Romania prepares a law that recovers the denunciation practices of the communist era | International

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The specter of the dreaded Securitate, the secret police of the communist regime that fueled a climate of fear and paranoia, once again haunts Romanian society. More than three decades after the execution of satrap Nicolae Ceausescu, a draft of a set of national security laws has revived his terrible legacy by establishing the obligation that any citizen will have to inform on others if requested by the intelligence services. This is a very controversial measure for this Eastern European country that experienced almost half a century of denunciation practices instigated by public authorities. Neighbors, close friends and even people from the same family reported each other.

Now, against the background of the war in neighboring Ukraine, the package of 10 laws drawn up by the espionage agencies, the Romanian Information Service (SIE) and the Foreign Information Service (SIE), with the approval of the president, the Conservative Klaus Iohannis, and the coalition government between Liberals and Social Democrats, gives more power to the intelligence services. The text, revealed at the beginning of the month by the news portal g4media.ro, establishes new provisions that are now on the table of the Executive and that must be examined by Parliament.

The precept that has set off the most alarms has been the obligation established for any person to cooperate in secret; that is, giving away would become an obligation through a simple request from the secret services. The revelation of the draft caused the anger of Iohannis, who avoided giving explanations about the content, but he did censor the leak, considering it “a big mistake”. And he added: “People are worried.” To try to calm things down, the Romanian president assured: “No one wants to restore the old Securitate.” His message, which alluded to the controversial secret police that acted during the communist era, included a subtle attack on press freedom, which has been denounced by the media outlet that announced the draft and by more than a dozen organizations. . Among them is Reporters Without Borders, which lamented that “Iohannis has threatened the press and sources who have revealed a controversial secret service bill.”

Warning signs about the consequences of this legislation come from various affected groups. “Romania is on the way to becoming a military state; this bill is the work of the information services, not the legislature,” explains Dan Tapalaga, a journalist at g4media.ro, as well as underlining: “The secret services have committed an illegality by drafting a bill that should be drawn up by the Government with the advice, of course, of the specialists of these institutions”. It also questions “how a simple publication of an illegal draft law could become a threat to national security.”

In addition to consecrating this work of informants for all citizens, the project stipulates that the secret services are no longer required to report on the funds used for the operations they carry out. Also that they can participate in economic activities without any control by the legislative power and that they are only investigated by espionage agents endorsed only by the head of state. In this way, the secret services would no longer be accountable to Parliament and, in addition, the list of threats to national security would be significantly extended. “Removing the secret services from parliamentary control and increasing their powers along with presidential prerogatives poses serious problems regarding democracy in Romania,” says Cristian Pirvulescu, dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest. . “It is about the impunity of the information services, which would become a caste with many privileges and with greater possibilities of controlling society,” continues the political scientist.

Two weeks after the content was known, the director of the Romanian Information Service, Eduard Hellvig, came to the fore to try to reduce the controversy, although he refused to discuss the provisions and avoided assuming responsibility. “I will comment on the content of the laws only when they have been adopted in the legislative process, which will include a public consultation and in which the SRI has only an advisory role,” said Hellvig, who sought to divert his participation in the draft by denouncing alleged interests. of a group that aims to create an artificial conflict between segments of society and state institutions.

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In response to the new laws, civil organizations accuse espionage agencies of excessive influence. As an example, they point to the dismissal of a well-known communicator, Cristian Tudor Popescu, from the Digi24 television network, after he harshly criticized these legal initiatives. The political analyst affirmed that “the only party in power [en referencia al Gobierno] wants to have the intelligence services in his hand as a tool” and pointed out that these laws aim to “return to the SRI the fundamental function of the Securitate”, which consisted of “controlling the mood and opinion of the masses, identifying and cutting off by the jugular the currents contrary to the regime”.

In the Romania of the “Genius of the Carpathians”, as Ceausescu liked to call himself, the Securitate recruited up to half a million informants from the then 22 million inhabitants. “There are anti-democratic elements that refer us to Putinist Russia or Orbanist Hungary, at the same time that they distance us from the West,” concludes the political scientist Pirvulescu.

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