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Against its original purposes, the Romanian Securitate Archive  is used now by regular citizens to access their family’s past.  Oana Lungescu published a documentary on BBC about  State Secrets with very good examples of  Romanian Securitate legacy.

Here is a short piece from the article about the terrible family history of Ioana Voicu Arnautoiu and the way she recovered it.

“A concert violinist, she was born in a cave in the Carpathian mountains. Her parents were partisans, part of a small desperate band that resisted the communist takeover in the 1950s.They held out for nine years – surviving sometimes on boiled bark – before the Securitate hunted them down.

Now it is the Securitate’s own records that are revealing Ioana’s family history, in 85 thick files and a collection of black-and-white photographs.

One shows her mother climbing out of the cave and going down a ladder, carrying baby Ioana under one arm like a doll.

Before her father was executed, the Securitate took a last photograph of his gaunt face, with dark, haunted eyes. Her mother died later in prison.

Ioana was spared. Aged two, she was taken to an orphanage and adopted by a loving family. She grew up without knowing who she really was – until Communism fell and the archives opened.

Her story might be unbelievable – if the Securitate had not archived everything so thoroughly.” (Oana Lungescu- Romania Securitate legacy 20 years after revolution)

Lungescu raises interesting questions about the role Securitatea had in documenting life during Communism. The State had to know everything and now, people have access, at least in part, to what the State knew of them.  Ioana Voicu Arnautoiu says in the documentary that she is thinking about putting her family history into a book. Working on such books is a needed exercise for Romanian society. Even though affecting individuals this drama was felt by the whole society and Securitate practices combined with the lack of information channels changed our information habits.

Many are still amazed by the way people chose to act even though they have freedom to be informed and access to information. People that worked on the case of  Ioana Voicu Arnautoiu parents could, presumably, be  successful business men nowadays (as is the case with the Securitate person that had Herta Muller, the Nobel prize winner in literature, under observation). One needs to take a step back and notice the destines that, even though shared the same geographical space,  were parallel  as long the State was not “in danger”.

What the evil library did was to document those intersections.  Looking back at these documents can help us figure out where and why deviations in behaviors took place. That would help understand the current “informed” decision Romanians make and how they can be helped to take part succesfuly in the global Information Society.

How do you see the library in  the future?

On the short term reading and the public library will continue their existence in the same way, they will not become new stars on the sky of Romanian people’s activities, nor will they suffer devastating loses. Library will have its public and people will continue to read in a rather modest manner. The far future is forbidden for me. I can only speculate and I do not want to do that.

I translated this fragment from an interview given by a librarian that works in a public library in Romania. If read carefully, a number of issues that Romanian librarians face (or ignore) are present.

Can you imagine going to work everyday believing that  future of your library is forbidden for you? So much so that you don’t  dare to speak up about, at least,  the mission that you believe the library should assume or the need to support education no matter what…

“The forward movement of Eastern Europe should be evaluated not only for its ability to modernize political and economical structures, but also for its ability to clarify the recent history of these scarred societies, and to direct them toward the full truth. This is not an easy task, and it is first and foremost the task of intellectuals, not politicians. But our future is premised on the quality, on the probity, of our understanding of the past”

This is the final of an article written by Norman Manea and published in 1998 in the New Republic. I found the article today in a faxed paper from Vladimir Tismaneanu to Andrei Codrescu. The paper was enclosed in a 2003 book from the Codrescu collection that I was cataloging. All three of them were living in US at that time but they were(and are) thinking about the well being of Romania.

In 2000 The Romanian Institute for Recent History was created and its mission resemblance the Manea’s call. Their web page however is not updated and there is not much information online about their recent activities. Nevertheless a different organization, the Institute for Investigation  of Communism Crimes is very active: have different projects and publications. There is a clear sign that things started to move in a good direction. What trace they will leave remains to be seen. I like the fact that they “investigate” and that they accept students as volunteers.

Bucharest … I cannot say I miss it but it is part of me: 

“I can say, though, that every conversation I had in Bucharest, even the most casual, circled back to the old days, so that I sometimes felt that they ended much more recently than 18 years ago. And the physical aspect of Bucharest confirms this impression.[…]The architecture is a jumble of late-19th-century Hapsburg-style villas and gray socialist apartment blocks, some showing signs of renovation, others looking as if they had fallen under the protection of some mad Warsaw Pact preservation society.”

A.O. Scott  New Wave on the Black Sea, New York Times 

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