At the National Museum of Romanian History, the gifts received by Nicolae Ceausescu, the former president of Communist Romania between 1965 and 1989 and his wife, Elena Ceausescu, make up a special collection
At the National Museum of Romanian History, the gifts received by Nicolae Ceausescu, the former president of Communist Romania between 1965 and 1989 and his wife, Elena Ceausescu, make up a special collection. The Ceausescus benefited from the biggest cult of personality in the entire history of Romania, at a time when the standard of living of ordinary Romanians was the lowest in contemporary history. The objects received by the Ceausescus, all shiny and paying homage to the two dictators, are in stark contrast to the gloomy atmosphere of the years before 1989. Due to their large number and variety, the objects received by the dictators were displayed in a special exhibition before 1989.
We talked to Cristina Păiușan-Nuică, a researcher with the National Museum of Romanian History about the impressive collection of objects inherited by Romania after the fall of the Ceausescu regime:
"The gifts alone account for more than 10,000 pieces. Adding to that is the 'Homage' series, namely the portraits of Ceausescu. The latter form a special collection. Cornel Ilie has printed an album of this collection, titled 'A Painting for the Comrade'. The more than 10,000 gifts received by Ceausescu, other than paintings, make up the so-called 'special collection', and is divided into two categories. The first group comprises gifts received from abroad, from all the countries he visited, and from the delegations visiting Romania. The second category includes the gifts received in the country, during the visits he paid across the country, and especially on congress anniversaries or his birthday."
As we mentioned earlier, the gifts received by Ceausescu are extremely varied: from tractor models, the first Dacia model, the first Oltcit, helicopter, train and locomotive to vessels, glasses, traditional towels, handkerchiefs, pillowcases and many more. Before 1989, the History Museum had provided ten rooms in the museum, covering several thousand square meters, to host the exhibition titled 'Homage', and most of these objects were exhibited there. They were divided into gifts received in the country and those received from abroad. The gifts were also divided into classes of objects, for example, elephant fangs, tiger furs, sandals, fabrics brought from Korea and China, handbags, denim hats received during the visit to the US and Texas.
In the 1980s, Elena Ceausescu too started getting gifts, such as handbags. Cristina Păiușan-Nuică pointed out that, in the last decade of the communist regime, the figure of Elena Ceausescu grew in importance, a fact that can be seen in the growing number of women's gifts in the special collection:
"On the occasion of visits and receptions, Elena Ceausescu too would receive such gifts, because the sandals and handbags, ribbons, scarves, earrings, wallets and many more of this kind were hers. Adding to those were the same kind of gifts received by Elena Ceausescu on her anniversaries. The more communism and the Ceausescu era were turning into a cult of personality, the more so did the cult of Elena Ceausescu's personality, which equaled the dictator's between 1986 and 1989. For instance, we have a tree bark with 'comrade academician doctor engineer' and wonderful portraits of her, smaller or bigger, in which she looks more like Snow White than herself."
One of the characteristics of the gifts is their personalization, Cristina Păiușan-Nuică told us:
" They were personalized with dedication. They were sewn by hand on a towel, on a pillow-case, or printed on a tablet and attached to the object, such as a model or a pedestal, if they were not part of the sculpture itself. The dedication would include the moment the gift was offered, the date and the name of the one who had offered the gift. Unfortunately, not all objects have these identification elements, which would make the work of a researcher or curator easier, so some of them were identified at the end of some real detective work."
Such a special collection cannot be evaluated, because the historical value is very hard to determine, as Cristina Păiușan-Nuică also said:
"Given the multitude and variety of items, we cannot estimate a figure. These items are part of Romania's history and I suspect the amount would be quite large. They are unique, unrepeatable objects. If one is destroyed, it cannot be rebuilt. A copy could be made, but that would be completely different. In addition to the value of the object there is also the historical value and the fact that they were seen, probably, at least by those who received them."
The rethinking of the museum space made the great exhibition that existed before 1989 disappear. The gifts received in 1989 alone were grouped by the National Museum of Romanian History in the exhibition titled '1989, 30 years later'. But the museum has an online project, called 'Communism in Romania', where part of these items are available.