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Repression tactics under Romanian Communism

Once the communists came to power, everyone who had opposed them in one way or another suffered retaliation. Political violence was a constant practice for the authorities all throughout the communist period. The victims of political persecutions were numerous, as there were several waves of repression, starting in the autumn of 1944 and reaching the peak of violence between 1948 and 1958.

The communist regime strongly relied on political persecution to put in practice its project to control and transform Romanian society. Even before their coming to power, Romanian communists, supported by the Soviet army stationed on Romanian territory, under the pretext of “Fascist purges”, forced the government in power deport several thousands Romanians of German ethnicity (between 75,000 and 90,000) to the USSR. This was followed by the harassment of Romanian refugees from Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina by the Soviet Embassy in Romania, as they were considered Soviet citizens who needed to be returned to their “home country” (after the war, the Romanian territories of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina became part of the Soviet Union).

Romanian refugees from Bessarabia (fallen under Soviet rule)

After March 6, 1945, Petru Groza’s pro-communist government staged several trials of alleged “war criminals”. Aside from Marshal Ion Antonescu and his faithful followers on the extreme right political spectrum, the communists also arrested 90,000 people: members of the military, journalists, former state clerks, and members of other political parties. The persecution of “enemies” would continue in the coming months, years, and decades. At first, being less organised and forced to rely on the former cadres of the State Security Department, the communists did not manage to make the repression official. This would be achieved after the forced abdication of King Michael in 1947.

War criminal Ion Antonescu awaiting his execution by firing squad after World War II.

Between 1947 and 1949, the Romanian communists relentlessly pursue to destroy Romania’s political, social, and intellectual elites of the interwar period. The repression was not aimed solely at political and class “enemies”. Religion, described as “the opium of the people”, seemed a more real and significant menace than the one posed by politicians and intellectuals. If the Orthodox Church, ever faithful to its ideal of submitting to power, eschewed direct persecution, the Greek Catholic Church suffered the hardest blows. In October 1948, all its property was confiscated, and approximately 500 priests, as well as all bishops, were arrested.

Greek-Catholic priests sentenced to prison under Communism

The arrest of prominent personalities of political, economic, intellectual and religious life between 1944 and 1950 was followed by the arrest of second-rank members or mere sympathizers of other political parties, as well as students who had expressed their opposition to communism in one way or another. The communists’ program aiming to cut off all ties with the West also led to the imprisonment of numerous people sentenced for crimes of espionage. A mere visit to the American, British, French or Turkish embassies was enough to throw hundreds of persons in the communist prisons. Simple seamstresses who read foreign fashion magazines at the library of the French Institute in Bucharest or socialites who took part in the soirées organised at the Turkish embassy were arrested and trialed for crimes of “high treason”. At the same time, all cultural centers of Western countries were closed, those who frequented them being often considered “spies in the service of enemy powers”, arrested, trialed and sentenced to many years in prison.

Prison cell where opposition leader Iuliu Maniu died.

We still do not know the exact number of people who were imprisoned during this period. Numbers vary depending on their source. The statistics of the Ministry of the Interior show that, between 1945 and 1964, 73,310 people were imprisoned on political charges, of whom 335 were sentenced to death (part of these latter sentences being turned into life sentences or into long years in prison). British historian Dennis Deletant estimates the number of people put in prison for political reasons to have been around 180,000. The report of the Tismăneanu Commission for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania gives a number of 600,000 political prisoners. A well-known writer and former political prisoner Adrian Marino stated that Communists had imprisoned between 4%-5% of the population, so that the remaining 95% to 96% per cent would keep quiet and accept the system.

Prisons and forced labor camps for political prisoners in Communist Romania

We also do not know the exact number of those who died in prisons, labor camps and interrogation chambers. The numbers varies from 1,406 according to one historian to 190,000 as stated by Corneliu Coposu, a former political prisoner who spent 17 years in communist prisons.

The deportation and displacement of people considered to be a threat to the regime made victims, too. More than 44,000 people were deported between 1951 and 1964. Hundreds of them died indirectly from the conditions in the gulags. The decree forbidding abortion for women under 45 years old and having less than 4 children led to the death of over 10,000 women between 1966 and 1989, due to improvised methods of abortion and the doctors being forbidden from providing care for women who became ill as a consequence of such attempts.


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