Traian Sandu, "Ceausescu: The Ambiguous Dictator" (Perrin, 2023)


Today I talked to Traian Sandu about his book Ceausescu: Le dictateur ambigu (Perrin, 2023). 

Born in January 1918, Nicolae Ceauşescu began his apprenticeship in Bucharest and discovered the social struggle and its repression at the age of fifteen within the Romanian Communist Party. In 1948, the Stalinist Gheorghiu-Dej, his mentor, having taken power, he took the opportunity to quickly climb the ranks of the party and the state. Installed in power in March 1965, Ceauşescu inherited the policy of his predecessor: avoiding de-Stalinization by playing the nationalist card. Its beginnings were popular thanks to a certain cultural liberalization, the beginning of a consumer society and an opening towards the West. However, the oil shocks and the détente between the United States and the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s deprived him of the resources needed to pursue his policy. 

His role as a bridge between East and West, his industrialization policy based on Western capital and technologies and his popularity within Romanian society collapsed at the turn of the 1980s. The beginning of social and political opposition (strikes and dissidence), the decision to repay the debt to Western institutions (IMF and World Bank) which led to cruel shortages and the end of the Cold War with the arrival of Gorbachev sounded the death knell for his regime which collapsed in three days in December 1989. The one who called himself the "genius of the Carpathians", or even the "Danube of thought", was executed with his wife, Elena, at the end of a particularly hasty trial, ending a strange revolution in which many saw the hand of the Soviet "big brother". Between autocratic drift and reformist desires, nationalism and submission to the USSR, growing paranoia and all-consuming megalomania, the man remained a mystery.

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Roland Clark

Roland Clark is a Reader in Modern European History at the University of Liverpool.

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