On My Difficulties of Working on Post-Communist Transformation

As my work encompasses processes of democratization and consolidation of democratic institutions in former authoritarian regimes, I have often been subjected to attacks from security services of post-communist countries.

During my teaching activities at the Centre for German and European Studies of the State University of Saint Petersburg (Russian Federation), I was often followed by agents of the FSB, the former KGB. Their attention was particularly given to foreign lecturers, but also to members of NGOS. According to Putin’s new law, they should be labeled as ‘foregin agents’. Numerous are the cases reported by lecturers or members of NGOs present in Saint Petersburg or Moscow. Spread of rumors about my supposed private life among the academic community followed soon. One might argue that these guys were simply acquiring ‘detailed information’ about all foreigners who entered in their country, but their continous attention was certainly disturbing.

Strangely enough, in few days, I became used to this, but decided to complain to the Director of the International Program. The recruitment attempts’ became more insistent. After one of my complaints, my PhD supervisor told me: ‘Alfio, I am sorry for this, but you have to get used to them. We all are. Have simply a walk in the city and show them the main monuments. They are often in the office, so at least they take a bit of fresh air’. Not too bad, I thought. At the end, I was there just to teach and I would have left the country soon.

Unfortunately, I took a lot of fresh air later on. Sleeping in the undergrounds and begging for money. I hope they are happy now. My warmest thanks should also be given to ‘the best friend of my father’ for making this possible and to his friend ‘Silvio’.

Going back to the main story, when I came back to Paris, things became more complicated, but I continued my work on post-communist transition. At least, I didi it for some time. As I remember, I was quite active in that period, presenting papers at conferences, giving invited lectures and participating to TV news. My interest included also other countries in Central and Eastern Europe (see full publication list here).

After one of my interviews @France24_en on “The stolen revolution in Romania” and the role of Ceaucescu. I noticed that the interest of Romanians toward my activities was drastically increasing. More girls and cars from Romania suddenly appeared along the road. And I was in Paris, not in Bucharest. I had been advised that, sometimes, secret services use girls to control the research activities of scholars or to blackmail them. I had also seen the movie ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being‘ by Milan Kundera (though in the movie the target in question was a woman). I paid some attention, though probably not enough. What is unexpected for me is to notice (and this is worth writing it) that these ‘control and blackmailing’ activities can last for years and that they can also take the form of attempts at recruitment for their own county’s secret service in conjunction with your own or with others. A network of concerted and compulsory recruitment of joint secret agencies.

In this blog, I am not going into a detailed discussion of the different ways in which these attempts to recruit someone for the Romanian or Russian (or Bulgarian) secret service may take place. Usually, these range from psychological harassement, closure to other job opportunities, establishing linkages and synergies with other Eastern or Western secret services (especially but not limited to those of the Russian Federation), ministries and indulgent academic institutions. Interestingly enough, whilst the official motivation of such activities is to foster a fictious exchange of ‘spies’, in reality, the aim of these agencies is to acquire (or to exchange) foreign scholars, to turn them into spies and to silence their dissent voices. When this does not happen, exclusion from the labor market is the norm. And if your country or other countries help in this process, then you’re in real troubles.

How did I survive to these attempts? I did not survive yet, as I am still trying to find a new job in the university. I am also continuing to travel around Europe with no money and no place to stay. I am slowly getting used to it.

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