Tuesday, February 12, 2008

ROMANIA: Communist Agents Get the Upper Hand

By Claudia Ciobanu

BUCHAREST, Feb 11 (IPS) - The Constitutional Court has halted the activities of the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS), the institution responsible for tracking collaborators with the former communist secret services.

Founded in 1999, CNSAS had been studying the archives of Securitate, the secret police of the Romanian Communist Party before 1989. Securitate was the main tool that helped former president Nicolae Ceausescu establish one of the most fearful dictatorships in the eastern bloc.

CNSAS facilitated citizen access to Securitate files, helped track down informers of the regime, and researched the past of politicians, journalists, officials and magistrates.

Romania never passed a lustration law, so the verdicts of CNSAS had a largely moral value. Still, they brought down many public careers.

CNSAS was created as a political institution during the first centre-right post-revolutionary government (1996-2000). The institution was placed under the control of the parliament and run by a college made up of representatives appointed by the political parties. CNSAS employed 250 people, most of them historians and lawyers.

The creation of the institution was hailed by many as an important step in the "moral recovery" of Romanian society. "What had been missing was a sense of moral clarity. People were perplexed noticing the thriving careers of proven Securitate collaborators," Vladimir Tismaneanu, director of the Centre for the Study of Post-Communist Societies at the University of Maryland, told IPS.

"What was needed was the condemnation of the communist dictatorship and a tribute to the victims, including the anti-totalitarian socialists," Tismaneanu said.

CNSAS also faced serious opposition, but it usually came from those who were afraid of what the investigations might bring to light. National reconciliation was not properly debated as an alternative.

Parliament itself raised obstacles to the functioning of CNSAS by postponing the granting of a suitable functioning space and in granting access to files. The institution enjoyed more support after President Traian Basescu came to power in 2004. He facilitated access to around two million Securitate files, as opposed to less than 10,000 which CNSAS could check earlier.

CNSAS passed the greatest number of verdicts in 2007 after it got access to the largest portion of the archives. The institution found 381 people guilty of collaborating with the Securitate, and 101 of being informers. Many of them were politicians, magistrates and leaders of the Orthodox Church.

On Jun. 15, 2006, CNSAS declared Dan Voiculescu, leader of the Conservative Party, a collaborator of Securitate. Voiculescu, one of the richest men in the country before 1989, continued to thrive as businessman after that. He owned one of the main media trusts in Romania. His name was also proposed for the post of deputy prime minister in 2006. He could not take up that position largely because of the CNSAS.

Voiculescu decided to challenge CNSAS in court. His lawyer Sergiu Andon who is also president of the Commission for Juridical Affairs and Immunity in the House of Deputies, argued that the functioning of CNSAS was not constitutional. His main argument was that the institution passed verdicts in spite of being a political, not judicial, body.

On Feb. 1 this year, the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of Voiculescu. The Court declared the functioning of CNSAS unconstitutional, invoking exactly the reasons presented by Voiculescu's defence, namely that the body assumed important juridical attributions, which had serious consequences on the rights and freedoms of citizens.

Trying to salvage the institution but also acknowledging the court ruling, the government immediately passed a decree allowing CNSAS to continue its activities -- but without passing verdicts or initiating its own investigations of public figures.

But the court decision dealt a lethal blow to CNSAS. "The biggest problem are the cases in which we have passed a non-guilty verdict because files were incomplete, and now, when we got new files and information showing those people collaborated, we will not be able to reverse the verdicts," said Mircea Dinescu, one of the central figures in the college of CNSAS. "They made of us a cleaning service."

The nine judges in the Constitutional Court have themselves been investigated by CNSAS, which found that they had not collaborated with Securitate. However, given their age and successful careers before 1989, some, like historian Serban Radulescu Zonner, still find them suspect.

The members of the Constitutional Court are "the people of the old communist regime," said Radulescu Zonner, adding that the judges were appointed by the Social Democrats, a party largely formed on the basis of the former Communist Party.

"The abnormality and cynicism of the decision of the Court is that the CNSAS law was declared unconstitutional just now, after nine years of functioning," said poet Ana Blandiana, one of 300 people who gathered at University Square in Bucharest Feb. 3 to protest against the decision of the Constitutional Court.

"This is happening because we have finally reached a point when not only the collaborators, who are victims themselves, can be condemned, but also those who were running the system."

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