Romanians wearing WWII Romanian army uniforms are pictured during an event organized by local authorities to mark the victory of the Allied Forces on 9 May 1945 and Europe s Day in Bucharest, May 9, 2009. AFP PHOTO/DANIEL MIHAILESCU
The "Red Holocaust", as the Communist repressions became to be known in Romania, swept the country in several waves from 1945 to 1989, persecuting or killing an estimated 500 000 to 2 000 000 people.
Backed by the Soviet army, the Romanian Communist Party had stifled democracy and freedom by the end of 1947. In the new People's Republic, established after the forced abdication of King Michael I, prisons and labour camps were quickly filled with every kind of "suspicious elements" - politicians (including dissenting communists), army officers, journalists, priests, peasants... The camps were mostly set along the Danube-Black Sea canal, soon nick-named by the people "canal of death", and often featured sadistic "re-education" programs aimed at ridiculing religious or other spiritual values not aligned with the Communist ideology. This fierce campaign of mass terror abated a little in the 1960s, but only briefly so. Nicolae Ceauşescu, who had come to power in 1965, soon carved out a Stalinist personality cult propped up by the notorious secret police, Securitate. The machinery of arrests, forced evacuations, incarcerations in psychiatric hospitals and assassinations rolled ruthlessly over many strikes and manifestations of discontent. However, its collapse in 1989 was finally only a matter of a few days: a seemingly "routine" confrontation between the state and the Hungarian minority in Timisoara exploded into a full-scale revolution which executed the "Great Leader" Ceauşescu and decapitated the whole Communist regime.
Although fully re-integrated into the Western democratic system, Romania is today still grappling with the memory of its bloody past. National Council for Research on the Communist Secret Service Archive was established in 1999, and the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes founded by a Government decree in 2005.