13 June 1978
On 13 June 1978, at the insistence of Britain’s Labour government, the Queen welcomed Romania’s murderous dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, at Buckingham Palace, as part of a British effort to encourage the regime to continue to distance itself from Moscow. The royal invitation was extended despite a warning from Reggie Secondé, the British Ambassador to Romania, that Ceausescu was ‘as absolute a dictator as could be found in the world today.’ Such notoriety didn’t diminish his attraction to Britain’s political and corporate elite. Requests from business leaders for the few available places at the state banquet flooded the Foreign Office. The chairmen of ICI and Shell were among those who were lucky enough to receive invites. Among the chosen politicians, the fawning liberal leader David Steel turned up with a labrador puppy, named Gladstone, he presented as a tribute to the tyrant.1
The Ceausescus remained at the palace for three days. The baroque backdrop provided a spectacular propaganda setting for Romanian television coverage, as Nicolae Ceausescu was honoured with a place in a royal carriage alongside the Queen and then awarded an honorary knighthood. Nor did Mrs Ceausescu feel left out. She received a gold brooch and a fellowship from the Royal Institute of Chemistry for her purported scientific achievements, though it should have been obvious that her name had simply been attached to research papers written by other Romanian scientists.2
The Daily Mirror commended the Queen for her dutifulness in politely acting as hostess despite her own personal reluctance. The paper was apparently unaware that on the second day of the visit, Elizabeth, while walking her dogs in the palace gardens, had hidden in a bush to avoid meeting the couple, though it was, at least, able to remind its readers that Ceausescu was ‘incomparably the worst Warsaw Pact Head of State,’ adding that ‘the Romanian people suffer a harsh dictatorship that offers no threat by example to the Soviet one.’3
Everyone in Romania lived in fear of the Securitate or secret police, who employed an army of informers in the factories, schools and universities. Thousands of trade union activists and political dissidents were detained during Ceausescu’s increasingly oppressive rule. Many were confined in straightjackets in psychiatric wards, where they were forcibly given electric shocks and administered with powerful neuroleptic drugs.4 Such, however, was British indifference to the the regime’s appalling human rights record, that Ceausescu’s knighthood was not revoked by any subsequent British government until after the tyrant was eventually toppled by a democratic uprising in December 1989. Fortunately for the Queen, the government just managed to withdraw his knighthood a few hours prior to his extrajudicial killing by rebellious army officers on 25 December 1989.
- Robert Hardman, ‘Why Ceausescu’s 1978 state visit was far more humiliating than Trump’s ever could be,’ The Spectator, 1 June 2019, accessed online at url https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/06/why-ceausescus-1978-state-visit-was-far-more-humiliating-than-trumps-ever-could-be/
- Robert Hardman, ‘What really happens behind palace doors !’ The Daily Mail, 7 September 2018, accessed online at url https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6144569/The-day-Queen-hid-bush-avoid-Romanias-murderous-dictator.html
- Frederick Wills, ‘Palace Red Carpet for Tyrant,’ The Daily Mirror, 14 June 1978, p. 6. For the queen hiding in the bush incident see Robert Hardman in the Daily Mail, op. cit..
- Dennis Deletant, Ceausescu and the Securitate: Coercion and Dissent in Romania, 1965-1989, Routledge, London, 1995.
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