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Lustration Law, between good timing and impossibility

Why wasn’t it possible for Romania to pass a Lustration Act so far? A possible explanation could be the solidarity of “knaves,” as Andrei Pleşu put it right after 1989. A former oppressive apparatus which closed ranks quite successfully in a move to seize resources (financial resources in particular), doubled by former nomenklatura members at various levels, who stayed in office.

Last month, the three former PD Deputies – currently PIN Deputies – Lavinia Şandru, Aurelian Pavelescu and Cosmin Guşă drew up a lustration bill generically named the “Anti-nomenklatura Law.” The bill was lodged in the same period in which the Timisoara Society declared year 2005 as “Lustration Year,” with support from three Liberal MPs – Mona Muscă, Adrian Cioroianu and Viorel Oancea, who voiced their willingness to back a lustration bill rooted in paragraph 8 of the Timisoara Proclamation. The deadline proposed by the Liberals for finalisation of this endeavour is this year-end, i.e. when 16 years will have passed since the revolution, more than enough to make the initiative seem tardy.

Nonetheless, such an act and the public debate it may spark is more than necessary to Romania – at least as a purification ritual, if not as a normative act with a direct impact on the political and social life.

Lustration in Eastern Europe

Romania is one of the few Eastern European states which have not passed a lustration law, with evident consequences on the development stages in the transition period. Although an inference connecting the endorsement of such normative acts to the respective state’s subsequent evolution is impossible, one cannot help noticing, for instance, the developments in the Republic-. Here, a lustration law prohibiting members of secret police, collaborators and informers, but also party secretaries and members of the Central Committee to get access to decision-making offices for five years, was passed as early as in 1991. Resistance to change was thus substantially limited, particularly since, at the respective time, over 80 000 people lost their jobs, which however did not give rise to social tension. And the beneficial consequences of this law are even better showcased by the fact that in 1996 it was extended for another five years.

A similar draft law was endorsed in 1994 in Hungary, though its effects were a lot limited. It was with notable delay that the lustration law was passed in Poland as well – in 1997, yet its provisions were a lot less restrictive than in other Eastern European states, as it only required public dignitaries to state whether they had collaborated with the former regime’s political police. And prohibition of holding public offices – for ten years – only came if such collaboration had been concealed.

Repression and party apparatus – perfect symbiosis

In Romania, such a bill was initiated in 1997 by late Christian-Democratic Deputy Gheorghe Şerban in 1997, inspired by Paragraph 8 in the Timisoara Proclamation and dropped by fellow Coalition members in Parliament.

Why wasn’t it possible for Romania to pass a Lustration Act so far?

A possible explanation could be the solidarity of “knaves,” as Andrei Pleşu put it right after 1989. A former oppressive apparatus which closed ranks quite successfully in a move to seize resources (financial resources particularly), doubled by former nomenklatura members at various levels, who stayed in office. Adding to all these was the fact that Romania at the time of the 1989 revolution, lacked even the buds of a civil society that could contribute to a moral cleansing of the political life. While in the Republic- and Poland, for instance, there was a civil society which supported the newly installed regime, including in ideological terms, in Romania, a “hunger revolution” made it possible for the most faithful of the Communist regime clients to stay in the political arena.

Today Gheorghe Şerban’s bill is recovered, with different emphasis points, on the one hand by National Initiative Deputies, and on the other hand by Liberal MPs. While the former ask for prohibiting access to public offices only for members of the former Communist apparatus, for ten years, the latter bill promises to equally “address” former political police officers, collaborators and informers.

Several signals of impossibility

The fact that initiators of the Anti-nomenklatura Law and the announced initiators of the Lustration Act have not yet reached common ground with respect to the unification of the two projects is only one of the signals that “Year 2005 – Lustration Year” has started off on the wrong foot.

The Christian-Democrats and civil organisations have already requested the three Deputies to withdraw their bill, working on the assumption that a normative act of such moral weight can be discredited by the political past of its initiators.

On the other hand, the chances that the bill stands are heavily affected by the situation inside the Coalition, for two reasons at least. The first is that PIN Deputies did not hesitate to include in the list of politicians subject to their bill such names as Vasile Blaga, Theodor Stolojan and even Traian Băsescu. And while this could not be a major hindrance, particularly since Cioroianu stated that none of the aforesaid were top level representatives of the former Communist apparatus, the fact that Democrats still express their “surprise” at the talks between the Liberals and the group of Deputies who resigned from PD may pose a serious threat to a prospective cooperation among the six initiators. And the joint project is all the more difficult to shape out as the issue has not been discussed in the PNL-PD Alliance, with some of the Democratic leaders seeing the initiative as all too late: “In 1991-1002 it (the law, editor’s note) would have been useful, because people like Iliescu blocked the reform and Romania’s way towards the European Union. Today, with different people in Power, I don’t believe it to be timely any longer,” believes Deputy Ioan Oltean. This is probably the same reasoning used by Democratic, Liberal or even Christian-Democratic Deputies when they didn’t back the lustration bill in 1997-2000. And when the party formerly headed by Ion Iliescu was in Power, it was much too late for such initiatives.

Assuming that the two bills, or at least one of them, were able to overcome the aforesaid obstacles, the hope of having a law passed for the moral cleansing of the Romanian politics and society is seriously obstructed by the institutional conditions for passing such a normative act in Parliament. Since a lustration act requires prohibition from running for certain public offices, including the ones of Senator, Deputy or President of the country, the electoral law must be modified, which is included, under the Constitution, in the category of organic laws. And, again under the Constitution, such laws can only be passed by qualified majority voting, which in turn involves presence in the hall of all PNL-PD Alliance Deputies and Senators and their unreserved determination to endorse such an act. Which is quite hard to believe, although the PNL and PD candidate lists have been filtered by the Coalition for a Clean Parliament, particularly since we know what to expect from PSD and PPRM.

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