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The Tip of the Iceberg in Iai: Dan Petrescu If Doina Cornea succeeded in rallying the first collective protest

in Romania and the largest Western initiative in support of this country, the first criticism that went to the bottom of things by clearly stating that Ceauescu must go came from the Iai -based writer Dan Petrescu (b. 1949). He was part of the group of young non-conformist intellectuals, who used to publish in the early 1980s in Dialog, a journal edited by the University of Iai. In 1983, following the accidental interception of a private letter critical of the regime, most members of this group were arrested, repeatedly interrogated by the secret police, and, finally, banned from publication.1 This episode, however, did not push them to become dissidents for the sake of dissidence. It was only in the late 1987 that Dan Petrescu granted an interview to Gilles Schiller for the French newspaper Libration, which represented his first dissident text. 2 The interview was published under the title Ceauescu is not the only guilty person on 27 January 1988, a day after Ceauescus birthday.3 More so than in the case of other Romanian dissidents, the topics discussed by Petrescu, the ubiquity of guilt, the need for moral regeneration, the necessity to create an alliance between workers and intellectuals, reminded one of the texts issued by Central Europeans. Far from considering Ceauescu the single cause for the disastrous situation of the country, he correctly anticipated that his disappearance would not solve Romanias problems. No real change could occur, argued Petrescu, unless the system that allowed Ceauescu to exit changed. This was the first time ever that a Romanian dissident pointed out that the communist system must be replaced. The previous criticism against the regime was self-limiting, envisaging only reforms, however radical, within the system, similar to the attempts made at that time in the Soviet Union. Petrescu reiterated and developed the ideas expressed in his first interview in an essay entitled Small study about the anatomy of evil.4 Once again he stated that the main source of evil was the communist system itself, and not just the persons that embodied it. However, unlike others who considered that, in spite of the obvious unpopularity, the regime was surviving only due to the extremely efficient Securitate, able to destroy from infancy any civil initiative, Petrescu underlined that its perpetuation was assured by the implicit collaboration of the silent and obedient population. In a similar vein, Havel had argued before that it was the complicity of the multitude of small greengrocers, who accepted the social contract offered by the communist system without questioning it, which, in fact, supported the regime. It was this belief that, as
1 This letter was written by Dan Petrescu to his brother-in-law, Ioan Petru Culianu, and sent abroad via the French lecturer from the University of Iai, Romain Rchou. The letter, which mocked the regimes mania for the Tracian roots of the Romanians, was, nevertheless, discovered by the border officers. This episode is narrated by Rchou in Un Franais chez les Roumains, LAlternative (Paris), No. 27-28 (Mai-August 1984), p. 48-51. Until that moment, the members of the group had published many articles which, in an oblique way, ridiculed the regime. The harsh reaction at the discovery of this critical message destined to cross the border illustrates the limits permitted by the regime. What was accepted to be published in a local journal with a limited public was not allowed to leave the country and return, via Western broadcasting agencies, to the Romanian public at large. 2 In June 1987, Dan Petrescu attended a Conference dedicated to Mircea Eliade, in Paris. On this occasion, he met Mihnea Berindei, who complained that the Paris-based emigration was forced to turn down all the French journalists constantly asking for names of Romanian intellectuals willing to speak freely about the current situation in the country. In reply, Petrescu promised that from then on he would be ready to speak with any Western journalists. Soon after his return, Shiller (alias Jean Stern) arrived in Iai and was directed to his house by Alexandru Clinescu, professor at the University and the former editor-in-chief of Dialog until 1983, when dismissed from this position because of a secret police investigation. Faced with this situation, Dan Petrescu decided, after weighing the costs and the benefits, to take all the risks following this step, since somebody must speak for all those who did not dare to do it. Dan Petrescu, interview by the author, tape recording, Bucharest, 25 April 1998. 3 The text was later on broadcast by RFE, and Monica Lovinescu commented it on 5 February 1988 in the framework of her series Theses and antitheses in Paris. See OSA/RFE Archives, Romanian Fond, 300/60/3/Box 6, File Dissidents: Dan Petrescu. A replica on the behalf of the Romanian culturniks, to use Vlad Georgescus label for the intellectual obedient to the regime, was given by Mircea Radu Iacoban. See Minciuna are picioare scurte (The lie has short legs), Contemporanul (Bucharest), 26 February 1988. 4 This essay was sent abroad with the French lecturer in Iai at the time, Thomas Bazin. Fragments were published in Libration, 15 February 1988. The entire text was broadcast by RFE. For the complete text, see Dan Petrescu and Liviu Cangeopol, Ce-ar mai fi de spus: Convorbiri libere ntr-o ar ocupat (What remains to be said: Free conversations in an occupied country), Bucureti, Nemira, 2000, p. 236-243.

Petrescu confessed in a later interview to a French press agency, made him speak his mind publicly in the name of all those who were afraid or unable to articulate their views.5 During the last two years of communism, Petrescu proved to be not only the most lucid and radical dissident, but also the most prolific. Out of his numerous texts, many were lost with the destruction of the archives of Voice of America and with the transfer of those of RFE from Munich to Budapest. From those surviving the post-communist avatars, one can mention the paper addressed to the international conference Ein Traum von Europa held in West Berlin in May 1988. Acknowledging that the West and the East were equally responsible for the division of Europe, Petrescu pleaded for an alliance across the Iron Curtain meant to put an end to the segregation of the continent. Romania, with its desperate situation, he argued, could have played the role of a catalyst. At that time, the reference to the unification of Europe was rather metaphorical, but today one can read his text as a prophetic one. 6 The most original of Petrescus dissident texts, however, was the letter addressed to the repressive organs in Romania, in other words to the Securitate. This text represents an interesting testimony about the methods used by the secret police in order to intimidate all those around Petrescu and hamper the emergence of a coherent dissident group.7 Likewise to other Romanian dissidents, Dan Petrescu received support from abroad. The Paris-based emigration, in particular Mihnea Berindei and the French League for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania, and, from the USA, his brother-in-law Ioan Petru Culianu, Mircea Eliades closest academic collaborator, and the former dissident Dorin Tudoran, followed closely his encounters with the secret police after entering open dissent. Moreover, without minimizing his merits as an open critique of the communist regime, it is worth mentioning that Petrescus dissidence, more than that of the others, benefited from the support of several other intellectuals around him, mainly from the community that once gathered around Dialog. Its members, although they did not necessarily join him in dissidence, did nevertheless contribute in one way or another to the success of his initiatives. As Petrescu put it, they were supposed to replace him if he were to disappear in the basements of the secret police. Only the Bucharest literary establishment manifested a greater solidarity than those in Iai, but for a cause that was strictly related to their condition as writers. Some intellectuals from his circle, however, did follow Dan Petrescus example. The second Iai-based dissident was Liviu Cangeopol (b. 1956), who sent to Libration a text in the form of an interview with the intriguing title Be satisfied mister Ceauescu: you will remain in history! The irony about the unfolding historical period was, as Cangeopol argued, that it would remain a moment of reference in Romanias history. This would happen not because of its glorious accomplishments, as the Secretary General genuinely believed, but because he transformed the Romanians into a self-loathing people because of their incapacity of opposing his oppressive regime. Like Petrescu, Cangeopol also considered that not only the leadership, but

5 The interview was granted in April 1988 in Iai, but it arrived in Paris only at the beginning of the next year, when it was broadcast completely by RFE. See Virgil Ierunca, Povestea vorbei, No. 662, 8 February 1988, OSA/RFE Archives, Romanian Fond, 300/60/3/Box 6, File Dissidents: Dan Petrescu. See also Petrescu and Cangeopol, op. cit., p. 268-279. In fact, the journalists were fortunate not to take with them the filmed interview, because the next day they were caught by the secret police interviewing people on the streets of Iai, so that all filmed materials were immediately confiscated. The interview with Petrescu by Luca Piu was sent to Paris later on, when he could find a reliable messenger. Parts of this interview were broadcast on 26 January 1989 by TF3 during the program Rsistances dedicated to Dubis film The Red Disaster. 6 Dan Petrescu was invited to this conference by Literaturhaus Berlin, but, obviously, was not allowed to attend it. The text addressed to the conference was broadcast by RFE with comments by the Director Vlad Georgescu himself. See OSA/RFE Archives, Romanian Fond, 300/60/3/Box 6, File Dissidents: Dan Petrescu. See also Petrescu and Cangeopol, op. cit., p. 251-257. 7 The letter was broadcast by RFE on 30 August 1989. See OSA/ RFE Archives, Romanian Fond, 300/60/3/Box 6, File Dissidents: Dan Petrescu. See also Petrescu and Cangeopol, op. cit., p. 258-267.

also all those who accepted the hardships of this regime were responsible for the serious situation in which Romania found itself in the late 1980s.8 Both Dan Petrescu and Liviu Cangeopol were among the very few who, while being in Romania under the surveillance of the secret police, dared publish in Agora, the above mentioned review for alternative culture edited in the United States. 9 In fact, this review published a book-length dialogue between Petrescu and Cangeopol, which represents the only dissident text of large proportions ever written in communist Romania that could be compared with those of their Central European peers. 10 Written in the summer of 1988, when both were followed continuously by the secret police, the text was registered on audio cassettes, from which only the tape was sent via an Italian lecturer at the University of Iai, expelled from Romania for having visited Dan Petrescu. Unfortunately, due to the avatars of its expedition in the West and of the difficulties of transcription, it was published only after the fall of communism.11 Consequently, it lost much of its prospective public, whose attention was then distracted by the avalanche of events unfolding in post-communist Romania, and never received the deserved reception. Nevertheless, their text remains as an excellent radiography of the last years under communism, in which first hand information on a large variety of aspects, from the poverty of daily life to the absurdity of party decisions, is intermingled with a sociologicalpolitical analysis of Romanias situation. Besides being a history of dissent under communism, this text will remain as the most radical critique of the regime, clearly stating that not reforms were needed, but the change of the entire system. Their book also marked the first ever collaboration between two critical intellectuals on a common platform, a step further away from isolated dissent. However, their common enterprise ended there. While Petrescu continued his dissident activity inside Romania, Cangeopol, convinced that communism was still to stay in that country, decided to emigrate and left for the USA in September 1989. Nevertheless, by the very fact that they succeeded in writing and sending this text abroad, Petrescu and Cangeopol proved that in Romania the Securitate was not a powerful enough institution to be able to contain any attempt at revolting against the regime as the large majority of the population believed. In short, they demonstrated that even in Romania one could manage to fool the ubiquitous secret agents if one was clever and adventurous enough. 12 In relation to the Securitate and its role in preventing Romanians to speak freely, the telephone interview granted by Petrescu to RFE, the first and only such interview given by a Romanian dissident from within the country, represented another proof that this institution was not omnipotent. Also, in Petrescus own words, the very fact that this telephone conversation could take place, in spite of
8 The text was published partially in Libration, 5 April 1988. The next day, it was broadcast by RFE. See OSA/RFE Archives, Romanian Fond, 300/60/3/Box 6, File Dissidents: Liviu Cangeopol. This text also has an interesting story. When it arrived in Paris, it could not be published immediately, because Cangeopols address was needed in order to enter under the protection of the French League for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania. However, some French journalists in search of intellectuals willing to grant interviews were sent in the meantime to him and the Romanian authorities found his name on their list. Thus, he was forced to hide until his text was published and he could benefit from the protection from outside the country. Liviu Cangeopol, interview by the author, tape recording, New York, 17 May 2000. 9 Dan Petrescu published in Agora beginning with its second issue of May 1988, and up to the fall of communism, he was present in every issue. Liviu Cangeopol published for the first time in the following issue of January 1989, while still in Romania, and continued his collaboration after his departure to the USA. See Agora, vol. I, no. 2 (May 1988); vol. II, no. 1 (January 1989); and vol. II, no. 2 (July 1989). 10 See Dan Petrescu and Liviu Cangeopol, Ce-ar mai fi de spus: Convorbiri libere ntr-o ar ocupat , in Agora, vol. III, no. 1 (February 1990), p. 45-258. 11 The transcription of the text was done by another member of the Iai group, Dan Alexe, who, when was about to become the third dissident from that city, emigrated to Belgium. Dan Alexe, interview by the author, tape recording, Brussels, 20 July 2002. A letter addressed by him to Dan Petrescu was published together with the dialogue in Agora and included also in the volume versions published in Romania in 1990 by Minerva Publishing House and in 2000 by Nemira. 12 From informative notes of the secret police it is clear that they suspected that something was going on, because the walls of Petrescus house were impregnated with microphones. However, the two writers used to meet there and typewrite directly their contributions to the text in complete silence. Finally, after news that their book had arrived in the West reached Romania through RFE, the secret agents in charge of following them were severely punished. See Cartea Alb a Securitii, p. 372-375.

the continuous secret police surveillance, illustrated that, in a country were nothing worked as it should, it was simply impossible to have one single institution that worked perfectly. 13 During this famous interview, which took place on 8 October 1989, Petrescu confirmed news of a petition that he and 10 other persons supported. 14 This letter, which in fact did not exist materially, protested against Ceauescus re-election at the 14th Congress of the RCP. This was the first protest that united two emerging dissident nuclei: that of Iai, around Petrescu himself, and that of Cluj, around Doina Cornea. 15 The emergence of this protest letter demonstrates that, on the verge of the Revolution, the networks of dissent were developing. 16 The popular revolt was, however, faster.

This interview was given using the telephone of a friend in Iai, who was not supervised by the secret police. However, the success of the operation was assured by Petrescus ability to get rid of his shadow before arriving at his friends home at the preestablished hour when Nicolai Constantin Munteanu, RFE journalist from the Romanian desk in charge of the program Romanian Actualities, was to call. Dan Petrescu, interview by the author, tape recording, Bucharest, 28 April 1998. 14 News about this petition reached the West via the French journalist Gilles Schiller from Libration, the same reporter who interviewed Petrescu the first time. 15 The signatories from Iai were: Dan Petrescu; Luca Piu, who also participated in the telephone interview; Liviu Antonesei, another intellectual from Petrescus group, as was Piu as well; Filip Rdui, in whose house the interview took place; Eugen Amarandei and Gabriela Iavolschi, Petrescus neighbors; and Alexandru Tacu, a librarian who visited Petrescu several times. Mariana Marin, a young poet from Bucharest and good friend of the group around Petrescu, also endorsed the petition. From Cluj, besides Doina Cornea, Gina and Dan Smplean, Corneas former students, who co-signed the letter to the Pope, supported this letter as well. This enumeration gives an idea about the way in which signatures on such protest letters were gathered. 16 An account of the avatars of gathering signatures around the country, see in Liviu Antonesei, Jurnal din anii ciumei, 1987-1989: ncercri de sociologie spontan (Diary from the years of the plague: 1987-1989. Attempts at spontaneous sociology), Iai, Polirom, 1995.