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Nobel winner says Ceausescu’s spirit lives on in Romania
Brutal dictator Nicolae Ceausescu has been dead for 20 years, but Romania remains dominated by his henchmen, the winner of this year’s Nobel prize for literature says.
Herta Mueller, a small, raven-haired writer who grew up in Romania and now lives in Germany, is in Stockholm to receive her award. She is a reticent speaker, but her message — born from experiencing the bitterness Ceausescu’s repressive regime — is powerful.
“There is a legacy in Romania, a legacy of dictatorship,” Mueller says through a translator. “The former Securitate and the former party nomenclature are very closely networked in Romania and through privatisation they have managed to occupy almost all the key positions in society.”
Mueller is dressed in all in black, the only colour being a splash of bright red lipstick against her pale face. She is known for works such as “The Land of Green Plums” — dedicated to friends killed under Ceausescu’s Communist rule — and “The Appointment”, in which a Romanian woman sews notes saying “Marry Me” into men’s suits bound for Italy. Mueller is pessimistic about the future of a country she left in 1987, two years before the fall of the old regime.
“What Romania needs is a civil society,” Mueller says, flanked by a vase of bright yellow roses and a host of microphones. “But a civil society has to evolve and to do that it needs the right conditions. Romania does not have those conditions.”
Even the feared secret police, the Securitate have made a return, she says. “The new secret service … took on 40 percent of the old secret service. The people in that apparatus have acquired a second life.” Questions at the press conference are dominated by her experiences of life in a dictatorship. Has she talked with former East Germans who suffered under the Stasi? “Yes,” she says, but she sees a difference between the DDR and Romania.
In Romania, “you can’t see who did what. No responsibility has been taken,” she says. And what about other regimes? China for example? As one might expect from a writer praised for her courage, Mueller pulls no punches. “There is this great discrepancy as far as China is concerned.
It claims to be to be on the road to democracy, but it is not even a half, not even a quarter, not even a tenth true,” she says. “It has got nothing to do with democracy. Human rights have been cast aside.”
Someone who famously refused to be intimidated by the Securitate, Mueller believes in standing up to the powerful. “If there were less acceptance in the West then the rulers in China would have to think a little bit about how to change.”