The Power of One - How a Revolution Is Made

Nicolae Ceausescu was one of the most brutal dictators of the Communist-era.  Ruling with his wife Elena, the Ceausescus spread terror and poverty across Romania.  They jailed, tortured and killed their opponents. 

They lived like a king and queen, while enforcing a brutal austerity program meant, in part to pay for Elena's insane dream of building Europe's biggest palace - a Communist Versailles that would stand as a symbol to the Ceausescus.

But in 1989, as the the Soviet empire began to crumble, Ceausescu sought to show the world that he still could keep his power, that the rising tide of democracy that was washing through Central and Eastern Europe would not threaten his Communist autocracy.

As he had done before, when his power was at its zenith, Ceausescu ordered the people to the main square. He planned to deliver yet another speech - complete with banners proclaiming the people's loyalty to him and his regime. He would show the world that Ceausescu would endure.

But then the unexpected happened: somewhere in the back of the crowd, one person, one individual began to do the unthinkable - he jeered the all-powerful dictator.

Suddenly, others joined this person, and like a tsunami hitting a coastline, it overwhelmed the crowd, which went from pliant props in Ceausescu's demonstration of his own power, to the spark of revolution. The tsunami then washed over the dictator's balcony.

Dazed by the shouting crowd, Ceausescu for the first time showed fear - and his people saw it. In an unforgettable film that captures the turning tide, Ceausescu hesitates, he looks blankly at the crowd in disbelief. Then his face changes, he tries to weakly wave down the rising chorus of the people now totally aligned against him.

And then the face: the great dictator in terror, in terror of his own people.

And so his seemingly iron-willed dictatorship unraveled, as first the people, and then the army abandoned their own fear and overthrew the regime. In the final coup-de-grace, the helicopter pilot that was to spirit Ceausescu and his wife to safety also turned on him; he was arrested, jailed in a tank (for fear that he would be captured by his still loyal secret police), tried in a summary court, and shot in a court yard.

Ceausescu today is the iconic example of the arrogance of power brought to an end by the will of the people. That one person who first jeered, the most brave of the supposed slaves of the Ceausescu-regime, started a revolution with shout and gave freedom to a whole nation, is the striking message to all of us, proof of our power to change the world.

This is the real power of personal courage - this is the power of one.