Mihnea Berindei Collection at the Romanian National Archives - Iași Branch
The Mihnea Berindei Collection comprises a significant part of the founder’s personal archive. These materials were accumulated in exile during the period 1977–1989, when Berindei was actively involved in assisting Romanian dissidents persecuted by the Ceauşescu regime. He was also an important intermediary between the fledgling Romanian opposition movement and the Western press, public opinion, and political establishment, playing a crucial role in publicising and enhancing the visibility of the Romanian case in the West. The major part of Mihnea Berindei’s personal archive is currently stored at the Iași Branch of the Romanian National Archives (Serviciul Județean Iași al Arhivelor Naționale). These papers were donated to the archives in 2013 and 2016. They include a variety of materials relating to communist Romania, the policies of the Ceauşescu regime and various manifestations of Romanian dissent (including cases of specific dissidents). The collection features a rich selection of documents relating to the activity of Radio Free Europe (RFE) during the 1980s, when Berindei was closely associated with the station’s Romanian-language service. The collection also contains a series of materials dealing with Eastern European developments in the 1990s. This is one of the most important private archives concerning communist Romania created in exile. As such, it will be of utmost significance to interested researchers and the wider public.
Iași Bulevardul Carol I 26, Romania 700505
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Name of collection
Mihnea Berindei Collection at the Romanian National Archives (Iași Branch)
Provenance and cultural activities
The Mihnea Berindei Collection at the Iași Branch of the Romanian National Archives comprises the bulk of the founder’s personal archive, collected during his time as an emigrant, when he emerged as one of the most active and efficient representatives of the Romanian exile community in France. A part of Berindei’s personal archive is currently stored at the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine in Nanterre (near Paris, France). He donated these papers to this institution in the late 2000s. They include some important documents regarding the activity of the Romanian exile community (e.g., copies of numerous letters that some Romanian citizens were sending to Radio Free Europe during the 1980s). These letters provide a complex image of Romanian communist society at the apex of its systemic crisis. Most of these letters, following a rigorous selection process, were published by Mihnea Berindei and former Romanian dissident Gabriel Andreescu in two large volumes and were thus made accessible to a wider audience (Ultimul deceniu comunist: Scrisori către Radio Europa Liberă (The last communist decade: Letters to Radio Free Europe), Iași, Polirom, 2010-2014. The materials deposited in the Iași regional archives include, in effect, the rest of Berindei’s archive, which is still unpublished and is now in the process of being catalogued and processed. It consists of two large donations made by the founder in 2013 and 2016, amounting to twenty-two large boxes of various papers and personal notes. It should be noted, however, that not all these materials are linked to Romania’s communist period and to the activities of the Romanian exile. Roughly half of the papers pertain to Berindei’s academic interest in the field of Ottoman studies. The ad-hoc collection presented here consists of a selection of those materials which are directly relevant for the various forms of anti-regime opposition in Ceauşescu’s Romania.
The materials in the collection reflect the main interests and activities of its founder, who played a prominent role as a civic activist and public intellectual within the Romanian exile community, particularly between 1977 and 1989. One important category of papers is connected to Berindei’s involvement in assistance and public support for the weak, but slowly growing, dissident movement in Romania. His initial interest in anti-regime activities in Romania was sparked by the defiant actions of Paul Goma and the “Goma Movement,” spearheaded by this writer’s open confrontation of the regime. Starting from February 1977, Berindei became directly engaged in various activities aimed at supporting and publicising the plight of Romanian dissidents through various press campaigns, public actions, and personal involvement. The collection features a number of detailed files reflecting the specific cases of the most prominent Romanian dissidents and opponents of the regime, e.g. Doina Cornea, Dorin Tudoran (see Masterpiece 1), Gheorghe Ursu, Radu Filipescu, Vasile Paraschiv (see Masterpiece 2), Mihai Botez, Gabriel Andreescu, etc. Two examples in this regard are especially relevant due to Mihnea Berindei’s personal contribution to and involvement in those cases. The first concerns the case of Doina Cornea, perhaps the most famous Romanian dissident of the 1980s. Cornea, a professor of French at Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj, began her dissident activities in the early 1980s, when she sent a series of protest letters to RFE denouncing the policies of the regime and the moral crisis of Romanian society. She saw this crisis not just in material terms, but also as a spiritual crisis. In her view, the Romanian people were ”fed solely on slogans,” emphasising material rather than spiritual values, which she defined as those values which could generate “intelligence, ethics, culture, liberty and responsibility.” Mihnea Berindei closely followed Cornea’s anti-regime actions and her persecution by the authorities, mounting vigorous press campaigns to alert Western public opinion to her deteriorating situation and the regime’s increasingly repressive measures. Together with Cornea’s daughter, Ariadna Combes, who resided in France, Berindei was also instrumental in presenting Cornea’s case as a flagrant example of human rights abuse in Romania. Another prominent case was that of the engineer Gheorghe Ursu, who was arrested by the Securitate in January 1985 after being denounced by several co-workers for the anti-regime views expressed in his private diary. After being savagely beaten and abused by Securitate officers while in detention, Ursu died later that year, making him one of the most tragic cases among the victims of Ceauşescu’s regime. As with Cornea’s case, Berindei was involved in the exile community’s efforts to monitor and support Ursu and his family. Ursu’s death had a heavy personal impact on Berindei: what he perceived as his personal failure to assist the dissident remained one of his greatest regrets linked to his campaigns in support of Romanian dissent. These files contain personal letters of the dissidents, texts sent to RFE or published in exile journals, Berindei’s correspondence with various institutions and human rights organisations, synthetic biographical materials, and other similar papers. This category also includes various political programmes and manifestos of clandestine anti-communist organisations that became visible in Romania (albeit with minimal societal impact) starting from the mid-1980s, such as Acțiunea Democratică Română (Romanian Democratic Action, 1985) or Frontul Salvării Naționale (National Salvation Front, September 1989 – not to be confused with its December 1989 namesake).
Another distinct but related direction of Mihnea Berindei’s activities reflected in the collection materials deals with human rights abuses in Romania and other Socialist countries. In his position as vice-president and spokesman of the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Romania, he was particularly preoccupied with the infringement and violation of human rights in his native country. He received and kept dozens of letters from ordinary Romanian citizens who reported various human rights abuses affecting them or their acquaintances. He was also in permanent contact with international human rights organisations (e.g., Amnesty International, Helsinki Watch, Human Rights Watch), for which he compiled analytical reports and provided informative materials on Romanian realities. Berindei was also quite active in the public sphere, periodically participating at various conferences, seminars, public hearings, giving lectures and testifying before various committees and institutions (e.g., the European Parliament) on the worsening situation of human rights in Ceauşescu’s Romania. Transcripts or handwritten versions of these materials are also part of the collections. He was one of the few Romanian exiles sensitive to the “national minorities” question in Romania. Berindei publicly expressed his solidarity with the Hungarian community in the late 1980s. He was also preoccupied by the question of religious dissent and state repression of religious freedoms, and documented official policies and the plight of the so-called “neo-Protestant” communities under the Romanian regime. Two concrete examples might better illustrate this point. First, Berindei was one of the most active participants and supporters of the solidarity campaign initiated in the West in order to protest against the destruction of villages by the Ceaușescu regime (known as Opération Villages Roumains). His preoccupation with the increasingly irrational and erratic “systematisation” campaign decreed by Caeusescu after 1977 dated from the early 1980s, and focused at that time primarily on the destruction of Bucharest’s urban landscape to make room for Ceauşescu’s grandiose project of urban reconstruction. However, Berindei’s role as a public figure was much more prominent in connection with the regime’s projects of rural “rationalisation.” He was an enthusiastic supporter of the “adoption” campaign initiated in Belgium and France, whereby Western rural communities “adopted” their Romanian counterparts in order to prevent their destruction. The collection includes numerous materials relating to this action. The second example is the extensive file on punitive psychiatry in Romania which Berindei collected in the late 1970s and early 1980s in connection with his interest in the regime’s repressive practices, in general, and Vasile Paraschiv’s case, in particular. In this endeavour, Berindei closely cooperated with the distinguished Romanian psychiatrist-turned-dissident, Ion Vianu, and with Paraschiv himself. The file contains valuable information on a number of lesser known cases of Romanian citizens forcibly detained in psychiatric hospitals (e.g., Neagu Vulcănescu, Traian Anderea, Paulina Cătănescu, Ștefan Toia etc.), as well as a substantial press file on similar repressive practices applied in the USSR and other socialist countries, coupled with the international condemnation of such practices (notably, the September 1977 resolution of the International Congress of Psychiatrists in Honolulu).
A third type of materials included in the current collection concerns various situation and background reports drafted by the Research Division of Radio Free Europe and dealing with the Romanian case. Although not formally employed by RFE, Mihnea Berindei was closely associated with several people who worked in the RFE Romanian-language service, notably Vlad Georgescu, Mihai Dim. Sturdza, and Michael Shafir. He regularly received not only transcripts of broadcasts, but also the periodical and synthetic reports drafted by the station’s Research division (including, among others, analytical texts by Michael Shafir and Vladimir Socor). Although these materials are available at the Open Society Archives in Budapest, the Mihnea Berindei Collection includes a representative sample covering the period from the late 1970s to December 1989 and beyond (the early 1990s are also thoroughly covered). The only comparable collections on Romanian territory featuring a similarly rich selection of RFE materials are those of Michael Shafir in Cluj-Napoca and Anneli Ute Gabanyi at the National Archives in Bucharest. Therefore, the value of these materials for Romanian researchers is undeniable.The Mihnea Berindei Collection highlights its founder’s role as a crucial member of the Romanian exile community in France, especially during his active phase of civic and political engagement between 1977 and 1989. He was involved in assisting Romanian dissidents persecuted by the Ceauşescu regime, but also became an important intermediary between the fledgling Romanian opposition movement and the Western press, public opinion, and political establishment. His personal archive provides a unique perspective on the dynamics of the weak but growing opposition movement in Romania and emphasises the role of the exile community in supporting and publicising the cause of Romanian dissent. After 1977, Mihnea Berindei emerged as a prominent civic activist, public intellectual and prolific author. He devoted his time and energy to fighting the Romanian communist regime’s repressive practices and human rights abuses from exile. This collection is a valuable testimony to the dynamics and the relative success of this struggle.
Description of content
The materials in the Mihnea Berindei Collection at the Iași Branch of the Romanian National Archives were selected from the founder’s personal archive and cover a wide array of topics which reflect his major activities during the period of his active campaigning as a member of the Romanian exile community in France (1977–1989). First, the collection comprises private correspondence (including letters sent directly to Mihnea Berindei), official documents, press releases, texts meant for diffusion and publication in the West, and as other materials relating to the dissident movement in Romania, starting from the “Goma movement” in 1977 and culminating with the increasingly assertive criticism aimed at the regime during the last years of Ceauşescu’s rule. In particular, the collection features a number of informative and substantial personal case files dealing with the main representatives of the Romanian opposition movement of that era, including Vasile Paraschiv, Dorin Tudoran, Dan Petrescu, Doina Cornea, Mihai Botez, Radu Filipescu, Ana Blandiana, etc.). Second, it includes letters, personal testimonies and press materials connected to the fledgling workers’ resistance and growing labour unrest in communist Romania, mainly focusing on the miners’ strike in the Jiu Valley (1977), the creation and subsequent suppression of the Free Trade Union of the Working People of Romania (Sindicatul Liber al Oamenilor Muncii din România, SLOMR), in 1977, and the workers’ revolt in Brașov in November 1987. Third, Berindei’s archive contains materials reflecting the various guises and forms of religious opposition in Ceauşescu’s Romania, notably the repression against the Orthodox priest Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa, the Evangelical activists Iosif Țon and Pavel Nicolescu, and the persons involved in the Romanian Christian Committee for the Defence of Freedom of Religion and Conscience (ALRC). Fourth, a major part of the papers in the collection are linked to various campaigns against the violation of human rights in communist Romania. The most important materials in this regard are those relating to Berindei’s monitoring of human rights abuses and various reports of international human rights organisations, together with the large file concerning Opération Villages Roumains and Berindei’s broader preoccupation with the regime’s policies of “systematisation” of space and urban planning. Fifth, some papers deal with the “national question” in communist Romania, examining the situation of national minorities and the repressive policies of the regime in the national sphere. Berindei was attentive to the plight of the Hungarian, German, and Roma communities and sought to popularise their grievances in the West and to build elements of trans-ethnic solidarity within the Romanian opposition movement itself. A substantial part of the collection is formed of various periodical (situation) and synthetic (background) reports drafted by the Research Division of Radio Free Europe concerning the main events and trends specific for the Romanian communist regime. These materials cover the late 1970s and the 1980s, and constitute one of the most complete samples of RFE materials available in Romania. Finally, the collection reflects the activity of several organisations of Romanian exiles operating in Paris during the period in question, and thus provides valuable information on the history of the Romanian exile community. A separate file compiled by Mihnea Berindei is devoted to the press campaigns launched against him and contains several letters with death threats that Berindei received from one of the covert organisations operating abroad under the aegis of the Securitate – Fiii lui Avram Iancu (The Sons of Avram Iancu). At the present moment, the collection has not been inventoried yet and is in the process of being catalogued by the staff of the Iași archives. The materials described summarily above amount to thousands of pages and have been selected from approximately ten large boxes currently stored in the archival depositories in Iași.
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 500-999
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 500-999
- photos: 10-99
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 100-499
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
- Dobrincu, Dorin
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Cusco, Andrei
Berindei, Mihnea. 2016. „România comunistă văzută de la Paris, 1977-1989” (Communist Romania as Seen from Paris, 1977-1989). Archiva Moldaviae. Volume VIII: 367-396.
Dobrincu, Dorin. 2017. „De la Paris și Veneția la Iași: Biblioteca și arhiva Mihnea Berindei” (From Paris and Venice to Iași: Mihnea Berindei's library and archive). Archiva Moldaviae. Volume IX: 493-509.
Dobrincu, Dorin, interview by Cusco, Andrei, August 10, 2018. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection