- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2010

BUCHAREST, Romania | What’s in a name? The Ceausescus think a lot.

Late communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu is the best-known Romanian of the last century, but his notoriety isn’t the first thing you would think ad makers would swoop on when promoting a brand.

Surprisingly, Ceausescu has been used in recent years to sell products from chocolate to condoms to hotel rooms. Now the surviving members of the Ceausescu clan are trying to limit use of the name, saying it violates their official registration of Ceausescu as a brand at the State Office for Makes and Brands.

Some advertising featuring the Ceausescu name mocks the Romanian leader, such as mobile-phone ads that refer to the repression of free speech in the communist era. Others betray nostalgia for the late dictator, seen as a patriot by some who yearn for a time when jobs were secure and there was little grinding poverty.

In December, a Romanian theater ran into trouble with the Ceausescus after it staged a play called “The Last Hours of Ceausescu” to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the dictator’s overthrow and execution. The play was then staged in Zurich, Bern and Berlin.

Ceausescu repressed his nation with an army of 700,000 secret police informers. He stifled dissent and limited travel abroad, and by the end of his rule, there was severe rationing of even basic necessities, such as oil and eggs.

Ceausescu’s son and son-in-law launched an official complaint in January in a bid to force the play’s producers to seek permission to use the name. They said the show violated the Ceausescu name’s official registration two years ago as a brand.

“We just want to stop people exploiting the name,” the son, Valentin Ceausescu, told Associated Press. He acknowledged that the play was artistic expression, however, rather than a commercial use of the name, and thus the family was not likely to win the case.

Romania’s advertisers swooped in on the Ceausescu name a few years ago.

A television ad in 2005 has black-and-white images of Ceausescu speaking at the last Communist Party congress, a month before his demise. A mobile phone rings, and a man in the audience stands up and walks out of the hall, with the voiceover at the end of the commercial saying, “You won the right to speak free, and now you can speak free for 1,000 minutes,” alluding to the communist era, when free speech was repressed.

Another advertisement, for a different brand, says, “Capitalists in the country, get connected!” It’s playing on a Marxist slogan used in the Ceausescu era.

Less polite is a condom advertisement in which manufacturers extol the virtues of protected sex, wondering what would have happened if the parents of Hitler, Stalin or Ceausescu had used condoms.

Ceausescu even has been used to relaunch a popular make of chocolate that was no longer produced after 1989. His face appears on commercials about the Ciocolata ROM bar, a rum-flavored chocolate bar on sale in the country’s confectionery stores and supermarkets.

A little more than a year ago, real estate agents in the western city of Arad began a campaign with the slogan “Long live the new urban revolution!” with Ceausescu’s face on posters.

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