Fears grow that trial of Romanian ex-prison chief is a missed opportunity

09 February 2015 by Isabelle Wesselingh, Bucharest (Romania)

The first trial of a Communist-era prison commander charged with crimes against humanity [IJT-168], in a case the media have dubbed “Romania's Nuremberg”, raised great expectations. But after a few months, many people in the country still struggling to reconcile with its past have voiced disappointment.

Interior of Ramincu Sarat prison in Romania (Photo: IICCMER)
Image caption: 
Interior of Ramincu Sarat prison in Romania (Photo: IICCMER)

Alexandru Visinescu’s landmark trial is being handled as an ordinary criminal case. This deprives Romanian society of wider introspection into a dark past, critics say. While there were hasty trials of late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and a few dozen of his aides in the 1990s, most dealt just with events surrounding the 1989 revolution. Visinescu's case is the first time a Romanian court is hearing about the fierce state repression of the 1950s and 1960s. Many hoped it would finally shed light on a dark period and create a historical record.

On 28 January, the seventh day of hearings began with a documentary-maker telling the court about the plight of former political prisoners. “Many of them are not alive anymore, but the ones I interviewed described Ramnicu Sarat as the most terrible jail,” said Lucia Hossu-Longin, testifying on behalf of some victims' relatives.

Visinescu, the commander of the prison between 1956 and 1963, listened restlessly. The now frail 89 year old is accused of having implemented a “regime of extermination” in Ramnicu Sarat.

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