- "It is a lie that I made the people starve. A lie, a lie in my face. This shows how little patriotism there is, how many treasonable offenses were committed.… At no point was there such an upswing, so much construction, so much consolidation in the Romanian provinces. I guaranteed that every village has its schools, hospitals and doctors. I have done everything to create a decent and rich life for the people in the country, like in no other country in the world."
- —Ceausescu at his trial
- "On Christmas Day in 1989 the people of Romania received an unexpected gift. their dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were tried convicted and shot by a firing squad. During his year Ceausescu had elevated himself to the status of a near god, living in marble palaces whilst his people suffered."
- —Introduction to a documentary of Nicolae Ceausescu
Nicolae Ceausescu (January 26th, 1918 - December 25th, 1989) was a Romanian Communist politician. He was General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 to 1989, and as such was the country's last Communist leader. He was also the country's head of state from 1967 to 1989.
His rule was marked in the first decade by an open policy towards Western Europe and the United States, which deviated from that of the other Warsaw Pact states during the Cold War. He continued a trend first established by his predecessor, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, who had tactfully coaxed the Soviet Union into withdrawing its troops from Romania in 1958.
Ceaușescu's second decade was characterized by an increasingly brutal and repressive regime—by some accounts, the most Stalinist regime in the Soviet bloc. It was also marked by a ubiquitous personality cult, nationalism and a deterioration in foreign relations with the Soviet Union. Ceaușescu's government was overthrown in the December 1989 revolution, and he and his wife were executed following a televised and hastily organised two-hour court session. However although he was aggressive, short tempered and egotistic (all his photos show him in his early 40s and his actual height which was 1.65 metres tall never emphasised on screen and also shown to be a confident speaker) he was also one of few people to stand up to the Soviet Union.
Ceaușescu was born in the village of Scorniceşti, Olt County, on 26 January 1918 being one of the ten children of a poor peasant family (see Ceaușescu family). His father, Andruță Ceaușescu owned 3 hectares of agricultural land, a few sheep and he also supplemented his large family's income through tailoring. Nicolae studied at the village school and, at the age of 11, he moved to Bucharest, initially living with his sister, Niculina Rusescu, and then becoming an apprentice shoemaker.
He worked in the workshop of Alexandru Săndulescu, a shoemaker who was an active member in the then-illegal Communist Party. Ceaușescu was soon involved in the Communist Party activities (becoming a member in early 1932), but, as a teenager, he was given only small tasks. He was first arrested in 1933, at the age of 15 for street fighting during a strike and again, in 1934, first for collecting signatures on a petition protesting the trial of railway workers and twice more for other similar activities. By the mid-1930s, he had been in missions in Bucharest, Craiova, Câmpulung and Râmnicu Vâlcea, being arrested several times.
The profile file from the secret police, Siguranța Statului, named him "a dangerous communist agitator" and "distributor of communist and antifascist propaganda materials". For these charges he was convicted on 6 June 1936 by the Brașov Tribunal to 2 years in prison, an additional 6 months for contempt of court and one year of forced residence in Scornicești. He spent most of his sentence in Doftana Prison. While out of jail in 1940, he met Elena Petrescu, whom he married in 1946 and who would play an increasing role in his political life over the years.
Soon after being freed, he was arrested again and sentenced for "conspiracy against social order", spending the time during the war in prisons and internment camps: Jilava (1940), Caransebeș (1942), Văcărești (1943), Târgu Jiu (1943). In 1943, he was transferred to Târgu Jiu internment camp where he shared a cell with Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, becoming his protégé. 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 Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, becoming a Major General. 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.
Ceaușescu was not the obvious successor to Gheorghiu-Dej when he died on 19 March 1965, despite his closeness to the longtime leader, but amid widespread infighting among older and more connected officials the Politburo turned to Ceaușescu as a compromise candidate. He was elected general secretary on 22 March 1965, three days after Gheorghiu-Dej's death. One of his first acts was to change the name of the party from the Romanian Workers' Party back to the Communist Party of Romania, and declare the country the Socialist Republic of Romania rather than a People's Republic. In 1967, he consolidated his power by becoming president of the State Council (head of state).
Initially, Ceaușescu became a popular figure in Romania and also in the Western World, due to his independent foreign policy, challenging the authority of the Soviet Union. In the 1960s, he eased press censorship and ended Romania's active participation in the Warsaw Pact (though Romania formally remained a member). He not only refused to take part in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces, but actively and openly condemned that action. He even traveled to Prague a week before the invasion to offer moral support to his Czechoslovak counterpart, Alexander Dubček. Although the Soviet Union largely tolerated Ceaușescu's recalcitrance, his seeming independence from Moscow earned Romania maverick status within the Eastern Bloc.
During the following years Ceaușescu pursued an open policy towards the United States and Western Europe. Romania was the first Communist country to recognize West Germany, the first to join the International Monetary Fund, and the first to receive a US President, Richard Nixon. In 1971, Romania became a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Romania and Yugoslavia were also the only Eastern European countries that entered into trade agreements with the European Economic Community before the fall of the Communist bloc.
A series of official visits to Western countries (including the US, France, United Kingdom, Spain) helped Ceaușescu to present himself as a reforming Communist, pursuing an independent foreign policy within the Soviet Bloc. Also he became eager to be seen as an enlightened international statesman, able to mediate in international conflicts and to gain international respect for Romania. Ceaușescu negotiated in international affairs, such as the opening of US relations with China in 1969 and the visit of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Israel in 1977. Also Romania was the only country in the world to maintain normal diplomatic relations with both Israel and the PLO.
The 1966 decree
In 1966, the Ceaușescu regime, in an attempt to boost the country's population, made abortion illegal, and introduced other policies to reverse the very low birth rate and fertility rate. Mothers of at least five children would be entitled to significant benefits, while mothers of at least ten children were declared heroine mothers by the Romanian state. Few women ever sought this status; instead, the average Romanian family during the time had two to three children (see Demographics of Romania). Furthermore, a considerable number of women either died or were maimed during clandestine abortions.
The government also targeted rising divorce rates and made divorce much more difficult - it was decreed that a marriage could be dissolved only in exceptional cases. By the late 1960s, the population began to swell. In turn, a new problem was created by child abandonment, which swelled the orphanage population (see Cighid). Transfusions of untested blood led to Romania accounting for many of Europe's paediatric HIV/AIDS cases at the turn of the 21st century despite having a population that only makes up around 3% of Europe's total population.
Ceaușescu visited the People's Republic of China, North Korea, Mongolia and North Vietnam in 1971. He took great interest in the idea of total national transformation as embodied in the programs of North Korea's Juche and China's Cultural Revolution. He was also inspired by the personality cults of North Korea's Kim Il-sung and China's Mao Zedong. Shortly after returning home, he began to emulate North Korea's system. North Korean books on Juche were translated into Romanian and widely distributed in the country.
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, orienting radio and television shows to this end, as well as publishing houses, theatres and cinemas, opera, ballet, artists' unions, promoting a "militant, revolutionary" character in artistic productions. The liberalisation of 1965 was condemned and an index of banned books and authors was re-established.
The Theses heralded the beginning of a "mini cultural revolution" in Romania, launching a Neo-Stalinist offensive against cultural autonomy, reaffirming an ideological basis for literature that, in theory, the Party had hardly abandoned. Although presented in terms of "Socialist Humanism", the Theses in fact marked a return to the strict guidelines of Socialist Realism, and attacks on non-compliant intellectuals. Strict ideological conformity in the humanities and social sciences was demanded. Competence and aesthetics were to be replaced by ideology; professionals were to be replaced by agitators; and culture was once again to become an instrument for political-ideological propaganda and hardline measures.
In 1974, Ceaușescu became President of the Socialist Republic of Romania, further consolidating his power. He continued to follow an independent policy in foreign relations—for example, in 1984, Romania was one of only three communist states (the others being the People's Republic of China, and Yugoslavia) to take part in the American-organized 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Also, the Socialist Republic of Romania was the first of the Eastern bloc nations to have official relations with the Western bloc and the European Community: an agreement including Romania in the Community's Generalised System of Preferences was signed in 1974 and an Agreement on Industrial Products was signed in 1980. On 4 April 1975, Ceaușescu visited Japan and met with Emperor Hirohito.
In 1978, Ion Mihai Pacepa, a senior member of the Romanian political police (Securitate), defected to the United States. A 2-star general, he was the highest ranking defector from the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. His defection was a powerful blow against the regime, forcing Ceaușescu to overhaul the architecture of the Securitate. Pacepa's 1986 book, Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief , claims to expose details of Ceaușescu's regime, such as massive spying on American industry and elaborate efforts to rally Western political support.
Ceaușescu's political independence from the Soviet Union and his protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 drew the interest of Western powers, whose governments briefly believed that he was an anti-Soviet maverick and hoped to create a schism in the Warsaw Pact by funding him. Ceaușescu did not realise that the funding was not always favorable. Ceaușescu was able to borrow heavily (more than $13 billion) from the West to finance economic development programs, but these loans ultimately devastated the country's finances. In an attempt to correct this, Ceaușescu decided to repay Romania's foreign debts. He organised a referendum and managed to change the constitution, adding a clause that barred Romania from taking foreign loans in the future. The referendum yielded a nearly unanimous "yes" vote.
In the 1980s, Ceaușescu 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 Romanians a fight for survival as food rationing was introduced and heating, gas and electricity blackouts became the rule. During the 1980s, there was a steady decrease in the Romanian population's standard of living, especially in the availability and quality of food and general goods in stores. During this time, Ceaușescu shut down all radio stations outside of the capital, and limited television to one channel broadcasting only two hours a day. 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 the summer of 1989, shortly before Ceaușescu was overthrown, but heavy exports continued until the revolution in December
Revolution, overthrow and Death
In November 1989, the XIVth Congress of the Romanian Communist Party (PCR) saw Ceaușescu, then aged 71, re-elected for another five years as leader of the PCR. During the Congress, Ceaușescu made a speech denouncing the anti-Communist revolutions happening throughout the rest of Eastern Europe. But the following month, Ceaușescu's regime itself collapsed after a series of violent events in Timişoara and Bucharest in December 1989.
Demonstrations in the city of Timișoara were triggered by the government-sponsored attempt to evict László Tőkés, an ethnic Hungarian pastor, accused by the government of inciting ethnic hatred. 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 17 December 1989, killing and injuring men, women and children.
On 18 December 1989, Ceaușescu departed for a state visit to Iran, leaving the duty of crushing the Timișoara revolt to his subordinates and his wife. Upon his return to Romania on the evening of 20 December, 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 little or no information of the Timișoara events from the national media, learned about the Timișoara revolt from western radio stations such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and by word of mouth. On the next day, 21 December, a mass meeting was staged. Official media presented it as a "spontaneous movement of support for Ceaușescu", emulating the 1968 meeting in which Ceaușescu had spoken against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces.
The mass meeting of 21 December, held in what is now Revolution Square, began like many of Ceaușescu's speeches over the years. With the usual "wooden language", Ceaușescu delivered a litany of the achievements of the "socialist revolution" and Romanian "multi-laterally developed socialist society.
He had seriously misjudged the crowd's mood, and several people began jeering, booing and whistling at him; as the speech wore on, more and more people did the same. Others began chanting "Ti-mi-șoa-ra! Ti-mi-șoa-ra!" Ceaușescu's uncomprehending facial expression as the crowd began to boo and heckle him remains one of the defining moments of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. He tried to silence them by raising his right hand, and when that did not work, he announced that they would receive a raise of 100 lei per month.Failing to control the crowds, the Ceaușescus finally took cover inside the building, where they remained until the next day. The rest of the day saw an open revolt of the Bucharest population, which had assembled in University Square and confronted the police and army at barricades. 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 television broadcasts of the "support meeting" and subsequent events had been interrupted, Ceaușescu's reaction to the events had already been imprinted on the country's collective memory. By the morning of 22 December, the rebellion had already spread to all major cities across the country. The suspicious death of Vasile Milea, the defense minister (later confirmed as a suicide), was announced by the media. Immediately thereafter, Ceaușescu presided over the CPEx (Political Executive Committee) meeting and assumed the leadership of the army.
Believing that Milea had been murdered, the rank-and-file soldiers went over virtually en masse to the revolution, while the commanders wrote off Ceaușescu as a lost cause. Ceaușescu made a last desperate attempt to address the crowd gathered in front of the Central Committee building, but the people in the square began throwing stones and other projectiles at him, forcing him to take refuge in the building once more. One group of protesters forced open the doors of the building, by now left unprotected. They managed to overpower Ceaușescu's bodyguards and rushed through his office and onto the balcony. Although they did not know it, they were only a few meters from Ceaușescu, who was trapped in an elevator. He, Elena and four others managed to get to the roof and escaped by helicopter, only seconds ahead of a group of demonstrators who had followed them there. The PCR disappeared soon afterward—a testament to how much it had become subordinated to Ceaușescu's whims. Unlike its kindred parties in the former Soviet bloc, it has never been revived, and no present-day Romanian party claims to be its successor.
During the course of the revolution, the western press published estimates of the number of people killed by the Securitate in attempting to support Ceaușescu and quell the rebellion. The count increased rapidly until an estimated 64,000 fatalities were widely reported across front pages. The Hungarian military attaché expressed doubt regarding these figures, pointing out the unfeasible logistics of killing such a large number of people in such a short period of time. After Ceaușescu's death, hospitals across the country reported a death toll of less than 1,000, and probably much lower than that.
Ceaușescu and his wife Elena fled the capital with Emil Bobu and Manea Mănescu and headed, by helicopter, for Ceaușescu's Snagov residence, whence they fled again, this time for Târgovişte. Near Târgovişte they abandoned the helicopter, having been ordered to land by the army, which by that time had restricted flying in Romania's airspace. The Ceaușescus were held by the police while the policemen listened to the radio. They were eventually turned over to the army. On Christmas Day, 25 December, the two were tried in a brief show trial and sentenced to death by a military court on charges ranging from illegal gathering of wealth to genocide, and were executed in Târgovişte. During the trial, Ceaușescu repeatedly denied the court's authority to try him, and asserted he was still legally president of Romania. The video of the trial shows that, after sentencing, they had their hands tied behind their backs and were led outside the building to be executed.The Ceaușescus were executed by a firing squad consisting of elite paratroop regiment soldiers: Captain Ionel Boeru, Sergeant-Major Georghin Octavian and Dorin-Marian Cirlan, while reportedly hundreds of others also volunteered. The firing squad began shooting as soon as the two were in position against a wall. The firing happened too soon for the film crew covering the events to record it.Before his sentence was carried out, Nicolae Ceaușescu sang "The Internationale" while being led up against the wall. After the shooting, the bodies were covered with canvas. The hasty show trial and the images of the dead Ceaușescus were videotaped and the footage promptly released in numerous western countries. Later that day, it was also shown on Romanian television.
The Ceaușescus were the last people to be executed in Romania before the abolition of capital punishment on 7 January 1990.
Their graves are located in Ghencea Cemetery in Bucharest. They are buried on opposite sides of a path. The graves themselves are unassuming, but they tend to be covered in flowers and symbols of the regime. In April 2007, their son Valentin Ceaușescu lost an appeal for an investigation into whether the graves were genuine. Upon his death in 1996, the elder son, Nicu, was buried nearby in the same cemetery. According to Jurnalul Național, requests were made by the Ceaușescus' daughter Zoia and by supporters of their political views to move their remains to mausoleums or to purpose-built churches. These demands were denied by the government. On 21 July 2010, forensic scientists exhumed the bodies of the Ceaușescus to perform DNA tests. It was determined that they were indeed the remains of the Ceaușescus