Update: I read a bit more about Ceausescu in Misha Glenny’s book, “The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-1999.
Ceausescu was elected First Secretary in 1965 after the death of Gheorghe Dej. It took several years for him to establish power and get rid of his rivals. Once he did, he tightened control. It was his vision to turn Romania into a dominant force in s.e. Europe and an industrialized nation. Romania is resource rich and could be independent from USSR. Unfortunately, he centrally-planned the economy and ran it down the toilet.
He was most popular in 1968 after verbally supporting Czechoslovakia’s stand against the USSR invasion. After that, it was all downhill. In 1971 he posted 17 “theses” on the door of the Central Committee and had his own cultural revolution, ala China. He tried to turn a rural, agricultural Romanian society into an urban, industrial country. As he tried to do this, he also monopolized power. For example, he introduced job rotation, forcing party members to rotate jobs often. This stopped them from gaining any expertise and power. It made the administration incompetent. It sounds like Chavez in Venezuela, putting people in important ministries and positions without the expertise or experience, but loyalty. Makes for a poorly run government. His opponents were more in fear of being demoted than worrying about running the government. Ceausescu’s family was exempted from the rotation, of course.
He crowned himself President in 1974 and a cult of personality formed. Ceausescu made Tito seem modest in his material wealth. His economic policies took away from agriculture and lowered consumption, and heavy borrowing from Western banks. He expanded the secret police and the country was full of informers. “The first great socialist industry was the production of personal files.” Speaking to foreigners was prohibited, ownership of a typewriter required a certificate, etc. Penalties included losing a job, banishment from university education, etc. Paul Goma and others spoke out.
I finished re-reading Robert Kaplan’s book, Balkan Ghosts. I focused on the section for Romania as I am preparing for our family to travel to Brasov, Romania, located in the Transylvania region of Romania. The book is a mix of travelogue and history. Kaplan visited several areas of Romania, included two of the cities in Transylvania near Brasov. He was there 20 years ago and the book is now a bit dated, but it did give me a good historical perspective of the area. Romania celebrates the 20th anniversary of end of the “communist” dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. He and his wife were executed 20 years ago tomorrow (Christmas Day). It is an interesting time to visit and my second to the country. We went earlier this fall to the border region with Serbia, to the former Roman bath village of Baile Herculane.
From my reading I learned several things.
1) I didn’t know that parts of Romania used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (The Russians also fought for control of other areas in the north of the country.) Brasov’s original name was the German Kronstadt. I wonder if they still have an influence after so many years of Romanian and communist oppression and control. Are there still Hungarians and Saxon Germans in Romania?
2) I didn’t realize how horrible Ceausescu’s rule was for the Romanians. Besides Stalin and the guy in Albania, I can’t think of a worse ruler. I can see why on my visit in October, the Romanian side of the border was so run down. It will be interesting to see a richer part of the country and are the harmful effects of Ceausescu’s legacy still seen and felt. Is the economy growing? Are the Romanians better off today than 20 years ago?
I found two sources of differing views on Romania. The first is more of a negative view of the country from phot0journalist, Christian Movila and his photo essay in today’s New York Times. The second is a recent book by former US Ambassador to Romania, Jim Rosapepe, entitled Dracula is Dead: How Romanians Survived Communism, Ended It and Emerged since 1989 as the New Italy. I am looking forward to forming my own opinion on the place and also having a good time with my family and friends.
My notes on Transylvania from Robert Kaplan’s book, “Balkan Ghosts” are below.
- Vlad the Impaler had his castle on the plain of Wallachia, not T. Bram Stoker’s story Dracula is closer to Bucovina and Moldavia than Transylvania.
- Transylvania is more Western than the three areas above. The Turks did not conquer Transylvania. William Penn almost named Pennsylvania Transylvania because he was so impressed with the religious tolerance of the area between Catholics & Protestants.
- Hungarians and Saxon Germans repressed the Romanians in Transylvania. Romanians not impressed with the eastern beacon of the West.
- For both the Romanians and Hungarians, Transylvania is special. It is where the Romans had the original colony of Dacia, and for the Hungarians, many important victories over the Turks occurred. Bela Bartok and several other famous Hungarians are from the region.
- After WWI treaty, Romania got Transylvania from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Romanian names replaced the Hungarian names of cities and towns. Big Orthodox Cathedrals were built during this period.
- In WWII, the Hungarians re-took the region, but with Romania changing sides towards the end of the war, the Romanians were once again awarded Transylvania.
- Ceausescu forbid all Hungarian language, schools, newspapers, etc. He colonized the area with hundreds of thousands of Moldavian and Wallachian laborers. He also forcibly relocated Hungarians to other parts of Romania. There is a lot of enmity between the two countries.
- The 2.1 million Hungarians in Romania helped with the downfall of Ceausescu. They were led by Calvinist pastor Laszlo Tokes of Timisoara (Temesvar in Hungarian).
- Kaplan loves the city of Cluj-Napoca, very beautiful.
- A great quote on page 155, he was discussing an acquaintance, Nigel Townson, an English professor working at the university in Cluj. He married a Serbian and lived in an apartment in the city with his two children. In 1990 when Kaplan visited, was a time of shortages, when Romania was just coming out of the communist years. “Life wasn’t easy for Nigel, but he had a better elemental grasp of what Romanians and their country were like than any pampered foreign diplomat could ever hope to.”
- “Romania was one of those places overflowing with passion, where you meet the best and the worst people…”
- Ceausescu was a real tyrant and did horrible things to the majority of Romanian people. Uneducated, from the Appalachians of Romania, he ran the country like a peasant would. Carter invited him to USA during the worst of the atrocities in Romania.
- Kaplan thought Marie Windsor Hohenzollern was Romania’s best ruler because she secured the seccessio of Transylvania to Romania after WWI. Slept with troops on battlefields of WWI and Second Balkan War and dressed as pagan warrior goddess of Dacia.
- Ceausescu sold visas to Romanian citizens of German and Hungarian descent during his dictatorship. After oil, it was a good source of income.