Police Aesthetics: Literature, Film, and the Secret Police in Soviet Times

By Cristina Vatulescu | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Arresting Biographies
The Personal File in
the Soviet Union and Romania

Preamble: Fragmentary Archives

Romanian and Other Eastern European Secret Police Archives

The story of the partial opening of the secret police archives in Eastern Europe is often as instructive as the declassified files themselves. Anything but relics of the Cold War destined to the dustbin of history, the archives are at the very center of contemporary politics. Indeed, one could write a comparative history of post-1989 Eastern European politics by following their fate. Such an undertaking is well beyond the scope of this study; instead, I will briefly trace the story of my own access to materials used in this chapter, contextualizing that story within the larger discourse on the secret police archives.

The recent fate of these archives in Eastern Europe is a vivid, indeed often lurid, illustration of Jacques Derrida’s pronouncement that “there is no political power without control of the archive, if not of memory. Effective democratization can always be measured by this essential criterion: the participation in and the access to the archive, its constitution, and its interpretation.”1 Other theoretical concepts generated in poststructuralist rethinking of the archive, such as the return of the repressed or the death drive, were similarly literalized as Romanian villagers unearthed thousands of pages hastily buried by the secret police. Foucault’s thesis that the archive is not just a collection of documents but the whole power structure around them, or Derrida’s point about the “house arrest” of res publica by the archons of power, was similarly propelled far from theory books and into tabloid headlines through the story of the secret police heirs’ sabotage of the opening of the archives.2 Starting

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