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An afternoon in Victory Square

A well-dressed woman with sunglasses walking along a city square
Victory Square, Timisoara, Romania

It is a quiet Thursday afternoon, and Corie and I are sitting in a sidewalk café in Victory Square enjoying a generous bowl of bulz, a Romanian dish made with roasted polenta, melted cheese and sausage.

It’s a great place for people watching, especially now that more tourists are in the crowd’s ranks. On such a day, it’s hard to imagine that nearly 35 years ago, this square was one of the flashpoints that defined a new era for the city of Timișoara and Romania.

Timișoara’s 1989 demonstration against the Communist regime started off small: a handful of Hungarian parishioners of a small church whose priest, Laszlo Tokes, was slated for deportation because of his sermons critical of the country’s dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.

Under the regime, it was illegal for more than three people to gather publicly, but that didn’t stop the handful of Tokes’ followers. The local party leaders grew nervous, and offered to rescind the deportation orders if the crowd would go home.

They didn’t.

As the Washington Post reported at the time, the offer to rescind the deportation order “was a chink in the government's wall of silence and repression.”

The parishioners and their supporters considered it a small victory.

On that cold December day, the small gathering of demonstrators grew. At first it doubled. By the evening, it was estimated to be in the thousands.

The uprising had begun.

The following day, the police and soldiers beat and attacked a group of protesters led by women and their young children.

During the next several days, Ceausescu’s government unleashed its fury as soldiers fired live rounds into the mass of demonstrators, killing hundreds.

On December 21, from the balcony of the opera house, the square’s oldest building, members of the Romanian Democratic Front read their manifesto, Tyranny Has Fallen.  

Timișoara had sparked a revolution in Romania.

As Corie and I enjoyed our filling lunch, the only crowd in front of the opera house was technicians conducting a sound check on a temporary stage for the evening’s music festival.   

Seeing Victory Square was one of my first “wow” moments in Timișoara. From our apartment, it’s about a 20-minute walk along a shaded path that follows the Bega River. The first building that comes into view on the stroll is the Romanian Orthodox cathedral, which I’ve written about in a previous newsletter. The cathedral anchors the southern end of the square, facing the opera house, which dominates the north end.

Entering the square from the southern side, one is immediately greeted with a nine-story block of flats built in the 1960s. Its simple, modern-era facade is a sharp visual contrast to its neighboring apartment buildings, which were constructed in the early 1900s. The flats have been described as “disheartening,” but the ornate beauty of the square’s other buildings makes it easy to ignore the Soviet-era flats.

Corie and I ate our bulz in the shadow of one of my favorite buildings on the square, the Lloyd Palace, which has, since 1939, housed the headquarters of the city’s Polytechnic University. The Lloyd Palace’s crisp white exterior is lined with well-maintained plasterwork and statues, paying homage to the building’s inspiration from classical architecture.

Across the square from us, is the four-story Jakab Löffer and Sons Apartment Building. While the apartment building shows its age, including pockmarks made from bullets during the 1989 revolution, its graceful architecture, like the other buildings along the square, still stands as a testament to a graceful turn-of-the-century era.


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