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Romania: under Ceausescu

Nicolae Ceausescu was a dictator unlike any other in the Soviet sphere. In the 1980s, he was determined to pay back all foreign debt so whatever could be exported (wheat, oil and all manner of livestock) was. What could be imported (out-of-season fruit, simple items like pepper and critically important medicine) wasn’t. I remember driving over hydroelectric dams to find a city with no electricity. I would drive through wheat fields and arrive in a town with no bread. I would then drive through oil fields near Ploesti and find no benzine (except for tourists like me with coupons).

Ceausescu spent years destroying the ancient heart of many Romanian cities and built ugly blocks and communal housing in dozens of them. Yet the countryside was beautiful and towns like Sibiu and Sighisoara escaped the dictator’s plans.

On the Avenue for the Victory of Socialism, Bucharest, December, 1985.

Romania: a violent end

Ceausescu said that reform would come to his country when apples grew on pear trees. It came, instead, after he and his wife were machine-gunned on 25 December. No Communist leader was as despised as this man, and on 21 December, while giving a speech to the masses (who were brought in by bus from their factories), the crowds began yelling “Jos Ceausescu!” (“Down with Ceausescu!”).


He tried another speech the next day but that didn’t go well, and he fled by helicopter from the roof of Communist party headquarters. I was in Timisoara and Arad on 22 December and took photographs for The Observer in London and New York Newsday.

22 December, 1989, Timisoara. The fighting was raging a few streets away and this mother was hysterical that her son’s army unit was being attacked by the Securitate.

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