Romania victims want justice for communist crimes

24th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

Toppled in a popular uprising, Ceausescu was sentenced to death in a trial lasting a single day, on December 25, 1989, which shed no light on the regime's dark secrets.

Bucharest -- Romania is marking 20 years since the fall of Nicolae Ceaucescu but many victims of his despised communist dictatorship are still waiting to tell their story in court.

For 45 years the brutal regime executed, jailed and persecuted Romanian dissidents, yet very little was known of their suffering.

Toppled in a popular uprising, Ceausescu was sentenced to death in a trial lasting a single day, on December 25, 1989, which shed no light on the regime's dark secrets.

Two decades on, the truth is finally emerging thanks to films, books and the exhumation of murdered dissidents, but victims are still waiting for justice.

Vasile Paraschiv, a spry 81-year-old from Ploiesti north of Bucharest, is one of them.

The former postman joined the Communist party in 1946 but resigned in 1968 to set up a trade union. That is when his troubles started.

He was kidnapped and tortured three times by the dreaded secret police, Securitate, who tried to cast him as mentally disturbed. "But I managed to survive," he told AFP.

In 1989 Paraschiv hoped for justice. Now hope has turned to anger.

"Where is justice? Today, if you injure someone crossing the street, you are immediately prosecuted, but those who beat and tortured me cannot be tried!

"High ranking ex-Securitate members have big pensions while I have to survive on 165 euros a month," he complained.

Paraschiv's torturers are protected by Romanian law.

"By law, the statute of limitations has expired for these crimes and they cannot be prosecuted," general prosecutor Laura Kovesi told AFP.

Sons and daughters of executed rebels have run into the same obstacle, as have former political prisoners.

"There have been many trials linked to the 1989 revolution itself, but the courts have remained silent on the crimes of the communist dictatorship," wrote the historian Raluca Grosescu in a recent book.

For any trials to take place, the Romanian government would have to lift the statute of limitations for communist-era crimes as the Czech Republic has done. But no leader so far has dared.

Romania is not the only country to have avoided painful trials as it emerged from dictatorship. Spain also chose to forget rather than prosecute after the end of General Francisco Franco's dictatorship.

But for Marius Oprea, director of Romania's Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes (IICCR), trials are essential for victims to heal.

"Until the former torturers or killers are brought to trial, the fear will remain in the victim's mind."

"Events are called back in the courtroom as if on a symbolic stage, to deactivate them, throw them back in the past.

Trials are just one part of facing up to the past.

Romanian film director Cristian Mungiu was awarded the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2007 for "Four months, three weeks and two days", a harrowing account of a clandestine abortion, common under Ceausescu's pro-birth state.

And the IICCR and its 30-strong team of historians are now working to exhume the bodies of dissidents who fought communism in the mountains and countryside and whose bodies were dumped in anonymous graves.

Researchers aim to return the victims' remains to their relatives to allow for decent funerals.

Romanian president Traian Basescu officially condemned the crimes of communism in 1996.

Three years earlier, dissident poet Ana Blandiana founded a memorial to the victims of communism in a former jail, the first of its kind in Eastern Europe, to teach Romanian youths about communist-era repression.

"Communism's greatest victory was to create a people without memory, a brainwashed people unable to remember what they were, what they had, or what they did before communism."

"Creating the memorial is a way to counter that victory," she says.

But to truly settle scores with its past, many observers believe Romania needs a revolution of the mind, like the one that gripped Germany in 1968 and helped it face up to its Nazi past.


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