Opulent Poverty

I’ve been processing my thoughts from yesterday for sometime now. Romania has a rich history which I am truly not skilled enough to speak to. I do know this, what I saw yesterday is simply nauseating.

As we rode into downtown Bucharest Tuesday morning we passed a building which was simply too big to miss. A
bit of information from my travel companion and world traveler Jim Jackson and I knew this to be Ceaucescu’s private home. Well, that was his plan. Across the street, his wife’s office and personal house. Just in front, his guest house – for two nights – our hotel.

The People’s Palace, as it is known today, is the second largest building in the world. Second only to the Pentagon and just ahead of the great pyramids, this building screams opulence and narcissism. Before heading to a scheduled tour, we took time to watch a few short YouTube clips of Ceaucescu’s famous last speech. As I watched, I recalled seeing this my freshman year of college. Yet, while I had witnessed the events before, I realized really just how insulated i have been from what really happened. Maybe it was college naïveté, maybe it was the fact that communism was mysterious and distant to this then 18 year old. As we watched from the hotel lounge, I was quickly taken back to December, 1989. This famous speech given from a balcony in the center of Bucharest is eerily easy to access today. Our driver pointed it out to us on one of our drives through the city. Seeing the balcony as we rode past, my mind was taken back to the dark, heavy wool coats, stereotypical fur lined top hats and the aggressive, assertive voice of a dictator trying to regain the respect of his people as he shouted for them to be quiet.

We took time next to watch the trial of Nicholae and his wife Elizabeth. I remembered these images as well. A military trial held mostly for show. Upon the hearing of the verdict, the Ceaucescu’s were promptly taken outside and shot by firing squad. This I had heard of, but had not seen. Why you might ask did this happen? What, in a modern world would lead to the execution of the leader of a country AND his wife? This is where the limited depth of my knowledge may show, so I will give the simple version. In the early 60’s Nicholae visited North Korea. He was so impressed with the dictator’s application of Communism, that he became determined to apply the model to Romania.

Over the coming years, Ceaucescu would literally take everything from his people. In the early 1980’s he set his mind to build “The People’s Palace,” starting first by tearing down the homes of countless Romanians at the site of the new building. The shell of this grand albatross would be completed by military compulsion using the finest of stone and Marble from
every corner of Romania. He robbed the wealth of Romania while literally starving his people to death. By 1989, civil unrest had become so great against the dictator that he and the communist parliament held what would be Ceaucescu’s final public appearance and final speech as dictator of Romania.

After the execution and coming revolution, the building would be completed as a symbol of pride. It now houses all of the People’s Parliament of Romania. Even still, it is a great symbol of the atrocity and oppression which loomed over this nation just 23 years ago. When I asked our driver if he had ever visited, he assured us he would never set foot in the palace because of the disgrace it is to his family.

I am still trying to get my mind around the mindset it would take to embark on an endeavor like this. There is even a room within the palace which would have been the private chamber for the dictator. No windows in the room and it was intentionally designed to create massive echoes. This way he might always hear supporters cheering him on, even in his private office. The applause of 50 becomes 1000.

When I think of the sheer poverty found just outside of Bucharest I’m personally sickened that one man wielded such power for so many years. The extreme opulence of his “dream house” screams of an opulent poverty which I have never before witnessed. Quite the contrast.

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