Romania to investigate Communist border guards who shot defectors

Foto: Zafer Galibov / Colecția Fotografii a Muzeului Municipiului București

Romania will open an investigation to identify border guards who opened fire on Romanians trying to flee the country during the communist regime.

“We don’t have exact statistics, but we are certainly talking about thousands of people who lost their lives, shot by border officers while trying to leave for the West,” said Alexandra Toader, who heads the Romanian Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes, IICCMER.  

“Those guilty are not only the border officers who resorted to violence, but also those who gave the orders,” she told Digi24 on Monday.

As Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu tightened his grip on Romania in the 1980s, thousands of Romanians tried to leave the country. The only way they could leave was illegally as foreign travel was all but banned.

Romanians would flee by land or over the River Danube into then-Yugoslavia or Hungary which were freer at the time than Romania.

Toader said she was confident that the investigation would be a success. “I am heartened by the fact that such actions have been carried out in other states that have gone through totalitarian regimes.”

Toader noted that “hundreds of thousands of people tried to cross the border between 1948 and 1989,” the length of the communist regime in Romania, when emigration was all but banned.

“From 1989 alone, we have reports of approximately 50,000 illegal attempts to cross the border,” she said.

She said that some of those who committed crimes on  the borders with Yugoslavia and Hungary in the late 1980s could still be employed at the interior ministry.

The investigation will focus on crimes committed in the 1980s, as the chances of identifying perpetrators and bringing them to justice are higher.

The IICCMER is a government body tasked with studying crimes committed under communism that was established in 2005.


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