Romanian Nobel laureate still haunted by communist past

1st October 2010, Comments 0 comments

The ghosts of communism and bitter memories that infused the novels of 2009 Nobel laureate Herta Mueller haunted her first trip back to her native Romania this week since winning the prestigious award.

"Like everyone else, I was hoping accounts would be settled after the toppling of the dictatorship and people who had had horrible responsibilities would no longer have power or clout," the 57-year-old writer told a press conference.

For Mueller, members of the dreaded communist secret police, the Securitate, "are everywhere, they have not vanished in thin air."

Her visit for a book launching stirred tremendous interest in an author who, as a member of Romania's German-speaking minority writes in German, was little known here before winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

She now ranks among Romania's best-selling writers, according to the Humanitas publishing house.

Mueller was persecuted by the Securitate for refusing to become an informant and her work was censored at home. She finally managed to emigrate to Germany in 1987.

Her novels, notably "The Appointment" and "The Land of Green Plums", describe the terror and humiliation she said she suffered under Nicolae Ceausescu's regime.

Romania's communist rule ran from 1945-1989 and remains an open wound for many, notably victims still waiting to tell their story in court. The government has never lifted the statute of limitations for communist-era crimes.

And in June, the Constitutional Court ruled that a law forbidding former communist officials to hold or run for public office -- similar to anti-communism laws passed in other former Eastern bloc states -- was "unconstitutional".

"It's not normal that they should still hold high-ranking positions and enjoy a second life after the dictatorship," she told the press conference.

Mueller also used her visit to defend the late, well-known poet Oskar Pastior, a personal friend and compatriot in the German-speaking minority whose past as a Securitate collaborator scandalised admirers when it was recently disclosed.

"Oskar Pastior did not have a choice," she said. After returning from five years of forced labour in a Soviet camp, "he was a broken man, if he had not accepted he would have been imprisoned," she said.

Pastior's experience, similar to that of many German-speaking Romanians after World War II, inspired her novel "Everything I Possess I Carry With Me". The Romanian versions of this and another of her works, "Travelling on One Leg", were released this week in Bucharest, drawing hundreds of fans to book signings.

Mueller says she is bemused and a bit embarrassed by her new-found celebrity in the home she fled. "For one thing, I can't elude all these press conferences, but when I'm alone with myself nothing has changed."

She joked that her works "sound better in Romanian", saying she should perhaps hand over her Nobel prize to Romanian translator Alexandru Sahighian.

But the gloom returned when asked if she cherished any memories from her time in communist Romania, saying simply: "There aren't any."

© 2010 AFP

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