Cold War’s hunting tales in Romania

Hunting in 1966: Nicolae Ceausescu and other Romanian comrades
Hunting in 1966: Nicolae Ceausescu and other Romanian comrades

When it comes of Cold War and bears, everybody would naturally think of a nickname: “Russian” (or “Soviet”) Bear. But who would ever think of “flying” bears inside the Warsaw Pact? There is no miracle of communism: simply, recent research shows that the only explanation for presence of bears in nowadays Bulgaria is that a while ago Romania’s communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu send animals, as a gift, by military planes, to neighbouring People’s Republic of Bulgaria ruled by Todor Jivkov. The two leaders used to hunt together in Romania. Romanian communist bosses were passionate hunters and also ready to use the opportunities for hunting in the Romanian mountains to make “business” with other leaders, including USSR’s. It was reported crucial decisions were made in such moments. True or not, hunting in Carpathians seemed the perfect field for secret talks inside Warsaw Pact.

A genetic study of brown bears (Ursus arctos) in Bulgarian mountain regions showed they originated in Carpathians. So how did they get to Bulgaria? It wasn’t natural dispersal. Bulgarian and Romanian NGOs, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, and scientists of the Senckenberg Conservation Genetics Section in Frankfurt have found that a legend was probably true – the legend being that the former leader of the Romanian Communist Party, Nicolae Ceausescu, flew the bears to Bulgaria, science20.com reported.

 Some of these bears (of Romania) were used for improving relationships with allied rulers. In Romania and Bulgaria people report that the large Carpathian bears were brought to Bulgarian enclosures be military planes and released in order to spice up the less impressive local bear population, sciencedaily.com also said.

 Comrades going hunting

Ceausescu and Jivkov were not only Party allies within the Warsaw Pact, but they also spent time together as hunting comrades. Villagers in Western Romania said Jivkov often visited Ceausescu’s hunting chalet. The same place, the village of Lapusna, was the meeting point of Romanian communists with other leaders, like Yugoslavia’s Tito or even the Soviet Union leader, Nikita Khruhschev. While they were hunting bears, naturally they also discussed politics.

 Red Army’s withdrawal

Hunting was a favourite sport also of Ceausescu’s predecessor, Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej. A legend says Nikita Khruhschev, the USSR leader, was eventually convinced by Romanian communists to withdraw the Red Army from Romania in such a moment: a good party hunting in Carpathian Mountains, delicious food and five stars wine, plus local singers; and, the legend says, Khruhschev, after such a hospitality demonstration, said “Yes” to the Romanian’s request that the Soviet Army, installed in Romania after WW2, leave the country. The Russians left Romania in 1958.

Soviet Union troops entered Romania in 1944, during WWII; in August, Romania, Germany’s ally until that moment, switched sides.Later, international deals sent Romania to Soviet area of influence, so the Red Army was kept to supervise the enforcement of communism in one of the most anti-communist countries.

Years after the war, the Romanian communists started to get rid of their comrades sent by Moscow, and, step by step, the nationalistic wing of the Party succeeded to become dominant. Soviet Army’s withdrawal is seen by historians as a turning point: from that moment, People’s Republic of Romania, later Socialist Republic of Romania, entered into a new phase in terms of relationship with Moscow. It came to the highest point in 1968, when new leader Nicolae Ceausescu was the only communist chief who publicly condemned the Warsaw Pact’s armies invasion of Czechoslovakia.

The “flying” bears and more

True or not, the legend about Khruhschev’s hunting in Romanian Carpathians is just an episode; many other foreign leader, communists or even Libia’s Gadafi were invited to hunting parties in Romania by the local party’s bosses.

Among them was lso Bulgaria’s Todor Jivkov. Former Jivkov’s interpreter told Romanian media that “every time Jivkov was visited Romania, hunting was included in his schedule”.

In the end, oral history mentiones that Ceausescu decided to send some brown bears to Bulgaria, as a gift for the Bulgarian communist leader.

Ceausescu, the supreme hunter

Ceausescu’s passion for hunting was well known. Some sources mention he killed almost 1000 bears; the figure seems inflated, since Romania’s bear population was up to 8000, but it is sure the dictator killed a lot of bears, hundreds. He was nicknamed “Romania’s no. 1 hunter”.

Lots of preparation were made in the regions where Ceausescu went on hunting trips. It was not only about logistics, but also all was done just to bring the animals close to Ceausescu. The only thing he had to do was to push the trigger.

Almost 25 years since Ceausescu was executed, Romania is a destination for hunters coming from many European countries. Also Ceausescu hunting chalets are included now in touristic packages design to attract visitors interested both in present but also in the past.

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