The grim barracks where Romania’s brutal communist despot Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were executed are to be opened to the public in the latest bid to boost “dictator tourism.”
The former military unit at Targoviste, 100km northwest of Bucharest, is to be turned into a museum and is due to welcome its first visitors in next month.
“Many Romanians and foreigners said they wanted to see the wall against which Ceausescu and his wife Elena were shot on Dec. 25, 1989,” said Ovidiu Carstina, director of the museum.
The death of the Ceausescus became one of the defining images of the revolutions which convulsed eastern and central Europe in 1989.
On Dec. 22, as angry crowds gathered in front of the Communist Party headquarters, they fled the capital Bucharest in a helicopter. It was to be their final journey. They were stopped by the army, detained in Targoviste, and shot after a makeshift trial.
It brought to a grisly end more than 20 years of repressive rule aided by a huge security apparatus, where any free speech was ruthlessly suppressed. The population suffered from food and power shortages and on top of that, Ceascescu’s rule was marked by nepotism, paranoia and a deeply ingrained personality cult. Wife Elena was seen as the regime’s “No. 2.”
“Our aim is to present events as they unfolded, without making comments on the trial, the Ceausescus’ life or the cult of personality,” Carstina said.
In the barracks, built in 1907, time seems to have stood still since the execution.
The makeshift dock where Nicolae and Elena, dressed in their winter coats, sat listening to the charges against them will be put back in the very place where the couple were tried and sentenced to death.
Outside, the wall against which they were shot just a few minutes later still carries bullet holes.
Sociologist Vasile Dancu said “every nation must acknowledge its history, without trying to hide certain events.”
A group of Swedish tourists has already booked tickets for the museum, Carstina said.
Also on their must-see list is the grandiose Palace of Parliament in the heart of Bucharest.
To erect the building, initially called “House of the People,” Ceausescu ordered the razing of much of the city’s historic district, forcing the relocation of about 40,000 people, who lost their homes.
The palace is now one of Romania’s top attractions. More than 144,000 tourists visited it in last year, 110,000 of them foreigners.
However, Lucia Morariu, head of the local tour operators’ association, felt turning Ceausescu into a tourist brand was not a good idea.
“Why encourage those who mourn him? Romania boasts other highlights,” she said, citing the Danube delta, part of UNESCO’s heritage, or the picturesque natural reserve of the Retezat mountains, home to Europe’s biggest bear and wolves populations.