Glory to the Communist Leaders: the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in Bucharest

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Like everything else during the Communist regime, the Unknown Soldier Mausoleum in Carol Park (Bucharest) has been re-purposed to serve the socialist ideals and propaganda: it has been reconverted into the “Monument for heroes of the fight for liberty and Socialism”, or — in short — a mausoleum for the communist leaders.

Communist Mausoleum
Communist Mausoleum

The monument, rising 48 meters high on top of a hill in the beautiful Carol Park, was built between 1959-1963 by architects Horia Maicu and Nicolae Cucu. The mausoleum replaces an older monument dedicated to all the unknown soldiers who died in the wars fought by Romania, which was dismantled piece by piece and relocated to a different city in Romania (Marasesti). Here is how the original monument (built in 1923) looked like:

The original Unknown Soldier Monument
The original Unknown Soldier Monument

Ironically, the two socialist architects (Maicu & Cucu) recycled the plans for another memorial that was supposed to be built during the Fascist regime in Romania, because they were under pressure to deliver the blueprints. The mausoleum was built with red and black marble imported from Sweden, which is very rare, and resembles the tower of a cathedral. The mausoleum was officially inaugurated on December 30, 1963, and it was initially intended as a funeral monument for three important Communist leaders:

  • Petru Groza
  • Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej
  • Constantin I. Parhon

However, over the years, several communist leaders were buried here:

  • Stefan Gheorghiu
  • Ion C. Frimu
  • Leontin Sălăjan
  • Alexandru Moghioroș
  • Lucrețiu Pătrășcanu
  • Grigore Preoteasa
  • Ilie Pintilie
  • Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea
  • Gheorghe Vasilescu-Vasia
  • Constantin David
  • Ada Marinescu
  • Panait Mușoiu
  • Barbu Lăzăreanu
  • Simion Stoilov
  • Mihail Macavei
  • Ana Pauker

After the fall of Communism, the graves were moved to other cemeteries in Bucharest (1991). The grave of the Communist Party’s General Secretary Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej is now located in Bellu Cemetery. The urn with Ana Pauker’s ashes was taken by her family to Israel. The only communist leader still buried here is Petru Groza. The grave of the unknown soldier was also temporarily removed in October 1991, but was brought back in December 1991.

In 2004, the government led by Prime Minister Adrian Nastase wanted to grant four hectares of the Carol Park to the Orthodox Church as a building site for the largest cathedral in the country. Dismantling of the monument already began, when the Mayor of Bucharest of that time, Traian Basescu, opposed this decision and sued the government. He won the trial, so the monument and the park were saved from demolition.

In 2006, the unknown soldier grave was restored to its original location from 1923. Today, the crypt is closed to the public, and only open on a few special occasions. It hosts a statue of King Ferdinand I and the Nike Goddess.

Statue of King Ferdinant and Nike Goddess
Statue of King Ferdinand and Nike Goddess

The names of the former Communist Party leaders still survive on the sides of the mausoleum, but unfortunately, access near the monument is restricted by guarding soldiers.

 

Slave Labor in Communism: Building the People’s Palace

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The People’s Palace is the second largest administrative office building in the world, after the Pentagon, in terms of volume, and Bucharest’s most prominent landmark. You can see it from almost every corner of the city, and almost 1 million people visit it every year. However, few people know that an area the size of Venice (Italy) inhabited by more than 30,000 families had to be razed to the ground by bulldozers in order to build it (more about this in a future article). Even fewer people realize that slave labor had to be used to accomplish such a feat.

Casa Poporului

The actual construction of the palace began officially on June 25, 1984, when the cornerstone was laid. However, forced demolitions and works on the construction site began as early as 1981. Construction continued until the violent collapse of the Communist regime, in December 1989, but the building was never completed. Even today, in its current state, the building is considered to be only 60-80% complete, depending on whom you ask.

At the height of the construction activities, 20,000 workers and another 20,000 soldiers worked on the site, around the clock, 7 days a week, in 3 shifts. Among the workers, prisoners were also used. The soldiers working on the site were paid, but they were given very little choice, if any, before being brought in as workers. The total number of soldiers working on the construction site during the 7 years of activity is estimated to be 500,000. A typical shift would last for 8 hours, but that was only the actual physical labor. If you counted the time needed to get to the construction site, to prepare for work, to take part in the countless inspections of the party officials, and to get back home, you would easily end up with 12-hour shifts.

Construction site for People's House
Construction site for People’s House

The soldiers and prisoners working on the construction site were often second-class citizens, being constantly harassed by “regular” workers. Because Nicolae Ceausescu, the Communist leader of that time, wanted the building to be completed in record time, he frequently visited the construction site, often demanding that construction activities should be accelerated. However, he would also request frequent changes to the plans of the building, which caused further delays. Sometimes, the changes were executed directly on the construction site, without further consultation with the team of over 500 architects.

The bureaucracy surrounding the construction activities and the frequent controls by Army officials, Communist Party representatives, Securitate agents or the president himself created a very oppressive working environment. The long and exhausting working hours took their toll on the workers’ family life, also: many would barely get to see their children and wives, and had to divorce after a few months on the construction site. Some committed suicide, often on the construction site.

Casa Poporului Construction Site
Casa Poporului Construction Site

The construction site is considered by many to be a forced labor camp. There were no toilets or running water, and food was served once per day in the Republicii Stadium, which was turned into a huge “cafeteria” (in reality, a place were very basic food was served: cabbage soup with bread or boiled potatoes or beans).

Robi pe Uranus
Robi pe Uranus

Robi pe Uranus” (“Slaves on Uranus”) is a very good book by author Ioan Popa about the working conditions for soldiers on the labor camp (the book is in Romanian, but it could use an English translation). The author, a leftist writer and soldier from a workers’ family, was sent to the Uranus labor camp after expressing dissent with the Communist Party’s propagandists. Despite being published after the anti-Communist Revolution of 1989, the book caused quite a stir in the Army, as many of the characters mentioned in the book (under an alias) still worked there. The Army officials tried to discredit him for several years, and even to officially impeach him; then, they changed strategy, stating that the book is pure fiction.

To date, nobody knows the official number of victims on the construction site of the People’s house. Some of them may still be buried in the actual building. In one event described in the book, a team of workers is asked by Ceausescu to demolish a pillar and rebuild it in a different position. As they began to break up the concrete pillar with their hammer drills, they discovered the body of a colleague preserved inside. Many workers died in the barracks during the night because of disease, exhaustion, malnutrition or work accidents which lead to complications.