While Ceausescu’s Away, His Wife Runs Nation
Elena Ceausescu, wife and confidante of Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu for the 24 years of his iron-fisted rule, is in charge of the country while he visits Iran amid violent anti-government protests.
Declared a national heroine on her 70th birthday this year and known to share her husband’s Stalinist views, she is a prominent member of the ruling Communist Party Politburo and a first deputy prime minister.
She is effectively the No. 2 leader of both the party and state. In the official press, she is frequently praised as part of a personality cult as adoring as her husband’s.
The hard-line president appeared to have few qualms about leaving Romania in his wife’s hands despite reports of serious unrest at the weekend in the western city of Timisoara. Witnesses say hundreds of people were killed by security forces.
The official news agency Agerpres on Monday published photographs of Romania’s First Lady seeing off her husband at the Bucharest airport, unsmiling and dressed in a drab winter coat.
Since then, Romania has sealed itself off from the outside. It reportedly is under virtual martial law.
Western diplomats say Elena Ceausescu’s political influence in a leadership including many Ceausescu relatives has grown in recent years and that Ceausescu may be grooming her to succeed him.
On state visits abroad, she has held talks with government representatives in her own capacity and is understood to wield considerable influence in deciding political appointments.
Born in the village of Petresti on Jan. 7, 1919, she was active in Romania’s anti-Fascist underground movement during World War II. After training as a chemical engineer, she rose to head the Romanian Academy of Sciences.
The rhetoric of the Ceausescu cult, which hails her as a “shining symbol of the national spirit,” seems increasingly outdated as other East Bloc states oust their unpopular leaders and call for genuine democracy.
Elena Ceausescu has a place in Bucharest’s National Museum, where her honorary scientific diplomas are displayed alongside decorations the couple received on trips abroad.
Other rooms include “presents from the Romanian people”: marble busts and tapestries depicting her in saintly poses.
Everyday life at the Ceausescu home is cloaked in mystery and privilege while ordinary Romanians line up for basic food and freeze in winter.
In an account of life with the family, a former Romanian intelligence chief described her choosing a mink coat and being lavished with diamonds by her husband.
“I am not a president’s wife. I am the next in line after the Romanian leader. Is that clear?” the author quoted her as saying.