From Nadia Comaneci and the Secret Police: A Cold War Escape, by Stejarel Olaru (Bloomsbury, 2023), Kindle pp. 225-226:
Nadia Comăneci never showed any intention to take advantage of a trip abroad in order to defect. It would have been too hard for her to be so far away from family and friends. Sometimes, when she returned from a trip, when her brother Adrian would half-jokingly ask why she hadn’t stayed abroad, she would answer that she felt happier at home, in the kitchen, with her pots and pans, at which everybody would laugh. Although she sometimes fell prey to emotion, she was otherwise highly practical. She refused to believe in foreigners, to allow them to inveigle her into projects that seemed unachievable at first sight. She was optimistic by nature, and only acted after making a thorough examination of the situation in which she found herself. In other words, Nadia was not one to daydream. Consequently, it is all the more obvious that it was the absurd restrictions imposed on her after 1985 that caused her to accept the proposal to flee the country, when the opportunity arose, even if it meant placing her life in danger. All the restrictions in her life convinced her that she should abandon caution and do something that was not in her nature, especially since she knew that if she left Romania, she would never see her family again.
The episode of her escape was rightly regarded as spectacular and captured the imagination of the West, as Le Figaro declared on 1 December 1989: ‘Dramas now come to us from Eastern Europe, rather than from Hollywood. In Romania the plots of films are happening in real life. The former champion escaped the country on Wednesday, after she had once been a heroine of the communist system. Real life beats fiction. Many episodes in Nadia’s life surpass the fictional.’
In the days after her escape, as the Western media debated all kinds of outlandish theories, there was uproar in Bucharest, too, not in the press, but in government cabinets, and the fury was the greatest at the headquarters of the secret police. As is often the case of intelligence services, the Department of State Security’s reputation was often exaggerated. The Nadia Comăneci Case is a good example, revealing as it does Securitate incompetence. Incapable of preventing Nadia’s escape and finding out about it only once it had actually happened, the Securitate was caught by surprise, an embarrassing and blameworthy situation for an intelligence service. Nadia Comăneci’s escape even created a genuine crisis within the Securitate, which was exacerbated from outside the country by massive international coverage of the event and inside the country by the fury of Nicolae Ceauşescu, in despair at having lost the gymnast who had been the country’s ‘best advertisement’, as The Independent aptly put it at the time.
But if the Securitate was incapable of preventing it, when and how did the authorities in Bucharest learn the news that Nadia Comăneci had defected? The information came in the next day, 28 November, at four o’clock in the afternoon. It was received by military counterintelligence officers from Department Four of the Securitate. It was not thanks to their own operational capacities, but sooner an accident – or maybe a deliberate act of defiance on the part of the Hungarians – since they obtained the information from other fugitives who had illegally crossed the frontier the day before and been sent back to the Romanian side surprisingly quickly. Alexandru Cinca, Maria Balea and Maria Ezias, the two women being accompanied by their sons, both minors, had escaped across the border on 27 November and at the Kiszombor border post they had met Nadia Comăneci and the other six members of her group the next morning. Maria Ezias, a Romanian citizen of Hungarian ethnicity, was asked by the Hungarian border guards to translate a part of their discussions with Nadia. Then, at around four o’clock in the afternoon, Alexandru Cinca and Maria Balea and her son had been surrendered to the Romanian authorities, while Maria Ezias and her son had been allowed to remain in Hungary.