?From the great beyond into the present? ? an interview with Jo Lendle

Hanser publisher Jo Lendle talks about gentle adjustments of languages and marketing strategies.... more more

GoetheInstitute

31/08/2009

Securitate in all but name

Twenty years after Ceausescu's execution his secret service is still active. For the first time, Romanian-German writer Herta Müller describes her ongoing experience of Securitate terror.

Update October, 8th: Romanian-born German novelist Herta Müller wins the Nobel Prize for Literature 2009! Here you can read an excerpt from her latest novel "Everything I Own I Carry With Me" ("Atemschaukel").

For me each journey to Romania is also a journey into another time, in which I never knew which events in my life were coincidence and which were staged. This is why I have, in each and every public statement I have made, demanded access to the secret files kept on me which, under various pretexts, has invariably been denied me. Instead, each time there was signs that I was once again, that is to say, still under observation.

In spring earlier this year I visited Bucharest, on the invitation of the NEC (New European College). On the first day I was sitting in the hotel lobby with a journalist and a photographer when a muscular security guard inquired about a permit and tried to tear the camera from the photographer's hands. "No photos allowed on the premises, nor of any people on the premises," he bellowed. On the evening of the second day I had arranged to have dinner with a friend who, as we had agreed on the phone, came to pick me up from the hotel at six o'clock. As he turned into the street in which the hotel was situated, he noticed a man following him. When he asked to call me at the reception, the receptionist said he would have to fill in a visitor's form first. This frightened him because such a thing was unheard of, even under Ceausescu.

My friend and I walked to the restaurant. Again and again he suggested that we cross to the other side of the street. I thought nothing of it. Not until the following day did he tell Andrei Plesu, the Director of the NEC, about the visitor's form and that a man had followed him on his way to the hotel, and later the two of us to the restaurant. Andrei Plesu was infuriated and sent his secretary to cancel all bookings at the hotel. The hotel manager lied that it was the receptionist's first day at work and that she had made a mistake. But the secretary knew the lady, she had worked in the reception for years and years. The manager replied that the "patron", the owner of the hotel, was a former Securitate man who, unfortunately, would not change his ways. Then he smiled and said that by all means the NEC could cancel its bookings with him, but that it would be the same in other hotels of the same standard. The only difference being that you wouldn't know.

I checked out. After that I didn't notice anyone else following me. Either the secret service had backed off, or they worked professionally, i.e. unnoticed.

In order to know that a shadow was needed at six o'clock, my phone must have been tapped. Ceausescu's secret police, the Securitate, has not disbanded, just given another name, the SRI (Romanian Information Service). And according to their own figures, 40% of the staff was taken on from the Securitate. The real percentage is probably much higher. And the remaining 60% are retired and living on pensions that are three times higher than those of everybody else, or they are the new architects of the market economy. Apart from jobs in the diplomatic corps, a former spy in today's Romania can attain any post.

Access to files, the Romanian way

Romanian intellectuals were as uninterested in seeing the secret files opened as they were in all the crushed lives around them, or in the new arrangements of the party's top brass and secret service officers. If, like me, you have publicly demanded access to files year in year out, you start to get on the nerves even of your friends. This was another reason why, for years, the Securitate files were not in the hands of the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (the tongue-twistingly named CNSAS), which was grudgingly set up in 1999 at the instigation of the EU, but with the new-old secret service. They controlled all access to files. The CNSAS had to submit applications to them; sometimes they were granted, but mostly they were refused, even for the grounds: The file applied for is still being worked on. In 2004 I was in Bucharest in order to lend weight to my repeated application for file access. At the entrance to the CNSAS I was puzzled to find three young women in mini-dresses with plunging necklines and shiny neon tights, as if this were some erotic centre. And between the women stood a soldier, a machine-gun slung over his shoulder, as if this were a military barracks. The head of CNSAS pretended not to be there, even though I had an appointment with him.
This spring a group of researchers happened upon the files kept on the Romanian-German authors of the "Aktionsgruppe Banat". The Securitate had a specialised department for each minority. For the Germans, it was called "German Nationalists and Fascists", the Hungarian section was called "Hungarian Irredentists", the Jewish one "Jewish Nationalists". Only Romanian authors had the honour of being placed under the observation of the department of "Art and Culture".

Suddenly I found my file, too, under the name of Cristina. Three volumes, 914 pages. It was allegedly opened on 8 March, 1983 – although it contains documents from earlier years. The reason given for opening the file: "Tendentious distortions of realities in the country, particularly in the village environment" in my book "Nadirs". Textual analysis by spies corroborate this. And the fact that I belong to a "circle of German-language poets", which is "renowned for its hostile works".

The file is a botched job by the SRI on behalf of the old Securitate. For ten years they had all the time in the world to "work" on it. You could not call this cooking the books, the file has simply been emptied of all substance.

The three years at the tractor factory Tehnometal where I was a translator are missing. I translated the manuals for machines imported from the GDR, Austria and Switzerland. For two years I sat with four bookkeepers in the office. They worked out the wages of the workers, I turned the pages of my fat technical dictionaries. I didn't understand the first thing about hydraulic or non-hydraulic presses, levers or gauges. When the dictionary offered three, four, or even seven terms, I went out onto the factory floor and asked the workers. They told me the correct Romanian word without any knowledge of German – they knew their machines. In the third year a "protocol office" was established. The company director moved me there to work alongside two newly employed translators, one from French, the other from English. One was the wife of a university professor who, even in my student days, was said to be a Securitate informant. The other was the daughter-in-law of the second most senior secret service officer in town. Only those two had the key to the file cupboard. When foreign professionals visited, I had to leave the office. Then, apparently, I was to be put through two recruitment tests with the secret police officer Stana, to be made suitable for the office. After my second refusal, his goodbye was: "You'll be sorry, we'll drown you in the river. "

One morning when I turned up for work, my dictionaries were lying on the floor outside the office door. My place had been taken by an engineer, and I was no longer allowed into the office. I couldn't go home, they would have sacked me there and then. Now I had no table, no chair. For two days, I defiantly sat my eight hours with the dictionaries on a concrete staircase that joined the ground and first floors, trying to translate so that no one could say I wasn't working. The office staff walked past me in silence. My friend Jenny, an engineer, knew about what was happening to me. Every day on our way home I explained it to her in detail. She came to me in the lunch break and sat down on the stairs. We ate together as we had done before in my office. Over the loudspeaker in the yard we could always hear the workers' choruses about the happiness of the people. She ate and cried for me, I didn't. I had to be strong.

On the third day I installed myself at Jenny's desk, she cleared a corner for me. On the fourth day too. It was a large office. On the fifth morning she was waiting for me outside the door. "I am no longer allowed to let you in the office. Just think, my colleagues say you are a spy. " "How's that possible," I asked. "But you know where we're living," she reasoned. I took my dictionaries and sat down on the stairs again. This time I cried too. When I went out onto the factory floor to ask about a word, the workers whistled after me and shouted: "Informer". It was a witches' cauldron. How many spies were there in Jenny's office and on the shop floor. They were acting on instructions. There were orders from above to attack me, the slander was meant to force me to resign. At the beginning of these turbulent times my father died. I no longer had a grip on things, I had to reassure myself that I really existed in the world, and began to write down the story of my – these writings formed the basis of the short stories in "Nadirs".

The fact that I was now considered a spy because I had refused to become one was worse than the attempt to recruit me and the death threat. I was being slandered by precisely the people that I was protecting by refusing to spy on them. Jenny and a handful of colleagues could see the games that were being played with me. But those who knew me less well could not. How could I have explained to them what was going on, how could I have proved the opposite. It was completely impossible, as the Securitate knew only too well, and that is exactly why they did it to me. They knew, too, that such perfidy would be far more destructive than any blackmail. You can even get used to death threats. They are part and parcel of this one life we have. You can defy anxiety to the depths of your soul. But slander steals your soul. You just feel surrounded by horror.

How long this situation lasted, I no longer know. It seemed endless to me. It was probably just weeks. Finally, I was sacked.

In my files this period is covered by just two words, a handwritten note in the margin of a surveillance protocol. Years later, at home, I related the attempt in the factory to enlist me as a spy. In the margin Lieutenant Padurariu wrote: "That's correct."

Then came the interrogations. The reproaches: that I wasn't looking for a job, that I was living from prostitution, black market dealings, as a "parasitic element". Names were mentioned that I had never heard in my life. And espionage for the BND (West German Intelligence Service) because I was friendly with a librarian at the Goethe Institute and an interpreter at the German Embassy. Hours and hours of fictitious reproaches. But not only that. They needed no summons, they simply plucked me off the street.

I was on my way to the hairdresser's when a policeman escorted me through a narrow metal door into the basement of a hall of residence. Three men in plain clothes were sitting at a table. A small bony one was the boss. He demanded to see my identity card and said: "Well, you whore, here we meet again." I had never seen him before. He said I was having sex with eight Arab students in exchange for tights and cosmetics. I didn't know a single Arab student. When I told him this, he replied: "If we want to, we'll find 20 Arabs as witnesses. You'll see, it'll make for a splendid trial." Time and again he would throw my identity card on the floor, and I had to bend down and pick it up. Thirty or forty times maybe; when I got slower, he kicked me in the small of my back. And from behind the door at the end of the table I heard a woman's voice screaming. Torture or rape, just a tape recording, I hoped. Then I was forced to eat eight hard boiled eggs and green onions with salt. I forced the stuff down. Then the bony man opened the metal door, threw my identity card outside and kicked me in the rear. I fell with my face in the grass beside some bushes. I vomited without raising my head. Without hurrying I picked up my identity card and headed home. Being pulled in from the street was more terrifying than a summons. No one would have known where you were. You could have disappeared, and never shown up again or, as they had threatened earlier, you could be pulled out of the river, a drowned corpse. The verdict would have been suicide.

No interrogation is mentioned in the files, no summons, and nothing about being pulled in from the street

This is what the file states on 30 November, 1986: "Notification of every journey that Cristina undertakes, to Bucharest and other places in the country, must be given in due time to Directorate I/A (Internal Security) and III/A (Counterespionage)", so that "permanent control may be maintained." In other words, I could not travel anywhere in the country without being shadowed, "to carry out the necessary control measures re. her relationships with West German diplomats and West German citizens. "

The shadowing varied according to their intentions. Sometimes you didn't notice it, sometimes it was conspicuous, sometimes it became aggressive and brutal. When "Nadirs" was due to be published by the West Berlin publishers Rotbuch, the editor and I had arranged to meet in Poiana Brasov in the Carpathian Mountains to avoid attracting attention. We travelled there separately as winter sports enthusiasts. My husband Richard Wagner had gone to Bucharest with the manuscript. I was to follow the next day by night train, without the manuscript. Two men met me in train station, wanting to take me away. I said: "I'm not coming unless you have an arrest warrant ." They confiscated my ticket and my identity card and said, before disappearing, that I should not leave that spot until they returned. But the train pulled in and they didn't come back. I went out onto the platform. This was the time of the great electricity saving effort, the sleeping car was standing in the dark at the end of the platform. You were only allowed to get on shortly before departure, the door was still locked. The two men were there, too, walking up and down, they jostled me and pushed me to the ground three times. Dirty and confused I picked myself up as if nothing had happened. And the waiting crowd looked on as if nothing had happened. When, finally, the door of the sleeping car opened, I pushed my way into the middle of the queue. The two men got on as well. I went into the compartment, undressed partly, and slipped on my pyjamas so that if they pulled me out, I would look conspicuous. As the train pulled away, I went to the toilet and hid a letter to Amnesty International behind the sink. The two men were standing in the corridor, talking to the conductor of the sleeping car. I had the lower bunk in the compartment. Perhaps because I'm easier to snatch from there, I thought. When the conductor came to my compartment, he handed me my ticket and my identity card. Where had he got those, and what did the two men want from him, I asked. "Which men," he said, "there are dozens of men here."

I didn't sleep a wink all night. It was foolish of me to get on the train, I thought, they'll throw me off somewhere in a snowy field during the night. When dawn arrived, my anxiety abated. They would have used the dark to stage a suicide, I thought. Before the first passengers awoke, I went to the toilet to retrieve the hidden letter. Then I got dressed, sat down on the edge of the bunk and waited until the train arrived in Bucharest. I got out of the train as if nothing had happened. Not a word about this in the file either.

The shadowing had consequences for others too. A friend was first noticed by the secret service during a reading from "Nadirs" at the Bucharest Goethe Institute. His details were taken, a file on him was opened and he was under surveillance from then on. This information comes from his file, no mention is made of it in mine.

The secret police came and went as they pleased when we weren't at home. Often they would deliberately leave signs: cigarette butts, pictures removed from the wall and left on the bed, chairs moved. The most uncanny incident of this kind lasted weeks. First the tail, then the paws, and finally the head was cut off a fox skin lying on the floor, and laid on the fox's belly. You couldn't see the cuts. I first noticed the tail lying there while cleaning the apartment. I still thought it was accidental. It was only weeks later, when the hind paw had been cut off, that I began to get the creeps. Until the point when the head was also cut off, the first thing I would do on coming home was to check the fox skin. Anything could happen, the flat was no longer private. At every mealtime you would wonder if the food had been poisoned. There is not a word about this psychological terror in the files.

In the summer of 1986 the writer Anna Jonas visited us in Timisoara. In a letter – which is enclosed in my file – from 4 November 1985, to the Romanian Society of Authors, she and other authors protested against the fact that I was not allowed to travel to the Book Fair, to the Evangelical Church Day, and to my publishers. The visit is accurately documented in my file, and there is a "telex" from 18 August 1986, to the border authority instructing them to search her luggage "thoroughly" on her leaving Romania, and to report their findings. In contrast, the visit of the journalist Rolf Michaelis from Die Zeit is missing. After the publication of "Nadirs" he wanted to conduct an interview with me. He had announced his arrival by telegram and trusted that he would find me at home. But the telegram was intercepted by the secret service, and Richard Wagner and I, knowing nothing, had gone to see his parents in the country for a couple of days. Two days running he rang our doorbell in vain. On the second day three men were lying in wait for him in the little room housing the rubbish chute, and brutally beat him up. The toes on both his feet were broken. We were living on the fifth floor, the lift wasn't working due to a power shortage. Michaelis had to crawl on all fours down the pitch-dark stairwell and onto the street. The telegram from Michaelis is missing from the file, although there is quite a collection of intercepted letters from the West. According to the file his visit never took place. This gap shows, too, that the secret service has erased the actions of their officers, so that no one can be held responsible as a result of file access – they have seen to it that the post-Ceausescu Securitate has become an abstract monster.

This is also how I explain to myself that no reference can be found in my file to another bizarre incident: I was already living in Berlin when I was called to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. I was shown a photo of a Romanian man unknown to me, who had been arrested in Königswinter as a Securitate agent. My name and address were in his notebook. The agent was suspected of travelling in Germany to carry out murders.

Rolf Michaelis wanted to protect us and didn't write about these attacks until we had left Romania. From the files I know that this was a mistake. Not silence, but publicity would protect us in the West. My file also reveals that surreal criminal proceedings were prepared against me for "spying for the BND". It was thanks to the reaction to my books and the literary prizes in Germany that this plan was never realised and I was not arrested.

Rolf Michaelis could not call us prior to his visit as we had no telephone. In Romania you had to wait years for a connection. We, however, were offered one without having applied. We refused, as we all knew that a telephone would be the most practical listening post in our small flat. When you visited friends who had a telephone, it had to be put in the fridge immediately and a record played to cover the voices. As is turned out, our refusal of the phone was pointless, as half of the file material I was given resulted from our flat being bugged.

Richard Wagner's file contains the "Nota de analiza" of 20 February 1985, which documents when neither of us is at home. "Similarly, special apparatus was installed in the flat, which delivers data of operative interest." The plan to install bugs can also be found in his file. Holes were drilled in the ceiling of the flat below, and in the our own floor. In both rooms the bugs were concealed behind the cupboards.

The monitoring protocols are often full of empty brackets because the music from the records disturbed the bugging. But we let the music play because we believed that the secret service was working with directional microphones. We never thought that we were being bugged day and night. True, during interrogations you were always confronted with things the interrogators couldn't possibly know. But as Romania was so poor and backwards we assumed that the Securitate couldn't afford modern bugging equipment. More to the point, we also thought that although we were state enemies, we were hardly worth such expense. For all our anxiety, we remained naive and thoroughly clueless about the level of surveillance.

The Securitate investigated the occupation, workplace and political trustworthiness of each and every occupant of our ten-storey tenement block and kept personal files – probably in order to recruit spies in the neighbourhood. Those who until then had escaped the attentions of the secret service, were stamped as "NECUNOSCUT" (unknown).

The bugging protocols are daily reports. The bugged conversations were summarised, but all "subversive" bits were transcribed word for word. Unknown visitors merit question marks in the margins and instructions to establish their identity. The bugging protocols also are incomplete.

One of our closest friends was Roland Kirsch. He was living round the corner from us and came to see us almost daily. He was an engineer in a slaughterhouse, took photographs of everyday dreariness, and wrote prose miniatures. In 1996 his volume "Traum der Mondkatze" (the dream of the moon cat) was published in Germany. It was published posthumously, because in May 1989 he was found hanged in his flat. The neighbours now say that they heard several loud voices in his flat on the night of his death. I do not believe it was suicide either. In Romania it would take days of running around to sort out all the formalities for a funeral. In suicide cases a post mortem was a matter of course. But Roland Kirsch's parents were handed all the relevant papers within a day. He was buried quickly and there was no post mortem. And there is no mention of a single visit from Roland Kirsch in the fat envelope of bugging protocols. His name is deleted, this person has been erased from existence.

The tangle of love and betrayal

My file at least answered one painful question. A year after my departure from Romania, Jenny came to visit in Berlin. Since the time of the harassment in the factory she had been my closest friend. Even after I was sacked we saw each other almost daily. But when I saw her passport in our Berlin kitchen, and the additional visas for France and Greece, I confronted her directly: "You don't get a passport like that for nothing, what did you do to get it?" Her answer: "The secret service has sent me, and I was desperate to see you again." Jenny had cancer – she is long dead now. She told me that her task was to investigate our flat and our daily habits. When we get up and go to bed, where we do our shopping and what we buy. On her return, she promised, she would only pass on what had been agreed between us. She lived with us, wanted to stay for a month. With each day my distrust grew. After just a couple of days I rummaged through her suitcase and found the telephone number of the Romanian consulate and a copy of our door key. After that I lived with the suspicion that in all probability she had been spying on me from the outset, her friendship just part of the job. After her return, I see from the file, she delivered a detailed description of the flat and of our habits, as "SURSA (source) SANDA".

But in a bugging protocol from 21 December, 1984, a note in the margin, next to Jenny's name, reads: "We must identify JENI, apparently there is great trust between them." This friendship, which meant so much to me, was ruined by her visit to Berlin, a terminally ill cancer patient lured into betrayal after chemotherapy. The copied key made it clear that Jenny had fulfilled her task behind our backs. I had to ask her to leave our Berlin flat at once. I had to chase my closest friend out in order to protect myself and Richard Wagner from her assignment. This tangle of love and betrayal was unavoidable. A thousand times I have turned her visit over in my mind, mourned our friendship, discovering to my disbelief that after my emigration, Jenny had a relationship with a Securitate officer. Today I am glad, for the file shows that our intimacy had grown naturally and had not been arranged by the secret service, and that Jenny didn't spy on me until after my emigration. You become grateful for small mercies, trawling through all the poison for a part that isn't contaminated, however small. That my file proves that the feelings between us were real, almost makes me happy now.

The expansion of tradition through libel

After the publication of "Nadirs" in Germany, and as the first invitations came, I was not allowed to travel. But when these were followed by invitations for literary award ceremonies, the Securitate changed its strategy. Having been out of work until then, it came as a great surprise when, in the late summer of 1984, I was offered a teaching job, and on my first day of work I received the recommendation from the head teacher that was the requirement for travelling. And in October 1984 I was actually allowed to travel. I was also permitted to receive literary prizes in person on the two occasions that followed.

The reasoning behind this lenience, however, was malicious: instead of being considered a dissident among my colleagues at the school, as I had been until then, I was to be seen as profiteering from the regime and, in the West, suspected of espionage. The secret service worked intensively on both, but in particular on the "agent" persona. Spying staff were sent to Germany on a smear campaign. The plan of action of 1 July 1985, states with satisfaction: "As a result of several journeys abroad, the idea was planted among some actors at the German State Theatre in Timisoara that Cristina is an agent for the Romanian Securitate. The West German stage director Alexander Montleart, temporarily at the German Theatre in Timisoara, has already voiced his suspicions to Martina Olczyk from the Goethe Institute and to employees at the German embassy in Bucharest."

After my emigration in 1987 they stepped up the pressure to "compromise and isolate" me. A "Nota de analiza" from March 1989 reads: "As part of the operation to compromise her reputation, we will work with Branch D (disinformation), publishing articles abroad or sending memoranda – that appear to come from the German emigre community – to several circles and authorities with influence in Germany." One of the spies appointed to this job is "Sorin", "for he is said to have the literary and journalistic leanings necessary to execute the plan of action." On 3 July 1989, department I/A sends a "report" to the Securitate HQ in Bucharest. The Romanian writer Damian Ureche has written a letter, in accordance with their instructions, in which Richard Wagner and I are denounced as spies. There follows a request to HQ to authorise the letter. A dancer from one of the folklore ensembles, who was travelling to Germany, was to pass it on to Radio Free Europe and the ARD (the West German public broadcaster).

The most important "partner" in Germany for smear campaigning was the Association of Banat Swabians. As early as 1985 the Securitate note with satisfaction: "The leadership of the Association of Banat Swabians has made negative comments about this book ("Nadirs"), also in the presence of representatives of the Romanian Embassy in Germany." This is strong stuff. Since the publication of "Nadirs" the Association had waged a character assassination campaign against me. "Fecal language, urine prose, traitor, party whore" were the comments typical of their homespun "literary criticism". I was a spy, they alleged, I had even written "Nadirs" at the behest of the Securitate. While I was sitting on the concrete steps of the tractor factory, the Association had obviously been in cahoots with the embassy staff of the Ceausescu dictatorship. I, on the other hand, would never have dared set foot in that embassy, for fear of never leaving it alive. In view of these relations with Ceausescu's diplomats it is hardly surprising that throughout all those years the Association never uttered one critical syllable. In collaboration with the regime it carried on the sale of Romanian-Germans, unconcerned that the Federal Republic was paying as much as 12,000 DM for each emigrant. Nor did it seem to mind that this human trafficking was a considerable source of hard currency for the dictatorship.

As part of their little agreement with the regime, they shared a hatred of me and joined in the business of libel. I became public enemy number one and, as their permanent target, a vital part of the Association's identity. To libel me was to prove one's love of the homeland. The Association libelled me as a new way of nurturing tradition. The only time the Association seemed used the term "spy" was to blacken my reputation. My file reads: "Because of her writings which put the Banat Swabians in a bad light," persons from this circle outside of Romania had "isolated and embarrassed" me. And: "Using the means at our disposal, our organs have participated in this campaign." My file says: "Compromising material should also be sent to Horst Fassel, at the address of his institute, requesting that it be disseminated." The institute in question is the Danube Swabian Institute in Tübingen, which Fassel headed at that time. Before that, in the eighties, he was editor of the Banater Post.

In their reports the spies led the Romanian secret service to believe that the Association in Germany had a significance that it never actually had. Despite the geographical distance, it had a similar level of dependence that a secret police informant has to his or her case officer, the same pressure to obey, the same fear of being dropped and exposed in the West.

One of the most diligent informants was "Sorin", who as early as 1983 snooped on the Timisoara group of authors. An acquaintance, who has seen the file on his now-dead father, learned from the code which is attached to the name of a spy on each report, that by 1982 "Sorin" had already delivered 38 such reports. In my file which contains 30 spy names, "Sorin" is one of the leading protagonists. A plan of action launched on 30 November 1986, expressly states that "Sorin" was to be given the task of prying into any plans I was hatching and which relationships I was cultivating in Romania and abroad. The chief editor of the culture section of the Bucharest paper New Way, once visited us in Timisoara accompanied by Walther Konschitzky. In the bugging protocol for that day Lieutenant Padurariu, who always interrogated me, noted in the margin the identification of this visitor: "Sorin".

During the dictatorship this "Sorin" was travelling regularly to Germany and, like so many spies, emigrated before the fall of Ceausescu. He became the cultural consultant of the Banat Association from 1992 to 1998. After his position in the Munich HQ was axed, he has continued to carry out his function on a voluntary basis.

The Association has never cared about the spies in its own ranks. Since its founding in 1950 it has created its imaginary homeland of brass band music, traditional costume parties, cosy peasant cottages and hand carved wooden gates. It has always turned a blind eye to dictatorships under Hitler or Ceausescu. Leading figures in the National Socialist population in the Banat were among the Association's founders.

These days the Association refuses to investigate the Securitate's influence on its own ranks, with the excuse that the matter is statute-barred. That is not acceptable in view of its political weight in Germany. Although fewer than 10% of Banat Swabian emigres are organised in the Association, throughout the years it has had representatives on broadcasting boards and in cultural institutions. After my arrival in Germany, radio journalists said that they had run into problems after featuring me on their programmes because the Association had intervened. Furthermore, all these years it has been one of the switch points for processing emigration applications from Romania, which it has occasionally sought to prevent. The Banat tried to block emigration application by the literary critic Emmerich Reichrath, whose reviews went beyond their narrow horizons. Before leaving the country I, too, received letters from "fellow Banat Germans" in Germany, saying: "You are not welcome in Germany." At the transit home in Nuremberg the Association had its office next door to that of the BND. A stamp from the Association was imperative for processing immigration formalities. I was received with the sentence: "German air won't be good for your health." I had a heavy cold after an overnight journey to the border on the trailer of a tractor. It was February.

Behind the next door, at the BND, the reception was even more brusque. Today I know why. The Securitate's smear campaign had succeeded: "Did you have dealings with the Romanian secret service?" My answer: "It had dealings with me. There's a difference," did not impress the civil servant. "Leave that for me to decide, that's my job," he said. "If you are on an assignment, it's not too late to say so now." While everyone else left this office after a few minutes with a "harmless" stamp, Richard Wagner and I were interrogated for several days, together and separately. While my mother received her certificate of naturalisation automatically, we were told for months that "thorough research was needed". It was grotesque. On the one hand the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution warned us against the Securitate's threats: Do not live on the ground floor, do not accept gifts while travelling, do not leave cigarette packs on the table, never enter a house or a flat with an unknown person, buy yourself a fake pistol, etc. On the other hand the suspicion that I was an agent hampered my naturalisation.

I ask myself why the BND held me in suspicion but didn't get wind of the numerous spies in the Association and among the emigres. Probably the BND also trusted the information coming from the Association. That is why Germany today is a cosy reserve for Securitate spies. When you compare the files on the Banat group of authors with one another, they are riddled with spies: "Sorin", "Voicu", "Gruia", "Marin", "Walter", "Matei", and many more. They are teachers, professors, civil servants, journalists, actors. No one has ever bothered them. They couldn't care less about the debate on the Stasi, which has continued since the fall of the Wall. They may all be German citizens, but they remain impenetrable to the German authorities. Their spying activities are extraterritorial in this country. And unlike the Stasi spies, the Securitate spies were not cut off from their case officers after reunification, because these now hold positions in the new Romanian secret service. The German Bundestag financed the Association's work during and after the dictatorship. Has anyone ever demanded an investigation into the entanglement of its staff with the Romanian dictatorship?

In 1989, after Ceausescu's fall, I thought that the smear campaigns against me would finally be over. But they continued. In 1991 I even received threatening phone calls in Rome while on a bursary at the Villa Massimo. And the Securitate's letter campaign has apparently taken on a life of its own. When in 2004 I was awarded the literature prize of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, not only did the Foundation receive piles of letters containing the usual slander, this time the action took on grotesque proportions as even the chairmanship of the Bundestag, the then leader of the federal state of Baden-Württenberg, Erwin Teufel, the chairman of the jury, Birgit Lermen, and Joachim Gauck, who was to give the award speech, received letters denouncing me as an agent, a member of Romania's communist party, and a traitor. Birgit Lermen's phone rang at a quarter to midnight, on the dot of 12, Bernhard Vogel, the chairman of the foundation received a call, and at a quarter past, Joachim Gauck's phone was ringing. Smears and threats with the Nazi party anthem blaring in the background. These calls were made on a nightly basis until the police eventually traced the caller.

The doppelganger from the falsification workshop

In my file I am two different people. One is called "Cristina", who is being fought as an enemy of the state. To compromise this "Cristina" the falsification workshop of Branch "D" (disinformation) fabricated a doppelganger from all those ingredients that would harm me the most – party-faithful communist, unscrupulous agent. Wherever I went, I had to live with this doppelganger. It was not only sent after me wherever I went, it also hurried ahead. Even though I have always and from the start, written only against the dictatorship, the doppelganger still continues on its own way. It has taken on a life of its own. Even though the dictatorship has been dead for 20 years, the doppelganger is still wandering about. For how much longer?

*

This article was originally published in Die Zeit on 23 July, 2009.

Herta Müller was born in Nitzkydorf in Romania in 1953. In 1987 she emigrated to Germany with her ex-husband, the writer Richard Wagner. In 2004 she won the Literature Prize of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Her latest novel "Atemschaukel" was published by Hanser Verlag this month. She lives in Berlin.

Translation: Karsten Sand Iversen and Christopher Sand-Iversen

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