Nobody had died there, an elderly woman from Orşova recently told the journalist. Nobody had died there, it was all legends.
“It’s been more than 26 years since the Revolution, and Romania doesn’t remember them anymore. Or doesn’t want to remember,” writes Marina Constantinoiu, the journalist at Mişcarea de Rezistență who, together with her colleague Istvan Deak, is attempting to salvage a piece of history that everyone seems intent on burying.
The case for forgetting that between 1949 and 1989 the Romanian communist regime killed thousands of people who attempted to cross its closed national borders illegally, and jailed thousands more, seems clear for the current authorities. They would like to wipe off the blemish and make Romania look presentable alongside other members of the European Union.
For many Romanians who pursued or approved of political asylum in Western Europe during the times of the Iron Curtain, but are averse today to extending asylum to Syrian war refugees, the case for forgetting is again clear.
For those Romanians who wore the military uniforms and for those who signed the statements incriminating their friends and family members who dreamed of fleeing, there’s not even a case to be argued.
But what about the people who were or knew the victims of the atrocities? The surprising discovery of the journalists at Mişcarea de Rezistență was that those people too are reluctant to talk. Some might find it hard to relive trauma that has never healed; others might feel unsure of how their very personal story will be handled by someone else, even someone who wrote again and again about the subject; others want to distance themselves from served jail sentences, even though they were political sentences; others are just too busy with the present to revisit the past.
The result is a surprising culture of silence around this recent aspect of Romanian history. The journalists were even advised to find other subjects and told that their obsession with this story was unhealthy. But they kept at it.
On March 7, 2016, Marina Constantinoiu returned from a two-week journey along the Danubian border between Romania and Serbia where she documented the mass graves dug by the Serbians for the people who had tried to cross the river and had fallen victims to the bullets and the harpoons of Romanian frontier guards. Those who crossed and those who died trying to cross are so many—some even from other countries such as USSR, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany—that they have earned themselves a name: Frontieriştii. The Border People.
I know one of those Border People and I wrote his story in my interview-based series Our Borders. But Frontieriştii is a story that’s bigger than just one man. Frontieriştii is the story of hundreds of thousands of people over four long, bloody decades.
“the necessity of clarifying the phenomenon known as Frontieriştii, of finding out the truth about the missing, of properly recoding the dead, and of recognizing the imprisonment of those trying to cross illegally as political persecution is crucial,” write Marina Constantinoiu and Istvan Deak in the opening article of their series launched on March 15, 2016 (in Romanian) at http://miscareaderezistenta.ro/frontieriștii.
The easy thing to do is just forget all that ugly, inconvenient stuff. But for those who want to do the hard thing, these two journalists are asking for help with testimonials, documents, pictures and anything else that can unearth a recent slice of history already being buried.