The View East

Central and Eastern Europe, Past and Present.

Inside Ceausescu’s Romania: An Unquestionably Efficient Police State


In 1989, when peaceful revolutions were sweeping across Eastern Europe, the fall of communism in Romania was marked by a higher level of violence and bloodshed than elsewhere in the region. This was due, at least in part, to the repressive nature of the regime established by Nicolae Ceausescu (1965-1989) and his loyal secret police, the Securitate. Estimates suggest that the Securitate had a higher proportion of representatives per population than anywhere else in the communist block and that by the 1980s as many as one person in thirty had been recruited as a Securitate  informer. In this article, guest author Nelson Duque considers the deadly combination of Ceausescu’s distinctive style of dynastic socialism with the establishment of a brutally efficient police state, which enabled him to maintain an iron grip on power until the dying days of communist rule across Eastern Europe. Nelson briefly highlights the implications of some of the key policies enforced by Ceausescu and emphasises the key role of the Securitate in successfully ensuring the lack of any significant opposition, through the creation of a climate of fear and brutality.


Inside Ceausescu’s Romania: An Unquestionably Efficent Police State.


By Nelson Duque.


In post-war Romania the accession of the communists to power relied heavily on the use of coercion. Romania’s infamous secret police, the Department of State Security (DSS) or Securitate were established in August 1948, fashioned on the Stalinist-era NKVD, and trained by Soviet ‘technicians’. Throughout the communist era, the Securitate were used to maintain the Communist party’s hegemony in the face of any (real or imagined) opposition. The task assigned to the Securitate was to remove all enemies of the regime, by whatever means necessary. To this end, police oppression was widely employed, justified by those in power as a necessary means to weed out ‘class enemies’ or ‘counter-revolutionaries’ in the name of national security. Romania’s first Communist leader Gheorghiu-Dej (1945-1964) was the first to instigate a reign of terror; Dennis Deletant describes the Romanian people under Dej as having a ‘sense that they were being hunted’. However, Deletant goes on to describe Dej’s successor Nicolae Ceausescu’s rule (1965-1989) as an era marked by ‘fear rather than terror’, because Ceausescu did not copy Dej’s mass arrests and deportation policies on such an equal footing (Dennis Deletant, Ceausescu and the Securitate: Coercion and Dissent in Romania 1965-1989, Hurst: 1995). Surveillance, coercion and police terror not only remained hallmarks of Ceausescu’s Romania however, but many of these crimes were documented by the Securitate themselves. In the early 1990s, after the collapse of communism in Romania, extensive archived Securitate files totalled 35 kilometres of documents, 25 km of which comprised files containing information about victims of the Securitate, 4 km of files contained information about police informers, with 6km of other, various attached folders. Lavinia Stan has estimated that every metre of the archive contains 5000 documents and each individual file contained, on average, 200 pages in length.


The Securitate


It is still not known precisely how many Romanians were employed by the Securitate, partly as a consequence of the lack of material released since the collapse of Communism. Deletant estimates that from a population of 23 million people in 1989, available records indicate total DSS personnel of 38, 682.Virgil Magureanu, director of the SRI (Serviciul Roman de Informatii), which was formed on 26 March 1990 as the successor to the Securitate, estimates that in 1989 total Securitate personnel totalled only 14, 259, although this figure does not include those engaged in activities outside Romania, and Lavinia Stan suggests the continuity of influence between the Securitate and the SRI means that these figures cannot be trusted. The variance in figures between Magureanu and Deletant illustrates a long running debate over just how many individuals were employed by the Securitate. What is further unknown were how many people were hired to act as informers to the secret police, although this figure is considered to be extensive: Deletant simply categorises ‘tens of thousands of informers’ whom the Securitate, ‘by exploiting fear, was able to recruit’. It has been estimated that by the 1980s as many as one in every 30 Romanians was working as a Securitate informant.


The feared Romanian Securitate had a reputation for brutal efficiency.


The Securitate’s own records claimed that 97 percent of all informers were recruited voluntarily because of their ‘political and patriotic sentiment’, 1.5 percent were recruited through offers of financial compensation, and 1.5 percent through the use of blackmail with compromising evidence’.Frankly such statistics are farcical. Lavinia Stan estimates that between 400,000-700,000 part time informers were ‘employed’ by the Securitate and the chances of 97 percent of these being loyal to the regime is highly unlikely considering the low living standards and repressive policies in place under Ceausescu. Similar to the East German Stasi, fear was an essential method of recruitment employed by the Securitate, with threats and blackmail routinely used to coerce informants. It is likely that people dared not refuse the ‘offer’ of informing out of fear that they too would end up on the Securitate black list, marked as an ‘enemy’ or opponent of the state. The consequences could be serious; for example, World War Two veteran George Marzanca refused to collaborate with the Securitate and within a month he had been arrested and sentenced to four years imprisonment, on spurious grounds. In reality then there was often little real ‘choice’ in the matter; so perhaps it is little wonder that many people ‘willingly’ accepted informant status (Lavinia Stan, Inside the Securitate Archives).


Inside Ceausescu’s Police State


Ceausescu’s Romania was a unique case in Socialist Eastern Europe. From 1965, Ceausescu endeavoured to establish a dynastic form of Socialism; heavily reliant on his own ‘cult of personality’ with power concentrated in the hands of his close relatives including his wife Elena and their son Nicu. Ben Fowkes sees this relationship between family and state as detrimental to society, describing Ceausescu as ‘both incurably Stalinist and fiercely repressive’ (Ben Fowkes, The rise and fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, Macmillan: 1995). Unsurprisingly, the secret police were some of Ceausescu’s most loyal agents, carrying out his will during the 23 years of his rule. During this time far reaching policies such as widespread austerity measures, ‘systematisation’ and pro-natalism were all enforced by the Securitate. These policies illustrate prime examples of how the Ceausescus’ directly interfered in and influenced the lives of ordinary Romanians and of how the Stasi employed insidious and brutal tactics to ensure a lack of opposition.


Ceausescu’s policy of ‘Systematisation’ (rural relocation linked to urban planning) destroyed at least half of Romania’s 13,000 villages, allocating the rural population to new fangled ‘agro-towns’ (Tony Judt, Post war A History of Europe since 1945, Pimlico: 2007) The majority of the villages destined to be destroyed were predominantly inhabited by ethnic minorities (Hungarians, Germans and Roma). The targeting of ethnic Hungarians in a town called Dej met with initial opposition from Laszlo Tokes, who was a pastor with the Hungarian Reformed Church. Tokes gained widespread support within his parish and as a result he was soon targeted by the Securitate. Tokes and his friends were placed under constant surveillance and subject to daily harassment until pressure on the clergy eventually led to Tokes removal and enforced ‘deportation’ to a village 40 kilometers from Dej, in 1982 . The example of Tokes is telling in a number of respects: demonstrating the use of extensive coercion by Securitate agents; illustrating the lengths to which the regime would go to get rid of an opponent and exemplifying the power of the state over the Reformed Church; as members of the clergy could be forced to denounce their staff at the will of the party.


The case of Tokes further highlights the use of intimidation, brutality and terror tactics by the Securitate. A second attempt to deport Tokes was issued on 20 October 1989; this time he was ordered to leave the town of Timisoara, where he had been reluctantly appointed after the involvement of the US senate. After his refusal, on 2 November, four attackers armed with knives broke into the flat, ‘while Securitate agents looked on’. Fortunately Tokes survived thanks to his friends fighting the attackers off, but this instance indicates the willingness of the Securitate to tolerate state sanctioned murder. The second attempt to deport Tokes was met by a united public outcry from both Romanians and Hungarians. Demonstrations in Timisoara on the 16 and 17 December 1989 were combated with heavy-handed brutality from the Army and the Securitate. The number of casualties was initially estimated at several thousand, but subsequent investigations put the figure at 122. The brutal repression in Timisoara was directly ordered by Elena Ceausescu while Nicolae was on state business abroad, and she subsequently also ordered the cremation of 40 bodies to avoid their identification. This event was to play a clinical role in triggering the revolution of 22 December 1989, which would overthrow the Ceausescus’ from power and lead to the collapse of Communism in Romania (K. McDermott and M. Stibbe (Eds), Revolution and Resistance in Eastern Europe, Berg: 20o6).


Elena Ceausescu was also responsible for the serious death rate amongst women through her influential pro-natal policies. As chairperson of the National Women’s Council she nationalised what should have been a private affair, supported by her husband’s rhetoric that a pregnant woman was ‘everybody’s concern’ because family life was a ‘socialised private problem’ (Mark Almond, The rise and fall of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, Chapmans: 1992) . Concern over falling birth rates meant that the megalomania of the Ceausescus’ thus even extended into the bedroom, with propaganda claiming that it was a woman’s duty to rear children for her country. Methods of birth control, including condoms and the contraceptive pill, were either not available or routinely failed quality control. Disturbingly, this resulted in abortion being the only means of contraception for many women, and even this was criminalised in 1966, forcing many women to risk illegal abortions. Securitate agents were stationed at gynaecological wards and were supposed to report on any women who requested an abortion, although they could often be bribed to ‘turn a blind eye’. However, it has been estimated that between 1966 – 1989 this policy resulted in the death of at least ten thousand women and over 100,000 institutionalised children kept in appalling orphanages (Tony Judt, Post war A History of Europe since 1945, Pimlico: 2007). 


Maintaining Control, Ensuring Conformity


Due to the effectivness of their repression and brutality, Ceausescu’s Securitate were described as ‘the envy of other dictators’ (Walter Laqueur, Europe in our Time: A History 1945-1992, Penguin: 1992). As a result of their influence, there was little dissidence and virtually no organised opposition to Ceausescu’s regime. The example of Paul Goma, a dissident writer, illustrates the serious consequences that could result from individuals who were brave enough to take a public stand against the injustices of the regime. From the mid 1970’s Goma began to highlight the human rights abuses taking place under the Ceausescu regime, and even sent a letter to Ceausescu in early 1977 asking for his signature to express solidarity with ‘Charter 77’, the human rights movement in Czechoslovakia. Unsurprisingly, Goma became a target for the Securitate shortly afterwards: he was harassed by threatening phone calls; his street was cordoned off by the police and most notoriously Horst Stumpf, a former professional boxer, broke into his flat three times within a matter of days, assaulting Goma on each occasion whilst the police did not intervene despite being called. In November 1977, Goma was forced into exile in France.


Writer Paul Goma's public criticism of Ceausescu's regime led to his becoming a target for the Securitate. After being subjected to harrassment and physical attacks, Goma left Romania for France in 1977.


This lack of opposition in either the political or the public sphere also explains how Ceausescu managed to put forward such highly ambitious, yet absurd, economic policies. Official statistics claimed that throughout the 1970’s there was an economic growth rate of between 6-9 percent annually in Romania, with an investment rate of up to 30 percent.Yet the regime was outwardly lying about its economic development. In reality,  Romania was impoverished and starving, with Ceausescu’s austerity measures involvi ng the exportation of almost all agricultural surplus; frequent power cuts and shortages of basic goods, foodstuffs and medical supplies with the population dependent on ration cards. Ceausescu may have succeeded in paying off Romania’s $13 million foreign debt by the end of the 1980s, but his oppressive policies forced many of his own people to near-starvation.


When communism in Romania finally collapsed in December 1989, the Ceausescus’ were the only East European leaders to face immediate trial. A summary of the Ceausescus’ crimes (and those of the Securitate) are documented in their trial transcript, from 25 December 1989. Here the prosecutor accuses Nicolae Ceausescu of ‘Crimes against the people … Genocide … armed attack on the people … destruction of buildings and state institutions, undermining of the national economy’. The prosecution makes disturbing reading, Nicolae and Elena do not acknowledge their crimes and the reality of their circumstances, despite being accused of killing children and leaving people with ‘nothing to eat, no heating, no electricity’.  The prosecutor Gica Popo also demanded to know who gave the order to shoot in the Timisoara uprising, and surprisingly Elena and Nicolae blame the Securitate, accusing them of being ‘terrorists’ who killed indiscriminately;  they also deny being in charge of the Securitate,  although it was common knowledge that the Ceausescus’ had authorised their acts of terror. Following a hurried trial by military tribunal, both Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were sentenced to immediate execution via firing squad.



Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were tried by a Military Council and sentenced to execution via firing squad for crimes against the Romanian people on 25 December 1989.


It is clear that Ceausescu’s Romania was an unquestionably efficient police state. The lives of many Romanians were dominated by fear. The crimes of murder, brutality, coercion, deportation and genocide were all associated with the leadership and with the notorious  Securitate, right up until the dying days of communism in 1989. The legacy of Ceausescu’s reign still haunts Romania today, as they continue to try to break from their repressive past.


About the Author:


Nelson Duque has just completed his BA (Hons) in History at Swansea University, graduating in July 2011. During the final year of his degree, Nelson specialised in the study of Communist Eastern Europe. Nelson will begin a PGCE at the University of Warwick in September 2011.



July 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments