A little over 20 years ago, the people of Romania rose up against their government. Only, their uprising was a little stranger than what's been happening in Turkey, Egypt, Brazil and southern Europe recently.
After members of the liberal opposition organized protests against the recently elected National Salvation Front—who were the first party to come to power after the revolution of 1989—the socialist government called on miners and other workers throughout Romania to quell the demonstrations because the police had failed to disperse the rioting crowds.
On June 14, 1990, around 10,000 miners armed with wooden staves and iron bars were brought into Bucharest on special trains. Once they arrived, they quickly got to beating up and eventually killing or severely wounding many of the gathered liberals, royalists, and students who had dared to speak out against their government, angry at the fact that many FSN leaders, including President Ion Iliescu, were former members of the recently ousted Romanian Communist Party.
Andrei Iliescu is a photographer who was working for Agence France-Press (AFP) during the riots that took place between June 13 and 15, 1990. This is his account of what would come to be known as the June 1990 Mineriad.
When I look at recent photographs from Tahrir Square, I can’t help but think of what happened in June 1990, in Bucharest's University Square. I'd basically moved into the InterContinental hotel in the square so that I could be as close as possible to the protests, which began on April 22 and ended on June 15. The interest surrounding Romania during that time was huge; we were shooting pictures by the truckload and I don't remember a day where I didn't send at least one photo off to some newspaper around the world.
June 11, 1990 was when it began to get rowdy, but the tension didn't reach its boiling point until a couple of days later. Until then, the police would show up in waves and the government gave the protesters an ultimatum to disperse, but it wasn’t the first one by any means, so they chose to ignore it.
At 6 AM on the morning of June 13, police hit the protesters with full force. A few hours later, the square was deserted. Fire trucks were pressure-washing the streets and garbage men were busy gathering everything left behind by the crowds. However, protesters were back by around 11:30 AM, prompting the police to move in again with tanks and armored cars. People threw rocks and set fire to surrounding cars, and the whole thing began to look as fierce as the revolution of 1989. But after a few hours, the protesters had fled, leaving the square subject to only the ever-changing weather, clear skies constantly alternating with short bursts of rain.
I was out on the streets for a while, but had to rush back to the makeshift darkroom I'd installed in my hotel to develop my film, expand the pictures, type up some copy, and send everything off to whoever wanted it. To do so, we had to rip the microphone out of a telephone and connect it to a device that basically read a 7 x 9.5 inch picture line by line. This rudimentary, makeshift fax machine was the only technology we had at our disposal back then.
At 11 PM that night, I did my last picture-taking round of the day. While passing a children’s clothes store, I remember hearing the sound of gunfire, before some bullets screeched by my head and hit the walls of the block behind me.
The next day, at around 5 AM, the center of the city was eerily silent—but that wouldn't last for long. Breaking through the mute chasm, I heard a huge amount of noise coming from the direction of Victory Square, just north of University Square. It was the first legion of miners who had come to occupy the center of Bucharest, forcing out the protesters and casting a hideous gray shadow over the city for the next two days.
As the morning sun got brighter, I climbed up to the first story of a nearby building to photograph the miners' onslaught. They were attacking everything in their path—men, women, and even children. I had gone back to the hotel to send off the first few pictures when I heard that a plane was arriving from Sophia carrying photographers from all the world's largest press agencies to document the people of Romania beating the shit out of other people of Romania with clubs and bats at the behest of their government.
A few hours later I met up with a colleague from AFP with some F3 cameras and every lens we had with us. When we got back out onto the square it seemed like every single press agency in the world was present, despite the fact the miners' initial rage had somewhat diminished by that point. By around 12 PM we found ourselves outside the headquarters of the Farmer’s Party (PNŢCD), which was the opposition at the time. I also took some shots at the emergency hospital, where Marian Munteanu—leader of the antigovernment protests—held a press conference among the assaulted.
Official records show that six people were killed and 756 seriously injured, but others have suggested that over 100 people were killed in the violence.
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