16. The June 1990 Miner Riot
June was a little different. It was my birthday and I had a lots of guests, parents? when, the TV programme was interrupted and we heard another appeal to the country and? that moment I knew for certain that in the city people were going to Bucharest. That is why I told my wife that I was going to go and see what was happening. My wife, seeing me so determined to leave, said: ?leave your keys at home!? That was her insurance that I wasn?t going to leave because there I had the keys from my drawer in the mine, the entrance mark and other things. Well, OK, I said, I?ll leave them! And I put them there. My wife must have probably thought: ?if the keys are here, he won?t go!? Arriving in the city, I could see that things were better and more broadly organized this time. There were cars taking the civilians to the mines in order to get dressed and thus go to Petroşani. That?s exactly what happened to me.
I was in slippers and in shorts. It was 6 when a van stopped right in front of me. There were around twenty civilians in it. ?Hoy, what are you doing?? I asked. They replied that they were going to get dressed in order to go to Bucharest.
Meanwhile, dozens of cars from Uricani, Bărbăteni, Lupeni, were heading towards Petroşani. The doors of the van were opened: one could see the bats and the hoses hanging. You could tell that they were all equipped. I finally got to the mine and they gave me the lamp without carrying the entrance mark, they gave me a trip supplement and I could really see that everything had been organized by the union. After the appeal transmitted on TV according to which destabilizing forces were trying to overthrow the government and that democracy was in danger, we all knew that Universităţii Square was full of ?ragamuffins? intending to destabilize the country.
And, at the moment, we really believed that there was a group of antigovernment people sleeping there, but we had no idea who they were, what they wanted, or which were their ideals, I thought that they were a group of people who didn?t like the actual government and, back then I honestly didn?t like this idea.
I got this opinion because both mass media and the press of the time were very manipulative and there existed no other TV channel apart from TVR1 which was a proponent of the power. That is why almost everybody was angry to see what was going on there and at the mine they used to talk in very tough terms about how we were going to rack and ruin this time. ?This time? they said, because we had already been there twice and things had been carried out peacefully.
On 13th during the evening we already knew that people were fighting in Bucharest. The security forces were fighting with some groups which were claiming something.
Now I tend to believe that these were people who knew that Romania wasn?t going to find its right way too soon and they wanted to set a much real democracy than the one existing now in the country. Maybe at the moment they didn?t all know it, but their leaders did!
The first set of cars arrived at the North Railway Station in Bucharest around 5 in the morning. On the platform we found layers of coffee and a little parcel with: a tomato, a schnitzel, cheese, a bun and two minced-meat balls. A civilian was waiting for us and he said: ?Guys, you?ve got a supplement, you have everything you need, go straight to Victoriei Square.?
We lit the lamps and the show was fascinating. The miners were marching in rows and if someone would stick his head out of the window, the miners were using the tomatoes in the package to hit him. We got to Universităţii Square where Iliescu showed up and told us to go directly to Universităţii Square to clean it off.
I personally believed that we were supposed to arrange the flowerbeds or something along the line. When we got there we found two buses completely burnt. Their wheels had entered the asphalt after melting; the ragamuffins? tents had already been scattered and the ?ragamuffins? locked up in the University.
What did the miners together with Cosma do? Cosma was in a TV car with four megaphones above, guiding us: ?Don?t let them run away, none of them can escape!?, the University was still closed. Then four miners carrying axes climbed the lightening rod, made a hole in the roof and entered the attic.
And those four miners opened the University door. Can you believe it? Only four miners managed to open a university passing trough the hundreds of people gathered there!!! I didn?t meet those miners but I don?t think they belonged to the security troops, on the contrary, I think they were real miners, because they were too determined.
Those inside were many and I think that they could have taken the miners down if they had wanted, but they didn?t. Yet, the University door could have been tumbled down with axes, but Cosma didn?t allow them to do it?
The moment the door opened, the University was ravished. Those inside were dragged out and smacked. They caught Marian Munteanu and Cosma personally was smacking him, dipping him into the fountain and then smacking him again and again. Marian Munteanu was already injured a bit, a broken lip as far as I could tell, when Cosma started to hit him. But after that smacking, I thought that the man must have died. Afterwards, an ambulance arrived and took him away and then Cosma said: ?Come and clean the place where these ragamuffins have shitted!? And people started to clean up!
There was also a crane there which wanted to lift one of the burnt buses, but it couldn?t reach it because of the trolley wires. Then, a miner came and said: ?Hoy, let?s move this bus in order for the crane to take it away!? This is how people gathered around and started to struggle (yet, it was stuck in the asphalt as its rims had melted) and they tumbled it twice.
Afterwards a raid was initiated in Universităţii Square and those who had a ragamuffin badge were taken away and smacked? I had one at home but I have no idea what I have done with it! After gathering many of the ragamuffins, they locked them up in a bookshop: boys, girls, youngsters, elders. There were all kinds of people who were wearing those badges?
Then the police cars arrived to take them away. The miners were also literally cleaning up, meaning real and figurative cleansing, that is smacking. There were also some guys there who were guiding the rest, that is giving orders, but the most savage beatings were administrated by the miners, that is to anyone who seemed a suspect? since they were ?a bit stoned?.
I only entered the University the next day, out of curiosity. The University was a complete ruin. It was more than obvious that it was a miner?s and not a security person?s job. The security people only gave orders, they didn?t practically touch anything, maybe they didn?t even raise the fist at somebody. They only manipulated. By arriving there, I could find a teacher pretending to go along with the miners, but he also couldn?t believe his eyes. All lecture rooms were destroyed, I don?t think that they missed any. The one completely vandalised was the gym, where they even used the axe to hit the walls and even the floor? Then I left the place?
I spent that night at Polivalent? Hall because some of us had been accommodated there. We had watched Romania-Cameroon football match when we lost with 2-1. After watching the match each of us on his best account, we came back to the Hall. There were some big orange plush curtains there. Well, the miners took them, cut them and turned them into laces for their boots. So, they all changed their laces, wearing orange ones!
Afterwards, in order not to get bored, we saw some movies on the projector. ?The Lonesome Wolf? staring Chuck Norris, and then another movie? then, all the miners in the room started to shout: ?Porn! Porn! Porn!?? they all wanted porn movies. But how should they broadcast porn movies when they had none!?
There were many aluminium boxes down the hall, mineral water bottles, the cars were bringing us ready-made sandwiches, cigarette packs: BT, Apollonia, Snagov? We slept there, each of us where he could, on chairs, on the floor.
In the morning, we started to think of what we should do. Right next to Polivalent? Hall there was the Children?s Wonderland. I, together with around seven mates, said: ?Hoy, what?s our business with these people of Bucharest? Let?s better have fun!? We had money.
Right there, in the neighbourhood, there was a cart track with wooden raceway and carts. And we all stepped in those carts. The guy responsible for them was very happy to see he was selling the tickets because we didn?t go there forcedly to say: ?Hoy, if you don?t let us in the carts, we will smack you, or something along the line?. We paid honestly? it wasn?t expensive: five lei a round.
We played around for like two hours when? my cart went off the track. My brother, who was on one side, came to help me push back the cart. Yet, another cart came from behind, caught his leg between the buffers and broke it!
This is when the good time was over. We quickly called for an ambulance to take him away. We put him on a crowbar and this is how we took him to the ambulance, because it could-n?t enter up to there .
The miners who were passing by and who were seeing us were immediately asking us: ?Hoy, what?s wrong with him, who smacked him, tell us quickly, where do they live?? ?Relax, mates, nobody smacked him, it was just an accident!? My brother was urgently taken to the hospital and I met him again only at the Globus Circus.
That was the last meeting of the entire group of miners and Iliescu?s last speech. Meanwhile, our group wandered around, took a bath in a lake or a walk through Bucharest. I can say that our group didn?t touch a soul, but I could see many extremely violent scenes?
There were also some groups of miners, let?s say more peaceful, which, even if guided by the security people towards somebody, were just catching the person, hit him once or twice with the rubber bats and then let him go or hand him over the police.
To my mind, what really influenced these negative acts had been the poor quality of many of the miners in Valea Jiului.
When faced with a tense situation which can generate conflicts, like those in Bucharest at the time, a more or less learned man tries to avoid violent manifestations, but those with little or no education at all were heading towards these conflicts, hitting without thinking, believing that physical strength is more important than brains.
Still, in Universităţii Square this is exactly what happened. In Universităţii Square we met some miners from the mines around Pite?ti. They were very calm, didn?t join the fights at all. I guess that they came there to be numerically impressive. Even the way they spoke was different from that of the miners in Valea Jiului, they weren?t cursing, weren?t displaying a low language, they were completely different.
I guess that the majority of those who had been involved in fights were Moldavians, people with very little education, coming from the countryside? I could also see a lady getting smacked, an innocent woman? they hit her with the pressure hoses with metal insert which they had bluntly chopped with an axe down the sidewalk so that all the wires were coming out of them and if you hit somebody, they were scratching the skin.
I could also see how a miner, a bastard, hit a woman?s back three or four times with such a hose. Can you believe that he left her all fringes? I dread to think of it. It was something inhuman. And I also saw how some guy hit another with a scoop stick. This is again inhuman.
I could get a close look to other things, when people got punched? and I could perceive that man?s reaction, the wince caused by the awareness of the fact that he was going to be hit and then the falling down on the asphalt or the hitting of the head against the sidewalk.
I witnessed an entire scene from the moment when the fist was raised and till it reached its target? I can?t describe that man?s look when he saw the fist and till the moment of the impact? I don?t wish this to anybody?
I can definitely say that of those who came down to Bucharest, only 95% were miners. But they were very little learned miners; very few were slicks from Valea Jiului to say that they did such things. This is how we were. We were looking for having fun and we had thought of what to do long before.
That is why we had a sort of plan: ?mates, now we are watching football, afterwards we are going to have fun in the pleasure ground, then we are taking a walk through Bucharest?? That?s why I am telling you that if all miners had drunk, it would definitely have ended up in a catastrophe.
I think that of those who lent themselves to such things only approximately 20% had been our miners and exceptionally very few from other mines. The rest had been padding, as a number? other also did real cleaning, meaning helping the authorities to take the waste from the square.
I myself didn?t take part in any of these actions because I realized that it was all a felony. I was only 26 back then, I enjoyed life and having fun and mostly that is why I went.
Eventually, it was all over. In the end Iliescu delivered a speech? we all carried bats when he came, but a bulky guy with a white helmet showed up and said: ?Hey, mates, the television is going to come down with cameras. Why don?t you throw those bats??
All of a sudden I could hear a noise: ?bang, bang? and the next moment everybody was empty-handed. Iliescu came down immediately accompanied by a group of people, thanked us for our efforts and appreciated our spirit of unity.
He also wished us to keep up the good work, etc. and all the miners cheered and applauded him. Afterwards, he let us know that the sets of cars where waiting at the North Railways Station in order to take us home. Then, at Globus Circus I met my brother again who was constantly asked what happened to his leg. And he was taking the mickey saying that he got beaten or stuff like that, but in the end they all found out the truth.
There was another miner with both hands in plaster and he also had a stupid accident, that is he grabbed a branch while being in the car and he fell off on the hands. So only stupid accidents, nothing near us getting beaten or something along the line. We all happily went home because we had been the ones dictating the law in Bucharest.
But perhaps now, when looking back, I can say that it would have been better to overthrow the regime then. And I think we would have, because Romania was getting swamped by information at the moment... And once with the miner riots we sort of came back to what we used to have before the Revolution: you couldn?t say a word at work because you would have been thrown obstacles in your way according to a very simple logic: ?If you are not with us you are against us!?
This has carried on ever since, taking back the old security people eager to spill the bins as soon as you say something. After the Revolution, this situation kind of disappeared but the miner riots reinstalled this feeling: lack of safety at work and fear of not ruining your life for saying something wrong. I felt sorry! And I can say it had been a huge loss.
(Hoban Marian- former miner electrician, presently a union leader at Paroşeni mine)
Interviews done by Alin Rus
Translated by Raluca Vîjîiac