Over the past nine months, the issue of the release of Securitate (Romanian Secret Police) files has hounded Romanian Parliament. Disagreements and allegations abound. The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate have opposed each other as have some of the political parties, and the complexity of the issue has raised many political considerations highlighting the influence of the Securitate during the Communist era.
In October 1999, the Ticu Dumitrescu Law was approved by the Chamber of Deputies (Lower House of Parliament) and the Senate (Upper House of Parliament). The law attempts to establish access to former Securitate files. The law entitles every Romanian citizen persecuted by the Securitate the right to see his own file.
Before access is agreed the claim is considered by a council which is appointed by Parliament. The media, non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and public institutions can also request access to the files of people holding key positions in the Presidency, the Government, the Judiciary and the mass media, with the exception of diplomats.
Back in October, disagreement arose delaying the completion of the law. The Senate opposed the last article in the law which stipulates that, "No provision pertaining to the official papers' conditions may be invoked for hampering the enforcement of the Securitate files access bill." (Mediafax, 20 October 1999). The Senate argued that this was unconstitutional from a judicial point of view, and during a joint session of the two chambers, the final article was eventually accepted by the Senate.
In response to the passing of the law, Senator Mircea Ionescu-Quintus commented, "This historic vote helps us to pass over the suspicions which do not let us split from a past we repudiate." (Associated Press, 21 October 1999).
This idea had hit the public consciousness in early October when the former captain of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), Constantin Alexa, admitted his approval of periodically leaking information to the press. His views were made clear when he was tried over publicising the file of the former Securitate collaborator and former Health Minister, Francisc Baranyi. He argued that if the rise to power of such a person could not be hindered directly then specific actions could be taken.
A bitter past re-examined
The persecution of many Romanians by the Securitate has left a bitter taste; one that is not easily forgotten. Past involvement with the Securitate therefore raises concerns, especially when key governmental figures are involved.
The desire to move away from the era of Communism towards a market economy and integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions necessitates a move away from Communist institutions and practices. Opening the Securitate files on key officials will identify the extent that current parliamentary figures were involved with the Communist regime and the level of influence that the Securitate maintained.
In November 1999, the Supreme Court appealed to the Constitutional Court to determine whether the Ticu Law was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court claimed the provision in the law that denied access to the files of employees of the post-Communist secret services, with the exception of the directors and deputies of those services, was a direct infringement on Article 31 of the Constitution, the article which affirms freedom of information.
On 29 November 1999, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Law was constitutional. This ruling opened the way for President Emil Constantinescu to promulgate the law.
In a statement issued by the President's office, Constantinescu recognised the terror the Communist regime inflicted on the country's citizens, "After 45 years of lies and terror and ten more years when unproved accusations increased suspicion and mistrust... we finally consider ourselves free from the oppression of the past." (Reuters, 6 December 1999).
How transparent... and when?
Revealing the realities of the past and accepting these realities as fact exposes the degree of transparency in Romania but also dispels unfounded accusations that can be the cause of rifts in Parliament. One such incident arose in November 1999, when Serban Sandulescu, senator with the Christian Democratic Alliance (ANCD) said that Culture Minister Ion Caramitru had ordered the fire at the Central University Library in December 1989 under the premise that it was near one of the Securitate units where Securitate files were kept. In other words, Sandalescu was implying that Caramitru had deliberately destroyed evidence of Securitate involvement.
The ANCD senator refused to reveal his sources, and in response, Caramitru had pushed for the the rapid enforcement of the Ticu Law so that all such "insane" stories could be prevented in future.
The law on access to Securitate files came into effect on 9 December 1999; however, the appointment of the council to oversee implementation of the law was to be deferred until February 2000 in the new session of Parliament.
It is also quite possible that MPs will delay debates on the topic until after the general election in November 2000. This has been a source of antagonism within the Romanian Parliament. Ticu Dumitrescu, the creator of the law, argued that if this happened the local, parliamentary and presidential elections would be conducted illegally.
However, the law does not state when the council should come into being, and the tremendous financial pressure that would be placed upon the state for the running of the council could mean a long delay before it is fully operational.
Still more difficulty
Over the past few months, debate has raged over the appointment of a candidate for the College of the National Council Studying the Security Archives. The National Christian Democratic Peasant Party (PNŢCD) backed Horia-Roman Patapievici, a philosopher and writer with a strong attachment to Liberal Democracy, but Patapievici was rejected by the parliamentary plenum.
Emil Popescu, chairman of the Legal Commission of the Chamber of Deputies regards the rejection of Patapievici as illegal. Patapievici himself accredits his rejection to "the offence of opinion." (Nine O'clock, 6 January 2000)
The appointment of the board to examine Securitate files was further delayed by parliamentary crisis surrounding the Democratic Party (PD) walk-out of Parliament. The PD protest was sparked by calls to replace Defence Minister Victor Babiuc; head of the commission overseeing the activity of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE) George Serban; and head of the commission overseeing the activity of the SRI Liviu Spataru, after their resignation from the PD at the party conference. (See Catherine Lovatt's article, "PD Convention," in issue eight of CER volume two).
Despite disagreements and parliamentary stalemate the enforcement of the law was apparent in the approval of Romania's Prime Minister designate, Mugur Isărescu. A screening of Isărescu revealed that he had no former ties with the Securitate. President Constantinescu had called for the investigation to remove suspicions from Isărescu prior to the creation of the council to allow public access to Securitate files.
In an official press statement Constantinescu said, "Given the high responsibility vested in the Prime Minister the need for the holder of this job to be beyond suspicion, the [Securitate file] of the Prime Minister designate has been checked." (Reuters, 21 December 1999)
In March of this year, after months of delays and disputes, the two chambers of Parliament voted in the College of the Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNASS), the body finally established to oversee the application of the law on Securitate files access. The College is composed of eleven politically independent members, nominated by all parliamentary parties.
Almost immediately, the election of the College brought criticism from the opposition parties, PDSR, PUNR and PRM, as well as the from the initiator of the law, Ticu Dumitrescu himself.
Dumitrescu showed extreme pessimism over the efficiency of the law, arguing that it had been "mutilated" by Parliament in such a way that it could no longer be efficient. He also argued that the law was no longer applicable due to the numerous restrictions and "traps" that one has to pass through to gain access. (Nine O'clock, 9 March 2000).
The conspiracy theorist would suggest that the delays involved in passing and enforcing the "Ticu Law" merely bought time for the political parties to quietly jettison previous Securitate collaborators; however, the law itself still allows the investigation of party members, so it has not been completely neutralised.
For almost two years, the Romanian public have been entitled to access their own files, but still, the final acceptance of this law was historic. It marked a move away from a Communist past which many Romanians repudiate, whilst also opening a new chapter in Romanian transparency.
Unfortunately, the political antagonisms that have arisen between parties offer another tool for gaining support in the coming general elections, and the complexities of the law render it extremely difficult to actually access files of government officials.
Catherine Lovatt, 13 April 2000