Love, Romanian Style
Nicolai and Elena Ceaușescu – two of the wackiest Communist dictators of the Cold War era (and I don’t use the term “wacky” lightly) – were executed on Christmas day, 1989. And to the bitter end, they were madly in love.
I was going to write a little retrospective of their eventful reign on the actual anniversary of their deaths, but I just didn’t think it exemplified the proper Christmas spirit. I do, however, think it’s perfect for the Bloody Valentine’s Day blog hop.
And bloody they were, from the proverbial blood on their hands from the hundreds, perhaps thousands of execution orders they signed, to the very real blood that soaked their cashmere coats on the day their own firing squad unloaded on them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. This is a love story, after all. And like any good love story, we need to start at the beginning – really get to the nut of what made these two indviduals fall so hard for so long. A love that led them hand in hand to their deaths – shouting and berating their captors to the bitter end. Defending each other with their last breaths.
To start with, in their youth neither were particularly accomplished students. Elena, who left school at fourteen, got her only good mark in needlework. Her later, extraordinary accomplishments in polymer chemistry (she graduated summa cum laude with a PhD from the University of Bucharest) went largely ignored by anyone who wasn’t compelled to acknowledge them, since what was apparently most extraordinary was that she forced legitimate scientists to write her thesis in her name.
But what Elena lacked in the classroom, she clearly made up for in the bedroom. Despite a big nose and a perpetually dour expression on a plain, matronly face, her beloved Nicolai was instantly smitten by her; reportedly he never looked at another woman in a sexual way again.
With his stone-faced sex kitten by his side – Nicolai even named her Deputy Prime Minister – the Ceaușescus embarked on a series of harebrained agricultural and architectural schemes that bankrupted a country rich in resources and left its citizens scrounging for enough food to eat.
Bill and Hillary Clinton aside, they really were the first modern co-presidency.
No matter how many bitter failures and embarrassing promises and proclamations of theirs that went bust, the Ceausescus never let it affect their burning passion or unrelenting self-esteem. Nicolai, at his wife’s urging, made his birthday a national holiday -one of the few days of the year when the average Romanian put on a happy face, since looking miserable on that day carried some pretty heavy consequences. He also labeled himself “The Genius of the Carpathians” requiring said title in all verbal and written communication about him. Elena heartily approved. And like the back cover of a Danielle Steel novel, Nicolai made sure that the pictures of he and his wife – the ones he insisted be plastered all over Romania – had to be retouched to make the couple appear in a perpetual state of twenty-eight. The way they still saw each other no doubt.
The illusion could only last so long.
The Ceausescus were executed by an enthusiastic military firing squad that apparently started shooting the second they got into position. Hundreds had volunteered for the job; many had to be turned away. The Ceausescus died almost instantly, falling side by side onto the cold, wet ground.
But today in Romania, there’s a growing nostalgia for their last dictator and his bride. And I guess I understand it. Life may have been a miserable slog under their reign – filled with fear and devoid of hope. But it’s hard not to feel inspired by true love – even under the most dire circumstances. By a man on fire for a woman with stern features, a mediocre mind, and a surly disposition. A woman who truly believed her husband was the greatest man who ever lived. Maybe that’s what the Romanians are longing for – the kind of love that denies truth and defies reason. That crazy teenage infatuation that feels more like a terminal disease than an emotion. But you say to yourself – If this is going to kill me, bring it on, baby, bring it on.