Monday, 21 December 2009

What defeated leaders leave behind

On 17 December on BBC Radio Four, the World Affairs Editor John Simpson recollected the 20th anniversary of the downfall of communist rule in Romania. Simpson had been present during the bloody overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The dictator had banned Christmas and even thought!

This brings to mind other sudden and dramatic downfalls of fiercely strong leaders of various shades and reputation: Robert Maxwell, Margaret Thatcher, Fred Goodwin among them – and what legacy their surprise and shocking departure leaves in its train. In referring to former communist dictators, Simpson remarks: “Getting rid of them was an ugly and highly questionable process, and it isn’t over even now”.

The day after the impromptu executions of Ceausescu and his much-feared wife Elena, Simpson bumped into a sociologist inside the communist central building in Bucharest. This person confided “We Romanians will always suffer as a result of Ceausescu. He’s inside every one of us. That’s his revenge”.

A few years ago the guest conductor Alan Tongue was invited to Romania to conduct a performance by the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra. After the rehearsal he invited any of the players who wished to come back to his hotel and practise their English. He waited, but no one came. He subsequently asked the orchestra’s leader for an explanation. Tongue was told, “No conductor has ever expressed an interest in them, or wanted to listen to them. The only model of leadership they are used to is autocratic. It’s our way: look at Romania’s dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu. Your invitation totally confused them. It was wholly outside their experience. They couldn’t relate to it.”