Romania confronts communist past in trial of prison camp chief
The hearing only lasted an hour. The defendant was a frail old man in a hat. The atmosphere was subdued, the legal procedure perfunctory.
But in a packed courtroom in Bucharest, Romania finally took steps on Wednesday to come to terms with the brutality of its communist past. Twenty-five years after the collapse of the Ceaușescu regime, the country for the first time initiated a trial of an individual accused of crimes committed during the 42 years of communist rule.
Alexandru Visineșcu, 88, faces charges of crimes against humanity for his role as the commander of the notorious Râmnicu Sărat prison for political prisoners.
Sitting quietly in a three-piece suit in the second row of the courtroom, he did not look like a man who was making history.
Visineșcu, who was commander at Râmnicu Sărat prison between 1956 and 1963, is said to have overseen an “extermination regime” and is accused of torture and having an involvement in the deaths of 12 political prisoners. He denies the charges.
Nicoleta Eremia, the widow of a former political prisoner, asked the court for €100,000 (£78,000) in moral and financial damages related to her husband, a general imprisoned for writing a book critical of the communist leadership.
Her husband, who spent three years in Râmnicu Sărat prison and who died in 2004 aged 90, “left this world lacking peace” because of what had happened to him in prison, Eremia told the Guardian after court had adjourned for the day.
“My husband ended up weighing just 30 kilograms (4st 10lb) when he got out of prison. I have records showing how much hard detention he was made to do.”