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Traian Orban
Traian Orban

Traian Orban leads the "Memorial of the Revolution of Timisoara 16-22 December 1989" Association, founded in 1990 to commemorate the victims of the Romanian revolution.

In December 1989 Orban was working as a veterinarian in a cooperative 45 km from Timisoara. He recalls regularly tuning into Radio Free Europe to follow the events in Eastern Europe, from the fall of the Berlin wall to the events in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. On 16 December, he heard on the radio that father Laszlo Tokes, an outspoken critic of the Ceausescu regime, was being evicted from the reformed Hungarian Church in Timisoara. (The event was to set off a wave of protests that eventually transformed into a revolution.)

The following day Orban came to Timisoara to see for himself what was actually happening. A standoff was taking place, with soldiers and police squaring off against demonstrators. Orban immediately joined the street protests. Violence was to ensue. The security forces opened fire on the crowds. Two bullets pierced Orban's leg. Today, Orban considers himself lucky to have survived.

On 20 December, Timisoara woke up a free town. But the revolution had not yet been won in the rest of the country, including the capital Bucharest. Orban speaks with mixed feelings about what happened afterwards:

"I want to tell you that the revolution was successful. We got rid of communism, but not of the communists, and not of the Securitate."

Orban's association was founded to honour the victims of the revolution, but also to address the crimes committed during its progression. It has built 12 monuments to commemorate the events, particularly in those places where people had fallen dead. In 1995 the foundation was allocated an old town building by the City Hall. It now houses a museum of the revolution, an ecumenical chapel, and a documentary centre with a comprehensive collection of testimonials of people that participated in the 1989 manifestations.

The Museum features photographs taken in the days of the Revolution, items of clothing belonging to the troops – Militia, National Guards and Army – that were deployed to crack down on the protests, and biographical information about the victims and the persons that commanded the troops. Visitors can also watch a documentary about the events of 1989 and look at a series of drawings made by schoolchildren – for a painting contest – on the revolution in Timisoara.

Even though the building that houses the Memorial was provided by the City Hall for use over a 99 year period, a court in Timisoara recently found that the property should be returned to its former owners. The ruling has been appealed, but Traian Orban is more than disappointed:

"This government, as the previous one, does not care about the revolution. This is our history, Romania's history, Europe's history – now threatened with eviction."

September 2008
Kristof Bender

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