Trying to Purge Romania′s Communist Past | Current Affairs | DW | 21.04.2005
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Current Affairs

Trying to Purge Romania's Communist Past

With its accession to the European Union pencilled in for 2007, Romania is attempting to lay the ghost of its secretive and oppressive past to rest once and for all. But faces from the past seem destined to bar the way.

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An estimated 1.5 million Romanians were spied on by the Secret Police

It may have been more than 15 years since many of Eastern Europe's communist regime's fell but the waves made by those oppressive legacies still lap at the shores of everyday life.

Only a few weeks ago, Poland was reminded of its covert past when the names of tens of thousands of former Secret Service employees and informers appeared on the Internet.

In Slovakia, a number of high-ranking church officials were recently revealed as being part of the former communist state's security apparatus. The Hungarian parliament is currently considering opening the files on its own history after a number of prominent politicians and intellectuals were outed as former operatives within the country's internal espionage network.

Now, it seems Romania, as well is looking to purge itself of its oppressive and secretive past. After years of pressure, the Romanian government finally relented at the beginning of March to open the secret files kept by the old communist regime's dreaded political police and took a first step towards making them public.

Files on informers the first to be released

Bukarest, Parlamentsgebäude

The parliament building in Bucharest

As a first step, the EU aspirant transferred some 20,000 files of the tons kept under lock and key to the National Council to Study Securitate Archives (CNSAS), a special state committee designated to review their contents and determine which will remain classified and which will be made public.

The first files released by the Romanian secret service (SRI) related to informers for the Securitate, which kept tabs on the population under the dictatorship of the late Nicolae Ceaucescu. The files of persons put under surveillance by the Securitate were likely to be the next to be considered.

The SRI, which succeeded the old Securitate, will turn over several tons of documents each day until all are transferred to a special depot south of Bucharest. By the end of the process, two-thirds of the estimated 18 km (11 miles) of paperwork will be in the hands of the CNSAS; according to director Gheroghe Onisoru.

By the end of the year, the CNSAS and the secret service plan to have reviewed the most sensitive archives and only those dealing with national security will remain classified.

Obstruction limits number of files

The new transparency comes six years after the Romanian government passed a law demanding exactly the transfer of files. But only 900 meters of files have been turned over until now, something the CNSAS attributes to "ill will" on the part of the secret service.

One of the prime movers behind the 1999 law, Ticu Dumitrescu, who heads a former political prisoners' group, has accused the current secret police of wanting to "maintain its monopoly on the archives by refusing to turn the database over to the CNSAS." He also deplored the fact that the secret services "measure the archives in kilometers and not in the number of files".

The full scope of Romania's secretive past may never be known. SRI officials have said that over 100,000 files were lost or destroyed during or immediately after the bloody December 1989 revolution that overthrew Ceausescu and his regime.

Passanten flanieren durch die Fußgängerzone von Brasov (Kronstadt), aufgenommen 1998 Rumänien

Around 500,000 officers and millions of informers were spies during communism

Up to now, only 10,000 people have managed to consult the old Securitate files, a fraction of the estimated 1.5 million Romanians who were spied on under communism. Historians believe the Securitate made use of half a million officers and millions of informers to spy on their fellow Romanians, creating an atmosphere of constant fear and insecurity.

High level interference hindering progress

Since the end of communism, Romanian papers have been awash with allegations that many politicians, civil servants, judges and other public figures collaborated with the secret police in the communist era.

The CNSAS has so far received only a fraction of the millions of files and analysts say authorities are reluctant to release others for fear they may reveal connections between many politicians and the Securitate, an accusation leveled at the authorities by many.

Another attempt at passing preventative bill

Such is the distrust in the former regime and its continuing influence that a bill is being considered in the Romanian parliament that would forbid any former Secret Service employees from taking up certain political and public positions -- if it is passed.

The problem remains that many former members of the Ceausescu regime are still active politically, not only in the parliament but also in other areas of the state and management apparatus. Passing a bill that would see many of them lose their positions is as likely as the entire vault of SRI files being made public.

A similar attempt to purge the Romanian parliament of the remnants of the former regime failed in 1990, only months after the fall of Ceausescu's regime, and a second attempt in 1999 never made it through the plenary meeting debates.

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