The Socialist Republic of Romania.
Ceausescu renamed the state the Socialist Republic of Romania in 1965. This was part of the changes consequent upon the new constitution that was promulgated that year. The constitution announced that socialism had been achieved and that Romania was composed of two classes, the working class and the working peasantry. Of these the working class was to have the leading role, said the constitution. Mention of the intelligentsia, as in earlier constitutions of 1948 and 1952, was dropped. Mention of an alliance with the Soviet Union was also deleted and instead the constitution emphasised that Romania was absolutely independent. Further, in that same year he renamed the party as the Romanian Communist Party – officially the name had been the Romanian Workers’ Party since a merger with other parties in the wake of the Second World War.
Ceausescu encouraged a cult of the personality. He gratefully accepted the title Conducator or Leader, redolent of Antonescu. Indeed, he went one better! He was saluted as ”Conducator Suprem” – Supreme Leader, no less! He published verse and was hailed as the Genius of the Carpathians. Many people had his portrait on their drawing room wall and his image was always on RCP posters. Television devoted much of its airtime to the actions of the president. People chanted as they clapped in unison, ”Ceausescu PCR, Ceausescu PCR” as though the two were synonymous. A well known PCR song included the thunderous refrain, ”The Party, Ceausescu, Romania!” – this was the indivisible trinity to be exalted by the people. ”Ceausescu Romania” was another common chorus. Anything to indulge the megalomania of the shoemaker of Scarecinesti! This was ”the Ceausescu era, the golden age” said the propaganda.
He certainly did not cut a dash. He was an unwittingly comical figure with an Elmo Fudd voice. He was of average height and he was aware that he was not handsome. His Deputy Foreign Minister, Stefan Andrei, said that Ceausescu was unhappy with his own appearance. He was not a warrior nor a towering intellectual. He was a man of the people, maybe that made some people like him – he was actually quite ordinary, one could identify with him. He wore rather drab clothes. He managed his image carefully. He did not allow images of him to be broadcast blinking, perspiring, eating, drinking, sneezing or mispronouncing anything. Towards the end of his life he was plagued by ill health and began to stammer words such as ‘poporului’.
He globe trotted, meeting world leaders. He seldom ate food provided by his hosts, fearing it would be poisoned. He normally dined in the Romanian embassy, supping upon food cooked by a chef who travelled with him. He even had a technician travelling with him who destroyed the Supreme Leader’s excrement lest some foreign foe run tests on the Supreme shit to determine the state of Ceausescu’s health.
When he returned from trips abroad he was greeted at the airport by a welcoming committee of little children from elite schools who would sing him songs, present him with bouquets of flowers and kiss his cheek. This children were first taken aside by Securitate to see that none of them had a cold, if they did they were removed from the welcoming committee on that occasion lest they pass on an illness to the Conducator.
No mention of Nicolae Ceausescu is complete without writing about his redoubtable bride: Elena. She was known as Madame Ceausescu internationally. She wielded almost as much power as her husband and held official posts. This mother of three was in fact three years older than her spouse but pretended to be his junior by a year. She had little formal education beyond a qualification in needlework but obtained a science degree in middle age. Many say this was by the simple expedient of requiring academics at Bucharest University to do her work for her. An ode was penned to acclaim her and was sung by schoolchildren. Its lyrics read risibly to those brought up in land’s where slavish veneration of leaders are not the norm, ”Comrade Elena Ceausescu/ Scientist of international esteem/ Chemistry’s greatest achievements are realised by you.” Another ode to her read, ”we love you, we want you”. In fact she was a better seamstress than a scientist. She had failed most subjects at school before leaving at 14. Her only strong subject was needlework.
Ceausescu’s independent minded foreign policy made him decide to link himself to great rulers of the Romanian past. He had himself likened to Mircea the Old, Stefan the Great and Mihai the Brave. A notion of Protochronism came out, that Romania had been a distinct nation from before the advent of recorded history. Ceausescu’s brother Ilie published books on theme as did other approved histortionists. Romania’s link to ancient Rome as stressed but also its suigeneris nature was underscored. This was to make Romania distinct from her Slavic neighbours. Films extolling these warrior kings were produced with big budgets. Pageants were held to celebrate Romania’s glorious heritage. At the end of the show the performers applauded Ceausecu rather than the other way around.
Ceausescu’s image was to be seen everywhere – in railway stations, bus stations, classrooms, libraries, hospitals, army barracks, courtrooms, police stations, restaurants, shops and in many homes. He did not put his face on the money, this perhaps was one arrogance too many even for him.
The Ceausescu’s nepotism was derided as socialism in one family. His children attended Lycee Number 24, around the corner from the family’s residence on Spring Boulevard. This school was widely regarded as the best in the country and the children of the party’s elite attended it. This was a play on the old Russian 1920s slogan of socialism in one country. He appointed his younger son Nicu to various Cabinet posts in his 20s and was said to be being groomed to be the new Supreme Leader. Nicu was a very heavy drinker, wild driver and no scholar. The fact that Nicu was in contention for the highest office in the republic showed that the country really was run as the personal fiefdom of one family. Ceausescu’s brothers Marin and Ilie were appointed to high diplomatic and military posts respectively. His brother Andratu was a senior officer in Securitate.
Mrs Ceausescu sent Securitate to spy on her children. She even went to see her daughter walking on Herestrau Park with her boyfriend. Mrs Ceausescu selected a bride for her son Nicu. With the greatest of reluctance he wed the handpicked maiden then told her, ”go and live with mummy. She picked you, she’ll fuck you.”
Ceausescu’s attitude to the Romanian Orthodox Church was ambivalent. It is believed that he was an atheist as Communists generally are. Perhaps he recognised that the church was not necessarily hostile to his regime and it was wiser not to make it a focus for alternative loyalty. This seemed to be part of his attitude of not picking fights that he could easily avoid. He did not persecute the church and even visited churches on occasions. He even paid for a church to be built in his home town. On the other hand a Bucharest was needlessly bulldozed in the 1980s. Before Ceausescu the razing of churches had been much more commonplace. Orthodox clergy in full ceremonial rig were seen at PCR rallies chanting in unison with the other supporters of the regime. There was ample room to claim that Christianity and Communism had much in common – Christ was the first socialist, he said the man with two shirts must give one shirt to the man who has none. The social justice message of Christianity could be said to chime with RCP policy. A few priests were Securitate informers, they had decided to render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s.
In 1968 the USSR attacked Czechoslovakia because that country decided to allow its people greater freedom. Romania was the only Eastern Bloc country to refuse to help the USSR in this. Furthermore, Ceausescu publicly criticised what the USSR had done. However, he stopped short of pulling out of the Warsaw pact. His extemporaneous speech from the Central Committee Building castigating the Soviet repression of Prague Spring probably marks the high tide of his popularity. It was an occasion he foolishly tried to repeat in 1989 with circumstances and repercussions that were very different.
From the late 1960s in the mid 1970s were the halcyon days of Ceausescu. Economic growth was steady; the country coquetted with East and West on the international stage. Charles de Gaulle visited The Paris of the East and was given a reception with great fanfare. Foreign dignitaries were queueing up to visit Romania. It was ensured that they had a very warm welcome – workers and pupils were sent from their place of employment or study to line the street and wave flags and cheer to greet arriving statesmen from abroad.
Major projects appeared to be succeeding such as the Bucharest metro which opened in 1979, the Iron Gates hydroelectric dam and the Transfagaras road. Electricity and telephones became more widely available. Free healthcare, free education and full employment were all very popular. Even the critics of Ceausescu tend to admit that the education system under him was enviable. It was didactic, discipline was strong and it was almost free of bribery. People were allowed to buy their own properties and this was very affordable.
Romania achieved success in the sporting arena especially in gymnastics. Tiriac also achieved glory for the socialist fatherland in tennis. On the domestic arena Dinamo was seen as the Securitate sports club. Talent scouts scoured the land for budding athletes. No effort was spared to cultivate this sort of talent. Sport was one of the few areas in which Romania could compete with big countries. This engendered a greater sense of national pride.
People were required to do patriotic work such as clearing the snow in front of their building. It is said that there was a considerable civic spirit and sense of community.
Ceausescu said that Communism was so good that only a madman could fail to appreciate its manifold merits. As the USSR did in its more enlightened periods the Communist regime in Romania decided to misuse medical science to deal with dissidents. Those who spoke out against the regime were sometimes sectioned in mental hospitals.
Romania enjoyed cordial relations with many countries. Western governments saw Romania as potentially another Yugoslavia – a land that would puruse socialism at home but could be persuaded to leave the Soviet orbit and at least be neutral in the Cold WAR. Western governments were at pains to court Ceausescu. Romania received hefty loans from international funds. Richard Nixon visited Romania and pointed out that it was the first visit by an American president to a socialist country. Gerald Ford visited Romania and a plaque at Sinaia’s VIP railway station building attests to this fact. As for VIP railway stations – Ceausescu had a station built in Bucharest for his personal use. It is not in use now.
On the other hand as Romania bordered the USSR Romania could not afford to majorly offend the Soviets. If the Soviets invaded Romania it is very improbable that Western military assistance would have been forthcoming. Romania could not risk antagonising the USSR by demanding the retrocession of northern Bucovina and Bessarabia.
In 1973 OPEC countries stopped producing oil for a few weeks as a means to punish the West for its support of Israel. As a result oil prices quadrupled. This was a major boon to the Romanian exchequer.
In 1975 the construction of the Black Sea canal began again. After several years and not a few lives, the project was completed. It is questionable as to whether this was the best use of resources, human and otherwise, at the time. But it did instill a certain national pride. What is more, Ceausescu had succeeded where others had not.
A new national anthem, three colours, was adopted in 1977. It spoke of Communism.
School children were asked to volunteer to take in the harvest instead of going to school for a couple of weeks. By the late 80s this ”volunteering” became compulsory.
So eager were Western lands to befriend Romania that in 1973 Ceausescu was given a state visit to the United Kingdom and loaded with honours by the British government. Mrs Ceausescu was awarded a certificate of merit by the Royal Society in honour of her contributions to science. Ceausescu was a keen supporter of the Non-Aligned Movement. The NAM was an organisation of states that were supposedly neutral in the Cold War. This was not very convincing as its members included Cuba which was incontestably a satellite of Moscow.
Romania became a major arms exporter. Arab states and Iran were particular clients. Indeed Romania was crucial to the Iranian war effort in the Iran-Iraq conflict as a source of military hardware for the Iranian armed forces. Iranian air force pilots came to Romania at that time to train in new warplanes.
Romania expressed moral support for the Arab position in the Israel-Palestine dispute. Nonetheless, Romania had full diplomatic relations with Israel. It was hard for Jews to obtain the right to leave the country and settle in Israel. Israel had to pay for each person allowed to leave. So many people were anxious to leave that the synagogue authorities in Bucharest had to put a sign in their window indicating that no more converts would be accepted.
Ceausescu like to project an image of being a peace loving sort notwithstanding his policy of earning capital be selling weapons abroad. He organised a referendum to make a 5% cut in the defence budget: it was carried. There was compulsory military training for men and women under him.
Romania established full diplomatic relations with West Germany in 1968. Romanians of German stock were allowed to leave and settle in West Germany if West Germany paid a large ransom for them, $5 000 to $10 000. Despite Ceausescu’s loathing for Hungarians he had no hard feelings towards the Germans.
For other Romanians an exit visa for a short visit was very difficult to obtain. Securitate had to vouch that a person was trustworthy. Securitate agents abroad kept an eye on Romanians who were spending time out of the country. If someone absconded whilst abroad this was enough to have that person’s relatives sacked. If a person expressed a wish to emigrate and they did not have a blood tie to Israel or West Germany they were normally dismissed from their job and subjected to harassment for several years but sometimes they were given an exit visa in the end.
Criticising the soi-disant Genius of the Carpathians was enough to have one sent to prison.
Ceausescu despised Hungarian nationalists and persecuted them with an especial zeal. They were sometimes subjected to ‘radu’: by bombaRding them with radiation such that a rapacious form of cancer set in. This condemned the victim to death within a matter of months. Hungarian-Romanians were not allowed to express their seprate ethnicity and cultural heritage. Publications and performances in that language, Magyar, were severely restricted.
Ceausescu followed a natalist policy. Abortion and contraception were forbidden to women unless they were close to menopause and had already produced four offspring – those was later raised to five offspring. There were taxes on those who had not reproduced whether wed or unwed if over the age of 25 years. Infertility did not obviate being liable to pay this tax. As a direct consequence of his policies many children were abandoned. Orphanages struggled to cope with the influx of unwanted children . Conditions in these state institutions deteriorated to such an extent that they became an international scandal when revealed to the world after the revolution.
Perhaps one exception to this prohibition on terminating pregnancies was when Ceausescu’s offspring Nicu got his girlfriend knocked up. The Supreme Leader disapproved of this young lady and he ordered his unborn grandchild to be terminated. It was done.
He also had a policy called systematisation. He wanted to make many peasants become urban dwellers. Rustic types were moved into high rise blocks. They could not take their dogs with them and so many curs were abandoned that now wander the streets of the capital.
A visit to North Korea in 1971 gave him ideas. The virtual deification of the Dear Leader of that country, Kim Il Sung, cannot have been unappealing to Ceausescu. When Kim Il Sung eventually died he was declared to be ”Eternal President” – North Korea is the only country on record ever to have a dead man for head of state. Ceausescu was also very impressed with the notion of a total transformation of society. This inspired his July Theses, [ublished in 1971. He went back to Stalinism, not in the sense of obedience to the Soviet Union but in the belief that the state must be outright totalitarian. A period of relative tolerance of a multiplicity of ideas was over. Abject obeisance to the cult of the personality was brought in was a bang.
A village north of Bucharest was named ‘Coreea’ in honour of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea. He wished to emulate the very broad sweep of boulevards and gargantuan public buildings of Pyongyang. THESE Statements in stone would express the grandeur and durability of the leader. 20% of Bucharest was levelled including many of the cities most historic and characterful buildings in order to make way for Ceausescu’s new plan. Taking photos of the demolition was forbidden. There was no appeal or consultation allowed. Construction on the Palace of Parliament began in 1984 and workers built in shifts – around the clock every day of the year. Many workers died. Ceausescu often visited the site of his pet project on Saturday morning and wanted to know about the minutiae. By the time of his ouster this mammoth complex was only half finished. His reconstruction of the capital city was largely conceived a vanity project: making Buluverdul Unirii 0.5m wider than Les Champs Elysees just as to upstage Paris. This boulevard was originally styled, ‘the triumph of socialism boulevard.’
Perhaps the most madcap notion of Ceausescu was his truly Caligulan decision to promote his dog Corbu to be a colonel in the army.
Not everyone was willing to be a public devotee of The Supreme Leader. At the 1979 Party Congress the 84 year old Constantin Parvulescu got up request to to make a speech. He was not on the order paper but Ceausescu graciously intructed that Parvulescu be permitted to take to the dais. Parvulescu told the esteemed comrades that he had been a member of the party for 60 years – this brought a huge outbreak of applause. He informed the assembled people that he had never in all his years seen the party brought so low – and it was degenerated by the selfishness of Ceausescu who was making himself a dictator and cheating in the election to the presidency. The audience listened flabbergasted. Open castigation of the Supreme Leader was unheard of. Then a Ceausescu loyalist shouted out, ”That’s not fair!”. ”That’s a lie!” cried another. Voice after voice heckled old Parvulescu until the comrades rose to their feet and burst out into a spontaneous chorus of ”Ceausescu PCR, Ceausescu PCR, Ceausescu PCR!” This went on for a couple of minutes. Somehow Parvulescu’s nerves of steel allowed him to stand impassive at the podium. When the catcalls died down he continued with his denunciation of Comrade Ceausescu from the rostrum. When he speech was over he was grabbed by Securitate and put under house arrest. It was said that only his advanced age and six decades of service to the party saved him from more extreme penalties.
Despite being in many ways a Stalinist Ceausescu persisted in his independent minded foreign policy. He maintained full diplomatic relations with Chile after General Pinochet became President of that Latin American republic. This dovetailed with his firm belief that one should not meddle in an internal matter in another country. Moreover, he condemned the Soviet aggression towards Afghanistan in 1979. He also sent an Olympic team to the Los Angeles Games in 1984: he was the only Eastern Bloc leader to do so.
In the late 1970s there were strikes by miners in Targu Jiu but these were fairly easily suppressed.
He still carried on domestic achievements. The Bucharest Metro opened in 1979.
In the 1980s oil prices slumped. This impacted on the Romanian economy seriously. Romania was very deep in debt – about $13 Bn – and Ceausescu considered honouring this debt to be a priority – nobody else ever does. He did his best to pay it off by exporting goods to other countries for hard currency. Romanians had to do with second best and insufficient amounts of clothing, foodstuffs and consumer goods. It was said that few had more than three pairs of shoes. Electricity was down to a couple of hours a day. Likewise hot water. Many carried there shopping up ten flights of stairs to eat dinner by candlelight.
Ceausescu held a referendum to prevent the country from getting into foreign debt again. Unsurprisingly there was an exceedingly large majority for the yes campaign.
In 1987 there were large scale disturbances in Brasov. Ceausescu decided this did not need to be put down by force. He used minimum force, allowed it to burn itself out. Then he struck. Several hundred prominent protestors were arrested and given gaol terms. The paucity of basic comestibles was the salient issue. However, the grievance was strictly limited. Ideological matters seemed to have no bearing on the riots. If Ceausescu delivered a decent standard of living he could be popular again.
Ceausescu’s personal standard of living was high with a number of very comfortable houses around the country, one in Snagov, one by the coast. He had gold bath taps. However, considering that he had total control of the country he could have indulged himself to a much greater extent.
In 1989 the foreign debt was finally paid off. Other countries very seldom pay off their debts. Surely it was time to ease the severe hardship of his people? But the export of food continued unabated.