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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Romania Confronts its Communist-Era Secrets

BUCHAREST, Romania -- One is a former BBC journalist known as a fierce critic of the ex-communists who ran Romania after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Another is a respected columnist whose father was a prominent political prisoner.

For years, they and scores of other journalists shared a dark secret: They had been informants for Romania's notorious communist-era secret police. Now, they are confessing in a campaign called "Clean Voices" -- part of Romania's belated attempt to unearth the truth about collaborators in the regime of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

At the root of the revelations are an estimated 1.3 million secret police files believed to contain information on collaboration between the Securitate and current politicians, business leaders, journalists and other prominent figures.

Unlike Germany, which has largely confronted the traumatic history of East German collaboration with the Stasi secret police, Romania has kept its communist-era dirty laundry firmly locked up. Only now -- under a centrist government that took over in 2004 from former communists -- has it begun fitfully opening up thousands of Securitate files to public scrutiny.

The journalists who have confessed in recent weeks were prompted by pressure: The "Clean Voices" campaign had asked the council responsible for publishing the files to open dossiers regarding the media.

Former BBC journalist Carol Sebastian's collaboration began more than two decades ago, when he was a second-year student of Romanian and French literature. The Romanian national was summoned by the Securitate and told he could have problems if he did not agree to help them. The secret police, who kept tabs on Romania's 23 million people through a network of 700,000 informers, had discovered a weakness in his past: Sebastian had left a fellow student pregnant and had no intention of marrying her. His admission shocked many because he had been an outspoken critic of the former communists who took power after the fall of Ceausescu.

Sebastian said "99 percent" of his informing was about his friend, poet Andrei Bodiu. Bodiu, who has read Sebastian's notes on him, declared them "neutral" and has forgiven him. Sebastian told Mix FM radio in July that his failure to come clean earlier "is an indelible stain on my career and my life."

The revelations have had a devastating emotional impact on family members. The ex-wife of columnist Valentin Hossu-Longin, who reported on the activities of Romanian emigres in Canada, said she could not stop weeping after she learned of the journalist's links to the Securitate. "He could have held out, for the sake of his father who was a political prisoner," said Lucia Hossu, the maker of an acclaimed documentary series that exposed the horrors of communism. She said the couple's two sons, who are also journalists, were in shock.

The Securitate recruited informers as young as 12 who were intimidated, blackmailed or bribed into informing on friends, colleagues and family members. Even now, the Romanian Intelligence Service says it has officers and informers in the country's newsrooms.

Cornel Nistorescu, a leading journalist, said Romania should have followed Germany's example and opened all its files years ago. "In Romania, files are destroyed, hidden, burned and used to blackmail people," he said. "They should just open all the files and there would be three days of mayhem, recriminations and that would be it."

The slow pace is largely explained by the fact that former Securitate officers and high-ranking communist officials consolidated power after Ceausescu was ousted and executed. They have retained key positions in business, politics and the media, but the atmosphere changed somewhat after the centrist government came to power in 2004. Efforts to be more transparent have also accelerated ahead of Romania joining the European Union, which the country hopes to do in 2007.