What country let’s others burry its dead? The Romanian State, which keeps the fate of its defectors into oblivion

It was a rainy day when we found Mindea's grave in the Marcovatz cemetry; by Bogdan Constantinoiu

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Communist regime defectors attempted to jump the borders since 1948, at the onset of the new political regime in Romania. Gun shot incidents and the first victims on record date back then. We found the grave of one such Romanian in the cemetery in Marcovatz, tended for by the Serbs living there, and not by the Romanian State.

His name was Mindea (Mingia) Gheorghe Marian, of Berzovia, Caraş-Severin County.

The Cemetry in the Serbian village of Marcovatz

We drove slowly along the street, careful to not drive-by the cemetry. It drizzeled, and a white cross marked a hill-top nearby. We stopped the car, but the heavy rain kept us inside, while we took a photo of the white cross, which was an appropriate symbol to our quest.

A local woman approached us and started to inquire what were we doing there, before we had a chance to ask her our own questions. Still, she put us on the right track to the City Hall, where we were to find out more information on the Romanian burried by the Serbs almost seven decades ago.

We followed the instructions and here it was: Mindea Gheorghe rested at the center of the cemetry, and among the Serbs, as he did since 1948. He was now grieved for by the pouring rain, and had his grave tended by the local women. The cross was errected also in 1948, by one Vasile Micleu Sorin, as recorded on the masonry.

No one claimed Mindea back. It may be that he had no family or, rather, that his family never found out of his fate. He was just one of the first to share in the same oblivion that fell upon hundreds like him. Mindea’s name is not spelled correctly on the cross, but he did get to have one, unlike many of those that followed in his footsteps. He did get his share of Christian rituals performed at his grave.

„I tend to his grave, once in a while,” says one of the female employees we talk to at the City Hall in Marcovatz. And so it is. Mindea’s grave looks as well tended for as any other in the cemetry. And, like in a twist of irony, at the Marcovatz cemetry entry, the call to remember the dead and care for their graves and memory stays written in Romanian language too …

Most of us share in that duty: we do care for our forefathers’ graves. But too many of us could not do that and left this world burdened with the pain of not having been able to give a proper burial to their loved ones, be they lost child, spouse, sibling, or in-law.

To those younger than 30 years of age, these stories may seem unfathamobile. No one taught them in school about our recent history, and no one told them that across Romania, there is a dent in the population that cannot be accounted for: many made it to the West and integrated in the societies there; many ended up dead while trying.

This is why any personal account, coming from people inhabiting on both sides of the borders takes such a salient position, in the conspicuous absence of any official information. Those personal accounts corroborate the documents found in the archives opened to the public, and testify to this past reality.

Tend to your forefathers’ graves” stays written at the entry of the cemetry in Marcovatz; by Marina Constantinoiu

The defectors in the „Tismăneanu Report

On December 18, 2006, was issued the Final Report of the Presidential Committee for Analyzing the Communist Dicratorship, or the „Tismăneanu Report”, for short, by the name of its coordinator: political scientist Vladimir Tismăneanu.

According to this lengthy and somewhat heavy read, the illegal crossing of the border was criminalized and made into a political crime in 1949, when the number of political prisoners went up, to count tens or hundreds of such law-offenders.

But the deed, the attempt itself, carried a heavy price since 1948, when both Yugoslav and Romanian border-guards were instructed to shoot the „traitors of the communist regime” fleeing the country.

According to the „Tismăneanu Report”, the defectors turned into victims – either by being killed or imprisoned – along other kind of victims made by the communist regime add up to an estimated two million people. If one is to factor in the indirect victims – that is their relatives who suffered social discrimination – the number of people the communist regime trampled on goes up significantly.

The Securitate Informants

Official figures released after the demise of the communist regime put the number of people on the Securitate pay-roll at between 10,000 to 15,000. However, thousands more were zelous, enthusiastic  and paid informants, who engaged in telling on their relatives, friends and aquaintances, particularly with regard to any intention the latter might have at illegally crossing the border.

Some of the guides, supposedly helping the defectors go over the border safely, were in fact paid six to seven monthly salaries to turn them over to authorities.

The accurate overall cost of policing Romania’s border and defending it from its own citizens may never be known; an estimated 10% of the GDP funded the whole Securitate operations, states the „Tismăneanu Report”.

Defecting Romania

The „Tismăneanu Report” deems defection as a means to refuse being regimented by the communist regime.

„Obviously, not all Romanians had the option to defect, given that traveling abroad to Western countries was beyond the reach of most Romanians. Some risked their lives, attempting to illegally cross the border, while others used any opportunity for travel beyond the Iron Curtain as their chance to ask for political asylum, while others officially filed their request to emigrate abroad.

Some even cited the right to freedom of movement, stipulated in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, (to which Romania was a signatory part). It goes without saying that not all defectors left for political reasons; many had economic reasons in mind, the quest for better living standards – a legitimate aspiration, afterall.

A good number of the Romanian defectors turned very active politically, in their host countries, and thus supported the dissenting voices still left behind”, it reads the „Tismăneanu Report”. (To be continued).

Readers who want to volunteer more information on the topic may reach the investigative journalists at marina.constantinoiu@gmail.com, and istvan.deak2014@gmail.com

About Marina Constantinoiu Istvan Deak
Marina Constantinoiu și Istvan Deak sunt autorii unei serii de producții multimedia dedicate fenomenului frontierist, cu care s-a confruntat România în anii comunismului. Fenomenul, care a marcat o lungă perioadă, între 1948 și 1989, reprezintă o pagină de istorie recentă prea puțin sau chiar deloc cunoscută multora dintre români.

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