Nobel winner Muller still shadowed by secret police
Herta Muller, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, has been at war with the Romanian secret police for 30 years
Herta Muller, a Romanian author who writes in German, was today awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Muller's story is a dramatic one: she fled the Ceausescu dictatorship in 1987, after being tracked, threatened and beaten by the Securitate, the Romanian version of the Stasi. And even now, Muller, 56, is at war with her country's secret police. In an extraordinary article this July, she claimed that former members of the service still stalk her when she returns to Bucharest from her home in Berlin.
Muller's books, which the Nobel committee praised for depicting "the landscape of the dispossessed" with "the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose", are about dictatorship, oppression and exile, all of which she and her family have experienced during Romania's recent history.
Her mother was taken off to a Soviet labour camp after World War II, and, in the 1970s Muller herself lost the job she had with an engineering company, where she translated technical manuals for imported tractors, because of her refusal to co-operate with the Securitate.
After Nadirs, her first collection of short stories, was published in the early 1980s, the Securitate began to pay her even closer attention. The reasons that they gave for keeping a file on her were "tendentious distortions of realities in the country, particularly in the village environment" and her membership of a "circle of German-language poets". This file, which was kept under the invented codename of 'Cristina', would eventually expand to three volumes and 914 pages, much of it total fabrication.
Writing for the German newspaper Die Ziet this July, Muller recounted her persecution by the Romanian secret police during these years. One incident stands out - "I was on my way to the hairdresser's when a policeman escorted me through a narrow metal door into the basement of a hall of residence. Three men in plain clothes were sitting at a table. A small bony one was the boss. He demanded to see my identity card and said: 'Well, you whore, here we meet again.'
"I had never seen him before. He said I was having sex with eight Arab students in exchange for tights and cosmetics. I didn't know a single Arab student. When I told him this, he replied: 'If we want to, we'll find 20 Arabs as witnesses. You'll see, it'll make for a splendid trial.'
"Time and again he would throw my identity card on the floor, and I had to bend down and pick it up. Thirty or forty times maybe; when I got slower, he kicked me in the small of my back. And from behind the door at the end of the table I heard a woman's voice screaming. Torture or rape, just a tape recording, I hoped. Then I was forced to eat eight hard boiled eggs and green onions with salt."
In 1987, after eking out a living with jobs in a kindergarten and teaching German, she escaped to Germany with her husband, novelist Richard Wagner. There she gradually became a revered literary figure.
Her novels, only four of which are available in English, include The Land of Green Plums, about five Romanians living under Ceausescu, and The Appointment, about a woman working at a Romanian clothes factory who sews 'marry me' and other desperate messages of love into suits bound for Italy. Muller's latest, Everything I Possess I Carry With Me tells the tale of a teenage boy deported to a labour camp in the Ukraine.
Ceausescu, the self-styled 'Genius of the Carpathians', and his atrocious wife Elena, were executed by firing squad on Christmas Day 1989. Yet, for Muller, their legacy endures. She has written angrily about Romania's failure to properly examine and commemorate the atrocities of the Communist years, and accused her country of 'collective amnesia'.
She has protested publicly about how former members of the Securitate are still allowed to hold any public position outside of the diplomatic service, and estimates that the new Romanian security organisation, the SRI, contains more than 40 per cent, the official figure, of former Securitate operatives. Those who didn't join the SRI, she complains, "are retired and living on pensions that are three times higher than those of everybody else, or they are the new architects of the market economy."
Muller now lives in Berlin, and says that for her, "each journey to Romania is also a journey into another time". On a visit to Bucharest earlier this year, while staying at a hotel that she later found out was run by a former Securitate man, a security guard tried to wrestle the camera off a photographer she was with. Muller also protested that, the next day, she and a companion were followed while walking to a restaurant. ·
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