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On Independence Anniversary, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service Doesn't Forget Past Crimes

Romania--Gheorghe Ursu and his family in an undated photo.
Romania--Gheorghe Ursu and his family in an undated photo.

Corresponding with Radio Free Europe in Ceausescu’s Romania was one of the acts of defiance that put Gheorghe Ursu in the crosshairs of the dreaded Securitate.

Gheorghe Ursu knew how to build. A Romanian civil engineer, in the 1960s and 70s he designed many of the country’s communal living spaces that reflected the social ideals of the time. He also knew how to write, and as a communist who had become disillusioned with the party’s Stalinist policies after 1949 and been expelled, he made no secret of his dislike for the Ceausescu regime in his work.

In reams of diary entries, poems, satires, and letters to Radio Free Europe (RFE, later RFE/RL), which was then based in Munich, he excoriated the communist authorities on all manner of policy, especially what he viewed as a disastrous reconstruction plan for Bucharest following the 1977 earthquake. While his artistic work and political commentary had no chance of being published in Romania, the critiques he sent to RFE were read in radio broadcasts that permeated the Iron Curtain, despite the authorities’ best efforts to block them.

It was his connection to RFE Romanian journalists-in-exile Monica Lovinescu and her husband Virgil Ierunca that first brought him to the attention of the Securitate when he visited the pair in Munich. After years of surveillance and harassment, he was arrested in 1985 under the pretext that he was in possession of illegal foreign currency. An investigation after the 1989 overthrow of the Ceausescu regime showed that the secret police’s true object was his diary, which, now lost, reportedly consisted of dozens of notebooks and thousands of pages composed over 40 years.

Ursu died after two months in police custody as a result of severe beatings, allegedly at the hands of interrogators and other inmates. His death caused an international outcry at the time that resumed after Ceausescu’s overthrow when the new administration was criticized for not bringing charges against all those involved in his death. One fellow inmate and two former high-ranking police officers were tried and sentenced, but Ursu’s family and friends remained dissatisfied, believing the order for his murder came from higher up. His son Andrei went on a hunger strike twice to push for the investigation to be reopened.

Finally in August this year charges were brought against a former head of the Securitate, a former minister of interior, and two more police officers.

“I was convinced from the beginning that this case was known at the highest levels of the Ceausescu regime,” Andrei Ursu told RFE/RL’s Moldovan service recently in an exclusive interview about his struggle for justice spanning more than three decades.

Like Ursu’s family, journalists with RFE/RL’s Romanian and later Moldovan Service were also not satisfied with the official version of events. They reported extensively, interviewing Adrei Ursu and other experts involved in the case numerous times over the years.

“We have been keeping a close eye on this case and reporting on all the developments over all these years because we thought it was our duty to do this in the memory of a distinguished Romanian intellectual and friend of RFERL,” said RFE/RL Moldovan Service Director Oana Serafim.

“There are so many files…there were so many casualties over these 40 years of systematic repression,” said Andrei Ursu. “And we hope that with the help of our [Gheorghe Ursu Memorial Foundation], that as many other similar cases as possible can be solved.”

--Emily Thompson