Today’s Challenge
to Romania’s National Identity

by Richard Perlicz


  Since the revolution of 1989 and the subsequent hasty execution of Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian government has struggled to change the nation’s identity (Held, 300). This continues to be difficult, as the Romanian people have not yet psychologically recuperated from the Ceausescu’s harsh communist dictatorship. Some citizens seem to remember him and his reign fondly, causing the old ideological tension between democracy and communism to linger. These conditions are readily observable every time Romanians hold pictures of Ceausescu up in protest to the currently poor economic conditions (Thurow, A1). In response, the government has moved to “Exorcise some of this past – and make some money out of it (Thurow, A1)” by auctioning off the remainder of the dictator’s personal belongings. Unfortunately for Romania, the logic behind the auction is fundamentally flawed. Instead of cleansing the nation’s identity, the government’s auction will serve only to confuse it further in ways that will have the opposite effects that the government intends.


If, from the pictures of Ceausescu at the protests, we can assume that one of the main rifts in Romanian national identity is in the lingering tension between the ideologies of free market democracy and the centrally planned communism that is personified by Ceausescu, then one of the ways in which the auction confuses Romanian national identity is by confusing the values the auction gives to these conflicting ideologies. How do the ideologies’ respective values get confused? The answer lies within in the alternative way that Romanians now have to perceive the value of communism since the auction.

It has been over ten years since the revolution. For the most part, Romanian citizens can only compare democracy and communism in an ambiguous way. As time passes, the memories of hardship under communism become vaguer and vaguer. Thurow supports this with several examples in his article, but sums it up with “The passing of time, and the sputtering reforms that have demanded sacrifice with little payoff, have made many Romanians forget the deprivations and cruelties of the Ceausescu years (Thurow, A14).”

At the same time, the benefits of democracy can also be measured only vaguely, as gains in quality of life have been small and seem to be offset by the insecurity of the market. As long as these two ambiguities cancel each other out, democracy in Romania remains unstable, but not in imminent danger.


An auction of Ceausescu’s belongings changes this delicate dynamic entirely. Since Romanian citizens make a direct association between Ceasescus and communism, every time one of his belongings is sold, communism, in the minds of many, is given a direct currency value. So far, the auction has raised $1,000,000. This is a fantastic sum, even to the average wealthy American. For the hungry Romanian, it may be a value high enough to fight for. Most importantly, the real currency value that the auction associates with communism lies in stark contrast to the still – ambiguous value of democratic achievements.

So the auction becomes, in effect, physical evidence in support of the communist ideology that will no doubt shift more Romanians to its side and further divide the country’s national identity. It will erase nothing. It will not discredit Communism. Instead, it has already given communism a credit of $1,000,000 and it will continue. When it is done, it will have produced the opposite effect that the government had hoped for.



 Thurow, Roger. “Some See Auctioning of a Dictator’s Things as Political ‘Exorcism’” The Wall Street Journal  December 8th 1999 A1+A14

 Held, Joseph. The Columbia History of Eastern Europe in the Twntieth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992






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