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Cult of Personality

The distinctive feature of Romania's political power structure in the 1980s was the cult of personality surrounding Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. Some observers argued that the phenomenon was the continuation of Romania's historical legacy. Others held that it was Ceausescu's unique political creation.

Following Ceausescu's rise to power in 1965, Romanians had enjoyed a short-lived liberalization, as the new leader sought to achieve genuine popularity. By 1971, however, the regime had reasserted its Stalinist legacy in socioeconomic and cultural matters. Thereafter ideological orthodoxy retained a tight hold on all intellectual life, and meaningful reforms failed to materialize. After assuming the newly established position of president of the republic, Ceausescu was increasingly portrayed by the Romanian media as a creative communist theoretician and political leader whose "thought" was the source of all national accomplishments. His tenure as president was known as the "golden era of Ceausescu." The media embellished all references to him with such fomulaic appellations as "guarantor of the nation's progress and independence" and "visionary architect of the nation's future." In 1989, Ceausescu functioned as the head of state, the PCR, and the armed forces; chairman of the Supreme Council for Economic and Social Development, president of the National Council of Working People, and chairman of the Socialist Democracy and Unity Front.

In the 1980s, the personality cult was extended to other members of the Ceausescu family. Ceausescu's wife, Elena, held a position of prominence in political life far exceeding protocol requirements. As first deputy prime minister, she took part in official negotiations with foreign governments and communist parties. She chaired both the National Council on Science and Technology and the National Council for Science and Education. Her most influential position, however, was that of chief of the Party and State Cadres Commission, which enabled her to effect organizational and personnel changes in the party apparatus and the government. By the mid-1980s, Elena Ceausescu's national prominence had grown to the point that her birthday was celebrated as a national holiday, as was her husband's. With allies throughout the Central Committee and the powerful secret police, Elena Ceausescu had emerged as one of the foremost contenders to succeed her husband, who in 1989 was reported to be in failing health. Their son, Nicu, was a candidate member of the Polexco, and two of Ceausescu's brothers held key positions in the army and the secret police. In 1989, some twenty-seven of Ceausescu's close relatives held top party and state positions.

Data as of July 1989