February 1, 1998 in Nation/World

Romania Emptying Its Garage Of Ceausescu Kitsch Museum Plans To Sell Foreign Gifts Given To Executed Communist Dictator

Jane Perlez New York Times
 

Romania is planning a yard sale. Up for grabs are busts of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, the Communist dictator and his wife, who ran the country for more than three decades; as well as fine porcelain and cheap crockery, handbags and briefcases.

“Most of it is pure kitsch,” said Nicolae Petrescu, deputy director of the Museum of History here.”Does someone want to drink out of the tea and coffee set Brezhnev gave Ceausescu?”

During the Ceausescu era, the gifts were displayed in glass cases in the museum, and schoolchildren learning lessons on the popularity of the unpopular president were taken on field trips to inspect them.

After the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1989, when the Ceausescus were executed, the museum dismantled the display. Now, short of funds and tired of hoarding mostly useless objects, it is organizing an auction.

“It was all dumped on us from the very beginning of his rule,” said Petrescu, who was part of the retinue when Ceausescu visited the museum to inspect his goodies. “But most of the gifts he received from abroad were selected by him and his wife and kept in the palace.” Petrescu said no one from the museum knew what had become of the valuable gifts, among them a French tapestry.

Ceausescu was one of the most repressive Communist dictators in Eastern Europe, but because he was on unfriendly terms with the Soviet Union, the United States and other Western countries maintained fairly cordial relations with him. The presents give an indication of this: models of moon craft from NASA; a key from the city of New York; a ten-gallon hat from Texas.

The French were more generous: blue-and-gold Sevres urns with portraits of the couple painted on the sides.

And the Soviets were not stingy. The red-and-white tea and coffee service from Leonid Brezhnev, the former Soviet leader, has nearly 100 pieces. From Africa to Asia, governments gave the Ceausescus honorary degrees complete with academic gowns that now collect dust in a wardrobe.

Most of the pieces fall into the category of outsized bric-a-brac, objects ordered up by the Communist Party and fashioned by factory workers who toiled over them for hours in preparation for a visit from the “beloved leader.” A woodworking plant built a headboard with an inlaid design showing the president looking youthful, with a full head of hair and a cherubic smile.

There is plenty more, including imitation Tiffany vases, a pair of porcelain birds from the Rolls-Royce plant in England, and Moroccan sandals. The museum staff is preparing an inventory but has not decided when the auction will be held, Petrescu said. It was also far from clear who might buy the stuff. But for history’s sake, the museum will hold on to several Ceausescu statues. They will serve as a reminder, he said, of the cult of personality.

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