Doina Cornea - Colecția Privată
The Doina Cornea Private Collection is an invaluable historical source for those researching the biography and especially the dissident activities of the person labelled by the Western mass media as the “emblematic figure” of the Romanian resistance to Ceauşescu’s dictatorship. This collection comprises manuscripts of her open letters of protest, her diary, samizdat translations, correspondence, drafts of her academic works, photos, paintings, video recordings, and her personal library. This private collection is by far one of the most significant and valuable collections reflecting the cultural opposition to the Romanian communist regime.
Cluj-Napoca Strada Alba Iulia 14, Romania 400000
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Name of collection
Doina Cornea Private Collection
Provenance and cultural activities
The Doina Cornea Private Collection mirrors the complex and diverse oppositional activity of one of the most active and consistent critical voices in Romania of the 1980s, who managed to launch, organise, and promote various initiatives that opposed the abusive policies and the human rights violations of Ceaușescu’s regime. This collection represents an invaluable source of information for reconstructing Doina Cornea’s biography, not only her formative years, the period of her dissident activity, and the harsh repression she faced on the part of the state authorities, but also her active involvement in establishing civil society in post-communist Romania. It represents the alternative perspective to the documents issued by the communist authorities, in particular by the secret police, which did its best to discredit and delegitimise Doina Cornea as a person and her actions as a critic of Ceaușescu’s dictatorship.
The history of the Doina Cornea Private Collection is marked by her biographical trajectory from an anonymous lecturer in French at Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj to a prominent dissident with an international reputation, who not only openly opposed the policies of the communist regime for almost a decade before its collapse, but also inspired other initiatives of resistance to this regime. There are three key phases in the history of this private collection. The first is the period in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Doina Cornea’s contestation of Ceauşescu’s policies in the field of culture and education started with her non-conformist teachings at the University of Cluj and grew to the point of sending her first open letter to Radio Free Europe (RFE), which broadcast it in August 1982 and made her a publicly known dissident. This period corresponds to the production of samizdat translations. The second is November 1987, when the Securitate arrested Doina Cornea and confiscated many manuscripts and personal objects in the course of home searches. Many of these items were never returned to her. Although the Securitate expected that its harsh repressive actions would intimidate her and make her cease her dissident activities, Doina Cornea in fact intensified her oppositional initiatives after her release in December 1987, wrote several memorable open letters and managed to gain international visibility. The last pivotal phase is the period from December 1989 to August 1990, when Doina Cornea turned from a prominent dissident to one of the main actors of the emerging civil society in post-communist Romania. In August 1990, she established in Cluj with other critical intellectuals the Democratic Anti-Totalitarian Forum of Romania (Forumul Democrat Antitotalitar din România), following the Central European trend of establishing civil society organisations in order to reinforce the transition towards a democratic regime.
According to Doina Cornea’s post-1989 testimonies, her oppositional activity had various backgrounds and sources of inspiration. Since her daughter Ariadna Iuhas (married Combes) chose to remain in France after going there with a scholarship in 1976, Cornea benefitted from an effective channel of communication with the West. Already before then, Cornea had had the opportunity to visit France in 1972, and had become fully aware of the differences between the two blocs. In a post-1989 interview, Cornea pointed out that during her visit to France in 1972: “I had had the occasion to look at myself and see how mutilated I was by my slave reflexes, especially when facing the mirror of free [French] people. When I returned home I was ashamed to live as I did before. I lost my inner peace. But to be able to do what I did in 1982, it took me ten years. It took me ten years to defeat my fear and to attain inner freedom.”
Due to her daughter Ariadna Combes, Cornea had access after 1976 to Western books and newspapers that were not accessible in communist Romania, which had a deep influence on her thoughts. She was particularly influenced by certain books by Romanian intellectuals in the exile community, such as the historian of religions Mircea Eliade. Together with the Romanian philosopher Constantin Noica, Eliade modelled her critical perspective on the materialist view of the world promoted by the official discourse and made her turn to spiritual values. According to Doina Cornea’s testimony, her oppositional activity was deeply influenced by her religious convictions: “Faith helped me to relativise the dominance of politics” (Cornea 2006, 48). According to the interviews that she granted after 1989, Doina Cornea’s oppositional activity was also inspired by the courage of other key figures of the resistance against Ceauşescu’s dictatorship such as Paul Goma, Vasile Paraschiv, and Dorin Tudoran, about whom she heard in the radio programmes of RFE.
The acquisition of Western books and newspapers through her daughter Ariadna Combes was a key source for Doina Cornea’s personal library, which constitutes a significant part of this private collection. Some of these books circulated among her friends, relatives, and students in a period when communist Romania was becoming more and more isolated, not only in relation to Western countries, but also in relation to other countries of the Eastern Bloc. In order to make some of these books more accessible to her students, Doina Cornea translated them from French into Romanian and circulated these translations as samizdat. The most well-known case is the book: L’Épreuve du labyrinthe: Entretiens avec Claude-Henri Rocquet (Eliade and Rocquet 1978), a volume of interviews conducted by the French writer with Mircea Eliade. With the help of her son Leontin Horaţiu Iuhas and some close friends, Cornea managed to circulate approximately100 copies of this samizdat publication (Cornea 2009, 188–190). A copy of this translation was confiscated by the Securitate during the home searches of November 1987, and another was donated to the Sighet Memorial in the late 1990s.
Another significant part of the Cornea private collection is made up of her correspondence with institutions, cultural and political personalities, friends, and relatives. This part of the collection also comprises drafts and final versions of the famous open letters she sent to RFE from July 1982 to December 1989, archived in a special portfolio by her son Leontin Horaţiu Iuhas. Some of these drafts were also confiscated by the Securitate during the home searches of November 1987 and never returned to their rightful owner. The correspondence of Doina Cornea from the 1980s constitutes one of the most valuable documents of the collection because it gives us an insight into the broader political and intellectual context in which the famous open letters were created and sent to the West. It also offers us information about the key roles played by her daughter, Ariadna Combes, in establishing a channel of communication with the West and by her son, Leontin Horaţiu Iuhas, in providing moral and logistical support for her oppositional activities. This correspondence also helps us to evaluate the political risks that Doina Cornea assumed when writing and sending these letters to RFE, whose broadcasts created a real spirit of emulation among those very few who had the courage to oppose the dictatorship during the 1980s. For example, Doina Cornea’s open letter against the demolition of Romanian villages as part of the communist regime’s programme of so-called “rural systematisation” stirred the support of Iulius Filip (a worker in a factory in Cluj, who in 1981 had addressed an open letter of support to the Polish free union Solidarity) and that of a group of workers in the town of Zărneşti (Braşov county, Romania), who endorsed the public protest initiated by Cornea. The programme of so-called “rural systematisation” was a policy intensified by the Ceauşescu’s regime during late 1980s, which aimed at restructuring most of the Romanian villages. Cornea was asked in May 1989 by the workers in Zărneşti to provide advice and help them to contact the Western mass media. Although their oppositional activity and their endeavours to contact Doina Cornea were hampered by the Securitate, this initiative led to the establishment of one of the very few collective networks of opposition against Ceauşescu’s regime (Petrescu 2013). The main result of this collective action was the collective letter of protest entitled “Stop the demolition of the Romanian villages,” addressed to Ceauşescu and signed by another twenty-seven persons, which was broadcast by RFE in September 1988 and published later by the French newspaper Le Monde (Cornea 2006, 220).
Doina Cornea was not only successful in creating channels of communication with the West through which she sent her famous open letters of protest, but also managed to grant interviews to Western journalists despite the tremendous and desperate efforts of the secret police to isolate her. The Belgian journalist Josy Dubié, whom she met first by chance in Cluj, managed to trick the Securitate people who were shadowing him and the Militia guarding Doina Cornea’s house, interviewed her, and included this interview in his highly critical documentary film on Ceauşescu’s Romania, The Red Disaster (Cornea 2002). This documentary film and that directed by the journalist Christian Duplan broadcast by French television in December 1987 (which also featured Cornea) raised her profile as a dissident with international visibility and attracted the interest of the Western mass media to the abusive policies of Ceauşescu’s regime (Deletant 1995, 264). Her critical stance towards the “rural systematisation” inspired the initiative called Opération Villages Roumains (OVR), a transnational network launched by members of the Romanian exile community together with Belgian and French activists, which opposed the demolitions of Romanian villages planned by Ceauşescu’s regime. The activity of this network originated in Belgium, but it also became active in France, Switzerland, and other Western countries, discouraging the demolitions by launching a programme through which Western rural communities symbolically adopted villages in Romania which were scheduled for demolition.
Doina Cornea private collections include also clippings from the Western and Romanian press with articles about her activity before and after 1989, interviews both in video and audio format granted to foreign and Romanian journalists after 1989, copies of the abovementioned documentary films directed by Josy Dubié and Christian Duplan. The clippings from the Western press and the interviews reflect the international echoes of her dissident activity recognised by awards such as: Commander of the Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest French order of merit established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, and an Honorary Degree of the Free University of Brussels. These awards can also be found among the items in this private collection.
Another category of items of Doina Cornea private collection is made up of photographs. Most of them are private photographs taken by relatives or friends and reflect the everyday life of a Romanian intellectual during the communist and the post-communist periods. Some of these photographs were taken during the 1980s and reflect the burdensome atmosphere of those years, when Doina Cornea was put under strict surveillance by the Securitate and later, in the late 1980s, in a state practically of house arrest. Among these photographs there is a series of more than a dozen items that have a peculiar story illustrating the contradictions of the Romanian exit from dictatorship and the difficult post-communist transition. On 21 December 1989, when the people’s revolt erupted in Cluj (after the uprisings against Ceaușescu’s regime had begun in Timişoara and then in Bucharest), Doina Cornea became a leader of the citizens in revolt in her city and an unofficial representative of the local population. In this position, she had several meetings with the local leadership of the Romanian army, which on 22 December 1989 changed sides and started to defend the revolutionaries. In this turbulent context of December 1989, the Ministry of National Defence officially took the Securitate archives into its custody. According to her son, Leontin Horațiu Iuhas, after 22 December 1989, Doina Cornea, as a representative of the local population in revolt, had several meetings with the leadership of the Romanian Fourth Army, which had its headquarters in Cluj. During one of these meetings, in order to show their support for the population in revolt and as a gesture of benevolence, the leadership of the Romanian Fourth Army invited Cornea to take those items from her Securitate files which stirred her interest (Interview with Leontin Horațiu Iuhas). This gesture could be understood as an attempt of the leadership of the local military to gain the sympathy of the dissident and absolution for their participation in the repression of the local uprising on 21 December 1989 (Adevărul 2009). Cornea initially refused to take any document from her Securitate files. Only after the insistence of Iulian Topliceanu, the general in command of the Romanian Fourth Army, who argued that all the documents had duplicates, Cornea took some photographs of her taken by the Securitate during her close surveillance (Interview with Leontin Horațiu Iuhas).
Due to the fact that Doina Cornea was a key figure among Romanian dissidents, she was one of the main targets of the Securitate, who kept her under close surveillance and arrested and interrogated her in November–December 1987. As mentioned, during the Securitate’s home searches of November 1987, key items of her private collection were confiscated by the Securitate and later archived in her criminal file in order to prove her anti-state activities. Thus, as in many other cases, items reflecting cultural opposition were abusively transferred from their rightful owner to the Securitate archives. In contrast to this rather common situation, the aforementioned transfer of the photographs from the Securitate files to Doina Cornea’s possession inDecember 1989 is a rare occurrence facilitated by the vacuum in the legal framework concerning the archives of the former secret police at that moment. It is a unique case in which the usual direction of the transfer was reversed and the victim of the secret police had access and could take possession of items from her own Securitate files long before the transfer of these archives from the Romanian Intelligence Service to the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) in the 2000s. After this first contact with her Securitate files in December 1989, Doina Cornea had access again to her files in 2005, after CNSAS gradually received the archives of the former secret police into its custody. She also asked CNSAS for copies of documents from her Securitate files and she included these copies in her private collection of documents.
Among the most valuable documents of this private collection is the diary kept by Doina Cornea from the late 1940s to the 2000s. This diary consists of several notebooks. The diary is a valuable document for portraying the everyday life of a Romanian intellectual who turned from a peaceful life in the 1970s to one of courageous opposition to one of the most repressive dictatorships in the Eastern Bloc. This diary portrays Cornea’s inner life, the context in which her decisions were made and her key texts were written, the way she coped with the repressive actions and the close surveillance of the secret police, and her motivations for her involvement in post-1989 Romanian civil society. The notebooks from the late 1980s (when her oppositional activity was the most intense) were published in 2009 under the title: Doina Cornea, Jurnal: Ultimele caiete [Diary: The last notebooks], Bucharest: Fundaţia Academia Civică, 2009).
To conclude, the Doina Cornea Private Collection constitutes one of the most complex and valuable collections concerning cultural opposition in communist Romania because it mirrors the activity of its creator, who for almost a decade opposed the policies of Ceauşescu’s regime in various fields, from education to the so-called “rural systematisation.” The collection offers an alternative voice to that provided by the archives of the secret police, who issued and collected documents in order to keep under surveillance, discredit, and repress this prominent Romanian dissident. The items of the collection are an important source of documentation for reconstructing Doina Cornea’s formative years, the intellectual and political context in which her most important letters and samizdat issues were created, the transnational networks of communication initiated by her in order to send messages to the West and receive support from there, and her involvement in post-1989 Romanian civil society.
Description of content
The Doina Cornea Private Collection comprises items collected by the prominent Romanian dissident starting in the 1950s, such as manuscripts of her famous open letters of protest, translations of works from French into Romanian which she circulated as samizdat, the manuscript of her diary, correspondence with relatives, friends, political and cultural personalities, and institutions, drafts of her academic works and public speeches, photos, paintings, video recordings, and her personal library. The items in the collection reflect the dissident activities of its creator, who opposed the policies of Ceauşescu’s regime in various fields, such as: education and cultural policies, religious freedom, human rights, and the so-called “rural systematisation,” which endangered the rural cultural heritage. The collection is also a valuable source for reconstructing not only Doina Cornea’s biography and the intellectual and political contexts in which her most important texts were created, but also the foreign echoes of her oppositional activity. In addition, the items of the collection illustrate the everyday life of a Romanian intellectual who embarked on courageous oppositional activity for almost a decade and consequently became the target of close surveillance by the Securitate, the repressive institution of Ceauşescu’s regime.
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 100-499
- paintings: 10-99
- photos: 10-99
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 1000-
- video recordings (including oral history recordings): 10-99
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
Geographical scope of recent operation
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Important events in the history of the collection
- visits by appointments
Cornea, Doina. 1991. Scrisori deschise şi alte texte (Open letters and other texts). Bucharest: Humanitas.
Eliade, Mircea. 1992. Încercarea labirintului (The test of the labyrinth). Cluj-Napoca: Dacia.
Cornea, Doina. 2009. Jurnal. Ultimele caiete [Diary: The Last Notebooks]. Bucharest: Fundaţia Academia Civică.
Author(s) of this page
- Petrescu, Cristina
- Pintilescu, Corneliu
Adevărul. 2009. “Exclusiv Topliceanu: ‘Armata nu a avut ordinul de a trage în populaţie’“ (Topliceanu in exclusivity: ‘The army had no order to fire on the people’). December 21, 2009. Accessed June 25, 2018. https://adevarul.ro/locale/cluj-napoca/exclusiv-topliceanu-armata-nu-avut-ordinul-trage-populatie-1_50aeac277c42d5a6639ef3bf/index.html
Berindei,Mihnea. 2009. “Distrugerea satelor româneşti în arhivele Comitetului Central” (The demolition of the Romanian villages in the archives of the Central Committee [of the Romanian Communist Party]), Revista 22. June 30, 2009. Accessed October 17, 2017. https://www.revista22.ro/distrugerea-satelor-romanesti-in-arhivele-comitetului-central-6312.html
Ceaușescu, Nicolae. 1989. România pe drumul construirii societăţii socialiste multilateral dezvoltate (Romania on the road of building the multilaterally developed socialist society). Vol. 31. Editura Politică.
Cornea, Doina. 1990. Liberté? Entretien savec Michel Combes. Paris: Criterion.
Cornea, Doina. 1991. Scrisori deschise şi alte texte (Open letters and other texts). Bucharest: Humanitas.
Cornea, Doina.2006. Puterea fragilității (The power of fragility). Bucharest: Humanitas.
Cornea, Doina. 2009. Ultimele caiete (The last notebooks). Bucharest: Fundaţia Academia Civică.
Deletant, Dennis. 1995. Ceauşescuand the Securitate. Constraint and Dissent in Romania, 1965–1989. London: Hurst and Company.
Eliade, Mircea. 1978. L’Épreuve du labyrinthe: Entretiens avec Claude-Henri Rocquet. Paris: Belfond.
Eliade, Mircea. 1992. Încercarea labirintului (The test of the labyrinth). Cluj-Napoca: Dacia.
Hitchins, Keith. 1994. Rumania 1866–1947. New York: Clarendon Press of Oxford University Press.
Petrescu, Cristina. 2013. From Robin Hood to Don Quixote: Resistance and Dissent in Communist Romania. Bucharest: Editura Enciclopedică.
Iuhas, Leontin Horaţiu, interview by Pintilescu, Corneliu, June 14, 2018. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection