In Romania, victims of communist repression have received compensation for the suffering they endured in virtue of Decree-Law 118/1990 and Emergency Ordinance 214/1999, but the level of support remained rather limited and benefits took the form of free public transportation rights, rather than lump sums of money. In 2009, Law 221 on the Politically Motivated Court Sentences and Their Related Administrative Measures Adopted during the 6 March 1945-22 December 1989 Period opened the possibility for significant financial compensation to those who had been sentenced to prison terms as a result of definitive and irrevocable court decisions for their opposition to the communist regime. The law also covered persons who had been transferred to other localities, deported abroad (mainly to the Soviet Union) or assigned forced domicile. Communist-era sentences recognized as having been politically motivated by a court of law were to be annulled. Victims were entitled to rehabilitation, financial compensation for the ‘moral prejudice’ they suffered as a result of their imprisonment and property lost as a result of the court sentence. The immediate surviving relatives could seek the same rights on behalf of the deceased victims. Requests for compensation must be filled within three years after the law’s adoption (1).
On this basis, Ion Diaconescu asked the Bucharest Court to recognize him as a former political prisoner, and reward him financially. The former head of the National Christian-Democrat Peasant Party, which ruled the country as part of the Democratic Convention of Romanian from 1996 to 2000, was represented in court by Victor Ciorbea, who briefly served as Prime Minister from December 1996 to April 1998. During the hearings, Diaconescu’s lawyer pointed to an older court decision which awarded the plaintiff five million Lei for 63 days in preventive arrest in an effort to justify why his client was asking for 18 million Euros for the 17 years he spent in jail. New documents obtained from the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives, the state custodian to communist secret archives that allows citizens to read the files compiled on them, detailed the gruesome treatment Diaconescu endured in prison (2). A relative of the inter-war Peasant Party leader Ion Mihalache, Diaconescu was imprisoned in 1947, shortly after the communists took control of the country, and released in 1964, when the Romanian authorities released most political prisoners, only to assign them forced domiciles in Baragan and elsewhere. The Bucharest Court considered that Diaconescu was entitled to only 500,000 Euros (3). While lower than that demanded, the sum was still significant, given the economic crisis Romania had to face at the time.
When other former political prisoners – including the Liberal Party leader Radu Campeanu, who spent eight years in jail – announced their intention to approach the courts, Romanian authorities realized they had a problem (4). It was not that state coffers were depleted. As Ciorbea pointed out, the government had enough money to offer hefty retirement packages several times larger than the average pension to former communist perpetrators. Notorious Securitate agents Nicolae Plesita and Gheorghe Enoiu, who destroyed lives and tortured prisoners, receive monthly pensions worth 1285 and 537 Euros, respectively (by comparison, the pension of a teacher is 200 Euros). In addition, Romanian governments have been wasteful, while the over-bureaucratization of the Romanian public administration is by now proverbial. The government’s problem was the lack of support for large compensation packages on the part of the general public, who had seemingly forgotten communist crimes and embraced the idea that “we were all victims of communism, to a certain extent,” and of the political parties represented in Parliament, which have few ties to the communist-era victims but many to former Securitate agents, Communist Party local leaders, communist managers of state-owned enterprises, their sons and daughters. The government’s commitment to redressing the wrongs of the past, other than through academic research, has been lukewarm. As such, compensation packages were capped at 10,000 Euros, a move that prompted Ciorbea to lament that “the government protected the communist torturers,” since their pensions were not limited in any way (5). While some former political prisoners spent only months in prison, others were jailed for over a decade, during the 1950s, when prison living and working conditions were the worst. All endured psychological trauma, persecution and discrimination long after their release. According to the authorities, most compensation request have been filed by the descendants, not the victims themselves, since so few of these victims are still alive.
This slap on the face of the former political prisoners was not enough. Among those who approached the courts and asked for compensation were former Securitate informers condemned for political crimes under communism. Father Stefan Rosu of Turda, a small Transylvanian town near Cluj, has asked for 116,700 Euros, although he used to lead a double life. After his release from prison in September 1953, Rosu became a reliable, “correct and sincere” Securitate informer whose information notes helped sentence and imprison Luca Popa for ten years and Veronica Chira for six years. Rosu was arrested in August 1952 for encouraging his faithful not to participate in the collectivization process (6). Or take the example of Ilie Buzan, whose wife has asked for 250,000 Euros. In 1959, Buzan received a seven year imprisonment sentence for declaring, while a university student in chemistry, that his father was a worker, when in fact he was a former landowner whose property had been expropriated by the communist regime. After being jailed from 9 July 1959 to 31 July 1962, he worked at a plant in Cluj. During the 1970s, he acted as a Securitate informer under the code name Vali Teodor, alerting the secret police to the fact that plant workers were drinking instead of fulfilling their daily chores, and were wasting precious supplies (7).
The media attention that cases like these has recently received risks endangering the compensation program and provide the government, the courts, and the political elite with another pretext to not do what’s right: recognize suffering, stop impunity, and punish perpetrators. For some time we’ve known that sometimes the victims and victimizers categories overlapped in communist Eastern Europe. One could be a victim when arrested and jailed while a young student, but a victimizer once agreeing to collaborate with the secret police after the release from prison. Similarly, one could be a victim and a victimizer at the same time, if informing on relatives and friends out of fear for his own life or desire to secure the right to write the university entrance exam for his child. One posture does not negate the other, as some have insisted. The fact that a secret informer has suffered politically motivated imprisonment does not ‘cleanse’ that person’s record and set his guilt counter back to zero. Conversely, suffering should not be downplayed or negated, when accompanied, or preceded by guilt for collaboration. Yes, some of those who will approach the courts will not belong squarely or only in the victim category, as some former political prisoners were in fact recruited as secret informers later in life. But that should be ok with all of us.
What the public should discuss is the capping of the compensation packages. A former political prisoner is now entitled to less than the annual pension received by Plesita and other torturers. As far as I can see, there has been no public outcry related to the vast discrepancy between these numbers, although the capping of compensations packages means that, even today, the tortured are placed at a significant material disadvantage compared to their torturers. How can the torturers’ exorbitant pensions be justified in comparison to the victims’ meager compensation packages? A proposal to diminish the inflated pensions of former prison guards and Securitate agents has been blocked, on grounds that it could place them at a disadvantage, infringe their basic rights (since “what was earned, was earned” regardless of how immoral the job), and the problem will be fixed when a new wage and pension law will come into effect. Once again, the government has sided with the communist decision-making and has rewarded impunity.
(1) Law 221 on the Politically Motivated Sentences and Their Related Administrative Measures Adopted during the 6 March 1945-22 December 1989 Period, 2 June 2009, available at: http://www.legestart.ro/Legea-221-2009-condamnarile-caracter-politic-masurile-administrative-asimilate-acestora-pronuntate-perioada-6-martie-1945-22-decembrie-1989-(MzMzMTA5).htm.
(2) See also, Ion Diaconescu, Temnita. Destinul generatiei noastre (Bucharest: Nemira, 2003) and Ion Diaconescu, Dupa temnita (Bucharest: Nemira, 2003).
(3) “Liderul taranist Ion Diaconescu a castigat in instanta 500,000 euro daune morale,” Mediafax, 4 March 2010, available at: http://www.mediafax.ro/social/liderul-taranist-ion-diaconescu-a-castigat-in-instanta-500-000-de-euro-daune-morale-6371593.
(4) “Campeanu vrea despagubiri morale dupa modelul Diaconescu,” Evenimentul Zilei, 20 June 2010, available at: http://www.evz.ro/detalii/stiri/campeanu-vrea-despagubiri-morale-dupa-modelul-diaconescu-898608.html.
(5) “Ciorbea: Guvernantii apara tortionarii,” Ziare.com, 1 July 2010, available at: http://www.ziare.com/stiri/proces/ciorbea-guvernantii-apara-tortionarii-1026531. Emergency Ordinance 62/2010 limited payments to 10,000 Euros for victims, 5,000 for their surviving spouses and children, and 2,000 for their grandchildren.
(6) Adrian Moldovan, “Preotul turdean Stefan Rosu solicita 116,700 euro, pentru cele 389 zile petrecute la Canal, desi ulterior a fost ‘informator bun’ al Securitatii,” TurdaNews, 8 September 2010, available at: http://www.turdanews.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11187:preotul-turdean-tefan-rou-solicit-116700-euro-pentru-cele-389-zile-petrecute-la-canal&catid=17:dezvluiri&Itemid=637; and Mihai Soica, “Despagubiri cerute de fosti informatori ai Securitatii, ca preotul Stefan Rosu din Turda,” Evenimentul Zilei (8 September 2010), available at http://www.evz.ro/detalii/stiri/despaguri-cerute-de-fosti-informatori-ai-securitatii-905363.html.
(7) Mihai Soica, “Despagubiri cerute de fosti informatori ai Securitatii,” Evenimentul Zilei, 8 September 2010, available at: http://www.evz.ro/detalii/stiri/despaguri-cerute-de-fosti-informatori-ai-securitatii-905363.html.