Romania: securitate-im pastior is treated like a victim

Oskar Pastior / Photo 1997 - -

P astior is not the first Romanian-German author to be exposed as an informant for the Securitate, but he is the first for whom leniency seems to be universal. At least it looks like it at first glance. Dieter Schlesak, the colleague from Bucharest youth years, already announces by title in the ZEIT: "I understand my friend, the poet and Securitate informer Oskar Pastior". Even Herta Muller, who usually passes harsh judgment, and rightly so, found kind words in the Pastior case.

This may seem surprising, but it is also explainable. Pastior was close to her, his experiences in the Soviet forced labor camp of the post-war years flowed into her great novel "Atemschaukel", but his informant activity has hardly anything to do with the camp, in any case it took place much later, in the sixties – and thus still before the entry of the "Aktionsgruppe Banat" and Herta Muller into the Romanian-German literary scene. Pastior’s informant activity had nothing to do with Herta Muller, nor with the other authors of our generation.

Pastior stayed in the West after a trip abroad

This brings us to the difference between the informants "Stein Otto" (Oskar Pastior) and – as an example – "Walter" (Werner Sollner). "Walter" translated our poems, which had been made available to Sollner by us for publication in the Klausenburg student magazine "Echinox", into Romanian and, provided with politically incriminating interpretations, submitted them to the Securitate. His reports have demonstrably led to the intensification of the action against the action group. The note from the responsible department head is on the paper accompanying the 1973 "Walter" reports. In the wording: "Present me with all the material, with proposals for each individual element." Among the "elements" was also me.

At that time, Oskar Pastior had already been in the West for five years. He had chosen freedom, as it was said in such cases, de facto he had not returned from a trip abroad. The fact that he received orders from the Securitate before leaving is almost the most detailed thing currently known about his informant activities. He was also to contact two leading intellectuals of the Transylvanian Saxon diaspora, the Heidegger expert Walter Biemel and the head of the Deutsche Welle broadcast for Romania, Alfred Coulin, on his trip to the West, and report back on his return. There is indeed an informant file and in it also a declaration of commitment written by him, but only an informant report, which in turn incriminates a Bucharest linguist.

One assessment of the informant by his commanding officer is positive, another attests to his lack of interest in intelligence activities. Both belong to the travel formalia. The first accompanies the travel request, it is the approval of the Securitate, the second refers to his desertion to the West. The real question is: Why was he allowed to travel at all back then?

Pastior’s legacy has gaps

Pastior worked at Radio Bucharest. At that time, this was a Stalinist, homogenized broadcasting station, about whose program contents one should have no illusions. Who worked there has serious compromises to answer for. Pastior has, it should also be said, published party poems. Both work in radio and regime poetry were by no means compulsory, not even under Stalinism. There was, as always in such cases, the way into the inner emigration.

So far, none of his colleagues at work at the time has spoken out, nor do any relevant names appear in the file. The file must probably be called incomplete. This is also nothing unusual, it is rather the rule. But if there are no informant reports in a file, with one exception, little can be said about the actual activity of the person in question. Even if it appears in the plans of action of the secret service, in which roles are assigned to him, little can be concluded from it for the time being. Unless further documents prove that these plans were also carried out. However, this is not the case with what is currently available about Pastior.

The question remains: If Pastior is really not responsible for more than what the file conveys, then why the decades-long silence, especially towards his friends?? Was there more to it than that, or was it the displacement performance of an ambitious and not entirely unpretentious author who had subordinated his entire life to the goal of acquiring literary fame and securing it in his will?. He had his estate in mind all his life. But this has now become a legacy, and this legacy forces the politicization of his reception as a poet. One could call it a punishment. But Pastior is dead, and the criminal matter now has to be faced by Herta Muller and Ernest Wichner. Both are on committees of the Oskar Pastior Foundation and an Oskar Pastior Award, both of which were decreed by the poet in his will. Since Pastior was also silent to you, you are now, like everyone else, dependent on the files and their interpretation in his defense. Pastior’s informant file was opened in 1961 and closed in 1968. There are seven years in between, and nothing else should have happened in those seven years?

Pastior was not an issue for a long time

With Pastior, the authors of my generation, born around 1950, connected little and much at the same time. Since he left Romania already in 1968, we did not know him personally there. In 1968 I was sixteen years old. I had heard the name Pastior for the first time shortly before that. And this from my German teacher, who had set up a literature circle for us writing students and asked me to write a small poetology using the example of Pastior’s poetry.

I was clearly overwhelmed with this, but she, the German teacher, loved to overwhelm us. It was her pedagogical method to win us for literature and to snatch us from the province. Nothing came of the essay, I didn’t submit it, and she, the German teacher, didn’t say anything either. There was a reason for this, as I learned later, and it was not with me, despite everything. Pastior had not returned from a trip to the West. So I was rid of my task and thus also profited from Pastior’s life decision.

I heard nothing more of Pastior until the seventies, when I visited a friend in Bucharest, the literary critic Gerhardt Csejka, a promoter of the Action Group, of which I was a member. He had brought a cassette from a trip to the West, with the songs and ballads of the Crimean fan. These texts, a brilliant tapestry of words and sounds of the ominous Rezzori-Maghrebia, spoken by the author himself, inspired me and my friends, although we would never have gone as far as Pastior in our own texts. Our texts, despite all the language games and jokes, continued to be intertwined with the social debate. That, in turn, was and is one of the strengths of literature.

Pastior as the Ranga Yogeshwar of poetry

I met Pastior for the first time in West Berlin in the mid-1980s. At this meeting, to my astonishment, he talked about the Securitate. He said then that the difference between our generation and him and his was immense. They would have felt nothing but fear as a result of their experiences under Stalinism, they would also never have thought of challenging the Securitate, even if only playfully. He said that without any introduction, and did not elaborate further. But I was so surprised that I did not ask further. Especially since I was well aware of the difference between the fifties and the seventies.

The Stalinism of the fifties operated a widespread repression to consolidate communist power. Ceausescu’s national communism, on the other hand, had a fragile base. The regime was juggling between East and West, for money and image. But the fear continued, and it was not unjustified. Because even the national communism did not have guarantees to give. If in the fifties terror was carried out systematically, now one was subject to the whims of the regime and its henchmen. You could get an official literary award, or get beaten up in the street. One could also have a party card and at the same time be listed by the Securitate under the heading "German fascists and nationalists", as in my own case.

Oskar Pastior was not suspected by anyone of having been an informant. At least not about any of us. He was the great word twister, the player on the precipice of the inexpressible, who could turn the said and the unsaid, the sayable as well as the unsayable, into a word joke at any time. Pastior was apolitical, which did not matter, given the strength and originality of his texts. Unfortunately. Pastior was for us one who had managed to gain recognition in Germany without renouncing his material from the East. By treating this material experimentally, he made it generally readable and turned himself into an entertainer, the Ranga Yogeshwar of poetry.

Pastior’s silence – a problem for coming to terms with the past

Now, after the announcement of the declaration of commitment, one tends to look for a dilemma of the author, for traces of this dilemma, for evidence of exoneration. The poems, however, reveal nothing; decoding presupposes encoding. Pastior, however, was a linguistic artist, not a moralist. Whether this has something to do with his informant activity, cannot be said today. Maybe it has to do with the displacement of this activity, may be, but provable it is not.

Remains, as a problem, the silence. You can’t change history, neither can your option in it, only speaking and silence are at your discretion. Why never said anything? Neither to Ernest Wichner, after all the publisher of his works, nor to Herta Muller. Finally, in the circle of Romanian-German authors, it was not uncommon to talk about the Securitate, and not only because of the traumas from the past, but also for very mundane reasons. For decades, people fought with the Romanian authorities for the release of the files.

Maybe his silence has nothing to do with all this. Was it self-protection, a transgression of the given, like Paul de Man’s deconstruction and Zygmunt Bauman’s postmodernism?? Or should he just have been the DJ Shantel of the Transylvanian Saxons? All this would certainly yield an explanation. But for the clarification it needs more. It needs the morals of the enlighteners, but also the morals of the suspects of the crime. Not only life, but also the memories of victims and perpetrators are marked by totalitarianism. This one profits from the compulsion to complicity. To interpret it as a survival strategy is only at the expense of morale. Fear is legitimate, but it does not legitimize anything.

The scientists are concerned with the Pastior ranking

Incidentally, in all the debunkings discussed in public so far, the starting point was the victim files. The victims noticed the damage done by an informant and looked for the real person, the culprit.

With Pastior it is different. Here is where German Studies has made a discovery. Stefan Sienerth of the Munich "Institute for German Culture and History of Southeast Europe" has put the administrators of Pastior’s estate on the spot with this discovery. There was a race for the first publication. The friends of the poet were logically concerned with his image, the scientist naturally with ranking.

As a result we have a decloaked one, but we don’t know the damage. Thus, neither accusation can be made nor damage control done. It is, so to speak, a lifeless connection that has arisen with it. A loss, also for the processing of the Securitate crimes? "Blinds closed?" Or, as it says with Pastior in the last consequence, at least, however, at the end of the poem "Testament – in any case": "Monte Ma o Monte to?" Or is it just the question of how he, Pastior, gets from "Jalousien aufgemacht" to "Monte Ma o Monte zu", and why?

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