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Last Updated: Monday, 25 February 2008, 10:45 GMT
Police spies still haunt Romania
By Delia Radu
BBC Romanian Service, Bucharest

A fierce debate is raging in Romania over investigations into the activities of the communist-era secret police.

Securitate files in Bucharest. File photo
Huge piles of Securitate documents are yet to be investigated
The investigative body's work was outlawed by the Constitutional Court - but a government decree overruled the court's decision earlier this month.

The feared Securitate came to symbolise the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, whose regime collapsed amid bloody street fighting in December 1989.

The National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) was set up in 1999.

For several years, it struggled against a reluctant post-communist Romanian Intelligence Service, custodian of the two million surveillance files compiled by the Securitate.

Eventually the council got hold of what was described as "kilometres of files". Its main duties were to help people find and photocopy their personal records and to check the backgrounds of high-profile candidates for important public positions.

Some criticised the council for being slow, disorganised or politically motivated, but most agreed that Romanians needed to know and understand their past.

Several hundred cases of collaboration were publicised - and sometimes the CNSAS information leaked out.

Search for truth

Romania - a new member of the EU - is now awaiting a new law for the investigation of secret files.

Doina Cornea
Many people across Romania tried to get in touch with me, only to find themselves grabbed by the Securitate
Doina Cornea
Former anti-communist dissident Doina Cornea represents one side in the debate. In the opposite corner is retired Securitate agent Ilie Merce.

"We need the truth about our own lives, we need to break the chain of secrets and lies of the past if we want to be free," says Mrs Cornea.

As one of the few opponents of the Ceausescu regime in the 1980s, this diminutive woman found herself at the centre of a massive surveillance operation.

Her Securitate file consists of 30 volumes, amounting to 7,000 pages. She has only begun to look through this mass of papers.

How does it feel to read all those surveillance notes now?

"First of all, I found it hard to believe how important I was to them," she says.

"Around 100 Securitate employees, some of them high-ranking officials, were involved in the operation.

"There were agents monitoring my moves, my home, family and neighbours, tapping and transcribing everyone's conversations.

"As my calls to fight the oppression were broadcast on Radio Free Europe and followed by my telephone number and address, many people across Romania tried to get in touch with me, only to find themselves grabbed by the Securitate. It was very moving to find these people's letters, complete with envelopes, in one of the files."

Witch-hunt fears

Mrs Cornea says the CNSAS "verdicts" were meant to have moral and symbolic value - they were not the equivalent of judicial verdicts.

She deplores the Constitutional Court's ban and its argument that the council had unlawfully acquired judicial powers.

Ilie Merce
We can't make culpable whole social or professional categories of people
Ilie Merce
She hopes the new law for probing Securitate files will provide a better framework for the council's activities and will continue to bar former collaborators or Securitate agents from high office.

But Ilie Merce, a member of the legislature and former Securitate agent, has a different view.

"The CNSAS had become an instrument for personal or political vendettas, or trafficking of files, and a new-style political police," he argues.

"The old law proved divisive and sometimes libellous. Yes, the files of officials should continue to be checked, but not made public. Parliament should get the relevant information, or the government, if a particular file seems to involve a cabinet member.

"Whenever an abuse was committed, the victims should seek justice according to the law - otherwise there will be chaos. Whoever did anything wrong should pay for their own mistakes.

Soldiers aiming at snipers in Bucharest, Dec 1989
Soldiers joined the uprising against Ceausescu in 1989
"But we can't make culpable whole social or professional categories of people."

The CNSAS has been pursuing cases file-by-file, not collectively punishing those who served in the communist regime.

Its "verdicts" can reveal whether senior officials have lied about their communist past - and can lead to prosecutions.

The right to know

Mr Merce was the Securitate chief in Buzau County, central Romania, when the communist regime collapsed in 1989.

Now an MP for the nationalist Greater Romania Party, he says he is proud to have worked for Romanian intelligence for 25 years, before retiring in 1996.

"In everything I did, I observed the law. But to this day I believe some sensitive information should remain classified. I won't reveal who my informers or the people I used to work with were - that would be very demeaning and unprofessional."

He welcomes the Constitutional Court ruling and considers the CNSAS "dead and buried". So does Romania need an institution to probe the communist secret files at all?

"I won't say such an institution shouldn't exist, mainly to grant people access to their personal files if they were under surveillance and if they want to see them. And then people should decide what to do next, seek justice if they were mistreated.

"But the management of this institution shouldn't issue verdicts, publicise their findings, or reveal them brazenly on TV in the middle of talk shows, as they sometimes did, because such acts can have serious consequences."

Former political prisoners in Romania get only a small allowance - not enough to compensate for the loss of a job or a house. The pursuit of justice for Ceausescu-era crimes remains difficult.

Secret police row grips Romania
17 Aug 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Romania
04 Dec 07 |  Country profiles
Dictator's double looks back
15 Aug 03 |  Europe

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