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The bloody week Ceausescu's Romania fell

In December 1989, protesters took over state television and talked a nation through a revolution.

At the hospitals we counted corpses and interviewed survivors. “Democracy, freedom,” one teenager said to me. “I just want to savor those words in my mouth.”

We toured Ceausescu’s palace, the largest building in Europe, and the publishing house that translated his silly thoughts, in mountains of books, into a dozen languages.

At the secret room where people believed police bugged every conversation in Romania we found six open-reel tape recorders, some broken, and a bank of old Soviet phones.

The television station was heart of it all. It broke from Stalinist propaganda on that first day, when army units joined protesters to send Ceausescu fleeing for his life.

"We've won. We've won," poet Murica Dinescu shouted into the camera.

Early the next morning, news editor Victor Ionescu announced on the air: "We are under attack." He urged people to rally outside the TV tower in a human shield.

Immediately, a crowd formed. People chanted, "Freedom! Freedom!" until gunfire broke out. They scattered and regrouped. They shouted, "We won't go!" and they didn't.

A ragtag platoon of defenders drove back the assault. Later that weekend, Securitate remnants struck again. Infiltrators stabbed people in the hallways, killing three.

For a few hours, TV screens went blank. But that was only a technical glitch. Romania was governed from a hectic studio littered with empty bottles, cracked mugs and half-eaten sandwiches, run by people who did not sleep for days.

“It is madness here, madness," said Gratiela Ripeanu, whose external relations job under the old regime had consisted mainly of shaking hands with fraternal Bulgarians.

She shepherded countless foreign TV crews through an obstacle course of gun barrels, roiling crowds and skittish guards who looked for explosives in ballpoint pen refills. Six body searches separated the street from the studio.

"We don't know what we are doing anymore, but we're doing it," she said.