On 25 January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe discussed the Report of the Foreign Affairs Commission, as well as the Resolution of sentencing the crimes of the totalitarian communist regimes (approved) and the associated Recommendation (rejected because of the lack of quorum).
The next day, on 26 January, Romulus Rusan, the director of the International Centre of Studies on Communism gave a lecture on this subject within the “Conferences of the Cuvantul magazin”, at the Romanian Broadcast. As the conference summarizes the key preoccupations of the Civic Academy Foundation during the last years, we reproduce it here.
The society wants the crimes of communisms sentenced. What about the politicians?
As my conference is taking place less than 24 hours after the debate in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of two important documents referring to the proposed subject, I must start by telling you what I know about this event.
In February 2004, in a resolution adopted by its XVIth congress held in Bruxelles, the European Popular Party voted a resolution regarding the “Sentencing of the totalitarian communism”.
In September the same year, the Dutch deputy PPE René van der Linden introduced this resolution in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, thus becoming the president of a commission – within the Political Affairs Commission – that was supposed to elaborate a report. As he shortly after became the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), van der Linden gave up the presidency to his Swedish colleague, Goran Lindblad, also a member of the European Popular Party.
During one full year, this commision functioned as follows: firstly through the audition of experts in the issues of communism, such as Stéphane Courtois and Vladimir Bukovski, then through visits in Bulgaria and Estonia (countries that considerably supported the works of the Commission) and in Russia (that opposed to it). Goran Lindblad presented a detailed report on the crimes of communism, taking over the fulminating data from the Black Book of Communism, coordinated by Stéphane Courtois.
In December 2005, the Foreign Affairs Commission adopted the “Lindblad Report” that was making a detailed analysis of all human rights infringments along 75 years in the Soviet Union and 45 years in the former communist countries.
As the majority of these countries – the report mentioned- evoluated towards democracies, they were admitted inside the Council of Europe (except for Bielorussia). As a result, the Lindblad Commission drawn up a Resolution – that was requiring the recognition by the Parliamentary Assembly of the crimes of the totalitarian communist regimes – and a Recommendation formulated for the Committee of Ministries of the Council of Europe: to create a committee made up of independent experts that would gather and analyze the crimes of communism, to organize an international conference on this subject, to launch a campaign that would raise awareness regarding the gross infringments of human rights and to request governments of former communist countries to allow the communication of archives (requirement foreseen in another Recommendation: no. 13/2000), to raise public awareness in their countries through national commissions of study, through education (revision of school handbooks), through the creation of a commemorative day for the victims of communism, through the erection of monuments, through the opening of museums.
Both documents – The Resolution and the Recommendation – were approved through the vote of the Political Affairs Commission with a majority that seemed satisfactory: The Recommendation with 26 votes pro, 8 against and 2 abstensions.
An over-throw of the proportions of the vote was not foreseen in the session of the Parliamentary Assembly that was organized on 23 and 27 January 2006.
However, in the meantime, the press agencies announced an extreme violent campaign started by the “communist and labour parties”, some of them being members and some other not of the Parliamentary Assembly. In aggressive meetings and releases, reminding of the Cold War period, Ghenadi Ziuganov, the president of the Russian Communist Party denounced the projects that were supposed to be voted as “a challenge of the right wing”, that “does not want a united Europe and an improvement of the relations with Rusia, inheritant of SSRU” (although – my observation – the Lindblad Report was specifically noting that it is not directed against any country and, on the other hand, that Russia itself gave the largest nnumber of communism victims). Ziuganov was also announcing that “73 leaders of labour parties” considered the Resolution and the Recommendation as “attempts of transforming PACE in a fascist organization”. Two hundred communists that came from Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg and other states – France Press announced – protested during the days before the vote within the Council of Europe (compared to 20 persons that were expressing their agreement with the Recommendation). The Greek Communist Party qualified the Lindblad Resolution as a “war declaration”, the French one condemned “ the revisionist assimilation of communism with nazism” and the German Social Democrat Party (former Communist) as an “attempt of neo-McCarthysm” that would lead to the interdiction of communist parties.
On the other hand, “Reuters” announced in the day of the vote that – “the socialist group in PACE required that the documents be sent back to the legal commission”, some of its members estimating that “Not the Council of Europe, but the historians must state their opinions on this subject”.
As a result, the discussions inside the Assembly that took place in the evening of 25 January were extremely tensioned. Out of the two documents, only one obtained the necessary majority, i.e. the Resolution. The Recommendation Project, although had a majority of 85 votes for, compared to 50 againts and 11 abstentions, did not obtain the required majority of two thirds, because of massive absenteeism (only 146 out of 315 parliamentaries were present).
But what is the contents of the Resolution that received number 1481 and was voted? My colleagues from the Civic Academy printed the last text from the site of the Council of Europe and I allow myself to read it, translating simultaneously from French:
The Resolution is named “ The need of an international sentencing of the crimes of communist totalitarian regimes” and has number 1481:
- The Parliamentary Assembly sends to the Resolution 1096/1996 regarding the measures of revealing of the inheritance of old communist totalitarian regimes. (such a resolution regarding the discouraging of communist structures in the countries newly received in the Council of Europe, note R.R. was voted in 1996).
- The communist totalitarian regimes of Central and Eastern Europe during the last century and some still existing in several countries of the world were marked, without exception, by massive violations of human rights. These violations, that vary depending on the culture, country and the historical period include assasinations, executions, either individual or collective, deaths in concentration camps, death by facing out the system of hundreds of thousand and millions of persons, deportations, torture, forced labour and other forms of collective torture, persecutions on ethnical or religious reasons, violations of the freedom of consciousness, thought and expression, of the press freedom and of the political pluralism.
- The crimes were justified in the name of class fight theory and the principle of the dictatorship of the working class. The interpretation of the two principles was making the elimination of dangerous persons legitimate, these persons being considered dangerous for the bulding of a new society, asw ell as enemies of the totalitarian communist regime. In each country the victims were largely its citizens. This is the case of the former Soviet populations that had large numbers of victims of the ruling nationality.
- The Assembly recognizes that despite the crimes of totalitarian communist regimes, certain communist parties covered a relatively important path in attaining democracy.
- The fall of the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe was not followed by any thorough exhaustive international investigation or by any debate of the crimes committed. Moreover, the crimes were not sentenced by the international community, as it happenned in the case of the repellent crimes committed by the national-socialism regime (nazism).
- As a consequence, the public is not aware of the crimes committed by the totalitarian communist regimes. The communist parties are legal and still active in certain countries, that did not dissociate themselves yet from the crimes committed in the past by the former totalitarian communist regimes.
- The Assembly is fully convinced that the knowledge of history is one of the prerequisites to avoiding the same crimes happenning in the future. Moreover, moral judgement and the sentencing of committed crimes play an important role in the education of young generations. A clear position of the international community on this past could serve them as a reference for their future actions.
- Besides, the Assembly considers that the victims of the crimes committed by the totalitarian communist regimes that are still alive or their families deserve compassion, understanding and recognition for their sufferring.
- There still are totalitarian communist regimes in certain countries of the world in which crimes are still being committed. The pretended national interests should not hinder the countries of the Council of Europe in their attempt of criticising present totalitarian communist regimes, when they deserve it. The Assembly vigorously condemns all these violations of human rights.
- The debates and condemnations that took place until now in certain member countries of the Council of Europe do not exempt the European Community itself from having a clear position regarding the crimes committed by the totalitarian communist regimes. The Council of Europe has the moral obligation to do this as soon as possible.
- The Council of Europe is in a position to launch a debate on these matters at international level. All the former communist countries in Europe, except for Bielorussia are today members of the Council of Europe, and the protection of human rights and the rule of law are fundamental values it defends.
- As a consequence, the Parliamentary Assembly vigorously condemns the massive violations of human rights, committed by the totalitarian communist regimes and brings its respects to the victims of these crimes.
- The Parliamentary Assembly also invites all the communist and post-communist parties from the members states of the Council of Europe that still did haven’t made an examination of the communism history and of their own past to dissociate themselves from the crimes committed by the totalitarian communist regimes and condemnd them without ambiguity.
- The Parliamentary Assembly estimates that the clarification of these positions adopted by the international community will favour the continuation of reconciliation. Otherwise, there is hope that this evolution will encourage historians around the world to continue their research aiming at establishing and objectively checking the unfolding of historical facts.
This is the text voted on 25 January and adopted at the fifth session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. As we can see, it is an official European position, that could not even be dreamed of 15 years ago. A step on the way to discovering the truths of history and politics. Or, as the official text states, it is the “wakening of consciousness about history”.
If we showed the full side of the glass – this resolution that condemns communist crimes without ambiguity (initiated, for the first time in history, by an important international organization) – we cannot stop from asking ourselves how was it possible that such an important recommendation had been rejected (not because the votes against, but mainly because of abstenteeism and abstentions). Thus we suddenly remember the words of Vladimir Bukovski that was defining double language as the fundamental method of communism. The communists know how to reposition themselves and mobilize promptly in critical situations. They suddenly become from bolshevics – mensevics, presenting themselves with this new identity to social-democrats, that they make forget that they were themselves the prefererd victims of Stalin (as known, this one considered that a social-democrat is more dangerous than a fascist) (*1). We also have to notice the Stalinist language of the extraparliamentary pressure groups, that immediately applied the label of “fascist” “mcCarthyst” and so on to all those that tried to vote the Lindblad documents (also an old equation: “anticomunist = fascist”) We also have to notice the vulnerability of the democrat politicians that through their nature accept dialogue, but they gave up and were intimidated or blackmailed by the threats, more or less subtle, of extreme left minorities. There is also the marxist-influenced inertia of certain influential groups of intellectuals in Western Europe and United States, that succeeds in hindering the initiatives of sentencing communism and even of commemorating the victims of communism (regarding America, see the tergiversation of the application of the 1993 public Law, signed by President Clinton and by the Republican speaker of the Congress, Newt Gingrich, which was foreseeing the building in Washington of a Memorial of the Communism Victims – project finally abandoned because of those naming it a “witch hunting”, started by “the knights of the Cold war”).
So far the international community had condemned the crimes of nazism with the deserved conviction. For the first time in history an international sentencing of communism crimes is taking place. Thus, we can consider the adoption of the PACE Resolution a historical moment, at least in theory. The rejection of the Recommendation does not mean that its provisions will not be applied in the countries in which the administrations will have the political will of dissociating themselves from the communist past. How and by whom – we will see further on.
If this debate had taken place two weeks or two months before (so before the debates in Strasbourg), I would have structured my lecture based on three questions and their answers.
1) What are the ways to be followed in making a trial of communism?
a. legal; b. political; c. cultural-moral.
a. The legal approach, of Nürnberg type, foreseen (or better said regretted) by Vladimir Bukovski, was not applied in any of the communist countries. Bukovski accuses the Western politicians of having a much more lenient attitude to the communist criminals of the Cold War than to the it had to Nazi criminals, judged for war crimes. The Russian dissident states that this tolerance allowed persons from the second row of Nomenklatura to hold key-positions in certain countries, disguised by advocates of the rule of law (and of human rights). However if we want to find a few examples of legal trials, we could think of the Târgoviºte trial of the Ceauºescu’s and the CPEX trial in 1990, continuing with the Todor Jivkov trial, the Krenz or Mielke trial, but they seem atypical to me, either through the lack of legality (the first), or through tergiversation and dilution (the others). The trials of those that repressed the 1989 Revolution were lost in the sands of transition.
I could however say that within the fight for power among the different groups and factions, a condemnation of the communism crimes was done in Romania, paradoxically, by the communists themselves. Teohari Georgescu and in 1968 Alexandru Drãghici were investigated and condemned by the party, by certain commissions set up on purpose; but Gheorghiu-Dej and Ceauºescu respectively wanted to make these disclosures especially as regarded the killing of certain communists by other communists, the purpose being propaganda or a political scuffle (getting rid of the responsibility of their own crimes or getting rid of a rival).
b). The political trial of communism (in the real sense of the word) was done in several countries and in different periods.
In Germany, shortly after the unification in December 1991, a law was voted regarding the access to the documents of the former poltical police, namely STASI, from the former GRD. This model, finalized through the well known Gauck Office, “for the study of the STASI documents”, was followed, sooner or later – by other Eastern-European states, the difference being that they needed more courage, because they did not have an elder sister to protect their action, as GRD had.. I will go through the evolutions of a few countries (using a study of the researcher Petruska Sustrova, presented at the Sighet Summer School in 2005).
In November 1991, in Czechoslovakia was adopted the so-called Law of Purification (purification being a superior step than the simple consultation of files), law that was forbidding that important positions in the state administration be taken by the following categories of persons: former employees of the secret police, secret collaborators of this police, former dignitaries of the Communist Party, members of the “Popular Militia” (volunteer paramilitary organization), graduates of the KGB school in Moscow or those who followed an internship of more than three months there. The motivation of this decision relied in the fear that high state offices could be taken by people related to the Russian secret services, that could be blackmailed. The so-called purification certificates are issued by the Ministry of Interior. A similar law was concurrently voted in the Estonian Parliament.
Th purification law in Poland, promulgated later on, towards the end of the ’90, approached especially the moral problem. According to this law, the candidate for a high ranking office was obliged to present his own declaration, that would specify if in the past he collaborated with the secret services. In case the Office for Human Rights Defence discovered that the declaration had been false, its author would be sent to trial and could be sentenced to prison.
None of these documents however raised the issue of the publication of secret services documents. Only later on, politicians in the former Central-European communist countries agreed to the idea that the public might – or maybe even should- be advised of the contents of the files of the former secret police. In December 1998, the Parliament of Poland adopted the Law regarding the setting up of the National Memory Institute (http://ipn.gov.pl), that was supposed to take over not only the documents of the former police in Poland, but also all the documents regarding the crimes against the Polish people during 1 September 1939 – 31 December 1989. It thus refers to the Nazi and Soviet crimes committed during the war and to the crimes and communist repression during the Polish Popular republic. It is worth mentioning that the National Memory Institute comprises 80 kilometers of current meters of archive documents (where 1 meter represents approximately 10.000 A4 pages, vertically arranged, one next to the other). The total volume of the documents of the Institute represents approximately one third of the State Archives, however the funds were gathered little by little during an entire millenium.
The Polish Institute has thousands of employees and also a Commission with the purpose of investigating each concrete crime against the Polish people, having its own prosecutors that are capable of taking the causes to court. Besides, an Office for the access to documents and for their archiving, as well as an Office for popularization are functioning within the Institute and are ensuring the publication of a magazine and of an important number of other publications. On the other hand, the access of the public to the archived documents is quite limited, since, according to the law in force, only the victims of repressions or their inheritans may study those materials and only those regarding them directly.
By skimming the Polich press, we quickly realize that the present attitude must change. The media is publishing almost daily news according to which a certain politician might have collaborated with the communist secret police. In this situation, many of the politicians of Poland have agreed that the only way to stop such defamations would be to allow every interested person to have access to these information.
As regards Slovakia, the Parliament has adopted the Law regarding the setting up of the National Memory Institute in August 2002. In the preamble of this law it is noted that the deputies voted it, among other things, because they were aware of the “obligation of the state to reveal the secret activities of the repressive bodies during the period of freedom deprivation (1939 – 1989) and to establish the responsibility for having subjugated the country, for murders, ensalving, robbing and humiliation, for the moral and economical decline, accompanied by judicial crimes and terror directed against the representatives of different opinions, as well as for the responsibility for having killed the traditional principles of the property law, for having abused education, science and culture for political and ideological purposes.”
The site of the National Memory Institute in Slovakia (http://www.upn.gov.sk) contains the registries with the list of files drawn up by the secret services. Besides these, the site contains the list of members of this association. Similar in many aspects to the Polish law, the Slovak law does not allow the publication by the Institute of the files contents. Only the person having requested a concrete file has the right to do so. In Slovakia, like in Poland, only the person that was followed by the political police or his/her inheritants have the right of access to the file. So, in Slovakia historians, journalists or just researchers or citizens willing to study hidden aspects of the communist repressions have to appeal to the help of those having the right to read the files.
In the Czech Republic, the situation has dramatically changed in 2005. A new law concerning the archives entered into force, thus the public having access not only to all the documents drawn up by the former secret police, but also to those drawn up by the state bodies and the organizations of the former National Front (under the communist regime, the National front gathered all the political and public organizations). In Czech Republic, the problem is treated differently than in Poland or in Slovakia. It is true that the law ensures almost full access to the archive materials, however from the technical point of view the access is quite complicated and it is done through a small office of the Ministry of Interior. On the other hand, the materials are still the property of this Ministry. In mid 2005, a public meeting took place in the Senate of the Czech Republic that debated the issue of setting up a memory institute similar to those in Poland or Slovakia.
It is worth noticing that the preamble of the Slovak law regarding the National Memory Institute is stating the exact sense and purpose of opening the archives of the former political police, with a paraphrase of Santayana: “The one who doesn’t know his past, is meant to live it again. No illegal action of the state against the citizens can be hidden under the excuse of being secret, and it should also not be forgotten”.
Finally, thanking Mr. Sustrova for this summary of the situation in four Central-European countries (we will also publish it in the collection of studies of the Sighet Summer School) (*2), we shall come back to the situation in Romania. On 11 March 1990, the Timiºoara Proclamation was launching through the well-known “point 8” an invitation to the old nomenklatura and secret services members to not stand for the approaching elections, because “the Revolution was not done for a group of privileged ones”. This desideratum, in fact the nucleus of a purification law, previous to the Czech model was one of the principles invoked during the weeks of meetings in the University Square in Bucharest. The disparagement campaign initiated by NSF and the secret services brought about the cancelling of the point 8 and later on the miners riot took place in June the same year. In 1993, Senator C. Ticu Dumitrescu launched a motion in the Parliament of Romania and in 1996 a bill regarding the disclosure of the secret police members that resulted only in December 1999 in the setting up of the NCSSSA (National Council for the Study of the Secret Services Archives), but the law was amputated and deformed until it became unoperational. During the same years, George ªerban, the author of the Timiºoara Proclamation and the same C. Ticu Dumitrescu launched purification bills but they were rejected by the legislative Council before getting to the Chambers.
After several years in which those who sabotaged the Purification Law from the start pretended it was too late to pass it, a group of Parliamentaries of the current governmental coalition launched a new project. The result: a new rejection, this time in the legal Commission of the Senate.
In December 2005, the Institute for the Investigation of the Crimes of Communism in Romania was set up through a government decision and is still being organized and which we wish more success than the NCSSSA had. Unfortunately, the activity of the institute will depend, as it happenend for NCSSSA, on the availability of archives. According to Recommendation 13 from 2000 of the same Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the communication of these archives is mandatory!
Finally, in the same category of sentencing of communism crimes we could mention the recent declaration of the Latvian Seim (Parliament) that condemns the Ribbentrop – Molotov Agreement and pretends compensations from the Russian occuppants for the damages produced during the Soviet occupation. The Declaration, repeated in the other Baltic states, as well as in Poland was voted on 12 May 2005, only a few days before President Bush had made a similar declaration on his way to the aniversary parade in Moscow.
c). The next question is what has been done in Romania for a trial of communism through cultural means? My opinion is that although the political class was generally indifferent to the trial of communism (in this sense see the total dumbness of Romanian parliamentaries in Strasbourg the other days, that is part of a programmed indolence), the civil society was extremely present, much more present than in other countries. There were thousand of books published, whether they are testimonies, or studies on the communist repression and the national resistance. TV series, such as the Memorial of pain by Lucia Hossu-Longin, radio broadcasts and specialized magazines, symposia and conferences as well as a continuous pressure upon the state authorities (whether upon Ministries, Parliament or the President of the country) for disclosing the crimes of communism…unfortunately left without an answer – this is what the Romanian civil society does, without getting tired and discouraged (while the politicians invoke….the lack of interest by the society for these issues and recommend us – in the same style as Ghenadi Ziuganov’s – to look forward and leave the past to historians!). The Resolution voted on 25 January in Strasbourg shows however that there cannot be unity and reconciliation without knowing our past.
Through the achievements of civil society I will recall one whose nature and importance are particularly special, and which is moreover very close to me: the fulfilment by the Civic Academy Foundation of the Sighet Memorial.
The Memorial of the Communism Victims and of the Resistance was started in 1993, after its project was submitted to the same Council of Europe that took it under its aegis. This aegis…this shield, was not a material or financial one, but a moral and political one. The Council defended the Memorial from the attacks from the left or from the right of those who could not conceive that it existed. In the meantime it became an “ensemble of national interest” and it started attracting more and more visitors. Organized on scientifical museum-related principles, on chronological and thematic flows, the museums entirely covers the period of 45 years of communism. It is conceived and achieved by the International Centre for Studies on Communism in Bucharest that gathers material, organizes workshops and documentary symposia, registers oral history (5000 hours of testimonies), publishes five collections of studies and documents (18.000 pages) and prepares the exhibits in each room. Members of the scientifical Council of the centre are Alexandru Zub, ªerban Papacostea, researchers Vladimir Bukovski, Stéphane Courtois, Dennis Deletant, Thomas Blanton, Müller-Enbergs.
Under the guidance of the same Centre of Studies a Summer Schhol is organized each year, whose rector is Stéphane Courtois and where as teachers well-ranked historians and intellectuals take part and through a taugh contest taking place each year, 100 pupils from Romania and Republic of Moldavia are admitted. During one week out of the pupils-teacher discussion a fervent and at the same time deeply scientifical work spirit is shaped. It is a way of passing the floor to the young generation, that, despite the opinions of the skeptical ones that think it is capable only of entertainment of leaving the country, prove being exemplary mature.
Another important achievement of the Centre of Studies is an exhibition about the Cold War (that will be varnished in May, in Sighet and then taken to four Eastern-European countries) and a Census of the concentrationary population, achieved through statistical-informatical means on 93 000 incarceration fiches existing in our archives. When published as a book, it will be the most objective analytical instrument regarding the dimensions and proportions of the Romanian gulag, that we appreciate it had up to two million direct victims.
For its scientifical objectivity, for the lack of improvisation, of exhibitionism or propaganda the Sighet Memorial was very positively evaluated during a meeting that took place in Weimar, that gathered researchers and museologists from all Eastern-European countries. In 1998 the Council of Europe placed it on one of the first three places, together with the Auschwitz Memorial and the Memorial of Peace in France.
And because we are at the Conferences of the “Cuvântul” magazine, I will not be modest this time also and I will say that the Sighet Summer School was declared in 2004 “The Organization of the Year” within the “Cuvântul” prizes.
And in the end, in order to avoid abusing these pro domo confessions – that are however only a case study for the activity of the civil society, outrunning the politicians’ one, – I want to tell you that, as regards the document voted in 25 January in Strasbourg, I remain optimist.
A lot of points from the rejected Reommendation were already achieved by the civil society in Romania, while the text of the approved Resolution represents a guarantee and an urge in itself for our politicians to take the initiatives it foresees. (*3). If there is desire, will, but also science, the Resolution can be applied without the Recommendation. If all these had not existed, the Recommendation would have been applied, even if it had been voted.
As a conclusion, to be fervent, I will finish with a phrase of Gheorghe Brãtianu, one of the Romanian historians that died for the truth of his works: “Truth conquers, no matter what the destiny of those who served it is”.
- “Bukovski in Sighet, Civic Academy Foundation, Bucharest, 2002, pp. 50-53.
- “School of Memory 2005” (to be released)
- After this conference, I found out that the Romanian minister of Foreign Affairs, Mihai-Rãzvan Ungureanu expressed in its intervention held on 26 January at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Romania’s availability of hosting an international conference on the theme of crimes commited by communist regimes. Will this conference be held? And if it will be, wouldn’t the Sighet Memorial be the best place for it to be held?