Cast your mind back to 1989.
The Cold War was ending, The Berlin Wall was coming down and satellite Soviet States were demanding democracy. Mass protests and revolutions in the streets caused communist regimes to fall in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and on and on. Perhaps you remember watching this, in South Africa, on those old cathode ray Telefunken, Barlow, Hammerstein and if your parents splurged, a Sony Trinitron TV set.
The country I probably remember the best was Romania! Here the tyrant Ceausescu and his wife Helena hung in doggedly. Eventually the dictator was overrun and within days Ceausescu and his wife were executed by a firing squad.
Ceausescu had brought to Romania a variant of Stalinism; more nationalist, more fascist and more populist. He and Helena visited China & North Korea in 1971 and met with Mao Zedong and Kim II Sung. They were impressed by the mass mobilization and personality cult aspects enforced in these nations.
In 1984 he is reputed to tell Romanian women to breed as it is their patriotic duty.
At the time of the democratic revolution the Romanian people are clear; ‘because Ceausescu denied us food he has to be executed,
Linda & I visit The ‘Parliament of the People’ building in the capital of Romania, Bucharest. Here we see Ceausescu’s opulence in the face of then a very poor nation.
This building is the largest building in Europe and the second in the world; only the Pentagon is larger.
With all its marble it remains the heaviest building on the planet.
Designed to be the show piece for the government, Ceausescu never lived there. It was merely used in the day time for matters of state.
Covering 365 000 square meters it cost $3 billion to build in the 1980’s – a cost the nation could ill afford.
It took 20 000 workman and 700 architects to construct, with halls for every occasion.
In the 75 minutes we were allowed in, we covered a distance of only 1km seeing only 3% of the structure.
The Parliament of the People was however just the centre of a larger project; a re-design of the heart of Bucharest. It was to become a replica of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Large administrative buildings now flank the People’s Parliament, together with broad avenues which would have accommodated military marches and the dictator’s speeches. This resulted in 25 % of Bucharest first being cleared. Many shops, schools, residential buildings, churches and synagogues were demolished and 40,000 people were relocated.
All of this while Ceausescu and Helena lived in thier own private palace
But perhaps even more worthy of mention is that, between 1982 and 1988 almost a dozen churches, as well as other buildings, were moved hundreds of metres in order to save them from destruction. Whole buildings were placed on the equivalent of railway tracks and rolled to safety. The tracks were used again and again to save 12 churches. 22 Churches were not saved as Ceasescu become increasingly impatient to complete his project.
We visited the 16th-century Mihai Voda Church that was moved in tandem with its standalone tower. The largest church that was moved, technically a monastery, weighed 9,000 tons and it was shifted 24 metres from its original location. Many of the moved churches, though, ended up being relocated in the shadows of large, soviet-style apartment blocks as you will see from the photos. We went inside the Mihai Voda Church and witnessed the beauty of worship continuing despite another ruthless horror of a dictator.