How to spend the last days in the life of Nicolae Ceauşescu

Codruţa Simina @ 14 January 2014 in EAST SIDE STORIES

This post is also available in: Romanian

The wild beauty of Transylvania, Dracula and the villages of Maramureş carry the “streamer” (or the leaf) for Romanian tourism all around the world. Apart from this convention, an agency in Cluj ended up doing tourism in a space less sprinkled with natural beauty, yet more mental: Romania’s recent history.

This autumn, Retro Travel (still referred to as “the agency”) retraced for a group of foreign tourists the last days in the life of Nicolae Ceauşescu and last year, the frontline of the German army’s retreat from Romania, during World War II. Radu Vădeanu, the coordinator of these tours and the man who documented each trip, told for the story on how he got to have customers interested in the “treasury” nobody could take out of our country: life under communism.

Communist flavored tourism
“There was a minimal demand for this, otherwise I wouldn’t have started advertising it. Three years ago, I came across some Swedish people very caught up in the topic of the Wehrmacht’s retreat. They told me they’d be interested in doing this tour in a few years.” I waited to see if the interest is maintained and after they wrote to me, showing an increased curiosity on the matter, I started documenting on the subject. So they weren’t actually tourists picked up the street, but people directly concerned by the topic”, explains Vădeanu.

After serious research, for which he contacted history teachers and even academics, the first tour was outlined in 2012: “Exploring Romania – focusing on recent history, first and second world war and present time”.

“We followed the retreat line of the German army from Romania, during World War II. The tour started in Bucharest with thematic conferences, going along the frontline in World War II, which was not a great one as the retreat was hasty. We made many stops at the military cemeteries and at the actual Prut frontline because they wanted to see the river, being the last significant barrier to the Carpathians. And well, all the other details that meant the entry of Romania into another sphere of influence”, says the coordinator.

Briefly, the 2012 tour lasted 11 days having as a starting point Bucharest, then passing through Braşov, Moldova, Maramureş, Cluj, Mureş, Sighişoara and Sibiu. In all these places, besides the traditional sightseeing objectives, there were visits to the military cemeteries, museums and historical monuments dedicated to the theme covered by the tour.

Furthermore, for 2013, the agency had requests for a new tour. “This year we traced the last days in the life of Nicolae Ceauşescu. Basically, this meant a 4 days condensed tour in which we organized conferences on recent history: communist instauration, the ’46 falsified elections, the revolution of ’89. We brought people involved in what the revolution and the death of Ceauşescu meant like General Voinea, Doru Mărieş. In addition, we planned a trip to Târgovişte, which, in the past few weeks, turned into a garrison museum. And there we had as a guide one of the three soldiers, I think he was a sergeant back then, who fired at Ceauşescu’s execution”, mentions Vădeanu.

The guide that shot

Tourists were particularly impressed by the construction and design details of the People’s House, but also by the fact that one of the guides in Târgovişte was actually one of the soldiers assigned to shoot at the presidential couple. “The soldier gave every particular detail on how they chose the volunteers. Basically, they were told “we need 8 volunteers”, not knowing what they were called for. Out of eight, Stănculescu chose three to carry through the execution sentence. You, you and you! He says they were told the sentence can be appealed within a month, but it will be executed right away”. You can watch below a short video from the presentation in Târgovişte (the video is translated):

For the future, Retro Travel will continue organizing tours covering recent history topics. They already have requests from foreign universities regarding “the last days in the life of Nicolae Ceauşescu”.

“At present, we focus on institutions investigating communism and universities. A new tour on Ceauşescu’s last days with a group of U.S. students will follow in 2015. Their teacher participated this year and he said he’d like to return with his students”, says Vădeanu. He also tells us that, after these tours, he felt the main satisfaction in the fact he found interest in recent history and managed to organize thematic trips. Anyway, there is an attraction for the history of communism, and as Radu Vădeanu says, especially on the topic of concentration camps. Sometimes outside interest seems higher than within the borders of Romania.

…and some capitalism
He also says you don’t get a lot of profit out of these tours, but you neither get a negative balance. According to him, recent history related tourism could become a business, provided there is enough dedication and professionalism when documenting the tours.

Yet, recent history should be “common knowledge” at home before turning into a business, believes Radu Vădeanu, father of two kindergarten children. By that he means introducing it in schools as a subject in the curriculum. The right way to study the history of the Holocaust: “I would make these tours mandatory in school, not organized by me, nor by a private company, it doesn’t really matter who organizes them, but they should be done. And we should spend more time explaining to the children, the teenagers and the young people how it used to be like. Then, they’ll find the answers to the questions they probably ask themselves: Why are we like this? How did we get here? We got here because we lived in a large prison for 45 years.”

Translated by Alexandra Scoarţă (c)


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