Nicolae Ceausescu

Regime Definition and Classification-How Does Ceausescu's Romania Stack Up?

(Could use more of the sources for this course - e.g., discussion of dictatorship in Gandhi, discussion of preference falsification in Kuran, or of mobilization in Karklins and Petersen, the 1989 book by Sebestyen - all of which contain useful information about Ceausescu. Also could use other tools to make it more of a wiki and less of an essay. Note it is possible to insert references in the wiki so that they appear nicely at the end of the page, and have links to important facts/points elsewhere on the web. There are also resources in the course bibliography and especially, though lack of time may prevent you from taking full advantage of these - xmarquez xmarquez May 30, 2011)
  • (O'Neill 2010:142)
  • Power is exercised by a small group of individuals
  • Government is not constitutionally responsible to the public
  • Public has little or no role in selecting/removing leaders
  • individual freedoms restricted

Power Exercise

Romania under Ceausescu operated with a Political Executive Committee ('Politburo'), the highest authority in the country (Almond 1992:148).The "Political Bureau" included bodies extending to individual residences or workplaces, organised into "cells". These had a primary responsibility as the regimes' monitoring mechanism. Leadership was elected by delegates from the cells, but only served to confirm those already in power. Individuals of the 'nomenklatura' were chosen or approved by the party to positions of influence (O'Neill:205,206).

Constitutional Responsibility

Andrew Heywood describes 'constitutionalism' as a constraining and checking of government institutions and political processes, through a written constitution, to codify limits of governmental authority (Heywood 2007:39). Ungureanu describes how the 1922 constitution respects the rights of association, right to work and freedom of the press. Seperation of powers was achieved through a legislative Parliament, executive King and Government, and the judiciary controlled by the High Court of Cassation. However, in 1965 a new constitution was adopted unanimously, declaring Romania a "...Socialist Republic with a single political force leading the whole society..." (Ungureanu 2009:135), essentially enabling complete lone-rule for Ceausescu.

Individual Freedoms

There is ample evidence of widespread restrictions on individual autonomy during Ceausescu's regime. Lajos Varga relates how he was summonsed to the Securitate offices for cross-examination regarding his wifes miscarriage. The Securitate was convinced she had had an abortion, a serious offence under Ceausescu (Varga quoted in Tokes 1990:8). The regime was a separatist one, with communities divided and spontaneous gatherings forbidden (Tokes:102), a common authoritarian strategy for preventing cohesion of mass mobilisation efforts. State control of the media went to such extreme lengths as making it illegal to own an unregistered typewriter! Typewriters had to be individually registered with the state, and were to be located in an exact position in the house (Tokes:61). Another common Securitate technique during questioning of 'suspects', was to seize any ambiguous statement and turn it into an attack on the regime (Tokes:50), consolidating the regimes control on freedom of speech.

Free and Fair Elections?
Another important prerequisite to the identification of a democracy is the existence of transparent, contestable, free and fair elections of government officials. Edward Behr describes the November 1946 Romanian election as "...perhaps the most gerrymandered..." (Behr 1991:95,96) with opposition candidates suppressed from campaigning, and ballot boxes containing votes for the Romanian Communist Party (RCP) switched to replace legitimate ones.

Regime Emergence

In order to adequately understand the reasons for the emergence of the dictatorial regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, it is helpful, and indeed in some regards necessary to briefly examine the immediate political history of Romania, along with Ceausescu's own upbringing and influences. Ceausescu once claimed that Romanian history was written and constructed from the ancient race of Dacia, by a settled people who built a robust culture (Behr:24). The reality however is somewhat removed from this 'authored' ideological assertion. As Behr explains, the original inhabitants of Romania ceased to exist as a race prior to the 1400's, largely as a result of invasion and settlement by a number of other ethnic and national groups such as the Goths and Huns (Behr:25). Also, during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Romanian provinces of Walachia and Moldavia were ruled by the Turks and Greek phanariot princes who demanded such exaggerated tax and tribute, that they de-motivated the local Romanian peasants meaning that the areas' rich resource potential was never recognised (Pakula cited in Behr:28). Following the Crimean war, during which subsequent attempts at invasion by Russia were repelled, the inhabitants of the provinces voted in favour of remaining united and Colonel Ion Cruza became the first ruler of the 'Romanian Nation'. Cruza and his wife rapidly succumbed to the lure of corrupt power and Behr correctly identifies some of the parallels between them and the Ceausescus (Behr:29). In 1907, Romanian peasant workers, incensed by what they percieved as 'Jewish favouratism', began a revolt against the divisions in living conditions between themselves and the largely Jewish land administrators. This revolt contributed, somewhat erroneously to Ceausescu's notion of Marxist ideals. The uprising was actually the result of the refusal of Romanian banks to lend money to asset poor peasants, leading them to accept loans from restricted profession Jewish money lenders, which inevitably resulted in sentiments of anti-Semitism (Behr:34,35). Thus, rather than an ideological class based peoples revolt as Ceausescu imagined it, the 1907 action was more ethnically driven. Personal influences on the young Ceausescu undoubtedly contributed to his perception of the definition of a 'collective society'. During periods of incarceration for his anti-fascist activities, he was groomed and educated by RCP stalwart Gheorge Gheorghiu-Dej, learning of divisions within the Party ranks, and gaining a communist viewpoint of developments within European nations during the war years (Almond:44). It is also likely that Ceausescu's image of his own father, "a brutal, self-centred, disreputable drunkard" (Almond:19), impacted on his perspective of societal values. It is worth contemplating whether Ceausescu would have been such a staunch advocate of socialism had his family life been less fragmented and more socially communist based. The emergence of Ceausescu as the repressive tyrant he was to become between 1967 and 1989, is due to a combination of early influences, paths travelled and the nurturing of his basic communist ideological imaginings. His overt nationalism suggests that a great degree of culturalism can be attributed to his political motivation also. As with his firm belief in the purity of Romanian founders the Dacians, Ceausescu frequently lauded the fact that, unlike certain other minorities, Romanians could claim an inalienable attachment to the land, having been born there and, when required, having spilled blood for it (Almond:186). Such passionate feelings of nationalism will naturally provoke an individual to ask "who is eligible to be included in my vision of this 'nation'". For Ceausescu it seems, culture was a hugely important determinant in the answer to this question, and this leads to the observation that in the case of this regime's emergence, culture was a factor. Just as culture and patriotism were overarching providers for the birth of the Ceausescu era, so economic fluctuation and crisis justified policies which maintained the control of Romania by Ceaucescu. However, as Behr points out, even as theoretical industrial output increased, and investment returns rose favourably, Ceausescu's insistence of Stalinist economics (centalised planning and industry over agriculture), meant that astronomical energy costs in urban factories combined with the Conducator's habit of signing off expensive projects based on personal return expectations, ensured increasing and continuing hardship for the vast majority of ordinary Romanian citizens (Behr:144,145).

Strategies of Control

Authoritarian leaders are generally aware that thier hold on power is at times a tenuous one. To this end, they must utilise various modes of control at certain times, whether to control the general public, the secret police and army, or even thier own inner circle. Ceausescu during his tenure employed pretty much the entire range of control mechanisms, but for the purpose of this exercise I am only going to examine a few of them.

Control of Information
To remain ahead of the game, Ceausescu needed to know what people were thinking, saying and doing. His ultimate weapon in the control of information was the Securitate, for the surveillance of Romanian diplomats (Behr:204) to the use of a department devoted entirely to analysing rumour and countering with its own pro-regime propaganda (Almond:122). The secret police were not the only method of covert information gathering utilised by Ceausescu however, with Almond highlighting a personal telephone-tapping centre located in Ceausescu's office (Almond:64), and claims that resident informers were active in any, and every social gathering (Almond:160).

Violent repression
Physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, ideological. Whatever the agent of repression used, the method was fairly generic in Ceausescu's Romania. Informers and Securitate personnel, deployed to key areas or districts, were the initial whistle-blowers on dissident activity. A favoured method of rooting out 'troublemakers', was to install provocateurs into situations in which individuals could be incited into further action (Tokes:13). This had the two-fold benefit to the Securitate of identifying potential 'persons of interest' to Ceausescu, along with providing a reason for the secret-police to respond to any such action with 'legitimate' force. Tokes himself describes in detail his own interrogation, with subjection to violent physical abuse, psychological threats, and false accusations (Tokes:177-183). Ceausescu himself was not above the use of arbitrary force at times, with Vasile Lupu stabbed to death in 1946 by the future 'Conducator', for the infraction of criticising not the Party itself, but rather the behaviour of its activists (Almond:53,54).

Institutional Organisation
Bueno de Mesquita et al, observe that the size of the selectorate and the winning coalition accounts for many characteristics of a regime, and go on to explain that the existence of a small winning coalition discourages the distribution of public goods, because the loyalty of the coalition is cemented through the provision of private goods to members (Bueno de Mesquita et al, 2001:63). Ceausescu's method of limiting the winning coalition was to bring together the tight discipline of Leninist communism and the tradition of cosa nostra, prompting the famous Romanian joke that under Stalin the Soviet Union gained "...socialism in one country...", but that under Ceausescu Romania gained "...socialism in one family" (Almond:75).

Fear and Lies
"If you were mentioned in a speech by the Conducator, and you were the focus of his analysis, it meant that you were going to be executed" (Tokes:181). For such an educated and religious man as Laszlo Tokes to make a statement such as this, is proof of just how pervasive fear of Ceausescu was in Romanian society in the 1980's.
Using fear and lies to guarantee loyalty, or rather to demand servility is, once again a popular tool in dictatorial regimes, and clearly Romania was no exception. This method could prove to be a double-edged sword though, as the "dictators dilemma" comes very much into play here. That is, the leader is never quite sure if the loyalty is genuine, or whether the threat of harm has motivated individuals to 'pretend' loyalty. Among the fabrications designed to maintain power were the usual pledges that most, if not all, politicians make at various stages of thier political careers, the promises of better wages and conditions, and the reassurances that things are going as expected. But there were also more subtle, though no less influential lies during Ceausescus reign. Even prior to coming to power, Ceausescu was adept at, at the very least 'glossing over' the facts, as an interesting tale notes. Official Romanian history will tell you that Ceacescu was instrumental in organising the 1939 May Day anti-fascist rally at great personal risk, and fifty years later commemorative postage stamps reflected his participation (Almond:43). However, as fellow RCP member Popescu recalls, "Ceaucescu was conspicuous by his absence...may have been part of the crowd...certainly didn't take part in any of the preparations..." (Popescu quoted in Behr:60). This desire to be recognised as a pro-active trendsetter, notwithstanding the ulterior motives behind his actions, would play out on many more occasions during Ceaucescu's rule. In the late 1960's, early in his capacity as leader of the RCP, many Western observers were fooled into believing that Ceausescu was fully committed to liberalisation following the purging of many long-serving party bosses notable for thier absolute rule over the districts of Romania. But what this purging actually achieved for Ceaucescu, was the opportunity to implement new district authorities, of his own choosing, thereby consolidating his power and debt of allegiance (Almond:67,68).

Relating These Strategies to Political Theory

  • Information
By the upward and downward control of information control, the opportunity for information cascades was efeectively negated, thereby reducing the chances of mass mobilisation. For example, the monitoring of typewriters ensured that politically inflammatory anti-regime 'propaganda' pamphlets could not be produced or distributed. (Though underground publications, or Samizdat, which produced and distributed material secretly among activist organisations attempted to counter this control-Tokes:61).
Beissinger notes that 'Modular Democratic Revolution' relies on such factors as; (a) Foreign support for local democratic movements; (b) a united opposition and; (c) the organisation of radical youth rallies using unconventional protest techniques (Beissinger 2007:261). Through media control, Ceausescu could play down the amount of foreign intervention available to dissidents, and through the creation of a socially seperatist state, he negated the possibility of motivated, cohesive regime-challenging networks.

  • Fear and Repression

By maintaining often violent repression techniques, a permanent air of fear pervades all levels of society, including members of the winning coalition who are aware that thier loyalty is under constant personal scrutiny, the secret police and army who know that thier actions or reactions to any situation may provide the basis for either promotion or sanction, and the public at large. The 'inner circle' know that thier share of the private rewards may be under threat, the Securitate surely fear that they may face relegation to the ranks of the very people they are tasked with controlling (or worse), and of course the people are afraid that they may be imprisoned, beaten, tortured (or worse). Therefore, in a tyrranical type of regime such as Ceausescu's, fear is an absolute requirement for maintaining power.

  • Small Winning Coalition/ Large Selectorate

With the consolidation of a smaller winning coalition, the dictator is more able to keep track of potential loyalty problems. Once again the 'Dictator's Dilemma' comes into play here, but he generally has the advantage of being able to provide greater incentives via private goods when his coalition is more compact. Similarly, if the selectorate is sufficiently large, then members of the winning coalition are under a constant reminder that thier leader always has more options available than they should they opt for defection. For example, a larger pool of support from which 'replacements' can be drawn. Restricting political opposition aids the dictator in the maintenance of his 'hub' as without legitimate challengers to the regime's authority, potential defectors literally have no options for better conditions or rewards.

Impact on Society

Strategies of authority maintenance have been widely practiced throughout history, all over the world, with varying degrees of effectiveness by a diverse selection of authoritarian leaders. Some of the impacts of Ceausescu's strategies mirror those of similar regimes in various regions. The Presidential Guard, an elite military force dedicated to the protection of Zaire's Mobutu (Wrong 2000:94), provided the same type of Ceausescu's Securitate, though on a more minimised level. Charismatic leadership and egocentricity were central and common to these two also. Unfortunately for Ceausescu, he was executed before he had the chance to set eyes on his completed 'People's Palace', a monument designed by novice archtect Ana Petrescu who pandered to Ceausescu's penchant for all things big and glittery when presenting her design (Almond:164), and meant to accomodate all of Romania's major Party and State institutions together (Behr:192). Of course, as Behr also notes, with government officials already housed in more than adequate circumstances (Behr:193), it is likely that the palace would have fulfilled a similar role to Mobutu's own dozen or so 'Presidential complexes' replete with luxury vehicles, marble floors, ornate furnishings and impressive weapons arsenals, but seldom ever visited or inhabited (Wrong:94,95). The effects of Ceausescu's vision were immediate and long term in the same vein. In the immediate sense, because of the proposed dimensions of the structure and it's surrounding regalia, the entire Uranus district of Bucharest would need to be completely demolished and cleared for construction (Behr:192). Almond notes that more than 40,000 people were dispossessed of thier homes, often with only six hours notice, and forced to proceed to ill-prepared, unfinished apartment blocks devoid of furniture or bedding (Almond:166). This is just one example of the manner in which Ceausescu's thirst for power, prestige and patronage led to a huge nullification of human rights. "A house with many children is proof of a good citizen's concern for the nations future" (Ceaucescu quoted in Almond:181). This ideological tenet would result in one of the west's most harrowing insights into the Romania of the 1980's. Convinced that to reflect his own greatness, the population should be around 20 million by the end of the century (Almond:181), Ceausescu implemented a policy in which married women were expected to produce four children each, or be punished by severe taxes. Paradoxically, to offset critical fuel shortages, maternity ward incubators were later switched off resulting in the deaths of many infants (Tokes:69). For those that did survive the reality was that many already financially overburdened families had no way of supporting another child, and as Almond observes "Today everyone os familiar with the pictures of orphans produced by this population drive (Almond:183).

Economic Impact

As a general rule, the maintenance of support in small winning coalitions, the upkeep of informants and a continued existence in lavish settings, demands that suitable cash funds be available to dictators. This was achieved in Romania in a number of ways, not least the siphoning off of foreign aid, by foreign ministry officials after the 1977 Bucharest earthquake which accounted for more than 1,500 lives (Almond:160). In the late 1970's Ceausescu devised a cunning plan to line his regimes pockets. From 1976 Iran began charging Romania hard-currency world prices for oil, having previously extended loan after loan to "...the breakaway state that had dared to defy the Soviet Union" (Behr:175). Ceausescu's response to this unfortunate reversal of fortunes, was to have devastating consequences on the Romanian economy. Securing loans from western bankers, Ceausescu attempted to construct an oil-refinery with an astronomical output capacity to process crude Iranian oil, which he would then on-sell to the west for hard-currency. Unfortunately for Ceausescu, and disastrously for Romania, the Iranian Shah was overthrown and the deal with Iran went sour, leaving Romania indebted to the west, with a largely redundant refinery and no oil to sell (Almond:129). The 'obvious' solution to this crisis in Ceausescu's mind was to repay Romanian debts as quickly as possible through domestic rationing of food, fuel and other neccesities, an inconvenience made worse by Ceausescus interminable complaint that "Romanians eat too much" (Behr:175).

The Breakdown of the Regime

Donald Share presents a valuable discourse on the various methods of democratic transition, and within this paper it is possible to determine that, whilst Eastern European authoritarianism was largely displaced via popular revolution in 1989, with the Romanian case, whilst a brief and intense period of revolt was noticed, it was possibly more a case of the regime collapsing (Share 1987:530-532). The catalyst for this period of mass demonstration was in the western town of Timisoara where, after a term of self imposed exile, Hungarian Reformed church pastor Laszlo Tokes, the subject of intense Securitate persecution, emerged as the reluctant champion of regime-disillusioned demonstrators (Varga quoted in Tokes:159). The irony for Ceausescu in this situation, as Behr wryly observes, was that the entire Tokes affair, and subsequent mass action, was prompted not by the regime or the Securitate, but by Tokes' own bishop, himself a puppet of the regime (Behr:211). More importantly, a fundamental error was made by Ceausescu's wife Elena during the very early stages of protest in Timisoara. This mistake can, in the words of Karklins and Petersen, be seen as "a failure of the repressive calculus of the regime" (Karklins and Petersen 1993:602). As Almond suggests "Elena seems to have been determined to crush the protests in Timisoara as quickly as possible and teach the people a lesson" (Almond:222). When applied to Karklins and Petersen's theory, it is obvious that a similar miscalculation was made here to that made in Czechoslovakia when overt repression was used at an inappropriate point on the protest time line (Karklins and Petersen:606). Had Securitate forces applied the 'usual' prophylactic measures in Timisoara, rather than the overt force ordered by Elena, it is possible (though unlikely) that this may have become just another isolated incident with 'disaffected' citizens being 're-educated' on thier national responsibilty. As it transpired, the level of violence was greatly exaggerated by Yugoslav and Hungarian radio stations, inciting more widespread demonstration. Coupled with Moscow's denouncement of the attacks in Timisoara, a guarantee to demonstrators of support from external nations, it became very apparent that the Ceasescu regime was at an end (Almond:223).


As the aforementioned 'People's Palace' alludes to, on the surface Ceausescu appeared eager to preserve Romanian nationalism and culture in the construction of a highly visible edifice to the nation. It can easily be argued however, that his choice of architecture, materials and fittings (Behr:192), was more egotistically motivated, and exposed his desire to be seen as an eternal father of the nation. Many of the theories and concepts discussed in POLS209 are evident within the Ceausescu regime, not least the 'Dictator's Dilemma' which, given the Conducator's rampant paranoia (Behr:130), would have required constant evaluation of the loyalty of those around him, all the while never quite knowing who could or could not be trusted.


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