After ‘national poet’ Adrian Paunescu died in November 2010, he was put to bed with a shovel in a ceremony where politicians read bombastic speeches, intellectuals delivered dithyrambique arguments, and ordinary folk climbed other tombs in the Bellu cemetery of Bucharest to get a glimpse of the lavish procession. When Metropolitan of Cluj, Alba, Crisana and Maramures Bartolomeu Anania kicked the bucket in January 2011, a chorus of Orthodox Church leaders, pious monks and nuns, and righteous believers accompanied him on his last trip to the Cluj Metropolitan Cathedral. These burials, which climaxed in the military honors to which many Romanians secretly aspire, were commented in-depth by most newspapers and literary gazettes and deplored by the country’s political elite. In death, the political left and the political right peacefully met in a country that suffered at the hands of both fascist and communist regimes not long ago.
A member of the Social Democratic Party, heir to the Communist Party that ruled the country from 1945 to 1989, Paunescu was one of the most important sychophants at the court of the evil couple, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. He ran into problems with the communist regime, which he praised both before and after 1989, not for his democratic convictions, but for seeing himself as Ceausescu’s equal. A reluctant monk tormented by ambition and disquietude, Anania joined the junior pre-communist fascist organization Fratiile de Cruce before Romania turned communist, served a prison term from 1958 to 1964 for his right-wing sympathies, and then agreed to collaborate with the communist authorities and, as their agent, help to disunite the Romanian diaspora in North America. During post-communist times, Anania became one of the most powerful voices in the dominant Orthodox Church, but transformed Cluj into a bastion of conservatism and intolerance.
Both Paunescu and Anania colluded with the state, but politicians did not hesitate to give them attention (some praising, others denouncing them), as though to demonstrate the esprit de corps that binds all those Romanians who have no qualms in using the state for their personal aggrandizement. It did not matter that both Paunescu and Anania had associated themselves with the worst ideologies or regimes, denounced by two different presidential commissions mandated to investigate the country’s recent fascist and communist past (the so-called Wiesel and Tismaneanu Commissions constituted in Romania during the last decade). The deserving sons of the motherland had to be shown respect and deference.
Contrast the hubbub that accompanied these two burials to the silence surrounding the death of Vasile Paraschiv, who passed away on February 4, 2011 aged 82. No prime minister, deputy or senator attended his funeral, not even the local political leaders of Ploiesti, the nondescript town where Paraschiv lived the last 45 years of his life not far from Bucharest. By all standards, Paraschiv deserved a measure of gratitude from the country’s politicians, who might not have acceded to public office if the regime so much criticized by Paraschiv survived. In a country where the vast majority of the political elite declares itself anticommunist and pro-democrat, Paraschiv should have gained the status of a hero. But in a country where front-stage discourse still sharply contrasts with back-stage action, Paraschiv has turned into the anti-hero. Fewer than one hundred people attended the funeral.
Paraschiv’s persecution at the hands of the communist regime began in 1963. Convinced that basic rights were not respected in communist Romania, Paraschiv resigned from the Communist Party in 1968. That year, cohorts of Romanians, intellectuals and others, joined the party in support of Ceausescu’s stand against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Three years later, Paraschiv sent to the General Alliance of Labor Unions in Romania a list of eleven proposals for the democratization of labor unions, which at the time were strictly controlled by the party-state. As punishment, he was declared insane and placed in a psychiatric ward, the first of many such forced visits. In 1977, he was arrested for supporting writer Paul Goma’s call on the Romanian authorities to observe the international human rights instruments. Months later, he asked for a passport, and received it within 24 hours. The Securitate hoped that Paraschiv would never come back to Romania. But he had a different agenda. While in Paris, he contacted French labor unions and told them about the problems faced by their Romanian counterparts, exposed the use of psychiatry as a political tool, and underwent a psychiatric evaluation to prove that he was not insane. He then returned to Romania, where he continued to defy the regime. In 1979, Paraschiv was among the first to join the newly formed Romanian Free Workers’ Union (Sindicatul Liber al Oamenilor Muncii din Romania, known as SLOMR), constituted by Orthodox priest Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa, physician Ioan Cana and economist Gheorghe Brasoveanu. The SLOMR was quickly annihilated by the communist authorities after its three leaders were arrested. During the 1980s, Paraschiv was repeatedly kidnapped and beaten by plan-clothed Securitate agents.
After 1989, Paraschiv’s relationship with the Romanian authorities did not significantly improve. One reason was his continuous criticism of the lack of a genuine desire to reckon with communist crimes. The first post-communist president, Ion Iliescu, a former nomenclatura member, resisted de-communization. The current President Traian Basescu officially condemned communist crimes, but failed to translate into reality the recommendations of the Tismaneanu Commission regarding lustration. Paraschiv was also dissatisfied with the lack of court trials against the Securitate officers who had persecuted him, and the generous pension and other benefits former victimizers continued to enjoy after 1989. To prove his dissatisfaction, he returned the Star of Romania (Steaua Romaniei) medal he received from President Basescu.
Paraschiv’s constant anticommunist activity puts to shame those who claim that the Romanian communist regime retained a Stalinist flavor that made opposition and dissent impossible. At great personal cost, Paraschiv lived by his principles all his life. For all of us, his is an exceptional example of moral rectitude.