At the beginning of 1990, a friend prophetically remarked: “the main problem with Romania is not that it had a Ceausescu, but that it has 30,000 Ceausescus.” I have had more than one occasion to recall that statement when witnessing demonstrations of poorly internalized democratic values among leading figures in the government, in extra-parliamentary opposition and, most disappointingly, among Romania’s “civic society.”
The phenomenon is perhaps the most offensive in the realm of media and free speech, where the Voltairian pledge – “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it*” – has often been supplanted by claims on the monopoly of truth. As an American, I was brought up to believe in the ideal of the “marketplace of ideas” in which conflicting opinions are allowed to be voiced, to confront one another, and to stand or fall on their own merits. A marketplace where, to cite Voltaire again, you were expected to “think for yourself, and to let others enjoy the privilege to do so as well.” (06/02/1770)
Recently, the tenth episode of the documentary “The Clandestine Legacy”
] based on material from my books With Friends Like These: The Soviet Bloc’s Clandestine War Against Romania
(2010) and Extorting Peace: Romania and The End of the Cold War
(2013), was abruptly interrupted in mid-broadcast and taken off the air by the director of Romania’s national public television station, Stelian Tanase, because he considered it “communist propaganda.” Mr. Tanase did not further elaborate why he thought it “communist propaganda” but it was probably not for the same reasons that persuaded U.S. and European historians to favorably review my books (see e.g. Professor Keith Hitchens in Southeastern Europe
and Professor Dennis Deletant in Slavic and East European Studies
) or institutions such as the U.S. National Intelligence University to use them as reference texts.
Instead of the equidistance demanded by public broadcasting Mr. Tanase has substituted his personal political agenda. And he has taken it upon himself to ensure that an alternate opinion is not heard, despite the high-ratings and several professional awards that the documentary series has garnered.
Mr. Tanase’s insistence on his monopoly of the truth echoes former dictatorial efforts to eliminate inconvenient historical truths and replace them with ones more supportive of the aims and capricious whims of respective dictators. As Yugoslav political philosopher Svetozar Stojanovich observed, under Communism “the only absolutely certain thing is the future, since the past is constantly changing.” (Praxis, 3-4, 1972:375)
The mentality demonstrated by Mr. Tanase that history is only a function of ideology and interest is not only unfortunate in its implications for democracy and free speech, it is fundamentally mistaken in terms of historical methodology. There is, in fact, an evidentiary basis upon which genuine history is written. And because of that evidentiary basis the best histories are able to stand the test of time and regime change.
This is by no means the first time that Romanian history has come under attack. Indeed, one might argue that it has been a semi-permanent reality. Between the world wars the USSR maintained an all-out offensive in its effort to rewrite the past in order to depict the Romanian Kingdom as a relentlessly “aggressive armed encampment” and as the “most savage monarchy in Europe,” against which the Soviet Union had to intervene militarily for humanitarian reasons. In a most eloquent demonstration of the social pathology known as “blaming the victim,” Soviet forces invaded and occupied parts of Romanian Moldova and Bucovina (Bessarabia, northern Bucovina and the Herta) in 1940 while the Moscow propaganda machine labeled Romania the aggressor.
Communist authorities ordered massive book burnings according to the indications given in several editions of the volume Forbidden Publications [Publicatiile interzise]. Among the categories of books to be destroyed were all school manuals printed before 1947 and all works by Winston Churchill, Charles De Gaulle, Iuliu Maniu, Ion Mihalache, Nicolae Iorga and the Romanian royal family. Hundreds of forbidden works were listed for destruction according to each letter of the alphabet (e.g. 621 books beginning with the letter “M” and 741 beginning with “S”). According to Forbidden Publications (1947, p. 5):
“In their criminal activity of keeping the people in ignorance and obscurantism at any price, the reactionaries used all means that could help them achieve that end. They propagated poisonous imperialist ideology among all strata of society in preparation for the war of thievery and invasion against the Soviet Union, and the working masses had to be deliberately misled and the true truth hidden behind a mask of lies, which the landholder-bourgeoisie desired to be as non-transparent as possible.”
Romanian historiography, previously indistinguishable from that of the rest of Europe, was labeled henceforth as “imperialist” and “bourgeois propaganda.” The Stalinist “classed-based” historiography that replaced it one-sidedly depicted Romanian leadership before communism as relentlessly repressive and aggressive, Romanian policy as one of constant expansion into the territory of others, and every Romanian regime as devoid of any constructive or positive attributes whatsoever.
This changed in the early 1960s when Soviet officials began attacking Gheorghiu-Dej’s new document-based Romanian historiography, which disregarded considerations of “class” and the precepts of Marxist-Leninism. Accordingly, the Soviet school of historical thought now held that no Romanian leadership had ever represented anything more than a blight on the political landscape, a demonstration of failed civilization. The basic problem, as Moscow described it, was the “similarity or identity of modern Romanian opinions with the appreciations of Western bourgeois historiography.” (See documents 1, 11, 14, 17 and 24 at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/romanian-interkit
The quality of serious Romanian historiography from the mid-1960s into the 1980s was so impressive to the global community of professional historians that they elected Romania to hold the five-year presidency of its most prestigious institution, the International Committee of Historical Sciences (1980-1985). (Toward a Global Community of Historians (2005): 259-260) It was the only Soviet bloc member to be so honored during the Cold War. Although Moscow hosted the Congress in 1970 it had been awarded that honor only because of its political clout unrelated to the quality of its historiography, which remained tightly bound to the dogmas of Communist ideology.
Interestingly, just like the earlier Soviet claims of “falsification” and “imperialist propaganda,” contemporary reference to these realities – to the respectable professionalism of post-1962 Romanian historiography and especially to Romania’s constructive role as a state actor in international politics – continues to be labeled by some as “falsification” and, ironically, as “communist propaganda”. Given Stelian Tanase’s uninformed characterization of my work as Securitate/Communist propaganda, it would appear that his agenda includes rewriting Romanian history along ideological lines.
Mr. Tanase apparently feels that best way of dealing with the scandal that his transgressions have brought upon himself and upon TVR is to mount an ad hominem attack against Larry Watts (a.k.a. “blaming the victim”). What saddens me is that he has drawn in someone, Michael Shafir, whom I once thought dedicated to the ideals of transparency and scholarly debate. And that Mr. Shafir then chose to employ tactics of shadowy innuendo and ad hominem attack more characteristic of Securitate (and Soviet) disinformation.
According to Shafir’s “defense” of Tanase’s transgressions:
The affiliation of Larry Watts with Securitate circles is no secret to anyone and (besides himself) is not denied by anyone. At least not in any credible manner. I will not again take up here the numerous indications [of his Securitate affiliation] based on his unusual “scientific” travels in Romania. These things are well-known, beginning with his self-recruitment into the group supporting the rehabilitation of Marshal Antonescu, alongside Iosif Constantin Dragan, in the 80s …
Thus, Tanase’s transgressions are deemed unimportant because Larry Watts allegedly has dubious connections to the Securitate. And there is no need to actually prove the existence of such connections because they are “not a secret for anyone.” Moreover, Watts should be ignored on the topic of his past because “no one [else] denies” the alleged ties. That no one else except for the circle of Tanase, Tismaneanu, Pacepa and Shafir is alleging such affiliations is a minor detail.
Mr. Shafir claims as ‘proof’ for his allegations the existence of “numerous indications based on [Watts’] unusual ‘scientific’ travels in Romania.” Apparently, further detail regarding those “numerous indications” is shared only among the illuminati. Or, following Mr. Shafir’s logic, they do not have to be made explicit because they are “not a secret for anyone.” Mere interest in Romania is suspect.
In fact, all of my Romanian visits prior to 1990 were made on the basis of grants and fellowships funded by the U.S. Government or Congress (National Resource Fellowship (FLAS), IREX grants and Fulbright Fellowships). And from 1984 until 1990 I was either working under contract for the U.S. government, conducting research at the Woodrow Wilson Center or the University of Denver, working as a consultant at the RAND Corporation – including a 6-month period during 1988 in the USSR financed by RAND – or teaching as visiting professor at the University of Washington, Seattle.
Clearly, all of that must have been a front. It does it matter that I can document where I was, what I did, and on whose coin I did it. And the fact that paper trails proving this are relatively easy to follow in the United States is inconsequential. By all means, one must avoid such transparency if innuendo and insinuation – disinformation – are to have their desired effect.
Shafir also claims that I “recruited myself” to a group “supporting the rehabilitation of Marshal Antonescu, alongside Iosif Constantin Dragan.” I did no such thing. I have never even met or communicated with Mr. Dragan, much less collaborated with him. My 1985 Master’s thesis at the University of Washington dealt with the regime change from King Carol II to Marshal Antonescu in 1940. The main finding of that thesis, that the King had invited the German military mission and committed Romania to the German Axis long before Antonescu came to power, has been fully validated by post-1989 archival revelations.
Interestingly, only one day before the Tanase/Shafir attack on my person and work, the unreformed Securitate perspective on my “dark purposes” and “dubious ties” was also presented on-line by ex-Securitate Colonel Filip Teodorescu, the current head of its veterans’ association:
“Larry Watts was under Romanian counterintelligence surveillance. … You should not associate with him. I, for one, will not because I know. I know what he did. I know why he was here. I know what he is doing now. And I know the purpose of his insistent action here from 1981 until now. Perhaps on another occasion we can broach the topic [of Larry Watts] more professionally. First he praises Romanians … but in the end he tells us what we do not like, he delivers the blow, [which] he has prepared in advance. That’s who he is, he is an intelligence professional.”
Thus, the self-styled “civic society” represented by Tanase and Shafir would have me and my work marginalized because of my alleged ties to the Securitate. And the Securitate desires the same because of my alleged ties to U.S. intelligence. The suspense is killing me. I, for one, cannot wait for Mssrs Teodorescu, Shafir or Tanase to give some credible explanation of what my dark purposes really are; for whom, in the end, I am actually working; and how my work in resolving ethnic tensions, establishing democratic control over the armed forces and intelligence services, and gaining Romania’s admission into NATO have served the “dark purposes” of my purported masters.
But enough about me.
The actions perpetrated by TVR Director Stelian Tanase in arbitrarily interrupting episode 10 of “The Clandestine Legacy” in mid-broadcast because of his personal opinions are troubling, especially given that he is reputed to be a leading representative of civic society in Romania. His continued lack of regret suggests that he remains unaware as to the import and inappropriateness of his actions. And his preference to avoid responsibility and to throw the blame anywhere else suggests that this will not be the last such incident while he heads Romanian public television. Singly and together, these actions betray a mindset more comfortable with dictatorship than democracy.
On Monday, February 24, Mr. Tanase further attempted to justify his disregard of the Romanian constitution and of the regulations of Romania’s public television station by repeating his claim that the censored program was “a Securitate provocation” forbidden by law. Mr. Tanase apparently feels that evidence and opinions with which he does not agree should be repressed.
On the one hand, Mr. Tanase displays a profound lack of respect for free speech and public debate as well as the extent and limitations of the authority of his present position. On the other, he dismisses as “propaganda” assertions and interpretations that are not only well-documented but whose documentation can be independently checked on-line at multiple internet archive sites hosted by respected institutions in the United States and Europe.
For treating Romania’s national public television station as his personal property and its personnel and procedures as subject to his whim, and for demonstrating a callous disregard for democratic principle and historical truth, Mr. Tanase has earned himself a prominent place among the 30,000.
Larry L. Watts blogspot via Ziaristi Online
[*Voltaire’s actual words were “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” 06/02/1770]
This blog appeared in Romanian translation at Adevarul.ro
and Ziaristi Online