The painful lessons of Ceasescu’s Romania

by Brad Bowyer

Following yesterday’s article, this is for the many who asked me about Romanian History.

I have compiled this summary and highlights from the many online sources but you can google for deeper study and more details.

Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena ruled the country for 24 years, from 1965 until 1989 and generally, historians present the Romanian Communism in two segments: one between 1965 and 1971, and one between 1971 and 1989.

The early part saw positive developments for many in Romania however all of this changed in July 1971, after Nicolae Ceaușescu visited several communist countries, such as China, North Korea, North Vietnam, and Mongolia. Ceaușescu was deeply impressed by the personality cult of China and Korea’s leaders, and he took great interest in the ideas of total national transformation he saw.

On 6 July 1971, he delivered a speech before the Executive Committee of the PCR. This quasi-Maoist speech, which came to be known as the July Theses, contained seventeen proposals. Among these were: continuous growth in the “leading role” of the Party; improvement of Party education and of mass political action; youth participation on large construction projects as part of their “patriotic work”; an intensification of political-ideological education in schools and universities, as well as in children’s, youth and student organizations; and an expansion of political propaganda,

He gradually pushed aside all leaders who opposed his policies and installed loyalists on the ruling 23-member Politburo. In 1972, many members of the Ceausescu family were placed in key political positions, and his wife Elena Ceausescu made her political debut. Soon after, she became the second most powerful authority of the state.

Elena was known to be both power hungry and an exceptionally vindictive person whose bad side you did not want to be on. Her enemies, real or perceived, found themselves in dead-end jobs in remote parts of the country, or worse, a bunk in a labour camp or at the end of a rifle barrel and she as much as he was responsible for the decline of the nation because of these attitudes and her self-focused decision making.

She was also once overheard saying, “The worms never get satisfied, regardless of how much food you give them,” referring to complaints about food shortages that plagued the country and even had electronic “bugs” planted to spy on her children as she looked down on the people and trusted nobody but herself.

Ceaușescu began to be portrayed by the Romanian media as a communist theoretician of genius who made significant contributions to Marxism-Leninism and a political leader whose “thought” was the source of all national accomplishments. His collected works have been republished at regular intervals and translated into several languages. The works eventually numbered dozens of volumes and were omnipresent in Romanian bookstores. Elena was portrayed as the “Mother of the Nation.” By all accounts, her vanity and her desire for honours exceeded that of her husband.

The national economy became a victim of many unscientific and chaotic measures launched by the Ceausescu regime. From its agricultural roots, Romania suddenly became an industrial country making large investments in raising industrial giants which weren’t self-sufficient. Most of the factories were poorly run by unqualified appointees, consumed high levels of energy and had a high demand for raw materials, with the Galati steel factory becoming a symbol of this policy. Simultaneously the construction of massive buildings such as the House of the People and the Danube – Black Sea Waterway, correlated with an aberrant economic policy and had dramatic socio-economic consequences.

Romania recorded an even more drastic decline starting from the end of the 1980s when Ceausescu decided to pay all the external debt of the country he had generated through poor investment. This led to a severe austerity for the Romanian citizens and to a massive decrease in living standards. As food shortages became common, the Party introduced cards for strict supervision of food stocks.

Despite living in these harsh conditions, criticizing the Party was close to impossible, as whoever dared speak against the Communist regime was severely punished by the Department of State Security or Securitate. The Securitate was the secret police agency of the Socialist Republic of Romania, and it closely monitored all Romanian citizens, especially the ones with foreign connections. At its peak, it had over half a million citizen informers that helped it spy on every aspect of Romanian life and target those who were too openly unhappy or might pose a threat to the regime’s dominance. The people were in effect turned on the people.

Nicolae Ceausescu’s core philosophy was summarized not long before his overthrow where at a mass meeting in Bucharest in 1989, he said, ″The triumph of the revolution requires unity, severe discipline and a spirit of sacrifice. A firm organization is needed as well as a tested political leader who knows how to unite and lead the masses. ″

In summary when everything became about the Ceausescu’s and what they wanted, as they believed themselves better than everyone else, and no longer about the country then the road to the end began.

The Romanian Revolution itself started in the city of Timișoara at the beginning of December 1989 and spread rapidly throughout the country and in less than a month culminated in the show trial and execution of the now hated leader and his wife. Many are uncomfortable at how it ended but over time most have said they caused the deaths of so many so they got what they deserved although the manner in which it happened is still much in question.

Even today Romania is still haunted by the damage that the Ceausescus did to the country and it should serve as a warning to citizens and would be dictators alike that allowing and turning a country in to a private venture for one’s own design never works, the outcome is foregone as told by many histories and the consequences for all are very dire.

Romania is not the first country to go through this hell, but I pray it is one of the last.

I hope that future historians don’t have to define Singapore’s turning point year and period of collapse.

This was first published on Brad Bowyer’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.