An article that retains its relevance.
Skeletons are rattling as Romania opens its secret police files
MICHAEL PETROU | Oct 09, 2006
Seventeen years after Communism collapsed across Central and Eastern Europe, secrets from the era can still devastate careers and captivate a nation. Romanian President Traian Basescu has ordered his country’s security services to release long-buried records of the Securitate, the Communist secret police. Some files were previously available, but the records of powerful politicians and public figures were kept hidden. Now many are being exposed, igniting a political storm as Romanians discover how widespread the collaboration among today’s political and social elites was.
Mona Musca, a prominent parliamentary deputy, confessed she collaborated with the Securitate as a professor in the 1970s after being confronted with archival documents. Musca, who claims her reports did not harm anyone, had previously advocated that anyone who had collaborated be removed from public affairs, and had sponsored legislation to expose them. “She was the mother figure for this,” says Lavinia Stan, director of the Centre for Post-Communist Studies at St. Francis Xavier University. “It was a shock when we got proof that she collaborated. She did it to promote her career, and she did it systematically.”
Other public figures have also been implicated in investigations carried out by the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives, which is reviewing millions of secret police documents. Stan says many Romanians are sympathetic toward former collaborators; under the Communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania was a fearful society, and people were blackmailed into informing. What angers Romanians is that their elites denied or kept quiet about their past for so many years. “Whether you are considered a villain or angel has little to do with your actual work with the Securitate and more to do with the politics of the present, with your courage to repent,” she says. “People say that maybe under Communism you believed you had no way out, you saw you had only one venue open to you. But you’ve had 17 years. You could have admitted to this. But you always lied to us.”
Romania is among the last post-Communist countries in Europe to systematically probe the actions of its citizens during the Communist era. It is always a traumatic process, as citizens confront past sins and complicities that involved enormous numbers of people. Many informers were in turn spied on by other collaborators. “We are all in this together — those who created this regime; those who accepted it in silence; and all of us who subconsciously became accustomed to it,” Václav Havel, the Czech dissident who became his country’s president, has said.
Some simply prefer to turn away from the past. “I’ve had people say to me, ‘I don’t want to look,’ ” says Scott Eddie, a professor emeritus of economic history at the University of Toronto, who was informed on by friends and colleagues in East Germany, and possibly Hungary and Romania, during the Cold War. Eddie later looked up his own file in the East German archives. He knows who informed on him, but does not hold it against him, because he believes the man was simply doing his job and Eddie came to no harm. Others face more intimate betrayals. “When you find out that family members — your own spouse or children — turned in reports on you, that must be devastating,” Eddie says.
But many also believe countries making the transition to democracy must confront their history. Basescu himself says the process is necessary to solidify Romania’s bid to join the EU. “For a place like Romania, it’s absolutely necessary to come to terms with the past,” says Justinian Jampol, director of the Wende Museum, a California institution dedicated to the study of Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War. “This is the first step in establishing a truly democratic state.”
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