Ana Blandiana (b. 25 March 1942, Timișoara) is the literary pseudonym of Otilia Valeria Rusan (née Coman), well known as a poet, public intellectual, and president of the Civic Academy Foundation – indeed the personality from whom the image of this institution is practically inseparable. She is one of the personalities who, due to the experience of the family from which she comes, has campaigned actively in postcommunism both for the recovery of the memory of the victims of communism and for the punishment of those guilty of crimes committed under the former communist regime. Immediately after the installation of communism in Romania, her father, the priest Gheorge Coman, was arrested as an “enemy of the people” and subjected to a long period of detention, which he only survived for a short time after his release in 1964, when there was an amnesty for all political prisoners. The traumatic moment of her father’s arrest is recalled by Ana Blandiana for the television channel Digi24 as follows: “I was in the first grade, and I was alone with my father at home, because my mother and my sister were away, and a team came and searched the house and after that they arrested my father… Someone from outside was called to be present at the search – it was a form of hypocrisy to make everything as legal as could be. And one of the men who had come said: ‘I have to go and call a witness,’ and he went out, went away… he came back two minutes later and said he couldn’t open the gate… and my father went out with him to show him, and I didn’t have the courage to stay alone in the house with the others so I went with them to the gate.”
Ana Blandiana took her literary pseudonym from the name of her mother’s native village, in the belief that in this way she could bypass the chicanes of communist censorship. Despite this precaution, her right of signature as an author was withdrawn in three different periods: 1959–1964, 1985, and 1988–1989. In the first period of interdiction, the official motive for the decision of the communist authorities was that she was a “daughter of a political prisoner.” In 1985, the withdrawal of her right to publish was due to a poem that had appeared in the student literary magazine Amfiteatru. Entitled “Totul” (Everything), the poem consisted of a list of ordinary things connected to everyday life, such as: “leaves, words, tears / matchboxes, cats,” alongside things that reminded everyone of penury, such as “trams sometimes, queues for flour,” or of propaganda and the personality cult, such as “little flags, well-known portraits,” which were typical of the period of Nicolae Ceauşescu. It is said that it was the reference to “the boys on Victory Way,” in which all readers could recognise the Securitate officers guarding Ceauşescu’s daily route, that attracted the interdiction. This poem and the one entitled “Eu cred” (I believe), in which Blandiana speaks of the Romanians as a “vegetable people,” incapable of revolting, circulated in hand-written copies and became pieces of Romanian samizdat. The final interdiction, in 1988–1989, was the result of the publication of a parody of Ceauşescu’s personality cult in the form of a poem for children. Inspired by her own tomcat, Arpagic (Chive), the poem of the same name became a symbol of literature with undertones, such as was practised by many Romanian writers who wanted to test the limits of censorship. The tomcat Arpagic was described in Blandiana’s poem as a superstar who is acclaimed by everyone, greeted with the traditional bread and salt and with grand pomp wherever he goes, while all those around him obey his orders. This imaginary portrait reminded everyone of scenes familiar from newspapers or television, presenting Ceauşescu’s working visits all over the country, when people vied with one another to obey him and to follow his famous indications, even if these were pointless or even harmful. As a consequence of the publication of this poem in the volume Întîmplări de pe strada mea (Happenings on my street), during the last two years of communism Blandiana was forbidden to publish and her books were removed from libraries. The journal Index on Censorship dedicated a substantial article to her, starting from this episode of interdiction as a writer.
As for what the communist period represented in the history of Romania, of Europe, and of the world, Ana Blandiana remains faithful to the idea that the preservation of the memory of the victims of these undemocratic regimes is a fundamental duty of each society, and to the principle that the victims of communism and fascism deserve equal treatment on the part of those who manage the memory of the twentieth century: “We are turning defeated from the greatest illusion in history. Communism was that illusion, and it broke countless lives. I do not mean that it was an ‘illusion’ in the sense that it wasn’t properly put into practice, but in the sense that it couldn’t be put into practice. And every time the attempt was made to put it into practice, it produced monstrous, and often literally murderous results. One of the cynical conclusions that communism has left behind it is that people cannot be made happy against their will, by proposing and imposing on them a particular sort of happiness, the communist sort. You cannot impose mass happiness – when you try such a thing, as a rule, what results is the opposite to your initial intention. What results is something inhuman, antihuman. As I see it, the only correct way to regard communism and the truth of it is to do so from the point of view of the victims of communism. Because we must not forget: communism, together with Nazism, created the most monstrous century in the history of humanity. Not that there weren’t precedents – the French Revolution, for example, or the Inquisition. For the first time in the history of humankind, with communism and Nazism came mass killing. And the mass killing was in the name of ideas that promised supreme happiness in the name of a highly evolved ‘new humanity.’ I believe that it is decent, proper, desirable not to make a new humanity but to make the existing humanity love and not hate. And not kill. This history – which both communism and Nazism wrote in blood – was based on hatred. Class hatred or racial hatred. Red-brown.” Thus Ana Blandiana concludes her comparison of the two totalitarian systems of the twentieth century.
Ana Blandiana received the Herder Prize in 1982, thus becoming the youngest winner of this important distinction. Indeed, both as a writer and as a leader of opinion and an activist for civic rights, Ana Blandiana has received many awards, both national and international. She is also doctor honoris causa of numerous universities in Romania and an honorary citizen of the cities of Timişoara, Botoşani, Sighetu Marmaţiei, and Oradea. In 1990, she re-established PEN Club Romania, whose president she was until 2004; in this capacity, she participated in all the major conferences and congresses of international PEN and organised four regional conferences in Romania (1995, 1998, 2000, and 2001). Since 2004, she has been honorary president of this institution. In 2016, in Gdansk, she received the distinction “European Poet of Freedom.” She is the author of more than twenty public lectures, delivered both in Romania and abroad, and of over sixty volumes translated into more than twenty-five languages. She has participated in over forty-five international literary festivals in fifteen countries, and has given public readings in over twenty countries. She is a member of the European Poetry Academy and the World Poetry Academy (under the aegis of UNESCO). Her rich body of work enjoys a very generous reception, both at the level of specialised critics and among the general reading public. Since 2012, the Ana Blandiana National Festival of Creation and Interpretation for Pupils has been held annually in Brăila. In 2016, she became a corresponding member of the Romanian Academy. At the present moment, Ana Blandiana is one of the best-loved and most respected public figures in Romania.
She is a co-founder of the non-governmental organisation Civic Alliance, which she ran as president from 1991 to 2001, and has been president of the Civic Academy Foundation since its foundation in 1994. She is also the founding director of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism and to the Resistance. Within this institution, she has carried out sustained research activity, and she played a decisive role in the creation of several of the rooms that make up the Sighet Museum ensemble: Room 42 (“Masters and Works Behind Bars”); Room 43 (“Repression Against Literature”); Room 50 (“The Piteşti Phenomenon”); Room 51 (“Poetry in Prison”); Room 77 (“Opponents and Dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s”); Room 91 (“Ethnic and Religious Repression”). Ana Blandiana is also the author of numerous studies, prefaces, and postfaces published in volumes published under the aegis of the Civic Academy Foundation. She has been actively involved in the Sighet Summer School, as a participant in discussion panels, as a speaker, and through her activity of fundraising and organisation together with the Civic Academy Foundation teams. She has participated and continues to participate in dozens of meetings with pupils and teachers in schools in Bucharest and all over the country, as part of activities to promote the Sighet Memorial. She promotes the image and the ideas of this institution through her participation in numerous public debates both in Romania and abroad, and for to the same end she has given hundreds of interviews in the Romanian and foreign press. Ana Blandiana is the author of one of the most famous formulations regarding how we should justly relate to the communist period: “When justice does not succeed in being a form of memory, memory alone may be a form of justice.” This formulation may be seen, very visibly, in several places, including the Sighet Memorial.
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- Timișoara, Romania
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- Petrescu, Cristina
- Pătrăşconiu, Cristian Valeriu