Timișoara mayor Gheorghe Ciuhandu, songwriter Alexandru Andrieș, and historian Randolph Braham to return their Romanian honours in protest. The leader of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, Béla Markó, did not show up to claim the award he received on the same occasion. President Traian Băsescu revoked the award granted to Tudor on 24 May 2007, but a lawsuit is ongoing even after Băsescu's decree was declared constitutional.[26]

Black sites

Ion Iliescu is mentioned in the report of the Council of Europe investigator into illegal activities of the CIA in Europe, Dick Marty. He is pointed out as one of the people who authorized or at least knew about and have to stand accountable for torture prisons at Mihail Kogălniceanu airbase from 2003 to 2005.[27] In April 2015, Iliescu confirmed that he had granted a CIA request for a site in Romania, but was not aware of the nature of the site, describing it as a small gesture of goodwill to an ally in advance of Romania's eventual accession to NATO. Iliescu further stated that had he known of the intended use of the site, he would certainly not have approved the request.[28]

Revolution of 1989 and subsequent trial

In 2016, a previously closed legal case regarding Crimes Against Humanity committed by the interim government headed by Iliescu during the Romanian Revolution was reopened.[29] Authorities had, in 2015, after 26 years of prolonged investigation, concluded that there was no evidence with which they could prosecute.[29] However, in 2016, the case was ordered to be re-examined by the interim General Prosecutor.[29] By 2017, military prosecutors had alleged that the events of 1989 were orchestrated by a misinformation campaign on the part of Iliescu's government, which were disseminated through broadcasting media.[30] Reportedly, this investigation lead to speculation of whether the conflict of 1989 could be classified as a revolution, or conversely, as a Coup d'état.[29]

In April 2018, the General Prosecutor asked that Iliescu be put on trial. President Klaus Iohannis approved this request, as well as the proceeding of the prosecution of Petre Roman.[31]

Iliescu was charged for his alleged role in the killing of 862 people during the revolution, at which time he headed the National Salvation Front (FSN) interim government, as well as the spreading of misinformation.[30] Allegations included Iliescu's apparent involvement in the "Mineriad" case, in which miners quashed protests against the government. The initial charges, brought forward in 2005, were shortly dropped, until 2014 when the European Court of Human Rights found Iliescu's lack of investigation into the events of Mineriad to be in violation of human rights to life, freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment and demonstration[29] and again in 2015 when the Military Prosecutor's Section within the Prosecutor's Office and the Justice Office reopened investigations into the Mineriad protests, accusing Iliescu, along with other accused perpetrators, of coordinating a general and systematic attack against the civilian population during the events from 13 until 15 June 1990 in Bucharest.[29] Finally, on 13 June 2017, the Prosecutor's office indicted Iliescu for crimes against humanity for actions taken by Iliescu during the Mineriad protests. The statement released by the office claimed that the attack illegally involved forces of the Interior Ministry, Defence Ministry, Romanian Intelligence service, as well as the miners and other workers from various areas of the country.[29] The office further alleged that attacks were also carried out against peaceful residents.[29]

Ion Iliescu at the Romanian Television during the Romanian Revolution of 1989, the broadcast was one of the key points of accusation against Iliescu.
Ion Iliescu at the Romanian Television during the Romanian Revolution of 1989, the broadcast was one of the key points of accusation against Iliescu.

On 8 April 2019, Ion Iliescu was officially charged with crimes against humanity[32][33] Iliescu's lawyer, Adrian Georgescu, complained that the file was illegitimate,[34] due to its lack of a prosecutor.[33] In December of the same year, Iliescu's trial began to focus on allegations that he had intentionally spread disinformation through the use of broadcast media with the aid of Aurel Dragoș Munteanu, a member of the National Salvation Front and the director of TVR during the revolution of 1989, meaning that he was greatly influential in the Nation Salvation Front's ability to foster support in the Romanian public.[35] Among the claims investigated were Iliescu's broadcast claim that "unknown terrorists" were responsible for the deaths of Elena and Nicolae Ceaușescu.[36]

Amid candlelit vigils and other memorial services during the 30th anniversary of the Romanian Revolution, several survivors of the conflict spoke out against Iliescu's trial, with many claiming it is a publicity stunt on the part of Klaus Iohannis to gain popularity from the Romanian population that still seek the truth about the revolution.[37] Currently, Iliescu's trial is not expected to reach a definitive conclusion.[37] The trial was first postponed to February 2020 due to Iliescu's declining health and the slow pace of legal proceedings.[38] and then later postponed due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in 2020.


Electoral history

Presidential elections

Election Affiliation First round Second round
Votes Percentage Position Votes Percentage Position
1990 FSN 12,232,498
1992 FDSN 5,633,465
 1st  7,393,429
1996 PDSR 4,081,093
 1st  5,914,579
2000 PDSR 4,076,273
 1st  6,696,623


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  46. ^ "Iliescu si Constantinescu au primit Emblema de Onoare a Armatei" (in Romanian). Archived from the original on 25 October 2012. Retrieved 24 October 2012.
  47. ^ Odlikovanja šakom i kapom Archived 21 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine at Blic, 9-9-2004 (in Serbian)

Further reading

External links

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