Pity the poor Nicolae Ceaușescu. His life was the ultimate expression of the homily that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
On the one hand, we have the hardscrabble, but immensely attractive and handsome idealist who clawed his way to the pinnacle of Romanian socialism. Along the way, he found true love in his wife Elena, with whom he held hands right up to their joint murder in a sad, little cellar in Tragoviste. He famously let Elena win at backgammon, even though he constantly caught her cheating.
On the other hand, a ruthless leader who killed thousands who he imagined–correctly or not–were plotting against him. A man who could sign a death warrant with no more regret than a meter maid ridding her street of unwanted cars.
On the other hand, an iconoclast who defied the Soviets in condemning the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, and a brilliant foreign policy artist who managed to ally his Romania with both Israel and the Arab nations at a time when no one else could.
On the other hand…
Leaders really do live to serve the people, and when they forget this, history takes its pitiless revenge. So on 21 December, 1989, when Nicolae started to speak from this rather drab Central Committee balcony in downtown Bucharest, it turned out that history had passed him by. The crowd booed and jeered, and Nicolae fled with Elena, until the helicopter and then the truck ran of fuel. When history caught up with them in a pathetic courtyard outside a dismal, rural Romanian town, it was their own people who rigged a quick trial and shot them down, no doubt to save their own skins.
Did Nicolae and Elena deserve their fates? Of course they did–we all deserve the fates we conjure for ourselves. But it does seem odd that Nicolae Ceaușescu should have been the only leader who paid with his life for the political monstrosity that was the Soviet sphere of influence. Erich Honecker, Władysław Gomułka, Antonín Novotný, János Kádár, wherefore art thou?