Scientists on Wednesday briefly exhumed the remains of former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, from a military cemetery in west Bucharest to take DNA samples and verify their identities.
The couple were shot by firing squad on Christmas Day 1989 after a summary trial. They had been captured trying to flee the country by helicopter. The process, critics say, made the transition of power to the administration of Ion Iliescu a bloody coup rather than a revolution.
The uncertainty about the whereabouts of the bodies stems from the fact that the shooting itself was not filmed, only the mock trial and the bullet-riddled corpses afterwards. And, to add to the confusion, there was a delay in screening the footage of the burial on Romanian television. The burial location was kept secret.
"Like the Romanov family [in Russia], the Ceausescu's were condemned by an ad-hoc trial and summarily executed on Christmas day in a procedure that had all the sophistication of an African tribal court," writes the Adevărul (The Truth), a Bucharest newspaper.
Every year since the 1989 execution, several hundred people gather at what they believe to be the graveside of their departed leader to celebrate his birthday, January 26, by lighting candles and remembering his contribution to the nation. Most Romanians despised the Ceausescu regime, which ruled from 1965 until 1989. His government collapsed during the fall of communist governments throughout Eastern Europe, as Romanians marched through the streets of major cities.
Most of those carrying a flame for the Ceausescu era today are older, and yearn for the certainties and privileges of the regime, while managing to forget the poverty, hunger, and injustice suffered by many and the ostentatious luxury enjoyed by the leadership.
Until the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, the Romanian economy was one of the fastest growing in Europe, earning it the rubric "Tiger of the East."
A Ceausescu family member said that the body exhumed from what is presumed to be Nicolae's grave was wrapped in a black, bullet-torn coat like the one shown in the television images of the original burial. DNA analysis will take until next year and could still be inconclusive. The family is planning a full funeral service if it gets a positive result.
Gelu Voican-Voiculescu, a former top official in the administration of Ion Iliescu, supervised the burial and said he has no doubt the bodies would be found to be genuine. "The Ceausescu's remains will definitely be found in those tombs. They were buried on December 30 and the inhumation was taped," Voican-Voiculescu told Realitatea, a Romanian TV channel.
The 20-year long campaign to establish the identity of the bodies initiated by the dictator's daughter Zoia Ceausescu, a mathematician, who died in 2006, was carried on by her widower Mircea Oprean, and her brother, Valentin, a physicist. They doubted that the grave site held their parents bodies. Both Zoia and Valentin were imprisoned along with Nicu Ceausescu, the less studious youngest son, seen as the regime's natural successor. Nicu died of liver failure in a Vienna hospital 1996 having been famed for extravagant living.
Last year, Valentin started to move to protect the Ceausescu name from commercial exploitation by registering it as a trademark in Romania. Prior to that it had been used to sell a wide range of products, including chocolates and condoms. The exhumation may be part of an effort to increase the value of the family name.