Fleeing Romanians: The story of Miodrag Belodedici

Timp estimat de citire: 6 minute

On Sunday, April 24, 2016, the British television station BT Sport2, available to subscribers of the British Telecom, aired in its BT Sport films section a documentary on the evolution of some great soccer teams, over many years.

Journalist Tom Watt, when covering the story of the Steaua Bucureşti soccer club, interviewed famous former player with the club, Miodrag Belodedici. The story of the past successes also brought up the topic of living under a communist regime, and Belodedici chose this opportunity to address the issue of the Romanian defectors!

He himself was one, after successfully crossing the border to Yugoslavia one year before the fell of communism. Born and raised in Socol, close to the Nera River – a tributary to the Danube River, Belodedici chose to shift the talk, on a sports channel, from his own and his club’s past glory to the plight of the Romanian citizens, who attempted to defect and never made it to the other side of the border.

This, while the Romanian official stance on the topic is that there is no stance at all …

Fleeing Romanians: The story of Miodrag Belodedici

If it’s not officially recognized, then it did not happen!

There is no coincidence then, that since starting this media campaign, many opinions written by the readers of our website were that we were making things up. Things simply did not happen as we wrote!

When, in fact, up to 27 years ago, Romanians did kill other Romanians at the country’s borders, for just wanting to escape the communist regime and live elsewhere in the world. Romanians also killed other East-Europeans, who attempted to take the Romanian-Yugoslav route to freedom. And these crimes spanned over decades …

But the conspicuous absence of these facts from school books makes it almost impossible to some to accept the past, as accounted for by people who experienced it first hand.

„I saw it for myself, as a child; they were quite horrid scenes: beaten-up people, dead people …”

Belodedici talked in the TV interview about the Romanians killed at the border, while attempting to flee the country. And he said he learned first-hand of „very, very ugly things, which happened at the borders”.

„As a child – living in the border area – I have seen for myself very, very ugly scenes. I have seen shot people; I have seen people being beaten up by the border-guards. For a child – that was a horrendous sight!,” Belodedici told the BT Sport2 TV station.

A 10-year prison term for treason

Belodedici fled Romania in December 1988, twelve months before the communism fell. He managed to get to Yugoslavia, where he asked for political asylum.

„I asked Valentin Ceausescu – the elder son of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu – and the president of Steaua, Ion Alecsandrescu – he was the general who ran the club – for a passport. They asked why I wanted it and I told them that my mother had a permit to cross into Yugoslavia to visit her family and I wanted to go for a week to take her and then come back. I drove across the border. On the other side of the river, we waited for my sister. It was a foggy morning and at that time of year the river is low, so the soldiers patrolled there. But we knew when they patrolled, and with the help of a friend my sister got across,” Belodedici explained in an earlier interview for The Guardian.

That was the first step the family made towards freedom. In spite of his Serbian roots, Belodedici still had to get the official recognition of his status.

„The Yugoslav authorities told me there was no problem to get political asylum”, Belodedici remembered. „But I was afraid, since I had a military rank in the Romanian army; all soccer players with the Steaua Club had one, since the club belonged to the Army”.

Indeed, his military rank was a problem. As an officer, fleeing Romania automatically turned Belodedici into a deserter; for this crime he was tried in absentia and received a 10-year prison term, which was annulled by legislation passed after the 1989 Revolution.

Nadia, Phoenix, Cristina Ţopescu

Belodedici was not the only public figure to flee Romania. Let us remember the flight of gymnast Nadia Comăneci – a very eventful endeavor, which took place only one month before the demise of the communist regime in Romania. Western commentators said Comăneci’s flight was but one of the fatal blows to the image of dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu.

The members of the Phoenix rock-band also escaped communist Romania, boxing themselves up in the band’s huge Marshall woofers; also, journalist Cristina Ţopescu, daughter of the famous sports’ commentator Cristian Ţopescu, tried to defect, but was caught while attempting to illegally cross the border.

Beyond the famous names, of course, there are tens of thousands of people who wanted the same think: to escape communist Romania.

Nadia defected in 1989

The Great Escape

In 2016, consistent, corroborated figures of the true number of people attempting to jump the borders are still unavailable from official sources.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees put the number of Romanian asylum seekers, between 1969 and 1989, at 100,000 people. From there, one can only estimate how many more attempted to flee and did not succeed.

Statistical data, albeit uncorrelated, shows the dynamics of two phenomena: the deeper the economic crisis in Romania, the higher the illegal emigration it prompted.

The Border Police of the Timiş County issued the figures it had for illegal crossings to Yugoslavia, between 1980 and 1989; according to it, there were 913 people in 1980, while the number jumped to 2,483 people, in 1989; that is almost a three-time increase …

The Association of the Memorial of the December 1989 Revolution in Timişoara asked the Border Policy Inspectorate in the Timiş County for data on the issue of border jumpers.

For the Timiş and Arad County, combined, the figures showed:

YearPeople attemptingOf which, people apprehendedPeople escaping over the border
197582675472
1980913584329
198118241313511
1982128o1037249
19831071662409
19841387924463
198516321240392
198616591094565
198719201210710
198818851225590
1989 [till Sept 30]24831728755

But these data are not consistent with those issued by the Prosecutor’s Office with the Supreme Court of Justice, which refer to the number of people being indicted for attempting to illegally cross the borders, during 1976 to 1989.

10,295 people indicted in 1989 for border jumping

The most interesting data released by this institution refer to the final year of the communist regime: 1989. Then, 10,295 people were taken to court by the Romanian State for attempting to defect.

In 1989, almost 50,000 Romanians crossed the border successfully, since 27,000 of them asked for asylum in Hungary; 7,932 – in Austria; 5,329 – in Yugoslavia; 3,121 – in Germany; 1,198 – in France. That was way off the charts, since in 1988, various European states recorded only 10,305 Romanian asylum seekers.

The 12th hour is here; what is there to wait for?

Since the demise of communism, 27 years ago, the media was the only one that kept alive the topic of the many victims made by the communist state at the country’s borders.

No public institution, though, reacted properly.

No official inquiry, no criminal investigation was started – though the number of the dead Romanian citizens, and unaccounted for Romanian citizens, should compel the Prosecutor’s Offices all over the country to start their own investigations, unprompted by formal complaints from survivors or relatives of the dead.

Also, there is no financial compensation and public recognition of the State towards the many surviving victims.

It may be that this media campaign would signal that the 12th hour had arrived, and that is high-time for the State institutions to act.

Readers who want to volunteer more information on the topic may reach the investigative journalists at marina.constantinoiu@gmail.com, and istvan.deak2014@gmail.com

About Marina Constantinoiu Istvan Deak
Marina Constantinoiu și Istvan Deak sunt autorii unei serii de producții multimedia dedicate fenomenului frontierist, cu care s-a confruntat România în anii comunismului. Fenomenul, care a marcat o lungă perioadă, între 1948 și 1989, reprezintă o pagină de istorie recentă prea puțin sau chiar deloc cunoscută multora dintre români.

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