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The enduring legacy of Romania's Securitate

How those who terrorized Romanians under communism continue to instill fear.

Romania’s case is unique because the dictatorship of tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu was the fiercest in the Eastern Bloc. Since it broached no dissent, there were only very weak reform-minded factions in the ruling Communist Party and nothing like the underground opposition movements that existed in Poland, Hungary and even East Germany.

Thus after the revolution, the second tier of the former communist apparatus took over: There was no one else. It is estimated that still today at least a third of the “new” intelligence service, the Romanian Information Service (SRI), is made up of former Securitate officers. Those in retirement received a pension three times that of ordinary Romanians.

After years of stalling, the new information agency finally released files of the estimated 1 million people persecuted by the regime. But they are woefully incomplete. The Romania-born German writer Herta Mueller, recently named Nobel Prize laureate for literature, said whole years are missing from her files. "Ceausescu’s secret service wasn’t dissolved,” she wrote, “it simply renamed itself.”

In the recent article in the German weekly Die Zeit, Mueller calls her file “a botched creation of the SRI in the name of the Securitate.”

“They had 10 long years to ‘process’ it [her file],” explained Mueller. “You can’t say it was touched up, it was eviscerated.”

By destroying the relevant files and undermining a lustration process in Romania, wrote Mueller, the former collaborators turn the Securitate into “an abstract monster devoid of identifiable, human faces.” This way, the guilty are protected and a rational public debate is undermined.

The secret service today, Mueller wrote, still functions in much the same way it did before. Even today, she claims, she is followed and her phone bugged when she is in Romania. Her demands to get back all of her Securitate file have gone nowhere.

Romanian political scientist Alina Mungiu Pippidi said that Mueller’s charges of continued persecution are not far-fetched, although it is probably not the SRI itself behind it.

“The networks of the Securitate have been privatized into lucrative businesses,” she said. “Their people fear anyone who can expose them the way Mueller does in her fiction. The fact that they use familiar methods to intimidate is not surprising.“

Mungiu Pippidi thinks it is simply too late now to expect a full-scale lustration to be effective. “If I had my way,” she said, “I’d just have [the files] all burned. The whole system is too infiltrated for these archives to be useful, in a positive way. Lustrstion is only valuable when it can affect the power structures it has been designed to vet. There is no chance of this happening in Romania today.”