(b. 26 Jan. 1918, d. 25 Dec. 1989).
President of Romania 1967–89
Born in Scornicesti in rural Romania, he moved to Bucharest and soon became politically active, joining the Communist Party in 1936. He became a protégé of Gheorghiu‐Dej and was put in charge of building up a Communist youth organization. He worked underground until the entry of Soviet troops in 1944 and the establishment of the Communist Romanian Republic in 1948. He entered the Politburo in 1955, and in 1965 succeeded Gheorghiu‐Dej as First Secretary (later Secretary‐General) of the Communist Party. He was President of the State Council (1967–74) and, when his position had become unassailable, conferred upon himself the title of President in 1974.
He installed a brutal regime of terror, backed by his loyal security police, the notorious Securitate. In common with dictators such as Saddam Hussein, he elevated the members of his large family to high and strategic positions in state and society. Most famously, he made his wife, Elena, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture. He successfully played a double game of persuading the West that he was an independent agent at a distance from the USSR, while assuring Brezhnev that his control over party and state was as great as ever. He thus became a favoured Communist leader for Western states, and even received a knighthood from the British government.
At home, however, the economic problems caused by the 1973 and 1979 oil‐price shocks, which turned Eastern Europe's command economies from bad to worse, were compounded by the megalomanic building and industrial projects he envisaged after the 1977 earthquake. His obsession with increasing the birth‐rate imposed strict penalties on abortions. Too many of those families who had fulfilled the target of bearing five children found that they did not have the physical or economic means to raise them, so that thousands of children were raised in underdeveloped orphanages. With the collapse of Communism elsewhere in Eastern Europe, not even his nationalism, which he had fostered to ridiculous proportions, saved his much‐hated regime from collapse. With his wife, he fled the growing unrest, but was captured, and, after a brief trial, executed.
Subjects: contemporary history (post 1945).