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.
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!
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
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.