After a great week in Italy with Kevin and Jess, we flew back to Eastern Europe to visit Romania, one of the countries we were most looking forward to. We started off in the capital, Bucharest, and made our way north from there. Bucharest is a busy city compared to the rest of Romania but nothing too crazy. While there we took a couple of free walking tours and learned of the city’s history as well as some general Romanian history.
Nicolae Ceausescu was the Communist leader of Romania from 1965 to 1989. His government was severely totalitarian and was considered the most repressive in Eastern Europe at the time. There were many shortages which led to rationing of food, water, electricity, heat, and other basic necessities. Under his rule relationships with foreign countries, including the Soviet Union, deteriorated. In December of 1989, anti-government protests in Timisoara were met with lethal force per Ceausescu’s command. When word spread of this, massive demonstrations erupted countrywide in what’s now known as the Romanian Revolution. After a botched public speech by Ceausescu, him and his wife fled the city by helicopter. During this time the Romanian military turned on them and they were summarily captured, put on trial, charged with genocide, damage to the national economy, and abuse of power, and were sentenced to death. The trial and subsequent execution (though the actual moment of execution was cut) were broadcast live to the Romanian public on Christmas Day.
In the late 70’s, Ceausescu ordered a reconstruction of downtown Bucharest that was inspired by Pyongyang, North Korea. To do this, much of the old city center was demolished and over 40,000 people were relocated. Due to this, the ‘old’ section of the city is now much more modern than other cities in Romania that weren’t destroyed. As part of the reconstruction, he wanted a colossal palace (below) for himself and Parliament. It is elaborately ornate inside and is the 2nd largest administrative building in the world (after the Pentagon). Ceausescu never lived to see it finished.
Since the fall of Ceausescu and Communism, Romania has made progress towards integrating with the West. It became a member of NATO and the European Union in 2004 and 2007 respectively. However, there is still progress to be made, as only this August there were protests in Bucharest and across the country demanding the resignation of the government and an end to corruption and embezzlement. While in the capital, we heard all about this from some of the tours we did. One of our tour guides told us that he took part in the demonstration and was actually teargassed when police broke up the crowds. He described it as his “whole body was crying.” We weren’t there while any protests were going on, as they have calmed down for the moment. It will be interesting to see where it heads though and we hope for the best.