Romanians Reject Ceausescu Era

TURMOIL IN BUCHAREST. Hard-line leader's projects devastated nation

NICOLAE CEAUSESCU was not a modest man. For 24 years, he imposed his brand of of rigid communism on Romania, fashioning an enormous personality cult to sustain his rule. In honor of the glorious ``Ceausescu era,'' he constructed a palace in Bucharest and even a miniature replica of the Arc de Triomphe.

But in the end, even he could not resist the reform wave overtaking the communist world.

After security forces clashed with protesters and killed at least a dozen people, the Romanian Army, supported by thousands of citizens, overthrew Mr. Ceausescu on Friday. Forces loyal to the former leader counterattacked. Romanian television announced over the weekend, however, that the Soviet Union had promised military aid to the popular revolt. By press time it looked like a new regime soon would be in place.

These developments end a nightmarish chapter in the history of this Balkan country. Horror stories abound about Romania. During winter nights, Bucharest's boulevards became deserted and dark. Private cars have often been banned because of a gas shortage. Street lights have been kept off because of an energy shortage. Apartments are hardly heated. Food markets are empty except for some pulpy looking potatoes and a carrots. A delivery of oranges can cause a near riot.

The tragedy in this potentially rich country of 23 million people is man made. Long after the other Soviet-bloc countries began abandoning Stalinist doctrines, Ceausescu resisted. Even as his country's economy crashed, he continued to follow strict central planning. Despite glasnost (openness) in the Soviet Union, all dissent was crushed.

The hard-line leader was born to a peasant family in 1918 at Scornicesti in the south of the country and joined an illegal Communist youth movement in 1933. After the war, he worked in the party's organizational department, rising through the ranks until 1965, when he succeeded Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej as first secretary.

His subsequent career can be divided into three phases. Between 1965 and 1968, he was consolidating his position and was no more than first among equals. At the time, he cut a profile as a youthful, energetic leader, with a strong commitment to change. He extended his predecessor's policy of fostering Romanian nationalism and stressed his country's independence from the Soviet Union.

Between 1968 and 1971, he ruled as the preeminent leader and Romania's great reformer. He was the only Warsaw Pact leader who refused to send Romanian troops to participate in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. At home, he purged repressive Interior Minister Alexandru Draghici and condemned the violations of legality of the 1950s Stalinist era.

In 1971, however, Ceausescu switched course and promoted a hard-line policy of discipline and heavy industrial growth.

During this phase, the personality cult emerged. A small man, Ceausescu took pains to appear large by being photographed in the midst of children or standing above people around him. His books covered the windows of every bookstore, quotations hung on billboards on every road and were chiseled into stone on every monument.

Writers, poets, and lyricists churned out Ceausescu literature. He was described as a ``far-reaching, rigorous, and profound thinker.'' He was a ``scientist who opens new horizons,'' ``an inexhaustible source of ideas,'' and ``the people's most beloved son, the architect of our grandiose times.''

Family members were promoted into positions of influence, particularly his wife, Elena, and his son Nicu. Elena was appointed deputy prime minister and seen as the second-most-powerful person in the country. Nicu, who was arrested last week, ran the youth apparatus. In addition, the president's brothers, numerous in-laws and cousins ranked high in the party system.

Because Ceausescu moved his ministers up and down, back and forth, nobody outside the family managed to build up a power base. Beyond coercion, the Ceausescu personality cult was constructed upon two pillars: cries of nationalism and promises of prosperity.

His seemingly independent stand within the Warsaw Pact made him a hero at home, and for a long time won him kudos abroad. Richard Nixon and other United States presidents saluted him, and the American press hailed him in 1984 when he refused to follow the Soviet boycott at the Los Angeles Olympics.

Ceausescu also tried to hypnotize his people with a glorified vision of backward Romania rushing headlong into industrialization. No matter that his building of huge projects, such as a dam over the Danube, or his insistence on paying back international debts left a weakened economy of empty stores and ill-lit, unheated apartments.

He told Romanians they should be proud that they lived no longer in a backward, agarian nation.

In the end, these explanations no longer sufficed. His regime became isolated on the international scene.

The US withdrew most-favored nation trading privileges, Hungary criticized treatment of ethnic Hungarians living in Transylvania, and under Mikhail Gorbachev, even the Soviet Union cooled its relations.

Within the country, dissent finally gained some momentum. Last spring, six prominent intellectuals criticized Ceausescu in an open letter. This fall, some strikes were reported.

Finally, as the winter hardships mounted, people took to the streets and defied the feared secret police. Troops fired on them, only to soon join them. And Ceausescu no longer could control the situation. -30-{et

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