One of the greatest national tragedies took place in the summer of 1977, when the “23 August” stadium caught fire. The communists in power at the time covered it up.
The 1977 earthquake devastated Romania, but most of the victims were from the capital, so that out of 1,578 victims nationwide, 1,424 were from Bucharest alone. The 7.2-magnitude earthquake collapsed or severely damaged 32,900 homes.
At that time, Nicolae Ceușescu decided to open the “Solidarity and Humanity Account”, and all workers had to donate money for the reconstruction of the country. Cinematography was part of the plan, so the Filmmakers’ Association was asked to contribute 200,000 lei to the account.
Ion Popescu Gopo, Mircea Mureșan and Sergiu Nicolaescu were some of those who attended the meeting where the decision was taken to organize huge shows both in Bucharest and in other cities in the country to collect that sum.
The event “Stelele Filmului” in Bucharest was entrusted to Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej’s former son-in-law, Cezar Grigoriu who was an art enthusiast. In April, an agreement is signed between the Association of Filmmakers and the Association of Theatre and Music People, with the former assuming responsibility for producing the show.
On the other hand, the partners took on the tasks of selling tickets, making posters and publicity. The big event was supposed to take place on 23 May, but was postponed to 30 May and will take place at the “23 August” stadium.
This time the schedule was not respected either, being postponed again to 6 and 13 June 1977. Although it was supposed to be a memorable evening in a positive perspective, those who attended were left with a bitter taste, as it was a nightmare night.
The “23 August” stadium fire of the Ceausescu era
The interested public exceeded the number of seats in the stands, so more than 40,000 people showed up for the show. Among them, there were people who forced their way in, breaking the gates and fences. It all turned into a violent brawl after ticket-paying spectators turned on those who were climbing over the fences. The stands were set on fire and bottles flew across the lawn, injuring dozens.
“Young men who had surrounded the stadium jumped the fences and swarmed over performers standing near the turf in carts and vintage cars. The organizers tried to calm things down, but the show could not go on because of the stampede. People in carriages swarmed over Margareta Pâslaru and the performers scrambled backstage,” according to witnesses at the show.
The communists in power covered up everything, but some documents in the archives of the National Council show what happened in that difficult year for Romanians.
“They shouted “Thieves! Thieves!”. Some set fire to the stands in protest, and people trampled on each other’s feet. We escaped in one piece because we left immediately. On the way home I could see militia and fire engines heading towards the stadium.
That’s when heads fell from the capital’s Miliția, the Municipal Council and the National Printing Agency, all of whom were penalized by Ceaușescu for the bust-up. Apparently, tickets were sold beyond the stadium’s capacity and some people got in by giving money at the entrance. After the incident, it was only reported that the culprits had been dismissed, without saying anything about the victims or the arrested”, according to witness statements.
The show was resumed two weeks later, being held over two consecutive days, Saturday and Sunday. This time, a large number of militiamen and security guards were at the show to ensure strict order and to prevent any repetition of previous incidents.