Historians often indicate that significant and numerous crises that occurred during the beginning of the 20th century became the prerequisites for the rise of many oppressive governments. When starting a discussion about totalitarianism, vivid examples that may come to mind are Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and communist regimes, such as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the People’s Republic of China.
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However, a compelling case of a European totalitarian government, which often remains unnoticed in favor of its more powerful neighbors, is Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu, who was its last head of state. The Romanian combination of communist ideology with authoritative tactics led to the installation of a dictatorial regime, which set unattainable standards for citizens in regard to both personal character and economic production.
Components of an “Ideal Citizen”
Citizenship under the proclaimed socialist rule became an ideological issue, with the government claiming superiority in all aspects of a person’s life. Overall, the communist dogma called for the upbringing of an ideal worker, the proletarian who would be strong in mind, physically fit, and could oppose the bourgeoisie of the world (Tucker, 2015). Romania was no exception, using the classical rhetoric of building a socialist society through hard work and in opposition to the vilified west (Irimie, 2014).
Government-imposed demographic and manufacturing needs required the creation of “the new socialist man and woman,” thus urging an increase in both birthrate and work hours (Irimie, 2014, p. 278). Therefore, in the eyes of Ceausescu’s government, which dictated the norms of society, the perfect citizen was a laborer with a significant number of children, sizeable productivity output, and wholesome obedience.
Violence, Propaganda, and Scapegoating
A regime may not achieve total control over an individual’s personal life without putting significant effort into indoctrination and efficient scare tactics. Ceausescu used violent means, such as militias and secret police forces, to suppress his political opponents and establish control over civilian life (Tucker, 2015). While the existence of a secret police force is not the defining characteristic of totalitarian regimes, the fact that the Romanian government had control over the “Securitate” additionally highlights the existent desire for all-permeable control (Tucker, 2015, p. 88).
Posters, literature, television, and even children’s songs supplied omnipresent propaganda to citizens, defining the current regime as flawless and Ceausescu himself as an excellent leader, bolstering a cult of his personality (Irimie, 2014). The head of the state placed blame for the nation’s misfortunes on the horrifically democratic west, the even more oppressive east, and the various ethnic minorities in Romania (Irimie, 2014). Therefore, xenophobia, racism, civil oppression, excessive propaganda, and immediate and violent responses to any opposition are characteristic of pre-democratic Romania.
Stopping a Totalitarian Regime
As a historical example with a definite end in 1989, it may be easier to trace the fall of Ceausescu’s regime and judge the opposition’s chosen tactics. Due to the one-party system and the eastern bloc’s closed-off nature, political socialization and voting could not be viable resistance options, especially considering the Romanians overall apathetic attitude towards the political system (Tucker, 2015). Civil disobedience, such as demonstrations, the last regime-ending uprising at the city of Timisoara, and the refusal of the army to obey the government’s orders, effectively brought down the Romanian totalitarian regime (Irimie, 2014).
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The desire for a better life, the identification of all the country’s failures with its leader, and a developed insensitivity to ideological propaganda, which remained disjointed from reality, resulted in revolutionary circumstances and Ceausescu’s ousting.
A political ideology may not be enough to upkeep a sense of community within a single country, despite any imposing tactics and promises of a brighter future. Communist Romania, faced with economic, demographic, and social issues, could not use an idea of socialism that they saw as flawed as a source of hope. As a totalitarian leader, Ceausescu ushered Romania into decades of industrial and civil devastation and contributed to his future deposition and death, failing to produce not only ideal citizens but also national stability.
Irimie, R. C. (2014). Daily life under communism. The case of Romania. SEA – Practical Application of Science, 2(3), 266-283.
Tucker, A. (2015). The legacies of totalitarianism: A theoretical framework. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.