The View East

Central and Eastern Europe, Past and Present.

Silencing Dissent in Eastern Europe

 

In this, the final post in this year’s student showcase, Christian Parker considers the slow but steady growth in dissent and organised opposition in Eastern Europe in the decades following the Prague Spring. While the majority of citizens adopted an attitude of outward conformity, a small but vocal minority bravely continued to speak out against various aspects of communist rule, even in the face of sustained state repression and persecution. The state authorities adopted a range of coercive  means to contain and marginalise dissent and non-conformity in both the political and the cultural sphere, however ultimately they were unsuccessful in their attempts to quell opposition to communist rule.

 

Silencing Dissent in Eastern Europe.

By Christian Parker

 

The failure of Alexander Dubcek’s attempt to develop ‘socialism with a human face’ and the forcible crushing of the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in August 1968 was the catalyst for an ‘era of stagnation’ in Eastern Europe. In a speech made to the Polish Communist Party on 12th November 1968, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev justified the recent military intervention in Czechoslovakia and confirmed that any future attempts to deviate from the ‘common natural laws of socialist construction’ would be treated as a threat.[1] The message was clear: any significant reforms to the existing system would not be tolerated. As Tony Judt notes, this ‘Brezhnev Doctrine’ set new limits on manoeuvrability and freedom within the Eastern bloc, each state ‘had only limited sovereignty and any lapse in the Party’s monopoly of power might trigger military intervention’.[2] As long as the Soviets were prepared to maintain communism in Eastern Europe by force, any attempt at challenging the status quo appeared futile so most people adopted a policy of outward conformity and passive acceptance towards communism. However, dissent and non-conformity continued to exist in Eastern Europe, and the authorities employed extensive repression against dissidents, developing a range of coercive tactics to ensure dissent and opposition remained on the fringes of socialist society.

 

Charter 77 and the Birth of Organised Opposition

 

Perhaps the most important dissident movement to emerge in Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Prague Spring was the Charter 77 group. Charter 77 was initially formed in response to the arrest of a popular Czechoslovakian band ‘The Plastic People of the Universe’ for musical non-conformism and social subversion, after the band wrote to dissident playwright Vaclav Havel (previously famous for his 1975 Open Letter to Husak which protested the pervasive fear and ‘fraudulent social consciousness’ dominating life in Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring), requesting his help to campaign for greater tolerance in both the political and cultural spheres.[3]

 

Charter 77 therefore sought to establish a ‘constructive dialogue’ with the communist party, aimed at securing a range of human rights and individual freedoms, including freedom from fear and freedom of expression which the movement demonstrated were ‘purely illusory’ in communist Czechoslovakia.[4] The movement gained further impetus from the fact that the Czechoslovakian government had recently signed the Helsinki Accords, promising to uphold ‘civil, political, economic, social, cultural…rights and freedoms’.[5]

 

Signatures for Charter 77 – calling on the Czechoslovakian communist party to uphold commitments to basic freedoms and human rights. Signatories were harrassed and persecuted in a variety of ways.

 

On its initial publication in January 1977, the Charter initially bore 243 signatures, including those of Vaclav Havel, Pavel Landovsky and Ludvik Vaculik. The state acted quickly in an attempt to prevent the campaign gaining momentum by arresting Havel, Landovsky and Vaculik whilst they were en route to the federal assembly, where they planned to deliver a copy of the Charter. The state’s retaliation to Charter 77 was wide and menacing; leading figures associated with the movement were arrested and imprisoned and signatories were targeted via a wide range of other means including arrest, intimidation, dismissal from work, denial of schooling for their children, suspension of driver’s licenses and the threat of forced exile and loss of citizenship – Geoffrey and Nigel Swain note that by the mid-1980s over 30 ‘Chartists’ had been deported, including Zdenek Mlynar, former secretary of the Czechoslovakian communist party.[6] Charter 77 backed the ‘Underground University’ (an informal institution that attempted to offer free, uncensored cultural education) but lecturers were frequently interrupted by policemen, and leading figures including philosopher Julius Tomin, were harassed and assaulted by ‘unknown thugs’. Attempts were also made to pressure workers into signing anti-Charter resolutions, though as the state representatives failed to give the workers a copy of the Charter so they could see what they were signing against, the majority refused.[7]

 

However, state attempts to ‘bury’ Charter 77 were largely unsuccessful. An ‘Anti-Charter Campaign’ publicised by state-run media actually helped to increase the document’s profile and despite sustained repression, by 1985 only 15 of the original signatories had removed their names. Jailing high profile Chartists proved counterproductive – John Lewis Gaddis even argues that, in the case of Vaclav Havel, it was his imprisonment 1979-1983 that gave him the ‘motive and the time to become the most influential chronicler of his generation’s disillusionment with communism’.[8] (For more on Vaclav Havel, see the previous blog post HERE). While Havel became a dominant figure, other Charter 77 dissidents also continued to undermine state authority, right up until the velvet revolution of 1989. In 1988, two leading Chartists, Rudolf Bereza and Tomas Hradilek, wrote to Soviet Premier Gorbachev demanding that anti-reformist central committee secretary Vasil Bilak be tried for high treason due to his role in the invasion of Prague in 1968. Bilak was subsequently forced into retirement from politics. Tony Judt has suggested that by ‘moralizing shamelessly in public’ Havel and the other chartists created ‘a virtual public space’ to replace the one removed by communism.[9]

 

Vaclav Havel, speaking at home in May 1978. A leading figure in the Czechoslovakian dissident movement, Havel was subjected to intense surveillance, restricted movments, frequent arrest, interrogation and imprisonment.

 

The Wider Impact of Charter 77

 

Charter 77 also gave impetus to dissidents elsewhere in Eastern Europe and by 1987 their manifesto supporting the establishment of human rights across Eastern Europe had gained 1,300 signatures. Immediately after the publication of Charter 77 Romanian writer Paul Goma wrote an open letter of support and solidarity which was broadcast on Radio Free Europe. Goma also wrote to Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu, asking him to sign the letter! Goma’s publication gained just over 200 signatories for the Charter, however he faced a sustained campaign of repression and intimidation as a result. The street where he lived was cordoned-off, his apartment was repeatedly broken into and his phone line was cut. Several of his fellow signatories, including worker Vasile Paraschiv, were arrested by the Securitate and beaten when visiting Goma’s apartment. After Nicolae Ceausescu made a speech on February 17 denouncing ‘traitors of the country’, Goma sent him a second letter, describing the Securitate as the real ‘traitors and enemies of Romania’. Goma was expelled from the Romanian Writers Union and arrested – his release was secured following an international outcry but after continued harassment Goma immigrated to Paris on November 20, 1977. Even this didn’t stop Romanian attempts to silence Goma, and the Securitate made two attempts to silence him permanently while he was living in Paris – sending him a parcel bomb in February 1981 and attempting to assassinate him with a poisoned dart on January 13, 1982.[10]

 

Paul Goma’s case was not an isolated incident – while attempted assassinations abroad were rare, this tactic was occasionally used to silence particularly troublesome East European dissidents. For example, writer and broadcaster Georgi Markov’s defection to London from Bulgaria led to him being declared a persona non grata, and he was issued a six year prison sentence in absentia. He continued speaking about against the communist regime in Bulgaria on the BBC World Service and Radio Free Europe, and on 7th September 1978 a Bulgarian Security Agent fired a poisoned ricin pellet into Markov’s leg while he was waiting at a bus stop in central London. He died a few days later (For more on the Georgi Markov assassination see the previous blog post HERE).

 

Dissent and Non-Conformity in the GDR

 

In many respects, dissent in the GDR was the result of unique conditions within the communist bloc:  it was arguably the only state which, even in the wake of the failed Prague Spring, could still boast an ‘informal and even intra-Party Marxist opposition’, a class of intellectuals who attacked the regime from the political ‘left’.[11] Thus, Wolfgang Harich desired a reunified Germany and wrote about a ‘third-way’ between Stalinism and Capitalism, another variant of ‘socialism with a human face’. Harich was particularly critical of the regime’s ‘bureaucratic deviation’ and ‘illusions of consumerism’ and similarly Robert Havemann and Wolf Biermann attacked the regime for supporting mass consumption and privately owned consumer goods. Rudolf Bahro, another leading East German dissident, is best known for his essay The Alternative, which Judt describes as ‘an explicitly Marxist critique of real existing socialism’.[12]

 

State leaders would not tolerate these revisionists, despite their Marxist leanings and the feared East German Stasi employed a range of methods to silence them. Mary Fulbrook notes that isolating dissident intellectuals was done ‘with relative ease by the regime’.[13] Thus Harich was imprisoned, Havemann was placed under house arrest and Bierman and Bahro were both forced into exile in the West. The case of Bahro provides a particularly disturbing insight into the lengths the Stasi were prepared go to. Bahro, dissident writer Jürgen Fuchs and outlawed Klaus Renft Combo band member Gerulf Pannach had all been held in Stasi prisons at a similar time and all later died from an unusual form of cancer. After the collapse of communism an investigation discovered that that Stasi had been using radiation to ‘tag’ dissidents. One of Bahro’s manuscripts was also discovered to have been irradiated so it could be tracked across to the west.[14]

 

The pervasive influence of the Stasi meant that any criticism of the East German regime, however mild, could have severe repercussions. Erwin Malinowski, who wrote a letter of protest about the treatment of his son, who was imprisoned after applying to move to West Germany in January 1983, was placed in a Stasi remand prison for seven months and then served two years further imprisonment for ‘anti-state agitation’. His son was eventually ‘bought free’ by the West Germans, one of the measures through which dissenters could escape the GDR. West German money also secured the release of Josef Kniefel who in March 1980 attempted to blow up the Soviet tank monument in Karl-Marx-Stadt in protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the previous December. He had previously served a ten month prison sentence for attacking Stalin’s crimes against humanity and the role of the ruling parties of Eastern Europe.[15] For other dissidents, ‘repressive tolerance’ and limited publishing space proved effective measures by which the GDR could assert control. The GDR’s response to dissent was effective, however despite the relative success of the Stasi in isolating prominent dissident intellectuals, the regime never achieved total success in quelling dissent, discontent, or opposition.[16]

 

During the 1970s and 1989s, the peace movement, environmental movement and Protestant Church also provided citizens with outlets to vent their frustrations. Many who joined these organisations sought to improve the regime from within, disillusioned with the lack of respect for the environment and public health encouraged by growing industrialisation and the use of nuclear energy, something which was exacerbated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. To control environmental dissidents, the state banned the publication of data relating to the environmental situation in the GDR. Moreover, Stasi attempts to infiltrate and break up these groups met some success. For example, the main Church environmental movement Kirchliche Forschungsheim Wittenburg was infiltrated by the Stasi to the point where it lost its relevance in the wider environmental movement. However, the organisational networks, political strategies and the experience built up during the 1980s, set the stage for these groups to later serve as a vital part of the revolution of 1989. Such vociferous opposition thus taught East German dissidents the ‘complex arts of self-organization and political pressure group work under dictatorial conditions’[17]

 

The GDR not only took a hard line against intellectual dissent but also persecuted cultural non-conformity. For example, the Klaus Renft Combo, described by Funder as ‘the wildest and most popular rock band in the GDR’, agitated the state so much that at the bands attendance at the yearly performance licensing committee meeting in 1975 they were informed that ‘as a combo … [they] no longer existed’. Copies of their records disappeared from the shelves, and the radio stations were prohibited from playing their songs. Klaus Renft was exiled west, and several other band members were imprisoned. Despite this, the GDR failed to stop the band altogether, and they gained something of a cult following because of their repression by the state.[18]  Attempts by the GDR and other East European regimes to prevent their citizens’ exposure to ‘Western culture’ were ultimately unsuccessful however, with bootleg records and cassette tapes smuggled in and distributed on the black market and the increased availability of television sets and video recorders in the 1980s allowing citizens access to Hollywood films and TV series such as ‘Dallas’. (For more information about the impact of popular culture on communist Eastern Europe see the previous blog posts ‘Video May Have Killed the Radio Star, But Did Popular Culture Kill Communism?’ HERE and ‘Rocking the Wall’ HERE).

 

The Klaus Renft Combo – In 1975 the band were targeted due to their ‘subversive lyrics’ and were forcibly disbanded. Members were arrested and forced to leave the GDR for West Germany.

 

Conclusion

 

It is clear that the regimes of Eastern Europe possessed a vast array of techniques with which they attempted to silence those who attempted to oppose or criticise communism. These dissidents could not directly bring down the regimes they spoke out against; partly due to the success of state attempts to contain, control them and limit their influence, and partly because they lacked sufficient popular mandate amongst their populations. Certainly though, through their bravery and continued campaigns in the face of persecution and oppression they created hope, and in many ways they helped to set the precedent for the revolutionaries of 1989.

 

About the Author

 

Christian Parker has just completed his BA (Hons) in History at Swansea University. In his final year of study, Christian specialised in East European History. After taking the next year off to travel, Christian hopes to begin postgraduate study in 2013.

 

 
 

[1] The Brezhnev Doctrine (12 November 1968) available online @ http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1968brezhnev.asp

[2] Tony Judt, PostWar (Plimlico, 2007), 446

[3] Dear Dr. Husak (April 1975) – available online @ http://vaclavhavel.cz/showtrans.php?cat=eseje&val=1_aj_eseje.html&typ=HTML

[4] Declaration of Charter 77, published in January 1977, available online @ http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/czechoslovakia/cs_appnd.html

[5] Helsinki Accords (1 August 1975) – excerpt available online @ http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/245

[6] Geoffrey Swain and Nigel Swain, Eastern Europe Since 1945 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 185

[7] Sabrina Ramet, Social Currents in Eastern Europe, (Duke University Press, 1995), 126

[8] John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War, (Penguin 2007), 191

[9] Tony Judt, PostWar (Plimlico, 2007), 577

[10] Dennis Deletant, Ceausescu and the Securitate, Coercion and Dissent in Romania, 1965-1989, (Hurst & Co., 1995), 235-242

[11] Tony Judt, Post War, (Plimlico, 2007), 573; Christian Joppke, ‘Intellectuals, Nationalism and the Exit From Communism: The Case of East Germany’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 37, 2 (April 1975), 216.

[12] David Childs and Richard Popplewell, The Stasi, The East German Intelligence and Security Service, (Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996), 99; Tony Judt, Post War, (Plimlico, 2007), 573-574.

[13] Mary Fulbrook, Anatomy of a Dictatorship, Inside the GDR, 1949-1989, (Oxford University Press, 1995), 176.

[14] Anna Funder, Stasiland, (Granta Books, 2004), 191

[15] David Childs and Richard Popplewell, The Stasi, The East German Intelligence and Security Service, (London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996), 97-98

[16] Mary Fulbrook, Anatomy of a Dictatorship, Inside the GDR, 1949-1989, (Oxford University Press, 1995) 201.

[17] Mary Fulbrook, Anatomy of a Dictatorship, Inside the GDR, 1949-1989, (Oxford University Press, 1995)

[18] Anna Funder, Stasiland, (Granta Books, 2004), 185-191

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June 29, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside Ceausescu’s Romania: An Unquestionably Efficient Police State

 

In 1989, when peaceful revolutions were sweeping across Eastern Europe, the fall of communism in Romania was marked by a higher level of violence and bloodshed than elsewhere in the region. This was due, at least in part, to the repressive nature of the regime established by Nicolae Ceausescu (1965-1989) and his loyal secret police, the Securitate. Estimates suggest that the Securitate had a higher proportion of representatives per population than anywhere else in the communist block and that by the 1980s as many as one person in thirty had been recruited as a Securitate  informer. In this article, guest author Nelson Duque considers the deadly combination of Ceausescu’s distinctive style of dynastic socialism with the establishment of a brutally efficient police state, which enabled him to maintain an iron grip on power until the dying days of communist rule across Eastern Europe. Nelson briefly highlights the implications of some of the key policies enforced by Ceausescu and emphasises the key role of the Securitate in successfully ensuring the lack of any significant opposition, through the creation of a climate of fear and brutality.

 

Inside Ceausescu’s Romania: An Unquestionably Efficent Police State.

 

By Nelson Duque.

 

In post-war Romania the accession of the communists to power relied heavily on the use of coercion. Romania’s infamous secret police, the Department of State Security (DSS) or Securitate were established in August 1948, fashioned on the Stalinist-era NKVD, and trained by Soviet ‘technicians’. Throughout the communist era, the Securitate were used to maintain the Communist party’s hegemony in the face of any (real or imagined) opposition. The task assigned to the Securitate was to remove all enemies of the regime, by whatever means necessary. To this end, police oppression was widely employed, justified by those in power as a necessary means to weed out ‘class enemies’ or ‘counter-revolutionaries’ in the name of national security. Romania’s first Communist leader Gheorghiu-Dej (1945-1964) was the first to instigate a reign of terror; Dennis Deletant describes the Romanian people under Dej as having a ‘sense that they were being hunted’. However, Deletant goes on to describe Dej’s successor Nicolae Ceausescu’s rule (1965-1989) as an era marked by ‘fear rather than terror’, because Ceausescu did not copy Dej’s mass arrests and deportation policies on such an equal footing (Dennis Deletant, Ceausescu and the Securitate: Coercion and Dissent in Romania 1965-1989, Hurst: 1995). Surveillance, coercion and police terror not only remained hallmarks of Ceausescu’s Romania however, but many of these crimes were documented by the Securitate themselves. In the early 1990s, after the collapse of communism in Romania, extensive archived Securitate files totalled 35 kilometres of documents, 25 km of which comprised files containing information about victims of the Securitate, 4 km of files contained information about police informers, with 6km of other, various attached folders. Lavinia Stan has estimated that every metre of the archive contains 5000 documents and each individual file contained, on average, 200 pages in length.

 

The Securitate

 

It is still not known precisely how many Romanians were employed by the Securitate, partly as a consequence of the lack of material released since the collapse of Communism. Deletant estimates that from a population of 23 million people in 1989, available records indicate total DSS personnel of 38, 682.Virgil Magureanu, director of the SRI (Serviciul Roman de Informatii), which was formed on 26 March 1990 as the successor to the Securitate, estimates that in 1989 total Securitate personnel totalled only 14, 259, although this figure does not include those engaged in activities outside Romania, and Lavinia Stan suggests the continuity of influence between the Securitate and the SRI means that these figures cannot be trusted. The variance in figures between Magureanu and Deletant illustrates a long running debate over just how many individuals were employed by the Securitate. What is further unknown were how many people were hired to act as informers to the secret police, although this figure is considered to be extensive: Deletant simply categorises ‘tens of thousands of informers’ whom the Securitate, ‘by exploiting fear, was able to recruit’. It has been estimated that by the 1980s as many as one in every 30 Romanians was working as a Securitate informant.

 

The feared Romanian Securitate had a reputation for brutal efficiency.

 

The Securitate’s own records claimed that 97 percent of all informers were recruited voluntarily because of their ‘political and patriotic sentiment’, 1.5 percent were recruited through offers of financial compensation, and 1.5 percent through the use of blackmail with compromising evidence’.Frankly such statistics are farcical. Lavinia Stan estimates that between 400,000-700,000 part time informers were ‘employed’ by the Securitate and the chances of 97 percent of these being loyal to the regime is highly unlikely considering the low living standards and repressive policies in place under Ceausescu. Similar to the East German Stasi, fear was an essential method of recruitment employed by the Securitate, with threats and blackmail routinely used to coerce informants. It is likely that people dared not refuse the ‘offer’ of informing out of fear that they too would end up on the Securitate black list, marked as an ‘enemy’ or opponent of the state. The consequences could be serious; for example, World War Two veteran George Marzanca refused to collaborate with the Securitate and within a month he had been arrested and sentenced to four years imprisonment, on spurious grounds. In reality then there was often little real ‘choice’ in the matter; so perhaps it is little wonder that many people ‘willingly’ accepted informant status (Lavinia Stan, Inside the Securitate Archives).

 

Inside Ceausescu’s Police State

 

Ceausescu’s Romania was a unique case in Socialist Eastern Europe. From 1965, Ceausescu endeavoured to establish a dynastic form of Socialism; heavily reliant on his own ‘cult of personality’ with power concentrated in the hands of his close relatives including his wife Elena and their son Nicu. Ben Fowkes sees this relationship between family and state as detrimental to society, describing Ceausescu as ‘both incurably Stalinist and fiercely repressive’ (Ben Fowkes, The rise and fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, Macmillan: 1995). Unsurprisingly, the secret police were some of Ceausescu’s most loyal agents, carrying out his will during the 23 years of his rule. During this time far reaching policies such as widespread austerity measures, ‘systematisation’ and pro-natalism were all enforced by the Securitate. These policies illustrate prime examples of how the Ceausescus’ directly interfered in and influenced the lives of ordinary Romanians and of how the Stasi employed insidious and brutal tactics to ensure a lack of opposition.

 

Ceausescu’s policy of ‘Systematisation’ (rural relocation linked to urban planning) destroyed at least half of Romania’s 13,000 villages, allocating the rural population to new fangled ‘agro-towns’ (Tony Judt, Post war A History of Europe since 1945, Pimlico: 2007) The majority of the villages destined to be destroyed were predominantly inhabited by ethnic minorities (Hungarians, Germans and Roma). The targeting of ethnic Hungarians in a town called Dej met with initial opposition from Laszlo Tokes, who was a pastor with the Hungarian Reformed Church. Tokes gained widespread support within his parish and as a result he was soon targeted by the Securitate. Tokes and his friends were placed under constant surveillance and subject to daily harassment until pressure on the clergy eventually led to Tokes removal and enforced ‘deportation’ to a village 40 kilometers from Dej, in 1982 . The example of Tokes is telling in a number of respects: demonstrating the use of extensive coercion by Securitate agents; illustrating the lengths to which the regime would go to get rid of an opponent and exemplifying the power of the state over the Reformed Church; as members of the clergy could be forced to denounce their staff at the will of the party.

 

The case of Tokes further highlights the use of intimidation, brutality and terror tactics by the Securitate. A second attempt to deport Tokes was issued on 20 October 1989; this time he was ordered to leave the town of Timisoara, where he had been reluctantly appointed after the involvement of the US senate. After his refusal, on 2 November, four attackers armed with knives broke into the flat, ‘while Securitate agents looked on’. Fortunately Tokes survived thanks to his friends fighting the attackers off, but this instance indicates the willingness of the Securitate to tolerate state sanctioned murder. The second attempt to deport Tokes was met by a united public outcry from both Romanians and Hungarians. Demonstrations in Timisoara on the 16 and 17 December 1989 were combated with heavy-handed brutality from the Army and the Securitate. The number of casualties was initially estimated at several thousand, but subsequent investigations put the figure at 122. The brutal repression in Timisoara was directly ordered by Elena Ceausescu while Nicolae was on state business abroad, and she subsequently also ordered the cremation of 40 bodies to avoid their identification. This event was to play a clinical role in triggering the revolution of 22 December 1989, which would overthrow the Ceausescus’ from power and lead to the collapse of Communism in Romania (K. McDermott and M. Stibbe (Eds), Revolution and Resistance in Eastern Europe, Berg: 20o6).

 

Elena Ceausescu was also responsible for the serious death rate amongst women through her influential pro-natal policies. As chairperson of the National Women’s Council she nationalised what should have been a private affair, supported by her husband’s rhetoric that a pregnant woman was ‘everybody’s concern’ because family life was a ‘socialised private problem’ (Mark Almond, The rise and fall of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, Chapmans: 1992) . Concern over falling birth rates meant that the megalomania of the Ceausescus’ thus even extended into the bedroom, with propaganda claiming that it was a woman’s duty to rear children for her country. Methods of birth control, including condoms and the contraceptive pill, were either not available or routinely failed quality control. Disturbingly, this resulted in abortion being the only means of contraception for many women, and even this was criminalised in 1966, forcing many women to risk illegal abortions. Securitate agents were stationed at gynaecological wards and were supposed to report on any women who requested an abortion, although they could often be bribed to ‘turn a blind eye’. However, it has been estimated that between 1966 – 1989 this policy resulted in the death of at least ten thousand women and over 100,000 institutionalised children kept in appalling orphanages (Tony Judt, Post war A History of Europe since 1945, Pimlico: 2007). 

 

Maintaining Control, Ensuring Conformity

 

Due to the effectivness of their repression and brutality, Ceausescu’s Securitate were described as ‘the envy of other dictators’ (Walter Laqueur, Europe in our Time: A History 1945-1992, Penguin: 1992). As a result of their influence, there was little dissidence and virtually no organised opposition to Ceausescu’s regime. The example of Paul Goma, a dissident writer, illustrates the serious consequences that could result from individuals who were brave enough to take a public stand against the injustices of the regime. From the mid 1970’s Goma began to highlight the human rights abuses taking place under the Ceausescu regime, and even sent a letter to Ceausescu in early 1977 asking for his signature to express solidarity with ‘Charter 77’, the human rights movement in Czechoslovakia. Unsurprisingly, Goma became a target for the Securitate shortly afterwards: he was harassed by threatening phone calls; his street was cordoned off by the police and most notoriously Horst Stumpf, a former professional boxer, broke into his flat three times within a matter of days, assaulting Goma on each occasion whilst the police did not intervene despite being called. In November 1977, Goma was forced into exile in France.

 

Writer Paul Goma's public criticism of Ceausescu's regime led to his becoming a target for the Securitate. After being subjected to harrassment and physical attacks, Goma left Romania for France in 1977.

 

This lack of opposition in either the political or the public sphere also explains how Ceausescu managed to put forward such highly ambitious, yet absurd, economic policies. Official statistics claimed that throughout the 1970’s there was an economic growth rate of between 6-9 percent annually in Romania, with an investment rate of up to 30 percent.Yet the regime was outwardly lying about its economic development. In reality,  Romania was impoverished and starving, with Ceausescu’s austerity measures involvi ng the exportation of almost all agricultural surplus; frequent power cuts and shortages of basic goods, foodstuffs and medical supplies with the population dependent on ration cards. Ceausescu may have succeeded in paying off Romania’s $13 million foreign debt by the end of the 1980s, but his oppressive policies forced many of his own people to near-starvation.

 

When communism in Romania finally collapsed in December 1989, the Ceausescus’ were the only East European leaders to face immediate trial. A summary of the Ceausescus’ crimes (and those of the Securitate) are documented in their trial transcript, from 25 December 1989. Here the prosecutor accuses Nicolae Ceausescu of ‘Crimes against the people … Genocide … armed attack on the people … destruction of buildings and state institutions, undermining of the national economy’. The prosecution makes disturbing reading, Nicolae and Elena do not acknowledge their crimes and the reality of their circumstances, despite being accused of killing children and leaving people with ‘nothing to eat, no heating, no electricity’.  The prosecutor Gica Popo also demanded to know who gave the order to shoot in the Timisoara uprising, and surprisingly Elena and Nicolae blame the Securitate, accusing them of being ‘terrorists’ who killed indiscriminately;  they also deny being in charge of the Securitate,  although it was common knowledge that the Ceausescus’ had authorised their acts of terror. Following a hurried trial by military tribunal, both Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were sentenced to immediate execution via firing squad.

 

 

Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were tried by a Military Council and sentenced to execution via firing squad for crimes against the Romanian people on 25 December 1989.

 

It is clear that Ceausescu’s Romania was an unquestionably efficient police state. The lives of many Romanians were dominated by fear. The crimes of murder, brutality, coercion, deportation and genocide were all associated with the leadership and with the notorious  Securitate, right up until the dying days of communism in 1989. The legacy of Ceausescu’s reign still haunts Romania today, as they continue to try to break from their repressive past.

 

About the Author:

 

Nelson Duque has just completed his BA (Hons) in History at Swansea University, graduating in July 2011. During the final year of his degree, Nelson specialised in the study of Communist Eastern Europe. Nelson will begin a PGCE at the University of Warwick in September 2011.

 

 

July 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments