A main figure of the Romanian cultural opposition to the communist regime, Paul Goma began to write his book Gherla during his first trip abroad (between June 1972 and June 1973). The title refers to the name of the Transylvanian town where he was imprisoned between 1957 and 1958 due to his failed attempt to stir up unrest among the students of the University of Bucharest in the context of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The book which represents a personal account of Goma’s experience as a political prisoner in Gherla was published in 1976 and managed to raise the interest of the Western public in what had happened in Romanian communist prisons (Petrescu 2013, 124–125, 121).
Gherla takes the form of a passionate dialogue of the author with himself and focuses on the last two days he spent in prison. The main event of those days was the atrocious beatings Goma received from the prison’s authorities due to his involvement in a quarrel between two inmates. Consequently, he and another prisoner whose side he had taken against one of the prison’s informers were called for questioning. Things escalated and the two were tortured by the prison’s associate director, under the watchful eyes of the prison’s doctor and another guard renowned for his torturing procedures. Upon further instigation by the prison informers, the same two inmates received a second and more brutal beating in the old section of the prison, built in the time of Empress Maria Theresa. During his beating, in which the prison’s associate director and the guards gladly participated once again, the narrator reached the end of his capacity to endure and thus, he promised to himself that he would never forget or keep silent about his torture.
The episodes of Goma’s punishment are retold with many interruptions and deviations that help to describe the larger context of the events: the worsening of prison conditions after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the ruthless repression of an inmates’ rebellion and the increased terror that prisoners were forced to endure from torturers who creatively learned from the Soviet experience. The detours are glimpses into the narrator’s life before his imprisonment to Gherla prison, starting with his time as a pioneer instructor and ending with his trial and conviction.
Beyond the personal drama of the narrator, the book Gherla is also a convincing account of the inner workings of the prison system and of the uncountable abuses that inmates had to endure from the guards and other prison’s officials. Paul Goma is also a fine observer of the little and apparently insignificant details of everyday life in prison, such as personality traits, gestures, reactions, responses, mispronounced words, different behaviours that not only coloured but also disturbed the strict order in Gherla prison.
- Oradea, Romania
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The Goma Movement was a genuine moment of strong mobilisation against the communist regime, but it is canonised in the Romanian national narrative as a one-man collective protest. The overlapping is inevitable, since few of the other proponents were public personalities, while Paul Goma was indeed the driving force behind the short-lived movement. For instance, Goma’s open letters, such as the one he sent personally to the Czech writer Pavel Kohout, a signatory of Charter 77, to express his solidarity or the one he addressed to the secretary general of the Romanian Communist Party, Nicolae Ceaușescu, to ask him to join the movement for human rights in Czechoslovakia, are usually considered the main documents of the Romanian Charter, although they were not collectively endorsed. However, their content is certainly spectacular due to Goma’s talent as a writer, and thus more interesting to quote. Particularly interesting is the open letter to Ceauşescu in which the author makes a comparison between the defiant attitude of the secretary general of the Party in 1968, when he seemed to support the Prague Spring, to the silence of 1977 around Charter 77. In this letter, Goma invites Ceaușescu to follow his initiative of publicly expressing solidarity with the Czechs and Slovaks who have signed Charter 77. Through a much-quoted phrase, Goma drew the attention of his addressee to the simple fact that “in Romania, [only] two people are not afraid of the Securitate, your excellency and myself.” Thus, Ceaușescu, just like himself, was practically free to write to the Charter signatories, Goma’s argument continued. If he does this, all Romanians will be able to overcome their inherent fear of the Securitate and follow his and Goma’s example. As far as Ceaușescu is concerned, Goma underlines, the letter will illustrate “consistency with the declarations of 1968” and the secretary general’s genuine desire to “fight for socialism, democracy and humanity.” At the same time, “Romania will be able to participate in the [Helsinki Follow-Up] Conference in Belgrade with dignity.” The text of this letter is both amusing and mocking; it is illustrative of Goma’s literary talent and it is quoted by most analysts due to the unusual style for an official (though open) letter to Ceaușescu. The letter was preserved by Goma in copy and was confiscated by the secret police in 1977, in the moment of his arrest. It was returned to Paul Goma in 2005. Thus, the letter is now part of Paul Goma Private Collection in Paris, but copies can be found in the CNSAS Archives in Bucharest (ACNSAS, Informative Fonds, File I 2217/7) and the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives in Budapest (OSA/RFE Archives, Romanian Fond, 300/60/5/Box 6, File Dissidents: Paul Goma).
The trigger of the struggle for human rights in this region, which was considered by many analysts a fundamental factor in the collapse of communism in 1989, was the Helsinki Agreements of 1975. The very idea of monitoring human rights abuses, which the Charter 77 grasped from these agreements and promoted until 1989, also inspired Goma and perhaps others in the Soviet bloc. This idea, however, was entirely novel in the countries of East-Central Europe, including Romania. Most individuals in this region lacked the necessary background to fully grasp a problem which was central in Western political thinking, but absent or distorted in local politics even before communism. Nonetheless, due to the transnational travel of ideas, movements for human rights gradually emerged after 1975. In Romania, the ephemeral movement arose around an arid letter addressed to the First Follow-Up Meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which was to take place in Belgrade beginning in 1977. This letter was initially signed only by Goma, his wife Ana Maria Năvodaru and six other persons: Adalbert Feher, a worker; Erwin Gesswein and Emilia Gesswein, a couple of instrumentalists with the Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra; Maria Manoliu and Sergiu Manoliu, mother and son, both painters; and Şerban Ştefănescu, a draftsman. However, by the day of Goma's arrest, 192 individuals had endorsed this collective letter of protest. The list of signatures was confiscated from Paul Goma's residence at the moment of his arrest, but he had managed to send it to Radio Free Europe in advance. The lists confiscated by the secret police in 1977 were returned to Paul Goma in 2005. Thus, the document listing all these persons is now part of Paul Goma Private Collection in Paris, but copies can be found in the CNSAS Archives in Bucharest (ACNSAS, Informative Fonds, File I 2217/7), as the secret police preserved them in Goma’s informative surveillance file, and in the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives in Budapest (OSA/RFE Archives, Romanian Fond, 300/60/5/Box 6, File Dissidents: Paul Goma).
The Marian Zulean collection contains a brochure by Mikhail Gorbachev that summarises the main lines of the vision of the new Soviet leadership regarding the policies of glasnost and perestroika. The title of this little book in Romanian is Restructurări revoluționare: O ideologie a înnoirilor (the English edition is entitled The ideology of renewal for revolutionary restructuring) and it was published in 1988 by the Novosti Press Agency. Its presence on the market of publications in Romania was mediated by the International Trade Fair for Consumer Goods (TIBCO), an event held annually in Romania during the communist period, at which the USSR had a prominent stand.
The document, which is preserved in good condition in the Marian Zulean collection, gives a Romanian translation of the speech delivered by the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union at its plenary meeting on 18 February 1988. Of this event, Mikhail Gorbachev says: “Our plenary is taking place in a period of responsibility for restructuring. The democratisation of social life and radical economic reform demand from the party a clear perspective on actions” (Gorbaciov 1988, 3).
A first observation that can easily be made after reading this document concerns the abundance of references to the key concepts of Gorbachev’s policy, perestroika and glasnost. They are mentioned dozens of times in the sixty-two pages of the document, but not in the original Russian forms in which they enjoyed an international career, including in English, but translated into Romanian as “restructurare/reconstrucţie” and “transparenţă”. On the basis of these key concepts of Gorbachevism, the brochure makes many suggestions for actions that obviously undermined the strictest rules of communism. Here, for example, is a single quotation in which the idea of egalitarianism is undermined, from the podium of the greatest communist party in the world and from the mouth of its supreme leader: “In general, comrades, we must deal thoroughly with the problem of eradicating egalitarian approaches. This one of the most important social-economic and ideological problems. Egalitarianism, in its essence, exercises a destructive influence not only over the economy, but also over morality over people’s whole way of thinking and acting. It diminishes the prestige of conscientious and creative work, weakens discipline, stifles interest in increasing qualification and the spirit of emulation, of competition in work” (Gorbaciov 1988, 34).
In Marian Zulean’s assessment: “This brochure authored by Mikhail Gorbachev was a precious book at the time.” It’s value came from the discrepancy between the ideas promoted by means of it and those that characterised official discourses in Romania. “While the URSS was becoming more open and had a discourse that was less and less in contradiction to the ideas of the West, in Romania, it was exactly the opposite. They were becoming more open; we were becoming more closed. You could try to read from this booklet in public, but it was safer to think well a few times before doing so. There were a lot of risky pages in it.” In other words, in the conditions of cultural isolation in which Romania found itself at the end of the 1980s, a brochure like this was one of the few sources of exposure to alternative ideas and a precious help to those who wanted to emancipate themselves from the dogmatic constraints in Romania and to be able to think critically and freely.
The second performance from the Homage to Josip Broz Tito cycle is "Listening to the Radio" performed by Tomislav Gotovac in the New Gallery New in Mihanovićeva street 28 in Zagreb from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on April 1, 1980. The performances were photographed by Milisav Mio Vesović and Ognjen Beban.
It is the continuation of the Homage Tito cycle in which Gotovac used the mass communication media, in this case radio, to stress the psychosis surrounding the anticipation of the death of Yugoslav leader Tito. The artist also used subversive activity in his work, in which he did not criticize the regime, but encouraged people to think.
- Zagreb Avenija Dubrovnik 17, Croatia 10000
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