Interview with Dan Lazea: "The total exposure of those who became political police is not possible anymore"
WSN: When was the National Council for the Study of the Former Communist Secret Service Archive (CNSAS) founded and what is its objective?
DAN LAZEA: At the end of 1999, the parliament passed the Ticu bill, named after Constantin Dumitrescu, a former detainee and a member of parliament who initiated the law on the disclosure of the Securitate as a political police and on access to Securitate files. The CNSAS came into existence right after the approval of Law No. 187 in 1999.
At first, Ticu Dumitrescu denied having created this law, which ended up being so amputated that he barely recognized it. However, he later changed his opinion and now insists that the law even in its modified form is a step forward, even with all the errors and distortions that blended into the legislative process.
The first 11 members of the College of the Council were appointed by the parliament in March 2000 with a 6-year mandate. The institution as a whole had a 6-year mandate that expired in December 2005. Nonetheless, its activity has been prolonged for a further 6 years through an emergency regulation. In addition, the terms of the College members will either come to an end or they will be reconfirmed to their positions by parliament in March 2006. Some of my colleagues and I are the exceptions, since we were appointed by parliament in June 2005 for 6 years.
WSN: How many people are working presently for CNSAS?
DL: I do not have a precise number, but most likely around 200 people, from drivers to secretaries, assistants, individuals who work for the investigation and technical department, etc.
WSN: How did you end up working in this institution?
DL: From 2001 – 2005, I cooperated with the parliamentary group of the Democrat Party (PD) from the Deputy Chamber. On a practical level, I have done some expertise work in various fields, from human rights to educational policies and the labor code. I have worked with the present Minister Barbu (Gheorghe Barbu, Minister of Labor, Social Solidarity and Family) who back then was a member of the parliamentary commission for labor.
Afterwards, I received a scholarship to study abroad for a year. Meanwhile, Andrei Plesu (historian and former government minister) and another person resigned from CNSAS. I have been nominated for one of the two open positions based on several criteria. The law says that a person cannot be appointed, not even nominated if he/she is or has been a member of a political party. I have never been a member of a political party, but I was known in political circles due to my work as an expert and also due to my philosophical interest in issues related to the national memory and the necessity of recovering the past. On the other hand, the fact that I taught a course at the university on Romanian political institutions also carried some weight.
It took the parliament 8 months of deliberations until they validated my nomination. In June 2005, I was appointed a member of CNSAS.
WSN: What are the stipulations of Law No. 187/1999? Some say that the law should have been clearer. Can it be said that the law has some good parts and some less good parts? If so, what are these?
DL: The stipulations of Law No. 187 can be divided in two main categories. On the one hand, there are the provisions referring to access to the file, and the assumption is that in this case it is a file of informative pursuance.
One of the missions of CNSAS is to inform the civil society about the status of being an agent or collaborator of the Securitate, of let’s say, the candidates to the presidential chair, the members of the parliament, members of the government, mayors, other public servants up to the level of being a dean or rector in a university.
For some high-ranking positions, investigation is a must. The investigations can be suspended only if those respective individuals renounce their jobs. An inquiry can be opened at request for less important public positions.
There is another part that is strictly related to the research realm; journalists, academics or other professionals from outside the institution can obtain access to the archives of the Council, if they are granted credentials.
The vagueness of the law refers to the basic functions of the institution, like the operating structure of the board that administrates CNSAS.
The initial law was later completed by a decision of the parliament, called organizational and functioning regulations (ROF) of CNSAS. The mode of voting, the decision making process, etc. are still extremely unclear and has at times caused clashes and frictions between the members of the College and between CNSAS and other institutions, like the holders of the archives.
The law does not specify a clear date when CNSAS should take over the archives from the intelligence services. It mentions that the process should take place in the shortest possible time. However, after 6 years the institution mandate was prolonged but it still does not have possession of all the archives of the Securitate.
In 1989, the Securitate’s archives were taken over by SRI (mainly the files concerning the internal surveillances), SIE (Foreign Intelligence Service) and the army intelligence. Some of these files are now in the custody of CNSAS.
There is now a proposition made by a group of parliament members of the National Liberal Party (PNL) that seeks to solve some of the legal difficulties.
WSN: How long do you think the CNSAS will continue to exist as a public institution? Is there a limit of years?
DL: My opinion is that CNSAS as an institution will continue to be around for as long as it can justify its activity. The mandate has been prolonged for 6 more years because so far we did not have the object of our work, namely the archives.
On the other hand, there were several special laws through which CNSAS was given additional duties (functions) that were not part of the initial Law No. 187.
A novelty appears within Law No. 247/2005. This law has three parts, and one of them refers to judicial reform, and here CNSAS plays a very important role. Basically, CNSAS has to verify all the magistrates and civil servants who work for the superior bodies within the legal system. An inquiry undertaken by CNSAS is meant to reveal all the aspects of their cooperation (if any) as an informer, collaborator or agent of the Securitate. This is closer to the initial spirit of the Ticu law.
The CNSAS will most likely require at least another mandate.
WSN: Did the CNSAS answer to the expectations of public opinion? Specifically, in the last 6 years did it facilitate access to files of those kept on observation by the Securitate? Moreover, can the CNSAS fully expose those who were part of the political police?
DL: The access to one’s own file was achieved with great difficulty. The necessary dossiers were not in the custody of CNSAS, and over the years there was a fierce fight to obtain the archives from the intelligence services.
The situation went so far that the CNSAS actually functioned as a public relations office. It took the requests, and it has further addressed them to SRI, SIE or any other holder of the archives. Then, all we could do was wait. Sometimes we waited for months to see if there was a dossier on a respective person. If such a dossier did exist, then we had to go through other procedures in order to recover the respective dossier, or parts of it.
In some situations we received negative answers from the archive holders - once, twice - and if we had continued to press, the third or the fourth time was a charm, because it appeared that the particular person in question did have a dossier. Evidently, these issues put under a question mark some of CNSAS official communiqués regarding a person, or another. When we receive a negative response, we always wonder whether or not we have been told the truth.
This problem will only be completely removed when all archives become the possession of CNSAS, as should have happened from the very beginning.
Nonetheless, where there is a dossier and we agree that it is a matter of the political police, there is no room left to speculate. After all, the final result comes after a serious investigation, and the result is based on solid evidence.
SRI began the handover operation in December (2005), but there are suspicions related to the method in which it has unwound the activity of the mixed commissions.
WSN: What is a mixed commission?
DL: The law stipulates that if SRI does not hand over some documents to CNSAS out of concern that they could affect national security, then a mixed commission should be formed, comprised of two CNSAS representatives and two SRI representatives. This commission has to decide from case to case, from one dossier to another if it remains in SRI’s custody or if it goes to CNSAS, partly or entirely. If the commission cannot come to the same conclusion, the CSAT - (the Supreme Council for State Security) has to intervene and arbitrate the situation.
In a matter of months these mixed commissions sustain that they have sorted approximately 8 km of dossiers, and that the problem of the archives is therefore solved; what pertains to national security stayed with SRI, and the rest came to CNSAS. The rhythm of these mixed commissions and the way they have actually acted remains unknown to this day, and here we can raise few legitimate questions. However, from the SRI point of view, the procedure went well, and there is nothing else to add. From now on, we will not address any more requests to SRI when we need a dossier. We will look for it in our database. It is hard to talk about a total exposure of those who became political police, but at least we get some bits of the truth, a glimpse of the whole image.
WSN: During the years, there were members of CNSAS who accused Gheorghe Onisoru, Chairman of the Council, of obstructing the mission of the College to publish the names of Securitate’s employees who may be still active in the SRI (Romanian Intelligence Service) or in other intelligence structures. Basically, Onisoreu was suspected of conspiring with the intelligence services to keep important dossiers hidden. How do you comment this?
DL: It is difficult to find a justification in the papers, in the documents related to the accusations made against Onisoru. The cases of cover-ups, especially when an intelligence service is involved are hard to prove. The speculations are based on various correlations of facts and events. In all these years, Onisoru has passed from one group to another, from one camp of the CNSAS to another. What brought attention to these accusations was the visible closeness of Onisoru to SRI; namely, there were several common-signed communiqués that could have been written differently if CNSAS had had a steadier position. It is also worth mentioning that there was a lack of protest when we had different answers, or vague responses from SRI in the case of the same dossier.
Moreover, when CNSAS received electronic evidence made by SRI instead of the card index that is an essential instrument of research and verification created by the Securitate, there again was no reaction from the College chairman. CNSAS should have received the original documents of the Securitate, papers, files, dossiers, etc. that contained lots of information and important side notes. We have received several floppy disks containing first and family names and the number of the dossier or dossiers. I want to emphasize that CNSAS received documents produced by SRI.
The law says that the intelligence services must hand over all the documents of the Securitate - documents, the card index and the microfilms - in their original form to CNSAS.
Regarding the microfilms, again Onisoru agreed with SRI that it is a technical issue, and this is why the CNSAS cannot get them. The technical issue consists of the fact in addition to the normal, standard files on microfilm rolls there can also be photocopies of dossiers that concern national security. But with a little good will and interest, the SRI has had 6 years of time to cut up the microfilms.
As for the dossiers handed over by SRI, (and by the other services as well) there were cases where we received dossiers missing several files. It is difficult to say who has embezzled the dossiers. Explications can be found, and not all are related to the interest of a certain individual or individuals in preventing CNSAS from gaining access to crucial information.
The Securitate used to destroy documents after a while, especially the annex folders (portfolios) that are extremely important. In this context, it is difficult to accuse SRI or any other archive holder so long as we do not have a clear inventory of the Securitate initial dossiers.
On the other hand, the intelligence can sustain that mixed commissions have pulled out certain parts of the dossiers officially, and then it is good that we can still receive some of it. Speculations can always be made, and there are always individuals interested in compromising their political opponents, depending on which party is ruling the country, who is ruling the various intelligence services, so on, so forth. But in the end, no one can deny that such maneuverings look suspicious.
WSN: Is the activity of CNSAS supported by the present political class? Furthermore, would you say that the post-revolution political class has shown a constant interest in shedding some light on the activities of the Securitate?
DL: I do not think that in Romania we can talk about a unitary political class. That being said, I cannot help but notice a correlation between the structure of the parliament in various legislations and the activity or the lack of activity of the CNSAS.
The law was voted in during the 1996 - 2000 mandate; it is far from being perfect, but Ticu Dumitrescu, its main promoter, did not find any support before the Romanian Democratic Convention (CDR) alliance won the elections in 1996.
The institution was blocked during the 2000 - 2004 legislation period by the absenteeism of the Social Democratic Party (PSD ) representatives within the CNSAS. The prolonged absenteeism has endangered the very existence of the institution. At that time, there was a parliamentary commission that struggled very hard to destroy CNSAS. It took a visible and energetic protest of the civil society materialized by a human chain around the parliament building to save CNSAS.
After the 2004 elections, everyone can see an improvement of the normative case, not only through legislative proposals, but also through Law No. 247 that I mentioned earlier. This law is meant to be one of the main pillars of the so much needed reform of the justice system and it is widely supported by the Minister of Justice, Monica Macovei. Also, President Basescu is the first president to actually put into practice legal stipulations regarding the handing over of the archives. In February, in the first meeting of CSAT (the Supreme Council for National Security) after the elections, President Basescu established a deadline (until the end of the year) for the SRI to hand over the archives to CNSAS.
In this context, my only shadow of doubt regards the activity of the mixed commissions, but that is not a prerogative of the president. The current director of SRI is the one named by the old legislature; the CNSAS Chairman, Onisoru, was a good friend of the old legislature. If there are flaws in putting the CSAT decision into practice, we cannot blame the President.
It is clear that throughout the 1990s, the issue of exposing the Securitate was raised by the so-called intellectual right, and after 2004 by the Truth and Justice (DA) Alliance. At the same time, these issues have always been rejected and sabotaged by the PSD (Social Democrat Party) and PRM (Greater Romania Party) – and both parties had an interest in eliminating the CNSAS.
WSN: This is an exercise of imagination, so let's pretend that those who were political police are totally exposed. What would the impact be on the Romanian civil and political society?
DL: The total exposure of those who became political police is not possible anymore; thus, I find it problematic to think about the impact of such a phenomenon. However, even after so many years, the tiny bits of truth we have uncovered are welcomed. Without these small pieces we would continue to deplore the long transition of the 1990s, and we deserve a moral reparation. Also, these pieces of the puzzle help us to better understand how Romanian capitalism has been built. After the revolution, the former comrades were the only ones who had the necessary means and information to support the emergence of a capitalist trend in Romania. By comrades, I am thinking not of the Securitate informers, but rather of its high-ranking officers who knew what capitalism is and how to deal with the major changes of the 1990s.
WSN: If there is anything else you would like to add, please feel free to do so.
DL: Actually, I do want to add something. It is a thought related to the upcoming CNSAS elections: At the end of the day, irrespective of the changes that might occur through the provisions of Law No. 187, it will still be put into practice by the 11 members of the College. The letter as well as the spirit of the law matter equally. Also, I want to emphasize the importance of the fact that decisions made by members of CNSAS actually influence many destinies. Each decision we have taken in terms of political police will not remain without consequences.
My point is that while the text of the law is essential, so are the people who will transform it into action. Those who will make the nominations in March should think back to the 2000 – 2004 experience and assume that representatives that will not slow down, or obstruct in any possible way CNSAS activity.
On 22 February 2006 the Romanian government has passed an ordinance, which improves the Ticu law (187), and it is likely to permit Ticu Dumitrescu to accede to the highest position within CNSAS.