Transitional justice in post-communist Romania: the politics of memory. By
Lavinia Stan. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2013. 312pp. Index. Pb.: £23.00.
isbn 978 1 10742 925 3. Available as e-book. International Affairs 90: 4, 2014
Prof. Vladimir Tismaneanu, who teaches at University of Maryland, College Park, has this to say about my latest book on Romania:
“One of the main characteristics of totalitarian regimes is their mnemophobia: the continuous onslaught on memory and the encouragement of state-sponsored amnesia. They execrate and obliterate memory (individual and collective). In the same vein, they try to control historical narratives in order to foster official myths and self-serving ideological claims. Retrieving and rescuing memory is therefore a premise for a genuine break with the traumatic past, as demonstrated, for instance, by David Satter in his book It was a long time ago, and it never happened anyway: Russia and the communist past. Political scientist Lavinia Stan has written extensively on the dilemmas of decommunization and transitional justice in general. Now, in this poignantly significant book, she examines, in minute detail, the main moments and methods in Romania’s attempts to master its own dictatorial pasts. I use the plural because this challenge involves coming to terms not only with the communist period, but also with the Romanian Holocaust, i.e., the responsibility of the Romanian state in the deportation and extermination of Jews in Romanian-controlled territories during the Second World War. As Stan emphasizes, there is also a third challenge: confronting the troubling imbroglio of the Romanian Revolution, the only one in 1989 that involved mass carnage and provoked over one thousand victims.
The book deals comprehensively and in an admirably rigorous manner with such issues
as: the relationship between memory, democracy and justice in post-communist societies; the role of court trials (including the highly problematic trial of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu in the aftermath of their ouster from power which resulted in the couple’s execution on Christmas Day 1989); the failed attempts to initiate lustration laws (from the times of the anti-communist president Emil Constantinescu, in the late 1990s, to those of the current one, Traian Basescu, whose mandate will come to an end in December 2014); restitution of property; rewriting history textbooks; the unofficial projects, including many civil society initiatives, meant to rescue memories of repression; the debates regarding timing and sequencing of this reckoning with the dictatorial experiences of the past; and the Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania (created in March 2006 and responsible for writing the ‘Final Report’ which served as a scholarly rationale for President Basescu’s condemnation of the communist dictatorship as illegitimate and criminal, in December 2006).
One of the main results of such commissions is the declassification of important
archival resources. In the case of Romania, the National Archives did become increasingly democratic and old access hindrances and taboos were abolished. Furthermore, as Stan notices, a huge amount of the Securitate (secret police) archives were declassified and sent to the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives. This is not to say that decommunization bears only on public access to archival materials. Much more is at stake, and Lavinia Stan examines thoroughly the need to overcome partisan limitations in the effort to blend the moral and scholarly perspectives in a persuasive strategy meant to generate a community of democratic memory. I share her conviction that in the absence of such a strategy, Romanian democracy (and other ones as well) remains vulnerable to onslaughts from new or not so new illiberal, populist attacks. Altogether, Lavinia Stan’s book is a tour de force in documenting and assessing both the achievements and the delays, and even failure, in Romania’s efforts to right the wrongs of the past.”