Opulence of the Despots: Yanukovych vs. Ceausescu

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All the photos and videos depicting the wealth of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych remind me of how Nicolae Ceausescu’s fortune was depicted by the media immediately after the anti-Communist Revolution of 1989. I’m still trying to find the original television footage that was filmed when anti-Communist protesters stormed his palace in Snagov, as well as his villas and other belongings (including a presidential plane, presidential train and a car collection), but this more recent footage should give you an idea:

The documentary above is in Romanian, and it features his palace in Snagov. Apparently, that’s where Michael Jackson also stayed in 1992 when he came to Romania for his concert. Yes, he had expensive oil paintings (by Nicolae Grigorescu, probably the most famous Romanian painter), crystal chandeliers, expensive wood paneling and furniture, marble decorations and what not, but it turns out that the bathroom faucets were not made of massive gold, as initially thought, but merely from gilded brass.

I remember how shocked and indignant the protesters were when they realized the discrepancy between how the famous Communist dictator lived and how the majority of the population lived. In retrospect, he didn’t seem that wealthy, and many of the amenities featured in those early documentaries are now common in every 5-star hotel. In fact, many of his “protocol villas” have fallen in disrepair since the collapse of Communism, as is the case with this property, which looks quite modest by today’s standards:

The most controversial claim regarding Ceausescu’s wealth was that he owned 1 billion US dollars (yes, that’s one billion!) stashed as deposits in Swiss banks. Nevertheless, this has never been proven to date, and a formal report signed by a Romanian parliamentary commission in 2008 concluded that these funds never existed.

Ironically, both presidents (Yanukovych and Ceausescu) fled from the raging crowds using a helicopter. Here is an amateur’s footage of the event filmed in December 1989:

(here is footage of Yanukovych’s escape attempt, if you’re looking for comparisons)

I guess only history will tell if Yanukovych will share the destiny fate as the Ceausescu couple.

Enjoyed this article? Listen to more Communist stories and see Bucharest’s landmarks in one of our upcoming walking tours!

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