Thursday, September 22, 2011


Nicolae Ceausescu.
Last leader under the communist system here. Tyrant. Brutal Dictator. Enigmatic Megalomaniac. The single most despised name in all of Romania.

Mere mention of his name elicits strong responses from the populace 22 years after his death. I have already learned not to speak of him unless a national brings up the topic. In fact it is a crime to publicly praise him or deny his atrocities with the penalty of large fines or even jail time.During his 24 year reign, Ceausescu was an outsider even within the Iron Curtain. His Stalinist version of communism was modeled more after the North Koreans and Chinese than the Soviets. He denounced the Soviets, took part in international negotiations and warmed relationships with western powers in the first half of his reign. This led to trade agreements and loans from the international monetary fund totaling 14 billion dollars, a sum that brought the country to its knees since it was almost impossible to repay.

The second half of his term was one of international isolation and alienation. His secret police, the "Securitate", ramped up their surveillance of the citizenry and launched industrial espionage programs against the west. He resolved to repay the international loans throughout the 1980's by exporting virtually all of the country's agricultural and factory production plus various other austerity schemes. The results were disastrous and led to wide spread hunger and hardship but the loans were repaid.

In 1983 "The Conducator" began his grandest scheme. The Palace of Parliament. 
Located on top of historical Spirii Hill near the centre of town, the palace is the largest civilian building in the world at 3.7 million sq. ft., only the Pentagon is larger. Forty thousand residences including priceless medieval churches and synagogues were bulldozed for this folly which included a fountained boulevard modeled after the Champs Élysées in Paris and surrounding luxury housing for the regime's elite. Many of Bucharest's 125,000 stray dogs are the result of this upheaval. The displaced citizenry were relocated to rural villages and with relatives as no replacement housing existed.

The 24 hour/ 7 day work was conducted almost exclusively by 20,000 prisoner workers of the political dissident variety, countless thousands of workers starved to death as Ceausescu circled the site several times daily in one out of his fleet of chauffeur driven luxury cars. 90% of all the materials used in the construction were sourced nationally mostly in Transylvania with marble being the primary surface for interior surfaces. Mill work in gold leaf, oak, maple, walnut, cherry and imported mahogany gifted from fellow tyrant Mobuto Sese Seko of the Congo. Gaudy crystal chandeliers adorn every room some weighing in at 3 tonnes. Silk curtains abound windows, custom made tapestries adorn floors and walls along with commissioned paintings by the country's top artists. The design of the complex was carried out by a team of 700 architects headed by a 28 year old woman who won the design competition at one of the universities. The style of the 12 story building is an odd mashup of Stalinist neoclassical exterior with French and Italian renaissance influenced interior and atomic shelter basement.

 All the while the population was subjected to rotating blackouts, heating fuel shortages, food lineups and little medical supplies. All electronic media was suspended except for one state radio station and a TV station broadcasting 2 hours/day staged clips of well stocked stores and a frozen in time, forty year old Ceausescu.
Just one of hundreds similar room
Our first tourist stop in Bucharest was the palace, partly because it was so easy to find.The guided tours cost about $15 and last two hours. The government run facility is a remnant of the old communist system as you must navigate four different officials at their kiosks to buy a ticket, each involving but not limited to: stamping a paper, showing your passport, accepting an ID badge, paying, surrendering your passport, showing your stamped paperwork, x-raying and metal detection and agreeing to abide by the conventions of Romanian national law.
To wit:
"Intentionally leaving the guided tour is considered insight into the headquarters of a public central authority by violating the legal access norm which is sanctioned by act 2 law 61/991 of national law"

3 stories underground hopefully all the friable asbestos insulation will at least save me from any atomic blasts
Our attractive 20 something guide was very enthusiastic and provided an informative 2 km. interior tour to our seven member group. The building was meant to house Nic and his family as well as the supreme court and parliament and was 90% completed. The gruesome couple never did move in and get to enjoy the fancy digs, having succumbed to televised "bullet related" causes on Christmas night 1989. This was the climax to a revolution and a speedy trial.
Romania is the only country that suffered major bloodshed during the historical toppling of communism with 1200 protesters shot down in the central University Square in one night. A simple crude monument marks the spot in this busy major downtown intersection. Our guide repeatedly described the Ceausescu's as having "died". Finally I could no longer resist and asked what they died of? She answered slyly : " You already know that".

We are a little short on dictators.
"The Genius of The Carpathians", as Ceausescu also liked to be called, was a short man at 5'5" and wore the puffed up hairdo and platform shoes to overcome his little man syndrome(LMS). There are various features in the palace to accommodate his LMS such as stair steps with short risers.
It is sometimes difficult to not chuckle over the peccadilloes of the world's crazy dictator personalities such as Kim Jong Il, Ghaddafi or the Genius but when you think of the human cost of these monsters, there really is nothing funny at all. 
Romania's darkest days were during the 80's and I was in my 20's at the time. I cannot even fathom what my life would have been like had I been born a Romania instead of Canadian. Those who know me would agree that I can be rather outspoken at the best of times so yes I would probably have been a forced palace worker.
In these globally connected, wired times why do these tyrants still rule in various pockets of our planet?

The palace stands on top of the hill visible to the population as a monument to a dark era. It acts as a conference centre, art gallery and houses the constitutional court. The tour fees do not even cover the hydro bill. In the mid nineties Donald Trump placed a rejected offer for it at 3 billion dollars. Nobody really knows the true cost to build it but a recent evaluation places it at 20 billion dollars replacement cost. 
The locals all look at it with sorrow instead of pride and nobody can really come up with a long term plan for its future.

The Monument of Sorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Quote "I cannot even fathom what my life would have been like had I been born a Romanian instead of Canadian. "
    Emigrate to Canada, maybe. Like thousands of Romanians after 1990.