If you believe the mass media of his country, Nicolae Ceausescu, the President of Romania, surpasses all other Romanians in qualities and ability. ''His complex, passionate, and so acutely fascinating personality,'' as one of his countrymen has unblushingly denominated it, has for some time inspired generous praise. Most days the television news devotes a third of its coverage to Ceausescu's activities.
Ceausescu became head of Romania's Communist Party in 1965. By the time he became President in 1974, the cult of personality was well established.
''No one takes it very seriously, but no one is in a position to scoff at it publicly,'' a US expert on Romania says.
Another analyst says that, privately, Romanian intellectuals detest the cult. ''The party intellectuals are embarrassed by it and the nonparty intellectuals look at it with scorn,'' says Mary Ellen Fischer, associate professor of political science at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She is writing a book on Ceausescu.
On his birthday in January, Romanians were given such assessments of Ceausescu as these:
* ''His figure unique and impressive as a mountain peak, outdistances the others in the gallery of great Romanian figures.''
* ''I have always been impressed by the clearsightedness of his views, the diversity of his knowledge, the thirst for teaching others as well as for continuously learning new things, his genuinely fabulous force of moral and physical endurance (and his) saintly modesty.''
* ''(He is) the great architect of present-day Romania and its most untiring worker.''
Ceausescu was also lavishly extolled in poems appearing this year, as they have for the past several years, on the front page of the Communist Party daily Scinteia.
Such praise, according to Anneli Meier, writing in the Radio Free Europe Research Bulletin, was not only due to Ceausescu's birthday, ''but also because his real popularity has dropped to its nadir owing to the country's disastrous economic situation.''
Dr. Fischer claims that food shortages and lines for consumer goods in Romania are possibly as severe as at any other time since the end of World War II.
Dairy products, fish, and meat are in particularly short supply, says Walter Bacon, assistant professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. But he says the consumer goods that aren't in the stores, or are rationed , can be obtained in the black market.
Romanian foreign policy has frequently diverged from the rest of the Soviet bloc. Ceausescu publicly denounced the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968 as ''a great mistake and grave danger to peace.''
Romania is the only Communist state with full diplomatic relations with Israel, and it has called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon. Dr. Bacon says Ceausescu has played a ''very useful role'' in Middle East affairs.
But top-level diplomatic exchanges are not what they used to be. There were perhaps 10 world political leaders in Romania last year, compared with some 50 a year in the mid-1970s, Bacon says.
Indeed, Romania's relations with the West have been troubled in the last 18 months. ''The world is beginning to appreciate the Ceausescu regime is a fairly sinister, repressive regime,'' Bacon says. In Europe, Romanian emigres have been knifed and beaten, and some have received letter bombs, all presumably from agents of Ceausescu.
Relations with the US soured last November when Ceausescu restricted emigration to those individuals who reimbursed the state for their education - and paid in hard currency. The Reagan administration responded by announcing it will withdraw most favored nation (MFN) trading status from Romania.
That, according to a recent report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will result in a 50 percent drop in Romanian exports to the US - a loss to Romania of $200 million to $250 million in much-needed hard currency - when the higher tariffs take effect July 1.
But Dr. Fischer says that even the loss of MFN status would not change the cult. ''As long as Ceausescu remains in power, I can't see the cult lessening, '' she says.
Romania's economic difficulties have had an effect on the cult, Fischer notes: Ceausescu is both promoting and hiring family members and in-laws more than ever. Fischer terms this nepotism an ''anomaly.'' In other Marxist systems, she says, promotion is mainly based on merit or political loyalty.
The cult even has a place in the State Museum of Romanian History. ''It's huge, the whole top of the museum,'' says Fischer. It is devoted to awards, medals, gifts from foreign dignataries, and honorary degrees the Ceausescus have received.