How does a post from 2014 show up as the fifth most popular one here in 2019? I think it is because I used Michael Jackson’s name in the title and that trigger search engines somehow. That might make it a bit disappointing for people looking for something insightful about the King of Pop.
There was a movie (which I have never seen) that was very popular in 1969 titled If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. That I think is a pretty common feeling for anyone traveling through a number of countries in a short period of time: you can feel a little disoriented when you wake up in a strange bedroom, not really quite sure where you are until you check your itinerary.
So I have a bit of sympathy for American pop singer Michael Jackson, who I am sure during his career visited many more countries than I have been to, at least so far. Jackson is perhaps better known in Bucharest for his faux pas at the Palace of the Parliament than for the live DVD he recorded in Bucharest’s National Stadium. Part of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s dream for his palace was a magnificent balcony overlooking the city, from which he could address his people. He never got the chance, as he was killed in a popular uprising, perhaps spurred in part by the fiscal belt tightening required of his people to pay for his folly, the palace that is the second largest administrative building in the world. This magnificent, impractical edifice was still unfinished at the time of Ceaușescu’s death, despite more than four billion taxpayer dollars spent on its construction. One million cubic metres of marble, 480 chandeliers, 200,000 square metres of carpet – all of that had to be paid for somehow, and Ceaușescu squeezed his people to do it.
So it was Michael Jackson, not Nicolae Ceaușescu, who got to be the first person to stand on the balcony of the Palace of the Parliament in downtown Bucharest and speak to the adoring crowds standing below. Maybe he had been traveling and was just fatigued, thinking “if it’s Tuesday I must be in Hungary.” His message to the crowd? “I love Budapest!” If he had been a politician instead of a singer that pronouncement might have started another revolution.
It seems to me that pretty much all leaders tend to lose touch with their people after being in power for a lengthy period. They develop a sense of entitlement. In a democracy that is remedied by the people choosing someone new, someone they hope will be an improvement. In a dictatorship, change through the ballot box is unlikely to happen. You rarely hear of a retired dictator, living out his (or her) life while drawing a government pension. Dictators tend to die in office, either of old age or at the hands of the people they profess to serve. Nicolae Ceaușescu apparently overestimated just how much Romanians were willing to accept. The Palace of Parliament, which he had dubbed the “People’s Palace” was rejected by a populace who could not dream of such luxury for themselves. Eventually they did more than just grumble about the man who apparently had forgotten everything he once knew about the theory of Communism and replaced it with Me-ism.
When you tour the Palace of the Parliament the immensity of the building tends to overwhelm other thoughts that might be stirring in your brain. When you are standing in a room the size of two football fields the natural response is WOW! It is only later, safely away from the building, that the more important question comes to your mind: why? Romania today is one of Europe’s poorer countries. I suspect that during the Communist period Romania was poorer than today. Where was sanity when this construction project was started? Maybe there is no answer to that question, or at least not one that makes sense.