Monthly Archives: December 2015

Dictators in History: Nicolae Ceaucescu

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It’s a pleasure to welcome author Tim Taylor again. Today he talks about his novel Revolution Day and Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu.

Hello Emma, I hope you’ve had a lovely Christmas!

My novel Revolution Day (on special offer till the end of December at 99p/$0.99!) follows a year in the life of Latin American dictator Carlos Almanzor, during which his vice-President is plotting to seize power for himself. Carlos is a fictional figure and is not based upon any particular individual. Nevertheless, his life and career share many elements with those of real dictators and in some cases I consciously drew on historical events in writing the novel.

I thought it would be interesting to explore, in a series of blog posts, the lives of some real-life dictators, and to look for similarities and differences between their careers and characters and those of my own fictional dictator.  Today I’m looking at Nicolae Ceaucescu of Romania.

dictator

Ceaucescu was born in 1918 in Scornicesti, Romania. He became a member of the communist youth movement in the 1930s, and was imprisoned in 1936 and 1940. In between, he met fellow communist Lenuta Petrescu, who eventually married him in 1947, becoming Elena Ceaucescu.  During his second prison term, Ceaucescu became close to Romanian Communist leader Gheorge Gheorghiu-Dej. The pair escaped from prison in 1944 and Ceaucescu became secretary of the Union of Communist Youth, then when the communists took power in 1947 he was minister of agriculture and subsequently deputy minister of the armed forces.  After an internal power struggle within the party, Gheorghiu-Dej became Prime Minister.  Ceaucescu prospered under his leadership, joining the Central Committee and holding important posts in the Politburo.  When Gheorghiu-Dej died in 1965, Ceaucescu was elected general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party and in 1967 became the formal head of state as President of the State Council.

As leader of Romania, Ceaucescu took an independent course in foreign policy, resisting Soviet control.  He withdrew from active participation in the Warsaw pact and criticised the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.  This stance brought him friends in the West – Romania was one of only two Eastern European countries to have trade agreements with the European Economic Community during this period – but within Romania his government remained firmly communist and influenced by Stalinism and Maoism.  He suppressed dissent, political opposition and free speech, aided by a large and efficient secret police force, the Securitate, and insisted upon strict ideological conformity.

Ceaucescu did not shrink from intervening drastically in the lives of Romanian people in pursuit of his policies.  In 1967 he made abortion illegal in an effort to increase the country’s population.  In response to a debt crisis in the 1980s he ordered the export of most of the country’s oil and agricultural production, resulting in extreme shortages and falling living standards.  Towards the end of his rule, he considered ordering the destruction of numerous villages to make way for so-called ‘agro-technical centres’.  Such unpopular measures ultimately helped create the conditions for Ceaucescu’s downfall.

In 1989, as a wave of revolutions against communist regimes spread through Eastern Europe, protests began in Romania, beginning in the city of Timisoara. The Timisoara protest was brutally suppressed by the security forces, with many killed.  The following day, 21 December, Ceaucescu held a public meeting orchestrated to demonstrate public support for him.  But the crowd turned against him and he was forced to withdraw.  As protests continued to spread throughout the country, on 22 December the army turned against Ceaucescu, who fled with Elena and others by helicopter.  They were eventually forced to land and captured.  On Christmas Day, after a hastily convened trial by a military tribunal for ‘genocide’ (in connection with killings during the suppression of the protests) and other crimes Ceaucescu and his wife were executed by a firing squad.

Carlos and Ceaucescu

Politically, both men were originally on the left, but there the similarity ends. Carlos began as a social democrat who threw in his lot with revolutionaries when all attempts at peaceful changed failed, whereas Ceausescu was a hard-line communist (in this respect he has more in common with other members of Carlos’ Revolutionary Council, including Manuel, the scheming Vice-President). As his regime encounters difficulties, Carlos becomes an arch-pragmatist, doing whatever he believes necessary to survive, whereas Ceausescu’s policies remained rigidly Marxist, tinged with a strong element of Romanian nationalism.

There is an echo of Ceaucescu in the fact that Carlos’ wife Juanita was a political fellow-traveller and held a prominent post in his regime.  But whereas Elena remained alongside Ceaucescu till the end, Juanita split from her husband as his regime descended into autocracy and repression.  As a result, she is under long-term house arrest, from which she is writing a memoir of Carlos’ career and their marriage.

Both men participate in the cult of personality seen so often among dictators.  Ceaucescu styled himself the Conducator (“The Leader) and was glorified by epithets such as ‘secular god’ and  ‘the genius of the Carpathians’.  He had a sceptre made for himself when the post of President of the Republic was created for him in 1974.  Each man had a national day of celebration in his honour: his birthday, in Ceaucescu’s case; in that of Carlos, the anniversary of his seizure of power – the Revolution Day which gives the novel its name.

Finally, there is a particular moment in Ceaucescu’s career which directly inspired a passage in the novel. To reveal what it is would give away too much of the plot, so I will have to leave your readers to find out for themselves!

Many thanks for hosting me, Emma. Hope you have a great 2016!

Links:

Information about the book and excerpts can be found on the Revolution Day page on my website: http://www.tetaylor.co.uk/#!revday/cwpf.

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/timtaylornovels

Twitter: https://twitter.com/timetaylor1

Revolution Day on Amazon.co.uk: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Revolution-Day-T-E-Taylor-ebook/dp/B0106GALR4/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1435449288&sr=1-1&keywords=Revolution+Day

Bio

Tim was born in 1960 in Stoke-on-Trent. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford (and later Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London). After a couple of years playing in a rock band, he joined the Civil Service, eventually leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing.

Tim now lives in Yorkshire with his wife and daughter and divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universi-ties.

Tim’s first novel, Zeus of Ithome, a historical novel about the struggle of the ancient Messeni-ans to free themselves from Sparta, was published by Crooked Cat in November 2013; his second, Revolution Day in June 2015.  Tim also writes poetry and the occasional short story, plays guitar, and likes to walk up hills.

What’s in it for You?

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I received a letter from an old friend out of the blue the other day, which went along the lines of, I know you like writing stories and all that, Emma, but what do you actually get out of it all?

So, after I had a little “moment” of feeling like a complete spinster and having a little cry, I started thinking, what do I get out of it all? Well actually quite a lot. I suppose all of us who paint pictures or make things or write books have something inexplicable inside ourselves which drives us to do it. Put simply, we can’t not do it!

Aside from that though, I have always used creative writing as a means of expression. I’m naturally quite shy and I find it difficult  to articulate how I feel . Writing provides a safe platform to do this, in a careful and considered way. I used to write a lot as a child but this all stopped as I got older. It took a terrible personal tragedy for me to start writing again, and I’m glad now that I managed to channel all those horrible experiences into something positive – or as another friend of mine put it: “You’ve taken all that negativity and turned it into a work of art.” Certainly more constructive that drowning in wine in my book!

Secondly, there’s the immense sense of personal achievement. It’s been a lifelong ambition of mine to write a book and get it published. Putting the final full stop on my novel felt amazing. I’d finally realised my childhood dream. Then there was the rollercoaster ride of looking for an agent or a publisher, sending off those e-mails, waiting for replies and at last getting the good news I’d been hoping for all my life – somebody wanted to publish my book!!! 😀 That rollercoaster continues now, as I read reviews and keep tabs on sales figures. Writing can be a very addictive business. There are worse things to be addicted to in life I reckon!

I write mostly historical fiction; I love the research side of it. It’s great to uncover a hidden nugget in history, one which really fires up the imagination and makes you think to yourself Yes! I’d love to write a novel about that! You don’t have to bury your nose in a book all the time either in order to carry out research. There are so many amazing places of historical interest in the UK. I never get bored of going out and about or discovering new things.

Also, I’m a single mum; my son’s only five so I don’t tend to go out in the evenings. I gave up watching TV three years ago and instead, I spend an hour or so writing after he’s gone to bed. It certainly feels more productive than an evening of soap operas. Sometimes writing a grown up novel seems a bit too taxing, but I also write children’s poetry – primarily for my son but I’m hoping I’ll find a publisher one day for my kids’ stuff. Children’s fiction’s brilliant; you can really let your imagination run wild and it’s a great way to unwind.

It seems to me these days that if you fill your spare time with, TV, gaming, or on-line media, that’s okay, but a person who writes stories or make things is a bit eccentric. Well – long live the odd-bods, that’s what I say! People enjoy doing different things, it’s as simple as that.