By Peace Writer Alison Morse
Ludmila Popovici is the founder of the Rehabilitation Center of Torture Victims Memoria, or RCTV Memoria, the only such organization in Moldova working with survivors of torture and one of the first nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations in the country. Over the last decade, RCTV Memoria has treated more than 1,300 survivors of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
In the late 1990s, Popovici was training to become a medical doctor and working at the Nicolae Testemitanu State Medical and Pharmaceutical University in Moldova when she first became involved with the treatment of torture victims. She learned of centers in neighboring Romania that rehabilitated people who had been tortured under the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. In Moldova there were a large number of people who suffered torture under the Soviets before the end of the Cold War. Popovici made parallels between her field of medicine and the epidemic of torture: “I understood that my destiny was to teach others the epidemiology of torture. My vocation became helping people and finding efficient vaccines to prevent this dangerous phenomenon for my society.”
She founded RCTV Memoria in 1999 to provide mental health rehabilitation services through medical, psychological and legal assistance to victims of torture. When the communist party came back to power in Moldova in 2001, the beneficiaries of RCTV Memoria expanded beyond former political prisoners under the Soviets to include victims of police violence and torture. The organization’s services were also offered to refugees and asylum seekers from around the world.
Popovici’s vocal advocacy for survivors of torture and her lobbying to criminalize torture in national legislation was incredibly dangerous at a time of heightened repression under the communist regime. On one occasion she was interrogated, accused of defaming the state. But instead of being punished and perhaps tortured herself, she convinced the police of the positive role that her and RCTV Memoria’s activities had on society. “I explained that by helping victims, we contribute to reducing revenge, and in this way we can diminish confrontation in society” between the police and communities. She was released on the condition that she would organize a seminar for the police on the prevention of torture.
Popovici is called upon as an expert on torture and treatment of its victims at national and international levels. RCTV Memoria also goes beyond direct services. In 2005, it released a book and documentary called Shattered Destinies, chronicling the stories of 14 women victims of political repression during the Stalinist period. Popovici plans to expand this type of work by the organization, so that it will become not just a rehabilitation center, but also a major resource and reference center on trauma.
Popovici was a Woman PeaceMaker in 2012.