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Romania's collective amnesia

Romanian-German writer Herta Müller on the tenacity of Romania's corrupt secret service.

Romania tried to meet the requirements of EU entry. Economically, people are doing well in some regions. It's only in the areas of corruption and justice that Brussels continues to issue warnings. But in one area that affects all others, the EU has unfortunately demanded nothing and Romania has basically done nothing: the working through of the dictatorship. In Romania, they're pretending that it disappeared into thin air, the whole country is afflicted by collective amnesia. Even though it was home to the most abstruse dictatorship in eastern Europe and after Stalin, the most evil dictator, with a personality cult to rival North Korea's.

Ceausescu was a choleric with a grade four education, who always took a tank of bath water with him during his surveyance trips through the country, a parvenu with water taps and gold cutlery with a real weakness for palaces. He had the oldest part of Bucharest, the heart of the city, razed to the ground. His family clan and secret service had everything under control, including the Church. Eight percent of the Orthodox priests were paid directly by the secret service: security services in cowls. It won't have been much different among journalists, doctors, professors, lawyers. But we don't know that and we're not supposed to find out. The Securitate survived.

The reason is simple: Securitate was responsible for Ceausescu's fall, his conviction in a turbo trial, his execution against the dirty wall of a military barracks. Officially the secret service was disbanded after the so-called revolution, but the employees continued to be paid on the sly. One part of the Securitate passed seamlessly from the old into the newly founded secret service. And the smarter part used its blackmail capital to worm its way into the market economy.

Knowledge from secret service archives was and is the seed capital for immense wealth of very dark and half-dark origin. That's why corruption extends into the highest government circles today. Its offshoots permeate the country in the form of every-day corruption, in which the old mentality works with new methods. In the hospitals, for instance, it's as miserable as it ever was: everything is deficient and it goes without saying that one bribes the chief surgeon and cleaning lady.

Seventeen years after Ceaucescu, the Securitate's archive was still being managed and manipulated by the old personnel in the new secret service. This January 1, the 1.6 million dossiers were finally handed over to the file authority (CNSAS), which was founded in 1999 to much teeth-chattering. Whether that will change anything? Years ago, laws were passed regulating the viewing of files. But every law remained ineffective and the authority a cover-up which had to petition the secret service on a daily basis. It, however, remained its own master, will full control over what got out and what not. Occasionally it explained that a file was still being "worked on." Sometimes, when somebody had to be publicly and quickly discredited, very surprising dossiers surfaced.

The authority changed the information that it gave out to me. At first, there were files on me; then they told me they were gone. It is said behind closed doors at the authority that the most explosive files are still categorised as "secret".

During the dictatorship, people escaped over the border daily. Many never made it to the West, they disappeared, were probably shot. There are countless border deaths, entire cemeteries, and their relatives don't know what happened to them, who is responsible. The assassinations of "enemies of the state" both in the country and abroad, even suicides and murders staged as car accidents remain locked up in the files and the perpetrators walk free. And with them, the countless informants, the hired and voluntary spies.

This is why it comes to surreal scenes with perpetrators and victims. A former dissident gets a job in the public service and is summoned for a swearing in. And when he opens the door, his former Securitate interrogator is standing there to receive his oath on the democratic constitution.
Or a former political prisoner applies for a loan at the savings bank in a town. The bank director who tells him that the loan has not been granted was once his prison director.

In Brussels, they'll say the former prisoner should go to another bank. If there's a bank in the town, the EU criteria are fulfilled. The question is: who's the director?


This article originally appeared in the Frankfurter Rundschau on January 2, 2007.

Herta Müller is a Romanian-German writer who emigrated to the West in 1987 and has lived in Berlin since. She has a number of German and international literary prizes to her name.

translation: nb - let's talk european