The Emergence of Elena Ceausescu’s Cult

The present study attempts to examine the trajectory of Elena Ceausescu’s gradual cult as manifested in the Romanian press, with specific reference to the main daily newspaper Scinteia. I have limited my analysis to the period between 1970-1975 and 1979-1984, because it illustrates the gradual creation of Elena’s public personality.  Elena Ceausescu’s cult was constructed in such a way as to represent the party’s ideal type of a communist Romanian Woman.


The communist rule in Eastern Europe profoundly changed the economic, social, and political pattern of those societies. (1)  In Romania’s case, as well as in other countries behind the Iron Curtain, the communist power tried hardly to legitimize itself and also to legitimize certain abnormal behavior. The summit of the communist rule was achieved due to the establishment of the cult of personality. (2)
In Romania, for instance, the cult of personality of the country’s leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, appeared only after 1970, even though the communist system was established in 1945-1947. This implies that gradually everything evolved around him. The most frequently promoted image of the leader was that of the father, which suggested responsibility, trust and safety. The whole educational system was centered on him. Thus, Marxism was not regarded as an important ideology.
The cult of personality represented a factor of ideological legitimacy, and unity within the state, as he proclaimed his breaking away from the Soviet Union. This fact contributed to his isolation in the communist space. Thus, he had to legitimize his image in the eyes of the other countries. Consequently, he conducted skilful foreign affairs, but most important he had a charismatic personality, widely promoted by different kinds of media. What, in fact, Ceausescu wanted was to make his country a strong, independent state, without any external intervention. (3)
However, this cult of personality was the result of the fact that the image of the beloved leader of the Communist Party was introduced by force, involving state security, propaganda, with the help of the educational system, and also a centralization of the whole system. Therefore, a way to legitimize the political, social, and economic situation was to accredit his own image.
Besides his own image, his wife’s was also strongly promoted, ascending on the academic scale. By analyzing the characteristics of Elena Ceausescu’s cult, as viewed in the newspapers, one may demonstrate that the major outcome of this campaign was her promotion as the mother, the scientist, and the political woman. The ascendance of Elena Ceausescu had as a result the promotion of women. However, previous research  (4)  shows that the campaign for women’s promotion could be viewed more or less as a social mechanism that offered legitimacy to Elena’s cult and prepared her ascendancy.
Taking as sample for my analysis two important days, the 6th of January, Elena Ceausescu’s birthday, and the 1st of May, the international Labor’s day, I will follow her ascendance within two periods from 1970 to 1975, and on the other hand from 1979 to 1984. My research will focus on images of Elena Ceausescu as she was promoted in the daily newspaper Scinteia, following her gradual ascension from a mere companion in Ceausescu’s visits in the country and abroad, in the first period, to that of the second leader of the country as reflected in the second one.
The present study comprises mostly primary sources, i.e. the Romanian newspaper Scinteia, which was the Romanian Communist Party’s newspaper, and also the only compulsory paper for all party members. Even students had to be aware of the newspaper and quote from it. The emerging cult of Nicolae Ceausescu cannot be separated from his wife’s. Thus, I have limited my analysis to the period 1970-1984 because it illustrates the gradual creation of Elena’s public personality.

Inauguration of the Danube-Black Sea Canal in 1984

My research will focus on the images of Elena Ceausescu, as promoted by the daily newspaper Scinteia, also taking into account the titles, because they are closely linked to the images, as will be demonstrated in my analysis. Apart the primary sources the present essay will also relate to several scholarly writings of historians, social historians and political scientists that have analyzed different problems of Romanian communism. The books used try to describe the process of how did Elena Ceausescu came to obtain the power. Thus, my essay will try to synthesize a basic bibliography related to a certain period of time as reflected by the leaders’ images promoted by the newspaper Scinteia.
Between 1970 and 1975 one might argue that there is a gradual ascendance in the social status of Elena Ceausescu from a mere appearance in the background to an important social figure who contributes to the implementation of a future cult of personality.

With 1979 her cult of personality received a concrete manifestation in Romanian media and completely established itself in the next years. The period between 1975 and 1979 does not constitute the object of my analysis because after a careful examination one might draw the conclusion that this period is a stagnation in her ascendance, and no really important events occur in what regards this analysis.
Starting with 1979 every political and national celebration was a great opportunity to extol the Party and its leaders. Moreover, it is during this period that Elena’s important role for the country manifested in various ways, congresses, conferences national celebrations. To stress even more the importance of this period one should mention the fact that before 1979, Elena’s birthdays passed without any mention in the Romanian mass-media.

The Pre-cult of the Personality of Elena Ceausescu

In early 1970 Elena Ceausescu had little public image, if any, as compared to her husband, Nicolae Ceausescu. As promoted by the newspaper Scinteia, she remained in the shadow of her husband. In the first half of the year 1970 Elena Ceausescu appeared only once, when meeting the American astronauts with their wives, at the airport.  (5)  In the beginning she accompanied her husband on different visits having thus a mere entertaining role and being simply mentioned as “his wife,” in the headlines. Yet, there was no visual representation in the newspaper, either on the 6th of January, or on the 1st of May 1970.  (6)  In fact, the Labor’s day did not promote the image of either the former leader, or his wife. Thus, one might conclude that at that time, the stress was not so much on the individual, but on the event, and society.
For example, the big red title of the first page was “Long live the 1st of May, Day of International Solidarity of Those Who Work,”  (7)  and on the third page, “Labor Transforms People, People Transform Labor.”  (8)  They celebrated the country and the labor force. After those scarce presence, she would disappear from the paper for long periods of time, the focus being exclusively on Nicolae Ceausescu’s activities. And even when she did appear she was presented in the background.

Some scholars argue that the visit to China from the 2nd of June up to 25th, 1971,  (9)  had a major influence on Elena’s future ambitions to become a prominent figure in her country’s politics. Scholars such as Gail Kligman, Mary F. Fisher, or V. Tismaneanu referred in their books and articles to the cult of Elena Ceausescu both as a prominent public figure, and a paternalistic image. This visit greatly influenced them because among the communist countries it was only in China that the cult of personality took huge proportions. Therefore, this had a great impact on Elena’s future ambitions to become a prominent figure in her country’s politics, imitating Mao’s wife, in politics, media, science, and arts. Mark Almond suggested that “if Elena wished to be a great scientist, Jiang Qing was already a great actress and the messenger of comrade Mao on most issues.” (10)  Thus, her presence gained increasing importance from 1971, when she accompanied her husband on most public occasions, such as visits in different towns, and work sites in the country, to the military parade and public demonstrations, but mostly abroad.
In July 19, 1972, at the National Conference of the Romanian Communist Party, Elena Ceausescu was elected to full membership in the Central Committee, and from that moment on, she was nominated many other important titles. (11)  For example, in 1973 she became a member of the Party’s Executive Committee, on the 12th of April, 1975, she was awarded Doctor Honoris Causa, by the Feminine University of Manila, on the 15th of April, the same year, the highest Jordanian distinction, on the 2nd of December they were both awarded the title Doctor Honoris Causa by the university of Teheran. (12)
In the following years 1973, her ascendance to power emerged gradually. During this year Elena Ceausescu appeared beside the wife of the Pakistan Leader, on the 9th of January. Moreover on the 2nd of May, Scinteia presented them as family, i.e. Nicolae Ceausescu delivering a speech, with his wife supporting him. Hence, as Kligman argues, the emphasis was on her role as a wife and supporter of the leader and their harmonious life together. (13)  Elena Ceausescu alone also visited Chemical Institutions, therefore, one might draw the conclusion, in a long perspective, that the ground for her role as a scientist was put forward.

For example, in 25th of January, 1973 they both visited the Central Institute of Chemical Research in Bucuresti, another visit was on the 28th of June, the same year, when Elena Ceausescu visited the Central Institute of Chemical Research in Bayer, during their visit to Federal Republic of Germany. Even though neither her birthday was publicly promoted on the 6th of January, nor in the 1st of May, 1973 did we find their images, this year was very important because she began to be more publicly involved, by her own visits to the museums and Chemical Institutes, setting grounds for her future roles in the country. Nevertheless, she had general activities and meetings, mostly with other leaders’ wives, which made her appear as fully competent individual who could manifest outside the couple. Her independent activities remained limited, and without political, or scientific importance, but though socially important.
Beginning with 1975, her name appeared in the titles, beside her husband’s, even though her position had not drastically changed, from a mere companion. Moreover, she organized receptions for the guests of the country, and the images promote a more familiar and independent Elena. Furthermore, as promoted in the media she appeared as her husband’s constant companion on official and unofficial occasions. She also presided with him at the Party and state ceremonies, we saw her travelling with him more abroad than in the country and she even held formal positions directly below him in the political hierarchy. She became a public figure in 1971 and rose quickly to the top of the political hierarchy, receiving promotions rapidly.
As for the types of images of women in this period the most promoted ones were the actress, the hard-working woman, the peasant, the student, the educator, the sports woman. Nevertheless, these images were very masculinized, as they got recognition in the most important sectors of economic and social activity, due to their “professional competence and loyalty they devoted themselves to labor, such as, the weaver, the researcher in the electronic industry, the worker, the teacher, the manager, the chemist engineer, the doctor.” (14)
According to the list of the Central Committee members, provided by the daily Scinteia in 29th November 1974, the 11th Party Congress elected 2 women out of 22 members, Elena Ceausescu and Lina Ciobanu, as members of Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party. Another 7 women out of 205 members were elected for membership in the Central Committee, and 24 women out of 157 were elected for alternate membership. As Gail Kligman suggested, these figures are only a façade for the political and scientific legitimization of Elena.

The Gradual Ascendance of Elena Ceausescu’s Cult of Personality

Beginning with the 1979, Elena Ceausescu’s presence gains increasing importance, being presented as the second most powerful person in the party. (15)  In the late 1970s the Romanian press worshiped her almost equally as her husband. On her sixtieth birthday, in January 6, 1979, she was praised for forty years of revolutionary activity, and Scinteia devoted her two days of celebrations. The number of images also increases. Thus, on the third page she appears alone in six images, which is most relevant as in previous years she appears only in the presence of her husband, or with other presidents’ wives. The titles are also very suggestive: “Great Example of Devotion and Revolutionary Passion,” “Leading Fighter of the Party for the Glorious Destiny of Romania,” “Prestigious Contribution to the Evolution of Romanian Science, to the Cause for Peace and International Cooperation.” They celebrated the accomplishments of Elena Ceausescu not as the wife, or as the companion, but as the independent woman.
Thus, Elena’s cult became a genuine one following the line of her husband’s. Two years later the party newspaper greeted her birthday with her drawing as the First Lady smilingly receiving dozens of bouquets of flowers from a crowd of children. Underneath was a poem entitled “Homage”, ending as follows:

“To the first woman of the country, the homage of the entire country,
As star stands beside star in the eternal arch of heaven,
Beside the Great Man she watches over
Romania’s path to glory.”  (16)

Although the Romanian press praised her, Elena Ceausescu was not a popular personality in most of the country. She did not propel a practical competence like Eleanor Roosevelt or a mystical charm and beauty of Eva Peron. Even if Nicolae Ceausescu’s image had become extremely defiant and lacking in trustworthiness, it still remained more credible than hers. Romanians would say, he earned his high office, rising to the peak of power through hard work and political skill. She was generally perceived as a “dragon lady.” Even Nicolae Ceausescu is said to have been victim to her cunning personality. Assumption weighs more heavily than empirical evidence in accounts about this much-hated couple.  (17)
Gradually, Elena Ceausescu’s image had separated from the family to that of the “comrade academician doctor engineer Elena Ceausescu, brilliant politician and patriotic scholar of broad international renown.” (18)  She was still pictured with dozens of smiling children paying homage to her, but her image had become that of a famous scientist, who brought credit to Romania for her scientific achievements, as well as by caring for her family. As Party priorities had shifted, the image of Elena Ceausescu had changed as well. Thus, the adulation paid to her has roots in regime policy as well as her own personal vanity.
As Tismaneanu pointed out, “the political emasculation of the party apparatus group” corresponded with two main processes. On the one hand Elena’s ascension to the highest Party position, followed by the Romanian Party National Conference in 1972, and on the other hand Ceausescu’s increasing trusting upon another group constituted first of all of activists directly and personally linked and promoted by him.
The promotion of women was a major theme of Party pronouncements after 1979 as a means of attracting them into the work force and in the 1980s women appeared more and more frequently in prominent political and economic places. As compared to other discriminated group, i.e. minorities, women had joined the Party leadership. Even though the ideology of the communist regime declared equality of women and men, and sought to eliminate patriarchy, equality did not imply equal affirmation of different values for women and men, but treatment similar to men. Everybody was treated as a member of the Communist Party, not as different persons in terms of gender. Thus, they were expected to work outside their home, becoming loyal citizens and servants of the state. Therefore, Scinteia would not promote the sensitive, the beautiful woman, or the mother, but the hard working and never tired woman, always a spring of new energies. The political and economic emancipation of women was a part of the mythic history of socialist women fabricated during the regime of Ceausescu. He arduously supported the promotion of women into the labor force, promising full equality with men. He militated against gender discrimination, demanding that persons be treated not as men and women but as members of the party and as citizens:
If we speak about the creation of conditions of full equality between the sexes, this means that we must treat all people not as men and women, but in their qualities as party members, as citizens, for which they are exclusively judged according to their work contributions. (19)
Ceausescu’s aim was in fact to promote one particular woman, his wife. Equality between the sexes in a “dictatorship of the proletariat” meant that proletarians, regardless of gender, were socially and economically defined through their lack of private property. Thus, what people had in common was their labor power, which made them equal under law. The principle of equality promoted by the communist regime did not reflect a public attitude, or at least a recognition of inequality. The gender issue was simply not understood, it was politically proclaimed. Moreover, one might notice that there was no gender issue during communism, as there was no minorities issue because everybody was considered equal under the communist regime.


The present research examines the creation of Elena Ceausescu’s cult of personality as illustrated by the communist daily newspaper Scinteia. Thus, while in early 1970s Elena was sequentially shifting from scarce appearance in the background, to the mentioning of her name in the headlines alongside with her husband’s, and also giving receptions to the guests of our country, in late 1970s she appeared as an independent woman, and an important contributor to the scientific progress of the country. The iconography reproduced in the newspaper emphasized her beauty and youth and also her intellectual capacities. Even though my study took a different sample for the analysis from previous researches, the conclusion drawn upon is similar. The images of women are closely connected to those of Elena Ceausecu. Gradually, the emphasis in the Romanian mass media shifted from motherhood in the 1970s to the promotion of women into positions of authority in the 1980s. However, there is no change in the status of women, because they are permanently represented as hard working, without any interest in their own image. One might draw the conclusion that, in spite of the fact that the images of women more often promoted the working woman, rather than the beautiful, or the young woman, Elena Ceausescu’s iconography represented her as the fashionable woman, full of vitality, and acting on her own.

Notes :

    (1) This idea can be found in Peter Cipkowski, Revolution in Eastern Europe, (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1991) Minton F Goldman, Revolution and Change in Central and Eastern Europe, (London: M.E.Sharp, 1997)  Mary Ellen Fischer, Nicolae Ceausescu: A Study in Political Leadership, (Boulder & London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1989).

    (2) The concept of the cult of personality has been scarcely treated in the literature, although Daniel N. Nelson tries to define it as “a leadership strategy in which highly charismatic and highly coercive components exist simultaneously with coercion applied to enforce the ‘acceptance’ of the ruler’s charisma.” Charisma, Control, and Coercion. The Dilemma of Communist Leadership, p8.

    (3) George Schopflin, Politics in Eastern Europe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993).

    (4) Ioana Radulescu, “The ‘Making’ of Elena Ceausescu’s Cult of Personality as Illustrated by the Romanian Communist Party’s Propaganda Daily, Scinteia: 1971-1980,” (MA thesis dissertation, Central European University, June 1998) Budapest, Hungary.

    (5) Scinteia, March 1, 1970.

    (6) Scinteia, 1970, 1st of May, and 6th of January.

    (7) Ziua Solidaritatii Internationale a celor ce muncesc.

    (8) Munca transforma oamenii, Oamenii transforma munca.

    (9) The year 1971 considered as a turning point in the Party’s propaganda, is also discussed by Mark Almond in his book The Rise and Fall of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu.

    (10) Mark Almond, The Rise and Fall of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu (London: Chapmans, 1992).

    (11) Gail Kligman, The Politics of Duplicity, Berkely: University of California Press, 1998.

    (12) See further Scinteia, 1973 and 1975.

    (13) “We gaze with esteem, with respect, at the harmony of his life family. We attach special ethical significance to the fact that his life &endash; together with that of his life comrade, the former textile worker and a Union of Communist Youth militant, member of the Party since the days of illegality, today Hero of Social Labor, scientist, member of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party, comrade Elena Ceausescu &endash; offers an exemplary image of the destinies of two communists.” Gail Kligman, Politics of Duplicity, p56.

    (14) Scinteia, 1975.

    (15) On 8 January, 1979, Scinteia presents a presidential decree regarding the offering of the “The Star of the Socialist Republic of Romania” to Elena Ceausescu.

    (16) Mary Ellen Fischer, Nicolae Ceausescu (Boulder & London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1989) p171.

    (17) Gail Kligman, The Politics of Duplicity, (Berkely: University of California Press, 1998) p127.

    (18) Scinteia, 7 January 1984.

    (19) The Constitution of the Socialist Republic, article 9.

Cornelia Les
ISHA CEU Budapest

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