Nicolae Ceaușescu

Romanian communist leader from 1965 to 1989

Nicolae Ceaușescu (26 January 191825 December 1989) was a Romanian communist politician and dictator. He was the general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 to 1989, and the second and last Communist leader of Romania. He was also the country's head of state from 1967, serving as President of the State Council and from 1974 concurrently as President of the Republic, until his overthrow and execution in the Romanian Revolution in December 1989, part of a series of anti-Communist and anti-Soviet uprisings in Eastern Europe that year.

Marx and Lenin have taught us that anything is ethical, so long as it is in the interest of the proletarian class and its world revolution.


  • There can be no justification to admit, in any way, the use of armed forced to intervene in the internal affairs of a WTO [Warsaw Treaty Organization] member country. The solving of domestic problems belongs exclusively to the Party and people of each country and any kind of interference can only do harm to the cause of socialism, friendship and collaboration among the socialist countries.
    • Commencement address at the Romanian Military Academy (14 August 1968), quoted in The Prague Spring (2010) by M. Mark Stolarik
  • We want to ensure a multilateral development of society, the thriving of all sides of social life, economy, science and culture, the improvement of management, the moulding of the new man and the promotion of socialist ethics and equity.
    • Nicolae Ceaușescu, Builder of Modern Romania and International Statesman (1983)
  • It is a lie that I made the people starve. A lie, a lie in my face. This shows how little patriotism there is, how many treasonable offenses were committed.… At no point was there such an upswing, so much construction, so much consolidation in the Romanian provinces. I guaranteed that every village has its schools, hospitals and doctors. I have done everything to create a decent and rich life for the people in the country, like in no other country in the world.

Attributed by Ion Mihai Pacepa


Quotations from Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief (1987) by former Romanian intelligence chief Ion Mihai Pacepa. ISBN 0895265702

  • Our experience shows that today the West is commendably eager to encourage the slightest sign of independence within the Soviet bloc. Let's take advantage of their eagerness... We must make cleverness our national trait... Stop showing a sullen, frowning face and clenched fist to the West. Start making it feel compassion for us, and you'll see how fast Western boycotts change into magnanimity. Let's present Romania as a Latin island in the Slavic sea... Our millenia-old traditions of independence are now up against Moscow's political centrism... A pawn between two superpowers.
    • p. 8 on 22 February 1972
  • Dialectical materialism works like cocaine, let's say. If you sniff it once or twice, it may not change your life. If you use it day after day, though, it will make you into an addict, a different man.
    • p. 25
  • Oil, Jews and Germans, are our most important export commodities.
    • p. 73 during 1977, said to be "his favorite slogan"
  • It's expensive to keep Communism alive today. I've already got a huge foreign debt staring me in the face, and I can't reduce it by exporting tomatoes or toilet paper. We should be making dollars any way we can. And we should be exporting arms any way and every way, openly and secretly, legally or by smuggling-I don't care how.
    • p. 119

About Ceaușescu

  • Comrade Nicolae Ceaușescu, all children
    Are bringing you burning love from their souls,
    Because you, leading the Party and the people,
    Are teaching us to move forward.
    When we say Ceaușescu, we all know
    That we say liberty, truth and steadfastness.
    That's why we love you with ardor,
    With all that is heart in us and in Romania.
    • A song performed by children during the National Conference of Women, as quoted in Ion Mihai Pacepa's Red horizons: the true story of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescus' crimes, lifestyle, and corruption (Regnery Publishing, 1990) p. 368
  • The escalating pace of the change that seemed graspable was indicated by a slogan of the Velvet Revolution: ‘Poland – ten years, Hungary – ten months, German Democratic Republic – ten weeks, Czechoslovakia – ten days’. The public nature of the pressure for change was important as it could be captured by a domestic media no longer under state control, as well as by the international media. Scenes of East Germans travelling West were followed by those of the demolition of the Berlin Wall. In December 1989, in turn, they were succeeded by demonstrators in the capital Bucharest booing Nicolae Ceauşescu, the Romanian dictator, when he spoke in public. Abetted by the vicious Secret Police, he sought to resist reform by the use of force against demonstrators. However, Ceauşescu was overthrown after mass demonstrations. The army, which played a key role, providing force sufficient to overawe the Secret Police, was responsible for his execution on Christmas Day.
  • Our goals are the same, to have a just system of economics and politics, to let the people of the world share in growth, in peace, in personal freedom, and in the benefits to be derived from the proper utilization of natural resources. We believe in enhancing human rights. We believe that we should enhance, as independent nations, the freedom of our own people.
  • I would like to salute [Ceaușescu's] intransigent patriotism and ferocious will for independence. A veritable amity links me to him.
  • The anti-Russian stance of one of Communism's most unpleasant dictators meant that Ceausescu was well regarded in the West, while he terrorized and impoverished the Romanian people. He rose through the ranks of the Party, then used an effective secret police to stay in power for decades until Communism collapsed around him and the Romanians revolted. He was executed after a summary trial, despite his claims of bringing great benefits to the country.
    • Clive Foss, The Tyrants: 2,500 Years of Absolute Power and Corruption (2006), p. 168
  • As if Ceausescu and company are to bring down imperialism!! If the world waits for the Ceausescus to do such a thing, imperialism will live for tens of thousands of years...
  • My brother! You are my brother for the rest of my life!
    • Muammar Gaddafi, as quoted in Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa (1987) Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief (Regnery Gateway, p. 101), ISBN 0895265702
  • Frequently I have heard criticism and even accusations directed against me for my policy towards the countries of Eastern Europe. Some say that Gorbachev did not defend socialism in those countries, that he more or less 'betrayed his friends'. Others, on the contrary, accuse me for having been too patient with Ceaușescu, Honecker, Zhivkov and Husák, who had brought their states to the brink of catastrophe. I firmly reject these accusations. They derive from outdated notions about the nature of relations between our countries. We had no right to interfere in the affairs of our 'satellites', to defend and preserve some and punish and 'excommunicate' others without reckoning with the people's will.
  • Esteemed chairman of the court, today we have to pass a verdict on the defendants Nicolae Ceaușescu and Elena Ceaușescu who have committed the following offenses: Crimes against the people. They carried out acts that are incompatible with human dignity and social thinking; they acted in a despotic and criminal way; they destroyed the people whose leaders they claimed to be. Because of the crimes they committed against the people, I plead, on behalf of the victims of these two tyrants, for the death sentence for the two defendants.
  • You need not admit your mistakes, mister. In 1947, we assumed power, but under completely different circumstances. In 1947, King Michael showed more dignity than you. And you might perhaps have achieved the understanding of the Romanian people if you had now admitted your guilt.
  • He tells nothing but lies.
    • Andruța Ceaușescu (Nicolae's father), as quoted in John Sweeney, The Life and Evil Times of Nicolae Ceausescu (Hutchinson, 1991), p. 12
  • The new kind of politicians lie all the time. But my father was one of the old kind, more of a fanatic. He was driven by some kind of fanaticism. This belief that you can do good. It's a sort of madness.
    • Valentin Ceaușescu (Nicolae's eldest son), as quoted in John Sweeney, The Life and Evil Times of Nicolae Ceausescu (Hutchinson, 1991), p. 38
  • And on December 17th the Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceausescu, desperate to preserve his own regime, ordered his army to follow the Chinese example and shoot down demonstrators in Timisoara. Ninety-seven were killed, but that only fueled the unrest, leading Ceausescu to call a mass rally of what he thought would be loyal supporters in Bucharest on December 21st. They turned out not to be, began jeering him, and before it could be cut off the official television transmission caught his deer-in-the-headlights astonishment as he failed to calm the crowd. Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, fled the city by helicopter but were quickly captured, put on trial, and executed by firing squad on Christmas Day. Twenty-one days earlier, Ceausescu had met with Gorbachev in the Kremlin. Recent events in Eastern Europe, he warned, had placed "in grave danger not just socialism in the respective countries but also the very existence of the communist parties there." "You seem concerned about this," Gorbachev responded, sounding more like a therapist than a Kremlin boss. "[T]ell me, what can we do?" Ceausescu suggested vaguely: "[W]e could have a meeting and discuss possible solutions." That would not be enough, Gorbachev replied: change was necessary; otherwise one might wind up having to solve problems "under the marching of boots." But the East European prime ministers would be meeting on January 9th. And then Gorbachev unwisely assured his anxious guest: "You shall be alive on the 9[th of] January."
  • He was a hard man who really wanted to win, all the time. He wanted to win at chess. It's well known that in chess when you touch a piece, you've got to move it. That's in the rules. But Ceausescu would touch a piece and see that it was a bad move and say, "No, no, wait, wait. I haven't thought long enough."
    • Gheorghe Apostol, as quoted in John Sweeney, The Life and Evil Times of Nicolae Ceausescu (Hutchinson, 1991), p. 51
  • Gheorghiu-Dej put more people in prison, but he had a motive. Ceausescu had no motive to do what he did. Things were worse under the last ten years of Ceausescu. It was terrible what he did.
    • Serban Ghica, as quoted in John Sweeney, The Life and Evil Times of Nicolae Ceausescu (Hutchinson, 1991), p. 75
  • Up to 1971, by Marxist standards, he was able to generate new ideas within the limits of the system. After his visit to China and North Korea in 1971, something of crucial importance must have happened in his mind. What he saw in North Korea was an image of real socialism- that is, total regimentation. Of course, everything was fundamentally wrong from the beginning. But the practical approaches until 1971 were mitigated by a degree of realism and independent thinking which had not yet become militant and destructive nationalism. I think that all his life he believed in what he considered to be the generous idea of socialism and Communism. But in 1971 he apparently discovered the uses of pyramidal organisation inherent in one-party rule. And he discovered the crucial importance of the top of the pyramid. He hated and despised Stalin who had enjoyed just such a position, but Ceausescu hated Stalin because he saw him as the leader of an Evil Empire. The evilness of it was its imperial character, not its ideology. Hence Ceausescu was blind to his own messianic bent.
    • Sergiu Celac (Nicolae's interpreter) as quoted in John Sweeney, The Life and Evil Times of Nicolae Ceausescu (Hutchinson, 1991), p. 98-99
  • Most of the Communist Party leaders who ruled the countries of Eastern Europe on behalf of their Soviet masters in the decades after the Second World War were pliant stooges. Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania was different. Not only did he make a break with the USSR, but he promoted his own cult of personality as self-declared ‘Genius of the Carpathians’ and diverted his poverty-stricken country’s resources to vast monuments to his own glory while using his Securitate secret police to murder his enemies. He and his wife Elena ruled as a grotesque partnership. When the communist Eastern Bloc collapsed in 1989-90, they were the only two of the ousted leaders to be shot.
  • In 1947 the Communists ousted their erstwhile allies from government, and in 1952 Dej became de facto dictator of Romania. With the elevation of his mentor, Ceausescu was able to secure his own position, and when Dej died in 1965, Ceausescu became party leader and head of state. Many Romanians hoped their new leader would inaugurate a period of greater liberalization and reform. In August 1968 such expectations intensified after Ceausescu’s denunciation of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and his defiant line made him a genuinely popular figure within Romania, and earned plaudits from the West. Nevertheless, he was quick to assure the Soviets that his country would remain a loyal member of the Eastern Bloc. Early optimism started to dissipate as Ceausescu began to fantasize about turning Romania into a world industrial power house; and as he did so, prospects for liberalization receded. Instead, Ceausescu became obsessed with shoring up his monopoly of power, and to this end he introduced a process of continual job rotation by which functionaries at every level were ordered to change position regularly, with the intention that no one would be able to build up a power base to challenge him. The fact that the system also led to administrative chaos does not seem to have troubled Ceausescu, who in March 1974 assumed the ability to rule by decree alone. His wife Elena became increasingly powerful as vice-premier, politburo member and self-declared ‘Mother of the Nation’: the Ceausescus ruled as a gruesome partnership and stories of her greed, ruthlessness and vainglory abounded.
  • Ceausescu determined to combine the values of socialism with an ever more strident Romanian nationalism. This resulted in an increasingly bizarre series of campaigns aimed at cementing Romania’s national greatness. In March 1984, for example, concerned at the country’s low birth rate, Ceausescu decreed that women of child-bearing age were required to have monthly gynaecological examinations under the watchful eye of the Securitate, and if they were not pregnant had to justify why not. By the 1980s, as the country faced a mounting debt crisis, Ceausescu resolved to pay off Romania’s creditors by the end of the decade. To achieve this he ordered the mass exportation of the country’s agricultural produce and industrial manufactures. The result was a collapse in the standard of living, and the deaths of thousands as a result of poor nutrition and lack of modern medical care. Ceausescu responded by introducing austerity measures such as the ‘Rational Eating Programme’, which set per capita limits on consumption. The long-suffering people of Romania were finally released from the tyrant’s grip when the popular revolutions of 1989 brought the totalitarian regimes of Eastern Europe crashing down. The fall of the the ‘Genius of the Carpathians’ proved to be bloody: after a summary trial, on Christmas Day 1989 he and his wife Elena were executed by firing squad as he sang the ‘Internationale’ and she shouted “You motherf-1s!’
  • Tito did not like Ceaușescu personally, because when they went hunting wild boars together, Ceaușescu cheated and broke the rules. He once took a shot at a boar, and having missed it, fired at it a second time after the boar had moved out of Ceaușescu's and into Tito's field of fire. Tito then killed the boar with his first shot, but Ceaușescu falsely claimed that he too had hit the boar with his shot. 'In that case, your shot must have gone up the hole under the boar's tail,' said Tito sarcastically. When they went hunting together again a few year later, Ceaușescu again claimed to have killed a boar when it was in fact Tito who had shot it.
    • Jasper Ridley, Tito: A Biography (Constable and Company Ltd., 1994), p. 353.
  • Ceausescu vaunted Romania as the reincarnation of the Roman Empire’s province of Dacia, and archaeologists searched for continuities with ancient culture. He endlessly goaded the Soviet Politburo and put himself forward as the nation’s greatest ever protector. He aimed at economic autarky for Romania. This tin-pot dictator was treated as a hero in the struggle against the USSR. He received the Order of the Bath from Queen Elizabeth II on the recommendation of Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan. Liberal Party leader David Steel sent him a Labrador puppy. Nicolae’s wife Elena strutted the world in her self-appointed role as a world-class chemist; and her penchant for clothes and shoes rivalled the record of Imelda Marcos in quantity and tastelessness. The Ceausescus, man and wife, planned a luxurious life in the People’s Palace which was being built in Bucharest’s old quarter after twenty-six churches and seven thousand homes had been demolished. The Pentagon in Washington is the only edifice with a larger cubic capacity. Yet while the Palace sparkled with 4,500 chandeliers, ordinary Romanians had to put up with regular cuts in electricity supply. It was modern communism with medieval appurtenances.
    • Robert Service, Comrades: A History of World Communism
  • Like Alia, Nicolae Ceausescu spat on all talk of reform in Romania. He took one of his regular opportunities to strut before an adoring multitude on 21 December when he appeared on the balcony of his grandiose Central Committee premises in Bucharest. The crowd had been filtered through the usual mechanisms. The police were on guard as was customary. Ceausescu, flanked by wife and close aides, strode forward to address the usually subservient ‘masses’. Barely had he begun to speak than grumbling voices were heard. The Conduc tor, as he styled himself in a manner uncomfortably reminiscent of fascist dictators, was unaccustomed to this. On instinct he harangued his critics. The crowd turned surly. It was like a scene from a clichéd film ‘epic’ about ancient Rome. (This was fitting since Ceausescu had always tried to identify himself with the greatness of the Roman Empire.) People muttered, advanced, shouted and raised their fists. The security forces refrained from trying to restore order. Ceausescu suddenly understood the danger he was in. He scuffled in panic from the scene, took a helicopter to the countryside and briefly attempted to rally support. No one came to his aid. Leading communists were among those who stepped forward to announce the collapse – the most sudden and glorious collapse in a half-year of such collapses – of communist power. There was no mercy for the Ceausescu couple. The new authorities did not want them alive and able to tell the story of the part played by their successors in the maintenance of communism before 1989. They were shot on 25 December.
    • Robert Service, Comrades: A History of World Communism
  • Nicolae Ceaușescu aveva fama di eretico, ma era diversissimo da Tito. Era il più staliniano dei tiranni comunisti balcanici. Umili origini. In sintonia con le radici della sua terra, l'Oltenia, landa di foreste oscure e di atrocità ottomane.
  • Nicolae Ceaușescu had the fame of a heretic, but he was very different from Tito. He was the most Stalinist of the Balkan Communist tyrants, in tune with the past of his homeland, Oltenia, a land of dark forests and Ottoman atrocities.
    • Enzo Bettiza, Corriere della sera, interview by Aldo Cazzullo, 12 maggio 2009

See also

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