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Communism in Romania: Ceausescu's Era of Light
Epoca Luminoasa - Epoca Ceausescu: Life in the Republica Socialista Romania

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Visit Romania with Beyond the Forest
The Romanian Revolution of 1989 + Current Affairs
Museum to the Victims of Communism in Romania - Memorial Sighet
Museum of the 1989 Romanian Revolution in Timisoara
Totul by Ana Blandiana
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It is now almost 25 years since the so-called Revolution which saw the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu, the end of his "Golden Epoch", the fall of Communism and the birth of a 'free' Romania.

For those with an interest in contemporary history look no further than Romania for an insight into what was one of the most repressive regimes of the twentieth century.

To understand modern-day Romania it is necessary to look back to the long years of Communism, in particular to the rule of Ceausescu which began in 1966 and finished with the bloodiest of the Revolutions or uprisings which saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc during 1989.

By the mid '80s economy measures such as food and fuel rationing lead to a life of endless queuing and empty shelves - an indication of serious mismanagement in a country which is not only extremely fertile but possesses enormous reserves of oil and minerals. Buses, trucks and even taxis with methane gas tanks were a common sight.

Nicolae Ceausescu came to power in 1965 after the death of Gheorghe Gheorgiu-Dej. At first he gained popular support from his rather national stance, demonstrating a degree of independence from Moscow and even condemning the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. This also gained him new friends abroad resulting in state visits to the USA, France and the UK when he stayed as a Royal guest at Buckingham Palace in 1979. Romania was even granted "Most Favoured Nation" status by the USA.

However, hidden behind this veneer, was a more sinister face - a Stalinist state with the worst Human Rights record in the Warsaw Pact. Inspired by visits to China and North Korea, Ceausescu embarked on massive industrialisation, greater austerity and social engineering measures aimed at the blending of town and country into a soulless, agro-industrial community. At the same time the personality cult of Nicolae Ceausescu and "Doctor, Engineer, Academician" Elena Ceausescu came to the fore.

Epoca Luminoasa


Birthplace of the Revolution
- Piata Victoriei
- Reformed Church
- Stay in Ceausescu's Villa
- 1989 Memorial Museum
- Monuments of the Martyrs

- Palace of Parliament
- Piata Revolutiei
- National Library
- former Central Committee building
- Ghencea Cemetery


Memorial Sighet
(former Prison of the Ministers)

Doftana Prison near Ploiesti
Petrosani, Pitesti


Red Horizons (Ion Pacepa)
The Lost Footsteps (Silviu Craciunas)
Looking for George
Land of Green Plums (Herta Muller)
The Passport (Herta Muller)
Kiss the Hand you cannot Bite
(John Sweeney)
The Life & Evil Times of
Nicolae Ceausescu (Edward Behr)
Stealing from a Depp Place (Brian Hall)
Once upon Another Time
(Jessica Douglas-Home)
In Another Europe (Georgina Harding)
The Long Shadows (Alan Brownjohn)
Theft of a Nation (Tom Gallagher)

Several titles are also available in
the Romanian Language


22 December 1989

1970s - Decline

The Romanian economy began to fail in the 1970s - by 1979 the huge, uneconomic oil refineries were functioning at 10% or their capacity, unrealistic targets were set for factory and agricultural workers alike and the standard of living plummeted. Despite Romania having been the bread basket of Eastern Europe production continued to fall as a result of collectivisation and rigid Stalinist policies which even placed quotas on food produced on individual plots. By 1981 bread rationing had been introduced and there were severe shortages resulting in hours of standing in queues. Meanwhile, Ceausescu dismissed the problems with comments that Romanians eat too much and in 1985 announced a "scientific diet" for all Romanians, controlling nutrition. In reality food supplies fell short even of this!

1980s - Era of Light

By the 1980s life for the average person was very difficult as Austerity measures became ever more severe - food, oil and all quality goods were all exported to provide hard currency to repay international debts. However, the fear of the Securitate , the secret police, ensured that any criticism of the regime or uprising was immediately suppressed. They pervaded all aspects of society, it was often quoted that as many as 1 in 3 people were Securitate or informers of the Securitate, so you couldn't even trust close friends or family members. The reality was that the population was suppressed more by carefully spread rumour and the threat of arrest and imprisonment for the most trivial of reasons. Phones were routinely bugged and calls taped, though mainly in the workplace. Control was virtually total yet it was not until the latter years of the decade when Gorbachev began to bring a degree of liberalisation, that human rights abuses in Romania began to receive press attention in the West. By then Romania had served its purpose as a thorn in the side of the Soviet Union.



"Systematisation" was a plan to raze half of Romania's villages and rehouse the inhabitants in new "Agro-industrial" centres where they could be better controlled. The government argued that the villages were decrepit and that these new centres would free valuable land for agriculture and raise the standard of living by better provision of services.

The original plans were formulated in 1972 but the destruction didn't commence until the late 1980s. However, there were intense protests from the West, even from Hungary - unheard of in a Warsaw Pact country. The Germans and Hungarians stood up for the ethnic minorities of Romania ... the ethnic Romanians had no voice outside the country and their own plight was almost ignored. A Belgian organisation, Operation Villages Roumains, came into being with the aim of twinning every village in Romania with a village in the West to offer some rudimentary protection. Despite exaggerated reports of bulldozers flattening historic Saxon and Hungarian villages only two villages were wiped from the face of the map - these were both villages of ethnic Romanians located close to Bucharest. The inhabitants were given just 24 hours before their homes were flattened and the land ploughed over. They were rehoused in jerry-built apartment blocks.

Nevertheless, a form of systematisation had been taking place - old houses were demolished in many small towns and the inhabitants rehoused in new apartment blocks. You can see the legacy of this in many small towns, including the historic town of Sighisoara where a large chink of the old, lower town was bulldozed at the end of the 1980s.


Palace of the People & Boulevard of Socialist Victory

Of equal significance to the systematisation was the razing of one quarter of old Bucharest - the Uranus district which included 10 churches, 3 synagogues and a maze of old streets, villas and small houses - to create a palace fit for a megalomaniac. Now called the "Palace of Parliament", this building of gargantuan proportions, second only to the Pentagon in size, dominates the Bucharest skyline. It was built at the time when austerity measures were at their hardest and was to be the palace of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. Leading to the "Palace of the People" and lined with apartments for the Party faithful and the Securitate is a Boulevard longer than the Champs Elysee, now renamed the Bulevard Unirii - the project was never completed as coud be realised by the rusting cranes at the far end of the Bulevard. The "palace" is open to the public and is used principally for parliament, trade shows and conferences.

Danube-Black Sea Canal ('Canalul Morti - Canal of Death')

The idea to construct a canal to connect the Danube with the Black Sea , and save shipping a considerable journey, was first proposed in 1856 when the Dobrudja region was still under Ottoman rule. It was, however, not until 1949 that such a project was launched by the Communist party. Gheorghiu-Dej declared it would be the "graveyard of reaction"; indeed it was soon dubbed the "Canal of Death" - 60,000 people are said to have perished working on the canal between 1949 and 1954 when the project was abandoned.

They came from all parts of society and included peasants and landowners who had resisted collectivisation, priests, businessmen, aristocrats, relatives of prisoners, people who had tried to flee the country ... in effect anybody who may have opposed the new regime. All were labelled as traitors or enemies of the State and were housed in concentration camps at Capul Midia, exposed to the extremes of climate and temperature. In addition, the rock-breaking work, starvation diet, diseases such as TB and dysentery, and the beatings and torture by the Securitate all took their toll.

Ceausescu ordered work on the canal to be resumed in 1973. This time it would follow a more practical route, connecting with the Danube at Cernavoda then running eastwards for 60 km to reach the Black Sea at Agigea to the south of Constanta. The original course had been through the Canara hills to reach Capul Midea near Navodari. Modern machinery was employed but it still required 30,000 workers and was the biggest investment project of its time. It was inaugerated by the Conducator in 1984 but by 1987 was running at only a tenth of its capacity and this grandiouse project, though useful, is widely regarded as another of Ceausescu's "White Elephants".

Personality Cult

You couldn't avoid Ceausescu, or his personality cult, anywhere in Romania - the posters, the headlines, the endless speeches, the parades and the pageants. There were also plenty people queueing up to pay homage, like whimpering puppies, ... artists, writers, film-makers ... and the poets Vadim Tudor and Adrian Paunescu, who, incredibly, are politicians in the Romanian Government today ... it just shows how little has changed!

"Vice president, Comrade, Academician, Doctor, Engineer Elena Ceausescu" - heiress to the dictatorial throne!

Every half kilometre or so there were roadside signs extolling the virtues of leader, party or country - not to mention the slogans emblazoned across factories and public buildings and the eyes of the dictator which seemed to follow your every step from portraits in offices, factories, railway stations, and evne museums and galleries. Here was the real "Big Brother" - in Romania it was always "1984"

KIng of Communism - Elena Ceausescu


Left: Petrol queues were common in town and countryside with drivers often waiting well over a day and night.
Right: You couldn't escape this modern day "Dracula" anywhere - here rather appropriately on the "Borgo" Pass


Left: 'Zone of the Lost Footsteps' - watchtower aqnd guard on the border between Romania and Hungary;
many people lost their lives trying to escape while even more were imprisoned,
beaten and tortured for attempting to escape..
Right: Methane tanks on a bus at the 'Arcul de Triumf' in Bucharest, in1987

Here are just a few examples
relating to life under the
latter years of Ceausescu:


Many foodstuffs were rationed
including meat, bread, sugar,
and vegetable oil - despite this
shortages ensured empty shelves
in foodstores. Queues would
immediately form whenever there
was a food delivery,
however poor the quality.


Petrol was rationed and electricity
consumption severely curtailed
- you could only use one
40 watt bulb in a room.
Only one in every three
streetlamps was
switched on - often less.
In addition powercuts played havoc,
even disrupting industry and
hospitals - operating theatres
would be plunged into darkness
and life support machines would fail.
Fuel shortages lead to
ambulances not attending
emergencies if the patient was
over 70. Heating was minimal and
gas pressure was often so low
that cooking was
virtually impossible.


Perhaps the most appalling
policies were those introduced
to "boost" the population.
Abortion and Contraception
were abolished and all women
in factories subjected to monthly
gynaecological examinations
to ensure that the laws were
obeyed. From 1983 it became
the duty of every woman to
produce a minimum of 5 children.
Childless and unmarried women
were subjected to higher taxes
whilst women producing larger
numbers of offspring were
declared "Heroine Mothers".
The results are well known - the
unwanted children of the
orphanages and horrific deaths
from back street abortions.


The state controlled media including
the daily newspaper of the party,
"Scinteia" reported in great
detail on Ceausescu, glorifying him
and heaping praise on his wife,
continuously reporting on the
great advances the country was
making in all fields of industry,
agriculture, science and
international relations.
Television was restricted to a
two hour programme, the bulk of
which showed Ceausescu on his
various visits receiving praise
from crowds of people lining the
roads or attending his speeches.
This was "Big Brother" and Romania
was stuck in "1984". Books were
published in his honour heaping
praise on him with (often dubious
or out of context) quotes from
international press and endless
photographs, commissioned
paintings and poems.

History had also been rewritten,
in particular Ceausescu's role in
the rise of Communism. The arrest
of the Iron Guard leader,
Antonescu, and the switch of
alliance from the axis to the
allies by King Michael on
23 August 1944 became a
glorious communist uprising
against imperialist and
fascist forces.

Even contact with visitors
from the West was restricted -
any contact had to be reported
to the Securitate within 24 hours.
Despite all of this the people
were not naive,
they no longer
believed the propaganda.
However, the hardship of life
and the constant fear
instilled by the Securitate
made organised resistance
impossible and lead to a
feeling of hopelessness.
When the 1989 "Revolution"
finally came it was the most
bloody of all - once the
people saw for themselves
how vulnerable Ceausescu
was, nothing was going to
stop them from
gaining their freedom.
It is no surprise that it was
sparked in Timisoara
since the populace there had
long received outside
information via Yugoslav
and Hungarian radio
and television.

Life under Ceausescu is
well illustrated by

Ana Blandiana's poem 'Totul'

Legacy of Communism

The course the legacy of the recent past can still be seen today in the remains of crumbling heavy industry, for example, the notorious carbon black plant at Copsa Mica, closed in 1993, or the derelict oil refineries at Ploiesti. Indeed, although Romania still has some of the best unspoilt natural habitats in Europe, there are areas blighted by serious industrial pollution - notably the lead smelters at Copsa Mica, the Aluminium plant at Zlatna near Alba Iulia, and the Gold mining and other heavy metal mining at Rosia Montana, Baia Mare, Baia Borsa and Rodna.

Suburbs of crumbling apartment blocks ring large cities, or blight smaller towns in places once pinpointed for "systematisation", sometimes coupled with the widespread destruction of historic architecture to create a so-calle 'Centru Civica" in cities such as Piatra Neamt, Iasi, or Craiova.

There are also the monoliths of Communist central planning such as the Stalinist Free Press building, and Ceausescu's infamous "Palace of Parliament" and Piata Unirii in Bucharest, the construction of which saw the senseless bulldozing of the entire historic Uranus district. Just a glimpse at the extravagant but entirely kitsch decoration of any of the Dictator's residences emphasises the lack of any culture!

Despite the events of the 1989 Revolution, a slow acceptance of true democracy and market economy by early governments, and enormous positive changes, many problems still persist, partly as a consequence of the experience of the Ceausescu years. This mind-set has enabled the fear and lack of understanding of democracy amongst the populace to be exploited. Issues of concern include corruption at local and higher levels, a revamped but still active, internal "Securitate" (the SRI), a lack of a truly free press ( there were numerous cases of journalists being beaten up for speaking out against the PSD party when it was in power in the mid 2000s) and an independent judiciary. Despite accession to the EU, many of these still need to beraddessed. There were positive signs that some of these issues were finally being addressed and tackled after the election of Traian Basescu as president at the end of 2004, however, due to the lack of a significant majority, and the unwillingness of politicians, progress has been sporadic .

Until corruption is finally tackled and while many of the former ruling communists continue to pull the strings on a national and local level it seems unlikely that Romania will achieve a higher standard of living for the majority of its citizens. The Anti-corruption Court needs to be truly independent, to enable trials to commence charging the former prime minister Adrian Nastase, who has acquired considerable wealth and property, the former transport minister Miron Mitrea, and even the former President Ion Iliescu who still has a lot to explain about the events of the 1989 Revolution, and in particular the way in which it now appeared to have been spectacularly hijacked, and for bringing in the miners to suppress democracy and as a consequence putting back the development of the country by as much as a decade. However, despite new elections in 2008, it seems unlilkely unless the EU act, and impose sanctions. Nastase is even claiming he will be a future president!

Useful Links: Information about Communism in Romania and the Romanian Revolution on YouTube

Click on the following links for some useful websites and to view some very interesting footage
on YouTube from and about the Romanian Revolution.
Note that some are in Romanian, some are amateur footage of events as they actually unfolded.
These are genuine footage of actual event so you may find some scenes disturbing: - excellent website devoted to the Ceausescu era
Ceausescu Images - more images from the Ceausescu era
KIng of Communism - Elena Ceausescu - Extract from a documentary about Ceausescu
Revolution in Timisoara - Footage from the beginning of the Revolution - Tiimisoara cathedral, 16.12.1989
Radio Free Europe - Early footage of the Revoluion in Timisoara with Radio Free Europe report
Ceausescu's Final Speech - Nicolae Ceausescu's infamous last speech from the balcony of the Central Committee Building (Bucharest, 21.12.1989)
Operei Square Timisoara - footage from the opera balcony of the speeches and the crowds and torn tricolours on Piata Operei (now Piata Victoriei - 22.12.1989
Tribute to the Romanian Revolution - summarty of the Revolution; nice aeriel views of Timisoara plus original footage
20th Anniversary - Report on the anniversary of the Revolution by ProTV 17.12.2009 - nice footage (Romanian)
Vladimiresti - fascinating story about a monastery near Galati that sheltered people enemies of the Communists
Memorial Sighet - Museum of Vistims of Communism (see also our own pages)

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