Why this story matters:
In 1982, seven years before the 1989 Revolution that brought down Romania's oppressive Communist regime, Doina Cornea, a French teacher at Babeş Bolyai Cluj-Napoca University, sent her first open letter to Radio Free Europe. Eventually, more than 30 letters would follow.
As a result of her actions, Doina Cornea would be investigated, arrested, beaten, slandered, and publicly denigrated. But her efforts as a dissident never ceased.
She carried out the clandestine distribution of the volume "The Test of the Maze" by Mircea Eliade. She followed this with four other samizdat translations from French. In November 1987, together with her son, Leontin Iuhas, she authored and distributed a manifesto to support the protests in Brasov. These were immediately repressed by Nicolae Ceausescu and she and her son were arrested for five weeks. She would eventually be placed under house arrest overseen by the state police, the Securitate.
In December 1989, she went to the streets to demand freedom like every Romanian. She was included in the National Salvation Front, the first governing body set up after the Revolution, but she quickly abandoned it when she understood that they intended to create "communism with a human face". Cornea continued her struggle for freedom even after 1989, but refused to participate in politics.
She was compared by the international press to dissidents such as Vaclav Havel, Alexey Yablokov, and Lech Wałęsa and received several awards recognizing her efforts, including one from Pope John Paul II in 2003 and the French Legion of Honor for civil merits. After suffering a stroke in 2008, Cornea withdrew from public life.
"My struggle did not focus, essentially, against Ceausescu, but against communism as a social order. I fought against a system. Ceausescu was just a product of the system (...) I really tried to live as if the fear did not exist, even if we felt it quite often. We must remain free, not become slaves of fear. The truth is that all these years have been good exercise for me. I said to myself: 'I have to live as if the Securitate does not exist'", Doina Cornea confessed in an interview.
Details from the story:
- Doina Cornea was among the founding members of the Social Dialogue Group, the Civic Alliance and the Memoria Cultural Foundation.
- She published several volumes including "The Power of Fragility" (1990 and 2006), a collection of her open letters to Nicolae Ceausescu, as well as the manifesto addressed to the workers in Braşov, in 1997.
- "I have this belief, I have not fought for nothing, and when I started my struggle against this destruction of the people by communism, I said to myself: if I could help five people to think correctly, it would be a gain. Because good, correct thinking, is only for a minority in our world. Most of us do not think correctly", Cornea said in an interview for Romanian Television.
- "I have nothing special, I am a woman like all women, and then, by doing a little exercise of resistance day after day, I have enriched and strengthened myself spiritually, I read some books and thought to find arguments against communism and materialism. I armed myself for this and practiced. Everybody could do this. We were all as cowardly, equally fearful. I was just like the others, just as cowardly, maybe bigger, but I’ve tried to do some exercises, and others did not. They say it's in vain, but that's what the Romanians say for everything...", she said in an interview.