The recent Nobel Prize for literature is a wake-up call to the fact that, twenty years after the Berlin Wall was demolished, though we know how a democracy could be changed into a Communist police state, we are still learning how to reverse that nightmare.
Herta Müller, the 2009 winner, is a German novelist who left her native Romania in 1987 after receiving death threats from the Securitate (the Romanian equivalent of the KGB) for refusing to become an informant. “Simply living in Germany, hundreds of kilometers away, does not erase my past experience,” Müller has said.
I left Romania in 1970, after spending time in her gulags, and I know that Müller is right. Romania’s Communists have lost the power to terrorize people at will, but they still have the muscle to pillory anti-Communists as enemies even if they live in the West.
The extremely hostile reaction stirred in Romania by a HUMAN EVENTS article (“The Wall Fell, and Freedom Sang,” November 9, 2009) written by Lt. Gen Ion Mihai Pacepa, who played a role in undermining Communism, provides a convincing example.
Republished in the Romanian newspaper Adevarul (“The Truth”), that article was followed by three pages of invective-laden comments against its author. Traitor, pig and rat were the “friendliest.” The reason? Pacepa had betrayed the Securitate in 1978, when he became the highest intelligence official from the Soviet bloc to turn against Communism.
When people talk about Eastern Europe, they usually put all its countries in the same pot. In reality, Romania has been different.
“If I could grant you one wish, what would it be?” Pope Paul VI asked Romania’s Premier Ion Gheorghe Maurer in the 1970s, on a visit to Vatican. “Change our geographical position,” the Communist prime minister said, half jokingly. Indeed, Romania was the only East European country not bordering the West, and its Communist dictators had compounded the damage with decades of news blackouts. Even after the Berlin Wall collapsed, Romania was still so isolated that within two weeks Nicolae Ceausescu succeeded in pulling off a grandiose Communist Party Congress that re-elected him and his illiterate wife as the country’s benevolent rulers.
The fall of the others of the Kremlin’s East European viceroys was so peaceful that it enriched our vocabulary with the “velvet” revolutions. In Romania, the upheaval cost 1,104 dead and 3,352 wounded.
Romania is also the only former Eastern European country whose anti-Communist rebellion had been stolen by the Communists, who are preserving the police state to hide their past and protect their current privileges. Under Ceausescu, Romania had one major intelligence service: the Securitate staffed with ca. 16,000 operations officers. Today’s Romania has six (SRI, SIE, UM 0962, STS, SPP, DGIA), which have absorbed most of the former Securitate officers.
According to the Romanian media, these six ghosts of Communism are bloated with 30,000 officers. The SRI (domestic counterintelligence) alone, which has jurisdiction over 22 million people, has about 12,000 officers. Its French equivalent, the DST, covering a population three times as large, has 6,000. Its German counterpart, the BfV, which covers 82 million people, has only 2,448 officers. If the United States were to apply this Romanian ratio to its population, the FBI would have ca. 190,000 agents, not the 12,156 it has today.
Hangmen do not incriminate themselves. In the past five years, 6,284 people sentenced by the Communists for helping NATO to demolish the Soviet empire have asked to have their sentences canceled, but only three have succeeded — because of media pressure. In 2009, Romania’s justice system declined to cancel a 1974 death sentence given to an American citizen, Constantin Rauta, a dear friend, who committed the “crime” of “betraying” Communist Romania and helping the U.S. defeat the Soviet evil. Rauta is a reputable NASA scientist, who over the past thirty years worked on important U.S. aero-space projects such as HUBBLE, KOBE, EOS and LANDSAT. To top it all, the Romanian government still refuses to obey the country’s Supreme Court Decision (No. 41/1999), which cancelled the death sentences given to Gen. Pacepa by Ceausescu and ordered that his citizenship be restored and his properties confiscated by the Securitate in 1978 be returned.
Over 500,000 Romanian patriots killed or terrorized by the Communists are still not rehabilitated. At the same time, thousands of former Securitate officers and hundreds of thousands of its informants and collaborators who wrote the bloodiest era in Romania’s history get fat pensions and are still shielded by a veil of secrecy.
American philosopher George Santayana, an immigrant like me, used to say: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Romania is the only former Soviet bloc country whose government has avoided exposing the crimes committed by its political police.
Three years ago I offered the president of Romania, Traian Basescu, $100,000 to help start building a museum of Communist crimes in Bucharest. I spent time in the gulags of the Securitate, which killed and terrorized more people than any other Soviet satellite political police (except the KGB itself), and I wanted to help my native country know that Communism, not the United States, is the enemy of Romania. I’ve received no answer. No wonder. The Romanian media just revealed that President Basescu, who is running for re-election, was a Securitate informant.
As an Honorary Consul General of Romania in the United States, I know for a fact that the Romanians are not anti-Americans. Indeed, a poll made in Romania before its admission in NATO, which for most Romanians means the United States, showed that 90% of the people were favorable — compared to only 50% in Hungary. After Romania joined the NATO, however, the police state and the old rampant Communist corruption continued, discrediting the very meaning of the word Capitalism and bitterly dividing the country. Two million people voted with their foot and left the country since Communism collapsed, and the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest receives between 150 and 300 visa requests every day.
In life it is often more important what you represent than whom you represent. Romania has a strategically important geographical position, and improving the relations between my adopted and my native countries supersedes my duty as consul. On November 22, Romania will hold presidential elections, and the voter turn-out is predicted to be very low. Most candidates represent the past, not the future, and the Romanians seem to be tired of fighting the wind mills.
There are over 500,000 people in the Romanian Diaspora in the U.S. and Canada alone, and well over 1.5 millions in various Western European countries. I appeal to them: Go out and vote! Vote against the former Communists, the Securitate officers and their supporters who all want to maintain the status quo.
Romania is a rich and marvelous country, and a new generation of people is struggling to give it a new national identity. Bring that generation to power!