Romania The Continuing Secret Police Cover Up

The shadow of fallen dictator Nicolai Ceaucescu still darkens Romania. Fifteen years later, his former informants and cronies still litter the political landscape and torpedo all attempts to expose former crimes. Can Romania ever move forward if it so adamantly refuses to face its past?


He was cozy with former dictator Ceaucescu, but doesn't think that should prevent him from becoming Romania's next president.
AP

He was cozy with former dictator Ceaucescu, but doesn't think that should prevent him from becoming Romania's next president.

Corneliu Vadim Tudor is not a modest man. He wears bright red ties, loves garish sunglasses, and likes to make a strong impression. These days he is crisscrossing the country and wholeheartedly promising the Romanians all the things many now lack: "Food. Heat. Medicine. Justice." What more could they want?

Tudor is preparing himself to be elected to the country's highest office at the end of the month. And his chances aren't half bad. In Romania's last presidential election almost four years ago, the eccentric politician garnered an impressive 33.2 percent of votes. This time around, the race is still up for grabs.

In the last campaign, Tudor blustered against Brussels bureaucracy, against national minorities, and even against Jews. But now he has abandoned the role of the far-right nationalist and toned down his act. In fact, now his Greater Romania Party even supports Romania's entry into what it calls a "united Europe."

But even this reformed version of Tudor remains a highly controversial man who is having trouble shedding his baggage from the past.

Only recently, the Romanian National Council for Researching the Secret Police "Securitate" Archives (CNSAS) -- a sort of Rumanian truth commission -- raised a stir during its efforts to uncover the activities of the country's once-powerful intelligence service, the Securitate. The council gave Tudor its blessing by declaring that the politician can no longer be classified as an agent of the Securitate.

The head of the CNSAS, Gheorghe Onisoru, cast the deciding vote in favor of Tudor. In Onisoru's opinion, Tudor's memos to the Securitate could by no means be seen as "memos from an informer." Instead, Onisoru said, they were nothing but simple conversation.

To critics, such as respected philosopher and former foreign minister Andrei Plesu, this is little more than a bad joke. They say that records from the communist era clearly prove that Tudor, acting as an "informal informant," denounced opponents of Nicolai Ceaucescu's regime, including other writers.

Of course, Tudor himself has made no secret of his close ties to Ceaucescu. In the olden days, he enjoyed playing the role of the loyal court poet, unctuously singing the praises of Bucharest's "titan of titans," who employed a carefully developed system of informants to help ensure the survival of his stone-age form of communism. The Securitate was the most important bulwark of the Ceaucescu regime.

Is the Past Still Present?

Romanians protest outside Ceaucescu's former palace to get secret police files opened.
AP

Romanians protest outside Ceaucescu's former palace to get secret police files opened.

But Tudor's is not the only case suffering from a lack of transparency. Fifteen years have passed since this desperately poor country, home of the Carpathian Mountains, rid itself of the hated dictator in a bloody revolution. After expedited proceedings, a military tribunal sentenced Ceaucescu and his wife, Elena, to death in December 1989. Meanwhile, the historic reappraisal of the dictatorship is seriously bogged down. Many Romanians complain that in their country, "the communists have become heirs to the communists." Critics claim that many former members of Ceaucescu's despotic regime have managed to work their way back into politics and business.

It's precisely these former communists who are doing their best to torpedo all efforts to expose the old regime's atrocities. Many would prefer to let the past be the past. While Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's ruling Socialists are busy in Brussels, testifying to their willingness to reform and negotiating Romania's membership in the European Union, possibly by as early as 2007, government agencies continue to obstruct all attempts to shed light on the repressive machinery of the Ceaucescu era.

Just how little the investigators into the Securitate have managed to uncover speaks volumes. So far they've only been able to review 1 percent of all relevant records. "An outrageously small number," complains Horia-Roman Patapievici, a publicist and one of the directors of the committee charged with investigating the Securitate. According to Patapievici, there is plenty of resistance, but "our main problem," he says, "is that we have no access to the Securitate archives."

Ironically, the SRI, Romania's domestic intelligence agency and one of the organizations that succeeded the Securitate, controls access to the potentially explosive mountains of records. The agency has repeatedly refused to surrender requested records, claiming reasons of "national security."

As a result, the CNSAS has thus far managed to disclose the names of just under 100 former Securitate officers and informants -- out of an estimated total of 15,000 former employees and hundreds of thousands of informants. Many of those whose names have been published no longer have to worry about the consequences. "About a third of those named," says historian Stejarel Olaru of the Romanian Institute of Contemporary History, "were already dead when the names were released."

There is no law that says former Securitate informants cannot be elected to public office. As a result, a man like Ristea Priboi can now serve as a member of parliament in Bucharest, despite the fact that his work as a colonel in the Securitate has long since been disclosed.

Olaru is convinced that most of the former Securitate officers have been absorbed into the country's nine intelligence agencies, including the SRI. "They make sure that the level of secrecy remains high. It's a matter of self-protection," says Olaru.

Olaru has already filed two lawsuits to protest the intelligence agency's methods, but to no avail. With a touch of malice, the historian predicts that if things continue at their current pace, "the reappraisal of our past will take at least another hundred years."

MARION KRASKE

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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