Anticommunist dissident Doina Cornea dies aged almost 89

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Anticommunist dissident Doina Cornea has died at her home, on the night of Thursday to Friday, aged almost 89. Doina Cornea was ill for a long time. The news of her death was confirmed by her son Leontin Iuhas.

Doina Cornea was born May 30, 1929 in Brasov, central Romania. She was a Romanian anticommunist landmark against the regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu, human rights activist and French language professor.

Cornea began studying French and Italian at Cluj University in 1948. After graduation, she taught French at a secondary school in Zalău, where she married a local lawyer. She returned to Cluj in 1958 where she worked as an assistant professor at the Babeș-Bolyai University.

In 1980 she published her first samizdat book, Încercarea Labirintului (“The Test of the Labyrinth”) by Mircea Eliade translated by her from French; then four other samizdat translations followed.

According to she illegally sent the first letter to Radio Free Europe in 1982, the first in a series of texts and protests against the Ceaușescu regime. She saw the crisis not just a material/economic one, but also a spiritual crisis, the Romanian people “a people fed solely on slogans”, who value more material values rather than spiritual values, which she defined as the ones which “generated intelligence, ethics, culture, liberty and responsibility”.

At the end of her letter, she apologized for not revealing her name, but she signed the letter to show that it was authentic. Due to a misunderstanding, Radio Free Europe read the letter in full, including the name. On September 15, 1983, she was fired from the university because of her political activity, the official reason being that she gave her students to read the diary of Mircea Eliade.

In the second letter which was published by BBC and Radio Free Europe, she protested against the restrictions that were put forward to the academia and the fact that the university leadership didn’t defend her and they even try to find what ideals she was supporting. She continued to send a constant stream of texts and protests to Radio Free Europe. Her message was then repeated in the articles she wrote after the 1989 Revolution: even if the political and economic situation would change, this would not change the perversity of the morals of the individuals.

In August 1987, she addressed an open letter to Nicolae Ceaușescu, in which she advocated reform in the higher education: greater academic freedom and university autonomy (to prevent them from being subservient to the interests of the Party), more exchanges with foreign universities, exemption from the mandatory participation in harvesting and teaching students how to think instead of just facts.

During the Braşov 1987 revolt, on 18 November 1987, together with her son, Leontin Iuhaş, she spread in Cluj-Napoca 160 manifestos of solidarity with the workers who rebelled against the Ceauşescu regime. The following day, they were arrested by the Securitate, which held them until December 1987, when they were released following an international outcry and a documentary about Romania under Ceaușescu broadcast by French television, which included an previously recorded interview with Cornea.

In the summer of 1988, she heard on Radio Free Europe that she had been invited at a human rights conference in Cracow; she didn’t receive the invitation. She requested a passport only to be refused, responding with a letter in which she argued that a successful totalitarian society can only be created by robbing people of intellectual fulfilment.

She wrote a further letter, which was taken abroad by Josy Dubié, broadcasted by RFE on August 23, 1988 (Romania’s national day). She found Ceaușescu personally responsible for the spiritual and economic disaster in Romania. She gave him two choices: he either gives up (together with the nomenclature) running the country, or he introduces reforms to allow pluralism and separate the administration and judiciary from the Party.

Subsequently, she was put on house arrest by the Securitate. Following a documentary broadcasted by the Belgian television, an international campaign for her release began. Resolutions arguing for her release were passed by the European Parliament and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Personal interventions by foreign politicians were made to the Romanian government, including the ones by Laurent Fabius, President of the French National Assembly, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, former President of France, and Leo Tindemans, the Belgian Foreign Minister.

Nevertheless, she was able to send two more letters, including one in which she discussed the arbitrariness of the measures taken against her, which had no basis in Romanian law, noting the disregard of the rule of law and an arbitrary use of power.

In 1989, Cornea received an invitation from Danielle Mitterrand (wife of French President François Mitterrand) to come at the bicentennial celebration of the French Revolution, but again, she was denied to leave the country. Another invitation to the Council of Europe failed to reach her as it was handed to the Romanian ambassador in Paris.

She was released on December 21, 1989 (during the Romanian Revolution, on the day before the Ceaușescu regime fell); immediately after her release, she began taking part to the street demonstrations in Cluj-Napoca.

After 22 December 1989 Cornea was asked to become a member of the first post-communist government organization, the National Council of the National Salvation Front. She quit this body on January 23, 1990 following the FSN decision to run as a party in the 1990 elections. She considered it to be dependent upon Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and still dominated by people with communist pasts.

Together with intellectuals like Ana Blandiana, Mihai Șora and Mircea Dinescu, Cornea continued her outspokenness against the new regime of Ion Iliescu, President of Romania until his defeat by Emil Constantinescu in the 1996 election. She was co-founder of the Democratic Anti-Totalitarian Forum of Romania (Forumul Democrat Antitotalitar din România), as the first attempt to unify the democratic opposition to the post-communist government. This organization later transformed into the Romanian Democratic Convention (Convenția Democratica Română, CDR), which supported Emil Constantinescu to power.

Cornea was co-founder of The Group for Social Dialogue (Grupul pentru Dialog Social) in Romania, of the Civic Alliance Foundation and of the Cultural Memory Foundation (Fundația Culturală Memoria).

On September 10, 2008, Doina Cornea suffered a stroke with paralysis on the right side. She was treated to the Military Hospital in Cluj, after which she recovered in Cluj, Bucharest and a clinic in France, where she was taken by her daughter Ariadna Combes.

She had two children, Ariadna Combes (deceased in 2016) and Leontin Horatiu Iuhas.

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