A Romanian Looks at Her Secret File (Why Few Do)

Roundup: Talking About History

Oana Lungescu, in the London Daily Telegraph (12-2-04):

It was in early 1983, on an anonymous street corner in central Bucharest, that I first met the man from the secret police. On the phone, he said he wanted to discuss a translation job and I was naive enough to meet him in the street. In his thirties, with an instantly forgettable face, he politely invited me across the road to a row of big metal doors, which looked like garages. But when he took out a key from his pocket and opened one of the doors, I got scared. As we stepped into a small room, which barely accommodated a desk and two armchairs, I realised it was a side entrance to the huge compound of the Bucharest police headquarters. The man who had taken me there was from the dreaded Securitate.

He had an offer to make. He would speed up procedures for me and my father to leave the country and join my mother, who had settled in Germany. He would also get cancer drugs for my father. Like most medicines, they were unavailable in Romania. In exchange, I would have to inform on Romanians living abroad. He called me in every Monday for several weeks until, one day, I broke down in tears and told him I just couldn't do it. A few months later, my father died. The drugs that my mother had sent had been returned at the Romanian border. I was eventually given a passport to leave the country in 1985.

On every return trip to Bucharest since then, I have somehow managed to avoid that street corner. But 15 years since the fall of Romania's communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, I felt the time had come to prise open that door into my past. Last September, I applied to see my secret police file. This became possible only three years ago, under a law passed when a centre-Right coalition was in power. The former communists, now the ruling social democratic party, showed little interest in shedding light on what had been Eastern Europe's most oppressive regime.

So far, only 12,000 Romanians have made such applications. "I'd like to see my file," a friend confessed, "but I'm afraid of what I might find."

In the western city of Timisoara, I met Alexandra Razvan, a lawyer who had joined the first anti-communist protests in December 1989. Reading her file, she discovered that a friendly colleague at law school had also been an assiduous informer. He was a bearded, pleasant young man, and I had often interviewed him for the BBC Romanian Service after 1989. He had become an MP for the ruling party.

For Radu Filipescu, an electronics engineer who spent three years in prison in the Eighties for spreading anti-Ceausescu leaflets, the discovery of his file brought back bitter-sweet memories. "I was very happy to read transcriptions of conversations I'd had with my father when he came to visit me in prison," he told me. Like Radu and Alexandra, I, too, made my way to a brown building, not far from the government headquarters, which houses the special parliamentary committee for the study of the Securitate archives, known as the CNSAS. An old friend, historian Claudiu Secasiu, who is a CNSAS member, had news for me. They were still looking for my personal file. "It's like a lottery," Claudiu said.

Under the law, the archives have stayed with the four information services that succeeded the Securitate. The main one, the Romanian Information Service, holds at least 12 kilometres of files.

But Claudiu had managed to find something. He placed two huge files in front of me, with the same title on their cardboard covers: "Operation Ether". This was the codename for the Securitate's surveillance of foreign broadcasters and, as I leafed through hundreds of pages, I recognised the microphone name I still use when broadcasting in Romanian: Ana Maria Bota. There were transcripts of interviews I had done for the BBC in the late Eighties, with or about Romanian dissident writers. "Must be referred to the National Council of Socialist Education," someone had scrawled in the margins. I had always suspected that some of my most loyal listeners were in the Securitate. The files contained personal letters, some photocopied, others in the original. "Sometimes," Claudiu explained, "the Securitate kept the letters, so you'd have to go into their archives to read your own mail." The smell of the ageing paper, the sheer amount of reports, the range of hand-writings and typewriters, the army of people involved in this bureaucracy of fear... suddenly, I was overwhelmed and began to cry. ...

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