Παρασκευή, 18 Δεκεμβρίου 2015

Leninism in the Balkans


Gordon N. Bardos, “Leninism in the Balkans” The National Interest, April 6, 2011

 

The dirty little secret of international engagement in southeastern Europe for the past two decades is that much of it has been guided neither by liberal internationalism, nor Wilsonian idealism, nor the principles of Jeffersonian democracy, but by a much more malign philosophy—Leninist voluntarism. And as the region faces its most severe crisis in more than a decade, the consequences of using Leninist methods to transform the Balkans are becoming painfully apparent.

Vladimir Lenin's major contribution to Marxism was essentially a repudiation of it: in contrast to Marx's central belief that history evolves as material forces and the means of production are transformed, Lenin argued that a small, determined group can change and accelerate the course of history. Leninists took it for granted that their elite vanguard was entitled to disregard "bourgeois" notions of democracy and justice for the sake of some greater good that they themselves had decided upon. For Lenin and his comrades, the ends justified the means.

We know of course how that story ended, and the problems, abuses, and crimes that Lenin and his followers ultimately caused throughout much of the world. Sadly, however, much of our approach to the Balkans is often guided by the same mindset.

Consider Bosnia, for instance. Since 1997, the high representative in the country, an internationally appointed bureaucrat with no democratic legitimacy granted to him by the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has had the right to dismiss freely elected officials from office, overturn decisions made by legitimately elected legislative institutions, impose laws and regulations by fiat, and confiscate both public and private property at his discretion. (Lenin was quite fond of confiscating personal property and assets as well.) Transparency International has gone so far as to say that that the high representative engages in actions which would be considered theft in any Western democracy.

And it doesn't stop there. In one notable instance, a former high representative dismissed some sixty public officials from office and banned them from future engagement in public life, a decision based essentially on hearsay evidence and random accusations made in cafes. They were neither allowed to appeal their dismissals nor to present evidence in their defense. Even Yagoda (Stalin's favorite prosecutor during the Moscow show trials) allowed his accused at least the pretense of a trial. Such judicial tactics are clearly not those of people who sincerely believe in Western conceptions of justice and rule of law, but Leninists by definition are always in a hurry so they have no time to honor the judicial formalities of the decadent West. Such tactics were again used by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, with even more devastating and tragic consequences.

The epitome of Balkan Leninism is perhaps on display at this very moment. Some two weeks ago, the Bosnian Muslim Social Democratic Party (SDP) engineered what amounts to a coup in one of Bosnia's two entities, the Federation of B&H, by forming a government without the support of two parties that received approximately 90 percent of the Croat vote, a clear disenfranchisement of the Croat population in Bosnia, and a blatant violation of the fundamental Bosnian principle of the equality of the country's ethnic groups. The SDP's move has been silently supported by international officials in the country. What's more, when Bosnia's Central Electoral Commission ruled that the SDP's actions violated Bosnian electoral laws, the high representative then suspended the ruling. Somewhat remarkably in twenty-first century Europe, an individual whose position is essentially that of an internationally appointed colonial administrator has decided that neither the electoral will of Bosnia's citizens, nor Bosnia's own political traditions and culture, nor the decisions of Bosnia's own legitimate constitutional bodies really matter. The only thing that apparently matters is some secret plan for imposing "progress" on Bosnia that does not require democratic dialogue and constitutional legitimacy, but only sufficient dictatorial force.

An active propaganda campaign was also one of the hallmarks of Lenin's approach to politics, and here the Balkan Leninists have not been slouches either. In a bizarre misappropriation of blame for the problems in Bosnia, individuals who led the war in the 1990s, who advocate using Leninist political tactics to solve interethnic problems and who fight to achieve the ethnic dominance of their group over others have somehow become the international darlings. Meanwhile, individuals who were against the war, who stood up against the war criminals when it was most dangerous to do so, and whose political efforts are based on simply protecting the equality of their communal group vis-à-vis the others have become the bad guys. Orwell certainly would have appreciated the twisted doublespeak of many international officials on this score.

Κυριακή, 13 Δεκεμβρίου 2015

Lessons from the Bloc


Robert D. English, “Lessons from the Bloc”, National Interest, (September-October 2007), no. 91.


Perhaps it is a conceit of American’s self-image as one of the greatest powers in history that motivates comparisons with ancient Athens and Rome in seeking to explain a singularly disastrous foreign escapade. Or maybe the hubris of earlier empires really does offer better insight than the omnipresent Munich and Vietnam analogies into a folly that swiftly took us from America’s greatest strategic triumphs in the Cold War to our greatest strategic blunder in Iraq. Yet unexamined is still another perspective that the Cold War’s end is not just a reference point for how fast and how far our influence has fallen, but is the very episode whose misunderstanding lured us into such a colossal misadventure in the first place. Put differently, rather than the lessons of classical Greece and Rome, or of mid twentieth-century Central Europe and Southeast Asia, we might more profitably have pondered experience much closer to hand that of contemporary central Eurasia. Instead of wondering how our leaders could have been so misguided we might instead ask, Didn’t they learn anything from the Cold War’s end and aftermath?

Indeed, better insight into communism’s collapse would have cautioned against much of our Iraq folly. From the limits of hard coercive power and the importance of soft ideals and persuasion, to the real costs of shock therapy economics and the need to preserve vital state functions after regime change, key lessons have been on offer for over a decade. But because they contradicted triumphalist beliefs about our Cold-War victory, or drew attention to unpleasant details such as the plight of transition’s losers or the causes of ethnic strife, they were ignored. The Bush Administration has not lacked for officials with Soviet bloc expertise. But so militarized was their outlook, and so uninterested have they been in the societal costs of communism’s collapse or the problems of nation-building that followed, that they did not heed these critical lessons.

The Cancer of Corruption: Consider, for example, the endemic corruption that has engulfed Iraq and subverts efforts to rebuild the country, provide vital services, and improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis. The single most persistent and pernicious problem across the entire post-communist area from St. Petersburg to Sarajevo, Bratislava to Bucharest is the public and private-sector corruption that slows growth, demoralizes the struggling poor and middle-classes, and disillusions ever more once-enthusiastic Westernizers in even mostly successful transition states (witness last fall’s mass protests in the Hungarian capital of Budapest). In Russia, it was chiefly disgust at the rampant criminalization of the 1990s the payoffs, racketeering and gangsterism that benefited a choice few rent-seeking oligarchs and insider-trading bankers while social services and living standards collapsed that generated broad support for President Vladimir Putin turn to authoritarian, state-corporatist policies.

Building on the ruins of state socialism, some of this chaos and the consequent anti-market, anti-Western backlash was probably inevitable. But even once-doctrinaire advocates of shock therapy, including some of its architects from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, now admit that their insistence on rapid privatization of state industry and social services begun without first creating vital legal-regulatory frameworks or safety nets led to much unnecessary waste, impoverishment and an orgy of corruption. Many non-specialists are surprised to learn that long after communism’s collapse most citizens of the successor states live no better, and often much worse, than they did under the old system. From Russia to Romania, poverty, crime and corruption continue to fuel an anti-Western, national-chauvinistic force in politics. And so one is amazed to read in the new Iraq War literature not of competence guided by real-world experience, but of naivety fueled by ideology. Under our Coalition Provisional Authority, befuddled senior Republican loyalists and twenty-something political appointees tinkered with the tax code, designed a utopian private healthcare system and computerized the Baghdad stock exchange while all around them the state was looted, basic social services collapsed, and the country swiftly descended into chaos.

How could they not have foreseen this breakdown surely the most consequential failure of our entire Iraq escapade? How could they have failed to heed the previous decade’s painful post-communist experience (along with the advice of many Iraq and Mideast experts) and not only repeated but even magnified all the recent mistakes in transition politics and economics? Stuff happens, rationalized a dismissive Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as the chaos grew. Yes it does, particularly when the old system is destroyed with little regard for the difficult work of preparing a new one and instead blind faith is placed in the gratitude of the liberated masses and the magic of the free market. The initial blunder of disbanding the Iraqi army and dismissing thousands of experienced managers in a sweeping de-bathification has been acknowledged. But a larger critique of numerous other reconstruction failures from vast corruption in the oil industry, and the diversion of millions of dollars from unsupervised rebuilding projects, to the pay-offs that permeate everything from small business to national politics still awaits. Perversely, such criticism was long deflected by the charge that it is anti-Arab or stereotypes Iraq as culturally unsuited to free-market democracy. Yet it is simply realistic, and far more sympathetic, to appreciate that any long-tyrannized society could not adapt to Western political-economic models overnight. Imagine how much greater would have been the disorientation and chaos in Russia had it undertaken shock therapy not after Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalizing perestroika in the 1980s, but rather in the 1950s, immediately after two decades of Josef Stalin’s terrorized totalitarianism? Yet in key respects that was just the situation confronting post-Saddam Iraq in 2003.

Ethnic and Religious Complications:  Except that it was further complicated by two other factors the dislocation of war and the cleavages of sharp ethnic, religious and tribal differences. Thus it was not only the comparatively mild transition woes of Hungary or Poland that should have been studied, but the bitter experience of war-torn Bosnia, Kosovo or Tajikistan that might have induced more caution. Of course there were signs of this danger, and it restrained the first Bush Administration from toppling Saddam Hussein in 1991. Yet even if the second Bush Administration somehow convinced itself that the likelihood of Sunni- Shia-Kurdish conflict was exaggerated, they ought to have considered the Serb-Croat-Bosnian bloodletting that followed the collapse of Yugoslav central authority in 1990, or the Pashtun-Tajik-Uzbek warlordism that ensued after the fall of the Soviet-backed Afghan government in 1992. Mention of Yugoslavia and Afghanistan highlights yet another post-communist lesson that was ignored namely, the danger of sudden regime change when there are not only sharp regional, economic or cultural cleavages present, but where there is also no critical mass of citizens who identify themselves as members of a common community or nationality. In other words, where the country is simply not a unified nation-state. Yugoslavia, as we should have learned, was one such country, and so are Iraq and Afghanistan, as we are painfully realizing today.

Yet the lessons of Yugoslavia’s collapse were ignored in an arrogant disdain of Clinton-era foreign-policy experience, and the lessons of Soviet-occupied Afghanistan were mostly incomprehensible to a neoconservative ideology that brooked no parallel between Kremlin imperialism and American liberation. But for all its brutality and revolutionary goals, the original Soviet-backed Afghan government pursued some of the same reforms that the anti-Taliban American campaign would swiftly embrace in particular, the liberation of women through equal educational and political rights and loosening the hold of the conservative Mullahs over the rural population. And it was popular backlash against such secularizing reforms not, as the neoconservative narrative has it, simply the fact of a Soviet-sponsored regime in Kabul that helped fuel the mujaheddin rebellion in the first place. One need not equate Soviet and American goals in Afghanistan to appreciate that there were important cultural, not just military, lessons to be gleaned from Moscow’s decade-long occupation. As for those military lessons, it is true that our reliance on indigenous warlord-based forces to do most of our fighting in ousting the Taliban was tactically brilliant. But was empowering these opium-dealing power barons in Afghanistan or our own long-run strategic interests?

It was also largely taboo, at least until much later, to point out that the oppressive Taliban regime was to a great extent the product of our own cynical abandonment of that heavily armed, war-torn country once it had served its purpose of bleeding Moscow into an ignominious retreat. Only when Afghanistan again became a U.S. security interest did we again embrace the cause of the long-suffering Afghan people. So is it any surprise that the warlords see their future not in cooperating with President Hamid Karzai to build a unified, democratic country but instead in strengthening their regional power bases and simply outlasting the latest American commitment? And given the evident failures of the current U.S.-led effort to bring stability and economic revival, is it any surprise that many ordinary Afghans today welcome a resurgent Taliban?

Iraq: America’s Chechnya? Sadly, so far has the situation in Iraq deteriorated that it may be the brutalized Russian region of Chechnya that now offers the most important lessons. Again, while many will reject the comparison, it is not the origins of the conflict but the present condition of the rebellious Caucasian republic after more than a decade of efforts to pacify it that is at issue. After Chechen insurgents battled Russian forces to a humiliating draw over 1994-1996, a ceasefire (and de facto independence) brought no calm as the republic sank into a morass of feuding clans, criminal gangs, and Islamic fundamentalism. Attacks and hostage-taking raids into neighboring Russian territory grew until Putin decided to reinvade in 1999 (suspicion remains strong that the apartment bombings that provided the casus belli were staged by Russian forces, but undisputed acts of Chechen terrorism were also numerous). Chechnya today is a festering wound, a shattered society whose continued occupation radicalizes the larger Caucasus region but withdrawal from which Moscow fears would encourage more separatism and bolder terrorist attacks. What lessons might this hold for the United States in Iraq.

First, it warns of the criminalization that relentlessly undermines stability, much less hopes for democracy. When not only politics and business but everyday life are permeated with bribe-taking and payoffs from the courts and schools to housing and healthcare then the occupier’s struggle for hearts and minds is in desperate straits. Second, when rival political parties are supplanted by rival sectarian groups, which in turn break down into rival paramilitaries and criminal gangs, then warlordism has trumped the national and even religious cause and the odds of reconciliation grow very long. Chechnya today endures an ongoing normalization where the brutality and corruption of the occupiers rivals that of the insurgents, where the young and ambitious seek a better life abroad, and those who remain are nominally ruled by the warlord-cum-president Ramzan Kadyrov (the Moscow-backed strongman who succeeded his assassinated father, Akhmad).

Iraq (and, to some extent, Afghanistan) show disturbing similarities from the fragmentation of opposition groups and their incipient mutation from national-sectarian parties into organized-criminal warlords, to the mismanagement and corruption of reconstruction monies. So far has the situation slipped from the occupiers control that many of the millions allocated for stabilizing job-creation and rebuilding efforts are not just wasted, but actually serve to undermine stability by their misappropriation (to favor one feuding faction over another) or diversion (to fund or even arm rival groups). Worse, an inability to halt communal violence leads to ever-more ethnic cleansing and a brain drain abroad that, as it did in post-communist states such as Bosnia, could leave the remaining population so vengeful and so bereft of its most educated and moderate groups that the chances of postwar reconciliation and revival grow even more remote. Putin has in fact achieved a certain success in pacifying Chechnya, but only at a price in lives, resources and reputation that the United States simply cannot pay (and with a margin of public support that Bush can only envy). Of course, our tasks in Iraq (and Afghanistan) are also much more difficult not just to neutralize a secessionist challenge and suppress a terrorist threat in a small, contiguous republic, but to build stable, independent countries in vast lands distant from the United States.

Popular Backlash and Elite Disillusion: Singularly focused on regime change, and little interested in the societal costs of the prolonged and painful transitions that ensue, our policymakers appear chronically unable to grasp the popular resentment and backlash that naturally follow. Why are so many former Soviet citizens and not only Russians nostalgic for the USSR? Why don’t Russians protest the crackdown on entrepreneurial businessmen (the oligarchs who looted their country) instead of backing the authoritarian Putin (who at least arrested Russia’s fragmentation and pays their salaries or pensions on time)? Why do so many Russians admire the genocidal Stalin (and so many Iraqis recall a better life under the ruthless Saddam Hussein)? Because for today’s Russians, mention of genocide evokes not the terror of the 1930s but the misery of the 1990s, when literally millions of premature deaths caused by disease and malnutrition, alcohol and drugs, or murder and suicide resulted directly from the poverty, disorder and despair of transition. These numerous private tragedies are not so dramatic as Stalin’s (or Saddam’s) political killings, but they are the contemporary, not historical, experience of countless ordinary Russians. Genocide may not be the proper term for Russia’s demographic disaster, implying as it does the premeditated destruction of a people. But it is our complacency about this tragedy and our share of responsibility for it—that leads many Russians to use exactly that word for what they see as a deliberate Western policy of crippling their once-great country. And so in Iraq, as many thousands of excess deaths accumulate (over and above the numbers that Saddam regularly killed) as a more-or-less direct result of the chaos we unleashed, U.S. officials downplay or divert responsibility for the carnage while more and more ordinary Iraqis conclude that it was indeed all about oil and military bases, not liberation.

Returning to the former communist region and examining the attitudes not just of transition’s losers but of the more fortunate educated, professional classes we still find a similar gulf between local attitudes and America’s self-perception. Take the case of Russia, where for decades members of the intelligentsia were inspired to quiet reformism or even open dissidence by the ideals of postwar America a country that stood for openness and the rule of law, defense of human rights, and a principled fight against injustice in a foreign policy notable for multilateral cooperation with other liberal democracies. Today, however, pro-American voices in Moscow are few and not only because of the U.S. role in abetting Russia’s collapse in the 1990s. In Russia and Eastern Europe too, many former liberal allies are distressed by the bald cynicism of our foreign policy insisting on the handover to international tribunals of others accused war criminals while exempting ourselves from the International Criminal Court, rejecting environmental protections such as Kyoto, selectively violating rules of international trade and tarnishing our reputation for honesty via such practices as the flagrant distortion of intelligence, the concealment of illegal extraordinary renditions and the unprecedented manipulation of the news media at home and abroad. While we tell ourselves that it is the injured pride of an ex-superpower that has caused the defection of so many once-liberal figures or simply Putin’s repression of democratic Russia many once staunchly pro-American figures have in fact turned away from the United States in a considered response to the perceived betrayal of our own liberal principles.

Pro-democracy forces in the former USSR are also weakened by our double standard of faulting Russia’s restrictions on the press or political activism while keeping quiet about nascent totalitarianism in certain resource-rich central Asian states (such as Turkmenistan) or the fully fledged dynastic rule in a key Caspian-basin ally (Azerbaijan). The relentless expansion of NATO in violation of commitments made at the end of the Cold War has provoked just the backlash that its opponents predicted. And the cynicism if not outright dishonesty at so many levels of U.S. policy further erodes our credibility, from the respect accorded State Department reports to trust in our international media such as the Voice of America. Similar examples are legion, but perhaps none reflects how far our moral stock has fallen more than our post-9/11 embrace of torture something whose practice in Soviet prisons and psychiatric hospitals galvanized anti-communist opinion like nothing else during the late Cold War. Use of the same Abu Ghraib prison once employed by Saddam’s torturers for America’s most brutal interrogations in Iraq summons a bitter irony perhaps obvious only to veteran human-rights activists namely, of the similar recycling of infamous tsarist or monarchist prisons and camps by the secret polices of Stalin, Tito, and other communist dictators.

Forgotten Lessons of our Cold War Victory: Current U.S. foreign-policy practices are of course far from the systematic cruelty and disinformation of Soviet-era communist authorities. But much of the world sees in them mainly a difference of degree, not kind. Such policies not only diminish our international influence, they also betray a lack of understanding of the principles that gave us the high ground and the authority to lead the liberal-democratic West through decades of Cold War struggle. Such ideological disarmament in the midst of global crises, the squandering of our hard-won quotient of what in today’s parlance is known as soft power, is only comprehensible when we realize how one-sided and militarized is the neoconservative view of how we triumphed in the last great global struggle. In their version, the United States prevailed in the Cold War thanks to its hard powerwe practiced containment (it should have been rollback by the way), we met Soviet expansionism with armed force, and in the end we ratcheted up an arms race that left a cash-strapped Gorbachev no choice but to capitulate. End of story.

Nowhere in this tale do there appear the decades of patient diplomacy that engaged the USSR, that doggedly opened a crack in a closed society and courted its young intellectuals, that not only showed ours as a dynamic system that out-competed them abroad but also impressed them with its commitment at home to everything from racial equality and environmental protection to decency and openness in politics. Cold War cultural exchanges, academic cooperation, and painstaking arms control talks (all derided by American hardliners at the time) in fact helped to nurture a post-Stalin generation of intellectuals, scientists, economists and foreign-policy analysts who formed a nascent group of within system reformers in many cases, within the Communist Party itself. And when, in the early-mid 1980s, the Soviet system faltered, these scholars and policy analysts emerged as an influential Westernizing lobby that encouraged an open-minded new leader on the path of perestroika, the path of reforming, humanizing, and integrating Soviet society with the rest of the world.

Of course the arms race exacerbated Soviet economic woes and helped persuade an aging Politburo to gamble on the untested but energetic young Gorbachev. But that is only half of the Cold War-ending equation, for without the preceding decades of détente, of steady persuasion and quiet preparation for liberalizing reforms, a different Soviet leader following different, confrontational policies could have taken the USSR in a very different direction. The Cold War could well have had a far more difficult and violent ending. Yet whether out of ignorance or a tendency to emphasize proximate over distant causes, and to inflate our own role in events over the contribution of others the standard American view of the Cold War’s end stresses the role of hard military power and economic pressure to the near-exclusion of the soft power of ideas and persuasion. Not only the neoconservative Vulcans who pushed to invade Iraq, but also most of the realists who now seek an exit, recollect a Cold War triumph that celebrates only the military build-up and anti-communist resolve of Ronald Reagan. Gorbachev’s idealism and principled non-intervention as well as the skilled leadership that kept powerful Soviet hardliners at bay are barely an afterthought.

Some, given to psychological interpretation, diagnose in today’s neoconservatives a deep-seated need for enemies and longing for another epoch-defining global struggle like the Cold War. Perhaps, but it is enough to understand that many others simply drew flawed lessons from the Cold War’s end. Neither should it surprise us then that, having triumphed, their belief in across-the-board American superiority was largely uninterested in the full aftermath of that victory, namely the manifest failings of the Washington Consensus model when transplanted to shattered, culturally distinct, ethnically divided societies. We won the titanic struggle with communism, we freed an entire region from tyranny, and it is only their fault if they have turned our gift of free-market democracy into corruption and instability. More often, however, the dark side of transition was just ignored. So when another major global challenge arose, the operative lessons were: Hard power is what really matters; allies are to be commanded and not consulted; concern for image and ideals only hampers our freedom of action; and the post-regime change will take care of itself. This is the neoconservatism that set its sights on another troubled world region, celebrated another military triumph (Mission accomplished, declared President Bush), dismissed early signs that something had gone very wrong (Democracy is messy lectured Defense Secretary Rumsfeld) and keeps faith with its historic mission by a near-Orwellian trick of turning bad news into good (“War and violence are the birth pangs of a new Mideast, said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice).

So the answer to question posed at the outset Didn’t they learn from the Cold War’s end and aftermath?is that in fact they did. Bush Administration planners indeed drew certain lessons from communism’s collapse that in turn shaped their approach to Iraq and the larger Middle East. Unfortunately, those lessons were exceedingly narrow and one-sided. Celebrating the triumph of American military power, and chanting a mantra of free-market miracles, they ignored equally important but ideologically inconvenient lessons about the critical power of ideas in shaping politics, the vital role of the state in managing transition, and the considerable weight of history and culture.

Even today’s emboldened strategic debate about Iraq is mainly limited to tactical adjustments in our conduct of the war. Precisely because it mostly omits a larger re-evaluation of our overall grand strategy in world affairs from an over-reliance on hard power, to soft-power efforts that are weak at best and tragicomic at worst (e.g., Bush advisor Karen Hughes much-publicized but soon-forgotten tour of Islamic countries) it retains the ideological blinders that guarantee further diminution of our global leadership. So long as we refuse to shed them, these dogmas not only erode our influence with traditional allies, and endanger our success in the vital but still-unsettled post-communist region, they also promise continued failure and growing backlash in our grand project to remake the Middle East. Even the more modest goal of creating a stable regional ally in Iraq is fast fading, thanks in part to the same mistakes that helped dash earlier hopes of nurturing a strong pro-American partner in post-Soviet Russia. The costs of imperial hubris will remain high for decades to come.

Δευτέρα, 23 Νοεμβρίου 2015

Corneliu Pintilescu, “The interrogation stages, strategies, and techniques of the SECURITATE


Corneliu Pintilescu, “The interrogation stages, strategies, and techniques of the SECURITATE (1948-1964). Case study: The Cluj regional directorate for the security of the people”, (Remembrance in time, Transilvania University Press of Brasov 2012), pp. 131-136.

 

The topic of the present study has been approached in numerous works and articles on the justice system as an instrument of political repression and manipulation in the communist regimes. One can mention here the already classic works of authors, such as F. Beck, W. Godin, Annie Kriegel, George Hodos and Robert Conquest, who approach the great show trials from the time of the “Great Terror” and the similar trials from Eastern Europe from 1948-1964.2 Apart from focusing on the great “show trials,” another feature of these works is their use of mainly press sources as well as witness and victim accounts. Only after the political changes from 1989 did researchers have access to the archives of the former USSR (less to the judicial archives however). From among the works that were the result of this opening, one can mention those of Michael Ellman, David L. Hoffmann, Roberta T. Manning and Elizabeth A. Wood.3 The opening of the archives of the former USSR was limited however. That is why these important works on the justice system as an instrument of repression in the Communist Bloc did not contain an analysis also from the perspective of the files based on which the respective trials were held. The present study tries to fill this historiographic gap. It will analyze the interrogation stages of the Securitate as well as the strategies and techniques that this oppressive institution widely used based on the source material from the criminal files held in the archives of the National Council for the Study of the Archives of the Securitate (NCSAS), which are related to the activity of the Cluj Military Tribunal between 1948 and 1964, as well as the interviews with victims and witnesses of the studied trials. Through strategies we understand the ways in which the inquiry was organized and developed of the inquiry in order to concoct a political criminal felony according to the existing legislation. The interrogation is the central piece in the criminal inquiry of the Securitate.

The confessions obtained during the interrogation provide the essential data that are manipulated during the course of the trial. The material evidence and witness confessions were many times of secondary importance. The structure of the Securitate contained a special directorate called “Criminal investigations,” whose prerogative was the investigation of political crimes and their prosecution in court.4

The inquest strategy was closely connected to the centralized organization of the Securitate. An order of the General Directorate for the Security of the People (GDSP)5 from Bucharest to the Cluj Regional Directorate of the Security of the People demanded explanations for the arrests made without permission from the GDSP.6 This document is one of the many proving that key-moments in an investigation, such as its initiation or the arrest of suspects, depended on approval from the centre. Moreover, due the nature of its rapports with the lower structures, the GDSP exercised tight control over the evolution of the investigation in general and the interrogation in particular. An order of the GDSP dated August 17, 1951, demanded from the Cluj Regional Securitate the arrest of a suspect, his interrogation according to a questionnaire attached to the order, and the dispatch of a copy of the obtained statement to Bucharest.7 A month before, they had received a similar order demanding what kind of facts the investigation must establish upon completion. In this case, the main fact that the investigators had to establish was “the counterrevolutionary religious activities [of the suspects].”8 The information on local events was successively transmitted from the county to the regional and then central level, by means of regular reports. Based on these reports, the GDSP decided on the initiation of an investigation concerning certain suspects. According to the received information, the Bucharest center decided on the arrest of the suspects or the interruption of the investigation. The importance of the GDSP in the development of criminal investigations was partly determined by the fact that it centralized the data collected from all over the country. That is why the local sections depended on the information provided by the Bucharest center. The GDSP benefited from this position and coordinated interrogations by means of its orders and guidance. In certain cases, the guidance of an investigation touched on details, by the dispatch of elaborated questionnaires for the suspects as well as information on the persons of interest and instructions on how investigators had to carry out their tasks.9

The used questionnaires clearly reveal the stages of the interrogation. They were lists of pre-established questions that later shaped the confessions of suspects. Without these questionnaires, which meant to guide suspects during the process of the establishment of their political guilt, the self-accusing statements given under duress risked being contradictory. Even so, the mixture of truth and fiction revealed contradictions that were later invoked in appeals. The effect of questionnaires was the standardization of statements in case the investigation targeted a group of suspects. If the investigators noticed discrepancies among certain pieces of information, they organized a confrontation in which all the suspects with divergent statements participated. The confrontation report signed by the participants confirmed the final version. The fact that most of the investigations usually targeted a group instead of an individual rendered the interrogation a complex action in need of a strategy. The officer leading the investigation at the local level was entrusted with the application of the strategy through the coordination of the

group of investigators that worked on the case. The strategy determined the stages of the interrogation. In the preliminary phase, having an introductory character, the Securitate investigators asked a set of general questions through which they were investigating some leads on the political activity of the suspects and their possible crimes against the regime. These broad questions usually were: “What kind of subversive activities did you carry out against the regime?” or “What counterrevolutionary activities did you carry out?” This type of questions indicates the investigators’ intention to feel out the situation.10 Investigators requested suspects to submit autobiographic accounts and lists of acquaintances in order to make their general evaluation.

The starting point for any interrogation was the presumption of guilt. Since a person was under investigation by the Securitate meant that his/her guilt was self-evident. The only aspect left to be established was the kind of crime he/she committed, under what circumstances, and in what way. The questions asked as well as the concepts used during the interrogation undoubtedly prove that the Securitate conducted its investigation according to the existing penal legislation as well. Further evidence in this regard is the investigators’ stubborn efforts to give the offenses of suspects a political character – even if it was fictitious – in order to be able to prosecute them according to the legal provisions of the Romanian Penal Code. The aim of the interrogation was not the pursuit of truth, but the construction of a political guilt, which implied the commission of offenses that the regime valorized negatively from a political point of view and artificially connected to criminal offenses stipulated in the Penal Code.

In the second stage of the interrogation, the investigators pursued certain leads according to the existing repressive policy and the information they had. They focused on the thorough investigation of these leads through the selection and accumulation of as many incriminating evidence as possible. The leading investigator issued guidelines concerning the separate investigation of the suspects after careful analysis of the biographic data and psychological profile of each of them. Those considered vulnerable from a biographical point of view or psychologically instable were subjected to intense pressure until they broke. Upon finishing the inquiry on the activity of the suspect, the investigators extended their investigation over the suspect’s acquaintances. Thus, they obtained incriminating statements on other people as well. This strategy assured the contamination of those who abetted or kept in contact with the suspect. In the third stage, the investigators synthesized the obtained confessions. The most important document was the final report of the investigation written by the leading investigating officer. Apart from the synthesis of all the obtained statements, this document gave new meanings to the deeds described in the statements, established the commission or non-commission of certain crimes, and decided for or against sending the case further for prosecution in a court of law. Although the existing legislation clearly stipulated that the establishment of an individual’s guilt or innocence was the prerogative of the courts of law, the aforementioned final reports of the Securitate already reached the verdict. These reports had a standard ending note saying: “In conclusion [...] they are

guilty of …”11

Most of the trials from 1948-1964, whose aim was to legalize terror, involved groups of individuals. The individual trial of politically undesirable was a rare occurrence. This is why the investigation in general and the interrogation in particular targeted groups of individuals. The collective investigation of the repression subjects presented a number of advantages. The first was the efficiency of the investigation and sentencing process of an impressive number of individuals. The second advantage was that guilt was easier constructed through the reciprocal contamination of those involved. Collective guilt had additional seriousness and popular impact. A crime committed by a group of individuals, to whom the investigators added an organized character, became more serious that a crime committed individually.

The need for the collective treatment of subjects had a strong influence on the interrogation techniques. The investigation of a group of individuals meant the involvement of an entire team of investigators. The team was lead by a leading investigation officer, who centralized the results and forwarded them to his superiors by means of reports. The isolation of the suspects from the same group was recommended in order to avoid their fraternization and access to information pertaining to the case.

Suspects were usually held in custody in detention cells in the Securitate buildings. However, due to the limited space, their recommended isolation was difficult to put into practice. It became easier when there was a penitentiary nearby, where the suspects could be held in isolation. In order to prevent suspects from knowing the location of their detention place and communicating among themselves during transport, they were blindfolded with special tin glasses.

In order to break the resistance of suspects and obtain their self-incriminating statements, the Securitate made recourse to physical and psychological pressures. The alternation and dosage of these pressures is a fact that many victims noted in their later testimonies.12 Physical pressures did not involve only torture, which is one of the most frequent elements in the memoirs of former political prisoners, but also food and sleep deprivation, which led to the weakening of the suspects’ organism and obviously his resistance capacity. The use of torture was a two-edged weapon because after the signing of the self-incriminating statements the suspects recanted them. In certain cases, the suspect’s vacillation between admitting and recanting these statements undermined the result of the investigation. Here is an example of a piece of evidence that becameunusable by the prosecution: “I admit that until January 25, 1950, I had not admitted to what Captain Desagă said about me, and on January 25 I said I had admitted only for fear of torture.”13

We will not insist on the torture techniques because this topic has been very well covered both in memoirs and the historical research. In many cases, the use of torture was unnecessary because the psychological methods, such as threats and blackmail, proved their efficiency. The psychological methods for the obtaining of confessions were based on a system of collecting and organizing information on the people who came under the scrutiny of the Securitate. During the investigation, the personal file of the suspect comprised a picture, personal data, the “identification elements,” “prior offenses,” “the result of the house search,” “the information resulting from his [and other peoples’] statements,” “confrontations,” “personal descriptions,” “conclusions,” and “proposals.”14

According to the biographical data and the description, guidelines were issued as to the manner in which the suspects would be approached during the interrogation. Descriptions were short and tried to note the weak points of the suspect. Based on the information gathered from the suspects in custody, the leading investigation officer together with his superiors decided on which suspects the investigation should focus as well as on the manner in which the interrogation would be conducted. A note of the Cluj Regional Directorate for the Security of the People (CRDSP) to the GDSP in Bucharest, dated July 29, 1952 and referring to an investigation, made an evaluation of the interrogation work and put forward proposals.

Those who showed resistance during the course of the investigation were proposed for internment in “work units,”15 because they were considered “dangerous elements,” those who fell into the trap of the blackmail of the Securitate became informants, and those who confessed to their guilt were further investigated in view of their trial in a court of law.16

Manipulation was another method that was successfully used to obtain selfincriminating statements. Those who came into contact with the Securitate for the first time were unaware of its tricks. The investigation could begin in a non-violent and persuasive manner. The suspect was assured that he was brought in only for some routine questions. This way, the investigators obtained from the suspect confessions that in his view were not serious, such as the listening to Western radio stations and the voicing of critical remarks on the policy of the government or the Soviet Union.

By starting from apparently unimportant details, the Securitate managed to construct - by means of additions, exaggerations, and reinterpretations – seriouscounterrevolutionary crimes. Another manipulation method was to make suspects believe that the Securitate knew everything on their life and they could not hide anything away from it. For instance, suspects were surprised by the mentioning of certain details from their personal life, which convinced them that the Securitate knew everything about them and resistance was futile. Furthermore, investigators made full use of the frictions that appeared within a group of suspects. In order to break the solidarity of the group, investigators would show to some suspects the damaging statements that the other suspects made on them or would promise their release or a lighter sentence in exchange of cooperation.

In conclusion, we underline that the interrogation strategies of the Securitate were influenced by its centralized way of functioning. In practice, this meant that the lower echelons of the Securitate gathered the information and sent it further to the higher echelons that centralized it at the regional or national level, took the important decisions concerning ongoing investigations, and offered guidelines on the manner in which these decisions had to be implemented at the local level. Although the evolution of interrogations varied from case to case, we can use three stages as a theoretical model in the analysis of an interrogation: a first stage when the accumulation of information was achieved horizontally (this stage began before the arrest), a second stage when, following certain options, the interrogation focused on certain suspects and issues, and a third stage when the investigating officers synthesized the obtained data and gave them coherence. For the obtaining of self-incriminating statements, physical and psychological pressures were used. Although physical torture is the most recurrent method mentioned in memoirs, there are many cases in which manipulation and blackmail proved sufficient. When comparing the methods of the Securitate with those of other security agencies from the Communist Bloc, we note the similarity among them. The creation of the Securitate according to the Soviet model and with the assistance of Soviet councilors is the explanation for the existence of these similarities.

Παρασκευή, 20 Νοεμβρίου 2015

Orlich Ι.Α.: Communist Totalitarianism in Solzhenitsyn’s Fiction


Ileana Alexandra Orlich, “Communist Totalitarianism in Solzhenitsyn’s Fiction”, Caietele Echinox, vol. 19, 2010, pp. 243-249.

Although Soviet fiction of the Stalinist era demands foremost from the writer a scrupulous and courageous recognition of all the irreconcilable antagonisms that made the lives of the people in communism so burdensome, so desperate, and at the same time so full of hope, the writers in that generation failed to meet such a challenge. According to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,

From the thirties on, everything that is called our prose is merely the foam from a lake which has vanished underground. It is foam and not prose because it detached itself from everything that was fundamental in those decades. The best of the writers suppressed the best within themselves and turned their back on truth and only that way did they and their books survive.1

In sharp contrast with his contemporaries, Solzhenitsyn writes as a way of capturing the history of Stalinist Russia before it is obscured by the death of the generations who lived it. From The First Circle and Cancer Ward to A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn’s writing offers the most compelling panorama of Soviet life struggling to transcend Stalin’s paranoid stock of autocracy which naturally rejected and systematically punished even the faintest expression of what Joseph Conrad called any “practical form of liberty known to the western world (Under Western Eyes).” He introduced to literary Russian the language of the Gulag and the zek (prisoner) by expanding the circle of official discourse to include the real world of Stalinist terror and the author’s growing challenge to the Marxist orthodoxy. Most importantly, while presenting the protagonists’ personal calamities, devastating traumas, and barren struggles against ideological oppression and an overpowering fear and helplessness, Solzhenitsyn’s works also illustrate the dignity of moral choices inside an endless cycle of repression and imprisonment.

In all his polyphonic2 narratives that reveal a complex relationship between the author’s fictional and autobiographical selves Solzhenitsyn redefines the Russian horizon in a way that was beyond the reach of most historians in the free world.  It is easy to think of Solzhenitsyn as he is now, the “only living classic” of Russian literature, as Yevtushenko wrote. Yet in the darker days before Khrushchev openly denounced Stalin at the Twenty-Second Party Congress (1961), no one in the civilized world seemed to know about men like Ivan Denisovich, or about concentration camps systematically created as a mode of genocide. And although the modem theorist is skeptical about the ability of words to recapture the horizon of another historical age, Solzhenitsyn managed to develop a liveliness and concision that shocked and revivified the Russian world of his contemporaries. His fiction interrogates political possibilities based on ingenious notions, such as the ethical socialism of Shulubin in Cancer Ward, subjects the quotidian to questions and analyses that are nearly always socially-oriented, and aims to make a full and detailed disclosure about Soviet life and to examine its moral essence. Above all, these works are a series of assents or refusals to participate in the lies that support the Soviet system. So thoroughly does Solzhenitsyn believe in the power of truth that he told one BBC interviewer that if all three books of The Gulag Archipelago were available in Russia, “in a very short space of time no Communist ideology would be left. For people who had read and understood all this would simply have no more room in their minds for Communist ideology.”3

For a more comprehensive understanding of Solzhenitsyn’s mind as a conservative thinker with a full appreciation of Western culture and a deep respect for Russia’s spiritual traditions, as well as of his pivotal role in defeating the communist behemoth, the reader needs to relate to what the writer himself has termed “anthropocentric humanism.” Toward the end of the chapter entitled “Dante’s Conception” in The First Circle one of the new arrivals at the sharashka (the Mavrino Institute) has the blissful feeling that he must be in Paradise. The imprisoned philologist Rubin corrects him by pointing out self-mockingly that they are still in Hell, as before, but have ascended to its highest circle, the first circle thought up by Dante, who had to find a place for the sages of antiquity. Since the duty of a Christian was to cast all heathens down into hell, and because the conscience of a Renaissance man could not be reconciled to confining them with the rest of the sinners, Dante devised such a place apart for them. In Canto IV, as Rubin explains, Dante is led by Virgil into the first circle of Hell or Limbo, the uppermost verge of the huge funnel of Hell, where the unbaptized souls of infants and virtuous pagans and especially the poets, philosophers and heroes of antiquity dwell suspended.

Thus the title, The First Circle, dictates the very structure of Solzhenitsyn’s novel: the inmates of the sharashka, a special project camp not unlike Dante’s Limbo, are at the top level of Stalin’s Hell, with Stalin himself as a devilish presence felt through an indirect but constant refrain of adulatory phrases like “Nearest and Dearest,” “Father of Western and Eastern Peoples,” and even a fictional portrait. In the chapter called ”The Birthday Hero” he is “only a little old man with a desiccated double chin which was never shown in his portraits … whose name filled the world’s newspapers, was uttered by thousands of announcers in hundreds of languages… It had been given to a multitude of cities and squares, streets and boulevards… and a group of Moscow journalists had proposed that it be given also to the Volga and to the moon.” This monstrous creation of the propaganda machine featured in The First Circle sits alone at night reading his official biography, convincing himself of the identity which was invented for him: ”From 1918 on he had for all practical purposes become Lenin’s deputy (Yes, yes, that was the way it had been)… He watches the propaganda films of Virta and Vishnevsky and, although bored, is pleased.”

Caught in an information loop, Stalin is receiving back the image he has ordered presented. It moves him, profoundly, sentimentally. But in the midst of the artificial sentiment Stalin grows bored and goes out to seek new victims. The degree to which the portrayal of Stalin and the state organs’ actions in The First Circle anticipates Michel Foucault’s description of state power is remarkable. Speaking of the minute details involved in the creation of a prison system Foucault writes of “Small acts of cunning endowed with a great power of diffusion; the attentive ‘malevolence’ that turns everything to account. Discipline is a political anatomy of detail.”4 The portrait of Stalin in The First Circle depicts a man who is obsessed with bringing everything under his control, no matter how small or apparently insignificant. Yet it is precisely this attitude, Solzhenitsyn argues, which has destroyed Russia. By creating an apparatus of terror and control which could include any thought, any opinion, any deed done or undone, Stalin had destroyed the will of his own nation to act, lest it act incorrectly. Both Solzhenitsyn and Foucault agree that force applied with attention to the minute particulars can make a prison house of the whole society.5

Corrupted and perverted by the political conditions and the panoptical surveillance of a totalitarian society, everyday life in USSR is a quintessential experience on Russia’s bright red communist horizon, kept alive in the camp of the povest’ One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the Moscow upper-class world and the sharashka in its various forms like the Mavrino Institute, the Lefortovo interrogation office and Lubianka in The First Circle, and the cancer pavilion in The Cancer Ward.

The differences among the camp, the sharashka, and the ward are largely illusory. In fact, when Cancer Ward was published, Pravda’s editor N. Zimyanin accused Solzhenitsyn, among other things, of ”an obsessive preoccupation with a single theme – the camp theme.” Compressed and crowded, these spaces of confinement that embody the spirit of evil produce the effect of a microcosm which replaces the artificial hierarchies of the outside world with a fundamental scale of values and suggests that everyone is essentially in the same trap. The close interaction of characters with diverse social, political, cultural, and even ethnic backgrounds brings ironic contrasts and reveals communism’s all-pervasive lies and the anxiety and terror that covered the whole country. In Cancer Ward, most of the conflicts derive from the clashes of ideas between central characters. Rusanov, the communist bureaucrat and abominable party hack in Cancer Ward, whose chief occupation in the past seems to have been cooperation with the secret police and denunciations, with dire consequences for both his friends and enemies, dismisses the conscience by stating that immoral acts are merely “bourgeois vestiges” and Leninism has taken care of the problem of conscience “once and for all.” Rusanov’s counter, Kostoglotov, Solzhenitsyn’s best developed fictional character and, to a certain extent, the author’s alter ego,7 whose erosion of sexual power is made subtly analogous to his political persecution, insists that the human spirit demands an ideal of individual moral perfection and that the conscience is its touchstone. In The First Circle, the painter Kondrashev-Ivanov pursues in the sharashka this ideal of moral sustenance in his painting of the Holy Grail, the object of ultimate quest derived from religious institutions and ritual, while the Stalin Prize writer Galakhov lives outside prison walls but in fear of watchdog critics whose sole mission is to protect communist ideology and toe the party line. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich features a world of physical pain, endless surveillance, tormenting pain, hunger and exhaustion that turn man into a beast of burden suffering at the hands of other wild beasts, the guards of the camp. Survival is conditioned by resignation and calculated submission, both of which grant the zeks the modicum of volition that gives life its meaning. Solzhenitsyn’s own experience in the camps gave him too much first-hand evidence not only about the brutality of the guards but also about the peasant personality, enough to allow him not to be content with saintly simple heroes. Such characters as Ivan Denisovich or Spiridon (the sharashka janitor in The First Circle) are mixtures of the sly, the stubborn, the self-interested, and the ruthless as well as of the common-sensical, the enduring, the generous, and the heroic. Of Spiridon, the narrator says: “Not one of the eternal questions about the validity of our sensory perceptions and the inadequacy of our knowledge of our inner lives tormented Spiridon. He knew unshakably what he saw, heard, smelled, and understood.”

Although some critics see in all these works only static collages with characters that seem to blend into an amorphous mass8, the personages are carefully differentiated and personal responsibility takes a variety of shadings. In The First Circle Volodin, a decent Soviet diplomat who has opted for the perks of Stalinism, performs a compassionate deed that sends him to Lubianka and to torturous death; Rubin, a convinced Leninist, has persuaded himself of the good of Marxist ideology expounded in interminable quarrels with the fiery skeptic Sologdin; the prosecutor Makarygin, uneasy with his own daughter’s accounts of social injustice, concludes that the stories are “un-typical.”  In this novel in particular each character that makes a moral or humane choice faces a worsening of his or her situation. This is not an irony of fate; the source of the evil is the Stalinist system, with its poisonous ideology, its perpetration and deification of the lie, and its compulsion to waste and destroy human life.

In Cancer Ward, Rusanov, the servile informer who justifies his actions by such meaningless phrases as “it is my civic obligation” and “in the common interest of the general public,” is also a good husband and a doting father. Kostoglotov, Solzhenitsyn’s occasional mouth-piece, is anything but meek and saintly. The only meek and saintly character is Aunt Stefa, who listens sympathetically to young Demka, teaches him resignation and submission to God’s will and provides the hungry boy with homemade meat pies. There is also character growth. One patient, Efim Podduev, is presented at the outset as an opportunist without any moral convictions. But Solzhenitsyn convincingly shows his gradual spiritual regeneration under the double impact of impending death and the spiritual teachings of Tolstoy.

Ultimately, Stalinism provides the glue that cements all these three works, and fuels their Inferno-like narrative tension.  As Rusanov sees his world crumble before his eyes and feels distressed about the absence of his boss, Beria, he declares in his defense: “I didn’t pass sentences. I didn’t conduct investigations. I only voiced my suspicions. If in a communal toilet I find a scrap of newspaper with a torn picture of the Leader – it is my duty to introduce this scrap in evidence. And the investigating authority is there to check on it.”  But while good men are crushed, battered and hemmed in narratives of cruelty, frustration, and suffering, the courage of despair of Bobynin, another autobiographical self Solzhenitsyn features in The First Circle, seems to guarantee the only modality of survival by preserving one’s moral integrity.

For even though the three works include a meticulous portrait gallery of characters with their central experiences and entangled personal relationships, they invite interpretation from Solzhenitsyn’s contemporaries who must find the courage to probe deeply into the complicated and frequently paradoxical relationship between fiction and one’s own autobiography. In this context, there is an even more ancient tradition of the first circle found in Plato’s Ion. There the mere rhapsode is confronted with the fact that his art is the imitation of the practical man’s imitation of an eternal Form. Plato issues his challenge to the legitimacy of the poet’s role by invoking the famous image of successive rings. The Muse’s power, like a form of magnetism, passes through the first ring to successively lower ones which suspend the poet who takes inspiration from her divinity. If the poet is inspired by this divine contact, others are drawn irresistibly to him through the soul-magnetism which he has received from the Muse. Solzhenitsyn understands perfectly the nature of Plato’s challenge as he centers the search for a man’s soul on his relation to the first circle, which is the act of narration preoccupied with truth and honesty. His works are about the search for that first, magnetic love, the form or essence of a man’s soul through the hermeneutic circle of culture and language. From that perspective too, all these works transform Solzhenitsyn’s experiences in Stalinism and encounters with communism into a universal story of a mental and moral wasteland.