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  • Alexandra Luca

A shocking ruling proves Romania's totalitarian communist regime is still alive


Collective outrage sent shock waves through Romanian society on the 27th of July, as Romania’s top court acquitted two former Securitate officers, in a more than 30 year old case that had gripped the country.

The High Court of Cassation and Justice acquitted the former officers of the dreaded communist era secret police of beating dissident Gheorghe Ursu to death in police custody in 1985, in the face of overwhelming evidence suggesting a conviction. Ursu’s death had become an international scandal and a hallmark example of Romania’s ongoing reluctance to face its communist past.

Gheorghe Ursu was a Romanian engineer and poet, who entered the Securitate’s crosshairs after a long period of publicly opposing the communist rule of dictator Ceaușescu. He was already being tracked after travelling abroad when he illegally sent an anonymous letter to Radio Free Europe in West Germany decrying Ceaușescu’s disastrous construction policies. Ursu regularly spoke against the totalitarian practices that defined pre-1989 Romania, making minimal efforts to hide his satirical poems, directed towards the regime.

Outspoken criticism of the regime was entirely taboo in pre-revolutionary Romania. As far as one knew, anyone around them could be a Securitate informant, and just confiding in the wrong person could mean one became an “enemy of the state”. Ursu was particularly unusual in the extent to which he took his convictions, allegedly even hanging manifestos on the wall above his desk, and refusing to take them down when told so by superiors.

In a scenario reminiscent of '1984', it was his co-worker that turned him in. She denounced him to the Securitate for his impressive collection of 61 diaries boasting 35 years’ worth of personal feelings and beliefs, including those towards the regime. He was arrested under accusations that he was concealing foreign currency and died after 2 months of being physically abused and tortured by Securitate officers, nearly every day, as well as being purposefully denied medical care.

The High Court of Cassation and Justice gave the final verdict of acquittal on the 27th of July for Major Pîrvulescu Marin and Lt Vasile Hodiș, who the late Ursu’s family accused of his death. "The motivation was dictated by the Securitate", said Andrei Ursu, his son.

The judges asserted Ursu could not have been a "political dissident”, as “he was not an open opponent of the communist regime". The conventional wisdom of the regime was that Ceaușescu had no “political opponents", as part of his “beloved by everyone” image, so he would instruct the secret police to arrest dissidents for petty crimes. Ursu was arrested in September 1985 for holding 15 USD and 10 German marks.

The ruling shocked the nation by denying the state’s systemic intent to take radical action to eliminate targets that oppose the regime, “unlike the years 1948-1964, when those atrocities against the Romanian people took place.” The judges denied the existence of systemic state police repression of dissidents in Ceaușescu’s “reign of terror”, a fact which goes against the conventional wisdom and witness evidence in the recorded history of the time.

Importantly, the case will become a precedent for future investigations into Securitate crimes before 1989. Andrei Ursu maintains the judges intend to establish that the Securitate stopped being violent towards the end of the regime. The investigation into crimes committed during the Revolution in 1989, when more than 1000 people died and over 4000 were hurt, is still open 34 years later. Romania suffered through the only violent revolution along the Iron Curtain, such that its consequences still carry weight in Romanian consciousness decades later.

There are many reasons for Romania’s difficulty to look into its past, but the most obvious is that, unlike the rest of the Eastern Bloc, it had a palace coup. Many of the former regime’s allies and informants stayed at the top of the power structures, thereby protecting their standing and consolidating their power to prevent other effecting change. Their legacy lives on, despite public dissent from totalitarian values and uproar over the ruling.

The Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes in Romania considers that the acquittal is a crucial moment in condemning communist totalitarianism and making reparations for its victims. According to an analysis published by the organisation, the ruling “weakens the democratic culture in Romania, paving the way for the rehabilitation of the totalitarian regime.”

The future of Romania is, not unlike most of its troubled neighbours, uncertain. This year it will place another bid to join the Schengen area, after a failed vote in 2022, at the hands of Austria. Next year, for the first time in its post-revolutionary free elections history, it will vote on mandates ranging from local politicians to MEPs, MPs, and President.

The liberal and social democrat coalition government of the past 2 years has sent the public’s trust in Parliament and Government plummeting below 10%. The Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR, also meaning gold), a right wing populist party, defied everyone’s expectations when they broke the threshold for Parliament seats unexpectedly, in 2020. 4 years later, they are taking second place in some voters intentions polls, led by the social democrats.

What comes might follow the already cliché radicalisation trend the rest of Europe is undergoing, or might completely overthrow already low expectations and be a comeback for generations. For the latter to happen, Romanians could take note from Gheorghe Ursu’s diary himself, where he wrote, about Radio Free Europe:

“[Radio Free Europe] must keep alive the hatred of Romanians against the totalitarian regime in which they live, urge them to organized rebellion or at least to disobedience, or at least to do everything to maintain their freedom of thought”.

Image: Flickr/Dennis G. Jarvis



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