• Ljubljana / London
Miha Colner

The Fall of the Dictator

The Fall of the Dictator

The Fall of the Dictator

Nicolae Ceausescu and Queen Elisabeth II

Nicolae Ceausescu and Queen Elisabeth II

About a year ago I found and hastily watched a three-hour documentary titled The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (2010) directed by Andrei Ujica. I was thrilled. The director managed to create something rare and extraordinary: he made an extensive documentary without narration and therefore without any comments. The understanding and perception of the seen is all up to audience. Having some advance knowledge on Romanian modern history one can comprehend the detailed course of events between 1965 and 1989 only by seeing skillfully edited footages from Romanian National Television and Romanian Film Archives which were previously (mostly) unknown and unreleased. Ujica would not tell us (directly and openly) his opinion on the former head of state and general secretary of Romanian Communist Party who ruled the country for almost 25 years. The film slowly unravels a story using images and sometimes words of the protagonists, mostly Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena, state officials and foreign guests.

Nicolae Causescu and Jimmy Carter with first ladies

Nicolae Causescu and Jimmy Carter with first ladies

We see the election of Ceausescu for the general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party conference in 1965. We see footages showing farce of his reelections every five years. We see an experienced member of a party Constantin Pirvulescu accusing Ceausescu at the conference in 1979 of putting his personal interest ahead of those of the nation, and we see the ignorance and opinionatedness of other party members who completely disgraced the president’s opponent. They simply started shouting, applauding and singing over Pirvulescu’s critical speech. We see a man who overestimated himself and who was not sensible enough to realise what is actually going on in his country. But we also see very classic way of destabilising and then finally dissolving the power of a state. Romania was one of the first countries of the eastern block that toppled its government that was embodied in one person and his cult of personality – Nicolae Ceausescu. The USA and its CIA helped immensely as they did in every eastern-block country at the end of the 1980s.

Nicolae Ceausescu with Kim Il Sung

Nicolae Ceausescu with Kim Il Sung

But Nicolea Ceausescu dug his own grave himself. He was not very wise. First he was a pragmatic politician and a diplomat; like Yugoslavia’s president Tito he collaborated with eastern and western powers amidst the peak of the cold war. In 1968 he publicly opposed Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia. He met and talked to Jacques Chirac, Nikita Khruschev and Richard Nixon. He admired Kim Il Sung of North Korea. Under his rule Romania received huge loans from the West to finance economic developments and joined International Monetary Fund (IMF). And the debt was here. Sounds familiar? In the 1980s Ceausescu, apparently not very wise and farsighted leader, realised that the debt is actually undermining country’s development. And heavy austerity measures followed. Romania started exporting agricultural products enormously not leaving enough goods in the country which led to huge shortages and gradual dissatisfaction of the population. The debt was paid off by the summer of 1989. And then the unrests began. After series of protests and president’s clumsy response he gave the last speech to his people on 21 December 1989. It was hilarious. He spoke about the results of economic policies, promised rise of all salaries and emphasized the need for ongoing revolution. And the majority of protesters (only the first few rows were packed with his installed supporters and the rest were his opponents) spoke of revolution too. But revolution of different kind. Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were executed by low ranked army officers after a quick trial at the improvised military court on 25 December 1989. Romania had its revolution and was liberated from the dictatorship. But what did the people of Romania gain apart from personal freedom? They paid off the debt in 1989 and now the country is in debt again. There is huge immigration caused by unstable economy and corrupted politics, there is poverty, inequality, stratification and lack of political and social transparency. So who is to blame now? Who is about to be shot 25 years after? Freedom of speech is not enough. Nevertheless, people did not topple Ceausescu because of the political repression but rather because of the austerity measures.

 

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (2010):

 

The Last Speech of Ceausescu (1989):

© Miha Colner, 24 December 2014

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