Romania: Secret Police Sins Cast Long Shadows

The country will have to clear up allegations made by its former president if it hopes to join NATO later this year

Romania: Secret Police Sins Cast Long Shadows

The country will have to clear up allegations made by its former president if it hopes to join NATO later this year

Romania's former president has blazed back onto the local political scene by accusing the present government of employing communist-era secret police agents.


Emil Constantinescu held a press conference on June 24 to accuse the authorities of re-hiring officers that he had sacked during his 1996-2000 term.


"Many foreign officials have expressed confusion over the fact that the authorities have reactivated agents who were once engaged in repressive activity, or spied on the West," he said.


The ex-president did not elaborate but his former adviser Marius Oprea, who has recently published a book on the infamous communist secret police force known as the Securitate, went into more detail, telling IWPR that "around ten superior officers" and "many others of lower rank" had been recruited.


He claims that many former Securitate officers dismissed by the previous regime have been re-employed at the highest levels, including posts in the president's and prime minister's offices, various ministries and in the domestic and foreign espionage services. The government has refused to comment on these allegations.


Last week, the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives, CNSAS, announced its intention to publish the names of the former communist-era secret police officers in public office.


Some members of the ruling Party of Social Democracy, PSD, have condemned this decision as "illegal" and are threatening to take the council to court.


Ion Stan, chairman of a parliamentary commission overseeing the activities of the Romanian Intelligence Service, SRI, believes the CNSAS has a tricky task ahead of it.


He told IWPR that under current legislation, before the council can disclose any names, it will have to interview those concerned and grant them right of appeal. If the council decision goes against them, they are entitled to take their case to Romania's courts.


The row took another twist when SRI deputy chairwoman Daniela Buruiana, a member of the extremist Greater Romania Party, PRM, in turn accused three CNSAS members of being foreign intelligence agents.


She claimed that her information came from people directly linked to Romania's intelligence services. The council members in question are either former communist dissidents or renowned public figures.


Political analysts have dismissed such allegations as an attempt to obstruct the work of the CNSAS. "Former communists are crying foul and are unwilling to foster debate on the Securitate's past activities," said journalist Horatiu Pepine.


"Although the secret police archives are open to the public, there has been little examination of the society it created or of the damage caused by its officers."


Under the Securitate, Romania was effectively a police state from 1947 to 1989. According to CNSAS chairman Gheorghe Onisoru, the secret police shadowed countless people using its own staff and around 700,000 informers, each of whom provided intelligence on two or three "suspects".


Phones were tapped, mail was intercepted and homes were bugged, while anyone who dared to criticise the regime was put under close surveillance. Officers would follow people in the streets or sit in cars outside suspects' homes - giving a clear signal to all Romanians that no secrets could be kept from the Securitate.


Now, more than 12 years after the fall of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, suspicion remains that ex-secret police officers are still holding key positions in Romanian public life.


With the country now eager to join NATO, Bucharest is stepping up its efforts to meet admission criteria before the alliance meets in Prague in November.


The first moves were made by the government last month, with the introduction of a measure to screen intelligence officials before they would be allowed to access NATO secrets. But this announcement was only made after critical reports in the domestic and international media.


Although the Securitate debate is still rumbling on, only one government figure has resigned to date.


Last year, PSD member Ristea Priboi faced allegations that he had helped to coordinate attacks on Radio Free Europe in the Eighties. He stepped down as the head of a parliamentary committee overseeing foreign intelligence, although he retained his seat in Romania's parliament.


Marian Chiriac is an independent Bucharest-based journalist


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