Spy kids

Huge flap in Romania this week, as it’s been revealed that the Communist-era secret police recruited children to spy on parents and classmates.

This should come as no surprise. Nicolae Ceaucescu was a creepy little thug, and his Securitate were the scum of the earth. If you can think of a sleazy, evil activity, there’s a good chance Old Nic was into it. Assassinating troublesome Romanians abroad? Absolutely. Torture? Dude, they had training courses. Rewriting history, complete with forged photographs? They had a building full of people for that. You can argue whether Ceausescu was a “Stalinist” or not, but his regime knew all the tricks, and used them.

So, of course they had kids spying on their parents. For everything from Mom’s habit of listening to foreign radio stations to Dad’s jokes about the Ceausescus. While people may not have known this, exactly, it’s not something that should come as a shock.

So why the fuss?

Well, a couple of reasons. One, Romania has been really slow to come to grips with its Communist past. The state archives have been opened only slowly, partially and reluctantly. In large part this is because Ceausescu’s government was creepy, sleazy and evil even by the low standards of Communist Eastern Europe. If you were a high-ranking member of the Communist party in, say, 1980s Hungary, you might still be a basically decent person living a basically decent life. If you were a high-ranking member of the Communist party in 1980s Romania, the chances were good that you were involved in something disgusting. Even if you weren’t, your file would still be full of embarassing information about how you’d abased yourself to the Genius of the Carpathians. (Ceausescu required his subordinates to eat dirt, plenty of it, and smile.) Since the current political leadership of Romania is dominated by people who used to be high-ranking members of the Communist party, it’s not very surprising that the archives haven’t been thrown wide open.

Also, the Securitate was huge. The best guess is that they had 40,000 employees and approximately 700,000 informers. That means one Romanian out of thirty was working for the Securitate. That may not sound like so many, but think it through: even if you weren’t an informer yourself, the odds are pretty good that you had a close family member or dear friend who was. So, again, it’s not surprising that there hasn’t been a rush to open the files.

Yet they have been opening, slowly; and this leads to the second reason. This latest news comes after several interesting revelations from the archives. The biggest one was that Dan Voiculescu — oligarch, media baron, and head of the Conservative party — had worked for the Securitate. The funny thing is, everybody knew this. Voiculescu’s sudden rise to wealth and power, his cryptic past, his authoritarian and secretive habits… every Romanian I ever talked to said, oh yes, Voiculescu was Securitate. But the confirming revelation destroyed his political career overnight.

(N.B., I do not consider this a bad thing. There’s a complicated backstory here involving Voiculescu, Prime Minister Tariceanu, and President Basescu. Short version is, Basescu wants early elections, and so was probably happy to see Tariceanu’s government embarassed.)

A third reason, maybe: there’s a strong sense in Romania that a lot of these issues will disappear with time and generational change. Many of Ceausescu’s inner circle are getting old. Voiculescu was one of the younger players to emerge in 1989-90, and he’s sixty now. Former President Ion Iliescu — who was neck-deep in all sorts of things, but who successfully reinvented himself as the Father of Free Romania — is seventy-six. Year by year, the grave is swallowing the secrets. I think there’s been a strong subliminal sense in Romanian society that, if ignored long enough, the problem of collaboration would simply go away.

But a kid who was 12 in 1989 will only be 29 today.

Romania will join the EU in (glances at calendar) another five and a half months. So maybe It’s good that they’re having this discussion now. Certainly it’s none too soon.

16 thoughts on “Spy kids

  1. “it’s been revealed that the Communist-era secret police recruited children to spy on parents and classmates.”

    I do not remember how, but I already knew this. Probably from some Western documentary I saw years ago. It is indeed good that they start to discuss this, just in case some people there are still pining for those good old times.

  2. It is standard propaganda against totalitarian regime’s. Works very well too because it is what totalitarian regime do and non-totalitarian regimes don’t

  3. Being there, done that– Not in Romania, but Cuba. As a kid (8 or 9yrs old) 30+yrs ago, I made a comment in class, in the news of the day Q&A in the morining, that Agostino Neto -The commie dictator of Ethiopia or Angola – I forget now -had die. He was a big cheese friend of Castro – but Cuban News had not announce it yet. My teachers wanted to known where did I heard it – And I said the Voice of America, they did not beleive me. But at the noon time news service, guess what Cuban News announce it, with all the accompaning b.s..

    Well 3 days later, I got rimmed by my parents, about telling anything to anybody, of what goes on at home – the word of the day was discretion. And they made clear to me, and I understood at that moment that “THEY” were not our friends – by “THEY” I mean the power structure/ school,etc.

    It’s not active spying, is more like manipulation of kids innocence to gain information. This particular incident gave me the experience to see thru and handle correctly other “events” that followed it, until we left the craphole island. At least I knew to be aware…

  4. Just came across this blog. Have the editors heard of Lebanon? How come no articles on a situation that might begin WW3?

  5. Hi, Daniel. I am sure we have all heard of Lebanon. The media are all over it.

    Speaking for myself, I find it hard to add anything to what is already being said elsewhere and, more importantly, I am being swamped by real-life work. Writing a post in and of itself can be done in five minutes. Researching a post and thinking about it, however, takes a bit longer.

    If you are looking for extensive coverage, may I suggest, among others, Juan Cole:

    http://www.juancole.com/

  6. According to the Guardian:Several alleged recruiters were promoted through the ranks of the secret police after 1989, and some brought their young spies to work alongside them when they left school.Romania is also one of the suspected locations for the CIA’s secret prison in eastern Europe. It sounds as if there’d be no shortage of local expertise in interrogations, torture, etc.

  7. Thanks for the reply, Guy. Running a blog can be time consuming. I know.

    It’s just that, we could be witnessing the beginning of WW3 what with nuclear weapons, George and Olmert and all. Mightn’t be any real work or real world either all too soon. Got your address off Barista. His is a little too whimsical for me. I need blood and guts all over the floor.

    I’ll keep checking. You might have something serious soon. Cheers!

  8. My take on the middle east is this. 6.6 Billion people on this planet 1.3 billion (Jews & Muslims) are the retarded troublemakers with their stupid tribalism, which are holding back progress of human civilization.

    Human nature says they will end up nuking each other, which from my point of view will be OK as they take the lower end of the Bell Curve of human evolution, so the rest of us 5.3 billion can concentrate on the future.

    It is sad but it is human nature. Yes, there will be energy shortage and $10 a gallon of gas and economic hardship, and some terrorism, but 20 yrs out will be all better for it. Sort of like a two day case of food poisoning.

  9. My take on the middle east is this. 6.6 Billion people on this planet 1.3 billion (Jews & Muslims) are the retarded troublemakers with their stupid tribalism, which are holding back progress of human civilization.

    Human nature says they will end up nuking each other, which from my point of view will be OK as they take the lower end of the Bell Curve of human evolution, so the rest of us 5.3 billion can concentrate on the future.

    It is sad but it is human nature. Yes, there will be energy shortage and $10 a gallon of gas and economic hardship, and some terrorism, but 20 yrs out will be all better for it. Sort of like a two day case of food poisoning.

  10. I guess we can conclude that Romania won’t nuke anybody. While we are at it, yes Romania retained the capability to build jet fighters?

  11. Funny you should ask, Oliver. No, they can’t build jet fighters any more. (That was one of Ceausescu’s crazy-ass schemes — he wanted to turn Romania into a major power in aviation.)

    However, they do still have a lot of aeronautical engineers floating around, and they have parts factories that are supplying international buyers. They’ve had protracted negotiations with both Airbus and the Russians, although I think these days most of the parts are for smaller planes and helicopters.

    IOW, they do still have a small, but fairly successful, aviation industry. I’m told that the quality of their products is pretty good. At least one factory is still locally owned, too.

    Doug M.

  12. The Secret Prisons thing might be a great new industry for Romania. Only problem is, if it takes off, how do you keep it secret? And how do you advertise it?

  13. We sold Romania the old BAC-111 airliner production line, and they produced quite a lot of them, which are now crashing in various parts of Africa.

  14. My wife tells this story of her German prof at Chico once saying that the best times of his childhood were in the Hitler Youth. They marched around and camped in the woods and played games and sang songs about their wise and good Führer and the supremacy of Germans over Untermenschen.

    I can’t imagine anyone holding this against my wife’s now quite elderly prof. He was in his early teens during the war – what did he know of the larger issues? He had fun with his friends. He certainly expressed no Nazi sympathies as an adult as far as I know. My wife says that his class on contemporary German history certainly did not shrink from or justify the events of the Nazi era.

    In the same sense, I would think it reasonable that people who were mere children, or even young adults of a forgivable age, when the Securitate still held sway in Romania might be let off the hook.

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