In the early nineties we had a family from Romania as neighbors, very nice people of German descent who had recently emigrated to Southern Germany to settle in the periphery of Munich where I was growing up.
At that time I was old enough to grasp (at least vaguely) the importance of the historic events that had occurred in the then called Eastern Bloc (Ostblock) a few years ago.
One after another communist one-party state collapsed as a consequence of the upheavals initiated by a discontent general public, who was not longer willing to endure oppression and poor living conditions whilst a remote party elite lived comfortably and cut off from the common man.
Luckily, most of these revolutions came to pass peacefully, like in East Germany or Hungary. Sometimes however, mass protests built up to a violent spree, like in the Soviet Union or Romania.
The violence occurring in Romania might not have been a great surprise to observers since the regime in Romania was one of the most oppressive in Eastern Europe. The dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu was head of state for over two decades until 1989, with probably the most bizarre personenkult (personality cult) of all European totalitarian regimes.
Our neighbors told us on occasions frightful stories about the Romanian everyday life under the rule of the communist party.
“Ceaușescu” was at last even a synonym for nightmarish general living conditions.
Dictatorship in Romania
The communist regime in Romania was in many ways different from its one-party state counterparts in Eastern Europe during the cold war.
In the 1960s, Nicolae Ceaușescu was despite the emerging economic troubles inherent in a planned economy comparatively popular. The dictator condemned the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact states in 1968 and Romanian military didn’t participate.
In addition to the increasingly deteriorating economy, the Conducător (“Leader”) and his not less notorious wife Elena spurred on a virtually unprecedented personenkult beginning in the 1970s.
The communist government enforced its already tight chokehold by an enormous and brutal secret police apparatus.
Exacerbated was this by the omnipresent corruption in Romania which was a well-established daily irritation (the corruption is still a structural problem in present-day Romania).
Oversized representative buildings are an inevitable accessory of every totalitarian system. In the early 1980s, a further overambitious project was devised, a gigantic palace at the western end of the Bulevardul Unirii (by itself a monstrous building project) – the Palace of the Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului).
Palace of the Parliament
Bucharest looks different than almost every métropole I’ve visited so far, the air under of communist suppression with all its bleakness and dinginess clings over the city still.
At the same time, signs of the new prosperity are clearly visible in Bucharest at almost every corner.
The most prominent among the remnants of the late communist era is the Palace of the Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului), a monstrous edifice in the city’s heart.
Construction works began (ironically) in June 1984, in three-shift operation. The dictator wanted to copy and outperform the huge communist building projects in Southeast Asia that he had visited the years before.
Solely Romanian building material was allowed to be used, and the very best was just good enough.
So they used one million cubic meters of marble from Rușchița in West Romania. Three and a half thousand tons of crystal glass as well as countless tons of precious timber from Romanian forests. And not to mention the hundred thousand tons of metal like steel, bronze and gold (presumably from mines in the Romanian Carpathians) as well as other noble metals.
After the finish of the gigantic building project that devoured resources like an ancient world wonder, the whole structure had an overall floor area of about three hundred thousand square meters on twelve floors. It became one of the heaviest buildings in the world, leading to serious concerns that it may sink measurably into the ground in the course of the following decades.
The Palace wasn’t finished during the communist reign which was swept away in December 1989 with Ceaușescu and his wife been executed by a firing squad of the Romanian Army.
As I visited Romania two years ago and walked alongside the Palatul Parlamentului I was of course intimidated and impressed by the size of the structure. The time to circle the building by foot only once was enormous.
Parts of the building are open to the public, so the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
Not surprisingly, the maintenance of the huge building is a great burden and consumes tens of thousands of Euros per month.
A lot of money regarding the fact that a considerable part of the building is still unused, though the Parliament of Romania is residing in the edifice since the 1990s.
cdep.ro – Official website of the Parliament of Romania