Decades Later, Still a Death Sentence for Dissidents

Condemning the heresies of the past is indeed the most difficult step in the transition from tyranny to democracy. In the 1950s, when I was deputy chief of the Romanian trade mission in West Germany, I witnessed how the Third Reich was demolished, and how the country became a Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) that made it the leading power in Europe. But not until 1998 was the Bundestag able to adopt a law canceling the sentences given to Claus von Stauffenberg, who had led a plot to assassinate Hitler, and to all other Germans who had, in one way or another, helped the Allies fight Nazism. Horst Heymann, the president of the Bundestag commission that initiated this law, apologized to the German people because their parliament had taken 50 years to arrive at that point. Now the Germans who fought Nazism are honored in the grandiose Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the country’s new museum of history.

Germany needed half a century to condemn Nazism, because that heresy was born in Germany and was rooted in her soil. Communism and its political police were not born in Romania. They were imported from the Soviet Union, and Romania should not wait for new generations to repudiate them.

It is now time for the Romanian president, prime minister and parliament to move from words to action, and to initiate a Heymann-style law that would rehabilitate—judicially and politically—the hundreds of thousands of anti-communists who are still sentenced in Romania, twenty years after the Soviet empire collapsed.

It is also time for Romania's leaders and for her media to make a fundamental decision: What does “treason” really mean, and who is really a “traitor”?