Secrets and Truth

Secrets and Truth: Ethnography in the Archive of Romania’s Secret Police

Katherine Verdery
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Secrets and Truth
    Book Description:

    Nothing in Soviet-style communism was as shrouded in mystery as its secret police. Its paid employees were known to few and their actual numbers remain uncertain. Its informers and collaborators operated clandestinely under pseudonyms and met their officers in secret locations. Its files were inaccessible, even to most party members. The people the secret police recruited or interrogated were threatened so effectively that some never told even their spouses, and many have held their tongues to this day, long after the regimes fell. With the end of communism, many of the newly established governments—among them Romania’s—opened their secret police archives. From those files, as well as her personal memories, the author has carried out historical ethnography of the Romanian Securitate. Secrets and Truths is not only of historical interest but has implications for understanding the rapidly developing “security state” of the neoliberal present.

    eISBN: 978-963-386-051-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. Note on Pronunciation
    (pp. xix-xx)
  6. Introduction: What Was the Securitate?
    (pp. 1-30)

    Following the disestablishment of Communist Party rule in the Soviet bloc, political pressure arose in nearly every East European country to cleanse the polity of legacies of the prior regime. Former Party officials were to be banned from office, as was anyone known to have collaborated with communist power, especially with the secret police. These demands partook of a broader world movement for so-called transitional justice, by which citizens of successor states to dictatorships of various kinds sought to address and overcome their countries’ repressive pasts. Applied to cases as varied as South Africa, Rwanda, Argentina, and Chile as well...

  7. Chapter 1 An Archive and Its Fictions
    (pp. 31-76)

    As I noted in the Introduction, after the fall of communism many East European countries created lustration procedures to scrutinize candidates for public office. These procedures, where they were instituted, relied heavily (even if very problematically) on the files of the secret police. Romania, however, was slow to embark on lustration. Whereas Czechoslovakia and Germany were lustrating by 1990-91, in Romania it was only in 1999 that legislation provided access to secret police files and a procedure for vetting public officials, and the process suffered numerous reversals. An organization, the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives, known...

  8. Chapter 2 The Secrets of a Secret Police
    (pp. 77-154)

    “Secrecy,” wrote Elias Canetti, “lies at the very core of power.”¹ In this he echoed Max Weber, who connected secrecy to bureaucracy: “Every bureaucracy seeks to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their knowledge and intentions secret. … Everywhere that the power interests of the domination structure toward the outside are at stake, whether it is an economic competitor of a private enterprise, or a foreign, potentially hostile polity, we find secrecy. … With the increasing bureaucratization of party organizations, this secrecy will prevail even more.”² Anthropologist David Nugent puts the point more bluntly: “Secrecy is constitutive...

  9. Chapter 3 Knowledge Practices and the Social Relations of Surveillance
    (pp. 155-212)

    On April 1, 1974, Securitate officer Iosif Pall in Deva, Hunedoara county, responded as follows to a communication from Bucharest that I was collecting military information:

    From the data our organs hold, two hypotheses can be raised: 1) Katherine Verdery is collecting military information, for which reason she travels in zones where there are special military units, discussing special problems with inhabitants of these zones as well as with workers at the [armaments] factory in Cugir. 2) Katherine Verdery is collecting information limited to the problems of her doctoral thesis, contacting intellectuals who can give her valid information about customs,...

  10. Conclusion: The Radiant Future?
    (pp. 213-222)

    These chapters have concerned a form of surveillance that spread from the Soviet Union into the East European states and was undermined by the collapse of that socio-political system known as “actually existing socialism.” We might therefore say that this book is “about history”: it deals with a type of society that no longer exists in that part of the world. While this may be so, it does not spell the end of surveillance, which is expanding at a great rate and in multiple forms in societies across the globe, including in Romania by the Securitate’s successor, the Romanian Information...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 223-254)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-270)
  13. Index
    (pp. 271-289)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 290-290)