Werner Sommerauer is one of the 61 protesters from Brașov convicted in December 1987 for “outrage against good morals and serious disturbance of public peace”. This is how the Brasov revolt was called, in the language of the authorities of the time: disturbance of the public peace, although its anti-system coordinates were clear to anyone with eyes to see. In Brașov, on November 15, thousands of people took to the streets, singing “Wake up, Romanians!”, chanting “Down with communism!”, “Down with the dictator!”, “Down with Ceaușescu!” ‒ and the huge painting of Nicolae Ceaușescu, painted on canvas, which adorns the PCR County Committee building, was set on fire.
Investigated in Brașov and Bucharest in the following days, interrogated, tortured, Werner Sommerauer from Brașov, who had already come to the attention of the Security through his actions, will be deported to Tulcea, where he had to serve a sentence of 3 years of correctional labor. He will return to Brașov for the first time after the uprising only in the summer of 1989. After 1990, he told several times the traumas he suffered during investigations and deportation, and his testimonies were published in volumes.
Because his story is also the story of November 1987, but especially of the fire that smoldered in Romania in the 80s, today, on the 35th anniversary of the uprising, we will let Werner Sommerauer speak again, but also in the mirror, some of his torturers, through the documents carefully collected by the Security in various files.
In the 80s, the quality of life in Romania steadily worsened, but not everyone passively accepted the “tightening of the screw”. Social or political protests, individual (inscriptions in public places, manifestos, anonymous letters, memos to the authorities) or in groups (strikes and public riots) took place throughout the country, the archive of the former political police managed by CNSAS still has a lot to offer original
In order not to give the West an opportunity to condemn the Bucharest regime, the strategy of the single party, put into practice by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice, was to avoid political convictions, and to define the punishments as common law crimes (theft, speculating, possession of currency, non-compliance with road traffic regulations, etc.).
Only when no such “evidence” was found, and the perpetrator had to be subjected to a determined correction, was recourse to art. 166 of the Penal Code, “propaganda against the socialist order”, which provided for a prison sentence between 5 and 15 years. For this reason, the number of political convicts decreased significantly after 1968. Instead, the tens of thousands of “preventive measures” applied annually by the Security (warnings, warnings, public debates, etc.) provide an image of the scale of opposition gestures in Romania socialist.
The Brașov Truck Company (formerly “Red Flag”) was an industrial colossus, the largest truck manufacturer in the country, with over 20,000 employees in the 1990s.
Since the late 1970s, because it could no longer keep up with technological progress, the plant constantly lost contracts with external partners, so that its financial situation deteriorated accordingly. Most Romanian enterprises were in the same situation.
In order not to recognize the failure of its economic policy, the one-party passed the entire responsibility to enterprises and workers, called, propagandistically, “owners, producers and beneficiaries”, and from 1983 it generalized the payment system in the global agreement. It assumed that a minimum monthly income was no longer guaranteed, but only in relation to the achievement of production, which did not depend, however, on workers, but on contracts, raw materials, electricity and methane gas supply, etc.
Everything had to be saved, and the energy quotas, for example, lower every year, were bound to generate higher and higher productions. Thus, workers worked more but were paid less.
Decreased wages, the lack of basic food products in stores, the darkness and cold in the homes led thousands of Brasov residents to join the “flags” protest in the morning of November 15, 1987.
The visit of the Ceausescus to the Braşov Truck Company, in 1986
“Brothers, we are no longer working!”
At Autocamioane, salaries were paid in two installments: on the 25th the advance for the current month, and the following month, between 10 and 12, the liquidation, when the flyers with the details of the payment were also distributed. The distribution of the liquidation for October 1987 was delayed by several days, and when the flyers were received, the workers in all sections, even where the plan had been carried out, found that they had been given “industrial deductions” of several hundred lei.
On the night of November 14/15, the employees from shift III in Section 440 (Matrițe) asked the boss, engineer Valeriu Ghelase, for explanations. Their discontent was heightened by rumors that the chiefs had balanced their incomes by giving themselves bonuses. The engineer told them that he would call someone from the plant management in the morning, and until then, to continue working.
The 93 workers decided to stop work. At around 4:00, Ghelase calls Security Captain Avram Gheorghe and calls the heads of workshops, the party secretaries and the chief engineer from the Hot Sectors, Bazil Tătărescu, from his home. When he arrived at the ward, he threatened: “What, me, you don’t want to work? We are sending you all to the mine in Valea Jiului!”. He was booed, and the workers who came for the first shift, on the morning of November 15, joined the ranks of the strikers, going out into the yard.
In the neighboring sections there was a protest and the workers stopped work. Several activists from the factory and some delegates from the county party asked the strikers to appoint representatives for negotiations, but the workers demanded to talk to all of them.
The workers wanted to demand an explanation from the general manager, and on the way to the administrative block even more gathered. Shouting “Thieves!”, “We want our money back!”, the workers went through several production halls. The department heads tried to lock their subordinates inside so they wouldn’t join the march.
In front of Section 610, the engineer Valentin Călin came out, to whom the worker Aurică Geneti slapped him. In the fall, the engineer’s white helmet rolled down the driveway. Geneti then put on his helmet and, without realizing it, began to distinguish himself in the crowd, becoming the “man with the white helmet”, who was considered by the Securitate to be the main instigator and leader of the demonstration.
At the “palace” they found no one. Angry, the workers broke the windows on the ground floor. Among the approximately 3,000 strikers, the idea arose to go to the city center, “to the party”. Afraid that they might walk out, most of the workers prefer to go back to work or go home, so about 200 people walk out of the factory gate.
The protest is slowly changing. They shout: “Down with communism!”
“I started silently”, the late Aurel Huian will remember years from now. Slowly, the workers regain their courage and shout: “We want Sunday back!”, “We want food for the children!”, “We want pills for the sick!”. They walk on the sidewalks, but as the group grows, they occupy the street (Calea București) and interrupt traffic (they pulled the detectors from the trolleybuses). Those I meet react differently: some join the group immediately, others applaud, others get scared and move away.
In front of the County Hospital, the demonstrators stopped and someone played the old anthem, “Wake up, Romanians!”, banned in the “Golden Age”. Some remembered the lyrics and sang the first verse. The moment is significant because it provided the courage to call things out: the people of Brasov were in the streets because the deprivation policy of the communist system had forced them to protest. Timidly, then more and more loudly, he began to shout “Down with communism!”, “Down with the dictator!”, “Down with Ceaușescu!”.
There were already thousands of people on the streets.
“Misery drove us to do what we did”
In the Sommerauer family’s apartment, Florentina, who would have turned 14 the next day, came to tell her father that a crowd was going downtown and shouting “Thieves, thieves!”. Without thinking, Werner changes into street clothes and leaves.
On the day of the local elections, he hopes that people refused to vote, again, some lists of activists they did not know and who did nothing to improve their lives, that the revolt was from the beginning political, directed against the leadership the country, for its removal. When the last column arrived, after the County Hospital, his expectations were rewarded – the crowd shouted anti-communist slogans.
Nea Werner, as her acquaintances called her, had not voted. In the 1985 elections, he had put the ballots on which he had written “Give us more meat!” into the ballot box. On November 15, 1987, he had not even made this effort. In addition to the daily shortages, he was angry that the only slogan of those local council elections was “order and discipline!”, a sign that “we can’t complain anymore, the security guards will multiply”.
Slowly, it reaches the first rows of the column. At “Hidromecanica” they are greeted by a group of civilians, including a woman (“thin, bony, with glasses” – as the late Mircea Sevaciuc describes her), whom some recognize as party activist Maria Cebuc, propaganda secretary per county.
She tries to stop the workers: “What are you doing, are you crazy? Can’t you go to work?”. Those in the front rows push her out of their way and the activist leans into Sommerauer’s arms. He recognizes her and shouts: “What do you care, you have the party household!”, then he hugs her, she trips and falls on the sidewalk. It was the only attempt by the authorities to persuade the crowd to abandon the protest.
Down ‒ literally ‒ with Ceaușescu: the huge painting is set on fire
Thousands of people arrived in front of the PCR County Committee building, continuing to chant. At one point, several people came out of the main door, among whom those in the first rows recognized the mayor Dumitru Calancea. Some claim that he would have asked to dialogue, others that he only threatened them.
Aurică Geneti hits the mayor with a flag, breaking his arch. Because others are also hugging him, Calancea and his companions return to the building and lock the door. It was not difficult for someone to break a window, turn the key inside and gain access to the building. Dozens of protesters went inside, looking for activists to hold accountable.
In a short time, the anger of the protesters turned towards everything that represented the Communist Party: paintings of the presidential couple, furniture, books, telephones, office equipment, but also curtains, draperies, chandeliers, etc. Because they couldn’t reach the paintings of “The Leader” in the central hall, Werner Sommerauer helps some young people open a hydrant and direct the water jet towards the wall. Then, to invite outsiders in, Niece Werner peels off the red carpet from the inner stairs and carries it to the door. All the objects from the offices fly out of the windows: folders, calculators and typewriters, telephones, books. In the canteen and in the warehouses, the protesters found food and products that did not exist in regular stores: hearth-baked bread, Sibiu salami, exotic fruits (oranges, bananas, pineapples), cheese wheels, Pepsi bottles, etc. They carried them all outside and presented them to the crowd, as a sign of the glaring difference between the residents of Brașov and the activists who, in theory, represented them.
Gheorghe Duduc, Marian Ricu and Marius Neculăescu manage to detach the huge painting of Nicolae Ceaușescu, painted on canvas, which adorns the building on the outside. Outside, the crowd cheered and ignited a fire of joy from him. Unlike the miners from Valea Jiului, who in August 1977 called Nicolae Ceaușescu and listened to his promises, the people of Brasov dethroned him in effigy. It was the climax of the revolt!
The excerpt is part of the article of the same name, published in issue 250 of Historia magazine, available at all press distribution points, from November 15 to December 14, and in digital format on the paydemic platform.