Press Release

Children of Ceausescu
Photographs by Kent Klich
Essay by Herta Müller


More than a decade after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the overthrow and execution of brutal Romanian dictator Nicholas Ceausescu, the worst AIDS epidemic among children in the world bears out its infamous legacy in Romania, still one of the poorest and most fractured societies in Eastern Europe. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, tens of thousands of children in government hospitals and orphanages were systematically infected by unsterilized needles and HIV-tainted blood transfusions given to them instead of food. When the scandal broke initially, help poured in from all over the world. Blood testing improved; hospitals got disposable syringes; nurses were retrained. But the damage to the children was irreversible, and many began to die. Over this last decade, thousands have died—yet almost 10,000 children with AIDS remain.

Beginning in 1994 and for the next five years, Magnum photographer Kent Klich traveled to Romania to document the appalling aftermath of Ceausescu’s horror. In Children of Ceausescu, he gives us visceral images and brief life stories of the boys and girls who suffer still from the state’s mass experiment. Compassionate yet unflinching, these photographs give us a glimpse of the daily lives of these children, both terrible and mundane. They run and jump in puddles, they laugh out loud and draw pictures of flowers and birds, but they also know disease and death intimately and the realities of their infection are overpowering.

It has been over a decade since full disclosure of the facts of this situation has been brought to the world’s attention. Conditions have improved, thanks to the intervention of foreign non-governmental organizations and the willingness of Romanian government and medical personnel to finally confront the issue. Even so, the situation is one of sustained crisis without foreseeable end. AIDS in Romania is overwhelmingly among children, and within that subset, among orphaned children with no political clout; the Romanian government has failed to offer hope. There is not enough money for the high-priced, anti-retroviral drugs for all young patients, forcing the caretakers to choose who receives medication and who must suffer without. Many of the multinational drug companies have refused to offer discounts. Ignorance of the situation is now no excuse. These are deaths that are still preventable. This book is a passionate cry for the world to notice.

Children of Ceausescu was made possible by funding from the Swedish Arts Council, the Hasselblad Foundation, and Save the Children.

BIOGRAPHIES

KENT KLICH was born in Sweden in 1952. He studied psychology at the University of Gothenburg. After earning his degree he worked with adolescents with a history of social problems. Klich’s other publications include The Book of Beth (1989) and El Niño: Children of the Streets, Mexico City (2000). He has been a Magnum photographer since 1998 and has exhibited widely.

HERTA MÜLLER was born in Romania in 1953. After refusing to cooperate with Ceausescu’s Securitate, she lost her job as a teacher and suffered repeated threats before she was able to emigrate in 1987. She is the author of The Land of Green Plumbs (1996) among other publications, and is the winner of Germany’s most prestigious literary award, The Kleist Prize. Herta Müller now lives in Berlin.

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