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February 26, 2021

“Love your enemies!”

A quarter of a century was needed for the former head of a penitentiary to be put on trial in post-communist Romania. The explanation is simple: the success of Ion Iliescu’s political creation – a party of the masses, based on efficient political clientele and on heterogeneous and flexible ideology that knew how to capitalize on diffuse complicities in relation to the communist past. Thus, the strategy of delaying asserted itself: archives opened with tardiness and partially, the prolonged rejection of the lustration principle, the judiciary’s disinterest in legally ambiguous cases because of the lack of a legislation to match. Since putting a former “prison camp boss” on trial is equivalent to radically questioning the legitimacy of the former regime and to influencing the current ideological conflict that is sufficiently intricate as it is, it is not difficult to imagine the pressure of these brakes.

After all, if the Western public opinion tipped the scales against the communist world in the 1970s that was due to facing the reality of the Gulag, denounced by Solzhenitsyn more convincingly than others. In a world in which the Mayor of New York is asked to resign just because he dropped a groundhog from his hands, causing injuries that resulted in quick death, to talk about the regime of slavery and extermination in a communist prison camp cannot be an inconsequential gesture. There was background hypocrisy of totalitarian regimes: just like the Nazis hid the extermination of the Jews and the gas chambers as much as they could, similarly the communists denied the true character of the prison camps and labor colonies. For the simple reason that they shock common human sensitiveness and are tolerated (and possibly justified) solely in the name of complicities in favor of the regime. “The enemies of the regime have to be severely punished” – this is how the justifications sounded, because most had correctly inferred that without the Securitate’s goons the benefits offered by the regime were at risk of being lost. Just like in the case of Nazism, the dialectic of complicities was essential for the regime’s evolution. And the “silence” in the face of atrocities (that were at any rate known apart from the official propaganda) strengthened social cohesion, efficiently paralyzing countless moral consciences.
The case of Alexandru Visinescu, the head of the penitentiary in Ramnicu Sarat, cannot be tried solely from the perspective of individual responsibility. His biography is eloquent in this sense: in repeated cases his abuses (that concerned not only extremely violent treatment applied to political prisoners, but that were also rounded by corruption, incompetence and authoritarianism) were “forgiven” by the authorities and his career continued on an upward trend. Which confirms the decisive role played by this human type in the construction of “socialism.” But let us not be hasty with characterizations. It is easy to simplify: human beings with low intellectual qualities, with significant moral shortcomings, possibly with sadistic instincts – briefly put some brutes ideal to be used as merciless torturers capable of unscrupulously and unremorsefully torturing and killing. To portray them like this would mean that the regime solely selected from among society’s dregs the instruments for its dirty work, in order not to soil its hands alone. It means to stress the separation between the regime’s shadowy areas and the areas of “daily life,” not devoid of accomplishments and at any rate within the limits of “normal” society. Any regime is polyphonic, so that we can also doubt the contrary position according to which prison camps symbolically represent the essence of the regime, being the heart that pumps throughout society the blood of repressive activities. Such a perspective simplifies in its turn, because it homogenizes responsibilities in a certain sense. Guilty was not solely the “ideologue” that corrupted minds with deceiving ideals, nor solely the politician that designed the architecture of the regime, nor solely the torturer that tortured with his own hands, nor solely the writer who was embellishing the reality and putting consciences to sleep. It was a symphony of guilt, in which the reactions to the others’ “scores” were often decisive – a diabolical dialectic of collaboration in such a pretentious project. The essential issue concerns the ethical substance of politics: is history more than a battlefield in which winners suppress or reduce to slavery (even in ideologically masked forms) the surviving enemies? Maybe that is why the Evangelical message remains always so subversive and scandalous: “love your enemies!” An imperative that Christians themselves have broken much too often, implicitly bequeathing to communists a first totalitarian blueprint and an ambiguous pathos of excluding those that cannot be assimilated. However, it is not enough “to forgive but not to forget.” You have to give prestige to certain “judgments” (that do not rule out a dose of injustice), both ideologically and juridically. Publicly assumed as the landmarks of political refreshment, such “judgments” are not just making amends with the past. They can represent the awaited vertebras for a society that often seems, at the level of moral energies, that it is still only crawling.

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