These images come from a massive tome called Omagiu—or, Homage. This book was republished yearly in Romania, beginning in the seventies, when their “Conduc?tor”, or leader, Nicolae Ceau?escu got it into his head that his friend, Kim Il Sung of North Korea, had a pretty good thing going in regards to his personality cult. So, each year, on Nicolae’s birthday, this tribute to him was published, each year becoming larger and larger—not just in pages, but in page size. The version I picked up while in Romania was published in 1978 and runs about 650 pages. It’s mostly filled with letters sent in from various Romanian towns, wishing Nicolae great good health on his birthday, as well as official letters from governments. But the images are what interest me. Come see:

The central theme of Omagiu is this:

The Ceau?escus are famous and people like them!

Sadly, this was true for a while, because he was seen by the West as standing up to Moscow, and in the Cold War this meant something. But after a brief honeymoon of relative progressiveness (compared to his predecessor, Gheorghiu-Dej) during the sixties, he became more of a Stalinist than even Moscow could swallow. Slowly, steadily, everyone began to abandon Nicolae.I sometimes wonder how much Nicolae believed his own propaganda. He had Securitate (secret police) men hiding in the woods when he hunted; they’d shoot at the same time he did, to assure a direct hit. Each year (as Romanian papers avidly reported), Nicolae was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. What the papers didn’t bother mentioning is that all it takes to be nominated is for someone in a country’s government to nominate you. Nicolae’s people did this yearly.

Family man.

If you sit with important people, then you are important.

(Click to make larger, and check out the guy with Nicolae in the top left.

I never knew Ron Jeremy was an ambassador.)

Nicolae and his wife, Elena, aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty!

They’re visiting a mine (and if you forget who the guy in the

Fahrenheit 451 fireman outfit is, just look at the banner on the wall).

Side note: A Dutch friend just called and told me a story about a friend of hers living in Romania. He likes garden gnomes, and bought the “Seven Dwarves” for his garden. But no “Snow White”. Why? Apparently, the Romanian shops’ Snow White is an exact replica of Elena Ceau?escu, and one doesn’t want her in one’s yard. Which makes them both wonder, who are the dwarves replicas of? No answers yet…

Everyone loves them!

(click for larger)

When I went looking for this book back in 2000 in Bucharest, I was surprised how hard it was to track down. At one time, it was an obligatory part of every worker’s bookshelf. I scoured the used bookstores, and when I asked, received scornful looks in reply. “Why do you want that?” Finally I tracked it down from a guy selling books on the street. He, too, was perplexed.

It got worse, though, when I explained my reasons. I was writing a book on the Romanian Revolution of 1989 (though to many Romanians, “revolution” is too strong a word for it—it’s overshadowed by conspiracies), and was writing a 100-page section from Nicolae’s point-of-view during his last hours, when he was captured, tried, and executed on Christmas Day. I wanted to gather as much material as I could about this man, so I could better understand him.

Understandably, people didn’t take to this well. “Why write about him? Just forget the bastard!” Fair enough, but I had my own interests, and Omagiu helped me start to come to grips with a time and place that no longer exists, and a culture that was no less scarring for its brevity.


Addition: Here’s a lovely one from our friends at Wikipedia: