Gifts given to former Romanian dictator up for auction

A bronze yak that was a gift from Chinese leader Mao Zedong in the 1970s has a starting price of 300 euros.

Story highlights

  • Fancy and eccentric objects that once belonged to Romania's dictator are being auctioned
  • The most expensive piece is a painting with a starting price of €3,800, nearly $5,000
  • "Ceausescu and his wife had an extravagant lifestyle," a gallery visitor says
Expensive jewelry, art objects, animal skins, fancy pens and huge carpets that once belonged to Romania's former dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, were among items being auctioned Thursday in Bucharest.
The Ceausescu couple was shot dead during the bloody 1989 revolution, but they left behind a collection of fancy and often eccentric items given to them by foreign leaders during Ceausescu's 24 years in power.
The collection of 70 objects or batches of objects contrasts his extravagant lifestyle with Romanians' struggle with poverty and hunger during the Communist era.
The name of the auction, "The Golden Age," suggests Ceausescu's last years as a leader, when the official story was that the nation was thriving, but the reality was an increasing lack of food and power, with most of the people living in fear of the Securitate secret police.
The most expensive piece, with a starting price of €3,800, nearly $5,000, was a painting called "Scanteia" ("The Spark"), showing a woman worker reading the newspaper.
Another attraction was a silver-plated pair of pigeons that Ceausescu received from the Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, during a visit in 1977. A fancy Pilot Elite pen, part of the Romanian leader's collection of writing tools, had a starting price of €2,000. The gift was presented by Japan's leader in 1975 to mark Ceausescu's visit.
China's founding communist leader, Mao Zedong, gave Ceausescu a bronze yak in the 1970s. It had a starting price of a mere €300.
Among the most eccentric items were two animal pelts: one from a tiger, with a starting price of €1,800, and one from a leopard, with a starting price of €1,200.
Elena Ceausescu's jewelry box had a starting price of €400.
"He was praised for an equal society, but if you look at this jewelry box you can tell the opposite," said an Oxford University student who identified himself as Steven as he visited the gallery before the auction. "Ceausescu and his wife had an extravagant lifestyle, like most of the communist leaders did."
He added, "I think the communist art sells very well as a product because it is nicely done."
"The people's most beloved son," as he used to be called, is depicted on a carpet that was once in the People's Palace, the huge building that now houses Romania's Parliament. Ceausescu is in the middle of the carpet above Communist leaders and flanked by signs saying "peace." It was given a starting price of €800.
"Looking around I can tell that he created a utopian society, one in which everybody is smiling, nobody is questioning anything," said a student who identified himself as Nicky while admiring the carpet. "Although I find it an interesting collection, full of hidden symbols, it's curious to want to own something that belonged to Ceausescu."