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Nicolae Ceauşescu and his visits to Alba Iulia

Nicolae Ceauşescu, leader of Romania from 1965 to 1989, was the guest of Alba Iulia on several occasions. The importance of various historical events that had taken place in Alba Iulia, and of foremost importance the unification of Transylvania with Romania in this city, contributed to the choice of this destination. He visited Alba Iulia five times between 1966 and 1984, a period that witnessed a gradual intensification of the personality cult of the Communist leader and his wife. While in 1966 he visited both cathedrals, in his subsequent visits he was interested only in the achievement and exceeding of the production targets of various factories, the systematization of the city, and the construction of new neighborhoods of apartment blocks.

Centered on unity and continuity as slogans of the political discourse throughout his time in office, Alba Iulia, as the place of fulfillment of Great Romania, represented a favored destination for Nicolae Ceauşescu. For this reason, he visited the city on several occasions. The first visit was organized in 1966, one year after he took the office of general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party (RCP). The last visit was in 1984, when his regime was in deep crisis. He also visited the city in November 1968, on the fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Transylvania with Romania. Then he came, in September 1972, during a work visit and again in 1975, on the 375th anniversary of the political unification achieved by Michael the Brave, his favorite prince of Romanian medieval history.

With such a long time span covering the entire “Ceauşescu epoch”, an analysis of the leader’s visits allows us to notice his evolution from the implementation of “human communism” and a slight liberalization between 1965 and 1971 to the monstrous practices of the cult of personality and the megalomania of the 1980s.

As could later be observed, Nicolae Ceaușescu deeply disliked churches, being completely convinced of the atheist Communist tenets. He demolished many ecclesiastic buildings or “hid” them behind newly constructed blocks. However, in October 1966, during a visit organized to the Hunedoara region, to which Alba Iulia belonged at that time, the Communist leader visited, for the first and last time, both the Orthodox and the Roman-Catholic cathedrals of Alba Iulia, as well as the Batthyaneum Library. As he later became an adept of the churchless urban landscape, this trip’s photographs in which Ceaușescu appears conversing with Emilian Birdaș, archimandrite of Alba Iulia, are certainly atypical and unexpected for the age during which he was leader of Romania.

The evolution of the cult of personality, which represented a central element of the political regime during his time, along with dynastic communism, and the political emergence of his wife (she was transformed in no time at all into “Academician Dr. Engineer Elena Ceaușescu”, though in reality she attended school for only four years), are reflected in the way that the couple’s visits were organized in Alba Iulia. Compared to the early visits, such as those of 1966 and 1968, when the preparations were unpretentious, in the 1970s and 1980s the visits reached grotesque levels of glorification of the leader and his wife.

The slogans sounded by Alba Iulia citizens or written on placards during his visits mirrored the political evolution of Ceaușescu. In 1967 he cumulated the positions of president of the State Council and that of general secretary of the RCP, which he had obtained after the death of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, in 1965. Later, in 1971, he became the first president of Romania after the transformation of the collective into the individual presidency. Thus, in 1966 and 1968, the delegation visiting Alba Iulia was referred to as “party and state leaders” without singling out Ceaușescu; starting from 1972, the members of government or those of the Executive Political Committee were gradually relegated to the status of simple companions of the Ceaușescu couple, being referred to as “other comrades”. Thus, in 1984, the communist leader was adulated in such terms as “the most loyal son of the nation, founder of modern Romania”, “exceptional personality of international political life”, or “the most beloved son of the nation”. Also the slogans shouted by “laborers”, whom the authorities mobilized in order to welcome him, evolved in a significant manner, “Ceaușescu—RPC!” “Ceaușescu and the People!” or “Our respect and pride, Ceaușescu and Romania!”

The two cathedrals and Batthyaneum Library were never again visited by Ceaușescu after 1966. The general secretary was more interested in visits to the main economic enterprises of the city, especially the factories producing porcelain (“Porţelanul”) and refractory materials (“Refractara”), and the Factory for Equipment and Spare Parts. He was also interested in the “socialist competition” launched at the level of the national economy, as well as in the fulfillment of five year plans (following a Stalinist model) in four and a half years. He was also interested in technical investments and the growth of agricultural production. As the neighborhoods of tower blocks for industrial workers represented a great symbol of communist modernization, which was thought to drastically diminish individualistic leanings, he gave much attention to the plans for systematization of the city and the construction of the new block complex “Platoul Romanilor” (Romans’ plateau). This achievement was presented as an important contribution to the development of Alba Iulia and as a “retort to the old walls through the tens of modern blocks”.

Usually, when the presidential couple visited Alba Iulia, they were welcomed by many preschool children and pioneers (primary and secondary school pupils) as well as teenagers wearing traditional costumes. They were mobilized by the authorities in order to stage the “unlimited love” that they supposedly had for the the Ceaușescus. The welcoming was made in traditional fashion with bread and salt, bedpans of plum brandy or wine, and bouquets of flowers: elements that elevated the couple to the position of parents of the nation. The flower offering was a symbolic expression of satisfaction.

Although communism collapsed more than a quarter of a century ago, it has left lasting traces all over Romania, Alba Iulia being no exception. The demolition of historical edifices, the flanking of churches by new buildings lacking any architectonic individuality, and most of all the construction of distasteful and almost identical neighborhoods of blocks are, for the contemporary citizen of Alba Iulia, the heritage of the “Ceaușescu age”. (S.A.)