In his native land, 62-year-old Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu has been compared to Julius Caesar and Pericles, Lincoln and Napolean.
With attributes like these, one would have thought that Ceausescu would have felt reasonably secure in the adoration of his fellow countrymen. But last week, he took a further step towards consolidating his power by naming his wife Elena first deputy prime minister and his son Nicu secretary of the country's parliament.
Nepotism is, of course, not unknown elsewhere in the communist world. In Bulgaria, President Todor Zhivkov's daughter Ludmilla is an influential member of the ruling Politburo with responsibility for culture. The wife of Alabania's Stalinist ruler Enver Hoxha is in charge of the country's propanda work. In the Soviet Union, President Leonid Brezhev's son Yuri has enjoyed rapid promotion and is now first deputy minister of foreign trade. The son of North Korea's "great leader" Kim II Sung is also apparently being groomed for the sucession.
But what makes Romania unique is the extent of the flattery lavished on Ceausescu himself and the number of relatives he has managed to elevate to important posts. Membership of the Ceausescu family clan has quite simply become the quickest way of reaching the top in this Balkan country of 22 million.
Establishing exactly who belongs to the clan is difficult since many are members by marriage -- and official Romanian biographies do not give details of wives or husbands. But, even on the most conservative estimate, Western experts on Romanian affairs believe that at least several dozen key positions are occupied by Ceausescu relatives.
Chief of the clan is of course Ceausescus himself, a compactly built man with crinkly, silver hair who came to power in 1965 on the death of his mentor Gheorghe Gheorgui-Dej. The cares of office (as well as head of state, he is leader of the Communist Party and commander-in-chief of the armed forces) have taken their toll and the heavy lines under his eyes now have to be meticulously touched over in official photographs. His style of rule is energetic and highly personal: He insists on taking all important decisions himself and harangues senior officials, factory workers, and the Romanian people for hours on end.
Personality number two in Ceausescu's Romania is unquestionably his wife Elena, 61. In addition to her new post, she is a member of the Communist Party's policy-making Permanent Bureau in charge of cadre policy -- with day-to-day control over dismissals and promotions. A chemical engineer by training, she is also chairman of the National Council of Science and Technology, a Cabinet-level post.
Stiffly handsome, Elena has acquired a personality cult of her own to accompany her meteoric rise. The court poets (almost a profession in Romania) have dubbed her "the most just woman on earth" and "the legendary mother from the fairy tales of our childhood." Western analysts believe that her husband relies considerably on her talents.
"Whatever the official press might say, she is hardly a scientist of genius.
But compared to Ceausescu himself, who had a peasant upbringing, she has the stronger education and also probably the stronger personality. She is developing a power base of her own and has good political judgment," a foreign diplomat in Bucharest commented.
Son Nicu, 27, is rapidly emerging as Romania's crown prince, a kind of Balkan Sanjan Gandhi. Once a playboy who liked to be seen around Bucharest driving fast cars in the company of beautiful girls, he has now set his sights on a political career. He is head of the Communist Youth League and, several months ago, was elected an alternate member of the ruling Central Committee. He has also undertaken several important missions abroad on his father's behalf.
Ceausescu's brother Ilie, Ion, and Marin hold key positions in the ministries of defense agriculture and foreign affairs respectively. One circle further out, brother-in-law Ilie Verdet (married to sister Regina) is prime minister. Verdect's predecessor, Manea Manescu, is married to Ceausescu's other sister Maria.
Further out still, Deputy Prime Minister Cornel Burtica is married to Ceausescu's niece. Pavel Niculescu, a leading member of the Permanent Bureau, is thought to be the father-in-law of Ceausescu's other son, Valentin, who is himself a senior official at Romania's Nuclear Research Center. Elena's brother, Gheorghe Petrescu, has been a full Central Committee member for the last 15 years and has occupied a succession of important posts.
The benefits of association with Ceausescu have even extended to his home village of Scornicesti in southern Romaini. Peasants in the area have been acclaimed the most productive in the country while the local football team is depicted as a shining example of good sportsmanship.
The most common justification advanced by Romanian officials for the Ceausescu personality cult is their country's traditional hankering after strong leaders. Ceausescu himself is often compared with medieval Romanian kings like Michael the Brave and Vlad Tepes (better known as Vlad Dracula) who refused to bow to foreign domination.
Despite his highly repressive internal regime, Ceausescu has managed to win considerable autonomy for Romania within the Soviet bloc. He frequently differs with the Kremlin on foreign affairs, most recently over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which he has pointedly failed to support.
But foreign policy needs do not entirely explain either Ceasusescu's acceptance of his deification or his excessive fondness for his own relatives. The simplest explanation is that he likes adulation and, in common with many Balkan rulers before him, the knowledge that his own family controls the palace guard helps him sleep easier at night.