Recently I took another look at the parliamentary debates of 2005-2007 to identify the arguments put forth by various legislators for or against lustration. This is what I found out:
Lustration as Moral Cleansing and a Break with the Communist Past. This argument, the first to be raised in defense of lustration in the Romanian Parliament, was the thrust of the Liberals’ justification for initiating the lustration bill. The argument was raised in 2005, when Dan Buzatu claimed that lustration aimed “not to ban former communist leaders [from politics] but to rid economic structures of former Securitate agents who continued to exert political influence,”(1) and Eugen Gh. Nicolaescu argued that the law “prevents some leaders to appeal to the mob to protect their dictatorship.”(2) Buzatu responded to press reports alleging that the country’s most successful entrepreneurs and businessmen were drawn from among Securitate agents, while Nicolaescu hinted to Ion Iliescu, who opposed de-communization, disregarded the constitution to retain the presidency, and refused responsibility for calling the Valea Jiului miners to ransack Bucharest and intimidate opposition forces in 1990 and 1991. Adrian Cioroianu also believed that lustration would lead to a belated break with the communist past. In his words, “those who today [in 2005] oppose the lustration law contribute to perpetuating the mentality instituted in Romania through Sovietization and communization 60 years ago, in May 1945,” that is, they foster the communist culture of secrecy, unaccountability, patronage, and discretion.(3)
The argument was reiterated by Relu Fenechiu, for whom the law represented “Romania’s return to normalcy” leading to the “moral cleansing of the society,”(4) or to “moral reform,” in the words of Claudiu Zaharia.(5) The lustration law, and Article 8 of the Timisoara Declaration, represented a much-needed “moral filter,”(6) Cristian Busoi claimed, because “hygiene in politics is as useful as hygiene in our personal life,”(7) as Ion Dumitrescu bluntly put it. Zaharia further argued that the law “opens the chance to correctly assess national resources available for socio-economic development. By permitting to rapidly deal with the legacy of the communist regime, [the law allows] the government and the public administration to fully focus their attention on improving the quality of services offered to taxpayers in order to bring it to European levels.”(8) For George Scutaru, Romania needs laws able “to guarantee untainted representation, free from association with the old regime,”(9) because “it is unjust for the country to continue to be ruled by eternal yes-men, communists or former communists converted to democratic values out of personal interest and love of public office. We do not exclude them from public life, we just identify them and let the voters and the history to judge them,” as Dumitrescu said.(10) Gh. Gabor further pointed out that “the adoption of the lustration law would prove the Romanians’ willingness to shed off once and for all a past imposed on us through force, to show us and the others that we can critically examine our recent past…to give minimal moral satisfaction to the millions of victims who suffered because of communism and its servants.” He continued: “the law seeks to unmask the ‘servants of evil’ who stole decades of our history. Nobody will send them to prison, they will simply become known to us.”(11) To those who argued that lustration should have been adopted in the early 1990s, Emil Strunga replied that “it is never too late for a confession that would cleanse 50 years of lies, crimes and repression against the Romanian people.”(12)
Lustration as Retributive Justice for Victims of Communism. Other legislators saw vetting as an attempt to symbolically vindicate the victims of communism. By restricting their political rights, communist victimizers are subjected to the very treatment they offered to their victims, a measure leveling the playing field between victims and victimizers. The lustration law, Adrian Uioreanu said, was “an act of justice we, those untouched by communist experiences, had promised to all those who lost trust in the political class.” His rage was directed toward Iliescu, singled out as the key obstacle to democratization: “We must show there can be a Romania without Ion Iliescu, the country can be led by untainted people and its future is independent of the wishes of an outdated father-like figure.”(13)
Other legislators broached this argument from slightly different angles. For Cristian Busoi, lustration was an “absolute necessity” and Romania’s “last chance to rid itself of its horrendous communist legacy,” because “those who suffered at the hands of the communist regime must receive moral reparations,” and the country “must leave behind a past that always has worked against [the Romanian people].”(14) Similarly, Emilian Francu encouraged fellow legislators to support lustration because “today, the Romanian society is ready to do justice to all those who, for 45 years, suffered political persecution and discrimination at the hands of the communist regime and its Securitate.”(15) Grigore Craciunescu elaborated on the same theme, claiming that “every citizen must know that the long arm of the justice system will ultimately reach communist perpetrators who used public office for personal gain. Some wonder how the society benefits if former leaders are made accountable for their actions. It’s not a matter of gain or loss, it’s a matter of truth and justice. People died, some were maimed, others were psychologically damaged for life. People are eager to find out the truth and obtain justice.”(16)
Lustration was warranted by the human rights abuses perpetrated by communist officials and secret agents. First, Arion stressed, citing a total of 800,000 people killed in communist prisons, the trial of communism was needed for “a new genocide never to be possible again.”(17) Viorel Arion hinted at the repression of early communist rule, when thousands of individuals who opposed collectivization and property nationalization, former pre-communist political and intellectual elites, priests, monks and faithful, and even communist leaders were thrown in jail, were denied basic rights, and were prosecuted in show-trials. Second, communism should be brought to trial, Zaharia insisted, because Romania “is the only country that exited communism with the price of over 1,000 deaths and 4,000 people wounded. Together with the hundreds of thousands of victims who died in communist prisons, this shows the communist genocide in Romania is a huge [issue]. Why was [communism] not condemned by now? Communism did everything to destroy the country’s elite, to deny the right to opinion, to restrict fundamental freedoms.”(18) To the repression drive of the 1950s, Zaharia added the more recent victims of the December 1989 revolution.(19) Third, an honest reconsideration also helped the young generations. According to Sorin Paveliu, “We must allow those who in 1989 were too young to understand the national drama Romanians lived for 50 years. We have this obligation to the 1,000 young people who died [in the December 1989 revolution] for our transition from communism to capitalism controlled by former communists to gain credibility.”(20) “Democracy is but an empty word without lustration and condemnation of communism,” Sandu summed up.(21)
Lustration as Elite Replacement Tool. Some legislators defended lustration as a way to renew the political and economic elite by allowing untainted candidates to fill the public offices from which their tainted colleagues were banned. The measure was not vindictive, because communist decision-makers had gotten ahead in the society not because of superior personal skills or professional training, but because they implemented the morally-indefensible repressive policies dictated by the party-state. For Gh. Virgil Serbu, post-communist legislators “who had influence and decision making power in communist times should withdraw from politics and make room for new leaders free from the communist ‘bug’.”(22) Busoi believed that lustration allowed Romania “to join Europe with a restructured political system made up of politicians and public officials who did not collaborate with the communist political police.”(23) Along the same lines, Paveliu noted that “those who belonged to the repressive machinery of the Communist Party contributed voluntarily, if not by conviction or personal interest, to the deliberate starvation and the physical extermination of dissidents and their families, broke the spirit of the nation and transformed it into a mass of yes-men, and malformed successive generations indoctrinated to love the leader and the party. The party and its repressive arm – the army and the political police, the Securitate – relied on tens of thousands of party members who, red party cards in hand, found the way to personal welfare and happiness with the help of lies, terror and spying…Obeying leaders, informing on others, a bossy attitude toward subordinates, and limitless hypocrisy, all these represented the real key to success in the struggle to climb the communist social ladder.”(24)
Legislators called for elite renewal not only because they wanted to see a new generation of leaders emerge, but also because they hoped to dismantle the networks of patronage, nepotism and corruption linking former communist officials and secret agents who kept the state a prisoner to their group interests. There can be no renewal of the Romanian political elite, Tiberiu Prodan argued, “without truth and without promoting untainted people, supporting the national interest,” not their personal interests.(25) According to Pusca, lustration is needed “if we truly want the rebirth of the political class, the dismantling of corrupt structures, and the ban from decision-making posts of those who can be blackmailed with their Securitate or party files. It is time to show our will to end the political game of those who – by blackmailing others or through fear of being themselves blackmailed – have controlled our destiny” after 1989.(26) Offering additional details, Sandu noted that “those who served Nicolae Ceausescu, the second echelon, have miraculously adapted to the new democracy. They are the last bastion of communist resistance. Only after their disappearance can we speak of a morally healthy society. These people have no political color or conviction, they infiltrate all levels and exert a decisive influence over our society. Their ‘apparatus’ is among the few that have run smoothly in recent years. The best example in this regard is my county, where former Communist Party secretaries were elected mayors, and all nomenclatura members have become successful businessmen, keeping investors away.”(27) Note that Romania has consistently ranked among the most corrupt country in Europe.
Democrat deputy Stelian Dutu also viewed lustration as an elite replacement tool. In his first declaration on the topic, Dutu offered an elaborated pro-lustration argument: “The absence of role models, the frequent rotation of cadres, the dominance of individuals engaged in politics to stuff their own pockets not to look for the interests of ordinary citizens characterize post-1989 politics…This is why the people distrust us, the politicians, and our political parties. Besides the unfulfilled promises that rightly discredited our political system, our unwillingness to assume our past has also had a negative impact.”(28) As the opening of the archives was in the public eye at the time, Dutu linked it to lustration: “Together with the lustration law, the publication of secret files can fulfill the electorate’s hope for [elite replacement]…Many fear the files because they fear the truth. Just imagine how different our political class would be today if secret archives and the nomenclatura list were made public in 1990! We need a cascade of ice-cold water to eliminate all our rotten politicians. Only afterwards can we hope for a competent, moral and publicly credible political elite.”(29) Returning to the topic in 2007, Dutu suggested that a reform of the publicly distrusted Romanian parliament presupposed lustration. In his words, “the Purgatory includes the first-past-the-post electoral system, the lustration law and the renewal of the political class As soon as these will be effected, parliament will regain its popular trust.”(30)
Lustration as Prevention against Post-Communist Violence. While previous pro-lustration arguments were raised in other countries as well,(31) in Romania lustration was also seen as a way to prevent violence, because pro-democratic political leaders are less inclined to pit social groups against each other, as former communists do. The two deputies who raised this argument made reference to the June 1990 events, when Valea Jiului miners were summoned to Bucharest to ‘defend’ the government against peaceful protesters camped in the University Square. Chanting slogans like ‘We work, we don’t think!’, under the eyes of the police and security forces, miners’ shock troops savagely beat up protesters, harassed pedestrians, destroyed the headquarters of pro-democratic parties, and ransacked the University of Bucharest. One year later the miners forced Petre Roman to renounce the premiership. Both in 1990 and in 1991 miners were instigated by then President Iliescu.
Nicolaescu voiced this argument when claiming that “the bloody incident of June 1990 could have been avoided if Romania had a lustration law.”(32) He reminded his colleagues that lustration, that is, “the cleansing of the political class of former communist propaganda activists, nomenclatura members, and Bolshevik torturers,” was the chief demand of the antigovernment dissenters whose peaceful protest was quashed by the miners. Thus, the law’s adoption fulfilled the protesters’ demands and represented “moral reparation” for those events.(33) Craciunescu echoed the same idea when declaring that a lustration law “could have prevented the tragedy that resulted in many wounded, deaths and moral traumas untreated. The law could have barred the way to leadership positions to those who planned the mineriada [miner’s descent] to crush through fear and terror the joy of leaving totalitarianism and communism behind. Former nomenclatura members failed to understand that the people threw the communist regime to the history’s garbage bin. A lustration law is welcome [because] the planners and organizers of the 1990 mineriada must answer for their actions before the courts.”(34)
Lustration as European Union Accession Requirement. Many legislators claimed that lustration is a requirement for EU accession, although the policy was never included among the political conditions Romania had to fulfill to become a member. In fact, lustration was harshly criticized by European institutions and politicians for infringing fundamental political rights. Nevertheless, Fenechiu insisted that the EU expected Romania to pass a lustration law. The reasons were explained by other legislators. First was the imperative to ‘enter Europe’ under the leadership of a political elite committed to democracy, and untainted by communist ideals. For Buzatu, the EU “calls on [Romania] to cleanse its political class by eliminating from politics the individuals who worked for the communist regime,” for Serbu Romania “needs a reform of the political class, of our mores in order to be able to fulfill European requirements,” while for Prodan Romanians “cannot aspire to join the European family with the same political actors who today pretend to support democracy.”(35) This last point was reiterated by Lari, who believed that “Romania cannot join the group of civilized [European] countries without condemning the communist regime and [without adopting] lustration.”(36) Together with other legislative proposals, Scutaru argued, the lustration law could “introduce a morally healthy Romania, clean and unbroken, in the great European family.”(37) “Especially in the context of EU integration a lustration law is important,” Lucian insisted, in order to “publicly condemn a regime that threw Romania out of Europe. Communism completely isolated Romania, placed it under the control of the Soviet Union, and limited our most fundamental rights,” Sandu argued.(38) This position was echoed by Liberal deputy Emil Strunga, for whom “the EU has insisted for the moral cleansing the Romanian society needs in order to integrate in the Union. To advance [as a society], the past must be not forgotten, but exorcised; the memory of the victims of communism should not be honored just once a year on the anniversary of the Revolution but on a daily basis through the identification and elimination from politics of those who consciously and willingly contributed to communist repression.(39)
Legislators believed that lustration had helped other post-communist countries to gain early acceptance into the EU. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland already had lustration laws that “truly contributed to their joining the EU before us [the Romanians],” Silaghi argued in 2005,(40) while a year later Uioreanu reminded that similar laws were adopted in “countries that are already members of the EU.”(41) Romania remained one of the few Eastern European countries without a lustration law, and this “negatively impacted the way its transition unfolded,” Craciunescu claimed.(42) The experience of its neighbors, Movila contended, “suggests that a society emerging from dictatorship, especially a harsh communist dictatorship, cannot be truly democratic without a moral revolution…How can we build a modern European democracy with people convinced that the communist society is a superior form of social organization, with people who struggled to occupy a leadership position in that society?” A lustration law, he said, “is not revengeful, does not seek to eliminate them from public life, to hand down criminal punishment, but asks those who supported communism to take a step back. It’s a law necessary for our integration into the EU.”(43)
(1) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 12 aprilie 2005.
(2) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 14 iunie 2005.
(3) Stenograma sedintei Senatului din 9 mai 2005.
(4) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 28 februarie 2006.
(5) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 14 martie 2006.
(6) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 14 februarie 2006.
(7) Stenograma sedintei Senatului din 18 aprilie 2006.
(8) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 7 martie 2006.
(9) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 14 martie 2006.
(10) Stenograma sedintei Senatului din 18 aprilie 2006.
(11) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 12 septembrie 2006.
(12) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 5 septembrie 2006.
(13) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 21 iunie 2005.
(14) Stenorama sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 14 februarie 2006.
(15) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 4 aprilie 2006.
(16) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 21 iunie 2005.
(17) Stenograma sedintei Senatului din 29 mai 2006.
(18) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 14 martie 2006.
(19) Peter Siani-Davies, The Romanian Revolution of December 1989 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005).
(20) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 13 decembrie 2005.
(21) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 4 aprilie 2006.
(22) Stenograma sedintei Senatului din 11 aprilie 2005.
(23) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 14 februarie 2006.
(24) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 13 decembrie 2005.
(25) Stenograma sedintei Senatului din 3 aprilie 2006.
(26) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 4 aprilie 2006.
(28) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 12 septembrie 2006.
(30) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 17 aprilie 2007.
(31) Roman David, Lustration Laws in Action: The Motives and Evaluation of Lustration Policy in the Czech Republic and Poland (1981-2001), Law and Social Inquiry. 28, no. 2 (2003): 387-439.
(32) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 14 iunie 2005.
(34) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 21 iunie 2005.
(35) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 12 aprilie 2005, Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 28 februarie 2006, Stenograma sedintei Senatului din 11 aprilie 2005, and Stenograma sedintei Senatului din 3 aprilie 2006.
(36) Stenograma Sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 11 aprilie 2006.
(37) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 14 martie 2006.
(38) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 4 aprilie 2006.
(39) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 5 septembrie 2006.
(40) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 19 aprilie 2005.
(41) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 21 iunie 2005.
(42) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 20 iunie 2006.
(43) Stenograma sedintei Camerei Deputatilor din 11 aprilie 2006.