Romania confronts communist past in trial of prison camp chief

The hearing only lasted an hour. The defendant was a frail old man in a hat. The atmosphere was subdued, the legal procedure perfunctory.

But in a packed courtroom in Bucharest, Romania finally took steps on Wednesday to come to terms with the brutality of its communist past. Twenty-five years after the collapse of the Ceauseșcu regime, the country for the first time initiated a trial of an individual accused of crimes committed during the 40 years of communist rule.

Alexandru Visineșcu, 88, faces charges of crimes against humanity for his role as the commander of the notorious Râmnicu Sărat prison for political prisoners.

Sitting quietly in a three-piece suit in the second row of the courtroom, he did not look like a man who was making history.

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