(Photo source) Sorin Antohi is a name that chimes controversy. And a lot more besides. He had what should have been an illustrious career ahead of him, but screwed up bigtime. Born in 1957, Antohi is described by Wikipedia as a 'Romanian historian, essayist and journalist'. He held the position of head of history at the Central European University in Budapest and was an active member of GDS (Grupului pentru Dialog Social). He was also a Securitate snitch and should be shoved in the same bag as the likes of Cornel Todea and Balaceanu-Stolnici....
There's no scoop in this post. It's an 'old' story, but one I had not heard up until now. The case of Antohi and his sordid past didn't make much noise in the Romanian press - or at least, not as much as you'd think it would, but Truth v Ambition is a regular game in Romanian politics which these days leaves most people relatively unfazed. It is a tragedy that someone with so much promise ended up conducting both audacious fraud and profound deception that were both so supremely shameful...
So, what happened? In a 2006 open letter published in Revista 22, Antohi admitted to Cotidianul that he had collaborated with the Securitate during the 1970s and '80s under the codename "Valentin". That isn't particularly shocking really, since it happened all the time. What is shocking is that this snitch went on to become a leading authority on the issue of how Romania and countries like it should deal with their turbulent histories. Antohi was also a participant in the official process by which the Romanian government declassified Securitate files and passed judgment on those who secretly served the security services. As part of a campaign called “Clean Voices” – aimed initially at identifying former Securitate agents among the country’s leading journalists – Antohi’s files came under scrutiny. He was forced to confess his secret past, and made to step down from the commission set up by President Traian Băsescu to study such cases that had happened under communism.
He also claimed that he had been persecuted, and physically abused by the same Securitate as a member of the Iasi Group of anti-communist intellectuals, which included Dan Petrescu, Liviu Antonesei, Luca Piţu and others. As an informant, he claimed that he offered non-detrimental information on the political views of many of his close friends. I wonder if these 'close' friends saw it in the same light.
Worse still, THIS site says, 'Antohi actively sought to make sure his own past would never become public knowledge. According to reports in the Romanian media, the government of Adrian Năstase – who, before serving as PM in 2000-2004 was a communist apparatchik, and once published an article entitled “Human Rights: A Retrograde Concept” – intervened to re-classify or destroy the Securitate files of numerous leading public figures, including Antohi. But even if these charges are not proven true, the body then in charge of vetting Securitate files, the CNSAS (National Council for Studying the Securitate’s Archives), apparently broke the law by not disclosing Antohi’s collaboration. (Legislation passed the year before Năstase’s election mandated disclosure for executives and founders of public institutions, such as the Group for Social Dialogue, which counts Antohi among its founder members.) “The CNSAS itself has been in violation of Law 187/1999 due to the non-disclosure of Antohi’s previous collaboration with the Securitate,” said Dan Visoiu, a Romanian-American lawyer who helped found the Romania Think Tank, a leading research and advocacy group based in Bucharest.'
Apparently, his files disappeared for years. We are talking about someone who participated in a very high-level cover-up
But that's not all. Wikipedia says: 'On October 20, 2006, the Romanian press reported that representatives of the Romanian Ministry of Education discovered that Antohi never defended his doctoral thesis in the country. It appears that he failed to write his PhD thesis, and was expelled from the doctoral program of the University of Iaşi in 2000. His CV at the Central European University also listed several books that Antohi claimed were published by Polirom press, but which journalists from the Ziua de Iaşi daily were unable to locate; Antohi was unavailable for comment.'
Pants on fire... For more on that, see HERE. As for why Antohi thought he could get away with it, one answer would be his reputation as a networking genius and self-promoter, and another - his supreme arrogance.
As a consequence of these scandals, he resigned from his position in Budapest and also from the Pasts, Inc. Institute for Historical Studies. He remains an editor of the academic journal East European Politics and Societies to this day, where Vladimir Tismăneanu is chair of the editorial committee.
More scandal saw the light of day in July-August 2008 in Germany and Romania, after Antohi co-directed a Conference with the financial help of the Institute for Cultural Studies. Newspapers in both countries alleged that he had represented himself as the director of two research institutes (one in Germany and one in Romania) which did not exist. At this time the scandal was, in part, revived by Herta Müller who, in a letter to the Frankfurter Rundschau, asked how Antohi, an informer from the age of 19, and someone who had falsified his PhD., could possibly have been invited to an event at a Romanian cultural institute in Berlin. An excellent question indeed.
The Pestiside.hu editor sums Antohi's fall up perfectly: 'What drove him to live a life of monstrous lies – first betraying his friends as the informant “Valentin,” and then his students and colleagues as the fraudulent “Dr.” Antohi – was nothing more or less than simple ambition; the willingness to disregard inconvenient boundaries to his own advancement. (This is assuming he didn’t volunteer for Securitate snitch duty out of a sense of duty to a regime he supported.) What makes him more noteworthy than the average liar and betrayer is that he did this while allegedly dedicating his life to the search for truth.'
One of Antohi's 'subjects of interest', shall we say, was Chris Lawson, a British writer/editor, TESOL teacher and published journalist who was living and working in Iasi in the '70s. This post is principally to share his article (2006) with you, for it makes fascinating reading.
Over to Chris (and thank you for allowing me to copy/paste!):
By Vivid writer: Christopher Lawson
Vivid’s man in Iasi relates how he was implicated in the investigations that revealed Sorin Antohi’s Securitate past
Guildenstern: Our names shouted out in a certain dawn … a message ... a summons ... There must have been a moment, at the beginning, when we could have said no. But somehow we missed it. Well, we’ll know better next time.
Rosencrantz: We’ve done nothing wrong. We didn’t harm anyone. Did we?
Guildenstern: I can’t remember.
Guildenstern: All your life you live so close to truth it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye. And when something nudges it into line it’s like being ambushed by a grotesque.
(Tom Stoppard: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, 1967)
(Photo source: Sorin Antohi, Securitate collaborator) Since his resignation on 23 October, his name and title at his workplace have disappeared into cyberspace, although he has hardly been absent from the Romanian press over the past several weeks. I am belatedly adding to the column inches for an English-speaking audience, confident that Sorin Antohi’s cunning, calculating face will soon return to our television screens.
The former professor of history at the Soros-funded Central European University, Budapest, and founding director and principal fundraiser of Pasts Inc., the Institute of Historical Studies, resigned all his positions on 23 October when Ziarul de Iasi revealed that he had lied about a non-existent doctorate from the University of Iasi. A month before, he had published a lengthy confession in Cotidianul admitting that he had been an informer for the Securitate in his late teens and early twenties. Like more notorious figures such as Dan Voiculescu, he claimed that nobody had suffered as a result of his activities. Most shockingly, Antohi had also been a member of the CNSAS, the Council for the study of the Securitate archives (www.cnsas.ro), an independent body accountable to Parliament, until he resigned for “health reasons”.
As in all scandals from Profumo to Watergate, the cover-up rather than the case itself constitutes the real offence. The CNSAS, a commission appointed by Parliament six years ago to declassify and pass judgment on servants of the security forces, did not disclose Antohi’s collaborationist past. His records “disappeared”. An ambitious academic who became an authority on the oppressive past of his country, supposedly dedicated to the search for truth, is revealed as an opportunistic liar.
After all, he had had 16 years to come clean about his past as an informer for the communist secret police. In 1990, as a servant of the new Iliescu government, he had even presented himself as a long-time opponent of communism. The Romanian word for copper’s nark is turnator. Somehow the Zulu and Xhosa word impimpi (BrE: collaborator, scab, spy) from the apartheid era, is more expressive.
Impimpi probably lied about his doctorate when the CEU hired him simply because he thought he could get away with it. Antohi, whose learning and intelligence blazes as brightly as his less admirable qualities, had completed nearly all of the formalities required for a doctorate except the defence itself. Universal acclaim greeted his books, although checks are being made on some of the publications he listed.
I write as someone named in his confession. But in the comparatively benign 1970s, as a British lecturer, I was a mere foreigner. My name has been plastered across the Romanian press linked to bird-brained allegations. But that’s the worst that’s happened to me.
Many Romanians suffered unspeakable horrors in the years between 1948 and 1964. As far as I am concerned, it is a badge of honour to be considered “hostile” to a system which had been responsible for the deaths of at least one million people in the whole country, intellectuals, believers of various faiths, village and factory leaders, and old-established families who had created modernity in a previous era.
A further quarter of a million had perished in state institutions, thousands on grandiose construction projects. Countless family members were traumatised. Individuals were kept in a state of permanent terror or forced into exile. Hundreds of thousands of womens’ lives were ruined by Elena Ceausescu’s lunatic ban on contraception and abortion. Even if this semi-literate, vindictive woman may not specifically have forbidden sex education, her actions created several generations of young women deprived of the most basic family planning procedures, many of whom died after botched abortions.
I came to Romania to further my career as a TESOL teacher. I wanted to work at university level, and, newly qualified, knew I would make myself interesting to future employers if I survived a two-year contract in a “difficult” communist country. I chose Romania because I felt that Romanian would be easier to learn than a Slav language.
Although British Council presence in Romania dates from 1938, when Bucharest was one of the first five cities where it set up an overseas office, government-inspired xenophobia reigned in the mid-Seventies. Many Romanians simply could not understand why foreigners came to live in the Socialist Republic. In what passed for humour at that time, British lecturers were told that they had had a reputation for being homosexuals, Jews or spies, or sometimes all three. This so-called joke neatly summed up the homophobia, anti-Semitism and paranoia prevalent in that decade.
Antohi, who was then a teenager still at high school, visited my apartment one Friday evening, and then came regularly. I had a large collection of LPs, which included the complete works of Bob Dylan, kept open house at weekends, and welcomed all and sundry. Most were university students. Antohi had no business coming. I did not know him at all. One of my students introduced him as a rock music fan.
After a number of further visits, when I assumed he was practising his (very good) school English, he started provocative, rather aggressive discussions, and assumed an air of over-familiarity. His behaviour became so strange that I soon smelt a rat. This pipsqueak was too transparent in his dedublarea (BrE: duplicity) to be a good spy.
All the foreign lecturers were spied on, their telephones tapped, their letters opened, their conversations reported, their movements noted.
In this atmosphere I decided that my only recourse was to be myself. Antohi’s controller, a Securitate colonel, lived near the Zona Industriala, the location of my casa de oaspeti (BrE: guest house.) It was very convenient for Antohi to visit both places. My file says I was “unduly sympathetic” to the “co-inhabiting nationalities”, especially the Transylavanian Saxons. Well, I spoke German and found the Saxons far more westernized than the average Romanian intellectual. One young Saxon in particular, an architecture student, visited frequently.
Most entertainingly, I “reported to the Cultural Attache at the British Embassy” and “recruited Romanians” for the service of Her Majesty.
Impimpi is the only possible source for this nonsense. As the heroic veteran dissident Doina Cornea points out, informers typically exaggerate so they appear invaluable to their bosses. In fact, I wrote one annual report each year of my stay about my working conditions at the university, and what it was like to live in Iasi. These reports, entirely concerned with educational matters, did not even name names. I delivered each of the two reports by hand to the British Embassy.
My teaching scrupulously avoided politics. Female students in my classes told me within the first two weeks which students in my classes were informers. My lessons contained only non-political themes, either literary or based on humanistic psychology, an intellectually shaky approach which nevertheless encouraged students to talk about their personal lives, their hopes and dreams. With the American lecturer, I projected documentary films from our embassies on an ancient Russian projector. We ran a borrowing library for students and started an English club for secondary school teachers and pupils.
With a group of dedicated first-year students, I put on three dramatic evenings at the Casa Tineretului, as it was then called. I scoured the work of modern British dramatists to find non-political material, and lighted on Tom Stoppard. A short play A Separate Peace, which concerned a mysteriously healthy man who checked into a hospital formed the centrepiece. The would-be patient just wanted to be looked after by pretty, sympathetic nurses. A brief biography and short extracts from other Stoppard plays made up the rest of the evening.
I was just in time. That summer in London saw a performance of Every Good Boy Deserves a Favour. Andre Previn had challenged Stoppard to put on a play containing a symphony orchestra. The Czech-born playwright chose a Russian prison camp as his setting.
Antohi went on to study English at Cuza University, when he wihdrew from his work for the Securitate. Subsequently he was resident at the Universities of Michigan and Bielefeld and one of the universities in Montpelier. He wrote and published voluminously.
Central and East European, as well as Russian poets have always had a special relationship with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the almost-definitive version of which was first performed in 1601 in the dying years of the Elizabethan police state. Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster, had set up and run a tentacular network of secret agents from Rheims to Constantinople to prevent Catholic assassination plots against the Virgin Queen. Modern writers from the then-communist states instantly recognised and identified with Elsinore, a walled city seething with spies, and reserved especial scorn for Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Polonius.
Antohi, described by his erstwhile colleagues as a shining light of Romanian intellectual life, may have fallen like Lucifer, although his demise hardly ranks as Shakespearean tragedy. When the Treens invade Romania from the planet Venus as the first step to world domination, he will certainly re-emerge as National Security Adviser to the Mekon. Even as a scared 19-year-old, he could have said No. Am I sympathetic to his self-induced plight? I quote the Danish prince on the fate of the attendant lords: “Why, man, they did make love to this employment. They are not near my conscience.”