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How those who terrorized Romanians under communism continue to instill fear.
BUCHAREST, Romania — As a young correspondent covering central Europe in 1989, I vividly remember the terror that the Securitate, Romania’s secret police, wreaked on ordinary Romanians in the last, harrowing months of the dictatorship. In no country in the former Eastern Bloc was the reach and the power of the intelligence services so vast as in Romania, where the the Securitate held a uniquely tight grip.
The dictatorship’s secret services commanded such an immense network of informers that no one felt safe speaking his mind, even among friends. Since foreigners were persona non grata and even just conversing with them raised suspicion, I had only to seat myself in a public place, like at bar or in a railway station, to cause locals to scatter like birds. I visited Romania with names and phone numbers written in code and stuffed in my shoes. The price was high for those deemed uncooperative: Careers were made and unmade by the Securitate, to say nothing of the hundreds who perished in its prisons.
Yet since Romania’s bloody Christmas revolution — an exception among the “velvet revolutions” of that year — no country in Eastern Europe has dealt less thoroughly with the legacy of its secret services under communism. Romania never passed a lustration law like those in Germany, the Czech Republic or Poland that thoroughly vetted public officials. It took until 10 years after communism’s demise — under European Union pressure — for the Securitate archives to be opened, by then much purged or altered by the very people whose careers they threatened. Not a single person has been tried and sentenced for killings during the 1989 revolution, when more than 1,000 people lost their lives.
“Romania today is impossible to understand without understanding the networks that these people — Securitate officers, apparachiks — created for themselves,” said Gabriel Andreescu, a former dissident and human rights activist. “They reach into politics, the business world, the media, and even the Orthodox Church.”
Andreescu claimed that a younger generation is now also involved, the offspring of Securitate or people somehow indebted to them, who protect their interests in exchange for entry into the power structures. These tightly knit networks, said Andreescu, are very difficult to crack. “These institutions,” he said, “are the very ones that should set lustration in motion. No wonder it hasn’t happened.”