Ion Iliescu

"Iliescu" redirects here. For other people with the surname, see Iliescu (surname).
His Excellency
Ion Iliescu
2nd and 4th President of Romania
In office
22 December 1989  29 November 1996
Acting to 20 May 1990
Preceded by Nicolae Ceaușescu
Succeeded by Emil Constantinescu
In office
20 December 2000  20 December 2004
Preceded by Emil Constantinescu
Succeeded by Traian Băsescu
Personal details
Born (1931-03-03) 3 March 1931
Oltenița, Călărași, Romania
Nationality Romanian
Political party Romanian Communist Party
National Salvation Front
Democratic National Salvation Front
(1993–1996;2000-2004; NSDF/PSDR/PSD membership suspended while president)
Social Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Nina Iliescu (m. 1951)
Alma mater Bucharest Polytechnic Institute
Moscow State University
Profession Hydroelectric Engineer

Ion Iliescu (Romanian pronunciation: [iˈon iliˈesku]; born 3 March 1931) is a Romanian politician and statesman, who served as President of Romania from 1989 until 1996, and from 2000 until 2004. From 1996 to 2000 and from 2004 until his retirement in 2008, Iliescu was a senator for the Social Democratic Party (PSD), whose honorary president he remains.

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 as president, from 1992 to 1996, and from 2000 to 2004, separated by the presidency of Emil Constantinescu, who defeated him in 1996.

Iliescu is widely recognized as a predominant figure in the first fifteen years of post-revolution politics. During his terms Romania joined NATO.

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.

1965 political poster

Iliescu married Nina Șerbănescu in 1951; they have no children, not by choice but because they could not, as Nina had three miscarriages.[1] Born in Oltenița, Iliescu studied fluid mechanics at the Bucharest Polytechnic Institute and then as a foreign student at the Energy Institute of the Moscow University. During his stay in Moscow, he was the secretary of the "Association of Romanian Students" it is alleged that he knew Mikhail Gorbachev, although Iliescu always denied this.[2] President Nicolae Ceaușescu, however, probably believed a connection between the two existed, since during Gorbachev's visit to Romania in July 1989, Iliescu was sent outside of Bucharest to prevent any contact.[3]

Ion Iliescu in 1976 together 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.[2] Iliescu later served as Minister for Youth-related Issues between 1967 and 1971.

However, in 1971, Ceaușescu felt threatened by Iliescu—as he was seen as Ceaușescu's heir apparent—and he was marginalized by and removed from all major political offices, being assigned 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 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.[4]

Romanian Revolution

Main article: Romanian Revolution

The Romanian Revolution began as a popular revolt in Timișoara. After Ceaușescu was overthrown on 22 December (he was executed on Christmas Day), 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.[4]

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.[2] 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. 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.[4]


Presidential styles of
Ion Iliescu
Reference style Președintele (President)
Spoken style Președintele (President)
Alternative style Domnia 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. It won a sweeping victory, taking over 70% of the votes. In the separate presidential election, Iliescu won handily, taking 85 percent of the vote. He thus became Romania's first democratically elected head of state, and the first since 1947 who was not a Communist or fellow traveler.

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

The new Constitution was adopted in 1991, and in 1992 he won a second term when he received 61% of the vote. He immediately resigned as leader of the NSDF; 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 to Emil Constantinescu. Over 1,000,000 votes were cancelled, leading to accusations of widespread fraud.

In the 2000 presidential election Iliescu ran again and won in the run-off against the ultra-nationalist[5][6][7] 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.[8]

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).[9] 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 May 20 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.[10]


Main article: Mineriad

He, along with other figures in the leading FSN, was allegedly responsible for calling the Jiu Valley miners to Bucharest on 28 January and 14 June 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 group 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.[11][12] Government inquiries later established that the miners were infiltrated and instigated by former Securitate operatives.[13] 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 National Peasant Christian Democratic Party, during the miners’ incursion, and stealing $100,000."[14]

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. In Bucharest over a million people turned out to see him. Michael's popularity alarmed the government of President Ion Iliescu, so Michael was forbidden to visit Romania again for five years. In 1997, after Iliescu's defeat by Emil Constantinescu, the Romanian Government restored Michael's citizenship and again allowed him to visit the country.


In December 2001, Iliescu pardoned three inmates convicted for bribery, including George Tănase, former Financial Guard head commissioner for Ialomița.[15] 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".[16][17] Later, the humanitarian reasons invoked in the pardon were contradicted by another medical expert opinion.[18] 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.[19] Tartagă was later sentenced to a two-year sentence for fraud.[20]

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.[21] 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.[21]

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 Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, Béla Markó, did not show up to claim the award he received on the same occasion. The then current 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.[22]

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.[23] 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.[24]



  1. "De ce nu a avut Ion Iliescu urmasi", Ziua, 5 September 2008
  2. 1 2 3 New York Times, "Upheaval in the East: A Rising Star; A Man Who Could Become Rumania's Leader", 23 December 1989, p. 15
  3. România Liberă. "Gura lumii despre România", 8 May 1990, quoting Paris Match
  4. 1 2 3 Sebetsyen, Victor (2009). Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-42532-2.
  5. "Preda: Antonescu îl secondează pe Vadim Tudor cu discursul ultranaţionalist". Realitatea. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  6. "Article". SF Bay Times. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  7. "House of Tudor". PBS. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  8. "Al Cincilea Iliescu". Income Magazine. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  9. Russian dissident who copied the Gorbachev Foundation's archive: Mitterrand and Gorbachev wanted the European Socialist Union, Thatcher opposed Germany's reunification
  10. (Romanian) Dovada Bukovski
  11. Constantin Petre. "Mineriadele anului 1990, democraţia sub bâte". EVZ. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  12. "Minerii au terorizat Capitala". Romania Libera. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  13. Baleanu, V. G. The Enemy Within: The Romanian Intelligence Service in Transition. January 1995. Conflict Studies Research Centre, The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst: Camberley, Surrey GU15 4PQ.
  14. Deletant, Dennis. "Chapter 25: The Security Services since 1989: Turning over a new leaf." 2004. Carey, Henry F., ed. Romania since 1989: politics, economics, and society. Lexington Books: Oxford. pp. 507-510.
  15. (Romanian) Presedintele Ion Iliescu a acordat gratieri
  16. Romania's president to cancel pardon, pledges to fight corruption
  17. (Romanian)Colaboratorii presedintelui. Opinii - de Octavian PALER
  18. (Romanian) Gratierea lui Iliescu miroase suspect de la o posta
  19. (Romanian) Ambasada SUA: Nu a inceput anchetarea puscasului marin] (in the background section)
  20. (Romanian) Afacere imobiliara cu iz de TBC la Brasov (in the background section)
  21. 1 2 (Romanian) Gratiatii lui Iliescu-Nastase: corupti, tilhari, violatori, tepari
  22. (Romanian) Curtea Constituțională a respins excepția invocată de Vadim Tudor in procesul privind Ordinul "Steaua Romaniei"
  23. Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (7 June 2007). "Secret detentions and illegal transfers of detainees involving Council of Europe member states: second report" (PDF). Parliamentary Assembly. Council of Europe. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
  24. Verseck, Keno (2015-04-22). "Folter in Rumänien: Ex-Staatschef Iliescu gibt Existenz von CIA-Gefängnis zu" [Torture in Romania: Former Head of State Iliescu Acknowledges Existence of CIA Prison]. Der Spiegel (in German). Hamburg, Germany: Spiegel-Verlag. Retrieved 2015-04-22.
  25. "Decretul nr. 157/1971 privind conferirea unor ordine ale Republicii Socialiste România" (in Romanian). Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  26. "İon İliyeskonun "İstiqlal" ordeni ilə təltif edilməsi haqqında AZƏRBAYCAN RESPUBLİKASI PREZİDENTİNİN FƏRMANI" [Order of the President of Azerbaijan Republic on awarding President of Romania Ion Iliescu with Istiglal Order]. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  27. Slovak republic website, State honours: 1st Class in 2002 (click on "Holders of the Order of the 1st Class White Double Cross" to see the holders' table)
  28. Quirinale web site
  29. "Iliescu si Constantinescu au primit Emblema de Onoare a Armatei" (in Romanian). Retrieved 24 October 2012.
  30. Odlikovanja šakom i kapom at Blic, 9-9-2004 (Serbian)

Further reading

External links

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