22 December

On 22 December, Romania celebrates the fall of of the Communist regime and Nicolae Ceauşescu's dictatorship. For his 24 years as communist party leader - 21 of them as Romania's president - Nicolae Ceauşescu kept up a reign of fear, suppressing all opposition with the help of the brutal secret police, the Securitate, with the largest network of spies and informers in Eastern Europe. At home he encouraged an extreme kind of personality cult among the population. He skilfully exploited his policy of independence from Moscow within the communist bloc to bolster his position at home and abroad.

Ceauşescu was a master at playing off the world powers against each other during the Cold War. But when Gorbachev's Perestroika reforms took hold, and one by one the countries of the Warsaw Pact claimed their freedom, his world fell apart. His downfall came as a result of his violent overreaction to public unrest over local issues such as food shortages, in December 1989.

Twenty years ago, the idyll of the peaceful revolutions against communism across eastern Europe was rudely broken, as Romania suddenly descended into anarchy and bloodshed. On 22 December 1989, Romania's communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu was overthrown in a violent revolution and fled from the capital, Bucharest. Three days later, he and his wife Elena were executed by firing squad. It was the last of the popular uprisings against communist rule in eastern Europe that year.

After the euphoria of Solidarity's victory in free elections in Poland and the Velvet Revolution in Prague, this was different. The Romanian revolution was the last, and the bloodiest, in the whole region. It came to a head on Christmas Day, when the dictator and his wife were executed. Two days later, video pictures of their summary trial and execution were shown on television in Romania and around the world. Twenty years on, conspiracy theories still abound, suggesting that many of the key events were stage-managed by enemies of democracy or by foreign secret services - that the Romanian Revolution was not a revolution at all, but rather a coup d'etat.