Wearing the trousers in Romania

Without a doubt, the final moments of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu belong to the best reality TV ever made. Not only because the vengeful show trial, given to the tyrannical couple in December 1989 in a sparsely furnished basement in Tirgoviste, ended in an execution. Mainly, really, because the Romanian dictator pair made such an indelibly proud impression - a pride that in those circumstances was both insane and touching.

by Gertjan van Schoonhoven


In their formal winter coats, the Ceausescus looked as if on their way to the opera they had been annoyingly interrupted by a bunch of miscreants, as the result of an all too futile misunderstanding. Outside, the taxi was waiting, in a manner of speaking, and conducator Nicolae and his Elena were not sure what was more bothersome: the impertinent questions by these men in uniform or the fact that the taxi meter was running. That kind of attitude: slight irritation that slowly turns into anger. When will this farce finally be finished, they seemed to wonder.


Proud to the bitter end

Things were only finished when the twosome lay bleeding in the inner courtyard. Elena was clearly the most insolent of the two. She permanently gave her interrogators a big mouth - 'You shouldn't ask a woman about her age!' - and was determined to stay proud to the bitter end, until it dawned on her that the bullet was awaiting her. She refused to be handcuffed on her way to the courtyard, and to be separated from her husband of 50 years. 'We go together!'. Then she grabbed her handbag and tightly closed her coat - it was obvious who was wearing the trousers in the Ceausescu home.


Evil genius

Who was this Elena? The Dutch/Romanian documentary Elena Ceausescu - Doctor Horroris Causa makes an attempt to find out. Not an easy task: a lot of mythologisation by the Ceausescus themselves and their household, and only a few facts. Besides, all but a few of the people who have known him and her intimately and who are introduced in the documentary as sources are clearly living in glass houses, to put it mildly. Former politburo members, with or without sunglasses - what more do you want? Not surprisingly, this 100-minute documentary does not really hit the spot.

After the glorification of Ceausescu before 1989, a new post-communist myth is contrived: that of Elena as the evil genius of all the misery that has befallen Romania. Especially the old top communists happily contribute to this analysis. For selfish reasons, they eagerly substantiate Elena's demonic disposition. There was not much wrong with the party, the ideals or the practice before Elena Ceausescu got a hold on her husband, if we have to believe these Carpathians.



Thus, the viewer leaves the documentary with the feeling that this Nicolae was really a fine bloke who was too slow-witted to bring ruin upon the whole country; that Romania would have been saved a lot of suffering if he had married another woman, not Elena, that ambitious, unskilled luxury girl of humble origin.

The argumentation in favour of this theory is too meagre. The documentary especially takes great pains over Elena's megalomania, which may be ludicrous, but that does not make it perilous. The academic titles, for example, that she had others bestow on her: Prof. Dr Elena Ceausescu B.Sc. The film also repeats what was already known: that Elena, as the leader of the so-called 'second cabinet', played an increasing role in appointments and dismissals in the leadership of the country, and therefore in the course and atmosphere of Bucharest and the rest of Romania. But all this is insufficient to justify the title 'doctor horroris causa'.


Much ado about nothing

The greatest sorrow in Romania, the total 'darkness' in the country from the early eighties, was closely bound up with the economic policy of 'agricultural reforms', which were catastrophic for the population, and the export of everything that could be exported. This policy is not dealt with in the documentary - let alone the part Elena played in it. Poor in evidence, rich in astounding images: that is, in short, the story of this film. Thank God it liberally draws on unopened film archives, including footage of the numerous state visits to North Korea, China and Western countries, when - in the sixties and seventies - Ceausescu was pampered outside the Warsaw Pact because of his anti-Moscow stance.


Sick farce

Going against the intentions of the documentary, these images only augment the enigma of the Ceausescus. Watching the duo, on a visit to the United States, roller coasting ebulliently in Disneyland, it is even harder to understand this woeful episode in Romanian history. What does become clear is that this episode cannot be grasped as a nicely surveyable tragedy, as the documentary does. It seems that it was something much more complicated, something that in the basement at Tirgoviste ended as such: a sick farce.


Elena Ceausescu Doctor Horroris Causa / Rom / 1997 / colour / 103 min.
Director: Emil Busurca
Production: Lydia de Koning for East West Productions
Fax: # 31 20 6769638
email: eastwest@xs4all.nl

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