The Romanian Führer. The West’s “favorite communist.” Both of these descriptions have been used to describe Nicolae Ceaușescu, the rapacious Romanian dictator of twenty-four years.
Ceaușescu rose up through the Communist Party ranks in post World War II Romania, becoming party general secretary in 1965 and eventually obtaining the presidency in 1967. Despite later being notorious for his disastrous economic policies and attempt to establish the most totalitarian state in Europe, Ceaușescu’s reign trended comparatively liberal in its early years.
Censorship in the public media was eased and the nation was “free” relative to other communist states. However, this period of stability was short-lived. Human rights abuses and increasing restrictions on the freedom of the press heightened while the Securitate, the secret police, skyrocketed in membership.
In a bold act of defiance, Ceaușescu made a point to distance his country from the Soviet bloc. He openly disputed the Kremlin’s views of certain issues, especially the Romanian role in regional agreements. Tensions were further aggravated following the Warsaw Pact’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 led by the Soviet Union. On August 21, in what would become his most famous speech, Ceaușescu declared the invasion to be a “grave error and constituted a serious danger to peace in Europe and for the prospects of world socialism.”