A political era not yet laid to rest | VailDaily.com

A political era not yet laid to rest

Kevin Sullivan

BUCHAREST, Romania — It’s 9 on a Saturday morning, and all the dictator’s carnations are frozen solid, like his remains below.The red flowers, crumpled by a numbing winter wind, add color to a fresh evergreen wreath on the grave of Nicolae Ceausescu, who ruled Romania from 1965 until 1989, when a people fed up with his Stalinist rule finally overthrew him. He was executed by firing squad that Christmas.A forest-green Range Rover glides up the cemetery road and stops. A couple of bony dogs bark madly as the big SUV’s hydraulic system lowers the chassis, silent and smooth–an otherworldly sight in a country where many people still travel by horse-drawn cart.Viorel Popa, 52, and his mother, Maria Flucsa, 73, step out of their luxury cocoon, crunch across the snow and light a candle on the grave of Flucsa’s parents, a few feet from Ceausescu.”It’s blasphemy and it’s not Christian,” Flucsa says, looking at Ceausescu’s grave. She says she is angry he was executed so quickly, without a proper trial, then dumped in a common plot at this public cemetery. She is furious at rumors that as a final insult he was buried with his feet toward his gravestone.Flucsa says Ceausescu made mistakes but was a “patriot” and a good man, which she knows from working for him for 15 years as minister of light industry.Ceausescu’s grave, surrounded by a low, wrought-iron fence, is stuck in the middle of a concrete walkway at the Ghencea Civil Cemetery. He seems to have been dropped in the ground there almost as an afterthought, with little more respect than is shown to a discarded cigarette butt. He lies next to the much grander plot of the Dumitru family, regular folk who never ruled the nation but who are at least allowed to enjoy their eternal rest side by side.Not so for Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, who is buried about 50 yards away in a snow-crusted grave marked with a badly rusted iron cross. Her plot in the cemetery, a sprawling walled-in compound set among the huge, Soviet-style apartment complexes on the outskirts of the capital, is as shabby and unremarkable as her husband’s. A dirt-smudged stone at the corner of the grave is inscribed: “Respect and Power.”It is decorated with a couple of wreaths, a few silk flowers and the waxy remains of candles burned in her memory. But there are far fewer than on her husband’s plot. Though Nicolae Ceausescu was infamous for fielding a brutal secret police and bulldozing villages that displeased him, many Romanians say he was a benevolent presence compared with the ferocious Elena, who was executed alongside him.Most Romanians remember Ceausescu’s rule as a time of desperate poverty, of Soviet domination and alienation from the West. They recall with stinging regret how he knocked down half of Bucharest’s once-charming downtown to make way for gigantic government offices built by workers who could barely afford to eat.But Flucsa says people leave flowers for Ceausescu because they remember him as a leader who created jobs and supported Romanian education and industry. As the country struggles to make the transition from a state-run economy to a democratic free market, there is a certain nostalgia for the old days, especially among those who were close to the dictator. Only the hardest-core believe things were better under Ceausescu, and this is where they come to remember things their way.Mihai Chitu stands before Ceausescu’s grave with his hands on the shoulders of his 6-year-old nephew, Andrei, telling him that Ceausescu was an important man. He begins sobbing when he talks about the boy’s future, which he says would have been brighter under Ceausescu.”He would have lived a better life,” Chitu says, wiping tears from his wind-burned cheeks.At 10:30, a bear-shaped woman wrapped in a thick brown coat and head scarf shuffles up with a cane. Maria Kirciu, 84, pulls matches from her plastic shopping bag, lights a long thin candle, then uses it to light candles others have left on Ceausescu’s grave. She lays down the burning wick reverently, head bowed.Kirciu says she comes here every weekend to visit the graves of her two children, then Ceausescu’s. Her eyes, fogged by age, brighten when she recalls meeting the president at a lunch where “he served soup to everyone.” She was younger, healthier and happier then.Her momentary joy fades quickly. “He should be in a better place,” she says. “Look at my eyes. Everyone cries for him.”At her feet an era lies buried and frozen and not quite forgotten. At the cemetery’s big front archway, workers pull ropes to begin ringing the 11 a.m. bells. It is 11:07. Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism