Ion Iliescu was born on 3 March 1930 in Oltenita, Romania.
In 1953, he joined the Romanian Communist party and he quickly became one of its most prominent and influential members. He remained a member until 1971 when he was expelled by order of party leader Nicolae Ceausescu.
In the following years, Iliescu became the head of the opposition movement National Salvation Front which contributed to the ousting of Ceausescu in 1989.
On 15 December 1989, a month after Ceausescu was re-elected as head of the Communist Party, anti-government riots broke out in Timisoara, West Romania, against the country’s Communist regime. The military was sent in to control the riots, but the army failed to establish order.
The riots subsequently spread to other cities, including to the capital Bucharest, following the opening of fire on the protesters by the army, allegedly on Ceausescu’s order. The riots quickly turned into bloody street battles between the angry mass and those loyal to the President.
Amidst the fights, Ceausescu attempted to flee Romania with his wife on 22 December 1989. However, they were captured, tried and summarily executed on 25 December. Following the news of the couple’s death, the street protests finally subsided. In all, over 1’100 people were killed, and over 3’350 were injured during the December protests in various Romanian cities. Reportedly, immediately after Ceausescu’s fall, the National Salvation Front, headed by Iliescu, assumed power and announced the abolition of the one-party system in Romania.
In May 1990, Iliescu was elected President of Romania and remained in position until 1996.
Between 13 and 15 June 1990, peaceful anti-government protesters were confronted by over 10’000 pro-government miners, and the protests were then violently repressed by governmental forces. During the demonstrations, known as the ‘Mineriad’, four people were killed, 1’388 were injured and 1’250 people were arbitrarily arrested. Allegedly, Iliescu called the minors of Valea Jiului, the country’s main coal basin, to go to Bucharest and pacify the “punks” and “thugs”. Iliescu is also believed to have subsequently thanked the miners for “answering our call”.