Romania and the Casa Poporuluii: Past and Future Identities
Sitting prominently on the top of a small hill, at the end of the Bulevardul Unirii (Unity Boulevard), in central Bucharest, Romania, lays one of man’s great architectural achievements, Casa Poporului (House of the People). Casa Poporului is the second largest administrative building in the world, behind the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. (Nae,Turnock, p 207). With over 1,000 rooms, and made almost entirely of Romanian resources, such as Romanian White Travertine and hand carved walnut and cherry paneling, the Casa Poporului is naturally a major tourist attraction (Vachon, p 59). Atop the central hill, looking like a giant concrete layer cake, with 20 floors taking up nearly 4,000,000 sq ft, author Duncan Light compares this building to “The Grand Canyon, The Eiffel Tower and The Millenium Dome” just by its sheer “visual size and physical presence”(Light, pp 1062-1063). The Casa Poporului was built by one of the world’s most infamous communist dictators, Nicolae Ceaucescu. Ceaucescu utilized Romania’s natural resources, its land and its people to build the Casa Poporului, and at the same time was in the midst of starving and brutalizing the population (Pacepa, pp 375-376). However, behind the grand monstrosity, glory and scandal of such a building lies the history and memories it possesses. After Ceaucescu’s death in 1989, Romania has struggled to pull itself out of the deep darkness that was socialism.
In Casa Poporului, Romania has been given an opportunity to provide a destination for tourists which provides a sense of pride and economic benefit, as well as a historically important relic to the Communist government that devastated the country for more than 25 years. Nicolae Ceaucescu became ruler in 1968 and immediately set out to change the look and feel of Bucharest. Ceaucescu was an admirer of other prominent world socialist leaders, whose ruling style was at the very least controversial, such as North Korea’s Kim Il-Sung, Russia’s Stalin, and China’s Mao Zedong (Danta, 175,179). Ceaucescu found the idea of worship to be particularly appealing, and also made use of the overbearing ‘tomb’ like look of the multi-storied, box styled concrete buildings he found in North Korea (Light, p 1059). Ceaucescu brought these ideas home to Romania and set out on a mission to restructure the city in his ideal ‘monumental’ image (Danta, p 175).
Ceaucescu flattened nearly 20-25% of the entire city of Bucharest to make way for his grand ‘Champs-de-Elysee’ like boulevards, high rise apartment buildings for communist party officials, and the 330,000 square meter Casa Poporului (Nae, Turnock, p 207). This was accomplished partly by natural occurrence with several major earthquakes in the late 1970’s. It was then completed by removing and relocating many residents to outer village areas of Bucharest into Soviet ‘Bloc’ style apartment buildings; and then demolishing residences, businesses and historical buildings. The destruction of numerous historical sites, including the Ypsilanti Palace and the Brincovesc Hospital, two structures that had lasted for centuries, was not excluded (Danta, pp170-174). Ceaucescu went out of his way to demolish and/or move several churches, as he particularly despised the idea of church and religion in general (Pacepa, pp 219-221). Ceaucescu was looking to erase any inference of any other regime to come before him, any other form of cult or worship that did not involve his image or idea, and provide an immortal transformation to the psyche of Bucharest and its people (Danta, p 175). Ceaucescu had a detailed plan of removing “breeding ground for bourgeois liberalism” and “create sameness throughout the country” (Danta, p 172). As was discussed in Ann Stoler’s Bourgeois Bodies and Racial Selves, the indication of a better class or ‘bourgeois society’ would have gone against Ceaucesu’s central ideology of making sure all...
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