Secrets and Truth: Ethnography in the Archive of Romania's Secret Police (The Natalie Zemon Davis Annual Lecture Series Book 7)

Secrets and Truth: Ethnography in the Archive of Romania's Secret Police (The Natalie Zemon Davis Annual Lecture Series Book 7)

Katherine Verdery

Language: English

Pages: 311

ISBN: 2:00282431

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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.


















uncommonly difficult to answer. Users of these archives are pioneers with little precedent to guide them. The recency of my own approach to them makes my arguments in this book somewhat tentative. I first encountered the Romanian secret police (Securitate) archive while researching a book on the collectivization of Romanian agriculture,1 for which the archive provided some useful information about villagers’ experiences. At the encouragement of one of the archivists, I eventually requested my own

some initial moments in such thinking. Only the press’s publication schedule for the lecture series has induced me to release them at this point. When I received Gábor Klaniczay’s kind invitation to deliver them, I wondered how an East Europeanist anthropologist (unlike all my predecessors in this lecture series, who have been primarily West European historians) could say anything appropriate in honor of Professor Natalie Davis—especially since my research goes back only to the 1950s, unlike my

dismissed this Ur-secret as a fabrication, that criticism is unacceptable: all our life as human beings in society rests on fabrications, starting, some would say, with the idea of God. Our job as social analysts is to understand the fabrications, and to ask how they spread within a community and with what 88 NZ2_book____ok.indd 88 2013-11-12 12:00:56 consequences. Anikó Szűcs suggests that just as in African and New Guinea secret societies, the Party leaders and secret police of Soviet

as its aim “the defense of the democratic achievements, the guarantee of the security of the Romanian People’s Republic, against the machinations of enemies from within and without.”18 It eventually became one of the largest East European intelligence services, proportional to population. The Soviet NKVD/KGB19 was instrumental in its formation: its first Director, as well as several of its deputies and other top officials, were Soviet NKVD officers, and Soviet coun- 9 NZ2_book____ok.indd 9

necessary for an intelligence officer,” so they were transferred to nonoperative or bureaucratic divisions or to the re- 16 NZ2_book____ok.indd 16 2013-11-12 12:00:39 serves.41 By 1973, 100 percent of the leading Securitate cadres had been replaced through increased educational requirements. In 1974, Ceaușescu launched a new mission for the Securitate: the “war of the entire people,”42 which would have important consequences­ for the recruitment of informers, as I will discuss in chapter 3.

Download sample