by Barbara Demick, Knight-Ridder Newspapers
BUCHAREST, Romania — Milorad Mutusco hasn’t been the same since he got out of prison.
“It made me afraid of people. It made me afraid of everything,” said Mutusco, 23. “I thought about killing myself. The only thing that saved me was my belief in God.”
Mutusco is a former detective from Timosoara, in western Romania. The crime that landed him 3 1/2 months in prison was violation of the Romanian penal code’s article 200.
In plainer language, Mutusco is gay.
Romania is one of the last countries in Europe that imprisons homosexuals.
Laws dating to the regime of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu make sexual relations between adults of the same sex punishable by one to five years in prison.
“Romania is the worst,” says Scott Long, a monitor based in Cluj, in central Romania, for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “Almost all the other countries in Eastern Europe have revoked their anti-gay laws. Even Kazakhstan and Lithuania.”
Long notes that Russia, at the insistence of President Boris Yeltsin, changed its law earlier this year, and most of the former Soviet republics followed suit.
Romania was admitted in October to the Council of Europe, a governmental body based in Strasbourg, France, that monitors political freedoms and human rights. As a condition of membership, Romania was told to abolish laws that discriminate against homosexuals.
But discussions about changing the law in the deeply homophobic Romanian parliament have frequently disintegrated into blustery debates over masculine conduct and national pride.
“I cannot agree with the misuse of bodily organs that have well-established functions,” Dragomir Popescu, a senator from the ruling party, said during one such debate last month. “What about all those Romanians who conquered the world using their organs properly?” demanded another senator, Gheorghe Dumitrascu.
In Bucharest, federal law-enforcement authorities say they discourage local police from arresting and prosecuting homosexuals. “I believe the law is no longer enforced,” Lucian Stingu, secretary of state in the Justice Ministry, said during a meeting with human-rights monitors in January.
Romanian-prison authorities told SIRDO, a Bucharest human-rights organization, in October that there were 67 people in Romanian prisons charged with homosexual offenses. Many of them had been jailed on other charges as well.
All of the homosexuals currently imprisoned were men, although SIRDO representatives say they have heard reports – although they have not confirmed them – of gay women being arrested in Bucharest within the last year.
“I think we might be one of the very few countries in the world with laws on the books that punish lesbians,” said Razvan Ion, who heads SIRDO’s gay-rights commission.
At least as recently as last winter, police in western and central Romania were still prosecuting homosexuals.
Milorad Mutusco and his lover had been involved for only six weeks and had just moved in together on January 2, when the police arrested them. Although they were both eventually given sentences of probation, the two were held for months without bail under what police called “preventative detention.”
“It was awful. Every prisoner treated me like garbage,” said Mutusco. “I can’t really talk about it.”
Just as bad, the Timosoara police aggressively publicized the arrest. The weekly police newspaper carried not only the names and photographs of the two lovers but also their home address.
The newspaper also branded the lovers as “potential perils to society,” with the warning “AIDS is knocking at our portals” – even though there was not evidence that either carried the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
“My neighbors started treating me like a freak. I lost my friends,” said Mutusco. “What hurt me the most was that my best friend, he was really like my blood brother, won’t even speak to me any more because he is married.”
Mutusco is one of the few Romanian gays who has been willing to allow his name to be used, he says, only because it was already publicized and because he is eager to see the law changed.
“I don’t understand why the government persecutes homosexuals like this. What I do in private, that is between me and God,” he says.
Another series of arrests took place in February in Sibiu, a Transylvanian city of 200,000 in central Romania.
There, six men, among them a newspaper publisher and a puppetmaster well-known in theater circles, were arrested and pressured to give names of other suspected homosexuals in what was described as a “witch hunt” by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
“We weren’t beaten. We weren’t physically hurt, but it was really a mental torment,” said one of the men, a Sibiu University student who spoke on the condition that his name not be used.
The student spent just a week in jail because his mother was able to raise the $50 bail for his release. Others remained for up to two months before their release.
Human-rights workers, who reported on this case, say that the arrested men all were forced to undergo a physical examination in which doctors told them they had “modifications of the penis” that proved they had engaged in homosexual sex.
“These exams are ridiculous. I don’t know of any test like that that proves anything,” said Long, of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
None of the cases has yet gone to trial. Ioan Vestemean, the lawyer for two of the defendants, says the court proceedings have been delayed while the Romanian parliament debates changes in the law.
Several competing proposals in the law are being debated. The judiciary committee of the Romanian senate has proposed increasing the penalties for homosexual sex. Another proposal, backed by the administration of President Ion Iliescu, would moderate the law by making homosexual relations between consenting adults punishable only in cases “causing a public scandal.”
Human-rights advocates are not happy with any of the versions. They point out that Romania is a country where it is not terribly difficult to cause “public scandal.”
They also fear that a proposed clause to outlaw “public encouragement” of homosexuality could be wielded against authors, publishers, filmmakers, and news organizations.
No matter what happens with the law, gay Romanians have a long way to go before they can break through the cultural taboos against homosexuality. Even the Romanian League of Students has lobbied the parliament to strengthen the law against homosexuality.
“I have a friend in my dormitory who always says that I don’t want to die until I beat a faggot to death,” says Adrian Cuipe, a 19-year-old university student in Cluj. “I’d say that attitude is pretty common here.”