Yesterday, H-Romania published my review of Casu’s outstanding new book on repression, violence and resistance in Moldova. the book review is available at (in PDF format) and (as html).

“Twenty-five years after the fall of communism in Europe, the region is still confronted with the question of how to understand those regimes’ appalling human rights record. A remarkable number of studies written by established and amateur historians; compilations of original documents put together by individuals with privileged access to key archives; and memoirs and self-serving testimonials penned by former victims, torturers, journalists, or simply witnesses of those trying times have been published at dizzying speeds throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. While these books rest on various premises, get inspiration from different ideological positions, have divergent theoretical and empirical concerns, and are of significantly unequal value, they all try to explain reality during communist times. Of course, survivors of communism hardly need to be told that the authorities of those times upheld human rights selectively, if at all. Rather, this exercise of “collected memory,” to use Jeffrey K. Olick’s words, is undertaken mainly for the benefit of the region’s new generations, who have no direct experience with communism, or the foreigners interested in that part of the world.

Of the numerous historical overviews of communist crimes published in the former Soviet Union, Igor Cașu’s Dușmanul de clasă: Represiuni politice, violență și rezistență în R(A)SSM, 1924–1956 (The class enemy: Political repressions, violence, and resistance in Soviet Moldova, 1924–1956) stands out for its painstaking attention to historical details. Cașu draws on multiple archival sources, an impressive knowledge of the scholarly debates centered on that period, a sound reexamination of total victim counts of various repression campaigns, and a sustained effort to unveil little-known or under-documented instances of repression, such as the 1924 food shortage and the persecution of Moldovans living close to the republic’s border with Romania.

Two additional reasons make this study worth reading. First is the wealth of information it reports from previously unavailable state and secret archives, which Cașu was able to access as an expert contributor to the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of Communist Dictatorship in Romania (2006) and as vice president of the Presidential Commission for the Study and Evaluation of the Totalitarian Communist Regime in the Republic of Moldova (2010). His narrative follows closely the hundreds of documents he consulted for this project in the Chișinău collections of the KGB, the Ministry of Interior, and the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Second is Cașu’s attempt to give a human face to victimization, and thus to go beyond abstract statistics and impersonal historical evaluations. He offers thirteen vignettes of victims, among them teachers, priests, church singers, village mayors, peasants, members of parliament, and others. These victims represent a cross section of society, including Romanian speakers and Gagauz, the politically active and politically indifferent, the poor and the not so poor. Collectively, these stories show the wide range of individuals who suffered persecution, arrest, deportation, imprisonment, torture, or death in the Gulag for being labeled “class enemies” for real or perceived crimes.”

Congratulations, Igor, for such a fine work!