Secrets and Truths

Ethnography in the Archive of Romania’s Secret Police
978 6155225994
$30.95 / €26.95 / £22.95
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Publication date: 
294 pages

Nothing in Soviet-style communism was as shrouded in mystery as its secret police. Its paid employees were known to few and their actual numbers remain uncertain. Its informers and collaborators operated clandestinely under pseudonyms and met their officers in secret locations. Its files were inaccessible, even to most party members. The people the secret police recruited or interrogated were threatened so effectively that some never told even their spouses, and many have held their tongues to this day, long after the regimes fell.

With the end of communism, many of the newly established governments—among them Romania’s—opened their secret police archives. From those files, as well as her personal memories, the author has carried out historical ethnography of the Romanian Securitate. Secrets and Truths is not only of historical interest but has implications for understanding the rapidly developing “security state” of the neoliberal present.

List of Figures
Preface and Acknowledgments
Note on Pronunciation

Introduction: What Was the Securitate?

Chapter 1.An Archive and Its Fictions

Chapter 2.The Secrets of a Secret Police

Chapter 3.Knowledge Practices and the Social Relations of Surveillance

Conclusion: The Radiant Future?


"Die Beschäftigung der Ethnographin Katherine Verdery mit der Tätigkeit der rumänischen Geheimpolizei, der Securitate regt dazu an, stärker auf kulturwissenschaftliche Methoden zurückzugreifen und damit das Wesen staatssozialistischer Herrschaftsausübung jenseits der Politikhistorie aus neuer Perspektive zu ergründen. Verdery verwendet die Auseinandersetzung mit ihrer Securitate-Akte als Aufhänger dafür, das Wesen geheimpolizeilicher Tätigkeit aus kulturwissenschaftlicher Perspektive zu erschließen und auszudeuten. Sie tut dies in drei eng miteinander verzahnten Forschungsessays, welche zusammen die Qualität einer Monographie erreichen. Eine Stärke von Verderys Buch ist die Hinzuziehung eines breiten Spektrums von Sekundärliteratur. Dies betrifft nicht nur die Anbindung an Großtheorien, wie sie beispielsweise in Michel Foucaults „Überwachen und Strafen“, Pierre Bourdieus „Feinen Unterschieden“ oder in Hannah Arendts „Totaler Herrschaft“ dargelegt sind. Darüber hinaus geben... more
"Wenn man so will, hat Ververy nun in ihrer Natalie Zemon Davis Annual Lecture den Spieß umgedreht. Sie seziert die Tätigkeit der Securitate aus ethnografischer Perspektive. Das Resultat ist ein verfremdender Blick auf Praktiken, personelle und organisatorische Strukturen sowie auf staats- und gesellschaftspolitische Gestaltungsansprüche des rumänischen Geheimdienstes. Insgesamt gelingen Verdery dank ihres Zugriffs spannende Einsichten in den geheimdienstlichen Kernbereich sozialistischer Herrschaftspraktiken. Ihre Erkenntnisse sind über das rumänische Beispiel hinaus von Belang. Den sozialistischen Geheimdiensten war ein spezifisches Selbstverständnis gemeinsam. Auf dessen Basis entwickelten sie nicht nur analoge Aufgabenstellungen und Definitionen von gesellschaftlichen und politischen Feinden, sondern auch vergleichbare Arbeitsgrundsätze. Dies bezeugen nicht zuletzt Forschungen beispielsweise über die ostdeutsche Stasi, die Verdery für ihre Analysen mit heranzieht."
"The studies of intelligence activity and of governmental repression in the state socialist dictatorships of the twentieth century sometimes appear as closed fields of research. Researchers in intelligence history are often focused on new, controversial empirical evidence as well as on the uncovering of secret service officers and informal collaborators. Only rarely they let themselves be inspired by other fields of research, which allows for new findings and interpretations in the adaptation of innovative methods and scholarly practices. Katherine Verdery’s analysis of the Romanian Secret Police Service, the Securitate, offers such inspiration. Ethnographer Verdery applies methods of anthropology and New Cultural History to the study of state socialist rule. Thus, she goes beyond a history of political actors and decisions that is often considered the only relevant context of intelligence and secret police activity."
"At once astute analysis and compelling auto-ethnography, Secrets and Truths is a key addition to two emerging genres of interdisciplinary scholarship on communism’s state security archives: studies of the politics and aesthetics of the knowledge produced by the secret police (Andreas Glaeser 2011, Cristina Vatulescu 2010) and personal recollections and reflections by the targets of that surveillance (Timothy Garton Ash 1997, Sheila Fitzpatrick 2013, as well as numerous memoirs from within the former Soviet bloc). The book’s contributions, however, go far beyond its regional scope. The unexpected parallels Verdery draws between traditional “secret societies” and the secret police, for example, offer a welcome advance within the anthropology of secrecy. Moreover, Verdery’s critique of the archives as a source of historical truth and thus justice is of vital interest to historical anthropologists, and also poses a valuable intervention within the interdisciplinary scholarship on... more
"Verdery spent more than three years in Romania in the 1970s and 1980s conducting ethnographical research in the province of Transylvania, and her presence and activity generated almost three thousand pages of informer reports, surveillance logs, and transcriptions of telephone conversations. In 2006, Verdery requested a copy of her file, and her dissection and exegesis of it forms the inspiration for, and the basis of, this stimulating and riveting collection of essays. These essays, in effect, provide us with a veritable ethnography of the Securitate. Secrets and Truths, in its bold test of assumptions, is an exceptional contribution to our reading and understanding of the role of the file in the work of a communist secret police. As such, it not only offers an invaluable personal reflection by the subject of such a file but also enriches the interdisciplinary scholarship on the politics of knowledge."