Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 9, 23 August 1999

Catherine Lovatt M I O R I T A:
Ceausescu's Return

Catherine Lovatt

Deposed, tried and executed with amazing rapidity, Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu were removed from Romanian life in 1989. The backbone of the Romanian Communist government had been destroyed. Romanians could now live freely without fear of listening walls, imprisonment or death. It sounds simple and straight forward but almost ten years later the spectre of Ceausescu still haunts Romania.

The "cult of the leader" has been well documented. Throughout history individuals such as Stalin, Hitler, and Ceausescu have created a God-like image of themselves - the ever-lasting being that must not be questioned or disobeyed. From 1964 to 1989 Ceausescu meticulously imposed his cult status on society. Twenty-five years of enforced idolisation cannot be removed by a bullet. The cult of Ceausescu has lived on but its guise has changed.

Ceausescu rewrote Romanian history exaggerating his own role in the making of "Communist Romania". Through the state media he established a propaganda machine which elevated the importance of himself and his family. The poor academic background of Elena was transformed into a glowing record of achievement and she was proclaimed one of the top Romanian scientists of her time. The illusions of grandeur and importance were complemented by material possessions. Gifts from foreign politicians were used to stress the artificial importance of Ceausescu and Romania in international affairs. In 1978, during Ceausescu's visit to Britain, Margaret Thatcher was quoted to say that she was "impressed by the personality of President Ceausescu" and "left with particular impressions about him as the leader of Romania, a country willing to develop her cooperation with other nations". In a similar vain former American President, Nixon, said "By his profound understanding of the world's major problems. President Ceausescu can contribute and does contribute to the settlement of mankind's most urgent global problems" (E Behr, Kiss The Hand You Cannot Bite, Penguin 1991). Neither Thatcher nor Nixon could have been further from the truth.

The desire for Romania to move away from the past is strong. In a symbolic attempt to disassociate Romania from the Ceausescu era, many of the Ceausescu possessions have been auctioned. Relics of Communism went on display reviving memories and highlighting change. Many of the props that aided the enhancement of Ceausescu's image were sold, including a Buick limousine presented to Ceausescu by the then President Nixon, and a wooden chess set given by the Russian chess champion Anatoly Karpov. Other possessions sold, eulogising the couple, were miners caps, cars and artwork. One particular portrait depicted Elena Ceausescu in a dark blue academician robe basking in her image as a top Romanian scientist.

The sale of the possessions express a detachment from the cult of Elena and Nicolae, to mark a new page in history. However, it could also represent a disassociation from Romanian cultural heritage and the national identity. Dana Hulea respects the import of the Ceausescu era to modern Romanian history and commented to Reuters that the Culture Ministry had reserved the most valuable artefacts.

Symbolic changes have been compromised by commercial gains. The auction was estimated to generate an income of USD 280,000 and coincided with the solar eclipse (see last week's Miorita). The auction was advertised alongside a Pavarotti concert, both attempting to attract visitors to Romania for the eclipse to part with their cash. Global competition for the best view necessitated these further attractions to make the venture "economically viable". Commercialism has been taken to perverse extremes by those revelling in the "Ceausescu cult". One of those eager to pay the USD 12 entrance fee for the auction, Octavian Dines commented that "Ceausescu was among the world's top 10 dictators. Whatever he touched is now worth its price in gold" (Reuters, 9 August 1999). The opportunity to purchase a piece of Romanian history was seized upon with the majority of Nicolae Ceausescuís possessions being sold. In contrast, many of Elena's belongings remain unsold diminishing her importance in Romanian Communism and history. The true power lay with Nicolae Ceausescu and this was exemplified in the auction.

The strong mythical belief that an eclipse signifies a period of dramatic change was used in conjunction with the symbolism of the Ceausescu sale. It provided an example to international organisations such as NATO and the EU, and to the Romanian population that Romania had modified and progressed and would not revert back to the authoritarianism of the past. However, Valentin Iliescu, a PUNR (Romanian National Unity Party) deputy made a valuable remark that if the deposed leader, Ceausescu, could have his possessions sold, why should the property of the deposed ruler, King Mihai Irestore, be restored to him.

The popularity of the Ceausescu auction signifies the perpetuation of his "cult of personality". Adoration has been transformed into a fascination with a camouflaged past. What were once symbols of power and importance were sold as mere artefacts reducing the "cult of Ceausescu" to a material relic.

Catherine Lovatt, 23 August 1999




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