Friday, September 22 2017
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VOL 23 NO 54 REGD NO DA 1589 | Dhaka, Monday, January 4 2016
Posted : 04 Jan, 2016 22:29:28 AA-A+
A lesson from the fate of Ceausescu
F R Chowdhury from London

Power makes people corrupt. They get addicted to power and cannot think of living without power. This is where it all goes wrong. So long as the leader remains honest and serves the people with sincerity, s/he has nothing to fear. Such democratic leaders can embrace the verdict of the people and live with dignity and respect even when not in power. They are the ones who firmly believe in democracy. They accept criticism. They respect views of others.

Being in power, if you happen to indulge in corruption then you remain in fear of being exposed when out of power. That leads to all efforts to prolong the power by all possible means - fair or unfair. But there are others who are simply power corrupt. They enjoy power and they think of themselves as the only patriots. They will say that they must remain in power to ensure continuity of progress and development. Both categories can be termed as dictators. Even if they came to power by democratic means, they steer away from the ethics and principles of democracy. Once they get addicted to power, they resort to various undemocratic means to silence all opposition to remain in power. In most cases they achieve short-term success but eventually face violent fall.

In this context, our subject of discussion today is Nicolae Ceausescu, the former president of Romania. After the Second World War, Romania fell into the influence of the former Soviet Union. Nicolae Ceausescu became the First Secretary/Secretary General of the Communist Party (effectively the head of the government) in 1965. Two years later he became the Executive President. He consolidated all powers and removed all traces of opposition. 

Ceausescu eventually became the leader of the party, head of the government and head of the state. The armed forces, civil administration and judiciary were also under his firm grip. Court verdicts always reflected the desire and wishes of the president. The radio and television were under state control and were busy broadcasting all the good things done by Ceausescu. The newspapers dared not write anything criticising the regime of Ceausescu. Everything was state-owned or controlled and centralised. There was no private enterprise. Economy was stagnant. Yet, capital city Bucharest looked very colourful. Everything was named after the president and every magazine and journal printed stories of his great achievements. Foreign visitors were very impressed. They were amazed to see his popularity. Ceausescu was honoured at home and abroad. He received several doctorate degrees from various universities. He also received many so-called prizes and honours including Knighthood from the United Kingdom (though later withdrawn).

Back home his security forces were busy arresting political rivals and framing imaginary charges against them. Most of them would land up in jails for long time to come. Some of the political activists were made to disappear without any trace by Ceausescu's security forces. It is also known that all prominent leaders of the miners, who forced the government for a negotiation, died mysteriously from cancer within next two years of the negotiations. Ceausescu and other party leaders would hold frequent meetings and rallies as show of force.

Romania continued to suffer economically eventually becoming one of the poorest nations in Europe. When people suffered in extreme poverty, media was giving colourful images of so-called prosperity in and around Bucharest. Portraits of the president decorated the streets. Population growth became negative. It did not improve even after announcement of government incentives. The outwardly happy nation was suffering very badly but people could not voice their grievances or disappointment. However, discontent was brewing. By then electronic communication came into use. The younger generations, especially the students, knew the situation in rest of Europe. They were in fact exchanging information and ideas. It all developed quietly. The security agencies either failed to detect the underground work or deliberately ignored the development. 

It was on December 21, 1989 that Ceausescu came on the stage to address a vast rally not knowing that groups of opponents infiltrated in the crowd. The president's speech was interrupted frequently. Ceausescu initially thought that the crowd outburst was in response to his speech. In reality groups of young people were chanting "down with Ceausescu" from several parts of the gathering. The president's loyal forces fired on the crowd and they removed the president to safety. This time it was not possible to silence the crowd with guns. The demonstrations spread to other cities. Next day (22-12-1989) the president tried to address the people from the balcony of the Central Committee Building when the agitated crowd rushed towards the building. The president left the place through a back door to board a helicopter with his wife on the rooftop of the building. The helicopter was ordered to land back before it could cross the border. The president and his wife (Elena) were picked up by an APC (armoured personnel carrier) and brought to the nearest military base. There was a show trial lasting no more than five minutes and the verdict of death by firing squad was announced. Their hands were tied behind and then shot to death.

The death of Ceausescu and his wife by the firing squad was perhaps the last death sentence as Romania has since abolished capital punishment. What a cruel way they died but that is how the people got back their freedom. Now they can laugh and cry; they can express their feelings without any fear or intimidation. When a dictator thinks that power has been consolidated, secured and made perpetual then the ultimate power - people power - comes into play. When it comes nothing can stop that.

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