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The Lustration Bill currently under debate is nothing but a typical form of the Romanian politicians’ moping around on a generous topic. Not only does the bill include unconstitutional provisions, but for 70% of the population communism was a good thing which Ceauşescu managed to ruin. And it wasn’t even him, it was Elena Ceauşescu; he would have been a good guy, if it weren’t for her.

The Romanian experience

At least this is how the public perception looks like in Romania. The queuing for food, having the electricity supply discontinued, having all sort of stuff sold on ratio, all these were put behind particularly since at the time most of the families had their own “supply networks”, but also thanks to today’s abundance of capitalist consumer goods which Romanians feast on, forgetting that there was a time when children wondered whether bananas actually existed. In exchange, those aspects have survived as virtues of communism which generate today the deepest frustration among most of the population: that fact that the “State gave people” a house, a car and a job.

There is some nostalgia for the times when, at graduation, you were “assigned” a job and this is where you eventually retired from. The “company” gave you a home, and the senior party secretary signed the approval for your colour TV and Dacia car. The company offered you “union-subsidized” holiday packages, in the mountains and at the seaside, where you could watch the people’s great artists perform.

There’s no point in deceiving ourselves. Communism did mean outstanding benefits for a lot of people. It took peasants out of the 19th Century and gave them a job “in the city” and an apartment in a block of flats, whose comfort was in stark contrast with what they had left behind. It taught the ones who stayed in villages how not to work, as farming works were done by the army, pupils and students.

It’s quite hard to explain to these people that, even without communism, houses would have still been built in Romania, perhaps even better, more beautiful and larger ones than the “match boxes,” that there would have been jobs anyway … These are subtleties hard to accept even by some of the university graduates.

Communism found in Romania, just like in Russia where nostalgia is equally widespread, a society of which over 80 per cent was rural, which had not had time to live the experience of democracy and of industrial development. The latter was accomplished by communism itself, which makes it so difficult for a regular person to understand that “there were other means” to the same end. The backgrounds of Central European states are altogether different, which explains why lustration was possible there, along with a smoother transition from communism to free market economy.

The others’ experience

Poland was the first state in the former socialist camp to have initiated a lustration process, as early as in 1989. Those who had collaborated with the political police, and particularly those who took part in repressing the protest movements of the 1980s, were denied access to public offices. Later on, the lustration issue was kept on the backburner until 2005, when Rzeczpospolita journalist Bronislaw Wildstein posted on the internet a list with the names of over 240,000 people whose files are kept at the Poland Institute for National Remembrance – the place where the files of the former Polish political police are kept in. Publication of this list enraged the Polish secret services, which claimed that the names included many of today’s spies. Rzeczpospolita sacked Wildstein.

The Czech legislation on cleaning the society of communist traces was endorsed in October 1991. Under this law, former members of communist party nomenklatura, secret service officers and collaborators were removed from public offices. Over 15,000 senior Czech Communist Party members or secret service officers involved in political policing were removed from public offices in the Czech Republic as a result of the act passed in 1991.

In Germany, thanks to endeavours headed by pastor Gauck and later on with the key contribution of the Bureau for Stasi Archive Management, not only civil servants, but also MPs, senior management in private companies, notaries, prosecutors or clergy have been checked for communist collaboration. The lustration act, endorsed in 1991, became a useful tool in Germany for Justice, journalists and researchers. In all, around two million people were subject to provisions of this law.

In Hungary, the legislation denying the access of former communist officials to public offices was passed in 1994. A lustration commission was established in Budapest, which has access to the files of secret services. The main target were the officers and collaborators of the “Directorate for State protection from reactionary forces” in the communist Interior Ministry. The only practical attribution of this commission was to make public the names of those involved in political policing – but the measure failed to yield spectacular results. An opinion poll in 2002 indicated that at the time 75% of the Hungarians believed the investigation into the past of the communist secret police should be ended.

The bill

It is due to the conflict between the Liberals and Democrats that we have now come to talk about a lustration law. Unfortunately, the draft act is affected by at least two serious errors: 1. The bill is unconstitutional, as it talks about who can be elected and who cannot, although this right is enshrined in the Constitution. Had he been alive and free today (and, considering the evolution of the Romanian society, I can see no reason why he would have been imprisoned), Nicolae Ceauşescu himself would have had the right to run for a Parliament seat. In fact this is why we had in the Parliament of Romania both Ilie Verdeţ and Corneliu Coposu. Both the likes of Adrian Păunescu, and Ticu Dumitrescu. 2. The bill is misused, for settling accounts which compromise the very idea of anti-communist justice, in that in places in the same boat bank managers and Securitate officers, low-rank clerks and indoctrinated activists, vessel commanders and military unit commanders.

It will be difficult, because of the ECHR, to promote lustration measures based simply on the membership to specific political structures. What should be preferable is rather to restrict the right to be elected or appointed to public offices for those who, one way or another, have taken direct part in political policing actions, or who inspired such actions prior to 1989. Because it’s not only the former Securitate officers and the communist regime torturers who are guilty. Equally guilty are the party activists who marginalised a person if the latter … had divorced. Or the Communist Youth activists who chased the young in the streets to force them cut their hair. Such an option is a lot more feasible than the collective denouncing, on the basis of mere membership to a particular structure of the communist regime. Guilt must be established on an individual basis, otherwise we would be operating on the same criteria as the communist regime did.

Still, the lustration act is not about our past, but about our future. Shortly after 1989, former nomenklatura and political police members redistributed, in their own favour, large chunks of the national economy. It is quite evident that a lustration law enforced in 1990 would have made this impossible. But now the deeds are done, the transfer has already been completed. This transfer created a corporate-type, cartel-type economy, relatively closed (although, judging on bureaucratic criteria, the Romania market is rated as “free”). With key positions already seized, newcomers to the market need the approval of the current oligarchs. The system has made some rich, but kept most of the citizens in a captive environment, with a rather limited freedom of choice. The effects of this state of affairs on the mentality of our nationals are too evident to insist on. A lustration act enforced today would not kick them out of the market (at least not immediately), but it would break the ties between them and their political cronies, this creating the circumstances for a genuine openness of the Romanian market. And this would benefit each and every one of us.

by Cristian BĂRBULESCU

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 36
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