Civic Values and the Ministry of Internal Affairs in post-communist Romania

In an era when post-communist systems are struggling under the weight of economic failures, dictatorial tendencies, and Russian military threats, Romania’s Ministry of Internal Affairs has set a standard for cultivation of civic values. A fundamental part of the post-communist transition was recognition of the vital relationship between Interior Ministry personnel and their community.

By Stephen R. Bowers and Catriana Donovan | January 13, 2015

The Internal Affairs Ministry Building, once the Romanian Communist Party Headquarters, is located in Bucharest’s Revolution Square

One of the most important deterrents to dictatorial society is a concept of civic values. This involves the family and the private sector, institutions distinct from government and not motivated by any official or unofficial political ideology. As post-communist Europe makes its way toward a free, democratic society, observers such as the Polish dissident Adam Michnik have noted the obstacles to regional reform, suggesting that the course of democratic development may be most difficult in Romania and Bulgaria. Yet, developments in what was once an arm of the communist dictatorship are demonstrating that a government institution can be transformed to facilitate the cultivation of civic values, thus strengthening prospects for post-communist freedom.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) was long associated with the frightening aspects of Romania’s communist dictatorship. Yet, in the quarter century since Ceausescu’s death, this ministry has established a record of reforms and restructuring that has transformed it into an instrument of effective democratic rule and civic society.

So exalted was the position of the Ministry of Internal Affairs during the communist era that it was one of only three ministries represented in Romania’s powerful Defense Council. While it directed routine police work and managed local fire departments, it was also associated with the suppression of foreign espionage and domestic challenges to the communist regime. It controlled security troops and the dreaded Securitate secret police that inspired fear among Romania’s population and even intimidated employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In 1972, the Ministry’s internal focus led to the exposure of a deputy minister, General Ion Serb, who was convicted as a Soviet spy and executed. Following this incident, the Romanian government renamed the MIA the Ministry of Interior in an effort to give it a new look. However, intimidation of ministry employees continued and in 1982, there was a purge of officials said to be practitioners of transcendental meditation. Political indoctrination for the Ministry of Interior security troops was intense and discipline was strict. The MIA had five times as many political officers as Romania’s other armed services.

The remarkable post-communist transformation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs has focused on every aspect of the Ministry’s work. Most relevant to the internal atmosphere of this organization was the work of the 65-year-old Cultural Center. The operative assumption of the Center is that personnel who are responsible for law enforcement must be an integral part of the civil society protected by the Ministry itself. In a recent interview, Colonel Fănel Mirică, Adjunct Director of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Cultural Center (with Professor Bowers and Ms. Donavan at MIA), explained the important contribution of the Cultural Center in building a relationship of trust between serving police officers and the public.

A fundamental part of the post-communist transition was recognition of the vital relationship between Interior Ministry personnel and their community. According to Colonel Fănel, the Ministry was created to serve Romania’s citizens with the commitment of supporting both citizens and Romanian civil society. The post-World War Two years posed a special challenge because of the chaotic conditions after Romania was subjected to Russian and Nazi military operations. Furthermore, the material destruction of the war forced many people into abject conditions that created opportunities for criminals hoping to exploit those circumstances.

Broadly speaking, Colonel Fănel describes the goal of the Cultural Center as insuring the formation of a solid bridge between the law enforcement community and the Romanian national community itself.  The Cultural Center works to balance the technical and judicial activities performed by uniformed personnel. Within this context, it focuses on the “sensitive attributes of human nature” which must be cultivated so those who are representatives of the law can be an integral part of civil society and thus identify with citizens in general. The logic of this policy is that law enforcement officers dealing with the public will recognize those individuals as part of their own community and not engage in the abusive behavior associated with the communist era.

The desired result of these endeavors is that law and culture join forces to be closer to the citizenry. The specific beneficiaries of the cultural and artistic activities organized by the Center are Ministry employees, their families, and the citizens themselves. To insure that the Center reaches every demographic, these activities include a wide variety of programs, each of which will cultivate certain interests and aptitudes. Therefore, Ministry personnel and their families may select from programs focused on development of an understanding the institutional traditions of the Ministry itself as well as on traditional cultural events. Among the latter are art exhibits and related artistic activities as well as participation in book clubs.  The Center’s involvement in book publishing has the added benefit of making available numerous studies of topics that would be of interest to the broader Interior Ministry community.

With this, according to Colonel Fănel, there is a clear commitment to providing a link between the employees of the cultural center in the Ministry of Interior and the cultural professionals outside of this institution. This includes artists and, in fact, all employees of the Culture Center. After 1989, the Ministry of Interior, like many state institutions started opening up to civil society, and, for the artistic and cultural scene, this meant intensifying collaborations between specialists of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Cultural Center and traditional Romanian folklore singers as well as the elite of Romanian society.

Employees of the Cultural Center organized symposiums, round tables and conferences that served as the interface between the MIA and the Romanian cultural world. The literary circles, festivals and book fairs where the institution participated have proven, throughout all of these years, that  the MIA’s potential isn’t limited to the activity of applying the law but transcends these limits and displays, beyond the shoulders of its members in terms of depth, sensibility and culture.

Cultural Center artists prepare television programs that are broadcast on channels specializing in promoting authentic Romanian folklore. This gives the artists at the Cultural Center of the MIA an ability to not only demonstrate the reality of their artistic talent – which is just as priceless as the talents of prominent folklore music figures – but were also able to bring their contribution to the institutional stage, thus promoting the MIA as an authentic artistic and culture loving institution.

In order to consolidate this work, there are numerous international cultural ties that the Ministry of Interior has with other states. The Center has created an institutional legal framework to sustain the artistic and cultural acts developed within the Ministry of Internal Affairs. These collaborative ventures are important in making international cooperation a real possibility. This has been accomplished in spite of the fact that during the last 6 years there has been a difficult international economy and the majority of countries working with the MIA Cultural Center were facing imposed drastic reductions in the funds dedicated to such programs.  Most of these nations have recognized that, in the face of rising crime rates, it has been important that their citizens enjoy the benefits of these activities. Such success, in the face of economic adversity, is a tribute to the efforts of the MIA Cultural Center.

Because one does not usually think of a police organization being involved in such programs, it is important to ask how well culture and police work go together. Colonel Fănel suggests that  we use the more general expression “law enforcement activity” since it more clearly defines these programs. This is the case even though this work also encompasses the military, gendarmes, firefighters and aviators, all of whom help maintain public order. What is true of the interaction between culture and police work is also true of the relationship between cultural work and those professions.

With that qualification in mind, it is clear that there is a strong bond between culture and the law enforcement activity, a bond reflected through police literature, painting, sculpture and even poetry. According to Colonel Fănel, these are all ways of expressing the fulfillment of the soul, the taming and humanizing what might otherwise be seen as the mundane day-to-day activities of the law enforcement community in Romania. In this fashion, cultural endeavors contribute to the prestige of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, not just in Romanian society, but all over the world, where it is seen as proof of the positive results of civil society in post-communist Romania.

In an era when post-communist systems are struggling under the weight of economic failures, dictatorial tendencies, and Russian military threats, Romania’s Ministry of Internal Affairs has set a standard for cultivation of civic values. The work of its Cultural Center is proof that a law enforcement agency can insure law and order, while also promoting cultural values among the community of Ministry employees.  This positive internal spirit will strengthen the democratic development of a free Romania and encourage law enforcement officers who see themselves as part of the community they serve.

Stephen R. Bowers, Ph.D. is a professor of government in the Helms School of Government at Liberty University. Professor Bowers is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis. Catriana Donovan is a research associate at the Center for Security and Science.