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Romania: Rattled Skeletons Close Securitate Cupboard

Dissidents take to the streets as government blocks full disclosure of secret service files
By Marian Chiriac

Infighting and government opposition have derailed a campaign to have Romania’s communist-era secret service files opened up to the public.


An estimated 3,000 supporters of the campaign, including many former dissidents, formed a human chain around the parliament building in Bucharest recently, protesting that ex-secret police officials were using their influence in the present government to block disclosures because they did not want their part in Ceaucescu-era repressions to be made public.


The campaign, which ground to a halt last summer amidst intense internal bickering, was dealt a killer blow earlier this month when a government-appointed committee recommended that it should disband and reconsider its objectives.


The campaign had been spearheaded by a nominally independent body, the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives, CNSAS, which was set up three years ago with members drawn from a range of political backgrounds. However, although CNSAS had legal control over all secret police archives, differences quickly emerged amongst its members over whether all the files should be made public.


Last year, these differences effectively paralysed the fifteen-member council. Led by historian Gheorghe Onisoru, a group of six, numbering government supporters and nationalists, demanded that the body stop pressing for the disclosure of all files.


Onisoru’s faction was opposed by CNSAS intellectuals and former victims of state repression, including dissident poet Mircea Dinescu and academic Horia Roman Patapievici.


Following the government-appointed committee’s report, the ex-dissident group fears top officials implicated in Securitate abuses will escape disclosure and only small-time informers will be exposed.


For their part, powerful officials who were employed by the former secret police service, Securitate, maintain their work involved intelligence gathering and analysis, not repression. They accuse the campaign to make public Securitate files of stoking political tensions.


Two court cases have already been launched this year against journalists and former dissidents who accused high-ranking officials of abuses during Ceaucescu’s rule.


A former deputy director of Securitate, Marian Ureche, is suing a young historian who claimed he was involved in spying on anti-Ceaucescu intellectuals. Ureche was promoted last month to the justice ministry, where he is expected to investigate corruption.


A former secret police officer, Ristea Priboi, has taken an ex-dissident to court over claims that he crushed a workers’ uprising in the Transylvanian town of Brasov in 1987. Priboi has been a member of parliament since 2000.


The Securitate had an estimated 700,000 informers and nearly 40,000 officers working for it when communism collapsed in 1989. Their job was to spy on and gather evidence against anyone who might pose a threat to the state – from dissidents to ordinary Romanians.


Until the recent demonstration, however, the public has shown little willingness to confront the ghosts from a difficult, depressing epoch, unlike citizens of other ex-communist countries who queued for a glimpse of their secret police records.


However, the numbers drawn to the recent protest at the parliament in Bucharest have given some hope to CNSAS supporters. Philosopher and editor Gabriel Liiceanu, who attended the demonstration, told IWPR, “The truth must be known, however painful and shameful it may be – that’s why we protested in the street.”


Former political prisoner Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu believes the law must be changed to make the archives truly accessible.


In order to ensure there are no further disclosures, the government will have to dissolve CNSAS, as the council’s tenure technically does not end until 2005. Patapievici will not be surprised if this is what happens next.


“To say that former Securitate officers are in power here is a commonplace,” he told IWPR. “In this country, where the judiciary and political institutions remain weak, it is impossible to resist their influence.”


Marian Chiriac is an IWPR contributor.