Nicolae Ceausescu

Template:Titlelacksdiacritics For other people named Ceausescu or Ceauşescu, see Ceausescu (disambiguation).

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Nicolae Ceauşescu

Nicolae Ceauşescu (IPA ), or approximately nik-oh-LA-ye cha-ow-SHESS-koo) (January 26, 1918 - December 25,1989) was the leader of Communist Romania from 1965 until shortly before his execution in 1989.


Early life and career

Born in the Scorniceşti village of the Olt county, Ceauşescu moved to Bucharest at the age of 11 to become a shoemaker's apprentice.

He joined the illegal Communist Party of Romania in early 1932 and was first arrested in 1933 for agitating during a strike. He was arrested again in 1934 first for collecting signatures on a petition protesting the trial of railway workers and twice more for other similar activities earning him the description "dangerous communist agitator" and "active distributor of communist and anti-fascist propaganda" on his police record. He then went underground but was captured and imprisoned in 1936 for a two year sentence at Doftana Prison for anti-fascist activities.

While out of jail in 1939 he met Elena Petrescu (they married in 1946) - she would play a growing role in his political life over the decades. He was arrested and imprisoned again in 1940. In 1943 he was transferred to Trgu Jiu concentration camp where he shared a cell with Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, becoming his protg. After World War II, when Romania was beginning to fall under Soviet influence, he served as secretary of the Union of Communist Youth (1944-1945).

After the Communists seized power in Romania in 1947, he headed the ministry of agriculture, then served as deputy minister of the armed forces under Gheorghiu-Dej's Stalinist reign. In 1952 Gheorghiu-Dej brought him onto the Central Committee months after the party's "Muscovite faction" led by Ana Pauker had been purged. In 1954 he became a full member of the Politburo and eventually rose to occupy the second highest position in the party hierarchy.

Leadership of Romania

Three days after the death of Gheorghiu-Dej in March 1965, Ceauşescu became first secretary of the Romanian Workers' Party. One of his first acts was to rename the party the Romanian Communist Party and declare that the country was now the Socialist Republic of Romania rather than a People's Republic. In 1967 he consolidated his power by becoming president of the State Council. Initially, he was a popular figure, due to his independent policy, challenging the supremacy of the Soviet Union in Romania. In the 1960s he ended Romania's active participation in the Warsaw Pact (though Romania formally remained a member); he refused to take part in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces, and actively and openly condemned that action.

Propaganda painting of the Ceauşescus
Propaganda painting of the Ceauşescus

In 1974, Ceauşescu added "President of Romania" to his titles, further consolidating his power. He followed an independent policy in foreign relations—for example, in 1984, Romania was one of only two Communist-ruled countries to take part in the American-organized 1984 Summer Olympics. Also, the country was the first of the Eastern Bloc to have official relations with the European Community: an agreement including Romania in the Community's Generalized System of Preferences was signed in 1974 and an Agreement on Industrial Products was signed in 1980. However, Ceauşescu refused to implement any liberal reforms. The evolution of his regime followed the Stalinist path already traced by Gheorghiu-Dej. Their opposition to Soviet control was mainly determined by the unwillingness to proceed to destalinization. The secret police (Securitate) maintained firm control over speech and the media, and tolerated no internal opposition.

Ceauşescu had made state visits to the People's Republic of China and North Korea in 1971. He took great interest in the idea of total national transformation as embodied in the programs of the Korean Workers' Party and China's Cultural Revolution. Shortly after returning home he began to emulate North Korea's system, influenced by the Juche philosophy of North Korean President Kim Il Sung. Korean books on Juche were translated into Romanian and widely distributed in the country.

Beginning in 1972, Ceauşescu instituted a program of systematization. Promoted as a way to build a "multilaterally developed socialist society," the program of demolition, resettlement, and construction began in the countryside, but culminated with an attempt to completely reshape the country's capital. Over one fifth of central Bucharest, including churches and historic buildings, was demolished during Ceauşescu's rule in the 1980s, in order to rebuild the city in his own style. The People's House ("Casa Poporului") in Bucharest, now the Parliament House, is one of the world's largest buildings, after The Pentagon. Ceauşescu also planned to bulldoze many villages in order to move the peasants into blocks of flats in the cities, as part of his "urbanization" and "industrialization" programs. An NGO project called "Sister Villages" that created bonds between European and Romanian communities may have played a role in thwarting these plans.

The Pacepa Defection

In 1978 Ion Mihai Pacepa, a senior member of the Romanian intelligence service (Securitate), defected to the United States. According to the official declaration made by president Ion Iliescu when Pacepa asked for the return of his properties and position, Pacepa was "a confused man" who gathered illegal properties in Romania by using his influential position. His treason was a powerful blow against the regime, forcing Ceauşescu to overhaul the architecture of the Securitate. Pacepa's 1986 book Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief (ISBN 0895265702) reveals details of Ceauşescu's regime such as his collaboration with Arab terrorists, his massive espionage on American industry and his elaborate efforts to rally Western political support. After Pacepa's defection, the country became more isolated and the economic growth stopped. Ceauşescu's intelligence agency became subject to heavy infiltration by foreign intelligence agencies and he started to lose control of the country. He tried several reorganizations in a bid to get rid of old collaborators of Pacepa, but to no avail.

Personality Cult and Authoritarianism

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Casa Poporului ("People's House"), now Casa Parlamentului ("House of Parliament")

Ceauşescu created a pervasive personality cult, giving himself the titles of "Conducător" ("Leader") and "Geniul din Carpaţi" ("Genius of the Carpathians"), with help from Proletarian Culture (Proletkult) poets such as Adrian Paunescu, and even having a king-like scepter made for himself. Such excesses prompted the painter Salvador Dal to send a congratulatory telegram to the "Conducător." The Communist Party daily Scnteia published the message, unaware that Dal had written it with tongue firmly in cheek. To avoid new treasons after Pacepa's defection, Ceauşescu also invested his wife Elena and other members of his family with important positions in the government.

Ceauşescu's Statesmanship

Under Ceauşescu, Romania was Europe's fourth biggest exporter of weapons. Nevertheless, several of Ceauşescu's actions suggest that one of his ambitions was to win a Nobel Prize for peace. In pursuing this goal, he made considerable efforts to act as a mediator between PLO and Israel. He organized a successful referendum for reducing the size of the Romanian Army by 5%. He held large rallies for peace and wrote a poem that was part of each literature manual. His poem was (in a word for word translation):

Let us make from cannons tractors
From atom lights and sources
From nuclear missiles
Plows to labour fields.

Ceauşescu also tried to play the role of a father to poor African countries. He was one of the friends of Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo, sending them money and technology, and used to be acclaimed as a hero by the people of these countries when he was visiting them.

Foreign debt

Despite his increasingly totalitarian rule, Ceauşescu's political independence from the Soviet Union drew the interest of western powers. Ceauşescu was able to borrow heavily from the west to finance economic development programs, but these loans ultimately devastated the country's financial situation. In an attempt to correct this situation, Ceauşescu decided to eradicate Romania's foreign debts. He organized a referendum and managed to change the constitution, adding a clause that barred Romania from taking foreign debts in the future. The referendum yielded results typical for Communist states of that era: a nearly unanimous "yes" vote.

In the 1980s, Ceauşescu ordered the export of much of the country's agricultural and industrial production in order to repay its debts. The resulting domestic shortages made the everyday life of Romanian citizens a fight for survival as food rationing was introduced and heating, gas and electricity black-outs were becoming the rule. There was a steady decrease in the living standard (and especially the availability of food and general goods in stores) between 1980 and 1989. The official explanation was that the country was paying its debts, and people accepted the suffering, believing it to be for a short time only and for the ultimate good.

The debt was fully paid in summer 1989, shortly before Ceauşescu was overthrown. During that period, the state TV often showed Ceauşescu entering well stocked stores.

The constitutional prohibition of debt was the first thing changed, without any referendum, by the leaders of the FSN as they assumed power after the December 1989 revolution.

Leadership weaknesses

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Ceauşescu on trial

Ceauşescu's social policies further aggravated the situation. For instance, forcibly maintaining the population growth rate became a top political priority. A key element of this process was the 1966 decree that prohibited abortion and contraception and made divorce more difficult to obtain. The law allowed abortions only for women who were at least 42 years of age or who had already borne at least four (later five) children. Mothers of at least 5 children would be entitled to significant benefits, while mothers of at least 10 children were declared heroic mothers receiving a gold medal, a free ARO 4x4 car, free transportation on trains, and a free holiday travel each year to a resort. However few Romanian women acquired such "heroic mother" status, the average Romanian family having 2-3 children (see Demographics of Romania).

While the population growth rate was maintained, poverty and poor sexual education led to thousands of children being abandoned by their families at state-run orphanages (many of those were undesired children abandoned at birth or shortly thereafter, because poor parents could not support them). These institutionalized "decree babies" lived in squalid conditions, with a high mortality rate as one of the many consequences. Another disastrous policy was Ceauşescu's refusal to acknowledge the spread of AIDS within Romania's closely guarded borders. HIV-testing for blood donors was neither required by law, nor was it being practiced at that time; this fact, along with the government-sanctioned practice of using shared transfusion needles for orphans, propelled Romania to second place in the list of childhood HIV infections in Europe.

In 1987 an attempted strike at Braşov failed: the army occupied the factories and crushed the workers' demonstrations.

Throughout 1989, Ceauşescu became even more isolated in the Communist world: in August 1989 he proposed a summit to discuss the problems of Eastern European Communism and "defend socialism" in these countries, but his proposal was turned down by the Warsaw Pact states and the People's Republic of China.

Tensions Grow

In 1989 Ceauşescu was showing signs of complete denial of reality. While the country was going through extremely difficult times with long bread lines in front of empty food stores, he was often shown on state TV entering stores jampacked with food supplies and praising the "high living standard" achieved under his rule. In the fall of 1989, daily TV broadcasts were showing endless scrolling lists of CAPs (kolkhozes) with alleged record harvests, in blatant contradiction with the shortages experienced by the average Romanian at the time.

Some people, believing that Ceauşescu was not aware of what was going on in the country, were attempting to hand him petition and complaint letters during his many visits around the country. However, each time he was getting a letter he would immediately pass it on to members of his security detail, and whether or not Ceauşescu ever came to read any of them, will probably remain an unsolved mystery. According to the rumors of the time, people attempting to hand letters directly to Ceauşescu had to take upon themselves a high risk of adverse consequences, "courtesy" of the secret police Securitate. People were strongly discouraged from addressing him and there was a general sense that things had reached an overall low.


See main article Romanian Revolution of 1989.

Ceauşescu's regime collapsed after a series of violent events in Timişoara and Bucharest in December 1989.

In November 1989 the XIVth Congress of PCR (Romanian Communist Party) saw Ceauşescu, now aged 72, reelected for another 5 years as leader of PCR.

Demonstrations in the city of Timişoara were triggered by the government-sponsored attempt to evict Lszl Tőks, an ethnic Hungarian church minister, accused by the government of inciting ethnic hate. Members of his ethnic Hungarian congregation surrounded his apartment in a show of support. Romanian students spontaneously joined the demonstration, which soon lost nearly all connection to its initial cause and became a more general anti-government demonstration. Regular military forces, police and Securitate fired on demonstrators on December 17, 1989.

On December 18, 1989, Ceauşescu departed for a visit to Iran, leaving the duty of crushing the Timişoara revolt to his subordinates and his wife. Upon his return on the evening of December 20, the situation became even more tense, and he gave a televised speech from the TV studio inside Central Committee Building (CC Building), in which he spoke about the events at Timişoara in terms of an "interference of foreign forces in Romania's internal affairs" and an "external aggression on Romania's sovereignty". The country, which had no information of the Timişoara events from the national media, heard about the Timişoara revolt from western radio stations like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and by word of mouth. A mass meeting was staged for the next day, December 21, which, according to the official media, was presented as a "spontaneous movement of support for Ceauşescu", emulating the 1968 meeting in which Ceauşescu had spoken against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by forces of Warsaw Pact.

On December 21, the mass meeting, held in what is now Revolution Square, degenerated into anarchy. A stunned Ceauşescu couple, failing to control the crowds, finally took cover inside the CC Building, where they remained until the next day. The rest of the day saw a revolt of the Bucharest population, who had assembled in University Square, and confronted the police and the army on barricades. These initial events are regarded to this day as the genuine revolution. However, the unarmed rioters were no match for the military apparatus concentrated in Bucharest, which cleared the streets by midnight and arrested hundreds of people in the process.

Although the broadcast of the "support meeting" and the subsequent events on the national television had been interrupted the previous day, Ceauşescu's senile reaction to the events had already become part of the country's collective memory. By the morning of December 22, the rebellion had already spread to all major cities. The suspicious death of Vasile Milea, the defense minister, was announced by the media. Immediately thereafter, Ceauşescu presided over the CPEX meeting and assumed the leadership of the army. He made an attempt to address the crowd gathered in front of the CC, but this desperate move was rejected by the rioters, who forced open the doors of the building, by now left unprotected by the army, police and Securitate. The Ceauşescu couple fled by helicopter from the top of the CC building in a poorly advised decision (since they would have had safer refuge using existing underground tunnels) [see Burlan].


See main article Romanian Revolution of 1989.

The events of December 1989 remain controversial. Many, including Filip Teodorescu, a high-ranking Securitate officer at the time, allege that a group of conspiring generals in the Securitate took advantage of this opportunity to launch a coup in Bucharest. Some have made more specific claims about the nature of the conspiracy. Colonel Burlan asserts that the coup had been prepared since 1982, and was originally planned to take place during the New Year celebrations, but it was spontaneously adapted to the new developments. It remains a matter of controversy whether there had been any advance conspiracy to stage a coup, and, if so, who was precisely involved. The two main alternative possibilities are that these events were simply a combination of genuine revolutionary drive and inherent confusion, or that various figures in the military simply took opportunistic advantage of public protests, in an effort to capture power for themselves or for others whom they supported.

According to Burlan, the plot leaders were generals Stănculescu and Neagoe, Ceauşescu's closest security advisors; Burlan claims that they convinced him to hold the first mass rally in the Square by the Central Committee building, and that it was prepared in advance with remotely controlled automatic guns. During Ceauşescu's speech, the remotely controlled guns were set to fire randomly over the crowd and agitators started to cry anti-Ceauşescu slogans through loudspeakers. Scared by these developments, the people first tried to run away. However, given the loudspeaker messages stating that they were being shot at by Ceauşescu's forces and that a "revolution" was underway, the people were compelled to join the "revolution". The rally turned into a protest demonstration. The machine-gun fire and the messages over the loudspeakers appear to be universally acknowledged; the other aspects of this remain controversial.

On December 22 the army found itself without a leader: Ceauşescu (the official commander-in-chief of the army) had vanished, being sent by his (possibly conspiring) advisor Stănculescu to the countryside, and defense minister Vasile Milea was dead. (Initially the "revolutionary" leaders claimed that Milea was assassinated on behalf of Ceauşescu. This is possible, but other possibilities abound, notably that he might have refused to join them and been killed on that account. The (still) official account that he committed suicide has almost no credibility.) Confused, the army leadership in Bucharest decided to avoid conflicts and ordered their troops to fraternize with the demonstrators.

Fierce fighting occurred at that time at Bucharest Otopeni International Airport between troops sent one against another under claims that they were going to meet terrorists. There are various reports of other similar events. Filip Teodorescu claims that a number of instigators—possibly a small number, and probably Russians—started various incidents (including the violence in Timişoara); he also alleges that the level of violence was greatly exacerbated by elements within the military who propagated a myth of "securist-terrorists". According to Colonel Dumitru Burlan's book, the generals who were part of the conspiracy (led by general Victor Stănculescu) did their best to create such terrorist stories in order to induce fear and to draw the army on the conspirators' side. Generally, there is a consensus that there were some people instigating terror, and that others effectively caused incidents out of confusion. The relative magnitude of the two factors is not agreed upon, and no individual has ever been charged with or convicted of participating in deliberate acts of terror.

There are any number of popular theories about the motivation of the coup. Some point out that the first law passed by the incoming leadership abolished (without any referendum or legal basis) the constitution article that forbade external debts. At that time, the debts had been fully paid, and there are various allegations about the intended beneficiaries of these new desired debts: corrupt politicians, or international banks. There is no question that some individuals who were active in the December events greatly profited in terms of money and power (especially in the form of ownership in privatized industries), fame, advancement in rank, or merely the settling of personal grievances; it is also possible that any number of foreign interests may have been involved, possibly including the KGB and/or other Soviet interests.

The End of Ceauşescu

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A Romanian holds a book with the portrait of the late Nicolae Ceauşescu at his grave in a Bucharest cemetery on January 26, 2005 to mark his eighty-seventh birthday. Every year, Romanians nostalgic for the Ceauşescu years gather to mourn him at this cemetery.

Ceauşescu and his wife Elena fled the capital by helicopter together with Emil Bobu and Manea Manescu. They headed for Ceauşescu's Snagov residence, from where they fled again, this time for Trgovişte. The presidential couple kept moving through the countryside more or less aimlessly. Near Trgovişte they abandoned the helicopter, which was ordered to land by the army, which by that time had already declared Romania to be restricted air space. The flight included grotesque episodes: a car chase to evade citizens attempting an arrest, leaving behind of their aides, a short stay in a school. The Ceauşescus were finally held in a police car for several hours, while the policemen listened to the radio, presumably in an attempt to get a clue as to which political faction was about to win. Police eventually turned over the presidential couple to the army. On December 25, the two were condemned to death by a military kangaroo court on charges ranging from illegal gathering of wealth to genocide, and were executed by firing squad in Trgovişte. During their trial and before the firing squad the couple recited from the "Internationale". They were shot dead after they sang the 4th word.

The firing squad was not well-prepared for the execution. One of the guards accidentally shot Ceauşescu in the foot before then firing the fatal shot.

The "trial" and execution were videotaped. The footage was promptly released in France and other western countries. Several days later, the footage of their trial (but not of their execution) was released on television for the Romanian public.


The Ceauşescus had one adopted son, Valentin Ceauşescu (he was adopted in order to give a personal example of how people should take care of orphans, a big problem in Romania), a daughter Zoia Ceauşescu (born 1950) and a younger son, Nicu Ceauşescu (born 1951).

Ceauşescu's official annual salary was 18,000 lei (equivalent to 3,000 U.S. dollars at the official exchange rate). Of this, some 5,000 lei was deposited in a bank every month for the use of his children. Nevertheless, he used to receive presents (e.g., a golden plated door handle) from countries and organizations that he was visiting, the misappropriation of which was one of the accusations against him at his trial. While he tried to keep account of his finances, his biological son Nicu was much less restrained and rumors abounded that he paid a gambling debt incurred in Las Vegas with a herd of horses belonging to the Communist Party.

Ceauşescu's security detail was relatively small compared to that of the current Romanian government, numbering only 40 people for his residences and for his whole family. His security chief was Col. Dumitru Burlan who claims that his troops had only 2 guns (insufficient for any serious defense). Col. Burlan claims that Ceauşescu was overconfident that the Romanian people loved him, and believed that he did not need a protection. This explains much of the ease with which Ceauşescu was deposed and captured.


External links

Template:Presidents of Romaniade:Nicolae Ceauşescu es:Nicolae Ceauşescu fr:Nicolae Ceauşescu it:Nicolae Ceauşescu he:ניקולאי צ'אושסקו hu:Nicolae Ceauşescu nl:Nicolae Ceausescu ja:ニコラエ・チャウシェスク no:Nikolae Ceauşescu pl:Nicolae Ceauşescu pt:Nicolae Ceausescu ro:Nicolae Ceauşescu fi:Nicolae Ceauşescu sv:Nicolae Ceausescu zh:尼古拉·齐奥塞斯库


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