Friday, August 30, 2013

AFP: Ceausescu execution site in Romania becomes a museum

Barracks where Romania's Nicoalae Ceausescu and wife were shot feature in'dictator tourism'
Friday, 30 August, 2013


The grim barracks where Romania's brutal communist despot Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were executed are to be opened to the public in the latest bid to boost "dictator tourism".

The former military unit at Targoviste, 100 kilometres northwest of Bucharest, is to be turned into a museum and is due to welcome its first visitors in early September.
Many Romanians and foreigners said they wanted to see the wall against which Ceausescu and his wife Elena were shot on December 25, 1989

"Many Romanians and foreigners said they wanted to see the wall against which Ceausescu and his wife Elena were shot on December 25, 1989," said Ovidiu Carstina, director of the museum.

The death of the Ceausescus became one of the defining images of the revolutions which convulsed eastern and central Europe in 1989.

On December 22, as angry crowds gathered in front of the Communist Party headquarters, they fled the capital, Bucharest, in a helicopter. It was to be their final journey. They were stopped by the army, detained in Targoviste and shot after a makeshift trial.

It brought to a grisly end more than 20 years of repressive rule, aided by a huge security apparatus, under which free speech was ruthlessly suppressed.

The population suffered from food and power shortages and on top of that, Ceausescu's rule was marked by nepotism, paranoia and a deeply ingrained personality cult. Wife Elena was seen as the regime's second most powerful figure.

"Our aim is to present events as they unfolded, without making comments on the trial, the Ceausescus' life or the cult of personality," said Carstina.

In the barracks, built in 1907, time seems to have stood still.

The walls are painted a greyish yellow and the iron beds complete with dirty mattresses where the Ceausescus slept have remained there ever since.

The makeshift dock where Nicolae and Elena, dressed in their winter coats, sat listening to the charges against them will be put back in the very place where the couple were tried and sentenced to death.

Outside, the wall against which they were shot just a few minutes later still carries the bullet holes.

Footage of the trial and execution, broadcast all over the world in December 1989, drawing criticism over the summary judicial proceedings, will run on a black and white TV set.

"We do not wish to stir a controversy but only to speak of a landmark in Romania's history," Carstina stressed.

Sociologist Vasile Dancu said: "Every nation must acknowledge its history, without trying to hide certain events."

"No matter what we do, we cannot erase the image of that sham trial which only speaks of the collapse of a system," he said.

A group of Swedish tourists has already booked tickets.

Lucia Morariu, head of the local tour operators' association, felt turning Ceausescu into a tourist brand was not a good idea.

"Why encourage those who mourn him? Romania boasts other highlights," she said, citing the Danube delta, part of Unesco's heritage, or the picturesque natural reserve of the Retezat mountains, home to Europe's biggest populations of bears and wolves.

NPR: Dutch Migration Fears Mirror Sentiments Across Europe

The Netherlands is a famously tolerant and welcoming place. But the Dutch social affairs minister says he's worried about too many immigrants coming from Bulgaria and Romania, and he's tapped into wider fears in the European Union about foreign workers.

"In the Netherlands, an 'orange alert' is issued when the country's rivers rise to alarming levels," Lodewijk Asscher, a center-left politician, wrote in the Independent with David Goodhart, the founder of Demos, a British think tank. "The time has come to issue another kind of orange alert — one that warns about some of the negative consequences of the free movement of workers within the European Union."

The debate comes as the Netherlands is still struggling to recover from the global economic crisis.

The last labor restrictions across the EU will be lifted on Jan. 1, and that means workers from Bulgaria and Romania, like those in other EU countries, will be able to seek work freely. The bloc's older members fear an influx of Bulgarian and Romanian workers will depress wages.

The Financial Times notes, "The numbers of eastern Europeans in the Netherlands have indeed grown rapidly since EU expansion. Since 2005, the official Polish-born population in this country of 17 million has more than doubled to 110,000, while the Bulgarian and Romanian communities have quadrupled to a combined 30,000." The paper adds that unofficial residents may add another 50 percent to those numbers.

The Netherlands isn't alone in its fears of foreign workers. Here's a look at the debate in other EU countries and beyond:

Britain

U.K. fears of an influx from the two countries prompted the government to consider launching a negative ad campaign in Bulgaria and Romania. Its aim, the Guardian reported: "Please don't come to Britain — it rains and the jobs are scarce and low-paid."

Some of those fears come from the migration into Britain since the last EU expansion in 2004and from Asian and African countries. Figures released Thursday showed that though the number entering Britain dropped from last year, the number was still close to half a million.

The prospect of cheap labor flooding the U.K., which has emerged unsteadily from the recession, has led to headlines like: "100 Romanians and Bulgarians take a job in Britain every day, official figures show."

Estimates of just how many Bulgarians and Romanians will come to Britain range from as few as 20,000 to as many as 50,000.

France

During the last EU expansion, France feared an influx of "Polish plumbers" who would depress wages. Immigration — especially from North Africa — continues to dominate French politics.

In a recent report, the France 24 television channel said that Interior Minister Manuel Valls had "sowed discord" with controversial comments about the country's immigration policy and its large Muslim population.

"During a closed-door ministerial meeting on Monday, Valls, who is in charge of French police, suggested that in 10 years France's immigration system would need fundamental reforms to tackle the influx of foreigners, especially from Africa.

"In particular, he questioned whether the country would be able to maintain its policy of regrouping family members of immigrants who obtain legal residency.

"Later in the meeting, he was quoted as saying it would be up to France to prove that Islam was compatible with democracy."

Despite those comments, the government introduced new steps this week to make French citizenship more accessible.

Germany

Europe's largest economy survived the continent's recession with relatively little damage, but has failed to attract skilled labor from other countries. Here's more from German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle:


"Christina Ramb from Germany's Federal Employers' Federation (BDA) estimates that Germany will lack 4 million skilled workers by 2030. There is already a shortage of doctors and care workers for the elderly as well as engineers and IT specialists."

With southern Europe's economies roiled by the recession, many Spaniards and Greeks looked to Germany for jobs. The Washington Post reported late in 2012 about the lives of some of these new migrants:

"Many ordinary Germans view their new neighbors with caution. A recent local television show about some of the Spanish engineers was called Dr. Guest Worker, a reference to a 1960s program that brought Turkish manual laborers to Germany without granting citizenship to them or their children. The Turkish workers never returned home, but many Germans never welcomed them, creating an underclass with fewer rights and fostering resentments that persist to this day."

Germany has for years had an uneasy relationship with its Turkish minority. Two years ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in on the controversy, saying that Germany's attempts to create a multicultural society had "utterly failed."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Romania says Canadian gold mine of national interest

(AFP)

BUCHAREST — Romania's government on Tuesday approved a draft law granting national interest status to a Canadian gold mine project in Transylvania despite protests from historians and environmentalists.

The draft law, which will have to get approval from Parliament, declares the mine project of "exceptional national interest" and will facilitate expropriation procedures.

It also brings the royalty rate for the Romanian state from a current 4.0 percent to 6.0 percent while its stake in the company exploiting the mine would gradually rise from a current 20 percent to 25 percent.

Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), controlled by Canadian firm Gabriel Resources, plans to open an open-cast gold mine in the village of Rosia Montana, in the heart of Transylvania, a region praised by Prince Charles for its stunning nature.

The village is said to hold one of the biggest gold deposits in Europe and the company has promised 800 to 900 jobs during the 16-year extraction period.

The project has triggered fierce opposition as the mine would use 12,000 tonnes of cyanide a year in a leaching process, 12 times the amount used in gold mining in the whole of Europe, according to 2011 industry figures.

Four mountains surrounding the village will be partially destroyed in the process and Roman mining galleries unique in Europe will be damaged, archeologists and historians have warned.

"Democracy and human rights are not respected in Romania but we will fight", Eugen David, a local farmer and head of a group opposing the project, told AFP.

Opponents denounced the fact that the government did not publish the controversial draft law on the agenda of the cabinet meeting nor on its website prior to its decision.

Gabriel Resources did not comment the government move.

Gabriel Resources acquired a mining licence for Rosia Montana in 1999.

Since then, it has been waiting for a crucial permit from the ministry of environment. The government has not said how advanced the permit application was.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Romania's top court examines communist guard case

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) Romania's top court will examine the case of a former commander of a communist prison who is accused of aggravated murder in the deaths of six political prisoners.

The High Court of Cassation and Justice said Friday it will take on the case because of its legal complexity and also because more than 50 years have lapsed since the deaths at the notorious Ramnicu Sarat communist prison. Under Romanian law, there is no time limit on prosecuting serious crimes.

From 1956 to 1963, Alexandru Visinescu ran Ramnicu Sarat where pre-communist political leaders and intellectual elite were incarcerated.

The institute investigating communist crimes last week called for Visinescu, 87, to be prosecuted for the deaths. It said prisoners died from beatings, hunger, a lack of medical treatment and exposure to cold. It will hand a total of 35 files of former commanders to prosecutors.

Romanians were shocked after Visinescu publicly cursed a cameraman and lunged at journalists several times who were seeking reaction to the accusations against him.

The plight of the former prison guards and their thousands of victims has turned into a national debate in Romania with many questioning why former prison guards have not only not faced trial even though communism ended 23 years ago, but also receive the highest pensions in Romania.

President Traian Basescu this weekend said it was never too late for justice and said Visinescu should be handed over to the justice system. Visinescu says he was only following orders and doing his job.

More than 500,000 Romanians were incarcerated for opposition to the communist regime and one-fifth died.

Romania threw off communism during the 1989 revolution, but former communists and former Securitate secret police agents continued to wield influence in politics, business and the media, effectively protecting figures like Visinescu.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Romania's costly passion for building churches

By Tessa Dunlop,
BBC News, Romania

Romania is in the middle of a church-building boom, with some 10 new places of worship completed every month, and one vast cathedral slowly taking shape. But some Romanians take issue with the expense, in one of Europe's poorest countries - and particularly the use of funds from the public purse.

To travel across the north of Romania from Suceava to Maramures is to be bamboozled by exquisite religious eye candy.

Everywhere you look there are churches - big, small, medieval, brand new, tin-roofed, wooden, painted - each has its own appeal.

What is particularly striking as you bump along the potholed roads that link them, are their sheer numbers. Since the 1989 revolution the Orthodox Church has been going great guns in Romania.

The vast majority of the population - nearly 90% - are Orthodox, and in the wake of Ceausescu's downfall the Church has capitalised on its pre-eminent position in the country, building new churches at a rate of one every three days, including an enormous cathedral currently under construction in the centre of Bucharest.

On completion, the plan is that the Cathedral for the People's Salvation will be the tallest religious building in south-eastern Europe and tower over its immediate neighbour - ex-Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's enormous Palace of the People.

Romania is undoubtedly a very spiritual country, with religious rituals, icons and celebrations forming the fabric of many people's lives - on the Saints' Day of Constantin and Elena in Maramures I witnessed the congregation spill out of two local churches on to the surrounding hillside.

However questions are increasingly being asked about the funding of the new cathedral and the Orthodox Church more generally, much of which comes from the cash-strapped state.

A leading critic is the flamboyant Member of Parliament and head of the Green Party, Remus Cernea. "In Romania we have a big problem between church and state," he says. "My view is that if the church wants to build something it's OK until the money for the building of this church is the money of the people, of the state - public funds."

Recipient of an IMF bailout in 2009 and one of the poorest countries in the EU, Romania gives millions of euros to the Orthodox Church every year.

From central government funds the church receives more than 100 million euros for priests' salaries, and many more millions for the construction and renovation of church buildings.

Funds also flow in from local councils, city mayors, state companies and the parishioners themselves - though I found no-one who could confirm exactly how much money the Orthodox Church receives each year in total.

Remus, who is proposing a bill to change the way the church is funded, believes the close financial relationship between church and state is part of a bigger problem.

"In many cases politicians give public funds to churches and in exchange the priests support them in electoral campaigns. Often you see the construction companies who build the churches owned by people who are very close to the politicians. So it's a kind of circle of money," he says.

Both the current growth of the church in Romania and the Orthodox hierarchy's close relationship with the political classes are partly explained by the punitive effects of Ceausescu's extreme regime when dozens of historic churches were destroyed and many Orthodox leaders collaborated with the communists in order to survive.

"Many people were simply forced out of religion during communist times, so in a sense it was natural to return," says Liviu Andreescu, a scholar of church-state relations.

The collaboration between many church leaders and the communists helped perpetuate "the strong sense of co-operation between church and state that we see today, with many religious activities funded by the state", he argues.

If all the money used for new churches was given to poor people would it cover their needs?”Archbishop Pimen

Romania's Minister of Religious Affairs, Victor Opaschi, concedes that there is a close working relationship between the church and politicians during electoral campaigns, and that this is "not a good thing".

But he says there are outstanding historic problems. "The communists took from the church and it lost nearly all its property," he says. "Now the state is trying to compensate for this by giving back a small proportion of what it has taken."

Priests also receive money from their congregations, often entering parishioners' houses to ask for donations.

When Orthodox priest Casian Pandelica refused a bishop's request to raise 50,000 euros for church refurbishment from his 800-strong parish in the village of Reviga, a stand-off ensued, culminating in an aggressive dawn police raid that he believes was instigated by the church hierarchy.

Expelled from the Orthodox Church but supported by his local community, he now holds services in a makeshift chapel.

Inevitably perhaps, Pandelica is deeply suspicious of the church's financial motivations, says it does little good work in the community and even suspects church leaders of corruption.

In remote Moldavia, famous for its exquisite painted monasteries, I met the only member of the Orthodox hierarchy who would speak to me, Archbishop Pimen.

An old man with wise blue eyes and a twinkly smile Pimen is renowned throughout Romania for his spirituality.

He admits that "not all priests give as much as they should" but denies that the church does too little work in the community. "If all the money used for new churches was given to poor people would it cover their needs?" he asks. "We have an absolute need for new churches and they are being built for very little money."

However, as the Patriarch asks for yet more money for the new cathedral, increasing numbers believe that the cost of church construction is too high.

Nearly all the young people I spoke to, especially in the capital Bucharest were not regular churchgoers, and felt the money would be better spent elsewhere.

But for the time being, the scene in Maramures on the Saints' Day of Constantin and Elena is a reminder that the Orthodox religion in Romania remains a vital component of many people's lives. Its pre-eminent position in society is undeniable.

Parishioner Elena, who was celebrating her name day in traditional costume, invited me back to her modest family home where icons hung in every corner.

"We're a religious people - we're a people who believe," she says. "We don't lose our traditions and our habits. That is how it is here."

Bucharest bounces back from brink

Free tourist attractions abound in a city steeped in history

BY ALISON MUTLER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS AUGUST 6, 2013

It was founded by a shepherd, according to local legend, and was later nicknamed the Paris of the East. But Bucharest's idyllic roots and elegant reputation eventually gave way to a series of 20th-century calamities: war, invasions, earthquakes and communism. Today the Romanian capital is home to two million people, with a cityscape that ranges from rundown grandeur to Communist monstrosities and sleek modernism. Old villas, some dilapidated, from the pre-communist aristocracy, sit next to multi-rise office blocks and modern new villas - many of which are empty due to recent economic troubles. But while Bucharest is messy, overcrowded and shabby in parts, it also hums with a cosy, vibrant and seductive Byzantine charm. Here are some places, all of them free, that help tell the city's stories.

REVOLUTION SQUARE

If you want the drama of history, there is no better place to start than Revolution Square, where the final showdown between the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and the people took place. Ceausescu gave his last speech here in the final hours of his 25-year rule and was booed and jeered for the first time. Afraid of the angry crowds and his own army, which had begun to desert him, he fled the square from the roof of a Communist party building by helicopter, the last time he ever saw Bucharest.

On Christmas Day 1989, he and his wife Elena were summarily executed in the nearby city of Targoviste after a 55-minute trial. Revolution Square saw some of the fiercest fighting as Ceausescu loyalists fired on unarmed demonstrators, and the building that housed the dreaded Securitate Communist secret police has been preserved.

Before the Second World War, Romania was a monarchy. The royal palace (now the national art museum), where officials announced that Romania had switched sides from the Nazis to the Allies in 1944, is also in the square, as is the Athenee Palace, a legendary hotel that inspired a book about spies, diplomats and journalists during the Second World War, and the Cina restaurant, a top place for the latest gossip during that war.

For more cultural pursuits, there is the Atheneum, a neoclassical concert hall built in the late 19th century with a grand columned entryway and domed roof, considered one of the city's most beautiful buildings.

BELLU CEMETERY

Bellu is the city's grandest and probably most overcrowded cemetery in a country where funerals and burials can be elaborate and very public affairs.

The cemetery is also considered one of Europe's most valuable because its immense collection of sculptures constitutes a vast outdoor museum.

Every Romanian academic, writer, scientist and musician of note is buried here.

The cemetery is just south of the Heroes' Cemetery, the final resting place for the 564 people who died in the 1989 revolution. Also buried here are national poet Mihai Eminescu, playwright Ion Luca Caragiale, and the inventor and airplane builder Aurel Vlaicu.

CISMIGIU GARDENS

Bucharesters traditionally seek refuge in the city's parks during the scorching summer months. Cismigiu is one of the city's oldest gardens and a traditional meeting place for students, lovers and chess players. It boasts an artificial lake, a skating rink in winter, winding paths, a panoply of trees and shrubs, and a memorial commemorating French soldiers killed in the city during the First World War. It also appears in short stories written by Caragiale.

CHURCHES

Bucharest enjoys a rich multi-faith tradition, revived since 1989, with synagogues, mosques and Romanian Orthodox churches in every neighbourhood. There are also other Christian churches such as the Armenian Church, the

Lutheran Church and the red-bricked Anglican Church of the Resurrection, which turns 100 this year. Especially worth visiting are the Roman Catholic St. Joseph's Cathedral, possibly the city's grandest church, and the 18thcentury Stavropoleos Monastery, which has the largest collection of Byzantine music books in Romania.

THE OLD CITY

Once a rundown area, the old city or Centru Vechi, which is basically all that remains of pre-Second-World-War Bucharest, has in recent years become a vibrant quarter for entertainment and tourists, boasting antique shops, theatres, boutique hotels, restaurants, and bars. Getting around Bucharest is not free, but it's cheap. The subway transports passengers cheaply and efficiently around the capital, and taxis are plentiful and cheap.

Amnesty International: Romanian authorities leave 15 Roma families homeless and many more at risk

The Romanian authorities must immediately halt all forced evictions and provide those Romani families who were recently forced out of their homes with alternative housing, Amnesty International said after 15 families (at least 60 people) were left homeless in the city of Baia Mare yesterday.

“The situation of those who were forced out of their homes is desperate with many, including babies and young children, now sleeping rough. Many have described how police came in with bulldozers to demolish their homes. The authorities are still doing nothing to help them,” said Jezerca Tigani, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

“We are extremely worried for the hundreds of people left in the settlement, including children who could also be evicted at any moment.”

The Craica settlement in the city of Baia Mare is one of the largest Roma communities in Romania.

On 2 August, approximately 30 families received demolition orders issued by the local police. The authorities informed residents their property lacked the necessary authorization and had to be demolished by 5 August.

The residents were reportedly told that if they demolished their houses, they would be allowed to build new ones in a different part of Craica. Three families complied with the order but no alternative accommodation was provided and they are afraid to construct new improvised houses elsewhere for fear of further evictions.

The police and two bulldozers are still present in the area.

Cristina, a single mother of six who is now sleeping on the street together with her children told Amnesty International: “I have been living here for 10 years. Nobody came to discuss this with us: we just received the notices, that's all. Now we are homeless."

For the last three nights, mother of two Maria has been sleeping on the streets with her children and partner. Their house was demolished on Monday, two days after receiving a notice to clear the area.

"We are sleeping outside. There are rats and if the weather turns bad we have nowhere to go. And it is not just me, there are many people in this situation,” she said.

“These evictions are prohibited under international law by which Romania is bound. An eviction can only be carried out only after proper consultation and those affected should be offered adequate alternative housing,” said Jezerca Tigani.

Since 2010, Amnesty International and local human rights organizations managed to prevent a number of evictions in the area.

In May 2012, however, the city Mayor ordered the eviction of half of the settlement - around 500 people – who were relocated to inadequate housing conditions in the buildings of a former chemical factory.

The Economist: Romania's recent past

Eastern approaches
Ex-communist Europe

Romania's recent past
The fate of half a million political prisoners
Aug 5th 2013, 16:15 by L.C. | BUCHAREST

VALENTIN CRISTEA , an 83-year-old engineer living in the tiny Romanian town of Comarnic, will never forget a day more than 55 years ago. On February 8th 1956, he was arrested by the Securitate, Romania’s notorious secret police, because he was accused of links with an anti-Communist resistance group. He was sentenced to five years in prison for disclosure of state secrets and jailed at the Râmnicu Sărat prison.

After the Communists came to power in 1945 some of the country’s most prominent politicians, intellectuals and other members of the elite were tortured, beaten and isolated at Râmnicu Sărat. Some of them, such as Ion Mihalache, the leader of the Peasant Party, who was denied medical care and was frequently beaten, died in prison. Others, such as Ion Diaconescu and Corneliu Coposu, lived in horrific conditions and isolation. The prison’s terror methods included giving prisoners rotten food or forcing them to eat excrements.

Mr Cristea was once punished with isolation because he knocked on the wall, trying to use the Morse code, to communicate with other prisoners. “They took the mattress and the pillow out and I was left alone in the cell only with a metal bed, which I wasn’t allowed to touch during the day anyway”, he recalled in an interview conducted this year by a Romanian committee investigating crimes committed by the Communist establishment. “In the first two days I was only given a bowl of warm water and a piece of bread. I was given food again only on the third day”, he added.

Alexandru Vişinescu (pictured), who ran Râmnicu Sărat from 1956 to 1963, is one of the gulag commanders recently exposed by The Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile. The committee investigating his actions asked Romania’s general prosecutor to bring charges of aggravated murder against Mr Vişinescu related to the death of six political prisoners. Investigators plan to hand prosecutors 35 files with similar cases in the following months.

Speaking to the media near his home in central Bucharest, Mr Vişinescu, who is today 87, rejected the claims, arguing that “he only did his job”. He even cursed the journalists and tried to hit a cameraman before entering the building.

Despite the public pressure, Mr Vişinescu’s chances to face a trial and be convicted are very small. Andrei Muraru, who runs the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile, doesn’t have too much hope that Mr Vişinescu will be brought to justice. “The general prosecutor does not show any willingness to cooperate. They never asked us anything,” said Mr Muraru. “We don’t know what is going on there. Everything is like a locked door. Can we open it or not?”, he wondered, referring to the way in which the general prosecutor handled similar cases filed in the past.

Ion Vasilache, the head of the military prosecutor's offices department, the institution subordinated to the general prosecutor in charge of handling the Institute’s request, told our correspondent that nobody asked him about such cases since 2009. He said the institution he runs declined them in the past because it was no longer competent to solve them, due to a change of legislation in the recent years.

“Regarding Mr Vişinescu’s case, it is necessary to check first if the period of prescription for the accusations he faces has expired in the meantime. If he is accused of something he committed in 1956, the period of prescription probably expired 15 years after that”, he added. However, according to the document the Institute has given to the prosecutors, obtained by our correspondent, the prescription period for the crimes Mr Vişinescu is accused of has not yet expired, which means that he could still be prosecuted.

Mr Vişinescu could be Romania’s first gulag commander convicted for his acts. However, some doubt Mr Vasilache’s willingness to solve cases related to the Communist regime. One of them is Teodor Mărieş, the head of the “21 December” Association representing the people who fought during the 1989 Revolution. He publicly accused Mr Vasilache of being one of those responsible for hushing up the cases related to the 1989 Revolution. The European Court of Human Rights condemned Romania in 2011 for the way it handled the investigations into the army's repression in 1989.

Mr Vasilache is not the only controversial figure to hold a central position in the judicial system. After the 1989 Revolution, many other members of the old guard have remained in power and put pressure on the judicial institutions to prevent the investigation into cases related to the Communist regime. Traian Băsescu, the president, condemned he Communist dictatorship that ruled the country for more than four decades for the first time in 2006 describing it as “illegitimate and criminal”.

Romania had more than a half a million political prisoners during the Communists’ rule. More than 100,000 died in prison. Many of those responsible for these crimes died as free men or are still alive, carrying the shame of an entire nation on their shoulders.

AP: Romanian officials say communist prison commander caused deaths of 6 political prisoners

BUCHAREST, Romania — A Romanian committee investigating crimes committed by the former communist government asked the general prosecutor on Tuesday to bring charges of aggravated murder against a prison commander for the deaths of six political prisoners.

From 1956 to 1963, Lt. Col. Alexandru Visinescu ran the notorious Ramnicu Sarat prison where Romania’s pre-communist political leaders and intellectual elite were incarcerated.

Andrei Muraru, head of the institute investigating communist crimes, said prisoners died from beatings, hunger, a lack of medical treatment and exposure to cold. It plans to hand a total of 35 files to prosecutors.

Romania had communist governments from 1945 until 1989. The investigating committee is currently concentrating on political crimes from the early 1950s until 1964, when a general amnesty was declared.

Speaking to journalists near his Bucharest home Tuesday, Visinescu, 87, rejected the accusations against him and said he was only doing his job. He cursed and took a swipe at a cameraman.

One death under his command was that of diplomat Victor Radulescu Pogoneanu, who was serving a 25-year sentence for “plot and treason.”

He died after prison guards held his paralyzed legs and dragged him down stairs, banging his head on each step.

Ion Mihalache, leader of the Peasant Party and one of Romania’s most important politicians of the last century, was beaten and denied medical treatment. He died aged 82 at the prison when Visinescu was commander.

In an interview with The Associated Press last month, Visinescu said officials who sentenced prisoners were responsible for the system and its abuses. Visinescu claimed he showed acts of humanity such as adding water to an over-salted dish of polenta to make it more edible.

His claims were at odds, however, with a 30-page document handed to the general prosecutor Tuesday. The document, obtained by The Associated Press, said that under his command prisoners were weakened on a diet of 500 to 600 calories day, beaten arbitrarily, denied medical treatment, made to stand up for hours, and regularly endured solitary confinement.

Visinescu’s colleague Alexandru Panturu was quoted as saying the commander threatened prisoners with a pistol and dragged them out of bed.

Historians call Ramnicu Sarat the “extermination prison” and the “prison of silence” because of the regime of solitary confinement.

Romania had 617,000 political prisoners, of whom a fifth died in prison, according to historians of the communist period.

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