For previous episodes in this series, please see:
In their April 2018 communique, the military prosecutors alleged that the TV news editor Teodor Brates intentionally disseminated false information, designed to panic the population and to create the image of an adversary to Ceausescu’s overthrow, who was in fact non-existent. An English language article summarized it as follows:
Investigators said Teodor Brates helped spread false information that led to deaths and violence during the December 1989 uprising that followed Ceausescu’s ousting. Brates, who was deputy editor-in-chief of the news department of the Romanian Public Broadcaster TVR in December 1989, was summoned by prosecutors on Wednesday to officially receive the notification of his indictment. Charges say he coordinated the TVR broadcasts on December 22-24 1989, when anti-communist protesters took over the studios of the broadcaster. Brates went live on television to announce that “terrorists” were shooting at people and that “water has been poisoned.” The indictment says Brates was “the main factor disseminating fake news, meant to create diversions, thus highly contributing to forming the terrorist psychosis which affected Romania’s entire population (both military and civilians).”
For Vladimir Tismaneanu, the military prosecutors’ accusations are true at face value: “the evil Teodor Brates committed was immense…He was an extremely evil disinformer. He participated in this dismal scenario, with an unmatched cynicism.”
Nu știu dacă era isteric sau in misiune, probabil ambele. Răul comis de Teodor Brateș a fost imens. A diseminat pseudo-știri menite să genereze panică, spaimă, groază. Avea la dispozitie intreg aparatajul TVR, putea delira in voie, ceea ce probează că lucra pentru Iliescu, Brucan, Roman, Voican Voiculescu si Măgureanu. A fost un dezinformator extrem de nefast. A participat la un scenariu lugubru, de un cinism fără egal. (Vladimir Tismaneanu pe FB)
Let us examine then, the question of whether there was any reason that Brates and others would have claimed the water had been poisoned? Did they just make it up out of whole cloth? Because that is what so many would have us believe. The reality of whether the water in Sibiu was actually poisoned is a separate question. For our purposes, here, where Brates is being charged with knowingly and intentionally issuing false news reports that panicked and confused the population, we can say rather definitively that at the very least the charge is terribly unfair.
We can begin with the fact that in fall 1990, an air force officer and member of the military reform group CADA reported that in December 1989 (it appears after the execution of the Ceausescus on 25 December 1989) several “special troops” (for more on the reference, see https://romanianrevolutionofdecember1989.com/trupe-speciale-ale-comandantului-suprem-nicolae-ceausescu-marturie-video-arad/ ) were arrested at Boteni air force base, and that during the interrogation one of them declared that his mission was to poison the water (supply). Whether or not that was pure disinformation meant to panic and confuse, or whether or not that was his actual mission, is unclear.
Revista NU (Cluj), nr. 40 (1990), Petru Litiu si Florinela Gherasim, p. 5. (xerox, Babes-Bolyai University Library, Cluj, 1994)
Pe aerodorom au fost arestati in acele zile doi sau trei indivizi care faceau parte din trupe speciale, care vara veneau la Boteni pentru antrenamente de parasutare.
La ancheta unul a declarat ca a avut misiunea de a otravi apa.
But with regards to the allegations about the water in Sibiu being poisoned, it is even easier to prove that Brates and others had a basis for disseminating this piece of news, because there was a well-placed suspicion at the time that the water had indeed been poisioned (whether or not it was, and with what substance, once again, is a different conversation). See the following article, dated 4 February 1990 (The Sunday Times, James Adams, Defence Correspondent, “Securitate’s poison secret discovered,” p. A15).
Was the water in Sibiu actually poisoned? My answer is somewhat agnostic. Here’s why:
- Only one city was involved: Sibiu. It would seem strange if actual poisoning (as opposed to disinformation claiming that the water had been poisoned) occurred in one city. (One caveat, however, is that this was one very important and different city in a sense: the fiefdom of Nicolae Ceausescu’s son, Nicu Ceausescu.)
- The alleged test results of the Sibiu water supplies do not appear to have received national-level coverage in Romania at the time or later (I can’t vouch completely for local Sibiu publications). There was no follow-up.
- The foreign doctor involved in reporting to the rest of the world the test results has had a spotty record for getting things right since December 1989. Moreover, it would not be the first time that a well-mediated international event has attracted media gadflies, seeking their moment in the media spotlight.
All this said, it remains significant precisely because the claim was about one city alone; it wasn’t just any city but Nicu Ceausescu’s fiefdom; the allegation about people turning up sick at the hospital and of the timing of the alleged dumping of the toxin in the water supply dates from before (20-21 December 1989) the Ceausescus took flight on 22 December 1989; the foreign doctor gave details on the testing, argued that the toxin was diluted, and does not seem to have engaged in trying to blow the episode out of proportion.
On December 21, 1989, people drinking from water tank #4 in Sibiu experienced headache, visual disturbances, loss of consciousness, vomiting, etc. These symptoms are all compatible with organophosphate poisoning. The analysis of the water (by gas chromatography) and the determination of the cholinesterase activity of the blood was done in the University of Cluj. The conclusion was that an organophosphate had been used. Atropine sulfate and toxogonin were advised.
As soon as the symptoms appeared among the population, water tank #4 was shut off, rinsed, and cleaned. The people received water from army trucks.
A few days later, there was a fight in Timisoara between the army and Securitate over the water tanks. Poisoning was feared, as had occurred in Sibiu. According to witnesses, the Securitate possesses “all possible chemical warfare agents.”
Toxicologist Aubin Heyndrickx supervised the chemical tests and interviewed the physicians at Central Hospital who treated the patients. From the tests and from the very high dose of atropine required to produce a response, he concluded that the tank was poisoned with sarin or VX (Report on the Humanitarian Mission to Romania, December 23-29, 1989, Laboratoria voor Toxicologie Criminalistiek, State University of Ghent).
Indeed, one can watch a brief discussion of the incident with Dr. Heyndrickx beginning at approximately the 40 second mark from an ITN broadcast of 27 December 1989:
ROMANIA: SIBIU AFTER THE REVOLUTION:
}T27128901 ROMANIA: SIBIU AFTER THE REVOLUTION: United Nations medical 27.12.89 relief team arrives in Sibiu with medical supplies and blood TX to treat the people who were injured during the fight against Securitate (secret police). Toxicologists have found evidence that the security police poisoned the water supply. Injured Securitate are being treated in hospitals alongside the people they shot.
}T27128901 ROMANIA: SIBIU AFTER THE REVOLUTION: United Nations medical 27.12.89 relief team arrives in Sibiu with medical supplies and blood TX to treat the ...
- Duration: 00:01:44 |
- Timecode – In: 00:00:00:00 Out: 00:01:44:00 |
- Copyright: ITN / 3rd Party Copyright
French team confirms poison in water supply
NADLAC, Romania — A member of a French medical team said Friday that doctors determined nerve gas was dumped into a Romanian town’s water supply during the anti-Ceausescu revolt, and five people were seriously poisoned before the substance diluted.
Once uprising leaders discovered the apparent sabotage in the municipal water tank in Sibiu, they drained the contaminated supply, said Auvin Heyndrickx, a Belgian doctor who treated some of the victims.
Heyndrickx said he went to Sibiu with a team of doctors from the French relief group ‘Doctors Without Borders’ upon hearing unconfirmed reports of the poisoning, which townspeople attributed to dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s hated Securitate police force.
Set in the Transylvanian mountains of western Romania with a population of more than half a million, Sibiu was lorded over by Nicu Ceausescu, who was nabbed by citizens last week and remained under arrest by the new government. The government executed his father and mother, Elena, Monday on charges of ‘genocide’ and other crimes.
Heyndrickx, a professor of toxicology at the University of Ghent, Belgium, spoke with United Press International as his team passed through the town of Nadlac near the Hungarian border on their way back to France.
The French team determined that two highly toxic nerve gases, known as sarin and VX, were dumped in liquid form into Sibiu’s water on Dec. 20. Iraq, Libya and possibly Romania are the main producers of the poisons, Heyndrickx said.
Five peoplewere hospitalized with severe poisoning, he said, describing their symptoms as vomiting and ‘unknown brain damage.’
Heyndrickx attributed the relatively low number of injuries to the low concentration of the poisons in the water.
‘The quantity was very diluted,’ he said.
He held out hope that the brain damage suffered by the five victims would not be severe, but said the success of their recovery would remain unclear for days.
City workers drained and inspected the water tower before beginning the lengthy refilling process, he said.
Heyndrickx said first aid supplies from around the world had arrived in ample quantities in Sibiu and other towns in western Romania, but said long-term medical supplies and equipment are in critically short supply.
Baby formula and infant foods are desperately needed in Sibiu, as are antibiotics, anesthetics, surgical gloves and other supplies.
‘In the Sibiu pediatric hospital there is terrible malnutrition among the children, who are completely underfed,’ he said. ‘They don’t even have powdered milk.’
Foodstuffs have been in short supply in Romania despite strict rationing, which was halted this week by the new government.
Also in one of its first acts, the ruling National Salvation Front government Wednesday abolished a Ceausescu-imposed nutrition scheme that used pseudo-scientific methods to justify harmfully low daily calorie intake levels.