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A $204,000 study of religion, oppression and the secret police

Concordia professor Lucian Turcescu divines patterns of collaboration and resistance in Communist Romania
December 3, 2014
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In Bucharest: an archive of the former Communist secret police, where agents created colour-coded maps to keep track of Greek Catholic priests and their level of opposition to the regime. | Photo courtesy of Lucian Turcescu In Bucharest: an archive of the former Communist secret police, where agents created colour-coded maps to keep track of Greek Catholic priests and their level of opposition to the regime. | Photo courtesy of Lucian Turcescu


History’s dirty laundry reveals itself eventually, whether prompted by human rights activism, the opening of secret archives, or a landmark anniversary and the renewed scrutiny of facts that follows.

Since 1989, Romania has tried to come to terms with the legacies of both its Nazi and communist regimes, but not without sparking heated debate about the various levels of collaboration and resistance of religious groups in the country.

The predominantly Christian Orthodox country is of particular interest to Concordia Historical Theology professor and Theological Studies department chair Lucian Turcescu.

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He recently received a $204,000 Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada for a five-year project entitled “Between the Devil’s Confessors and God’s Martyrs: Resistance and Collaboration of Religious Groups under Communism in Romania.”

“This research program will be the first to uncover the many shades of collaboration/resistance of the main religious groups in Communist Romania from 1945 to 1989, and the way its past has been re-evaluated and instrumentalized in post-Communism,” says Turcescu, who is the grant’s principal investigator.

Surveillance and the secret police

In May 2014, Turcescu visited the former Communist secret police archives in Bucharest, where he interviewed researchers and collected files documenting the surveillance of various religious groups and individuals.

The tools of spy craft used by Romania’s former Communist secret police included universal lock picks and early recording devices. | Photo courtesy of Lucian Turcescu. The tools of spy craft used by Romania’s former Communist secret police included universal lock picks and early recording devices. | Photo courtesy of Lucian Turcescu.

The surveillance was conducted using full- and part-time informers from among the country’s population. No religious group was overlooked. The groups were infiltrated and informers were recruited in the regime’s efforts to ultimately create a society without religion. “The faith or political convictions of some Romanians led them to oppose the regime, but they ended up in prison, and sometimes even lost their lives,” Turcescu says.

Building on previous collaborations about religion and politics in Romania, Turcescu and his co-investigator Lavinia Stan, associate professor of Political Science at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, will also break new theoretical ground by examining groups across the entire spectrum of Romanian religions — including Judaism, Islam and new religious movements. They will also examine the impact of state agents on religion, and the groups' methods of coping with the repression.

Turcescu believes that “by proposing new patterns of collaboration or resistance to dictatorship, the analysis of the Romanian case will facilitate future comparative studies with other countries in Eastern Europe and beyond.”

This type of research could, he says, make the difference between learning from or repeating history’s mistakes.

Find out more about Concordia’s Department of Theological Studies.


Thumbnail by Claudia French.




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