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CEAUSESCU


Ceausescu

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By Wikipedia

Born in the village of Scornicești, Olt County (in the informal region of Oltenia), Ceaușescu moved to Bucharest at the age of 11 to become a shoemaker's apprentice.

He joined the then-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. These arrests earned 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 two years 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 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'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, Ceaușescu 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 in Romania, due to his independent policy, challenging the supremacy of the Soviet Union in Romania.

Also in the 1960s Ceausescu 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.

In 1974, Ceaușescu 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 (the other being the People's Republic of China) 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, Ceaușescu 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.

Ceaușescu 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, Ceaușescu 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 Ceaușescu'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 the world's second largest buildings, after The Pentagon. Ceaușescu 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.

In 1966, the regime decreed a ban on contraception and abortion on demand, and introduced other policies to increase birth rate and fertility rate - including a special tax amounting to between 10 and 20 percent on the incomes of men and women who remained childless after the age of twenty-five, whether married or single. Abortion was permitted only in cases where the woman in question was over 42, or already the mother of four (later five) children. Mothers of at least five children would be entitled to significant benefits, while mothers of at least ten children were declared heroine mothers receiving a gold medal, a free car, free transportation on trains, etc.; few women ever sought this status, the average Romanian family having 2-3 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, accompanied by rising poverty and increased homelessness (street children) in the urban areas. In turn, a new problem was created by uncontrollable child abandonment, which swelled the orphanage population and facilitated a rampant AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s - created by the regime's refusal to acknowledge the existence of the disease, and its refusal to allow for any HIV test to be carried out.

The Pacepa defection

In 1978 Ion Mihai Pacepa, a senior member of the Romanian political police (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 Ceaușescu to overhaul the architecture of the Securitate. Pacepa's 1986 book Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief (ISBN 0895265702) reveals details of Ceaușescu'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. Ceaușescu'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

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

Ceaușescu's statesmanship

Under Ceaușescu, Romania was Europe's fourth biggest exporter of weapons. Nevertheless, several of Ceaușescu'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 the 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.

Ceaușescu also tried to play the role of 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. France granted him the Legion of Honor.

Foreign debt

Despite his increasingly totalitarian rule, Ceaușescu's political independence from the Soviet Union and his protests against the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 drew the interest of Western powers, who briefly believed he was an anti-Soviet maverick, and hoped to create a schism in the Warsaw Pact by funding him. Ceaușescu did not realize that the funding was not always very favourable. Ceaușescu 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, Ceaușescu 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 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 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 Ceaușescu was overthrown. During that period, state television often showed Ceaușescu 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

Ceaușescu's Stalinist control of every aspect of religious, educational, commercial, social, and civic life further aggravated the situation. In 1987 an attempted strike at Brașov failed: the army occupied the factories and crushed the workers' demonstrations.

Throughout 1989, Ceaușescu 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. Even after the Berlin Wall fell and Ceaușescu's southern comrade, Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov, was replaced in November 1989, Ceaușescu ignored the threat to his position as the last old-style Communist leader in Eastern Europe.

Tensions grow

By 1989, Ceaușescu 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 Ceaușescu 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 got a letter, he would immediately pass it on to members of his security detail. Whether or not Ceaușescu 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 Ceaușescu 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.

Revolution

Main article: Romanian Revolution of 1989

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

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

Demonstrations in the city of Timișoara were triggered by the government-sponsored attempt to evict László Tőkés, an ethnic Hungarian church minister, 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 December 17, 1989.

On December 18, 1989, Ceaușescu departed for a visit to Iran, leaving the duty of crushing the Timișoara 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 Timișoara 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 Timișoara events from the national media, heard about the Timișoara 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 Ceaușescu", emulating the 1968 meeting in which Ceaușescu had spoken against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact forces.

On December 21, the mass meeting, held in what is now Revolution Square, degenerated into chaos. The image of Ceaușescu's uncomprehending expression as the crowd began to boo him remains one of the defining moments of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. The stunned couple (the dictator had been joined by his wife), 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, Ceaușescu'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, Ceaușescu 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 Ceaușescu 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 Dumitru Burlan].