The Rise and Fall of Romania's Dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Choi, Solbi
Term Paper, AP European History Class, April 2008



Table of Contents


I. Introduction
II. Rise to Prominence
II.1 A Fervent Young Communist
II.2 Meeting Influential People & Gaining Power
III. Political Career as Leader of Romania
III.1 Launching of the Socialist Republic of Romania
III.2 High Popularity & Independent Foreign Policy
III.3 Systematization
III.4 The 1966 Decree
III.5 July Theses
III.6 Major Blow by Ion Mihai Pacepa
III.7 Increasing Tensions between Ceaucescu and the Romanians
IV. The Romanian Revolution of 1989
V. Execution
VI. Miscellaneous Topics
VI.1 Elena Ceaucescu
VI.2 Related Literary Work : "The Appointment" by Herta Müller
VII. Conclusion
VIIII. Notes
IX. Bbliography



I. Introduction


            This paper is based on the records made on the topic of Nicolae Ceausescu, a Romanian Communist dictator. I focused more on his regime and the policies implemented rather than describing the life that he lived through. I also included descriptions of his wife, for she is said to have had a profound influence in his life.

II. Rise to Prominence

II.1 A Fervent Young Communist
            Ceausescu has been interested and involved in various political movements of Romania since his youth. After moving into Bucharest in 1929 (age 11) to work as a shoemaker's apprentice, Ceausescu first joined the Romanian Workers Party (RWP) in 1932 (1). On June of the following year, he already represented the so-called "democratic" youth of Bucharest at an anti-fascist conference and was elected to the national Anti-Fascist Committee, a front organization for the RWP. Shortly after that, on November 23rd, Ceausescu was first arrested for inciting a strike and distributing pamphlets against state order. This radical man pursued various other activities which didn¡¯t please the then-existing Romanian government (Fascist), and so was arrested, tried, put to sentence in jail, and later on exiled from Bucharest. At this time, he bore the title of an "active distributor of communist and anti-fascist propaganda", and was a frequently eyed target of the regime. Such facts quite bluntly testify Ceausescu¡¯s already-fervent interest in Communist ideals in his early years; he even went underground to come back to the region, and was re-captured and sent to Doftana Prison.

II.2 Meeting Influential People & Gaining Power
            Despite his frequent trips in and out of prison, there was also a time in Ceausescu's life when he was out of jail - in 1939, while he was free for some time, he met his wife Elena, who would have a noticeable influence in terms of Ceausescu's political career since their marriage in 1946. He was arrested and imprisoned again in 1940.
            In 1943, he was transferred to Targu Jiu internment camp where he met Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, who used to serve as secretary of the Union of Communist Youth after World War II. This coincidental meeting placed Ceausescu in a favorable position when Communists finally seized power in Romania on 1947, since his cellmate was the to-be leader of the newly established Stalinist regime. Ceausescu first served as the minister of agriculture and advanced further to gain position as the deputy minister of the armed forces. In 1952, Gheorghiu-Dej brought him onto the Central Committee, and two years later, he became a full member of the Politburo and eventually rose to occupy the second-highest position in the party hierarchy. This sudden rise to power is remarkable and surprising; Ceausescu was only 36 when he occupied this position in government. Following the death of Gheorghiu-Dej on March 1965, Ceausescu succeeded him to become the first secretary of the RWP.

III. Political Career as Leader of Romania

III.1 Launching of the Socialist Republic of Romania
            Ceausescu first announced that the existing dominant party to be named The Romanian Communist Party (RCP), and the country as the Socialist Republic of Romania (SRR) rather than a People's Republic. In 1967, he became the president of the State Council, further extending his power.

III.2 High Popularity & Independent Foreign Policy
            Because Romania's diplomatic position in the European scope was comparatively weak due to USSR's overwhelming concerns about the nation, citizens had high hopes for the newly declared independent foreign policy presented by their new leader. One of the bluntest expressions of this political ideal was refusing to participate in most activities of the Warsaw Pact, although Romania remained as a member (mostly just formally) (2) . For example, Ceausescu refused to have the nation participated in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the members of the pact - several other actions as such gained Romania the nickname "maverick" among the Eastern Bloc. However, strangely enough, Ceausescu still pursued a stone-hard, strict Socialist policy, having secret police guard people and allowing no internal opposition in any form. In other words, he preferred not to have other countries minding Romania's - or, more narrowly said, his - own business, but still admired the ideology beneath Socialism itself. Perhaps he also had the desire to develop Romania to let it become the appropriate role model for other Socialist regimes to follow. It is also important to note that independence in foreign policies didn't necessarily indicate isolation; there were continuing interactions with other fellow states. For instance on April 1966, Tito, the leader of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and Ceausescu met in Bucharest in a series of regular annual encounters for economic and technical co-operation. (3)

III.3 Systematization
            This policy was begun around early 1972, when Ceausescu started to implement mass reform plans, which influenced the countryside regions first, but later developed further to reach the capital. This included a process of demolition, resettlement, and construction - most churches and other religious architectures and many places of historical value were destroyed and were replaced by buildings related specifically to satisfy Ceausescu's personal style. Basically, the policy was implemented for the sake of Ceausescu's sturdy Socialist ideology and was probably a manifestation of his desire to bring drastic changes to Romania in a fairly rapid pace. This was also when The People's House in Bucharest was constructed; the size of the architecture indicates Ceausescu's megalomaniac taste, for the building is the world's second largest administrative building, after The Pentagon.

III.4 The 1966 Decree
            On October 1966, a series of laws passed made abortions illegal, divorce difficult to obtain, and prohibited usage of contraceptives and increased the taxes on childless couples (4). This was the 1966 Decree; the contents definitely show Ceausescu¡¯s aim to increase population, although the reason is not quite clear. In this case, abortion due to medical reasons was also not accepted, so the death toll of women who tried to secretly undergo abortion increased during this period. Mothers of at least five children were entitled to significant benefits, and mothers of at least ten children were declared heroine mothers. However, few women ever sought this status, and the average Romanian family had two to three children. Still due to this decree, the population of Romania increased to a significant amount, and started to cause more social problems due to overpopulation - mass poverty, swelling of the orphanage population (which also resulted from the previously mentioned death of caregivers), and homelessness. What¡¯s worse, Romania in the late 1980s faced large sums of patients with HIV/AIDS. (5)

III.5 July Theses
            These theses were proclaimed on July 6th, 1971, containing seventeen proposals urging people¡¯s actions in accomplishing actions very much resembling Communist China and other Asian Communist regimes¡¯ policies (6). This was also when the Index of banned books and authors was re-established. The July Theses also was the trigger for Romania¡¯s mini-cultural revolution (model: China). In other words, every form of culture represented in arts was to adhere to the ideology of Socialism, thus promoting propaganda.

III.6 Major Blow by Ion Mihai Pacepa
            In 1978, Ion Mihai Pacepa, a senior member of the Romanian political police (Securitate), defected to the United States (7). Then in 1986, this former 2-star g eneral published Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief, (8) which had a profound impact due to its descriptions of Romania under Ceausescu's regime. These included collaboration with Arab terrorists, massive espionage on American industry and efforts to rally Western political support; such 'confusing' diplomatic measures being exposed didn't aid Romania one bit, for it isolated the country more and more in terms of foreign relationships - Romania wasn't totally on the Communist side (most nations of the Eastern Bloc), nor did Ceausescu yield to the ideals of most of Western Europe. Also, because the Western Powers had lent Romania considerable amount of money before when they considered the country's "maverick" actions as a chance to create conflicts within the Warsaw Pact, Ceausescu was also met with financial debts and crises. Consequently, his support within Romania decreased rapidly.

III.7 Increasing Tensions between Ceausescu and the Romanians
            By 1989, with dissatisfactions towards the overall Ceausescu regime¡¯s policy broiling latently, Ceausescu's attempts to give a falsely packaged image of Romania rose more and more. Despite the prevalent hunger and poverty the people were suffering, Ceausescu continuously advertised that his country was enjoying various festivals and high quality lifestyle. (9) Because of such representations, some regarded him as a person who¡¯s unaware of the situation at hand, and tried to approach and inform him the reality Romanian citizens were living through. However, because Ceausescu didn¡¯t want to accept that his policies all led to nothing but failure, he ordered his secret police to get rid of such approaches and silence the public. This further increased the tensions between Ceausescu and the people.

IV. The Romanian Revolution of 1989
            Until early December, 1989, records show that the media was praising Ceausescu for his deeds and supporting his re-election to become the General Secretary. ("8 - 10 December 1989: Press is full of Declarations praising Ceausescus engagement in emerging countries".) However, with various violent demonstrations rising from here and there, Ceausescu's vain hypocritical attempts to rally nonexistent support crumbled down. This was a significant event not only in terms of how it ousted Ceausescu, but also because it was the only case within Eastern Bloc where citizens violently punished their ruler for imposing unsatisfactory policies.
            The Revolution itself was a week-long series of violent riots and fights in late December that overthrew the regime, and after a summary trial, decided the execution of Ceausescu and his wife. The first notable event during this process was the Timisoara Protest of December 17th. (10) This was a public response to an attempt by the government to expel a Hungarian Reformed pastor named Laszlo Tökes; he had made critical comments toward the regime in the international media at that time, and the regime, again hesitant to accept the facts, alleged that he was "inciting ethnic hatred", and ordered Tökes¡¯ bishop to remove him from his position, depriving him of the right to use the apartment he was entitled to as a pastor. His parishioners gathered around his home to protect him; other unrelated citizens, including religious Romanian students, having been informed by T ökes' supporters that this was another attempt of the communist regime to restrict religious freedom, joined in the group. When the government showed its will not to give into the wished of the group to cancel the eviction placed on the pastor, the impatient crowd blatantly began to shout out anti-Communist slogans. In response to such actions, Ceausescu's regime sent its secret police to the site of demonstration, and violence rose to such a level that on December 18th, the martial law was declared. As the oppression permeated through different classes and parts of the region, even workers in factories refused to work and participated in riots against the government. Ceausescu, however, quite unaware of the severity of the situation at hand, departed for Iran with his wife Elena in charge of the demonstration, and returned on December 20th, with the uprising showing no signs of subsiding. He even publicly declared that the revolt was an "interference of foreign forces in Romania's internal affairs" and an "external aggression on Romania's sovereignty." On December 21st, Ceausescu delivered a speech in front of the public which praised the achievements of Romania¡¯s Socialist regime and its "multi-laterally developed socialist society" (11). By this time, however, the Romanian sentiment was apathetic and hostile towards Ceausescu. As he was giving this speech from the balcony of the Central Committee building, sudden movements came from the outskirts of the assembly, due to the sound of possibly fireworks, bombs, or guns. (12) Initially frightened, the crowd fell into chaos tried to disperse. Bullhorns then began to spread the news that the secret police was firing on the crowd and that a "revolution" has begun. This persuaded people in the assembly to join in, and all of a sudden the rally turned into a protest demonstration. The sounds made at this time were probably a signal from members wanting to cause public dissent against Ceausescu to rise to the surface. The demonstration spread into the streets, and despite Ceausescu's vain attempts to broadcast propaganda and succeed in repressing the revolt, the crowd didn't give into his words anymore. The rest of the day saw a revolt of the Bucharest population, but the unarmed rioters were no match for the military, which cleared the streets by midnight and arrested hundreds of Romanians. However, the revolution spread rapidly to other parts of the country, and on December 22nd, after several attempts to further suppress the revolution by military means, the Ceausescus fled via helicopter.

V. Execution
            On Christmas - December 25th - Ceausescu and Elena were arrested by the police after running away to several different places (they already abandoned their helicopter in this process). The police who found them turned them over to the army, which by then had been occupied by the citizens; the couple was sentenced to death by the military court on various charges ranging from illegal gathering of wealth to genocide. (13) They were executed in Targoviste by a firing squad.

VI. Miscellaneous Topics

VI.1 His Wife, Elena Ceaucescu
            Elena Ceausescu was a politician with great influence as the Vice Prime Minister of Romania, but was also a chemist. She was well-known as a chemist who was given many honorary awards for achievement in the field of polymer chemistry; she even owned a PhD degree from the University of Bucharest. This is highly disputable, for she is known to have received no elementary education in chemistry at all; it is, therefore, very likely that she abused her husband and her own power to forge her records to seem very well-educated in the field. Another evidence that supports this idea is that although she did work partly as the director of her own laboratory, she only engaged in gathering financial support and laying out the system of the organization, not conducting actual experiments. (14)
            In political terms, she was given various offices at senior levels in the Romanian Communist Party following July 1972, and became the second most influential person within the Romanian politburo on July 1973. Many Romanians still blame her for the sudden exempt of birth control (the 1966 Decree) and denial of outbreaks of AIDS in the country. She is also partially responsible for the actions mentioned in the July Theses, including actions like demolishing various religious architectures.
            Elena was sometimes nicknamed "Codoi", referring to her alleged mispronunciation of the name of the chemical compound carbon dioxide (CO2); the word is a double entendre which also bears the meaning of "big tail" in Romanian. Seems like an appropriate nickname for her, who followed Ceausescu all around in politics and caused some major problems in his regime.

VI.2 Related literary work: The Appointment by Herta Müller
            This novel of 215 pages is a work which deals with the situation in Romania under Ceausescu¡¯s regime and his oppression against those who dared to speak against him or those who didn¡¯t qualify for his criterion of "comrade". The author of this book, Herta Müller had managed to leave Romania in 1987 after her own long bout of persecution. This book which describes how vague and un-locatable the horror of Ceausescu's control over the people was renders the horror of society under a mere 50-watt bulb (15); in other words, the Romanians had to endure long times of poverty, hunger, and oppression at the same time. The story is more shockingly delivered because the narrative is spoken through a woman who is blindfolded and gagged - she is under the process of interrogation. Although the author did say that the work was fiction, the depictions concerning Ceausescu¡¯s treatment of Romanian citizens expose the suffering many had to go through.

VII. Conclusion
            Nicolae Ceausescu seems to have been a leader filled solely with passion for Communism without concrete plans to develop Romania. His policies don't reflect any effort to generally enhance the welfare of the public or the country¡¯s economy; only parts of the 1966 Decree reflect some attention to military power. Examination of the history of Romania during his time shows more of an abrupt chaos which swept over the nation and an overall confusion in dealing with international relations than prosperity; in comparison with other totalitarian regimes such as those of Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin, Ceausescu had greatly failed to bring about even one significant achievement (at least Hitler raised the German army, Mussolini managed to get the unemployment rates down, and Stalin promoted the production of steel through Soviet's Five-year Plans). Ceausescu's rule seems like an epitome or another case of unplanned dictatorship after Communist China under Mao Ze Dong.


Notes

(1)      "Nicolae Ceaucescu" Wikipedia.
(2)      "Nicolae Ceausescu". Wikipedia.
(3)      Nicolas Holman, "The Economic Legacy of Ceausescu".
(4)      "Nicolae Ceausescu". Wikipedia.
(5)      "Nicolae Ceausescu". Wikipedia.
(6)      "Nicolae Ceausescu". Wikipedia.
(7)      "Nicolae Ceausescu". Wikipedia.
(8)      "Nicolae Ceausescu". Wikipedia.
(9)      "The Ceausescu Era."
(10)      "Day-by-Day History of the Romanian Revolution 1989".
(11)      "A Chronology of the Last 100 Days of Ceausescu."
(12)      "Nicole Ceausescu". Wikipedia.
(13)      "Day-by-Day History of the Romanian Revolution 1989".
(14)      "Elena Ceausescu". Wikipedia.
(15)      Richard Eder, "Books of the Times ; Allegory of Oppression in Ceaucescu's Romania¡±. The New York Times 12 Sept. 2001


Bibliography

Note : websites quoted below were visited in April 2008.
1.      "A Chronology of the Last 100 Days of Ceausescu." www.ceausescu.org. 2005. 15 Apr. 2008 .
2.      "Day-by-Day History of the Romanian Revolution 1989." www.ceausescu.org. 2005. 15 Apr. 2008 .
3.      Eder, Richard. "Books of the Times; Allegory of Oppression in Ceaucescu's Romania." The New York Times. 12 Sept. 2001. The New York Times. 22 Apr. 2008 .
4.      "Elena Ceausescu." Wikipedia. 15 Apr. 2008. .
5.      "Nicolae Ceausescu." Wikipedia. 6 Apr. 2007 .
6.      Porter, Dan. "Palace of the People." Pilotguides.Com. 21 Apr. 2008 .
7.      "Romania." Wikipedia. 9 Apr. 2008 .
8.      "The Ceausescu Era." www.ceausescu.org. 2005. .
9.      ."The Economic Legacy of Ceausescu." www.ceausescu.org. 2005. 16 Apr. 2008 .