(Romanian pronunciation: [eˈlena tʃauˈʃesku]; January 7, 1916 – December 25, 1989) was the wife of Romania's Communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu, and Deputy Prime Minister of Romania.
She was born Elena Petrescu into a peasant family in the village of Petreşti, Baloteşti commune, Ilfov County, in the informal region of Wallachia. Her family was supported by her father's job as a ploughman. Elena's education ended at the fourth grade and she moved along with her brother to Bucharest, where she worked as a laboratory assistant before getting a job at a textile factory. She joined the Communist Party of Romania in 1937 and met 21-year-old Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1939.
They married on December 23, 1947. On their wedding day she forged her birth certificate (her birth year was changed from 1916 to 1919 in order to make her look younger than her husband Nicolae, who was two years her junior).
Under her husband's regime, she became a major Romanian political figure. Publicly, Ceauşescu said that it was an honor to be referred to as "comrade", but Romanian expatriates in the United States frequently referred to her as "Madame Ceauşescu" with great disdain. She enjoyed being referred by the title "Mother of the Nation." However, she was not particularly maternal, having been quoted as saying about her countrymen that "the worms never get satisfied, no matter how much food you give them." It is quite possible that Elena Ceauşescu was the most hated person in Romania during the 25-year rule of her husband.
After the Communists took power, she worked as a secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was an unimportant figure until her husband became general secretary of the party. In 1957 she was a research scientist at ICECHIM (National Institute for Chemical Research). In the early 1960s she was reported to be secretary of the party committee of the Bucharest Central Institute of Chemical Researches, and, when her husband Ceauşescu took over the party leadership in March 1965, she was listed as the institute's director. In December of the same year, she was elected a member of the newly established National Council of Scientific Research, and in September 1966 she was awarded the Order of Scientific Merit First Class.
Elena Ceauşescu was given many honorary awards for scientific achievement in the field of polymer chemistry during the period when her husband ruled Romania. However, her educational and scientific achievements are disputed. Despite never completing elementary education (her records show she left school only with a good mark in Needlework), she graduated from the University of Bucharest with a PhD in polymer chemistry and top in a class of 100 women with the honor of summa cum laude. Her thesis has 162 pages, 32 tables, 40 figures and 440 references and describes the invention of a very valuable artificial material. Her detractors consider it unlikely that a person like her would have been able to write such a thesis herself. After the Revolution of 1989, several eminent scientists have stated that Elena had forced them to write papers in her name while a later report from her instructors claims she had rarely attended lectures or classes, and instead had sent Securitate agents to drop off her homework (which many doubt were completed by her). Also according to the instructors, when Elena came to class, she was widely known to fall asleep, leave unexpectedly, and have trouble reading basic words; allegedly, she was once thrown out of an adult education chemistry exam for cheating They claim the university gave her the honor of the doctorate solely because of her political position. She was supposed to be fluent in Romanian and French.
The fact is that she graduated with a program of remote studies (fără frecvență) common in Romania of that time for working people and for mothers with children, and as such she did not have colleagues that would know her from school. As with all lab directors her task consisted mainly in project management, dealing with the allocation of funds and resources, and with the prioritization of research directions. As common with lab directors in Romania and elsewhere, she appeared as co-author on most publications of the team managed by her, her name being the first (not only because names were listed in alphabetical order). During her time as Director of the Central Institute of Chemical Research, she took the floor at several conferences and meetings but spoke on general matters. She typically wrote her own scripts and did not make blunders (after her death, her successor in that position requested colleagues to write his talks and was trapped by them into uttering big stupidities). Whenever a specific scientific theme arose, she would defer to a "Comrade Engineer", who would then have to explain what had to be done. During the quick show trial that ended her life, she was accused by her interrogator, General Gică Popa, of having had her scientific papers written for her by someone else. Among her many honors, she received an honorary fellowship from the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK) (as well as an honorary doctorate), she was made a member of the Illinois Academy of Sciences etc. She allegedly obtained these awards with money, instead of merit.
Starting in July 1972, Elena Ceauşescu was given various offices at senior levels in the Romanian Communist Party. In June 1973 she became a member of the Politburo of the Romanian Communist Party becoming the second most important and influential person after Ceauşescu himself. She was deeply involved in party administration alongside her husband. The Ceauşescus issued strict public relations rules for all elements of their persona, which were rigidly followed. In March 1974, she was made a member of the Romanian Academy's Section for Chemical Sciences. At the time when she wanted to receive her doctorate from the Bucharest Faculty of Chemistry, she met with strong opposition from respected Romanian chemist Costin D. Neniţescu, the dean of the faculty. She was forced instead to present her thesis to Cristofor Simionescu and Ioan Ursu at the University of Iasi, where she met with complete success.
She frequently accompanied her husband on official visits abroad, and it was during the state visit to the People's Republic of China in June 1971, where she noticed how Chairman Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing had her own position of real power in the state, that Elena's remarkable rise was given a Chinese fillip. In July 1971 she was elected a member of the Central Commission on Socio-Economic Forecasting, and in July 1972 she became a full member of the Romanian Communist Party Central Committee. She was elected a member of the Executive Committee in June 1973, after being proposed by Emil Bodnăraş. In November 1974, at the 11th party congress, she was made a member of the (renamed) political executive committee and in January 1977 became a member of the highest party body, the Permanent Bureau of the Political Executive Committee. In March 1980, she was made a First Deputy Prime Minister.
Romanians hold Elena Ceauşescu responsible for the elimination of birth control that created crisis conditions during the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in a flood of unwanted infants, babies, and children that were housed in substandard state operated orphanages throughout the country. She also headed the State health commission, which denied the existence of AIDS in Romania, leading to one of the largest outbreaks (including pediatric cases) in the western world. She was also responsible for the destruction of churches and the food rationing that took place in Romania in the 1980s.
Fall from power
Elena Ceauşescu fled with her husband on December 22, 1989, after the events in Timişoara led to the Romanian Revolution, but she and her husband were captured. At the show trial that took place, she answered only a few questions since her husband took a protective role, asked her to calm down and shook his head each time her mouth opened to reply in anger. On the afternoon of December 25, 1989, in Târgovişte they were executed. She was almost 74 years old. She was outlived by her almost 100-year old mother, her brother Gheorghe Petrescu (also an important figure in the party) and her three children: Valentin (b. 1948), Zoia (1949 - 2006) and Nicu (1951 - 1996), who was also a very important member of the Romanian Communist Party.
In popular culture
She was sometimes nicknamed "Codoi", referring to her alleged mispronunciation of the name of the chemical compound CO2, being mocked by many, including an official during her show trial. "Codoi" also means "big tail" in Romanian, therefore the comic effect created by her alleged mispronunciation.