Nicolae Ceausescu was Romania’s dictator for over 20 years and is, obviously, one of the most despised leaders Romania has even had. Strange enough, there are many people living in Romania today who think fondly of him – it’s usually the older people who were content during the communist era, happy they had a job and an income that guaranteed a decent living in their terms.

What people don’t remember was the lack of freedom, the lack of consumer goods, the general poverty that’s still felt today throughout the country, the fact that people were always hungry, that stealing was considered the norm and spying on your neighbors to report them to the state was considered natural by many. There are surely more horrible things about communism and Nicolae Ceausescu that I don’t remember or know because of my young age, but if you’re looking for a bit of history and details about Romania’s communist leader, I have that for you in this article.

So without further ado, here are 10 fun facts about Nicolae Ceausescu, things you most likely didn’t know about him!

1. One of his dreams was to pay Romania’s external debts
Nicolae Ceausescu became obsessed with this idea which, in theory, is not a bad one. The dictator was dreaming about complete independence and he wanted to pay the entire external debt that Romania amassed and things could’ve been great if he had managed to do so… But his methods to achieve his dream were not the best: he started rationalizing food, as well as gas, water and heating. People start to get poorer and poorer, their lives were miserable and it all ended with the revolution in 1989. And no, he still wasn’t able to pay Romania’s debts (even though he did manage to pay a large amount, but for a great sacrifice.)

2. He was uneducated
Nicolae Ceausescu only managed to finish 4 classes in school, representing elementary school. He had to move out of the village he was born in (Scornicesti, Olt county) and moved to Bucharest when he was 11, where he became a shoemaker’s apprentice.

3. He married his brother’s lover
His wife, Elena Ceausescu, was part of the Ceausescu family before the dictator-to-be married her. She was actually the lover of one of Ceausescu’s brothers before falling in love with Romania’s leader.

4. Salvador Dali made fun of him
When he became Romania’s president, he was handed the Royal Scepter as a symbol for his power. However, this was not in accordance with communist principles, which stirred a wave of reactions over Europe. Salvador Dali himself sent Ceausescu a telegram mocking him, but he did not understands its true meaning and instead, being very proud of the words he had received, he insisted in having it published in all newspapers in Romania.

5. He survived a plane crash
The plane he was in during a trip to Moscow crashed when it landed, with four people losing their lives (three crew members and Romania’s foreign minister). Ceausescu survived with only minor injuries.

6. He was a tiny man with a speech impediment
…and very shy with women, according to rumors. He was just 5’2″ tall (157 cm) and had a speech impediment that resulted in him being bullied when he was younger and mocked (behind his back) during his life. He was also reportedly extremely shy with women, a problem his wife didn’t help with, since she was reportedly extremely jealous.

7. He was actually an appreciated leader early on
Nicolae Ceasusescu was Europe’s youngest political leader during those times and appreciated for his political views, especially the external policies. He was the only communist leader in the world to have diplomatic relations with Germany and also the only communist leader to be part of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank.

8. His wife, renowned scientist, barely knew how to write
Since the dictator can do whatever he wants, he turned his wife into a world renowned scientist. She “published” various scientific papers, being the leader of the country’s Chemistry research team. However, she could barely write and was even unable to speak correct Romanian, just like her husband. On the few occasions she was invited to scientific conferences, she had a “translator” which was actually a scientist who would provide correct answers to the audience, completely ignoring the stupid answers she was giving. Elena Ceausescu also held multiple Honorary degrees (Doctor Honorist Causa) from multiple national or international universities. Her husband also held 8 such degrees.

9. Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen would’ve envied his title
Romania’s dictator was presented as “Nicolae Ceausescu, General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, President of the Socialist Republic of Romania and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces”.

10. He was executed while singing the hymn of the communist countries
One of Ceausescu’s life-long phobias was that of getting shot – and that’s exactly how his life ended. He was executed after a brief trial in December 1989, together with his wife. While he was standing in front of the squad, he was singing the hymn of the communist countries. His final words were: “Long live the Socialist Republic of Romania! History will revenge me!”

His execution was, in my opinion, a savage decision for a savage ruler. The validity of his trial is questioned today (the military court only needed one minute to decide upon the verdict) but it’s all in the past. Even though I completely disagree – like most people would today – with the way things were handled back then, we should always consider that this not only happened 27 years ago when things were completely different, but also happened in a country that was under a communist regime for a long time and its people didn’t know much about personal freedom, normality, fairness or even compassion.

17 COMMENTS

  1. A fascinating account of Ceauşescu, thank you. Under no. 7, actually you meant to write that Romania was the only communist country to have diplomatic relations with ISRAEL. All the communist countries had relations with Germany. Every decade or so, they came to Germany hat in hand begging for reparations for World War II atrocities, so they were very eager for German diplomatic relations. I have read an excellent book by Livea Betea in which she interviewed Alexandru Bârlădeanu, who had worked in the Economics Ministry under Georghe Dej, Ceauşescu and then Ion Iliescu. He had a very low opinion of Ceauşescu, but that is consistent with just about everyone who ever met the man. On a trip to North Korea, Ceauşescu greatly admired the personality cult that was built up around Kim Il-sung, and so he decided he wanted to be worshiped as a demigod too. He destroyed much of old Bucharest to construct his awful Palace of the Republic and massive boulevards fronted by colossal apartment blocks. He did this by borrowing massively from the West, and then, as you said, he decided to pay off the debt by selling everything in Romania that wasn’t nailed down. I remember the first time my father took me to a liquor store in Oklahoma City in the early 1980s. There was a display of Premiat wine from Romania. It sold for $1.99 a bottle. At that price, you couldn’t afford not to buy it! That was probably part of Ceauşescu’s effort to pay off the debt.

    • What I actually meant by “Germany” was the Federal Republic of Germany which wasn’t really accepted as a state in Europe, especially by the communists. It seems that Ceausescu’s decision to have official diplomatic relations with them caused quite a stir back in the days.

      I found it funny that you mentioned the Premiat wine. I had no idea that it at least used to be exported. That’s the wine that we had at our wedding a few years ago, so the brand still stands strong in case you want to taste some more. It’s not as cheap as back in the 80s, but I believe you can still find a bottle for around $3 or $3.5, which is still really cheap!

      • Well, I certainly don’t mind when I am corrected. Why be wrong one second longer than is necessary? While West Germany did already have diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1955, the other Iron Curtain countries did withhold diplomatic relations out of deference to their socialist brother state East Germany. You are right, Ceausescu did step out of line and establish diplomatic relations with West Germany in 1968, far ahead of the other communist block countries which waited until there was mutual recognition between the two German states in the 1970s. What registered with me and what I think caused a great deal of admiration for Ceausescu in the USA (sorry about that) was his recognition of the state of Israel.

        On the subject of Romanian wines, I was invited some time ago here in Japan to a wine tasting and was pleasantly surprised to see a Romanian wine served. A Murfatlar, sorry I don’t remember which one, was universally praised by all the Japanese present, but when the salesman suggested a $30 per bottle price, I had to laugh out loud. There certainly was a significant profit margin calculated into that price!

        Last, I want to correct another egregious error in my first comment, the name of the Palatul Poporului in English is “People’s Palace,” not Palace of the Republic.

        • I didn’t know about Israel, so it’s all good in the end, additional information is always welcome! And don’t worry about the translation for Palatul Poporului (which is also referred to in Romania as Casa Poporului or Palatul Parlamentului)… it’s such a large building that it can have multiple names 🙂

  2. Calin:
    Ceauşescu, as you said, is still looked upon favorably by some. It’s the same with despots like Hitler, the Kim Jongs, Franco, Stalin, etc.
    Granted, some of dictators accomplished some extraordinary things. Some people benefited greatly (but at what cost?), while others suffered greatly.
    Of course with the tubby Kim Jong and the patently evil Assad it’s the same–but sadly, it’s the here and now. No matter what happens, history ALWAYS seems to repeat itself it!
    I always think we (the US) has butted into places where we shouldn’t have–Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. It’s the country’s responsibility to have the leaders they want or don’t (and now we’re stuck with a Trump or a Clinton–maybe what goes around, comes around? Ugh!!!). By meddling in other countries’ internal affairs, the US has only make things worse–sorry for the aside!
    Romania alone decided it was time for Ceauşescu to go, and they quite efficiently dispatched him and his vile wife. Granted, the kangaroo court and summary execution was not, in hindsight, the ideal means of government change–but it was what it was. When the execution happened, it reminded me of Mussolini and his mistress’s execution–pretty gruesome, for sure.
    In retrospect, a conviction and prison sentence along with the stripping of all rights and privileges might have been a more humane way to remove him; but again, desperate times called for desperate measures.
    It will be interesting to see what becomes of Assad, Kim Jong, and other dictators, as time goes on. I had certainly hoped Assad would have been gone by now–but that’s another story.
    So, do any of your “near and dear” remember Ceauşescu with admiration. Do any of your folks yearn for a return to things past? It’s certainly understandable for some people who may now be disadvantaged, to want things as they once were (assuming in those times they were were better off).
    ~Teil

    • Indeed, those were crazy times and the people didn’t know how to react. The execution was not the best choice but people still didn’t know what to do. During the times, there was propaganda also and most of the Romanians believed that terrorist forces will arrive to rescue Ceausescu and install him again as president, people were hiding in their basements because there were rumors of incoming airstrikes… it was complete chaos.

      I don’t have friends or family who think it was better back then, but there are indeed many people who think so and you can sometimes hear them say that while walking down the street.

    • Teil, when I lived in Germany and was making a living as a translator and English instructor, I met a Romanian living there who waxed poetic about how wonderful things were under Ceausescu. He pulled out a big illustrated coffee table book about the many hot spring resorts in Romania, and somehow his father had been a top bureaucrat who oversaw one or more of them. The fall of communism had apparently hit his family pretty hard. On a train trip from Brasov to Bucharest, I had the misfortune to sit next to a Romania businessman who went on and on about how Romania had the most advanced chemical industry in Europe under communism, but afterwards evil Western companies had then purchased these assets for the express purpose of shutting them down. I think in all the former communist countries there was about 20% of the population who were party members who lived quite well under communism. After the fall of communism in East Europe, some of these were able to seize the moment and make the transition to capitalism, others didn’t and became its harshest critics. There is a nice German word for “communist nostalgia.” In English, one could translate it as “East-ostalgia.”

  3. Very interesting facts. My wife fled Romania with her parents during this period and we cried when watching the news coverage of the revolution in 1989. I have found Premiat here in the U.S. several times.

  4. I certainly didn’t know any of these facts about him. Oh my god.. I was laughing out loud about his wife as a scientist and the translator. That must have been very interesting and frustrating for the scientists. I assume death would have been the result had they spoken out. I remember the time when he was executed with his wife. Honestly, l think because firing squads were common when l was young, it was no big deal to me that he got what he deserved. We’ve had long travels but are now been in Johannesburg for a few days now (you didn’t guess right..haha!). We will leave in a few days for Bangkok 🙂

    • I hope you have a great time in South Africa and Bangkok will be amazing as well! It’s nice that you’re visiting the other part of the world now, where the weather is much better than in the Northern Hemisphere!

  5. Hello Calin:
    I hope you don’t mind all my questions which may not pertain directly to your current posting.;-)
    From what I can glean from you and your postings, Romania is very laid-back. (Certainly, 180 degrees from USA!) Here is a link to the definition of laid-back I am referencing. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/laid-back
    I need to find a place to live where life is slower-paced, without all the back-stabbing, in-fighting, narcissism, violence, etc., ad nauseum, which goes on in this country.
    Also, you mentioned state-health care is lacking. As people age, and are without family support, are there private options for people to age “gracefully” or age in place? I was wondering if there is a hospice program terminally ill people can use for palliative care? (I’m not there yet, but as one ages, it’s something to consider.) I know these subjects may be depressing for someone as young as you are, but I am wondering if you are aware of any of these programs.
    Thanks for your help!
    ~Teil

    • Hello Teil,

      I don’t think that Romania doesn’t have back-stabbing, narcissism and so on, on the contrary. It might not be to the levels in other countries, and most likely not aimed towards foreigners, but we still have a lot of that as well… I don’t think you’ll find a country without this today in the world.

      Regarding the places for old people, this is really not my strong topic, but I believe that there are options. Usually, such options are frowned upon though, as in Romania the children are expected to take care of their parents and sending them to such a place is usually considered bad, even if the conditions there are great and they get better care than they would get at home from people living their own lives and having no medical backgrounds. There are private options, as well as state options, but I don’t really know much about them – from what I heard on rare occasions, it is said that state options are usually of poor quality, while private ones will be much better. However, I have no idea about the costs…

      • I have looked into some Romanian websites that have “caminul batran” in their title and was amazed at the selection. The private ones are quite pricey for Romanians, around 1000 Euros a month, but for Americans and EU citizens that’s a good deal. It’s a little hard to tell from the descriptions how good they are. Many seem more oriented to the person who needs a lot of assistance and medical care. As Calin said, putting Ma or Pa into a home before they are really decrepit is frowned upon in Romania.

  6. It has been a while since Nicolae Ceausescu was Romania’s dictator, but one of the alleged “FACTS” about him that astonished me and has stuck all these years later was when I read that wherever he went he used to have the leaves on trees painted green if they were turned to another color.

    I do not know if that was a true story, or if it happened only a few times, but I thought that was just bizarre.

    I have been reading through a few of your older blog entries. I am leaving the USA with no plans to return after this last election, I have finally realized the politics in the USA is like a bad marriage, both parties very miserable, fighting all the time, throwing things, and growing poorer by the day. They suffer irreconcilable differences which will after much more heartbreak result in divorce. One day it will just be unlivable.

    I originally got my Irish/EU passport in 2002, I had high hopes of Romania or Varna in Bulgaria as places to try out as a base for the eastern part of Europe. I was anxious to see it and meet the people before it became too westernized and modern or expensive. One thing after another came up to delay and stop me, but now I am determined and have no more family connections to interfere.

    I am going to Australia for three months in mid January, then on to Europe in the spring.

    Calin, I am wondering if you have written about this before or if I am asking a new question for you to consider, here in North America many people seek to retire in Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, etc. because it is far less expensive than the USA or Canada, warmer, and yet still close to the home countries so they do not have to cut all ties. But, we always read about how in those nations there are two prices for everything, the price local native speakers pay, and the price for “gringos.” English speakers from the north often are quoted prices that can be multiples of the prices quoted to indigenous people.

    I wonder to what extent this happens in your part of the world. I have a pension that is in today’s foreign exchange about seventeen thousand Romanian New Leu per month, and if I can afford to live on that in the USA I do not need to ask you a hundred repetitious questions about the cost of living there to know I can afford Romanian living costs, but, nobody likes paying double or triple for anything just because they are American or have a good pension. I suppose it is normal and inevitable that on occasion items will be a bit higher for me than it would be for you, and that I can deal with as long as it is not a lot higher or all of the time.

    Can you address this? Have you heard of incidents where Ex-Pats were deliberately and consistently overcharged beyond what a Romanian resident would be expected to pay? I have looked at many websites that advertise to potential Ex-Pats and clearly their prices for housing are double or more what would be charged to locals, but finding advertisements in English not catering to short-term English speakers is hard to do. Long ago I decided the only way to go about it was to simply arrive and hope for the best, fair and reasonable arrangements would be practically impossible in advance from outside the country.

    Do you know of honest websites or resources that quote prices you would find reasonable and acceptable?

    Thank you and I look forward to more entries on your blog.

    • Hello Mark,

      Even though Romania doesn’t have the great weather of the South American countries, I am sure it will be a great choice. We have a ton of great cheap air companies that can see you visit all countries in Europe for very little money (RyanAir for example had 2 to 9 Euro tickets all over Europe recently). So at least from that point of view, the country is a great choice!

      Regarding your question… there would be few occasions for you to actually get charged more than the “Romanian” price for something as all stores, markets and so on have their prices displayed and are non-negociable. There could be, of course, some people trying to get more from you just because you are a foreigner – like some scam taxi drivers, maybe some maintenance guys coming to fix a pipe or something similar. However, you will easily learn, once hear, how much you should expect to pay for a specific service so you won’t be charged extra. Usually, though, I don’t think you would – the family that moved to Brasov and whom I am in contact with didn’t have any real problems with this.

      Regarding the rental prices, it generally makes a bit of sense for things to be a bit more expensive for foreigners because English-language ads are usually of places that are of a generally higher quality and offer better services. Most of the Romanian language ads are from individuals looking to rent (as opposed to agents) and I would recommend doing everything through an agent if you move from a different country just to stay on the safe side and make sure that the contract is legal. Also, some of these agencies offer additional and better services.

      But this is not a must: you can check out OLX for ads (I have ran the site through google transalte for the next link: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=ro&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.olx.ro%2Fimobiliare%2Fapartamente-garsoniere-de-inchiriat%2Fbucuresti%2F&edit-text=&act=url ) The translation will not be great, but it will allow you to understand better what they are talking about and what the prices are for the quality of apartments offered. I have defaulted the search to Bucharest, but you can choose a different country and see what the “real” prices would be.

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