Sitting in the middle of Bucharest is a building so large, so ugly, so useless, it, as they say, has to be seen to be believed. Which is why I was in the middle of Bucharest on a cold Saturday night, dreary eyed and jet jagged, surrounded by Romanian teenagers. They were tailgating, drinking, and dancing to bad American pop music pumping from their cars, while I was starring up at Ceaușescu’s absurd monstrosity.
The building (now named the Palace of the Parliament) despite being across a wide boulevard, behind a high wall, and set in the middle of sprawling grounds atop a hill, still filled the sky, looming over everything.
It is really hard to look at it and not see it as a physical manifestation of all that was wrong with Communism. A parable of man’s capacity for brutality, and the corruption that comes with unchecked power.
A cruel dictator of a poor country, jealous of what he sees while visiting an even crueler dictator of an even poorer country, decides to build the world’s largest building. An opulent palace to show the world his might. To do so, he first levels three square miles in the capital’s center, destroying buildings, moving people, and flattening a hill. Then he commands one of every ten citizens to begin building this monolith.
For five years it slowly grows, replacing the old hill of dirt, with a gigantic shining palace of marble, bronze, steel, walnut, sycamore, crystal, silver, and gold, while the rest of the country, sapped of energy, food, and workers, sinks further into cold, darkness, and hunger.
Never does he say why the building needs to be built. Never does he justify the massive opulence in a country so drab and poor, beyond the doublespeak of a People’s House, despite it being closed to everyone but him and his friends.
This particular parable though comes with an ending that at face value could be called happy, although tinged with black humor and the absurd.