Ceauşescu Is Elected President of Romania Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Nicolae Ceauşescu, the youngest communist ruler in Eastern Europe in the 1960’s, came to power after many years of dedicated service to the Communist Party, but within twenty years, the dictator brought a once self-sufficient nation to a state of poverty and international repudiation. He was executed in 1989.

Summary of Event

On December 9, 1967, Nicolae Ceauşescu became president of Romania. Having risen in the ranks of the Romanian Communist Party to reach the powerful position of party secretary-general by 1965, he consolidated his control of the party and the country by gaining the presidency. He strengthened his position by gathering young Communist associates to replace the Old Guard leftovers whom he sent to positions of lesser influence. He removed Romania from the patronage of the Soviet Union and raised his own stature among other world leaders. He introduced policies that eventually caused an uprising among Romanians and, after nearly twenty-four years, toppled him from power. Presidency, Romanian Communist Party, Romanian [kw]Ceau{scedil}escu Is Elected President of Romania (Dec. 9, 1967)[Ceausescu Is Elected President of Romania] [kw]President of Romania, Ceau{scedil}escu Is Elected (Dec. 9, 1967)[President of Romania, Ceausescu Is Elected] Presidency, Romanian Communist Party, Romanian [g]Europe;Dec. 9, 1967: Ceau{scedil}escu Is Elected President of Romania[09520] [g]Romania;Dec. 9, 1967: Ceau{scedil}escu Is Elected President of Romania[09520] [c]Government and politics;Dec. 9, 1967: Ceau{scedil}escu Is Elected President of Romania[09520] [c]Human rights;Dec. 9, 1967: Ceau{scedil}escu Is Elected President of Romania[09520] [c]Economics;Dec. 9, 1967: Ceau{scedil}escu Is Elected President of Romania[09520] [c]Social issues and reform;Dec. 9, 1967: Ceau{scedil}escu Is Elected President of Romania[09520] Ceau{scedil}escu, Nicolae Gheorghiu-Dej, Gheorghe Ceau{scedil}escu, Elena Pacepa, Ion Mihai

After World War II, Romania, a kingdom since 1881, was controlled by a communist-led government that forced its monarch, King Michael I, to abdicate and established the People’s Republic of Romania. Romania had surrendered to the Soviet Union in 1944, which allowed the Soviet government to control the country’s politics and governance. However, by the early 1960’s, Romanian leaders were pulling away from Soviet influence and attempting to establish closer ties with Western nations. Though they were communists, these leaders wanted independence from the Soviets.

Ceauşescu was born on January 26, 1918, in Scorniceşti, a farm village of about two thousand people. His family left the village when he was eleven years old and moved to Bucharest, where he joined the Romanian Communist Youth Party in 1932, quickly impressing his superiors with his dedication and zeal. At age fifteen, he was arrested for the first of what would be many times for inciting a strike and distributing antigovernment leaflets. Arrested often, he was labeled a “dangerous Communist agitator” and banished from Bucharest to Scorniceşti. He stayed there only briefly, returning to the city to continue serving the Communist Party. In 1938, he was tossed in a prison cell with Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, who would become president of Romania in 1961; he became Gheorghiu-Dej’s protégé.

In 1946, Ceauşescu married Elena Petrescu, who became his partner and ally throughout his career. They had three children, one of whom was adopted because Ceauşescu wanted his family to be a model to other Romanians, who were encouraged to adopt some of the many parentless or abandoned children for which Romania was becoming infamous.

When Gheorghiu-Dej became Romanian premier in 1952, he made Ceauşescu deputy head of the ministry of agriculture. Soon Ceauşescu became head of the ministry of armed forces. Still quite young to have advanced so far so fast, by 1955 he was a full member of the Romanian Workers’ Party Central Committee. He soon became a member of the Politburo, the powerful policy-making, governing body of the party. He supported Gheorghiu-Dej’s ongoing campaign to loosen Soviet control over Romania, a campaign that included changing all Romanian publications that described the Soviets as the heroes of World War II to show instead that Romanians were the heroes. Furthermore, the schools discontinued the requirement to learn the Russian language.

When Gheorghiu-Dej died in 1965, Ceauşescu was chosen for the daunting task of leading a country with a baleful relationship with the powerful Soviet Union and with a floundering economy. A population of nearly 20 million had only about ten thousand automobiles. Many other consumer goods were in short supply, and what few were available, if made in Romania, were often lacking in quality or variety. Nevertheless, Ceauşescu immediately made some changes. He declared unequivocally that Romania was an independent entity with no subservient relationship to any other nation—especially the Soviet Union—and he changed the name of the country from the People’s Republic of Romania to the Socialist Republic of Romania.

Ceauşescu had the Securitate Securitate (Romania) , a secret police organization, spy on citizens, because he believed it was vital to establish unquestioned control over all aspects of the government. He censored speech and the press. He established horrific work camps Concentration camps Human rights;Romania that were likened to Nazi labor camps because so many workers of “undesirable” lineage were worked to death there or allowed to die from illness or starvation. He banned abortion and contraception, Reproductive rights stating the need to increase the country’s population; every fetus was Romania’s property, he declared, and any woman who aborted a fetus was a traitor to the nation. He required all women factory workers to submit to gynecological examinations each month to ensure the law was obeyed. Inasmuch as food and health care were becoming more and more limited for the average Romanian, the many unwanted births resulted in a proliferation of poorly equipped and staffed orphanages overrun with unwanted, abandoned children.

Ceauşescu’s economic policies Economic policy;Romania were fashioned after those of China’s Mao Zedong and North Korea’s Kim Il Sung. He visited the two countries and was impressed by how they functioned. Inspired, he began to change Romania’s economy from agricultural to industrialized. He required food-producing farmers to relocate to cities to labor in the factories. Increased industrialization, he believed, would build a prosperous economy; manufactured goods could be exported to Western countries. Perhaps because he was anti-Soviet, Ceauşescu found Western leaders suddenly willing to partner with Romania, and their banks offered almost limitless loans.

Nicolae Ceauşescu around 1965.

(Library of Congress)

Hasty industrialization, Modernization however, removed critical laborers from the farms, and food shortages became severe. Fuel and electricity had to be rationed, and medical supplies and care were reduced, which, for example, kept ambulances from picking up patients older than age seventy. By 1979, a serious oil crisis contributed further to the shrinking economy, and Ceauşescu’s insistence on exporting most of Romania’s agricultural produce created famine conditions.

Even with such misfortunes, Romania’s national assembly made Ceauşescu “president for life of the republic,” a vote of confidence that encouraged him to give in to a personal prejudice he had against Romania’s minority Hungarian population. Racial and ethnic discrimination;Hungarian Romanians He ordered that land belonging to citizens of Hungarian ancestry be given to Romanians, and entire Hungarian villages were resettled. He closed schools that served Hungarian students and banned the speaking of the Hungarian language in public.

Ceauşescu’s presidency began to falter in 1978, when the head of his secret police, Ion Mihai Pacepa, defected to the United States and told the world about Ceauşescu’s crimes and Romania’s deplorable conditions and faltering economy. Ceauşescu gave Pacepa two death sentences and put a bounty on his head. As the repression of its citizens and the corruption of its leaders stirred protests and demonstrations against the regime, things came to a head Revolutions and coups;Romania in 1989 with a riot in the city of Timisoara. Blood was shed when troops fired on the crowd of originally peaceful protesters. Angered and undeterred, more protesters joined the demonstration, which had started in support of a dissident complaining about Ceauşescu’s repressive policy against Hungarians. Ceauşescu tried to counter the effect of the Timisoara riot with a public mass meeting in Bucharest, where he thought exhorting the crowd with communist rhetoric would win them over. He was wrong; the crowds were fed up with him, his policies, and their dismal lives; they would not be satisfied until he was ousted from power and brought to justice. Before they could escape from the city, Nicolae and Elena Ceauşescu were arrested, put on trial, and, within days, found guilty. They were executed Executions;Nicolae Ceau{scedil}escu[Ceausescu] on December 25, 1989.

Significance

When Ceauşescu became president of Romania, his intentions were likely good. He believed in communism’s promise for the working class. He was undone and corrupted by ambition and the acquisition of power. He took Romania from an agricultural country that had been more or less self-sufficient over its long history and turned the country into a pauper.

Although he lessened the Soviet Union’s hold on the country, his own policies repressed thousands of Romania’s citizens, bringing ill health, famine, poverty, degradation, and death to the very people he had sworn to lead and defend. His was a stunning example of how ill-conceived economic policies and arrogance can bring a nation to its knees. Presidency, Romanian Communist Party, Romanian

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Berglund, Sten, and Frank Aarebrot. The Political History of Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century: The Struggle Between Democracy and Dictatorship. Lyme, N.H.: E. Elgar, 1997. Detailed examination of the oscillation between freedom and totalitarian regimes in pre- and postwar Eastern Europe.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Câmpeanu, Pavel. Ceauşescu: The Countdown. Translated by Sorana Corneanu. Boulder, Colo.: East European Monographs, 2003. A memoir written by a political-prison cell mate of Nicolae Ceauşescu in the days before Ceauşescu became president of Romania. Provides details of the dictator’s early life from previously unavailable documents. An “insider’s” account. Highly recommended.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Deletant, Dennis. Ceauşescu and the Securitate: Coercion and Dissent in Romania, 1965-1989. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1995. A history of Romania’s secret police under Nicolae Ceauşescu, and a discussion of how Romanian society was revolutionized. Based on research using Securitate archives, on memoirs of Communist terror victims, and on interviews with dissidents during Ceauşescu’s regime.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kligman, Gail. The Politics of Duplicity: Controlling Reproduction in Ceausescu’s Romania. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. A study of Ceauşescu’s draconian policies against abortion and birth control, policies that came to define Romania to a shocked world, as images of Romanian orphans and other children—those with birth defects, the severely ill, those dying from AIDS and from neglect—came to light after Ceauşescu’s downfall in 1989.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pacepa, Ion M. Red Horizons: The True Story of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu’s Crimes, Lifestyles, and Corruption. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1990. Written by the former chief of Romania’s foreign intelligence service, this work discusses Ceauşescu’s government corruption, his “brutal machinery of oppression,” his personal life, and his attempts to win over Western world figures.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Popa, Opritsa D., and Marguerite E. Horn, comps. Ceauşescu’s Romania. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. An annotated bibliography of North American and Western European social sciences research, including books, doctoral dissertations, reports, periodicals, and government documents covering Romania’s Communist era. Indexed by both subject and author.

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